I’m smitten with poetry, which is why I get enthusiastic to read Instagram posts from Poetry by Boots. She has a way with words and her poems are relatable in everyday life. I occasionally come up with a witty haiku; however, I have decided to leave poetry to the professionals.
Did Boots move to Chicago?
I became intrigued when I saw Chicago as the scene for some of Boots’ recent posts given that she is based in Los Angeles. I sent a message asking if she moved to Chicago, she said yes, and here we are! This became a great opportunity to learn more about her, so we engaged in an interview via email.
Let’s get this out of the way first — what made you leave warm California for cold Chicago in the dead of winter?
I love Chicago! I was born and raised here on the south side. Right after I graduated from Columbia College, I decided to move to Los Angeles where I worked as a photographer and creative director at a hip hop magazine during most of my time there. After a decade away, I decided that I wanted to move back to be closer to family. Also, my poetry business has taken off so I wanted to pursue that fully. It started with some cut-out stencils sprayed in abandoned buildings to have three books out, a clothing line, art, and many other things.
How long have you been writing poetry and what initially inspired you?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 12 years old. I used to take the Pace bus to the orange line on weekends and sit at the Harold Washington Library, reading poetry all day. It was probably unsafe for me at that age to do it, but I just became obsessed with the art form of it. The way people can express themselves through written word. Having always been a fan of hip hop, poetry seemed natural to me. So I started writing my own, but not anything I would show people. Even when I wrote my first book, I didn’t really think this was going to be a career path for me. I was going through a really bad breakup after being with this person for close to a decade, and the only way I could somehow heal was to write him letters that I would never show him. I turned those letters into my first book. My first book is 145 poems, start to finish of that relationship. So this whole poetry venture is bittersweet. I had to go through the worst to make something beautiful out of it.
Your bio says you love Slurpees. What’s your favorite flavor?
I really love the Mountain Dew ones! Right now my favorite is Coca-Cola with cherry on top. My best friend, Lauren Gries, who is also the most amazing photographer, got me hooked on them.
I see we share the same love for travel. Do you spray your poetry in cities that you travel to? If so, how do you choose where?
I do love to travel. Every year, I would drive back and forth to Chicago from California along the old Route 66 through Arizona, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. I’m so grateful to have such amazing friends all over the U.S. who also love abandoned places, so I always have partners in crime to spray paint with. I plan different places to visit, but as for the actual poem or placement, I wait until that place gives me a feeling and I go with my gut.
I’m fascinated by abandoned buildings, but also timid depending on the location. Do you have any exploration tips?
I’ve been exploring for about a decade now. When I started doing this, Instagram wasn’t even around and it’s changed greatly since it’s become a social media “fad.” I only mention that because it’s become harder. Places become destroyed, put all over YouTube, and then the area gets sealed up and policed more. It’s hard to give tips because it’s all about luck. My best advice is to find really amazing people to do this with. I’m so lucky that most of my friends do this and we look out for each other to stay safe while having fun. I have no balance, so I have had friends literally pull me out of stages I have fallen through. Doing this with people you trust is very important.
Have any conversations in public places motivated you to write poems? I know a few writers who like to observe others, so I’m curious.
I am obsessed with people watching and constantly writing down notes on napkins, post-its, or old receipts I find in my purse. I find inspiration from a lot of things that people overlook. Even when I watch TV and hear certain quotes, I’m pulling out my phone and jotting them down. Most of my poems are personal experiences, but they are definitely inspired by my surroundings.
It has been difficult for me to be creative during the pandemic. Has the quarantine deterred you from writing?
Oh, absolutely. I thought I was going to move back home, sit at my favorite coffee shops, write, and be constantly inspired. I also have really bad seasonal depression and after being in the sunshine for a decade, it was hard to come home with it being cold and snowy. I have had to find ways around that. Sometimes just a really long walk, some fresh air, a really good cup of coffee, or a conversation with a friend can push you out of that dark mindset.
Have you done a collab with a muralist before? If not, is this something that interests you?
Not so much a muralist, but I definitely have a lot of graffiti artist friends who I’ve done great collabs with. My first collab was with one of the kindest, most genuine humans – Teck 9 from the Detroit area. Sadly, he passed away last year, but he taught me to stay true to my art no matter how many people talk trash about it. Last summer, I also did collabs with my friend, Funr, who is based in California. We did a four-day road trip across the Midwest with another homie/graffiti legend, Style. This year, my goal is to do murals. I want my words BIG across the sides of buildings. I’m not the best free-hand artist, so I want to collab with artists who can bring my words to life with their artistic vision.
As mentioned, I’m always curious to explore an abandoned building when I see one. Boots painted a poem at a church under demolition, and I jumped at the chance to check it out when she gave me the address. I endured icy sidewalks and knee-deep snow from the big storm only to discover her art was gone. It wasn’t comical at the time, but the memory is now. A construction crew was on-site and indulged me by looking at the Instagram photo on my phone to be sure I wasn’t missing the poem. They were also kind enough to help me get across busy Ashland Ave.
Where you can find some of her art
Poetry by Boots has lots of sprays around town and many of them are along the Bline on Hubbard Avenue and near the Metro on Clark. The photos I’m sharing here can be found on Hubbard (I edited/added framing for this post).
Merchandise for sale
Boots has tons of amazing merchandise for sale in her Etsy shop. I ordered a pack of stickers, which I will share with a few close friends. One special friend, who lives in Utrecht in the Netherlands, was excited to receive what I sent her. Lotte takes beautiful photos and has such an encouraging outlook on life, I highly recommend checking out her Instagram.
I really appreciate Boots sharing parts of her intriguing life and I look forward to new poems. And, fingers crossed for a few mural collaborations.