Ellicott City poet publishes first book
Patti Ross always wanted a career in the arts. Instead, she worked in journalism, business and technology and spent time raising a family. In the past decade, however, Ross, 59, began to focus on her writing again. Her debut chapbook of poems, St. Paul Street Provocations, is being published in July by Yellow Arrow Publishing of Baltimore.
Ross says the poems in St. Paul Street Provocations were inspired by the time she spent living in Baltimore on St. Paul and Lafayette Streets from mid-2010 to 2012. She became friends with some of the homeless people and recovering drug addicts in the neighborhood.
“We started conversations. From those conversations came several of the poems,” she explained.
Ross said when she moved to what became known as the Station North area of Baltimore, she wasn’t planning on writing a book of poetry.
“I started writing when I was there. I didn’t think about a book at all; I was just sort of writing about what was happening.”
Ross not only writes poems for the page but also appears at open mic sessions in the Baltimore area as a performance poet.
“My stage or spoken-word name is ‘little pi,’ and that is an homage to my great-grandmother and my mom, who used to call me ‘little pi,’” Ross said.
Ross said that the experiences of her ancestors influence her poetry. Unlike many Black Americans, she can trace her family’s history back to at least the mid-1800s, partly because of her family’s record-keeping.
“My great-great-grandmother provided a picture of the family to my grandfather’s mother because she did not want them to forget each other should they be sold back into slavery,” Ross said.
“I think about some of the … things that my ancestors have gone through, and that’s when I pull from that. And a lot of that tends to be my spoken pieces.”
Dancer, writer and mother
Ross was born in Richmond, Virginia, and raised in the Takoma neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C. She danced with the Washington School of Ballet and attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, graduating early at age 16. She has a degree in print journalism from American University, and also attended Carnegie Mellon University. After college she worked for The Washington Times and the Rural America newspapers.
While working and raising her two daughters, Ross wasn’t writing poems for publication. But she did create personal poems for family occasions, she said, “an ode or an homage to an individual or whatever the celebration was… but nothing really published after my initial work in newspapers.”
When she took early retirement in 2020 to help care for an elderly aunt, Ross, by then divorced from her husband of 25 years, knew she wanted the next chapter of her life to focus on the arts.
“I didn’t know how or what it was going to be exactly, but I knew it would be involved in the arts. I think the writing piece just took its natural course. And that’s really what my whole life had sort of been about prior to being a wife and mother,” she said.
Ross, who describes herself as a “feminist warrior,” said her new book includes several poems about the female experience.
“When I was doing this collection, I realized that…I do tend to write a lot from a woman’s perspective or a woman’s experience, and also about different women that I admire,” Ross said.
“As women, we know that none of what men have been able to accomplish could probably have been accomplished had there not been a woman behind them.”
Open mic nights in Ellicott City
Ross established a series of open mic sessions known as EC Poetry & Prose at the Syriana Café & Gallery in Ellicott City in 2019. “It started with a salon series… and it sort of became an open mic, and then we went into COVID,” said Ross.
During the pandemic, Ross, who is a board member of the Maryland Writers Association, created an online open mic opportunity for that organization called First Fridays.
“I try to feature a variety of different types of poets that write different things,” Ross said.
She appreciates the support she’s received from other poets.
“The poetry community in the DMV, honestly all over the world, is just absolutely wonderful. The poetry community, I think, is just really warm to me,” Ross said.
Ross said her success as a poet at this stage of her life came as a surprise. “I would not have declared myself a poet, so I’m just so honored to have the recognition.”