Mikey Cody Apollo: Poetry as Freedom
In honor of National Poetry month, we asked local writer, filmmaker and educator Mikey Cody Apollo to create a poem that serves as a message to Milwaukee's creatives, and they chose to write a message from the city herself, personified. Check out the Mikey's poem, and a performance of it here.
We also asked them to reflect on their artistic practice, and on how operating within Milwaukee's creative community fuels their work.
Tell us about your trajectory as an artist and writer.
I fell in love with writing when I was about eight years old. I drew a lot of early inspiration from the Junie B. Jones series. I loved the character and the quirky situations she would get herself in! That love of reading became a love of storytelling, and storytelling has shifted a lot for me over these last few years, taking forms in screenwriting or poetry or vignettes. When I got older, I attended Milwaukee High School of the Arts as a creative writing major, and then when I got to college, I worked in UWM’s Sociocultural Programming Department. One of the series within that department was Lyrical Sanctuary Open Mic & Performance, the longest-running open mic here in Milwaukee. Honestly, that four years was one of the biggest highlights of my life and my artistic career. Now, at 27-years-old, I am a part of Milwaukee Film’s Focus Finder Accelerator Program and working on both my second manuscript and first feature film. It is overwhelming, but so magic.
Why poetry as a medium?
Poetry was a vehicle for a lot of my teenage angst. It held me when I didn’t want to hold me. So in one regard, poetry was a necessity and tool for survival. Now that I do work in the world of education, Black liberation, and Beloved Community, I understand poetry to be a protest, an unraveling, and freedom.
“Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper.” - Audre Lorde
What do you do when you’re not writing poetry, and how might it flow back into the work you do as an artist?
When I am not writing poetry, I am probably in the company of my favorite artists (I.e. my homies!) My friends truly are the most brilliant, radical, beautiful, and creative people I know, so being in their presence, consuming their art, and witnessing their artistic process flows back into my own work because it pushes me to go harder. Not in a competitive kind of way, but in a way that challenges and holds me accountable. Xeroine Illustration, Genesis Renji, Sptmbrborn, and LIV are just a few who come to mind, but believe me, if someone is making something move and shake in Milwaukee’s art and culture scene, they’re probably a member of my village and for that, I am unbelievably grateful.
How does Milwaukee and its arts and culture inspire you, or fuel your work?
Milwaukee is hungry. Milwaukee is intelligent. Milwaukee is colorful. Milwaukee is loud. Milwaukee is tender. Milwaukee is quite literally my bones and my blood. I would not be the artist or human being I am had I lived anywhere else! Milwaukee fuels my work because she and I speak the same language. Milwaukee’s art and culture scene is very much like my identities of being Black, queer, and woman; I can never separate it from the stories I want to tell. It informs so much.
Give a shout out to your favorite three arts organizations/artists in Milwaukee.
Shout out to my homie Yessica (@xeroine_illustration). I often joke that I will never be financially stable because I ball out on her work all the time! She is truly my favorite artist. Her work has really helped me build a healthier relationship to other women and my own body because of how much I see us (Black women, women of Color, queer folks, fat folks). So when folks say representation does not matter, they’re a damn lie! She also started creating resin jewelry (@xero_resin) within the last two years, so if you ever see me rocking resin pieces, please know she is the maker! LIV (@livmke) has one of the most untraditional stories into how she became an artist. She picked up a paintbrush at the top of the pandemic and just never put it down. Her work is such a complex look at Blackness and rest and accessibility. The emotions she portrays in her work are raw, and her use of color is chef’s kiss. I am so excited to be able to witness her blossoming more and more into the artist she was destined to be.
I also love Gigi of @thenakedgoddess. She is also one of the reasons my bank account will never know peace. She creates magickal pieces using crystals, paint, wood, etc. Each piece, whether it is a shirt, oils, a charcuterie board, necklaces, whatever, are an ode to astrology, outer space, plants, and the human experience and beyond. She is truly a gift and she is also my birthday twin.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
I am an online over-sharer, so I don't think there is anything folks do not know about me!
If you could plan your perfect “Milwaukee Day” what would it look like, from start to finish?
My perfect Milwaukee Day looks like breakfast at Coffee Makes You Black, a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum, a local concert with live-painting from our dope artists, and a rooftop party overlooking the skyline!
What’s next for you in your creative practice?
I am currently working on 2-3 films and a second book. I am hoping to take my creative practice off the page and on to the screen!
You created this poem as a love letter from Milwaukee to her artists. Is there anything else they might they need to hear right now?
I think Milwaukee artists need to know that they matter. We are often overshadowed by places like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, but Milwaukee could and SHOULD be on the same level. We are a goldmine of talent. So I really believe that they deserve to know that what they're creating is NECESSARY and that their audience will find them if they keep it up. Even if their target audience is themselves, make that sh*t.