August 21, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August Omaha Magazine.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Michelle Troxclair commands a full life.

She’s a poet, spoken word artist, and founding member of the storytelling troupe The Wordsmiths. By day, she works as deputy director of the Nebraska Writers Collective, a nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing and performance poetry throughout the Midwest. With fellow poet Felicia Webster, she runs the Verbal Gumbo open mic at House of Loom every third Thursday of the month. She will graduate this July with a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha—her second postgraduate degree. She’s a mother of three, an advocate for individuals living with autism, and an awe-inspiring woman who makes at least one Omaha Magazine contributor feel like an indolent narcissist by comparison.

As if all that weren’t enough, Troxclair is currently engaged in a residency with The Wordsmiths at Bemis Center’s Carver Bank. The group is working on a spoken art showcase addressing domestic violence (Love Didn’t Do That To You) and a new project dealing with corporal punishment and violence within the African-American community (From the Whip to the Switch to the Gun).

“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of stuff right now,” she quips.

For a good introduction to Troxclair’s poetry, check out her YouTube videos, particularly “The Trigger,” an urgent work addressed to an unnamed police officer that has unjustifiably killed a black woman. The performance starts with a single shadowy figure clad in a black hoodie staring at the floor of a stark white room whose brick walls are cracked and peeling—a subtle visual symbol of the entrapment many black Americans feel subjected to by a predominantly white bureaucratic power structure. The poem surges on the waves of Troxclair’s words as her cadence quickens, slows, and syncopates around gut-punch metaphors and unflinching appeals to civility. At the piece’s climax, the shadow-figure, Troxclair herself, removes her hood and speaks directly to the camera:

You don’t know me. I am a 46-year-old mother of three. I’m a homeowner, taxpayer, and I got a master’s degree. I don’t want you to love me, like me, or even respect me. I just need you to let me be. So please take your finger off the trigger. 

It’s an uncompromising performance that stays with you, a piece that wouldn’t cut so soul-deep if rendered only in print.

Besides developing her own powerful art, Troxclair takes pride in cultivating Omaha’s young poetic talent through Nebraska Writers Collective’s Louder Than a Bomb initiative: an extensive poetry-writing and performance workshop conducted in area schools and capped by a friendly tournament. The program strives to reach students who might not be served by such activities as sports, music, or visual arts.

“[Louder Than a Bomb] gives me, at age 46, hope that the next generation is thinking and they’re active and speaking truth to power…and using words to do it. It’s absolutely amazing what they have to say.”

Some of these students will go on to become the next powerhouses in Omaha’s poetry scene. In fact, Troxclair says, The Wordsmiths are bringing in younger members “just for some new energy and innovative stuff.

“I’m the elder here,” she adds, laughing, “and eventually, I will be leaving.”

But not before leaving a legacy that will cast the longest of shadows.

MichelleTroxclair