Baby Baby! Dorothea Lasky on Biggie Smalls

By Harriet Staff

Mark Cugini interviewed Dorothea Lasky at The Lit Pub. The conversation centered around the relationship between Lasky's work and that of The Notorious B.I.G. Um, hell yes.

Here's a taste then make the jump:

Mark Cugini: First and foremost, I think it’s worth mentioning that you said if someone liked Black Life, they’d probably like Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death. I couldn’t agree more, but I’m sort of curious — how do you think they’re similar?

Dorothea Lasky: I would say the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die is more like Black Life than Life After Death. Life After Death, for me, is more like my next book, Thunderbird. Nevertheless, Black Life is indebted to Biggie’s album because in both the speaker is a “Born sinner, the opposite of a winner.” And also, in both, the speakers give you the sense (I hope) that it was not a choice to be so, but more a condition thrust upon them by life itself. On a formal level, I am interested in how Biggie folds all kinds of language and voices (some so not his own that they can’t help but become so) into short, clipping lines. They have a casual air, but of course, they couldn’t be farther from casual if they tried. The essence of coolness.

MC: Oh, ok, that makes a lot more sense — especially the “born sinner” line. Not to get too liberal-arts-school here, but Biggie was raised by a single mother in a low-income neighborhood that was overrun with gang violence and drug use. I do think it’s obvious that the speaker in Black Life was thrust into situations where she lacked control, but those are instances of a different nature: it seems as if she’s addressing interpersonal relationships instead of class issues. If that’s the case, how does it end up that both speakers end up with such swagger? Does it maybe have something to do with owning their personal tragedies?

DL: Thanks for saying that about swagger! What an important word for what we are talking about. Of course, content and the socioeconomic background of poets affect how they craft their personae and what those voices say. I do think, however, that class issues and interpersonal ones are inextricable. Class is rife with everything we do and vice versa. Biggie, to me, is like any poet who takes pieces of life and weaves it into his work. He includes the people he meets and how these people affect him and what they say. I think this is where swagger comes from. It is the craft, the skill, the flow, that connects all of us as poets. The ability to take the muck of the everyday and make it beautiful.

Originally Published: November 18th, 2011