Writers Sydney Bobb and Azura Tyabji manufactured a special connection that provided solace to survive the calamity surrounding them. The end result? New poems celebrating their senses of self.
Tyabji is from Seattle, Washington and is a First Wave scholar representing the 13th Cohort. A former Seattle Youth Poet Laureate and transfer student from Temple University, Tyabji was planning a poetry festival full of open mics, workshops and a culminating slam with Babel Poetry Collective prior to the pandemic. The cancellation of the festival and numerous other events made her consider how her writing functions when it is not necessarily going to be performed.
“Even though there are online events and still opportunities to share my work, I have withdrawn into myself a lot,” Tyabji says. “I think solitude is necessary to write things that maybe we don’t necessarily confront when we have to perform in front of a lot of people.”
Bobb hails from Boston, Massachusetts and is a First Wave scholar in the 12th Cohort. In a similar vein, Bobb was grinding with her teammates to prepare to attend the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational with Uprise Poetry Collective. With more than 20 poems written and ready to be memorized and choreographed, COVID-19 hit and washed away the hopes Bobb and Uprise Poetry Collective had of performing at Virginia Commonwealth University in front of writers from around the world. As the disappointment flooded in with having to go back home and global turmoil ensuing, Bobb took a writing hiatus.
“Not doing the things that I had done pre-pandemic kind of just forced me into believing that shit wasn’t gonna be regular ever again,” Bobb says.
It wasn’t until winter break that Bobb found her groove again. She challenged herself to write a poem each day of break. Bobb saw that the poems were cohesive enough to create her first collection.
“Throat Baby Mama,” Bobb’s 20-page chapbook that will be available in print in late spring, interrogates the romanticization of a short-lived lover, accepting one’s choice to indulge in a situation that isn’t really good for them and rediscovering one’s joy.
“I felt like I told a story. And it was just kind of me chronicling me being separated. Me being liberated, not even separated. But liberated. And self liberation, for me, came through writing,” Bobb says. “It’s nice to know that you can write yourself free sometimes.”
Tyabji’s collection “Dear Azula, I Have A Crush On Danny Phantom” is co-written with Jackson Neal, a former Houston Youth Poet Laureate. The chapbook was a finalist for the 2019 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. They wrote the chapbook in ten days during the winter of 2019. It will be released and published by Button Poetry this June. Tyabji wrote fanfiction growing up and bonded with Neal over their affinity for cartoons and how certain characters helped them step into their own identities.
“It was conceived from being horny for cartoon characters from our childhood and how characters like Danny Phantom, Shego from “Kim Possible,” Zuko from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” all kind of awakened our sexuality, and how cartoons were kind of the only portals that we could see ourselves as emerging young queer people on screen,” Tyabji said.
Bobb shares similar sentiments on giving love to her inner child: “What future does 12-year-old Sydney deserve?”
“I Have A Crush on Shego” came from Tyabji remembering watching “Kim Possible” and feeling the sexual tension between Kim and Shego’s fights,but not being able to articulate that at 13 because she didn’t know love was possible between women.
“I had to ask myself writing this, ‘Why did I not think that relationships between women were possible?
What excuses did I have to keep myself from knowing what queerness was?” Tyabji says. “I think we want “Dear Azula, I Have A Crush On Danny Phantom” to be not necessarily a relief from the weight of the world that we’re presently in, but a portal to retreat into ourselves and into nostalgia, not to disengage from the present but to look back at our inner child.”
Tyabji and Bobb are living in Ogg Hall, which has definitely shifted their artistic processes.
The coming-of-age experience they are currently going through is a part of the art itself. The greatest benefit has been the bond they have built as friends.
“We’re the Real Housewives of Ogg Hall,” Tyabji says.
“Honestly, that could be a chapbook in itself,” Bobb replied. They met when Tyabji was searching for her Wiscard in her bag and have grown closer through this whirlwind school year ever since. They’ve watched movies like “Magic Mike XXL,” shared poems and to Devil’s Lake.
They’ve even formed traditions such as their Starbucks runs and WAP Wednesdays, which became a weekly celebration of self, sisterhood and sexuality. Bobb even dedicated a poem to their ritual titled “WELCOME TO WAP WEDNESDAY.”
“You’ve definitely seen me at my most embarrassing and for that, I feel like I’m gonna love you for the rest of my life,” Tyabji says.
“Thank you for indulging in my nonsense and saying what’s on your mind,” Bobb says.
Amid the crises and uprisings of the last year, one might wonder why writing about love and cartoons would be at all relevant to the world in this moment. Tyabji and Bobb demonstrate how giving tenderness to the heart and the youthfulness within ourselves can uplift and strengthen our distressed souls.