NC Piedmont Poet Laureate Dasan Ahanu on his journey to "A Rebellion"
Each summer, youth reporters are tasked with telling stories from their community. Alani Rouse passed the mic to NC Piedmont Poet Laureate Dasan Ahanu as he reflected on his poetic journey, his role as an educator and his new book.
Dasan Ahanu is an educator, emcee, event curator, award-winning poet and the current NC Piedmont Poet Laureate. In June of 2023, he released a book, ‘A brilliant uncertain rebellion.’
An excerpt from the book reads:
“Borrowed your soul for success … it’s crafting your next opus, a hell of a rush, a hell of a gift?
If it leads you back to the words
do you consider yourself forsaken or blessed?”
For Ahanu, life is a puzzle. Poetry helps him put the pieces together, and it usually starts with a singular thought. Ahanu describes his process as free-flowing and intuitive.
“So what happens is usually the first line comes to me and that's where the poem comes. I rarely have any sense of where the poem is going,” Ahanu said. “I kind of write my way there, (I) will write it on anything at any point in time, driving, on the back of envelopes, brochures, and I'd have all this random paper.”
Like many artists, Ahanu’s work is an extension of his life praxis and his person.
“I grew up in a working-class Black family (and) kind of stumbled into the arts ... and reading was just an outlet because I grew up as an only child,” he said, as he recalled his childhood. “A hyperactive child who is mischievous and likes to get into things needs things to be able to do to occupy them when they're the only child around. They give you books, they give you a pen and paper, they give you crayons and markers until you occupy yourself. And ultimately, that led to poetry.”
Originally from Raleigh, Ahanu started his poetry career in 2004. He decided to dive into the craft after joining SlamCharlotte, a poetry slam team based in Charlotte. Ahanu is a slam master and holds down the scene in the Triangle. Creative expression is not just a hobby for him — it’s a way of life. Stepping into his role as Piedmont Laureate, he carries on the legacy of NC Poet Laureate Jacki Shelton Green.
“I feel like I'm continuing in her footsteps, which is big, because of all the trailblazing she's done," Ahanu said. "I want to use this opportunity to kind of push back at some, some misconceptions or some notions to bridge and bring some people together … especially younger poets.”
I was one of those younger poets he brought together. When I was 16, I walked into Jambalaya Soul Slam. That's where I first met Ahanu, and I was intimidated, to say the least.
Before Ahanu became my Slam Coach in 2021, I used to see him all over the state giving workshops, hosting open mics and performing. He was one of the people who was essential in helping me dive back into my craft and ensuring that poetry could be a safe space for me. Jambalaya has been a space for many other young and up-and-coming poets, like Ayanna Albertson-Gay.
“ [Dasan] just taught me everything, like even from like stage presence, to delivery," said Albertson-Gay, the winner of the 2021 Women of the World Poetry Slam. "One thing I love about Dasan is he never tried to change the writer that I was. He just really tried to elevate the writer that I was.”
Ahanu will meet you where you’re at as a person. Sometimes all I've needed is for him to hold space and allow me to write. Albertson-Gay recalled her experience receiving writing feedback from Ahanu: “I used to send Dasan some poems and he would send it back to me, and it would have red marked all through it. And I'm like, ‘Dang. I thought it was good.’ He was just like, 'You could do better, you could do more … you have a gift, clearly.'”
Ahanu is always putting his mentees on stage to give them opportunities to showcase their work. He offers feedback to help us become better writers and performers. He would offer us advice: "Always do things in threes," "Use your five senses," and "Poems have commas, not periods."
"A poem is never finished," he said. "I know when a poem is ready. And I use that as my gauge as opposed to being done. I know when a poem is ready. So that's one thing and ready means that I can do something with it.”
Among the many things Ahanu credits as a part of his creative journey, his ability to grow in his craft is important to him.
“My work in general is a product of the artist that I am. And me being able to continue to hone those skills means when I come back to create, you know that muscle? That muscle has been worked out," he explained. "And I'm at a place now at my age, I don't want to separate them. And that's been the journey I've been on and that's a difficult one.”
As Ahanu continues his work as the NC Piedmont Laureate, he reflects on some of his overall goals in the role.
“There's just things about who I am that come out in the way that I write and work,” he said. “My goal has been to create a life or create a path where those two things feed on each other until I'm done. And if I could figure it out maybe somebody else can but yes, my creative process is a process of how I navigate the world, and navigating the world helps me better create.”