It took a long time for Sojourner Kincaid Rolle to call herself a poet.
First she became a lawyer and then went the opposite direction working as a mediator.
Finally, in the late ’80s, she settled in Santa Barbara and began spending her days writing poetry.
“Once I came into poetry and began writing poetry and made it my life endeavor, it gave me a sense of freedom about who I am,” she said. “I don’t feel boxed in. I manifest who I am as a person, and the poems I write are a representation of me in the world.
“I try to be a voice in the community, and poetry is just my way to do that.”
The award-winning poet will read Saturday at the first Arcade Poetry Series event of the year at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard.
“Sojourner writes about two cultures: about being a contemporary woman and an African American, but with a very direct voice and point of view,” said Jackson Wheeler, director of the Arcade Poetry Series. “I think it’s going to be a very entertaining evening.”
Rolle, who disliked the adversarial aspects of the legal profession, still considers herself a mediator, as her poetry focuses on themes of peace and equality.
“I consider myself a peacemaker and a pacifist,” she said. “I’m antiwar and anti-conflict. I feel like everything can be worked out and should be.
“I think there’s a lot of similarity between poetry and conflict resolution, because in poetry we’re often trying to work through something, an idea or a thought or a feeling. Misunderstanding is often a key element in conflict, and in poems we’re trying to work through to some understanding.”
One of Rolle’s most popular poems, “In Silence, In Peace,” discusses how peace can bring inner harmony and unite people.
“In peace/I found that nameless something/smoldering like ash-baked embers/rising to fill the all of me/and overflow profusely/to openly flame/burning through all barriers/through to every other soul,” the poem reads.
Some of Rolle’s poems are also political pieces, championing the rights of women, blacks and other minorities.
“Most all of my poems come from my experience — something that I’ve seen or heard or done,” she said.
It’s these topics that Rolle plans to explore in her reading Saturday. The North Carolina-raised poet will also read some memorial pieces she’s written in honor of other poets and “people in the realm” whom she admires. Lastly, Rolle will weave poems on nature and environmental preservation into the reading.
Several of her selections will be newly written pieces, which she’s working to compile in the forthcoming Black Street II.
In 2009, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Center for Black Studies Research published her book Black Street: Poems, and two years prior she released a Black Street spoken-word album.
Rolle’s first book, Common Ancestry, was published in 1999. Her work has also been included in two anthologies, The Geography of Home and The Poetry of Peace.
Rolle and Wheeler (who is also a poet hailing from North Carolina) have been friends for more than two decades and have worked together on several community poetry projects. In the late ’80s, they both participated in the first Arcade readings, when there were informal gatherings held at the City Bakery in Ventura.
“The series became hugely popular, pulling a lot of writers out of the woodwork who had known each other,” Wheeler recalled.
While the poetry series has grown in prestige over the years, its aim is still to bring poetry to the masses and to teach them to listen carefully, he said.
“That is something that is vanishing out of our culture, with its tweets and texts and commercials,” Wheeler said.
Rolle strives to make her poetry accessible to general audiences, frequently reading at public events such as funerals, graduations and church services.
“I want every person to feel touched by some poem or another that they hear me read,” she said. “A lot of times, when poems talk about issues that are difficult, they help the listener to feel that they’re not alone. It’s a way of creating a supporting community.”
Sojourner Kincaid Rolle will read alongside Lance Lee, a poet from Pacific Palisades, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14, as part of the Arcade Poetry Series at the Carnegie Art Museum, 424 S. C St., Oxnard. The reading concludes with dessert and a poetry-book raffle. The event is free for museum members and there is a suggested donation of $3 for nonmembers. The museum will host a reading each month through June, featuring locally and nationally known poets. For more information, call 385-8157 or visit carnegieam.org. To read selected poems by Rolle, visit poemhunter.com/sojourner-kincaid-rolle.