RVA #39 is on the streets now! Here’s another article from the issue, in which artist and poet Tiffanie Brooke reflects on modeling, writing, and the power of the human body in self-expression.
“We are more than the skin we crawl around in.”
Let’s be honest: among the self-styled “Instapoets” of the world, often there isn’t more behind their words than vaguely-poetic interpretations of fortune cookies and phrases from motivational posters. And while it is wildly popular, whether or not it is authentically poetry could be up for debate. Exceptions to this generality are somewhat rare, but Richmond’s artist and poet Tiffanie Brooke is undeniably one of them. Her writing is both accessible and well-crafted, a refreshing combination in the literary world of stuffy academic writing and pandering to popularity.
Brooke is an alternative model and a deeply candid poet. Her work is evocative, both in front of the camera and on the page. It’s her juxtaposition of imagery that defines who she is as an artist, and it provides a window into her expressive dynamic of strength and unique vulnerability.
RVA Magazine’s R. Anthony Harris had a chance to talk with Brooke about her work, and explore the ideas that sparked her artistic beginnings.
R. Anthony Harris: How did your modeling begin?
Tiffanie Brooke: I had a very negative outlook on my body when I was a teenager; I was super thin, I didn’t have a chest. My cheekbones jut out. My nose goes off in one direction. I consistently beat myself up… One day I came across America’s Next Top Model, and I became obsessed. I was seeing women that looked like I did, and they all had something about them that matched my “weird.”
RAH: How long have you been writing?
TB: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My brother and I were advised to write in those god-awful composition notebooks by counselors when we were very young. We grew up in a very confusing environment for two small children; I did not come from a communicative family. Writing was, and still is, my form of communication, though this non-direct writing has given me a safe way to express myself.
RAH: When did both of these ideas start to intertwine?
TB: They intertwined when Instagram became popular, honestly. I thought it was the perfect way to give my work a visual; to further push whatever I was writing about at the time. I wanted to give “selfies” another form, and transform how the imagery in my writing was supposed to look. Why not try to capture a visual of how I feel when I’m “in it,” versus a photo of something else entirely? After all, I’m writing about an experience and how it affects me.
RAH: What writers do you draw inspiration from?
TB: James Kavanaugh, Kris Kidd, Louis Gluck, Claudia Emerson, Jayne Pupek, and Richard Siken are a few that I obsess over when writer’s block settles in. Each one is immensely different in their writing types and points of view, but I sympathize with a lot of them. They all seem to capture the vastness of my personality traits.
RAH: What about photographers?
TB: I don’t have many photographers that I draw inspiration from, really. I enjoy Jason Lee Perry’s works — I read over a particular piece, and envision it as a movie with me in the middle of it: “What would this scene look like?”
RAH: Do you see modeling as a way for people to read your writings?
TB: Modeling in itself is a form of communication, so absolutely! Saint Jerome said, “The face is the mirror of the mind, and the eyes, without speaking, confess the secrets of the heart.” Modeling and writing are both forms of expression, so it made sense for me to combine the two. Tacking onto what I’ve said before, we’re conditioned to choke down how we physically handle our emotions. I try to capture those emotions visually.
RAH: Is your body a weapon or a tool?
TB: Tough question. I am consistently working with, and against, my body. I think we all are, in some shape or form.
RAH: Is it a problem when trying to be taken seriously as an artist?
TB: There is a very fine line in the public eye — of owning your body, and being sexualized for exhibiting confidence — and that has nothing to do with being an artist. It’s hard being a woman in any industry. Shit, it’s hard being a woman, period. Most of my modeling used for my writing is nude. It’s not an attention thing at all, but more to push that vulnerability of here I am, in all that I am. Clothes are character-building, and we aren’t entirely truthful with ourselves until the veil of that day-to-day character is removed. Unfortunately, because of my comfort in that, I am often looked at as an object… and it stops there.
RAH: What does objectification mean to you?
TB: Taking something at face value, without intent to find out the inner workings of an individual.
RAH: Do you objectify other people?
TB: Not all the time, and not on purpose. Sometimes I have to force myself to. I am a very deep person; I spend a lot of time in my head. If I didn’t push myself to draw a line with someone that is bouncing around too much mentally, I’d be miserable. We all have individual ways of processing relationships with others, and sometimes it comes down to what we find works best for us. I have a tendency to switch off my feelings for someone completely, and that’s typically where I end up objectifying.
RAH: Is it demeaning, or are people just looking for a quick way to understand another person?
TB: When I write about a specific person, I don’t use names as to not intentionally hurt or demean someone. I always give individuals code names, and honestly I think it makes some pieces more mysterious and puzzling. I like that about poetry. That said, resonation is such an important factor in any type of writing — we are all looking to be understood in some way. Music and writing are excellent ways to fill that void of alienation.
RAH: I have to ask about the Yoda tattoo. Do you love his wisdom, or are you just a super nerd?
TB: The Yoda tattoo began as a tribute to my relationship with my dad. There aren’t many positive memories attached to him when I think back on my childhood, except for our shared TV time. He got me into Star Wars when I was really young, and we’d watch the series over and over, weekly. Maybe for him, it was one of the few things we could do together that I wasn’t talking his ear off, but that I walked away from with an adoration for a fantasy world I wanted to find myself in. We didn’t expect there to be sequels, but it’s a relief to have something we can continue to connect on.
RAH: What do you hope people understand about your work?
TB: I am so much more than a “half-naked girl on Instagram.” There is always more than meets the surface; everyone is where they are because of an experience that set them there. If we all took a little more time to understand each other at more than face value, we would come to know that we are more than the skin we crawl around in. Writing is free, and always available. Whether pen-to-paper or in the notepad on a cell phone, the ability to set our inner workings out in one way or another is incredibly healthy — and important. You never know how much your experiences can aid another person’s until you make yourself vulnerable.
Intro by S. Preston Duncan. Interview by R. Anthony Harris.