I think I was nine or ten when I wrote my first legitimate poem. I was distressed at the thought of having to leave everyone and everything I knew on the Virginia coast where I was born and move with my family to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I have lived ever since. It’s easy to look (or cringe) back at that poem as a silly, painfully melodramatic list of beach-themed cliches, but I know that it began what will likely be a lifelong artistic experiment with emotions, words, and speculations.
In the years since, I have continued to use writing, along with visual art, as a tool of exploration and recognition. I use them to understand and connect to the world I live in both externally and internally.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and ADHD since childhood, I often struggle to maintain a calm and confident headspace. I am almost always worried or uncomfortably unsure about several things at any given time. Early on, my disorder contributed to a distaste for school and learning in general. Nevertheless, the older I got, the more time I spent with words. As my passion for the literary arts grew, I came to love writing not only as an effective and satisfying process of channeling negative energy but also as a way to connect with people and understand the complexities in my life. In my early teens, I read works by icons like Oscar Wilde, John Keats, Chinua Achebe, and Sylvia Plath and felt seen (by dead people but seen nonetheless). To compose something that connects with even a handful of people, in any century, became a goal for me as an artist.
To this day I am trying to figure out what exactly an ‘artist’ is and how I can best demonstrate it within my life. In addition to my literary interests, I have always had a strong affinity for visual arts, namely drawing, painting, and photography. Going into my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, I felt pressured to choose between a degree in English and the Fine Arts. Eventually, much like everybody’s favorite Old El Paso girl, I asked: Why don’t we have both? With feet in two distinct areas of study, I realized that art and poetry share more similarities than differences.
Maybe the most infuriating yet comforting commonality is that there is no right or wrong way to create. Yes, there are techniques, precedents, and a few unspoken rules, but ultimately an artist has total authority over their craft. It’s terrifying.
While I have many doubts about my own future and artistry, I keep an open mind and try to make peace with my own ambiguity. This year I am very excited and honored to be part of the Sundress team and look forward to forming new connections, gaining experience, and contributing to a thriving creative community.
Alexa White is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the city where she grew up, and is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing with a Studio Art minor. She has enjoyed reading and writing, especially poetry, for most of her life and has had both art and poetry published in UTK’s Phoenix literary magazine.
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