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Erika Roberts On Uniting A Community With Poetry

Erika Roberts has used her poetry to become an outspoken member of our community, with big plans on the way

Chattanooga is in many ways blessed by how supportive its art community can be. Few cities of its size have groups as dedicated to helping others and to beautifying our streets. A big part of why Chattanooga is so privileged comes from amazing local creatives who truly stand out, like Erika Roberts.

Erika was first introduced to poetry when she was in the 5th grade at Spring Creek Elementary School. She told us that she vividly remembers the emotions she felt as she started learning about prose.

“I hated it,” Erika said.

She found poetry to be contrived and controlling. The rules associated with certain kinds of poetry upset her as she just wanted to write the way that she enjoyed. Erika’s mother is a writer and began pushing Erika towards writing by showing her books of poetry and giving Erika her own journal.

Soon Erika discovered that poetry was actually therapeutic. She fell in love with writing it as it allowed her to break away from conventions and write in a way that expressed who she was. This allowed her to use her writing as a way to cope with bad things in life and to gain freedom from constraints around her.

“My writing became a necessity,” Erika said. “I’m thankful that my mom always supported me, subtly. Anytime I needed a new journal, I had one.”

At 16, Erika began sharing her poetry with peers. This would grow into her creating her own poetry production as a young adult, Velvet Poetry Productions. Under Velvet Poetry Productions, Erika began performing erotic poetry live. This led her to soon begin performing at late-night shows at local venues such as The Palace Theater.

“I used my poetry shows to tell stories of humanities and life’s struggles,” Erika shared. “Then I started meeting other poets and I started doing workshops and just became incredibly inspired by the people around me.”

Erika has been in the limelight lately thanks to a video she created with the City of Chattanooga that was played before the State of the City address for 2020. This video came at a crucial time for the community as we had just begun to feel the pains of COVID-19. It showed Erika narrating a beautiful poem about Chattanooga and its people while scenes of the city and community members working together were shown.

“The focus of the poem was originally going to be about what it’s like to be a creative in Chattanooga,” Erika said. “But with everything going on, it changed to instead focus on the community as a whole.”

Erika was herself feeling sick with a cold during the time that she was writing and recording for the video. She told us that despite being unable to see her friends and family due to the pandemic, many continued to use social media to speak with her and check up on her and would even leave gifts at her door. Seeing others come together to help one another while still being able to practice social distancing was a huge inspiration for her as she wrote the poem.

“The first time I watched the video, it was so emotional. I cried while I watched. Then I went down to the comments and I was so happy. They got the message! That’s all I wanted and they definitely did.”

Erika is continuing to work with other local artists to find ways to help the community during this time. Make sure to go follow her on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with her new projects!