Introducing Alana Cloud-Robinson feels unnecessary. Read her writing, listen to her poetry or latest thoughts on life, it’s awe-inspiring. In this interview she admits that after a pivotal moment, “I had always wanted to be profound, but from then on, I just wanted to be honest”. It truly feels like she speaks from deep inside, reflecting on her fears and her beliefs. That’s what sparks such a close connection in readers.
It feels good to chat to this poet about her writing, overcoming internalised racism, her journey with self-love, identity and her latest video project Skin made together with Ira Chernova exclusively publishing today on Metal. Alana tells us she’s currently in a creative drought, but I’m sure many will feel inspired by her energy.
Alana, to start off, how would you introduce yourself to those reading this interview?
My name is Alana Cloud-Robinson. I’m a writer, model, musician from Los Angeles, California. There’s a lot more, but I think that will do for now.
And how did you begin writing poetry?
I went to a Waldorf school during my formative years and a lot of the curriculum is heavily steeped in poetry, hymns and songs. I was brought up on Shakespeare, Greek mythology and even religious texts, all of which really shaped my style. When I was in high school, I happened upon Love Is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski and it knocked my socks right off — I didn’t realise that you could break ranks from the classics like that and still call it poetry. I didn’t know you could write about killing a cockroach and still call it art. It sounds funny, but reading that book changed the way I looked at poetry and I began to examine the creative confines I had drawn for myself. I had always wanted to be profound, but from then on, I just wanted to be honest.
One of my favourite pieces is Love Me Lots, a project by John Jay written and starring yourself. With the metaphor of plucking petals, you explain how you used to seek the approval of others and how now you pull off the petals promising to love and cherish yourself every day. How has the experience of realising your worth and finding self-love been for you?
Well, again, I have to be honest. I believe some poetry exists as a spell — you cast it in hopes of creating something. I’m still on a journey of self-love, but I do think it’s important to cast those spells daily, reminding yourself of your worth and doing so in whatever way feels authentic at that moment. A daily practice of gratitude is helpful, but patience is important there too. Some days, you’ll look in the mirror and say, “I’m grateful for my talents, my beauty, my passions and all the love in my life” and other days, all you can muster is, “I’m grateful I made my bed today.” I think it’s important to remember that self-love isn’t a linear journey.
You have stated before that you have never felt like you’ve been in physical danger because of the privilege that comes from being light-skinned and having green eyes, however, as you have struggled emotionally with your Blackness, you have kept that all to yourself for a long time. When did you start gaining interest in your history as well as embracing and recognising yourself as a Black woman?
Growing up, I often felt like I was caught between worlds. I went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly white neighbourhood and had predominantly white friends. I tried to blend in for a long time, but I was treated differently in subtle ways and always felt a slight undercurrent of discomfort. I was fifteen the first time someone wielded a racial slur against me. It felt so dehumanising — I was enraged in a way that I didn’t even have the wherewithal to fully comprehend, but I knew there was also some small part of me beyond the anger that was really afraid of what it meant to be seen as a Black person. In some ways, that was the catalyst that pushed me to want to understand my story and myself, starting with whatever self-hatred I was unconsciously carrying. I feel contented now in being Black — I don’t feel like it’s something I need to hide and excuse, or prove and justify. It has been a long process, moving from denial and self-erasure to unbridled rage and constant self-identification. My racial identity is mine now, something I can embody without effort and just be.
When you posted your poem Together, you wrote the following words in the caption: “We were grouped together without individuality for our race and now, even as we have split apart as ourselves, we stand abreast as one tribe across the entire world.” Can you tell us more about this feeling of community and always staying together?
The tribal connection between Black people is really rooted in our shared history and experiences, it’s this intimate familiarity with someone you’ve never met, someone whose presence you instantly feel comforted by. A nod, a look, a hug or a handshake can communicate this familial knowing without any words. It’s a beautiful thing.
And what are your thoughts on how social media affects our self-esteem? Idealisation and comparison are a big thing, so how do you manage to stay away from all its toxicity?
I hope I don’t sound too fatalistic, but I think it’s nigh impossible to avoid the toxicity. Even the positive aspects of social media are contaminated with it. The connection we feel through these platforms is shadowed closely by the frenetic, anxious need to stay in constant contact. The ability to communicate a message or mission can always be rattled by some careless criticism. The validation we feel from our achievements or physical beauty being put on display is fleeting and generates an insatiable lust for attention, accompanied by the fear that if we don’t get it — we may disappear entirely. We tell ourselves, and one another, that it isn’t real, but we’ve been living in this digital world for so long now, that in some ways it has become real. I wish I could say that I’m above it or that I’ve found some secret, but I don’t think I have. Sometimes I look at photos I’ve posted of myself and I think, “Wow, I was miserable that day and my life felt like it was falling apart” but when I shared it, people were messaging me in awe of my life. We’re all the dupers and the duped, simultaneously. I think the only antidote is checking back in with reality, whatever that looks or feels to you. The real world requires more work, but it’s still the best place to be.
I really enjoyed listening to your thoughts in False Starts and Trust Falls, where you talk about what it’s like having your mind on survival mode in comparison to now that you’ve started dreaming. When you now feel stuck in a creative drought, you find it scarier than ever. Although we all have those times, how do you usually find inspiration? Where does your drive to write and create typically come from?
When I was younger, the difficulties in my life were the perfect kindling for my writing — little sticks of misery that went up in flames instantaneously to create a beautiful blaze. Now the pain is heavier, like some huge, wet tree bough. It’s much more difficult to set aflame and sometimes I can’t even get a whisper of smoke from it. I think as I’ve got older, what inspires me has changed. Instead of drawing on tragedy, I find that comedy can ignite the spark. A friend will playfully insult me or an irreverent thought will cross my mind and just like that, the divining rods cross and I find water. I think it’s important to be malleable with your creative process. Even if the same bag of tricks has got you going since you can remember, things can change. I’m honestly in a pretty devastating drought at the moment, but it’s very nice to be answering these questions. Duty can be an excellent source of inspiration too.
Let’s talk about some of your projects in collaboration with Ira Chernova. Last year you shared The Pregnant Pause, which features your beautiful words accompanied by a visual representation of them. What is it like working together and coming up with work that suits both of your styles and forms of expression?
Ira and I are strange creatures from similar worlds. Not in our formation, upbringing, background or anything of that nature, but in our essence. In short, we get each other. She’s brilliant and infinitely more intelligent than I am, but she will stay on whatever useless, esoteric point I’m trying to make and puzzle it out with computational precision, every time. She’s gracious like that. Working together comes very naturally because I don’t think either of us has much ego in our process. It’s easy to collaborate when both parties are willing to work for a shared outcome, rather than individualistic gratification. She sees something and just goes for it, judging it based on her own eye and whatever it evokes for her personally, but she’s also willing to part with whatever doesn’t work. I write similarly, letting the words be whatever they need to be and sacrificing anything that doesn’t fit the overall cadence of the piece.
Skin is your latest short video with Ira Chernova. In it we can also see what I believe to be your snake. I find a deep connection between the shedding of a snake’s skin and the feeling of death and renewal that you talk about. What was the idea or meaning behind this?
The shedding of a snake’s skin can take on many different meanings, depending on what point in that cycle you look at. Skin was inspired by that earnest need for change, transformation and renewal, but also the realisation that change is not fixed. Even after the rebirth, death is close again on your heels. Every new beginning is already in motion towards an end, and every end is in motion towards a new beginning. The point is, you have to continuously evolve, grow and regenerate. Renewal is not a destination, there’s no pinnacle or peak of enlightenment. It carries on forever until we leave this place.
Since you’re also a folk singer and songwriter, I would like to ask you, how does your creative process change when you’re writing poetry from when you’re writing song lyrics? What feels more liberating to you?
I love to sing and write songs, but it definitely feels far more structured and constrained. I write poetry while reading it aloud to ensure that it flows when spoken as much as it does on the page, but when music gets involved, it surely is a whole other animal. I would love to collaborate with a very gifted musician some day, one who can just give me melodies so I can really express myself fully with lyrics. One of my favourite musicians of all time is Fiona Apple because I’ve always admired her ability to finesse a word into a song that really has no business being there. It’s like she demands that the music bends to the will of her message. It has an aggressive quality, I like it.
And, lastly, what has your mind and energy been into lately? Are you working on any new projects?
Ira and I plan to continue our series throughout the year. Though they’re not strictly inspired by the seasons, there is an element of observation based on the natural world that occurs and seems to dictate what we make. We talk a lot about the real world in relationship to the digital world as well and how that affects our process. The latter is still vastly unexplored and as creators, we have to find new ways to imbue this landscape with our humanity if we hope to survive. We don’t want to live in the Metaverse, but we don’t want to be the last humans left on earth either. It’s a real pickle, one that I think all artists will have to puzzle out as time goes on.