Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Aimee Noel.
I met Aimee while in poetry grad school at Lesley University. I remember being astounded that someone with such sharpness of voice, such finely-tuned skill, could have only recently begun writing. That was years ago, but my astonishment around Aimee’s work has hardly changed–she engages in the real work of poetry, the sweat of it. She shows up fully to the conversations poetry allows us to have, the consciousness-considering it can do. What’s more, her marvelous community-centricism shines through from line to line.
Where can we find your work?
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
No one chooses their perspective, certainly, but at 46 I’m still unsettled in mine. I occupy many spaces at once. My writing reflects the duplicitous space someone occupies in a family, a job, or a community, and the void created when they leave. I grew up in, and am growing away from, a blue-collar background near Buffalo, NY. Being the first in my family to go away to college, I occupy a blurred space between the working class and those with advanced degrees. I’m not quite home in either space; I find myself code-switching when I’m back in Buffalo, and when I’m home, in Dayton, trying to convince myself I’ve earned the academic currency to occupy my current life. Blue-collar families, the ways in which society views them, and the ways in which the working class views those who “defect” is my fodder. I explore these injustices, hypocrisies, and camaraderie through poetry. In doing so, I’m also exploring my personal world and what it means to be “home.”
What were you like as a child?
My parents had me just out of high school, and they took me everywhere with them. They probably had to take me everywhere because it was cheaper to do so, but, as an only child, I much preferred hanging with the adults than other kids anyway. In my mind I was an earnest, observant child. I wanted to learn how to do everything quickly to make my parents proud and not be a bother to them. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it “right.” Whatever the hell that means. I made up for that in high school. Sorry, mom and dad.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
Art, in the formal sense of the word, wasn’t emphasized while I was growing up, but our house was filled with music. Albums were always spinning. It wasn’t a far leap from the social commentary embedded in the protest songs of my parents’ generation to my own poetry. Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (on repeat in our house) were not the most subtle appeals for change, amirite?
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
I volunteer for Dayton’s Gem City Market co-op grocery store. This proposed store will be built in the heart of (one of) Dayton’s food deserts and will be owned, operated, and governed by the workers and the community members it serves. I’m proud to be part of this community-driven initiative because so much of a person’s success -their health, their ability to focus in school, etc.- has to do with how well they can eat. Access to healthy, affordable food should not depend on your zip code.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
Cordless drills and manatees (not necessarily in that order).
A close friend just moved to Florida, and he’s been sending daily manatee reports. It’s like a nature blog subscription for one. The promise of open water and meeting Hugh Manatee in person has helped get through the snow we’re having in April.
My wife and I, along with two close friends, pooled our money to buy a house in our historic neighborhood. It was a foreclosure auction. We were as surprised as anyone to win the bid. We formed an LLC (The RehabHers, thankyouverymuch) and have begun the work of making it livable again. In addition to building fences and ripping up carpet, we have meetings over fantastic dinners and argue about whether dentures (and other oddities we’ve found in the house) can be recycled or not. It’s a steep learning curve, but I love working alongside these three badass women.
Tell us a story.
From age 0-12, I spent nearly every weekend at the drag races with my parents. Some families go camping, some take cross-country road trips. Mine thrived on the smell of burnt rubber and motor oil. Sometimes I’d hang out in the pits to check tire pressure or pack the radiator with ice for my dad. Mostly, I went exploring. Adjacent to the speedway, there was a giant grass-covered hill. I would have sworn was the size of Fuji. My cousin and I would work our way through the bordering treeline and cross the mucky creek to get to it. We’d run up the hill and somersault all the way down. We’d race from the top gathering such speed it was near impossible for our feet to keep up. Sometimes mine didn’t, and I ended up splayed in the sludge of the creek – which was never dry, even in the burn of August. Joy and abandon. Fast forward to my twenties. On a visit home, I drove past the speedway thinking, as we all do, how small that childhood world looked now. Then I passed the hill. The capped landfill, actually, with scrabbly grass and a moat of leachate on which I played as a kid. I spent my youth on a great pile of garbage. A poet couldn’t ask for a better metaphor.
Aimee Noel writes from Dayton, Ohio, where she works as an educator and community activist. Her essays and poems have been featured on NPR affiliates and published in Provincetown Arts, Great Lakes Review, Forklift, Ohio, Nuclear Impact poetry anthology, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from Lesley University, won Ohio Arts Council’s 2016 Individual Excellence Award, and was awarded OAC’s Summer Fellowship at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center the same year.