If we all have a secret super power, Washington, D.C. poet Shaquetta Nelson is one of the lucky few who found hers. “Writers have the power to reach out and touch people with our words,” she explains. For a decade, Nelson—who prefers to use her performing name, R.E.I.L. (pronounced “real”)—has moved through D.C.’s vibrant poetry scene. With every event R.E.I.L. uses her superpower to empower her community and herself, whether it be by judging competitions, teaching youth, or performing poetry.
When R.E.I.L. performs, her voice booms—strong and confident, it delivers her story to the world. Whether you see her in person, watch her online, or even hear her over the phone, it is clear that R.E.I.L. is an artist who knows how to own her moment in the sun.
What no one sees are the nerves that plague her during every public performance. “That’s why I memorize my poems,” she explains. “I don’t want people to see my hands shaking.” But R.E.I.L. doesn’t allow her nerves to hinder the healing nature of her work. “Performing is my moment to tell my truth: I only get three to four minutes. So that anxious feeling is good. Performing is like therapy for me.”
R.E.I.L.’s poems often veer into vulnerable territory, sharing her experiences reckoning with beauty standards and gender expectations as a Black lesbian and sexual assault survivor. Her story is hinted at by her name, R.E.I.L., which stands for Reborn Early in Life. Much of that story will be told through her first first book—a collection of poems which will come out in October. “The poems in my book reflect the three R’s: They’ll be real, ripe, and raw,” R.E.I.L. says. “Each page will be relatable. Every single word I write is from my heart.”
R.E.I.L. credits her publisher, Day Eight, for creating such a welcoming environment for her first book. “Day Eight is like home. They’re my family,” she says. R.E.I.L. first got involved with Day Eight as a participant in a poetry competition. “From then on, I was hooked,” she says.
R.E.I.L. was a featured poet in Day Eight’s DC Poet Project reading series in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Through them, she’s also shared and taught poetry to middle and high school students. In fact, this summer she’s staffing a writing camp. “It’s amazing, we think we’re teaching the kids but they’re really teaching us,” she says.
R.E.I.L. found poetry as a child herself, intuitively writing as a way of dealing with her emotions. Once she realized how good it felt to write out her feelings, she kept going. “I didn’t find poetry, it found me,” R.E.I.L. says. It only makes sense that she would help others awaken their own writing superpower now that’s expertly wielding her own.