Artist of the Week Tanisha Dunac’s Lyrical Language “Cycles”

I met Tanisha Dunac ’25 when I was rushing to our Poetry Workshop led by English Professor Betsy Bolton. I sat next to her, fangirling over her collected friendliness. I admired her nonchalant chillness: she lightheartedly giggled, holding a stack of papers. I could immediately tell she was a professional because, unlike her, I was fidgeting with papers and turning red at the mere suggestion of feedback. Little did I know, she was more than a professional; she is a seasoned veteran when it comes to the art of poetry:

“I’ve been writing since I was in sixth grade. I write when I need to write… You know, I think it’s something in my subconscious, or maybe I’m doing this intentionally – I don’t know,” she said. 

Tanisha continued, “I always write what is personally pertinent, either for myself or others, but writing comes from a type of energy and needs to be released [at] that moment. They always come up from random bursts I could have at any moment.”

Tanisha’s poetry reflects her spirit: she is wonderfully expressive in her tone of voice, hand movements, and pen strokes. She lives within her poetry and tries to depict every version of herself: past, present, and future. 

“I haven’t really placed myself in the past either because I’ve always placed myself in the now,” she said. “But I’m trying to remember past phases of me and think about those emotions [in] a new light: what did you learn from those emotions in the grand scheme of life? What did they mean?” 

Tanisha elaborated, “Using that as an inspiration would be really cool. And in my own poems, I’m actively learning how to write in the dark versus writing in the light. I mean, being in school, everything I’ve ever produced has been in the light. It’s always for the community, and I think that’s purposeful to create some type of change and impact, but I’m trying to write what I would admit if no one was really looking.”

Tanisha’s ghazal, “Cycles,” reflects some of the emotions she grapples with in her process:

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter Cycles

I can love you but hate the way your mind cycles

I let you treat me like that, watched, doe-eyed as you buried me

Everytime a siren sounds I wonder if you’re around cycles 

How’d you touch my soul from outside?

Permeate my ego and my pride cycles

I’m getting used to receiving, still getting good at leaving

Starting to subside, learning to believe in what is mine cycles

I won’t hide underneath your own projections

My tongue Sacred, Sexy, Protected, Discerning cycles

Longing, Laudable, Luminous, Tanisha 

Love yourself and the way the world cycles 

Perhaps I was particularly emotional when I first read “Cycles,” but I remember immediately feeling the poem’s melancholic warmth. That week, Betsy tasked us with writing couplets or ghazals, so I stuck to couplets in fear of the ghazal’s intricate structure. Since ghazals (and poems, in general) have so few words compared to prose, what term you repeat at the end of the line is crucial. You want your diction to tell a story in and of itself, and Tanisha’s cycles did. I read the poem as a reflection of self-perception: how do you learn how to love yourself when your self-esteem constantly fluctuates?

I can’t say whether or not my interpretation was wholly accurate, but Tanisha left considerable space for her readers to step into “Cycles.” I thought of the way the laundry flipped when I sat in Dana Hall’s basement across from the washer, glancing at myself in the swishing clothes, wondering if I’d ever learn how to control my cycles. I might not be longing, laudable, or luminous, but I’m learning the language to love myself and the way the world cycles. However, my understanding of the poem comes with the recognition that I can never fully step into it: it is a representation of Tanisha, and I’m allowed to sit with her for a few stanzas. 

“I’m sometimes even wondering, from my positionality as a Black woman, if [my readers] are seeing and understanding the implications of everything that I’m writing. If and when they don’t, it’s interesting knowledge because it tells them a little thing about themselves,” she said. “And that’s something I’ve had to learn a lot is that people’s critique of my poetry is a statement of the world and them more than me. My poem was my statement. Anything after that is everybody else’s statement, and I’m just learning how to read what the world is telling me.”

Tanisha continued, “It’s really hard, and that’s why I am learning that confidence as an artist is learning to stand in your anger of the world telling you what you know and don’t know and the injustice of it all. Before, I was really scared to tell everybody that I wanted to be an English major, that I wanted to be anything out of the norm or traditional. And then I realized, why are these people making me feel like I have to diminish myself? [They should] sit on that assumption.”

Most of Tanisha’s poems center around finding a language and a space for her voice to be heard in an academic setting that almost exclusively prioritizes and uplifts Western white voices. Tanisha is from Haiti and immigrated to New York when she was five years old. Since poetry is personal, she often grapples with her intersectional identity as a Haitian, American, queer poet. 

“I’m trying to work with this claim for not only language but nationality. I feel my Black American identity as it comes. But also, at the same time, I feel connected to Haiti. I realized in my pile of inspirations that I didn’t have a lot of Caribbean poets. And so I definitely want to play with that a lot,” she said.

Tanisha’s poem “Lament for Language” exemplifies this tension:

To thine own self be blue

For thine own self be blue 

The language you cry in is most true 

I, never, learned to cry 

I learned never to cry 

Mother tongue soothed lullaby 

My heart, bursting blue, pulsates

My heart, blackened hue, pulsates

unyielding, she shatters to mourn as of late 

Pistol poison, wicked wit, resound

Pistol poised in, wicked witness, resound

He aint nothing but a dog, bloodhound

Choked syllables reverberate 

Choking still able to rev, berate 

Swallow disdain carefully curated on plates

The language you cry in is most true

The language you hide in is most true 

I struggle for my people, browned and blue, 

whose language they cry feels reduced 

“Lament for Language” tackles Tanisha’s conflict with language: her poem speaks English, but her mother soothes her in Haitian Creole. Tanisha reflected, “Poetry always feels, you know, political as Audre Lorde says, and so I’m trying to always instill a message, but also sometimes I like to play and see what comes up and maybe in itself.” 

She continued, “I believe heavily in the power of literature, both my own and other languages. And I think as a way of instilling not only narratives but also like beings and lessons and morals, proverbs are big in Haitian Creole: we have so many with different meanings. You know, what’s on the surface isn’t the true meaning. And so I’m deeply invested in that craft, and hopefully, that craft will be deeply invested in me. That’s what I aim for in all of my works, I hope.”

As we wrapped up our interview and hugged goodbye, I told Tanisha that I couldn’t wait to see her poetry collection sitting on a library shelf. But for now, I’m grateful that Tanisha has given herself, me, and you the space to love ourselves and the way our minds cycle.

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