Arts and Culture

A St. Paul teen turned to poetry to cope. Now he’s published a book of poems

Bobby Arnold poses for a portrait
"I had to decide, am I going to be a product of my environment or am I going to help the environment be seen?" Bobby Arnold said.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Bobby Arnold doesn’t like being put in a box. The 18 year old is a Johnson High School senior, football player and published poet. He recently released his first book, a series of poems focused on Black mental health and masculinity: “The Falling Uprise.” 

He wrote his first poem in eighth grade for an assignment during Black History Month. After that he wrote occasionally, instead focusing on football and academics. 

He came back to it in 11th grade when he noticed his mental health suffering. Like many students, he was juggling too much with the COVID-19 pandemic. He often felt isolated but something that did help was writing. 

“I really didn’t know how to speak about how I felt, and then I remembered my roots — just write it out,” he said. “You can let it build up inside and rot or you can find a healthy way to get it out, so writing is that for me. If I feel some type of way, bad or good, I put it on a page.”

Arnold says he is in a “much better space” than he was just two years ago, and he credits it to poetry. While he knew he had people in his life he could talk to, he says he wanted to handle things on his own.

Part of his reflection has been about Black masculinity.

“We don’t prioritize our mental health, you’re told ‘You’re a man, you can’t cry, man up,’ and those phrases hold so much hurt,” Arnold explained. “Society has taught us that being a man means not to cry, but I want to break that. If you suppress your emotions and blow up and face jail time … it’s better to have cried.”

As far as crafting his art, Arnold says he feels like he got better the more he wrote. He wrote everything down so he could remember how he felt, even if it didn’t make sense at the time. 

The most important thing to him is that readers can connect to what he is saying. He isn’t too into the logistics of poetry construction — if it sounds good and makes you feel something, the work is complete. 

He shared an untitled poem reflecting on these themes.

I am not the same anymore. No longer immature, no longer affected by toxic masculinity. 

I’m no longer angry, but yes I’m still me. 

Set free free of society burdens, I’m done living to fit in your image because I am not perfect

Yes, I do cry. And yes, it does hurt. Yes, my mental health is poor. Yes, I do have insecurities, but I will suffer no more.

I will not be ignored. I’m more than just a stat sheet, I have a voice filled with wisdom if you just sit down and ask me. 

Arnold went the self-publication route and published “The Falling Uprise,” which contains 86 poems, in August. He started sharing it with people and performing on video. He soon learned that performing spoken word felt empowering. 

“It just felt so natural,” he said. “When I speak my poems, I feel like they have a different flow, a better meaning, you understand it better. It helps me hear what you’re saying. You could literally have a story told to you in the most beautiful way by poetry and to me, that’s amazing.” 

He plans to attend Augsburg University in the fall for football and education (he either wants to be a teacher or a principal). In the meantime, he’s looking for other venues to perform at in the future, all while working on his second book. 

A book cover
"The Falling Uprise" by Bobby Arnold.
Courtesy image

Arnold hopes to self-publish his second book, “Introspective Love Literature” on Valentine’s Day. He will explore themes of identity and love, obsession, self-love and lust. 

He credits Johnson Senior High School and his mentors for his success and happiness and says he is thankful they did not give up on him.

“I had teachers who poured into me and showed me I could do more. I had to decide, am I going to be a product of my environment or am I going to help the environment be seen? I live on the east side of St. Paul, it has a negative rep but most of it isn’t true. Yeah, things do happen, that’s just life. To me, this is a beautiful place,” he said.

His librarian helped him get his book in the school's library. As far as local bookstores, Arnold will have to ask for them to order it and sell it. Currently, fans can order “The Falling Uprise” on Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

He has one key takeaway from his life so far. 

“Take care of your mental health. That’s your number one thing in life. You can’t let that go.”

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.