It is not a stretch to say that poetry and poets are among those at the core of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. With advocacy and activism, there are the writers who render the experiences of urban Appalachians in literature, and this is a key component to urban Appalachian life and culture. One such urban Appalachian poet is Moneeca “MoPoetry” Phillips. Poetry is inscribed in her name, and her work in the greater Cincinnati communities is defined by poetry and spoken word performance. Talking with MoPoetry is an exercise in trying to keep up with her.
Born in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and now living in Cincinnati, MoPoetry Phillips is a force for spoken word in the area. She still has family down in Middlesboro, and her great grandmother is still working as a pastor at 105 years old. This kind of tenacity appears to run in her family. The number of organizations and projects that MoPoetry is involved in requires an energy level that must come from someplace deep.
MoPoetry Phillips followed a fairly traditional path toward poetry: “I did my undergraduate in English at Northern Kentucky University. From there I began writing things and just sticking them in a drawer for years and years,” she told me. But friends and at least one important mentor, Dr. Kris Yohe from NKU, convinced her to read the things she was writing. With that, MoPoetry says, “about two and half years ago, I jumped in my car and went to Chicago.” Things took off from there.
After enjoying some profound success doing open mic poetry readings, MoPoetry began landing feature spots at readings around Chicago. At some point in her rise as a poet, she was convinced to come home to Cincinnati. “Friends and mentors told me I needed to connect with people in my own city,” she explained, and MoPoetry came back to Cincinnati. Since then, MoPoetry Phillips has connected with local poets and others and created a substantial place as a poet, facilitator, and educator. She told me that her mentor from NKU, Dr. Yohe, Professor of African-American Studies, encouraged her to connect with Women Writing for a Change, a powerful force for community advocacy and action. MoPoetry told me she “remembered hearing about them as a student. We did a social justice pieces and this was linked to the work of Women Writing for a Change.” That early contact would grow as she established herself as a force of poetry and spoken word.
Once in the circle of Writing for a Change, MoPoetry applied for the leadership class. MoPoetry explained that “they had never had an African-American woman take their leadership class. I was one of the first.” This turned out to be a three-week, intense training program that prepared MoPoetry for yet another chapter in this story. Moving on with Women Writing for a Change, she started working with incarcerated young women facilitating poetry workshops. She explains that “I started doing this in-person but we had to switch to remote sessions because of the pandemic.” MoPoetry provides them with prompts, and her work with these young women provides a creative form of growth toward better things. Her work with incarcerated young women naturally grew: “From this I started the “Lyrics and Poetry Class where we examine song lyrics as poetry,” she told me. She is also expanding this type of work to include recently exonerated men in her poetry classes.
MoPoetry Phillips is now the director of Regal Rhythms Poetry, a performing arts group, poetry event, and open mic poetry slam. This is in addition to everything else she does. MoPoetry was working with a company in New York, and people there encouraged her to create what led to Regal Rhythms. She said the Regal Rhythms now includes a poetry slam, feature event, and a monthly show. Keep in mind that everything MoPoetry Phillips does is happening more or less at the same time, and you can get an idea of how that 105-year-old great grandmother continues to cast an influence on MoPoetry Phillips. Tireless, would be one word that comes to mind.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Moneeca “MoPoetry” Phillips if she could explain the distinction between a spoken word artist and a poet. Her answer goes well beyond my limited question, and since MoPoetry is the poet, I will end this with her words: “A person who journals is different from a page poet. A page poet is different from a spoken word artist. A spoken word artist is different from a slammer. Some people experiment with various things. Some people have perfected their craft just in one area. Some have perfected their craft in multiple areas. Nevertheless, we have to respect and support each other!!!! Don’t look down on what you aren’t a part of. You are just better at other things.”
With so many poets and writers who make up the core members and other in the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, it is always an honor to recognize other poets who make an impact on our communities. Moneeca “MoPoetry” Phillips is one of those rare folks who bring us the spoken and written word, but also takes an active role in lifting people up with the power of poetry. From her own poetry to her role as an educator and facilitator, MoPoetry Phillips is an urban Appalachian who is shaping the world with the force of words. Not just interesting lines on a page, MoPoetry’s work actively engages the urban Appalachian community and the larger community of greater Cincinnati and beyond.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.