After twists and turns, poet returns to slam competitions with a better mindset

Barbara Fant was killin' it in 2010. A senior in college, she was representing Columbus across the performance poetry circuit, including the National Poetry Slam. She received the Cora Craig Award for Young Women Authors, leading to her first published book of poetry, “Paint, Inside Out.”

Did I mention she was still in college? Maybe Alive is a few years late in naming Fant one of our People to Watch?

But Fant was burning out. She was competing in all the slams, every competition she could, and it was becoming less and less about the poetry and more and more about the obligation. She was revisiting a call to ministry she had felt in high school but had tamped down. She was in a bad relationship, the first of two consecutive domestic abuse situations.

“I was tired. It was great, all the experiences and the competitions and the places I got to travel to. But it was getting to where it was more like a job than a passion. … I was an undergraduate college student. It was a lot,” Fant recalled.

It wasn't easy to step back from poetry. Fant's mother died when she was a teenager, and her father struggled with mental illness. The streets of Youngstown were unforgiving places for a young person. Fant turned to poetry to help her cope.

“It was a way to try and understand things,” Fant said. “I used poetry to talk to God. I grew up in the Baptist church, and I was supposed to have a relationship with God while I was mad at God. So I used poetry to talk to God.”

For two years at Delaware County's Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Fant listened to God. Ultimately, though, she opted against full ordination. She preached at two churches that didn't require that formality. She worked for ArtSafe, teaching poetry to young people who were in prison. She worked with (and still works with) Transit Arts, a local arts development program for youth. So poetry was never too removed from Fant's life, even though she had left the poetry slam scene.

A TedX youth program with Transit Arts started Fant down her next path. Performing with the young people of Transit Arts, Fant was invited back to speak at the adult TedX talk the following day. That performance was heard by Columbus Foundation President and CEO Doug Kridler, who asked Fant to write a poem for the Columbus Bicentennial in 2012 (a verse of the poem is on a wall at the Foundation's offices).

Having left seminary, Fant's prospects were sketchy. She jumped at a paid internship offered by Kridler, and three months later she was employed full-time at the Columbus Foundation, where she will have worked for five years in January.

More recently, with the help of “a lot of friends,” Fant removed herself from an abusive relationship. It was around that time she decided to get back into not just performing, but competing.

“Me getting back into slam was me reclaiming my voice, reclaiming my identity,” she said. “For a long time I was surviving, and I'm living right now. That was part of my reason to get back in.”

2017 has seen Fant find new avenues for her work, making commissioned pieces for, among others, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, Harmony Project and the Women's Fund of Central Ohio. She has also decided to go back to school to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from Antioch University, the minimal on-site coursework allowing her to keep her job at the Columbus Foundation. And she thinks the time is right to publish another book of poetry after self-publishing two chapbooks earlier this year in connection with Scott Woods' “Holler” project.

But it's the competition that really signals Fant's renewed vigor. She made the finals at the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam, and, when this issue is published, she'll be in Denver competing in the National Poetry Slam Finals. So perhaps this whole People to Watch thing comes at the right time, after all.

“I am at my most authentic me right now. I'm excited for whatever happens, good or bad. But either way, I'm still me. I'm able to do what I want, to write what I want,” she said. “Now is the perfect time because I'm so much more myself.”