“It just loved me back without question,” Ball said.
Ball recently released her first book of poetry, “Vulnerable AF,” and is going on tour with a July 16 stop at the Birchmere in Alexandria. The show will feature Ball reading her poems with musical accompaniment from her bandmate Norman Spence, who will be strumming a guitar. Fellow New Orleans-based poet Sha’condria “iCon” Sibley will be the opening act.
Performing her poetry is a deeper look into her heart than reading the words on the page could be, Ball said: “The intimacy of it is such a slow dance. I make my words dance. When I perform them, I give my words life because it is my life.”
The NPR judges praised the band’s organic interactions and joy in their submission, and that conversational nature carries on in “Vulnerable AF.” The lines blur between songs and poetry in much of Ball’s work, from the rhythm bouncing off the page to the lyricism of Tank and the Bangas’s songs. At times, there also is crossover: One poem in the collection, “For the Body, for the Heart,” was part of the set list for the Tiny Desk concert as the song “Boxes And Squares.”
Ball’s lines, alternatively awash in humor and regret, speak to the reader like a close friend baring their soul or a lover sitting down for a difficult conversation. It’s a closeness that creates an opportunity for connection because that vulnerability is universal.
“You need to know that I’m just like you,” Ball said. “I am the girl that’s waiting for the text message back. And I am the girl that felt like he didn’t want to hold my hand in public. And I am the girl that is Grammy nominated, and is just as competent as I am insecure.”
The book was originally a private work, pieced together for publication last year in the span of a few months. The process was relatively quick: Ball had already written the poems and only needed to add retrospective context in prose, labeled “Tank’s Story Time,” and coordinate custom illustrations from artist Shonté Young Williams.
Ball said there was no big moment when she decided there was going to be a book, just a push from a friend to get her work out there after writing personal poems for years. The poems in “Vulnerable AF” chart a difficult relationship Ball had with an unnamed man, diving into the particular pains of wanting and being wanted.
“This was a book for myself because I was going through so many feelings,” Ball said. “I, later on, gave it to him. He was the only person I gave it to, and now I’m giving it to the world.”
But giving it to the world isn’t exactly easy. It’s scary, but she felt it was time for it all to come out, even if it is a little jarring for others to read what she wrote for herself.
“Now, when everybody keeps telling me ‘I read it, I read it,’ I’m like, oh my gosh,” she said. “You really know about my business. It’s out in the street!”
As the title implies, it’s a sensitive work for Ball to perform. She compared reading through the poems for the audiobook to walking through a graveyard of old feelings, and doing so in front of a crowd is, well, vulnerable — for her and the audience.
Ball starts the live performance by reading the note that introduces the book, “Dedicated to the boy with the deepest mud puddles I have ever stepped in,” and feels that everyone knows after the fact that it’s about to be an emotional experience. She expects the same for her show at the Birchmere.
“I can guarantee there will not be a dry eye in the place,” she said. “Everybody cries. I cry.”
Tarriona “Tank” Ball, “Vulnerable AF” book tour: July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $29.50.