Young Poets Bare All: What Is a Culture?
Don't swear so much. Aren't we decorous? What
Is a culture?
It's an enormous detailed lie lived in, wrought beliefs,
A loving fabrication. What's good about it? Nothing.
It keeps you going, but institutionalizes inequality, killing,
and forced worship of questionable deities …
--Alice Notley, Culture of One
As an educator, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind myself—and others—that I’m always learning, and that includes when I walk into the classroom. Yes, I’m there to instruct, advise, and model, but it turns out that these kids today, as negative as we can wax about the future, are inheriting a world they didn’t shape and are rising to meet it in ways I don’t recall cultivating early on. And so, whatever it is that makes up a human—inner resources, social conditioning, cultural circumstance, familial love—is also what converges to address this hot mess of a planet and all that that entails. I guess I’m trying to say that every time I enter a room with “I’m the head honcho” mindset, I end up being humbled when someone younger drops a particular insight, observation or point I simply have not conceived yet. So the teacher becomes, as they say, the student, and sometimes the lessons are out of the mouths of young poets. And the poets here do not disappoint.
As a poet, I have felt myself slow for numerous reasons, many unrelated to writing. So when I’m ready to write, I dip into my favorite standbys to get the juices flowing again. But if more midlife and older poets were honest, we’d admit that it is the fresh innovations, playfulness and apparent freedom of younger poets that also ignite our pens and set, as they say, a fire under our asses. Perhaps it is even an envious challenge they spark, if we’re really baring all here. I recall in my younger days, I was less set in my poeting ways and hungry to try on many different styles, dive into subjects forbidden and simply experiment since I decided I was beholden to no one and turned on by a lot of poetry that came before me. I’ve been told, ‘There is no one Amy King poem’ for reviewers to cite, and I still hold that as a point of pride, though many see it as bad for a poet career, if I may oxymoron here. Now that I’m a bit more seasoned, it’s a great boon to be able to look at risks younger poets take and interests they move between. Just as I hope I give license as a poet, I also get permission from their poetry, from their determination and mobility, their graceful switching between styles and modes—and from their bravery.
As a person, I don’t always separate these roles seamlessly. I’ve never been into the whole “separate the artist from the art” distinction. I know we define boundaries, and these help us navigate the world and keep us from bumping into each other; nonetheless, art and poetry inhabit such ephemeral and ethereal existences, difficult to pin, and seem to move into the spheres of living without pause, intertwining culture with the materiality and behaviors of the daily. Poetry is words, but not all words are poetry. Art is life, but not all living is artful. Or something like that. What I do know is that poeting is a way of being, often defined by the individual but with models to mine and adopt. I’m finding the strong ethical and moral sensibilities among younger poets inspiring, and that gives me much hope that, even if the overall world doesn’t change for the better, there are still pockets of people imagining and working to create concepts and ideas, which lead to circumstances and contexts, that might help make moments of good in the world. We are not promised happiness or beauty, but I am the idealist who still believes we can look to poets for flickers of direction and insights that might enable a moment of strength or help us to conceive beyond our limitations and ways of seeing—and those crossroads and transformative moments, in and of themselves, are something beautiful, if they are not beauty outright.
With these thoughts in mind, I offer up the generous young poets’ contributions below to glean from, find some hope in and be jumpstarted by. The framework was simple and simply premised: I wanted to show a sampling of intelligent younger poets a little love with this forum and also to use the opportunity to discover the latest in their wheelhouses. Their numbered answers correspond with the questions directly below, which they selected from in this lightning round of responses. Read on, get motivated, learn something new and set some words on fire. This is good. You do not want to miss it.
1.) What is poetry? What do you want your poems to do?
2.) What happened to the lyric?
3.) Can poetry foster justice? Should poets go beyond the poem?
4.) What is a poetry community? Should we have call-out culture?
5.) What problems do you see in the poetry world today?
6.) “AWP is Us”? What would your writers’ conference look like?
7.) Big or small, what can I do to create a dynamic literary world?
8.) What poet should I read tomorrow?
9.) Is a poet defined by her poetry?
10.) What does love look like? What’s the best part of being a poet?
11.) Give us a line or two of yours to leave by?
3.) I’m not so attached to any of this (waving my hand around, meaning readings, books, book deals, residencies, “da club,” blockbuster movies, cubicle jobs, federal tax refunds, etc.) that I can’t walk away from it if I absolutely have to. I am the page, my body’s the page, and everything I write is connected to my survival.
4.) Call-out culture, as you call it, is nothing new. Rappers have been beefing with and calling each other out on wax (and now on plastic and digital download) for 30 years. I’m constantly getting into skirmishes with strangers on the street, on trains, etc, for making vile and bigoted comments about poc/queer/poor/women-identified communities. My father once told me that I could never be a diplomat because I have no diplomacy. Well what the hell good is diplomacy when a grown man’s hands are wrapped around my neck or when a cop’s gun is at my temple or when my own government is complicit in the murders of millions of people worldwide? “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice…” we know the rest and quote King frequently, but do we really mean it when we’re posting it all over social media? Or has activism (literary or otherwise) become another cool kid club that people are lining up to join? Constantly, I ask myself if a certain cause or issue is something I’d risk arrest or getting my head cracked open for. I would DIE defending Black teens on a train being verbally abused by a white dude and nearly did. I’m not particularly invested in AWP and would rather focus on supporting organizations that are diverse/inclusive. (I mean, really, Black poets, wouldn’t you love to have a Furious Flower Conference every other year instead of every DECADE, for crying out loud? And here we are ready to cough up a lung over AWP.) Or how about we take the money we’d spend on flights, hotels rooms, etc, attending the LA conference and buy books by women/poc/queer poets. Or how about we use the money to pay poets for gigs. If no one attended AWP 2016, they’d feel it. Trust me.
5.) The problems that I see in the poetry world today are the same problems that I see in the world-world today.
11.) who sings/an owl-eyed boy/his sadness tumbles/over like a basket/of green tomatoes
—Amber Atiya, Jamaica, Queens
1.) To quote Paul Celan, “poetry is a sort of homecoming.” A place to sit down & rest, sometimes, & imagine what safety might look like. At the same time, I want my poems, & the poems that I read, to devastate, to rend & shred, to unbalance. I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive at all.
2.) It feels like poets & our audiences decided to abandon song; perhaps in an attempt to emulate the success of the novelists. The lyric is making her way back, for sure, though: I know, at least, she’s here with me, & in much of the work of my peers.
3.) If poetry can’t foster justice in some way—if it can’t inspire & incite me to, if not feel, then move toward a feeling—if it can’t shift my stance & push me forward, forward—then why am I here? If I ever felt like poems couldn’t point toward justice, even for a moment, I wouldn’t have begun. We have a responsibility to write outside the claustrophobic, esoteric bubble of our world: to illuminate violence & the misery, & to sometimes, if we’re lucky, scratch away at that misery to reveal an alternative underneath it.
4.) I often hear the phrase “call-out culture” used derogatively—this is done by those in power, those who have a very vested interest in not being called-out. I want to direct readers to queers of color who have written much more thoughtfully & eloquently on this than I ever could; particularly, this Black Girl Dangerous article. I find it strange, sometimes, that people in the poetry community see these “scandals” as something other than a good opportunity to identify those whose racism, sexism, & transmisogyny has finally bubbled up to the surface. Why would we want to preserve these people? Why would we want to let them keep a seat at our table?
5.) Poets of color & trans poets are nowhere close to receiving the kind of exposure they deserve, & one huge reason for this is that the this exposure is guarded by white, cis, straight men. We need to shake the publishing industry from the top down: we need to replace the gatekeepers with the marginalized. It’s clear that those in charge of the major presses & literary magazines, despite their claims, have no interest in diversity. They’ve never loved us, they will never love us, & we need to stop pretending that we can change their minds.
6.) Look, we don’t need AWP. We can always make something new, make something better. An ideal writers’ conference would center people of color & trans people, would provide resources that resemble the concrete, immediate needs of the community instead of what we’re told we need, would deemphasize the canon, & most importantly, be way less white, especially in terms of those in charge of organizing the content, structure, & accessibility of events, panels, & readings. There are also alternatives that already exist! Split This Rock is going to be great this year.
7.) *volcano emoji*
10.) The money. Money & the cars. Cars & the clothes. I suppose.
11.) being dead is hard work
& I’m performing poorly
—Chase Berggrun, Brooklyn, NY
1.) Poetry is the concentrated attempt of language to speak the unspeakable, verbalize the nonverbal, and voice that which would remain voiceless. I want my poems to incite projections, dialogues, and contradictions that unlock their co-constructive potential with the reader.
2.) The lyric is constantly shifting. The lyric can sing in multiple voices simultaneously. The lyric can be found on Twitter and Facebook as well as the stage and the page. The lyric lives in the pulse of our regional and cultural patois. The lyric is the essential heartbeat of American language(s).
3.) Poetry can elicit empathy, raise consciousness, and rally dissent. Good poetry can do all three at the same time. Even when poems look inward, because "the personal is political," they function on some level as social commentary. Action occurs on the parallel dimensions of the symbolic and the real and poets are interpreters of the symbolic realm. In order to act, we must imagine acting. Poets interrogate the world as a matter of course, so going beyond the poem is a necessary function of the profession.
4.) In social science, the concept of community has been eluding definition for the past 200 years. Is community a utopian term based on ideological commonalities? Is it a practical term based on professional allegiances? The American poetry community is currently undergoing a massive upheaval where individuals and subcommunities are reasserting membership and ownership, and redefining goals. Whatever happens, I hope we remember that a community is only as powerful as its ability to embrace the differences and accommodate the needs of all its members.
5.) We are currently operating on an economy of scarcity model. This is an illusion but it's a powerful one. This is a model that enables the few to profit from the many and the many to fight over scraps. This is how we are divided and conquered. We are awakening to the fact that revolution won't occur within the discourses and institutions of hegemony. To begin, we must shift the paradigm.
6.) In the conversations that are happening about inclusion and access to opportunities and resources, a group whose interests I haven't heard discussed very much is caregivers. As the primary caregiver of two children, one of whom is a nursing infant, my choices are extremely limited in terms of what I'm able to attend. I know I'm not alone in this. The personal, practical, and economic limitations that affect caregivers are experienced mostly, though not exclusively, by women. I'd like to see writers' conferences that have, for starters, flexible schedules, subsidized or cooperative childcare, and affordable family accommodation.
7.) Say yes widely. Say no judiciously. Stick your neck out. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Be a mentor. Don't be a bully. If you have more than you need, share. If you need to punch somebody, punch up. If you have the energy, focus on convincing instead of winning. If you're tired, rest your head and recharge. Listen. Then speak.
8.) Read Vera Pavlova. You're welcome.
9.) A poem is a snapshot defining a single moment in a poet's working life. A poet's working life is a single aspect of their entire life. A poet's poetry defines the aspect of their working life that they choose to make public moment by moment. At any moment in their working life, a poet can produce good work or mediocre work. At any moment in their life, a poet can do a good deed or they can make a terrible mistake. A poet can choose stasis or growth in their poetry just as they can in any other aspect of their life. There is grace in the choice to grow.
10.) Love looks like holding hands while standing on your own two feet. Love looks like intimacy. The best part of being a poet is creating intimacy on the page.
11.) it's okay/ it's just a/ metaphor (excerpt from "The Mother in This Poem is Me or You or Your Mother")
—Wendy Chin-Tanner, Portland, OR
1.) Poetry is a response to the outside world. I write to synthesize experience. I would prefer people think after reading any poems—think about what lead to the reality of the poem. Is their existence similar or different, then why?
I didn’t grow up with religion or parents that shared much about their favorite bands, so I was never taught to revere one thing or concept over another.
I have no ink but no pen, still
I dream that I can piss in God’s eye.
-Anne Sexton, “Hurry Up Please It’s Time”
4.) A poetry community constantly shifts to accommodate new ideas and perspectives—there is not one community. It will always change before we can define it. This is why we must listen and read and question.
Is it really calling-out, or is it the pain of realizing heroes and friends have treated others like they are not humans? Before the pain of truth, there was the pain of the person’s experience. Think about what it takes to speak up. Call-out culture has a negative tone—there should be space to evaluate the work and actions of others. Without that, we don’t have any change to the current structures.
5.) “Why is there more craving than there is in a mountain. This does not seem strange to one, it does not seem strange to an echo and more surely is in there not being a habit. Why is there so much useless suffering. Why is there.” – Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
9.) NO. A poet is defined by their everyday existence. Poets are their actions and words, as all people are. These actions and words find their way into poems. I should clarify—a poet isn’t defined by their poetry, but a poet is defined by their experience navigating culture.
10.) Love is what you see when no one is around. It’s the skin flaking off like words, leaving space to rebuild and relearn. Love is comfort, not dependency.
What if we all revealed our under-secrets?
Look out for opportunity and purpose.
Survival is an ambivalent concept.
-PLACE LIKE IDENTITY / PLACE LIKE IDENTITY / PLACE
—Tracy Dimond, Baltimore, MD
1.) Poetry is the transmission of ideas and images. Those ideas/images can take the form of written words, sounds, symbols, pictures, or movements. Poetry is sensation or perhaps nonsensation. My poetry’s goal is to be immersive, to allow for it to enter into the reader and for the reader to enter into it. It is a space to collect/create narratives, daydreams and conversations.
2.) The lyric is still with us. Emotion is a part of what we do even when selecting random text. We are never without an emotion. Even the state of zen as a non-emotional state is an emotion in and of itself. And so too, we never fully escape a certain subjectivity even as we push distance between ourselves and our ideas/images.
3.) Poetry can foster justice but we should always be cognizant of the many forms of activism. Justice requires fighting on many fronts and in many forms.
5.) It seems that too many MFA and even BA programs are too focused on the same set of authors that felt so important in the second half of the last century. We need to start being more inclusive of newer writers and newer approaches. We need to find new aesthetics to pass on to the next generation while opening ourselves up to the ideas of today’s poets. We need to push ourselves past any point of stagnation. We need constant innovation. Also, I would like to see more emphasis on international poets and oral poetry.
6.) Accessible, affordable and safe for all people.
7.) Keep doing what you’re doing. Always be asking questions of other writers. Always be looking for another perspective.
9.) No. A person has many selves and for some of us one of those selves is a poet. Why should that self be the most important self by which one is defined?
10.) Love looks like a hoax but maybe it’s real. The best part of being a poet is feeling like maybe there is such a thing as connection. ‘Correspondences in air,’ the conversations between reader and writer, as Akhmatova called them.
11.) (From This Sentimental Education):
Become accustomed to distance. / Miniscule to light years - / stretched moments seen only through glass / by glass - / lenses without sentiment, / feelings and anxiety / blueprinted via / death to perspective / proximity, / Squints and strains. / Where is the proximate? / What is near, / palpable, / far, / undisturbed by selfish breath?
—Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia, Albany, NY
1.) Poetry gives us the freedom to explore everything that our experience of reality represses because poems aren’t beholden to the syntax of reality, which is always overwriting the systems that produce it. Basically, poems are the sleeper cells of the English language, the language of hegemony. I want my poems to draw attention to and enliven the strangest details of this experience of living in the New York of late 2015 so that the human consequences of its politics resonate in all their plurality and can be felt.
2.) A better question might be, what happened to ConPo? In my poetry of the future, the lyric is vital.
3.) What poetry can do is intervene in the marshalling of language to uphold certain histories, but it’s only one mode of intervention. To stop at the poem would bring the intervention up short. I don't know who made this much belabored assumption that creating pluralistic and democratic poetry—and poetry communities—would be sufficient to elicit change outside the community. No one is naive enough to still believe that prefigurative political configurations within a closed group are sufficient to catalyze broader social change, at least no one I know. I think the fracas elicited by Amy's previous blogpost exposes a difference of opinion about how social change is achieved. On the one hand, we can continue to throw our bodies at police barricades, which we've done. Maybe change can be achieved that way. The biggest on-the-ground protest in all of human history, 2/15/03, wasn't sufficient to stop the invasion of Iraq, however. Of all the social justice and protest movements out there these days, the gay rights movement has probably achieved the most conspicuous successes of late, but those successes weren’t only achieved by bodies in the streets. Two decades worth of literature and other media changed the mood, the attitude, the general public's disposition towards gay rights. That and some landmark court cases argued and won by some of the most strategic and committed lawyers of our time. No one knows what exactly will produce social change until like a messianic force it arrives one day. Who said poems were enough? Who said they weren't?
4.) The poetry community I recognize is a body of individuals who are committed to exploring the power of language to subvert histories that were originally codified as language. That community is in crisis, and call-out culture is a response to the crisis. It’s like a fever or some other autoimmune response, the body fighting for a better, healthier, less toxic homeostasis.
5.) I don’t see the poetry world as being different, better or more just than the wider world it takes as its subject. Every social and economic problem we can think of recreates itself among poets.
6.) Why don’t we all get to decide what panels are accepted? Why do we settle for anything less than radical grassroots democracy in any of our institutions, poetic or public?
7.) Simply listen with an open mind to your peers? Poetry is dominated by a lot of egos these days, people posturing on social media. I've had a lot of people die around me in recent years. From those losses, I've learned that no one talks about what hot shit you were in your career at your funeral. They talk about what kind of person you were. I promise you, if you have the privilege of living long enough to look back on this moment, jockeying for power with your little clique won't seem like an important thing to have done. Treating other people with respect and recognizing their dignity will.
8.) Hopefully, whatever is to come will be a big surprise. Today, however, you should read r. erica doyle, if you want to remember to have a body and be alive in it, which might be a good thing to do, if you’re feeling down about the state of poetry/ the world/ the poetry world.
9.) The relationship of most organic forms to their origins is too complex for that.
10.) Love will make you less of a stranger in your life. The best part of being a poet is you’ve given yourself permission to reject commonly held assumptions about what makes a life valuable in a capitalist society.
11.) ...confront strangers/ A boss, tell the police you cannot/ Take my picture. Your feelings/ Are diaphanous, firelike, tinned &/ Beaten into the old buildings/ Sometimes inconsequent...
—Justine el-Khazen, Brooklyn, NY
4.) For now, a poetry community feels moment by moment, its parameters of membership shifting every second, dependent on the choices that each individual makes. Call-out culture exists because we lack the most basic infrastructures to correct imbalances. Rather than thinking about whether we should have a call-out culture, I’d like to look forward to a time when social and political critique can be made safely, and when onlookers are challenged to make some fucking decisions about themselves.
5.) There all kinds of –phobias and –isms to choose from. That anyone thinks the poetry world (and their own selves) isn’t complicit in any of these is a huge problem. The work is not overrrrr, folks!
6.) My writers’ conference would have radical inclusivity.
7.) I think that finding any opportunities to promote alternate productions of knowledge are so important to a dynamic literary world.
8.) Don Mee Choi
10.) Love looks like earned trust.
11.) At first I would take / any touch. Now / I take none.
—Ginger Ko, Athens, GA
1.) I think the answer to the first question is constantly (and to good ends) under revision.
To the second: I want each of my poems to do different things, but since many of them are explicitly political (or historical), it's my hope that those works might create an experience for the reader that counters the common narrative(s) informing their subject matter.
2.) It's been institutionalized.
3.) "Justice" is a tricky word that I don't feel comfortable defining, though I do believe poetry is capable of shifting or even dismantling the attitudes, thoughts, prejudices, etc. of those who encounter it.
To the second question: Just by being, we are already "beyond the poem." We are living in what will go down as historically dark times so maybe the question is, "Is my work sufficiently present?" along with "Is my way of being in the world ethically sufficient?" Work is an extension of, not substitute for, a self.
4.) To call-out culture: Yes. The many imperfect but real efforts by people in the poetry "community" (I don't have a good definition for this, alas) toward exposing, toward ending, bias and abuse is heartening and overdue. And I think we can be mindful of not creating a culture that replicates power-hierarchies and the structures of punishment, shame, fear, silence, ostracization, incarceration, etc. that exist (and are getting worse) in the culture at large. I refuse to believe that call-out culture and rehabilitation are incompatible. I also believe (and this is somewhat outside of poetry, but important nonetheless) we can conduct call-outs and foster dissent in a way that doesn't fragment the left and ultimately undo or prevent tangible social and political gains.
5.) The same problems that exist across society: militarism, piggish (read: capitalist) attitudes toward success and ownership, closed-mindedness, racism, sexism, a myriad of phobias, an unwillingness to embrace and affect the present. An insane level of segregation along supposedly aesthetic lines that is deeply and intrinsically rooted in race and white, anglo-saxon supremacy, a longstanding and nefarious prejudice against topical work that has its history in social manipulation (especially in this country).
6.) A place where everyone was given equal time and resources to present their work, ideas, and books. Something less expensive. Probably less conference-y.
7.) I think we can all push ourselves as artists to create work that is constantly shifting and that challenges the accepted modes of thinking, aesthetics, and what "poetry" is/can be, to never write the same poem twice. We can learn from and engage with the other arts. We can come to others' work with open eyes. We can make sure others get their fair share of the spotlight instead of hogging the channels.
8.) Who have you been resisting?
9.) See no. 3.
10.) Being a poet is like having a private allegiance to something that, while it often (sadly) resembles a kind of capital, at its best, re-orients the world's fucked-up value system (if only for one's-self). You can go back to it. And it's different for everyone.
11.) How about three from Nathaniel Mackey instead?
"The one song/ sang/ song's inconsequence..."
—Mike Lala, NY, NY
1.) To trace how the word impels or impales the body / the flower. As things spill over. As density is unloaded. As rhythm is unloaded, rhythm strays. As rhythm strays, it realigns with the tilt of the cave / of the mouth. To repeat yourself. To repeat someone else. To repeat but mean something else. To repeat what is unquotable. To find language unquotable. To find language unfathomable. To use language anyway. To experiment / to trace the urgency which impels or impales. To render absence. How to render absence. How to be a protrusion. To wear a headdress despite the absence / protrusion felt. To be a pug in a headdress. To be a cliff in a headdress. To wrap the hair in yarn. To wrap the hair in wound. To wrap the hair in caves. To wrap the hair in flowers. To warp. To consider violation / violence / volition / vividness.
2.) What do you think the oldest cell in your body is? It is in your brain. Do you think it is the cells that are associated with your memory / your hippocampus? I listened to men say that this is what they believed. I listened to tradition / canon say that is why we must continue to preserve and praise memory / as if it were the only / the oldest thing capable of song / of beauty / of meaning. The oldest cell in your body, we know thanks to all the C14 in the air from atomic atrocities in and around WWII, is mostly likely located in the cerebral cortex. It is most likely located in the part of your brain responsible for thinking / for language / for awareness / for attention / for perception. It is most likely located in the part of your brain responsible for possibility.
3.) All reading is blood.
4a.) We keep insisting that it’s a community. Is it language / reading that makes us feel that way? All reading is blood. Is it the idea that poets / artists are capable of love / of loving? Do we know / to save life. Do we know / to die. A just now in gchat: “‘What do my gold intestines do?’ asks the rat.”
4b.) I once tried to report a professor and was immediately told that nothing would happen / I was handed a book that instructed me how to live / work with assholes. I threw it in the same river / Berryman killed himself in. For too many bodies / lives, crushing is not just a possibility, it is an inevitability. Call out culture provides a way to hold a rapist / a racist / an abuser / the deep shit that is within us accountable in the poetry world / elsewhere. Thus, it is extremely urgent and necessary. It is important listen and to have difficult conversations with the people physically near you / intimately near you in your life. To listen and to have intense reaction / conversation not only on social media. Transform the unspeakable violence you witness / you commit / into something else in the classroom / in the street / in the book / in the submission queue / in the quiet / in the world. Help someone who feels it / or acknowledge it in yourself / the unfathomable lastingness of suffering.
5.) Aesthetic preservation societies. University hiring practices. Anti-intellectualism. Exclusion / the only ride every year at the State Fair. I also really don’t think we talk enough about what it is to read / what it is to study. We couldn’t know it / already.
7.) Lie down / Read / Read Bhanu Kapil /
9.) The Devil inside Me / The Flower inside Me / Smears
10a.) Love has a thousand shapes / Love has a thousand shapes / Love has a thousand shapes / Love has a thousand shapes / Love has a thousand shapes – Virginia Woolf
10b.) It gave me the book / a healing / a wreckage / It gave me / living / It haunts me / I expand / It moves me.
“I LOOK AT YOU AND FEEL TOPLESS,
like a burn victim or a mermaid.
I write decay, decay, decay
so I can look at it and change my life.”
—Carrie Lorig, Atlanta, GA
1.) Bravery Training. Empathy Training.
2.) Not sure, but I believe lyric to be what I'm writing.
3.) Poems are opportunities to go beyond--that's the work and the fruit.
4.) People and communities need to be accountable, learn to apologize, learn to forgive and include again, make space, collaborate. What we can also call-out are those moments we were so brave and so kind and practice to live by that example. As I'm answering these questions I'm sitting in a bunk at midnight in a camp in the middle of the woods surrounding a generous lake that feeds into the Delaware River. For the past week I've been living with almost a 100 writers between 9 and 17 years old at a sleepaway summer writing camp. They write: "We are rampage/we eat fire like stars/we are alive/and we will be okay." I am overwhelmed tonight by the generosity of language which has met these other younger writers on their terms, and that these writers are afforded this opportunity to explore and play with language, tune it to the rhythm of their own hearts. They are finding dominion over language and they are going to be the world soon. And I am overwhelmed by thinking about all the writers of all ages who haven't been afforded this privilege and how they are the world now. There is endless room in poetry community. Why do we convince ourselves that there's no more room? To build poetry community it is to be opportunity for another to share their stories so you can be alive and okay together.
5.) I would like to see more creativity in building inclusive and accessible spaces. One nice way is by starting with a "Hello, my name is *, I'm glad you could come out tonight" to a stranger (bravery training). Understand what barriers to access exist by speaking to those in communities you rarely see at certain events and attend to dismantling those barriers.
6.) Smaller, so much smaller and with less alcohol. With more lab spaces to make zines, poetry comics, artifacts to take home and share and that remind us to love our bodies and experiences like we love our favorite poems and love our neighbors like we love our favorite poems.
7.) Meet your neighbors.
8.) A preteen/teen poet and tell them all the wonderful encouragement you heard that kept you writing and all the generous encouragement you didn't hear.
9.) Influenced by their poetry, perhaps.
10.) Love asks for consent and is always in-progress. Even though it doesn’t really feel that great, the best thing about being a poet is the opportunity to be nervous about sharing my work with people because it means that there are folks willing to listen and that’s an honor. I enjoy knowing I’ve worked hard to figure out what it was I was thinking but hadn’t yet translated.
11.) God's hand over our belly over the earth
—Sheila McMullin, Moon Spit Poetry, Washington DC
1.) Poetry is the radicalization of space. It is a queering of the third axis we use to orient our narratives.
2.) While I believe poetry exists outside of us, to be the riptide that moves us unwillingly from the shore, I sincerely think that this outside is itself a glimpse at total justice. To be reminded that an outside to the structures of the everyday even exists is a radical sentiment. I do not think the poet should enter the poem in any way (or at least they should actively attempt to stifle their own intrusion) so I would agree that poets should go beyond the poem; the only qualification I have is that I think they should stay there.
3.) A poetry community is a group of people who want to be afraid together. Any community should be constantly reevaluating itself, dismantling itself, rebuilding itself in better ways.
4.) I think we teach young people that poetry is an extension of themselves which feeds the narcissistic tendency all poets have to use poetry as a means of self-expression. It’s easier to market personality than the derangement of what you thought to be the case so these louder folk tend to do quite well. In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter.* Poetry will always move beyond our capacity to incorporate it.
5.) The only interesting thing about AWP is that it brought together a lot of amazing presses.
My writers’ conference would be a free book fair that has a dunk tank with Jonathan Franzen in it.
6.) Never repeat yourself.
7.) Carrie Lorig, The Pulp Vs. The Throne
Lucas de Lima, Wet Land
8.) They can be if they want! Not sure what the benefits of that look like though. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the actual poetry go for it.
10.) The best part of being a poet is that it’s impossible to be bored (terror always finds new ways to surprise you.)
You don’t have to exist
But it helps
—Roberto Montes, Queens, NY
1.) I don't know what poetry is, but I want it to be some kind of magic or alchemy, a transformation whose power or method cannot be completely traced. i need poetry to contain the unknown. I want it to be a terror or horror that begs to be held, some perfect mix of fear and need.
2.) I think the lyric was/is sometimes too beautiful. As Flaubert said: "The time for beauty is over."
3.) I’m not sure I have as much faith in poetry as I should. And I don't know that this world is one where poetry can foster justice. I don't often think of poetry and justice on the same plain, maybe because of the unwillingness of so many to approach poetry, their pure fear of poetry, its language, its hazy intent. There is enough/too much unfounded fear in the world towards race/gender/religion/etc. that combining the unwillingness to understand a person and the unwillingness to understand a poem seems like a mathematics too obscure to foster justice. I think poets do need to go beyond the poem, because the poem, or the “idea” of a poem, is often too precious, too veiled, even when it is not veiled or precious.
4.) A poetry community is a group of people who are terrified of the world and in love with the world, who can come together and both fan the fire of fear and cuddle the fear out. It is a community of acceptance and understanding and inspiration, a way to know that loneliness does not have to be your destiny.
5.) The poetry world is not immune to the problems of the "regular" world. Astoundingly and disappointingly, every problem of the world is a problem of the poetry world. There is no fence to protect us. We need to protect each other.
6.) Less assholes, more games. More carnival, less corporate.
9.) Hmm. I'm not sure what to think about this question. It almost seems like a trick, and that trick seems to be in the word "defined." I think it's a bit impossible to NOT be defined, in part, by your poetry, to make it something entirely separate from the person. Every poem we make is attached to us with some kind of tendril, no matter how flimsy. It seems like a poet's poetry is, yes, a vital part of the poet, an organ or sorts, but is not and shouldn't be responsible for the sole anima of the poet. If the poems disappear, the poet should still be defined. If that was not the case, poetry would be much more terrifying than it already is.
11.) Even god is an incurable disease. Even in paradise there are spiders.
—Meghan Privitello, Ventnor City, NJ
1.) Poetry is the closest language can get the essence of a thing. And as Mary Ruefle points out, we write to see how close we can get to it. There is beauty in that failure. It can be both fun and exasperating. I want my poems to make people feel "as if the as if the top of [their] head were taken off," Emily Dickinson style.
3.) Poetry often feels inadequate to me. Writing poetry, as romantic as this may sound, doesn't feel like a choice. I honestly can't imagine my life without it. I primarily write about social issues—particularly violence against women—but that never feels like enough. I want to address these problems with all the tools and skills I have at my disposal—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, activism. I can't speak for everyone, but I personally feel obligated to fight for social justice. I would feel like a waste of a person otherwise.
4.) We should all be held accountable for what we write, say, and do. I think it makes us better humans. There have been some pretty shameful incidents in the poetry community lately, especially when it comes to race. There are times, however, that belonging to such a close-knit community is overwhelming, because if you make a mistake, some people are ready to pelt you with stones. I think we should all encourage each other to be kind, take responsibility for our actions, and learn from our blunders. If someone is unwilling to atone for their ignorance, well then, they should be put on blast for sure.
5.) Myopic worldviews. Sometimes there are unfair expectations of writers of color. I should be allowed to write a poem about the dang sky if I feel like it. Not everything has to be rooted in culture or politics.
8.) Lucille Clifton. I should also read her tomorrow. I should read her every day, for that matter. I just read "won't you celebrate with me" as part of my speech for my little cousin's quinceañera and it blew me away again. I'm not sure if people "got" it, but damn, that's a good poem.
9.) I would hope so. I feel like I am my work.
10.) Love is listening to cicadas at dusk. It smells like freshly mown grass. The best part about being a poet is all the daydreaming and the precise images my poet friends come up with in conversation. You really don't want to be insulted by a poet. Trust me.
11.) "What is life but a cross / over rotten water?"
—Erika L. Sánchez, Chicago, IL
1.) My one desire is for my poems to never feel comfortable or static. My poems must always push me further to be Baba Yaga to be bayonet to be costume pearls hitting linoleum. 3.) Poetry isn’t vacuum or antiquity. If poets are ignoring police brutality, the violence against transwomen in our communities, the Black bodies laying dead in the streets—they are willfully ignoring as humans what is happening around them in 2015. Whether this perspective enters other people’s poems or not doesn’t really matter to me—99% of my interactions throughout the day are not as a poet. Justice does and should always go beyond the poem. How I respond to situations in the grocery store line matter just as much as what I do on the page or how I react to some lit mag spiraling out on Facebook. 4.) “Call-out culture” is incredibly complicated for me, especially when it involves a lit mag or press. There continues to be those cynics who believe that if you act as jaded as possible, maybe you’ll secure a spot in history. You won’t. And these are the people I don’t want to give any time or power over me. I don’t want to share the oppressive poems they’ve published and put that evil in others’ brains, and I don’t want to give them ad clicks. But at the same time—people need to know. For me “call-out culture” in these instances is a re-framing—it’s letting writers I know and care about that a space (or writer) we might have once perceived as welcoming is not a safe space for us or our work. Bye Felicia.
6.) If I were to propose an alternative space concurrent with AWP—it would not be run by a dominant group who only considers those who have been othered or marginalized as afterthought (at best) or thorn (at worst). Less editors (who are potentially more willing to prioritize book-selling over everything else) in decision-making situations. Less silencing of voices who already live invisibly. I’d err on the side of making too much space over engaging with “quality control”—all panels welcome unless individuals/groups are known to jeopardize or compromise the safe space for other attendees. Safety and fostering conversation rise above the need to hawk wares. Also, we’d crowd-source a space so there’s no entry fee and no tabling fees. Also there would be French fries.
8.) My reading this year has been escargot. I’ve been slowly working my way through a few dazzling books: Morgan Parker’s Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me up at Night, Gina Abelkop’s I Eat Cannibals, Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, and I’m really looking forward to Carrie Murphy’s Fat Daisies—which comes out in a few days.
—JD Scott, Tuscaloosa, AL
1.) Critical gut-feeling living archive.
2.) Alice Notley / Alice Nightly & Fred Moten / fmoten.
3.) "I'm working out the structures of men that don't exist yet." - Ted Berrigan
5.) "Too many crazy white people nowadays. Don't want to be a part of that." -- Steven Perez
6.) See Bernadette Mayer's Utopia & Ted Berrigan's "In Your Fucking Utopias."
7.) "A kind of oblivion hovers over the canon." - Gerald Bruns
8.) Carrie Lorig, Saretta Morgan, Wendy Xu.
9.) "Oh being alone I call out my / name / and once you did and do still in / a way /you do call out your name / to these states whose way is to walk / on by that’s why I write too much" - Alice Notley, "At Night the States"
10.) Trembling studying savagery / Broken umbrellas.
11.) "You should read Harmonium no"
—Nick Sturm, Tallahassee, FL
1.) Moments trapped in resin. A moth pinned to a wall but the moth is you and you are a thousand moths. A breath, a meal, too much wine – necessary and then expelled. An oyster pearl (“…how something so wondrous emerges from an oyster's way of protecting itself is one of nature's loveliest surprises.”).
3.) Yes. No. Maybe? People foster justice. Art and artist are same – poets go beyond the poem inherently. But poetry can also be enough. I know many of us feel like we’re failing when we don’t loudly signal boost every social justice issue, and it’s important to remember that you are a finite resource and if what you can best offer is your poems, that is enough. I’m not saying don’t do the work, but “the work” looks different for all of us depending on socio-economic status, mental health, disabilities, familial obligations… I don’t believe in a hierarchical Real Activism that dismisses art, or tweeting, or pretty much everything except the gathering of able-bodied white people in one physical place.
4.) What Chase Berggrun said. “I often hear the phrase “call-out culture” used derogatively—this is done by those in power, those who have a very vested interest in not being called-out.” We need to do better, but better is not yelling less, better is not quiet, better is not look the other way, better is not above all avoid the label “hostile”, better is not a social justice that is palatable for everyone. Better is listen, is listen, is listen.
6.) “Free, accessible, inclusive” but also “me in my apartment with my laptop,” which is almost the same thing. Come over. I’ll defrost some pelmeni and we’ll read books next to each other.
7.) Read. Buy. Trade. Share. Give. Review. Promote. Donate. Encourage. Pay attention.
8.) The Russian poet coven. Alina Pleskova. Gala Mukomolova. Also anything Scherezade Siobhan touches. And Sarah Xerta, whose work sometimes feels like I wrote it in a dream. And Michael Schmeltzer, who is a wonderful poet and a wonderful person both, because there isn’t really a difference.
10.) Finding people whose brains feel like home.
11.) “All the / while I wished bloodletting were still a thing — to purify, to / wave lit sage inside my old skeleton and shake the dust off / the bones, scoop bad marrow out and serve on thick bread / before the surgeon comes back with his notepad and bad / news”
—Sonya Vatomsky, Seattle, WA
1.) I don’t know if I can fairly or evenly answer what poetry is. I do know that I want my poems to be an archive of lived blackness / an honoring of blackness that is dying off at an astounding rate / I want my poems to name what kills and still find joy / I want my poems to be the long dance in the streets after a funeral.
3.) I recently read a poem in Oakland. The poem centered on the idea of streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. How there are so many of them in America, and how so many of them are in marginalized areas. Though I didn’t know this at the time I read the poem, the Oakland police shot and killed a man named Joe Bart around the 3800 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It was jarring to hear this news. I went to a vigil for Bart a few days later, and was really comforted to see so many of my peers (poets and writers) there. Though I said this at the time, I think it is maybe worth saying again: It is an absolute privilege to step on a stage and read about death before walking off of the stage still living. To have people call that bravery while a man dies in the hospital, fades into a statistic. I don’t say this to say that the poem isn’t brave. I say this to say that there is a whole world beyond the poem. Whole communities being erased by the world beyond the poem. Understanding that levels of engagement mean different things for different people, If I don’t at least approach the idea of putting my own hands into that world, I struggle with what that can mean for me and the level of activism I believe in. It is also worth saying that I agree with Sonya, too. I think poems CAN be enough. Again, the reality is that all of this means something different for all of us. I’ve been driven to action by hearing a poem. I’ve participated in direct actions that wouldn’t take place without poems being there to anchor them. Activism is a full-branching tree. I get uncomfortable when we start to entirely dismiss whole branches.
4.) Being entirely honest here, beyond being a poet, I’m a person who grew up in an actual and very real community. I’m from one of those places that old black parents talk about when getting nostalgic about the good old days. What I’m saying is, I come from a place where kids who got out of line when their parents weren’t looking were quickly put back in line by someone else’s parents, and no one thought twice about it. And so “call-out culture,” to me, just sounds like “holding people accountable for wackness.”
Look, the structures and systems are a mess. All throughout history, look at the pattern of people who are most opposed to having their wackness called out. Look at the pattern of people who use their “art” as a shield, and hide from all forms of accountability. That’s how we got here. If the alternative to so-called “call-out culture” is silence, then I’ll say give me call-out culture, every time.
5.) The poetry world is an extension of the world at large. At least for me. So I see the same problems that I do in the “other” world. Or at least the same symptoms. I wish it was more unique or in depth than that. In every world we live in, we’re just biding our time until another hero lets us down. Which is perhaps why I’ve given up on living heroes, but I suppose that’s another answer for another question.
6.) Chase is right. We don’t need AWP. We’ve never needed AWP. Treating AWP like we need it is how AWP has become what it is right now. The spoiled child, kicking and screaming in the middle of a store. AWP isn’t inclusive, and isn’t interested in inclusiveness. It’s too expensive, too careerist, and is often financially inaccessible for too many writers. I often wish that I could just take all of the off-site things at AWP and make them into a two day event. I want a space that is safe, inclusive, and accessible for every member of every community. POC, QPOC, Women, anyone interested in reimagining what “conference” and “community” look like. I mean, a part of me is also very much a child. So I’d like people to just hang out and eat ice cream and read poems to each other after watching old 80’s sitcoms. A ferris wheel would also be nice. I’m just not as strictly attached to the idea of being a living poet that AWP most often calls for.Still, I clearly want it to be one way. But it’s the other way.
9.) Echoing a past answer, I believe everyone is defined most by what they do when living beyond the thing that they do.
10.) Love looks like whatever challenges you but never asks you to give more of yourself than you can. Very genuinely, the best part of being a poet is that I can sometimes get an entire audience at a poetry reading to sing along to “Party In The U.S.A.” with me.
11.) In a country that wishes your children buried / you do not wish a child on your children
—Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, New Haven, CT
1.) Poetry is magic. I would like my poems to be the kind of magic that makes prison walls & border fences dissolve. Unfortunately they aren't yet this kind of magic, so I at least hope somebody likes them.
3.) Poetry can expand a person's understanding of the world we live in. I believe we, as people (poets are people) who have to live in a system designed to hurt us, should create justice for those who are denied it.
4.) We should have a way for people to speak out about serious harm done to them by others. Speaking publicly about it seems to be what we have until someone comes up with a more effective way for things like abuse and rape to be addressed. (Police and courts and lawyers are not a more effective way.)
5.) White supremacy, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, classism. Same as everywhere else.
6.) Three things for starters:
1. It would be free, or sliding scale based on ability to pay.
2. It would do the most work to center those who are marginalized & dehumanized by larger systems of dominance & power in the world.
3. The organizing group would be fully transparent, accountable and non-hierarchical in structure.
8.) Manuel Arturo Abreu
9.) No, a poet is a person.
11.) (excerpt from SEA-WITCH 2)
Species unfamiliar with sea-witch should know three things about her:
1. She is a monster & this would always be the case in a world that had created the idea of monsters to use to describe things like her.
2. She cries at television shows about other monsters.
3. Long periods of time can pass when no one tells you you are worthwhile & long periods of time can pass when you don't understand the words of those who are telling you. It is difficult to know the difference.
—Sara June Woods, Toronto, ON
1.) For me poetry is a therapeutic process, a survival tool, a philosophy & way of moving through myself/ the world. I want my poems to make me want to keep on living/ loving even when the world says stop.
2.) I don’t know & don’t care what happened to the lyric & wonder if that makes me more or less of a poet & in whose eyes.
3.) Justice is an empty word for me. I don’t know enough about it to know if I believe it is a possibility. I do think poetry can foster healing, & if by going beyond a poem we mean thinking about empathic intersectional politics & systemic & personal abuse, then, yes—go there. Poems do not exist in vacuums. The people who edit, publish, & support your work matter. Your words have power that reach far beyond the poem on the page. If you’re not going there then get out of the way.
4.) A poetry community is an illusion but also I’m a cynic (realist) who trusts very few people. Maybe some people feel there is a community. Some days I feel there is a gathering of people with whom I connect, but this can also quickly fade & break way to expose ugly truths. Someone recently suggested that there are several different poetry communities, which is probably true, but in terms of connection I tend to work on strengthening a few close personal relationships as opposed to being a part of anything bigger simply because so many communities are founded on exclusionary & oppressive politics even when they claim otherwise. Yet maybe as a white person I am privileged in not feeling the pull to be included in any particular community—my whiteness comes with privilege, whether I’m supported by a community or not. Also I don’t like the term “call-out culture” because it’s an easy label that erases the history & context of oppression against which our resistance is necessary. When I speak it is with love & I am tired of this love being dehumanized into something of a mob mentality. I just happen to love very loudly & unapologetically, both on the Internet & off, & I’m not going to stop. IS THERE ANY OTHER WAY TO LOVE EXCEPT FULLY?! And yes, we absolutely need those voices. It’s not “should we have ‘call-out culture’” but “we have historically marginalized people who finally have access to free, worldwide communication systems like Twitter & Facebook, & they are speaking, & we need to listen.” Plus abusive systems & people bank on privacy & anonyminity. Now we have the tools to foster transparency & expose the power dynamics at play, which, especially in the capitalist white-hetero-supremacy, is absolutely fundamental to change.
5.) Everything that is wrong with the world is wrong with the poetry world. It is by & large a toxic sphere in which the majority of people with the most power care about social capital more than radical activism. It’s especially frustrating to watch people who work with written language on a fundamental level more than most other people act so reckless with the power inherent in their words. Also self-labeled “feminists” & “allies” who turn out to be just as self-centered & victim-blaming & non-intersectional as anyone else when time comes to put their words into action. Activism is not a brand & your pseudo-care has the potential to deeply harm others. I don’t know. A lot of really terrible things have happened in the past year. I am not impressed & thank GODDESS for the Mongrels & Invisibles & all those who work every day to resist all the abuse & oppression.
6.) My writer’s conference would be a (probably) disorganized but really fucking fun dance party that goes on for days. For people who were at the Prince party at First Ave this past AWP in Minneapolis—yeah, that, except fuck AWP.
8.) Joshua Jennifer Espinoza has my poetry heart.
9.) Gosh I hope not. My poems are dead skin & I don’t think I am dead skin?
10.) I don’t know what love looks like but it feels infinite, which is the feeling I get when I write. The best part about being a poet is knowing this feeling.
11.) from PTSD (Juliet III):
It’d be easier if we could just shoot
Our rapists in the head
Make them disappear
Why do I have to disappear
I said No
I don’t want to
—Sarah Xerta, Minneapolis, Minnesota
I used to want my poems to do things, shit. But now, I just do it. I live it. It’s amazing. I assume a creature consciousness and I’m small—I become the forked tongues of the polycephalic goddess. To me, poetry is that what exists beyond what language can communicate—through me, it is unsayable, and every day, I stand and then I just sit in the shadow of it.
“And I, now with mouth to speak, openly moan as chaos reshapes itself in my form, feel myself quicken to its will, itself in my hands.”
I no longer possess ambitions for my poems, because I no longer possess ambition for my language aside from hinting at what exists beyond the cusp of that which can be said. So, while most poets may say they love language, I do not. I’ve pursued this craft in spite of language—out of the rage, stress and peace that comes with being ultimately inarticulate. So I toss the metal, release a field of whispers and feldspar, dip into the space where language fails. And if I can hint at, if I can articulate, just a moment of that oblivion, then I am satisfied.
“I am a pioneer of silence but the silencing of madness haunts me because it is unresolved.”
As for this question, “what happened to the lyric?” Rattle. Rattle Magazine. Ha! Did something happen to the lyric? I hear lyrics all the time. Everybody loves the lyric; it just doesn’t always exist on a page.
Love and justice: It is funny to encounter a question about imagining the look of love. But I will say, that someone called me a zealot recently, and that’s because I only know devotion.
I want to say that love is a tether; it is strong, but it breaks.
Poetry fosters neither love nor justice, I want to quote Auden:
“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.”
A poem might further motivate an agent for change but it makes nothing happen, Auden said it perfectly. But, speaking of justice, here’s a real story; it’s about how I learned about the Law of Threefold Return. In 2012, in my last semester of the MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence (which has left me financially eviscerated), my roommate and I were almost murdered, in the middle of the day, in our own home. It was a Monday, I had workshop with Thomas Sayers Ellis that Wednesday, when four young strangers, broke into our home, held us hostage and tormented us for hours. Hogtied and blindfolded, I thought that the only way to get out of this situation alive, was to craft language. So I spoke, despite being told repeatedly that I would be shot if I opened my mouth again. I spoke, they put the gun in my mouth, waited, I spoke again, then to the back of my head, said, this is where you die, on the filthy floor between this tile and grout. Despite this, I successfully reached into one of these young men, I knew it—though at a certain point, I thought nothing would save me. He let me keep the crucifix around my neck—ironic, I think—while they robbed us of everything else. At one point, he tilted my neck into the cradle of his forearms and asked if I drank mineral water, spilling it from a plastic bottle into my hiccupping throat. So, toward the very end, when his friends came back into the bathroom and argued about executing me in my tub, that young man prevented that from happening. And that is why I am still here. I unlearned every priority instilled in me by the institutions I had attended; no institutional praise could validate me more. My command over language kept me alive. I spiritually bartered many, many fucked up things that day—but one of the things that I learned in exchange was that I am truly a poet. How’s that for justice?
I have never participated in a community that consists exclusively of poets. My immediate community consists of people working to effect change in every discipline, field and medium. Many within my chosen family will not even end up reading this interview and I wouldn’t have it any other way—I don’t want to participate in a community where people constantly seek one another’s praise. Since taking on the role of poetry editor at Apogee, I feel like I have entered into a writing community, but Apogee’s community is not just a poetry community, Apogee’s community is out here mobilizing. So, yeah, a community made exclusively of poets? I’ll meander in and then far away because I’m a code-switcher, and that’s how we navigate terrains of language.
My poetry community is late-night dark chocolate Milano cookies and liquor. Social media—full media assault. Every night, I just curb my cecaelia bloodlust, while in full retreat to the crushing recesses of my deep sea trench.
When I think about poetry communities proper, I think about elitist, white supremacist gatekeepers and the people that permit and pander to these inherited institutions. I think about the people who have been silent. For me, being not white and writing within this institution manifests into identity damage. I feel alien, a hybrid offspring, a wraith in a cave. Peter LaBerge said it well, “We minority writers have interests beyond our identities, but even if we didn’t, our identities should not be rendered insufficient for exploration in the academic and social setting the AWP conference provides.” I would go further and say that most poetry institutions have completely devalued the self-interrogation of identity as poetic inquiry, preferring instead, cis, white, heteronormative, male depictions of “the other,” either that, or straight-up tokenization. The didacticism embedded in the statements of white gatekeepers who, on social media, say things like, “Tokenization is dead,” “I find it frustrating that you submit the kind of overwrought poetry we try to avoid, and then blame your rejection on race. Two of our five most frequently published poets happen to be black. [blah blah blah…]” or this recent Kate Gale drivel, actually assumes the name of passive white supremacy, of which these folks are not even aware.
For this, I sometimes blame my former teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mentors, but at a certain point, I felt like I had to say, No, I will not be satisfied by the status quo, and if you are not with me, you are not with me. Many of our mentors are gatekeepers or they permit this cliché, tiresome white supremacist rhetoric in literary circles—they bite their tongues, assuage white guilt. But I can’t criticize them too harshly, because they have more to lose; they’re professors, they’ve got relationships to uphold to publishers, universities and presses. I, however, do not—and it liberates my voice. This is why I hate the term “emerging poet.” The term is a construct of elitism and I reject whatever space into which the poet emerges. This hierarchy of prestige requires that the rest of us amass social capital—networks, books, agents, readings, fellowships, professorships and eventually we sit at the table of a white supremacist status quo—just late capitalist poets. Not everybody is blameworthy of this, but it frustrates me to see my cohort sling around social capital like they Xena saving Gabrielle with a chakram. At times, it feels like I’ve ululated the loudest—so, I’m a hypocrite; Boinayel and Marohu born in the cave of contradictions. This way of carrying myself feels so counter to my identity and addictive, that when I secure a publication, I feel great, at first, and then sets in the guilt.
I think of exclusion; my 12th grade teacher told me I was “ill-equipped” for Senior Seminar because the class would read Anna Karenina and the text was long. I mean, all the things that I’ve been called in the past three months alone by poets: “illiterate,” “an oreo," "overwrought," "irrational,” “a zealot," "insane," "self-righteous," "ungracious," "cracked," “ranting," "uneducated," "irrelevant," "petty," and on and on and on... Most of this is racially charged rhetoric and it’s all because I’ve publicly denounced Kenneth Goldsmith, AWP, this latest Kate Gale drivel and I call out the microaggressions I encounter on social media, because I’m sick of them. The backlash always surprises me, because I am literally nobody, especially by institutional standards for success. I have no book, no fellowship, no grants, I’m broke, I don’t have an academy job (or any sort of semblance of financial security), I’m wrecked by debt, I don’t win awards, all I’ve got is a bottle of Courvoisier and a ride-or-die crew.
In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde writes, “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.” So it is not my responsibility to educate white writers who are older or more established than me in subjectivity, intersectionality, vestiges of colonialism or manifestations of white supremacy in literary spheres. Avoid. Encounter. Denounce. Next. I also don’t need to wait for them to figure it out—I’d always be waiting. My immediate community of poets and self-described non-poets, of every background already gets it. So shift into the right lane and kindly let us through. As for the things people have named me, I’ve started to adopt these words as epithets to mythologize the self as a coping strategy. Joey the Inarticulate, I kind of love that.
It is ridiculous—I’m here and I will unseat these paladins; against them, i wildly wield a macuahuitl
i wily wheel imma cool who i ill
i wile y ma we cool hootie hoo
while my maw cools a hos a ho
why my mom @ kohls?
A poet is not defined by her production, but the poetry always reveals a truth about the poet.
That being said, I think that any poet or book recommendation should be the form of a dialogue—something personal. I would invite anyone actually interested in the things that I read to reach out and have a conversation with me. I mean, I love the Apogee’s contributors & many poems sent to us, but there are so many more. Instead, I’ll say that my dear friend Chan recently asked me to read “Buying White Beauty” by Imani Perry, from the Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender. It’s short. If I was to recommend something to read tomorrow, it would be this. It is about the global marketing of white aesthetics and the dangers of skin bleaching.
"We need a poetry not of direct statement but of direct evocation: a poetry of hieroglyphics, of embodiment, incarnation."
In the dream, another me soothsays the bone thicket pool—I have a scowl on my face and kindling in my hands.
—Joey De Jesus, Brooklyn, NY
1) Poetry is magic. Poetry is dead. Poetry is the link between the living and the dead. Poetry is a product that intrinsically opposes production. I want my poems to be useful.
2) It changed, as poetry does. It’s still there. It changed as the landscape of poetry changed: poets who did not have the privilege of sitting around contemplating (e.g. consuming & disseminating) pastoral landscapes maintained by other people began to speak of their own landscapes, internal and external, backroom & factory & dirt road.
3) Not just can, should. Poetry is intrinsically a political act; a poem that does not speak truth to power in some way is thus unjust. Poets who do not go beyond the canon/ ivory tower/ reading circuit are committing a disservice to themselves and their communities and should step off their platforms posthaste. They won’t.
4) The cynic in me says poetry community is a minuscule island predicated on nepotism, e.g. money, and that our dying kings are going to pass their laurels off to people who use power in the way people who inherit or come into power always have—e.g tyrannically-- in perpetuity. The idealist whispers that poetry community can be non-hierarchical and rhizomatic; can be borderless chains of connection across time and distance; can be people championing people they love and working from within to dismantle oppression; can operate dynamically in a manner not predicated on power’s inevitable corruption. I suppose the reality is a mix of both.
5) See #3 and #4. I would however say that we are operating within an imperialist white supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy and that protest, nepotism, and controversy are part of how poetry and art have always worked. Contextualizing current scuffles within history has been personally valuable.
6) A living room, a break room, a back porch. Not an insufferable warehouse choked with disoriented people posturing convulsively.
7) Listen harder. Listen better. Get off the Internet. Read work that pushes your comfort limit, that makes you itchy, that you do not understand. Do not expect people who are the objects of injustice to do the work of elucidating injustice. Think about whose labor—physical, emotional, visible, and hidden—you are benefiting from, and seek to compensate them more adequately. In short: try to do less harm.
8) I’m going to refrain from naming names. Any list would be incomplete and rife with favoritism; others have named some excellent poets.
9) A poet is defined by her poetry in the sense that poetry is a distillation of some aspect of the creator, but not in the sense that the product a poet has produced for public digestion is a reliable indicator of character, status, or intellect.
10) Love looks like neurons going batshit. It’s a chemical trick. The best part of being a poet is trying to recreate chemical tricks using language.
11) From this poem:
I’ve given up thinking
anything is the most I can do.
I’m not broken. Air parts around my walking
like a prow. Moreover, I’m not inscrutable
I’m pokerfaced. I’m frightened.
For us all. Suffer the fear.”
1.) For the past three years, to be exact, I have been trying to catch up with a broad internal monologue, and the news, and what the brain insists and what it bears. And although it may seem imprudent and solipsistic to do so, I find it attractive to define *Poetry* as simply that, the predicate of our logic and our own minds. Because one needs second vacations and because I work full-time, *Poetry* is also what work will ask of me and what I want to read next week.
3.) Go beyond verse! Every week, my colleague, the poet Wendy Salinger, tells her writing students (most of them are at risk youth) that their words are as important as the words of an established writer. She has made it her job to listen. This is how she fosters justice. I admire that.
4.) Reflection and good *contextual* call-outs are essential features of a kind and thoroughly examined life. So is sharpening one’s own bullshit barometer—there is a pleasure to developing this. Yes, shaming is infinitely easy and appealing, but it comes with MANY dangers. I struggle with this often: there has to be civility when one takes up arms against discrimination and the thoughtlessness of privilege.
5.) Example 1: Editor bemoans the lack of diversity; His authors are White. And Male. Example 2: Editor apologizes for insensitive op-ed, erases all traces of it, then protects her brand. In my experience, art and the business of art require intelligence AND sensitivity.
7.) Burnt Norton (Anthologies of Any Literature)
10.) A wanting to be by him and not beyond. An air-conditioned apartment. As for poetry, as with everything else in my life, I’ll keep at it in the meantime.
—Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, Brooklyn, New York
- Erika L. Sanchez
- Keith Gessen
- Nick Sturm
- The Rusty Toque
- Carrie Lorig
- Chris Johanson
- Wendy Chin-Tanner
- Damon Krukowski
- Amber Atiya
- Joey De Jesus
- Masha Tupitsyn
- Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia
- Chase Berggrun
- Mike Lala
- Sheila McMullin
- Meghan Privitello
- JD Scott
- Sonya Vatomsky
- Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
- Sara June Woods
- Sarah Xerta
- Allison Meier
- Ricardo Alberto Maldonado
- Nina Puro
- Maya Catherine Popa
- Cody-Rose Clevidence
- Matt Margini
- Omnidawn Publishing
- Truong Tran
- Felix Gonzalez-Torres
- Eleanor Stanford
- Martin Dyar
- Miriam Gamble
Raised in Baltimore and Georgia, Amy King earned a BS in English and women’s studies from Towson University, an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, and an MA in poetics from SUNY Buffalo. Her writing, which shows elements of Language poetry, has been influenced by her work with Charles Bernstein...