Glenis Redmond believes life is precious.
Greenville's first Poet Laureate walks and talks with gratitude, especially for the experiences that come with being a nationally renowned poet. Redmond, a recipient of numerous awards and honors, doesn't take life for granted and lives her life to the fullest. She's always on the move.
However, being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019, a blood cancer, made her realize the weight and new meaning the word "deadline" holds.
Redmond, 59, says that according to the statistics, multiple myeloma comes with a five-year life expectancy.
"And so when you have that kind of expiration date, the word 'deadline,' after a diagnosis of cancer, lands differently," she said. "So I thought about that word. Y'all use it [reporters], you know? 'What's the deadline? What's the deadline?'
"And then once I got diagnosed, I'm like 'oh my gosh' because being a wordsmith, you think about what words actually mean. Their weight."
Currently, Redmond's cancer is in an undetectable stage. That does not mean the cancer is in remission, but her numbers are low to the point of inactivity. Redmond knows the cancer will come back, and she is trying to enjoy this "non-typical stage."
She said she does not give in to feelings of depression or fear. She stays uplifted by the fact that she is alive and can move forward, something she is humbled to do every morning.
"I don't want to live in 'what if?' I want to live in 'let's do this.'" she said.
Redmond was recently recognized by the Academy of American Poets for her role as Greenville's first Poet Laureate. On July 25, the academy named her as a 2023 Poet Laureate.
Each 2023 Poet Laureate Fellow was awarded $50,000 to lead public poetry programs in their respective communities.
"I'm grateful that I work in a town that takes the arts seriously, and I'm happy to further the literary arts in this town," Redmond said.
Redmond is the author of six books of poetry. She is a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and formerly served as a captain in the Army Reserves.
She also mentors and inspires Greenville's first youth poet, Anna Castro Spratt.
"As Greenville’s Youth Poet Laureate fortunate enough to be mentored by her, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of her guidance. Her words are not just ink on paper; they are the key to unlocking the potential within each aspiring writer she encounters," Spratt said. "Glenis doesn't just teach us how to construct stanzas; she teaches us how to construct identities, how to build confidence and how to amplify our voices."
Redmond received the Governor's Award, South Carolina's highest arts award, in 2021. She also met former First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House while mentoring young poets in the National Student Poets, a program through Scholastic Arts and Writing.
"She was so gracious and so down to earth, and the only question my mom had is like, 'What are you going to wear for Michelle?'" Redmond said.
Here's how Redmond plans to use the $50,000 grant for Greenville
Redmond will use her awarded $50,000 in several ways for the local Greenville community:
∎ A partnership with the Metropolitan Arts Council to launch "Verse and Visual," a project pairing 10 poets with 10 visual artists.
∎Commission 10 poets to write work inspired by Greenville City Parks.
∎Present local and regional poets at Artisphere.
∎Aid the Arts in Public Places Commission to appoint Greenville's first youth poet Laureate, Anna Castro Spratt.
∎Continue the Little Free Libraries project and Unity Poetry workshops.
∎A partnership with the Peace Center to convene past and present poet laureates.
Growing up in a family of artists, early poetry memories
Redmond grew up in Upstate SC in Piedmont's Canterbury subdivision.
Day and night, she said creativity flowed through her home. At the time, she thought this was how all families were.
"Everybody could sing, except me and my mom," she said. "But we had a very robust household where music and art were pretty much day and night."
Redmond's father, Johnny Redmond, was a musician who played the piano by ear with specialties in jazz, gospel and blues. She refers to him as "the artist" of the family.
"We actually listened to everything. When I was growing up in the 70s, people were still segregated in their music of radio stations that they listened to. Not my family. I listened to soft rock, country, R&B, and that's because my father loved everything," Redmond said.
Her top three favorite singers are Nina Simone, Angelique Kidjo and Bill Withers. She is also a big fan of Dolly Parton and Bonnie Raitt.
Her mother, Jeanette, was a seamstress who quilted alongside Redmond's grandmother.
Her five siblings were dancers, she said.
At school and in the community, Redmond would soon be known as a poet.
Redmond's earliest encounter with poetry was when she heard "One Thousand Nine Hundred And Sixty Eight Winters" by Jackie Early during the fifth grade at a Black history program.
In the poem, she saw the reflection of herself and her African-American culture.
At Woodmont Senior High School, her English teacher assigned the class to write in their journals. Redmond still has that notebook and says it is part of what made her a poet.
Her poetic influences include Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton and Joy Harjo.
As her skills matured as a young teen, Redmond said her home church, Bethlehem Baptist, asked her to write poems when there were deaths in the congregation.
"When someone died, they would call my parents and want to talk to me and give me demographics about the person. And I would write the poem and show up at the funeral and read the poem," she said. "I was taken pretty seriously as a teenager at that point."
One of Redmond's most "beautiful" memories of performing poetry was in October of 1996, at an all-girls middle school in London during a poetry tour. The tour was hosted by John Paul O'Neill of Farrago Poetry.
The piece she read aloud that day was about her mother. "Mama's Magic" is about Redmond and her siblings' unwavering faith in their mother, and their mother's belief in her children.
When Redmond read her poem, she was met with silence. The girls' hands were in their laps. She was accustomed to American audiences, where clapping and responding to the speaker is traditional.
"I really thought I was bombing," Redmond said. "I had just written a poem for my mom. It is one of my signature poems."
There is a recurring line in the poem stating, "My mama is magic. Always was and always will be."
The line appears twice in the piece, but for added drama, Redmond decided to pause and say it once more at the end of the poem. She then heard the audience speak the line back to her in unison. She had mistaken the silence from before. The audience had been holding onto her every word.
"They echoed back my words to me in the right place, at the right time," she said. "And so, from that moment, I took from them that anywhere I was in the world, no matter where, when I did that poem, I would always pause at the end of that line. And I would just put my hands out, and the audience would know to recite that line. But it was the British school that taught me to slow down and let people respond. Let them in."
Nina Tran covers trending topics. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Greenville Poet Laureate Redmond not letting cancer slow her progress