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Kisha Nicole Foster

Kisha Nicole Foster
Kisha Nicole Foster, considered one of Cleveland’s pioneers of performance poetry, started when she was 19 and has been writing and reading her poetry for almost as many years. She began attending open-mic nights in 1999 at clubs such as the now-closed Humidor, Spy Bar and Kamikaze. (Note: Kamikaze Coffee House & Grill is a new version of the bar Foster’s referring to; the original bar closed.) “Open-mic poetry performance had a time in 2004, 2005 when it was still popping,” says Foster, who published a collection of her poetry, Poems 1999-2014, in 2017. “Then in 2007, 2008, poetry started going down as a craft, and the open-mics became overcrowded with rappers and singers. I learned so much back then, but I got out of it, and now writing poetry is more of a living for me.”

Foster attended Cleveland State University from 2003 to 2008 to increase her knowledge and understanding of literature and to polish her gifts and discipline for writing poetry. She cites two of her teachers, Nuala Archer and the late Sheila Schwartz, as helping her refine her technical wordsmithing skills. Smith emphasizes the importance for Cleveland writers not only of learning their craft, but also of knowing the city’s literary history. “A lot of poets don’t know that [poets] D.A. Levy, Daniel Thompson and Mary Oliver were from here,” she says. “If you don’t know our history as a rich literary community, then you don’t understand the footsteps you’re walking in today.”

Fortunately, although she now focuses on paid residencies, performances and teaching positions, Foster has seen a great resurgence in the poetry reading and slam scene during the past few years.

“Our community is getting a lot stronger, especially with programs like Twelve Literary Arts and Literary Cleveland,” explains Foster, a Cleveland Public Library Ohio Center for the Book fellow. “We’ve also brought the slam back, and not just locally. We have poets participating nationally with Poetry Slam Inc., and our last two people that we sent came in 7th and 17th, so that put Cleveland back on the national scene.”