Published Jan 01, 2006Ursula Rucker is fearless about taking a good hard look at subjects others would prefer to forget. The Philadelphia poet's sophomore full-length, Silver or Lead, opens with a stark slave narrative that traces a line from suppressed history to institutional repression and violence. Rucker began quite by chance performing at a Philly jazz club, and in the ensuing decade has made a remarkable career of bringing together poetry and music, debuting on an album by friend King Britt and contributing to three records by the Roots.
A journalism graduate from Temple University, and a writer long before she considered performing, she has always felt part of a broader community of poets and artists. "I'm not necessarily feeling a connection to spoken word because I think that's very much a fad," she says. "Some people use that term so people can understand this 'poetry thing' in a performance setting. But I don't use that term. It's not like this is anything new."
Nor is it easy. The frankness with which she tells her stories inspires awe. "Return to Innocence Lost" first appeared on the Roots' Things Fall Apart and is one of her most personal poems, chronicling the violent life and death of her older brother. She says that she draws from the traditions of artists such as Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, and Frida Kahlo, someone to whom she feels particularly connected. "She's one of my major inspirations, somebody who I always think about. Somebody whose work I always refer back to, and that means her writing as well as her painting." Kahlo's difficult life, as well as her art, has proven particularly inspiring. "I just feel like we're kindred spirits. I can relate to the feeling of creating your art out of your dark places, as well as your beautiful places."