Photo credit: Reese Moore
McKayla Robbin thought no one was reading poetry anymore and had decided not to return to San Diego State to complete her degree in fine arts.
She spent the summer of 2016 on the New Jersey shore reflecting — on what she thought poetry should be and what it means to be a woman. She wrote eight hours a day, trying to find her creative energy, her voice. Everything she wrote for the first four months ended up in the trash.
Then the inspiration came.
McKayla moved to her hometown of Charleston and self-published her book, “we carry the sky,” in December 2016, a month before millions of women marched on Washington to bring attention to women’s rights and less than a year before millions of women would come forward to say #MeToo to demonstrate the pervasiveness of sexual assault.
“Everybody’s reaction is that it’s really powerful, especially in context of the news cycle right now,” she says. “Hopefully, we’ve been able to add a little to the conversation that’s going on right now.”
She says she didn’t want the book to feel like one person’s story. “I wanted to make it feel like our story.”
McKayla’s book landed on a Bustle list of 9 Feminist Poetry Collections to Read. The list prompted actor and director Elizabeth Masucci to read Robbin’s book, as luck would have it, on a flight to Charleston. The producer, who is known for directing films about women by women from the poetry of writers such as Maya Angelou and Meghan O’Rourke, saw that the poet lived in Charleston, called her up and asked to meet her for a coffee. The two met at Bakehouse and discussed plans to make a short film featuring women of different ages, races and backgrounds reciting selected poems. The short film was featured on the “PBS Newshour” website last fall.
McKayla says she cried when she watched the film. (Warning: You will, too.) “It was just so beyond my expectations for this little book I self-published,” she says. “It’s a lifelong dream.”
She says the poems in her book are intended to help women feel like they are never alone, that many of the experiences of being a woman are universal.
“Sometimes you can get lost in what you’re supposed to be and the ‘shoulds’ of life,” she says. “I wanted (reading the book) to be freeing.”
She hopes her poetry helps people ask questions of themselves and encourages women to “take back the power in their own lives, if it was missing, or if not, reaffirm it.”
At the end of the short film, the women are dancing to “Aphrodite” by Satellite Mode. They are full of joy and hope.
“The weight of the ‘woulds’ and ‘you shoulds,’ it can be depressing. We have a responsibility to each other to help each other carry that burden.” That burden is where the title “we carry the sky” comes from. But, sometimes, McKayla says, we need to take off that burden, let go and dance.
“I want to be dancing,” McKayla says.
McKayla’s belief in the power of poetry has been restored. She’s finishing her Master’s in fine arts at College of Charleston, and she’s planning to spend another summer writing in the house on the Jersey shore. McKayla’s book is available on Amazon.com. You can watch the short film at mckaylarobbin.com.