Fatimah Asghar vs. the People

August 1, 2017

Franny Choi: They're the raspberry slash Robitussin-flavored LaCroix that finally turns you into a fan of the drink, Danez Smith.

Danez Smith: And she's a little bit country, a little bit radioactive cyborg, Franny Choi.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) And this is VS, the podcast where poets confront the ideas that move them.

Danez Smith: Presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.(MUSIC) So on every episode of VS we talk to poets about whatever they are wrestling with, whatever is on their mind…

Franny Choi: What's on their minds!

Danez Smith: And we sort of, just, you know, have a good time; sometimes we get real deep and sometimes we get real not.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) Shallow, shallow bitches…

Danez Smith: We just look in mirrors and make y'all listen for, like, forty-five minutes.(LAUGHING) But no, we just have poets coming in, you know, these are good folks, just so y'all can get to know the poets that y'all are reading a little bit better.

Franny Choi: Yes, and today we are talking to one of our favorite poets in the world, one of our favorite humans in the world: Fatimah Asghar, who, in addition to being an incredible creative in many kinds of media, is a ridiculously huge Harry Potter fan, and so, I'm going to apologize in advance, Danez, for all of the Harry Potter references in this podcast that…

Danez Smith: Loooord…

Franny Choi:...that, maybe, you will be a huge fan of, but…

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) It's OK.

Franny Choi: It's OK! Deal with it.

Danez Smith: I'll just feel a little bit lost.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) I know. 

Danez Smith: One of my favorite things about this interview with Fati is—Fati is, like, very aware of who she's writing her poems for. Right?

Franny Choi: Yes! That's absolutely true.

Danez Smith: And I really really appreciate that about her. But I'm wondering, Franny, who do you not write for? Like who is not on your mind when you're particulatin' on them poems.

Franny Choi: Oh my god... The thing is that I feel like, even if I define who it is my audience is, people are just eavesdropping, just being rude…

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: ...and I'm sort of, like, how did you get in this room! This wasn't, you weren't cc'd on this email!(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I think there is something about that that is really important though, cause I know I'm not writing for Cody.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: You know Cody. 

Franny Choi: Um, true...?

Danez Smith: Cody, Cody, not a coder. And I feel like Cody is just that dude who was, like, in your, like, freshman year social justice requirement at your college…

Franny Choi: Oh my god…

Danez Smith: ...and was always the guy to raise his hand and be like, just to play devil's advocate here.

Franny Choi: Oooooooooooh! Why does the devil need so many advocates!

Danez Smith: The devil's advocating for himself, Cody, I think you can chill by, like....

Franny Choi: He's doing good, he's doing fine!

Danez Smith:...don't blame your opinions on the devil. He's doing enough. But, I'm not writing for Cody, but, like, I'm glad Cody's eavesdropping on those poems.

Franny Choi: Yeah, that's true.

Danez Smith: You know, Cody needs to listen too. And, like, I don't think Cody needs to raise his hand. I think Cody can go talk to Jennifer, about, you know, Jennifer gets it a little bit more. Uhm, or maybe Jennifer don't get it at all either? But I think Cody, Cody needs to be there. I'm also definitely not writing for anybody that is like, meh, about the current administration that we're living in, right?(LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: Ehem.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Yeah. But again, those are the people that you hope are listening, and would go like, well.... now that you put it like that, maybe I.... You know?

Danez Smith: Uh-huh.

Franny Choi: I'm again, like, not writing for... the alt-right Twitter troll. You know what I mean? But, like, but also, the alt-right Twitter troll has given me some good content to react against in my work!

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: So maybe I'm writing from the alt-right Twitter troll...(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Oh, I like that!

Franny Choi: ...more than, for him or her.

Danez Smith: I like that idea of writing from. That tastes gooood.

Franny Choi: Like, mining anger from their mess.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) Well, I think mining anger, I think we should mine our P's and Q's and get into this interview with Fati.

Franny Choi: OK, let's do it! So Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, screenwriter, educator and performer, her work has appeared in many journals including Poetry Magazine, Gulf Coast and a host of other places. Her work has been featured on news outlets like PBS, NPR, Time, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post and others. In 2011 she created Bosnia and Herzegovina's first spoken-word poetry group, Refleks, while on a Fulbright, studying theatre in post-genocidal countries. She's a member of the Dark Noise Collective, of which Danez and I are a part…

Danez Smith: Woot, woot!

Franny Choi: ... and a Kundiman Fellow. Her chapbook "After" came out on YesYes Books in the fall of 2015. She's the co-creator and writer of the sensationally, fantastic web series "Brown Girls," which highlights friendships between women of color, and has given me quite a lot of my life since it's come out…

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: we are really really excited to talk to our very good friend, lover of Harry Potter, Fatimah Asghar.

Danez Smith: Let's dive into the ring with Fati!


Danez Smith: So we're here in the studio with Khaleesi of the poems…

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It's true.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: ... creator of Brown Girls. Bringer of the farts…

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: This is slander.

Danez Smith: It's not slander if it's true. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, I think that's the rule, that's how slander works.

Fatimah Asghar: Slander. OK, this is libelle... is that what it’s called?

Franny Choi: Libel? I never know what the difference is between those two. Anyway! We're here in the studio with Fatimah Asghar…

Danez Smith: Yaaaaaay!

Franny Choi: ... incredible, incredible creator of many different kinds of media. From poems…

Danez Smith: photos…

Franny Choi: television…

Danez Smith: ...I heard she got a mixtape somewhere out there…

Franny Choi: ...she got a mixtape. She paints on the photos. 

Danez Smith: Wuuuut!

Franny Choi: I know. 

Danez Smith: She do nails?(LAUGHING) She do toes too?

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: How are you doing, Fati? 

Fatimah Asghar: I'm good, how are y'all doing?(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) We also, it's funny because we literally just had brunch. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Hi, how are you, how's your morning going, like, we've been present for all of it…

Danez Smith: The chilaquiles were kind of sus, can I just say that?

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. The waffles were a little... they weren't the greatest.

Franny Choi: Honestly, like, mediocre food puts me in a kind of mediocre mood. 

Danez Smith: Uh-huh. Fatimah, I feel like you're, like, above bad food now.

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: That's true.

Danez Smith: I think, once you blow up in a particular kind of way, now it's just disrespect to…

Fatimah Asghar: When I have bad food?

Danez Smith: ...when you have bad food! You made the hottest web series out right now.

Fatimah Asghar: Oh my god.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It's totally true.

Fatimah Asghar: I still eat Taco Bell.

Danez Smith: How does it feel…

Franny Choi: She's still Fati from the block.

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: So for those of you who ain't Pete, just run to your computer and Google "Brown Girls," "Brown Girls web series," that will probably help, it might be a lot of images that come up at first.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Yeah.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But Brown Girls is this beautiful piece of, just, art. It's an art piece. It's this web series that incorporates the stories of, just, so many queer women of color, queer folks of color, and just bringing us to life in a way that I have never seen, as a piece of mainstream media. I mean, you've answered this all over the place, you've been everywhere, W Magazine, you've been on every... you are the internet right now.

Franny Choi: Yep, that's true.

Fatimah Asghar: Oh my god, that is not true...(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: How does it feel to know that you created something that so many people see themselves in and are gravitating to? 

Fatimah Asghar: I mean, when I first made this, and I say this, and I mean it in full transparency. I'm, like, not trying to B.S. anybody. But, like, I'm making this thing, it's my first time doing this thing, it's only gonna be my really close friends and that's who I was creating it for. And wanting to create something that they felt seen in and that they felt, you know, welcomed in. And so then when it started catching on, it felt really wild because it was just, like, wow, this is becoming bigger than I ever thought and it's becoming bigger than myself in a way that I'd never experienced with a piece of art before. Or, like, I think even, like, when poems go viral and when things go viral, there is ... you both know that, when that happens, there is, like, this moment where you're, like, I can't read the comments, I can't read whatever, I can't .... or just, like, that kind of extreme pride but also fear of like, what are people gonna be saying. But with Brown Girls it was, like, that on ten. I have never experienced something like that. But I think that I just feel really honored that, like, so many people feel connected to it. Like, my favorite thing is when I see people who are sharing it who I don't know, and what I see is, like, them tagging their friends and being like, look, it's me and you. Or, like, look, it's us.

Franny Choi: Hmmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: And, like, that feeling to me is, like, really really beautiful, and is, like, the reason why the show exists. And in the show's trajectory, what I hope is able to be a part of it as it continues forward.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: Yeah. I said this too before but, like, even as someone who had read the script... And, you know, I'd been there on one of the days on set and stuff... but there was something, like, an experience, a visceral experience that I did not anticipate watching some of the scenes from that show. Like, I didn't know, I really didn't know how much I had needed to see an Asian-American woman coming out to her sister. And not just read about theoretically, but, like, literally watch in front of my eyes…

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.

Franny Choi: ...and, like, watch people thrive. 

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, I mean, I remember, so, y'all know the show Quantico…

Danez Smith: Uh-huh

Franny Choi: Uh-huh

Fatimah Asghar: ...with Priyanka Chopra? So, I remember when the ads for that rolled out. And I remember seeing Priyanka's face on bus platforms and subway platforms, and walking around and just seeing her on the side of a building, and literally my whole world being shook. I was, like, holy crap, I have never seen a South-Asian woman like that, in this country. It opened this deep well of hunger in myself that I had not recognized. I did not know that I was that starved until I saw Priyanka for Quantico. I think it was like a thing where, you don't see yourself, you don't see yourself, you don't know that it becomes part of the fabric of your being, but you don't name it. You don't know it until something sheds a little bit of light on something that looks kind of like you, and you're suddenly, literally, my whole life was messed up. Like, I was, like, I need to see this show, I want to see what this is. I want to know everything I can about Priyanka. I'm, like, very very... I got really invested in this kind of way that I hadn't felt before. And I think it's deeply sad to me, to think about how many people feel that way. And, like, have that kind of hunger, and Danez saying, "I've never seen ourselves or myself reflected in this way," like... What did we do that was really that revolutionary? We put a group of friends on screens. It's not actually that wild to think of. It wasn’t fantasy, we weren't doing nothing that was, like, ridiculous in terms of storytelling, I just, I think that what we did was, we showed black and brown humans as humans. We just showed them as people.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: Why is that revolutionary in 2017? When I really think about it, that's when I'm, like, woow... That is not even really that big of a deal, but for that to kind of feel that way, like, I know that feeling cause I saw it when I saw Quantico and when I saw Priyanka. And I just hoped for a world in which, like, all of our art changes that. We can feel full and we don't feel starved of ourselves every single time we are walking around. 

Danez Smith: Hmmh. I think there's another layer to that for me too. Because I know that, like, the show Noah's Arc, I don't know if anybody's ever seen it. It's basically black/gay Sex In The City. And everything that's good about that and everything that's bad about that. 

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: I've seen Noah's Arc, I've watched, like, the two seasons that it has front to back, at least twenty times.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: I have episodes memorized, kind of like that. Like, two things I want to add. One thing about Noah's Arc was that the acting was horrible. And so even though I felt seen, I also felt, like, characterized in a way that felt corny.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.

Danez Smith: But also, it still felt like a product in a particular kind of way. That was still, like, oh, this is being marketed towards me, instead of, this isn't... This isn't made for me in a particular way.

Franny Choi: Right.

Danez Smith: And I think that's maybe what takes me aback about Brown Girls so much, and even, the rest of you, there's such an attention to detail, to humanization and to love. Like, you can tell when a creator loves their characters. Like, really loves the people that inhabit the work. What does it mean for you, to, like, love and care for, like, the inhabitants of your work, you know?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. I really do think of love as an active process, as much of a verb as I can think about it. That's work, right. It is active work. And I... You know, even Dark Noise. Our philosophy is built around love. (LAUGHING) And, like, me…

Franny Choi: Dark Noise is a collective of six young artists of color that Fati, Danez and I are part of. With Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels and Jamila Woods.

Danez Smith: Shout-out.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. And, you know, when me and Aaron Samuels were first talking about creating Dark Noise, Aaron was coming at it from a business standpoint and had all these kind of business ideas. And I literally was, like, this is about love. It's about, like, love is an active process and I won't be a part of anything that isn't about love as an active process, like, I've struggled before to be, like, what are all the threads that unite some of my art-making. Whether it be poetry, whether it be photography, whether it be the web series, right. And I think that in a lot of ways my artistic medium is relationships. That is what my artistic medium is.

Franny Choi: Ooof!

Fatimah Asghar: In that sense, that is, like, everything. It's why I'm doing it, it's the actual thing that makes it and it's the outcome of it. And that is what is important to me. And so, and thinking about love as an active thing, too, like, I think I could love so many people and I think it is hard to love so many people. I actually think about every friendship I have, every relationship I have, as, like, an actual relationship. And often, that means that, like, there's a lot of work. Like, when you think about, like, the kind of work that you put into a romantic relationship or a relationship with, like, your mother or your... whatever, like, that is kind of how I feel. And I think that, like, a lot of what I want to do is honor. And I want to be able to honor the people I come from, the communities I come from, the communities I care about, but also, like, I want to be able to honor pain and joy and love and hardship. And not throw those things away easily either. Not just to have the love and have the love cancel out pain. But to be able to have them kind of be in the same sentence.

Franny Choi: I think that's something that is so remarkable about your work, Fati, is that your work lives. Your work has kind of like a pulse, and, like, a breath. Because, precisely because the medium is community and the medium is, like, people and love. You know? It doesn't simply excel, although it also does that, but, like, the photo of the crew. You know? And, like, the moment at the Chicago release with the burlesque dancers, you know? Like, those are as much of the project as any part of, like, the show that you can watch on the internet, you know? I think that goes for so much of your work, too. Not just for Brown Girls, but for, like, your poetry. Your poetry really lives in the world and is breathing and loving in the world. Because it's not just for, like, a reader or a journal. It's, like, for the people who are written about. The people that it's for. The people who are reading it, and it's for yourself, you know? I'm just gushing at this point.

Fatimah Asghar: Thank you!

Franny Choi: Seriously, there's, like, a vitality to that when it's not being created just for success, just for marketing, just for, like, impressing someone.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. And I think the thing around... this kind of came up a lot with marketability, like, um, around Brown Girls. Where it was, like, when we first started the journey of Brown Girls, I had people tell me that you can't make this show because it will never be picked up by a network, right? I'm not making the show to get picked up by a network, right. I am making the show to, like, love my community and to just, like, be a reflection, right. Just to try art. And I think, sometimes we get so stuck in, like, marketability. And, um, we put the idea of success on a project before we've even floundered in the project. So then how can it go anywhere, you know? And I kind of think that, I wish that the world was a little bit more forgiving. Especially now, I think that, like, I love social media and I love things like this, but I think there is kind of a tendency...the second something comes out, having people quickly be, like, this is what I think or this is my two cents, or this is whatever. And sometimes I'll be like, hey y'all, be forgiving! Like, people are trying new things. Like, let people live in a way that allows them to grow as people, as humans, as artists, and then kind of see where all of these things fit into the trajectory of a lot of stuff.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: And that's not to say you can't have conversations about art, you should always have conversations about art, but the kind of feeling, like, just being able to offer a little bit more space for people to try. Right? And it doesn't often feel like a lot of space for people to try and fail. And I think failure is really important. 

Danez Smith: Yes. And I think about the structures of, like, all the places where, like, art lives that, like, dictate that. 

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.

Danez Smith: So I'm, like, circling back to the idea of, like, community as practice, like, how do you see the spaces of, like, let's say Hollywood. Or film in general. Needing to change. Or, let's say, the spaces in which poetry tends to live, right? Which, like, a lot of people try to lock poetry inside of academia or inside of, like, a particular kind of respectability of, like, journals and presses and, like…

Franny Choi: I know Fati has thoughts on that.

Danez Smith: I know you have thoughts on that, that's why I'm asking.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Woot!(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: So. Many. Thoughts.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Like, where do you fight up against that and how... do you see yourself, or, like, people around you pushing back against that. Like, where should our art be instead of, like, these rigid-ass places.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. Or in addition to those rigid-ass places. 

Danez Smith: The rigid-ass places are great sometimes.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah! Totally. 

Franny Choi: They have good snacks.

Fatimah Asghar: They do have good snacks, oh my god! I fucking love being able to walk into a meeting and have people be, like, do you want snacks. Like, what? I've never worked at a place where we get offered snacks to... for a meeting.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Commerce is a powerful thing.

Fatimah Asghar: You know, it's, like, a really incredible, like, ability, but I think that the reason why I critique poetry spaces is because I deeply love poetry. And I deeply love, again, the people who I ride with and whatever, and I want to see that space opened and challenged in a way that allows a lot of people at the table, right? Like, and I think that that's kind of where a lot of that stuff comes from. So it's not me hating on poetry spaces because I'm, like, d-d-d-d-deh, but it is me being, like, y'all need to change! And I think that, like, there is a tendency to have, like, one path of thinking about success in the poetry realm. Which is, you go to undergrad, you major in creative writing, then you go and you get an MFA. And then you become a professor. And, you…

Danez Smith: You adjunct for the rest of your life, making pennies, and hopefully somebody... Fatimah Asghar: Right. 

Danez Smith: ...dies and you get a tenureship.(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Right, hopefully maybe you win a first book award, maybe you win... You know, and there is nothing wrong with that shit. There is nothing wrong with it, right. But I think, my issue is when it becomes the only path of success for people. And I have heard people be like, I'm having a hard time in my MFA program, I'm not doing well here, and have the kind of advice offered to them, like, well, you just need to suffer and stick it out because that's the only way to, whatever. No, no, no, no, no. People should always choose happiness…

Franny Choi: ... and their health. 

Fatimah Asghar: ... and their mental health, and their ability to create over some kind of, like, prestige. I don't like that. And I think that, I feel constantly thrilled to be in this moment, to be, like: Danez was the first poet to have a poem on Buzzfeed. Right? Like, that is an incredible moment for the culture. When that happens, when people realize that people want to read poems, and they want to read these poems on things like Buzzfeed, on things like... the fact that Morgan Parker was able to have a poem on The Fader, a music blog, a really prestigious music blog, is a huge deal! It's huge! It just totally broke... anything that we have ever thought about. It really does. Because when you think about, like, the traditional ways that literary and publishing work, right, and literary journals. What Danez has done, what Morgan has done, has broken everything. Why are we not talking about that more? Or why is that not, kind of, in the dominant conversation of poetics in academia? And it just boggles my mind. Warsan Shire's poems are in Lemonade! That is a huge moment of poetry that has totally shifted the culture of poetry and totally changed things. And I feel like, not enough attention or credit was kind of given there, or given to people who are really changing things. I think there is this moment that is happening that is pretty incredible, in the sense that, like, people are really pushing the boundaries of what poetry can exist in and be in, and I think that some journals and some institutions are slow to catch on. Honestly, I worry about those institutions. Because if you're not catching on, if you're not seeing that, if you're not recognizing the ability of doing that, then, like, what is your longevity in a world with millennials. Like, what is your longevity in a world with people of color. With writers of color. That then becomes, like, a question of survival and, like, not so much a question of prestige. It's, like, well, then you're gonna die out. You know? And I hope that these journals and these people and these institutions can kind of recognize that and start to change, because I think that, there is often a way in which, like, sometimes those things are looked up upon, or can be looked upon as, like, pop. Like, pop poetry. And, like, that elicits all the eye rolls from academia. And I just don't understand that. I think that that's a very basic understanding of poetry, and I kind of want to see that opened and pushed.

Franny Choi: Also, like, I mean, that sort of institutionalization in academia of poetry is also, like, not... that's, like, not how it's always been, also. Right?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah!

Danez Smith: I mean, the MFA is, like, new.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: That's new! The MFA industrial complex for poetry is, like, a newer thing, you know?

Danez Smith: See, even that idea of survival, like, I worry about institutions but I worry about the people, like, us, who, like operate under those institutions. Like, full disclosure: I dropped out of an MFA program. Which is, like, some crazy shit. You know? And it was scary because my survival, not in my career but in my life meant leaving that MFA program. For a lot of reasons. Great people, great learning happening there, for Danez Smith was not the move, at the moment, was not the space where, like, my body, mind and spirit could, like, be a full-functioning thing at the time.

Fatimah Asghar: And also, like, why is that not OK to say.

Danez Smith: Why is that not OK, and, like, I have my doubts about academia, I think it is great, I think there are people that thrive there, I think there is a lot of great learning and important thinking that happens there, so I don't want to hate on it in any kind of way that sound like I'm, like, academia bashing, but I know what is and what isn't in it for me. Which is scary. I had to take that step. And I know that a lot of folks, like, are scared to take steps that are, like, feel outside of that path. And I'm wondering, maybe... Thanks for, like, mentioning me and, like, Morgan, I think there's a lot of people doing, like, really really exciting things. I'm wondering for you, was there a move that, like, you took? Somewhere in your career that felt risky as hell, that scared the shit out of you? That you feel like you, like, learned a little from or, like learn how to be a boss from or, like, maybe, like, a misstep? That showed you a little bit more, like, what is the actual, like, more windy and crazy path that…

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. So, I applied to MFA's twice. The first time I applied I didn't really get in anywhere and then I got into one place that gave me, like a full funding, like, the tuition was covered but I wasn't gonna be, I was going to have to work in order to make money, right. And I decided to say no. And I think I got a lot of pressure for, why are you saying no, or, like, that's the thing. But what I decided was: I wanted to choose my community in Chicago over going. Right? Things are changing in my life pretty rapidly right now, and I'm wondering... what is the ways in which I ground myself in the communities that I care about, and how do I let go of things that are not meant for me. Even if it means prestige. Right? Like, what does it mean to then be able to say no. To say to one thing, but have that mean yes to alternative learning or alternative community, right. And I think that that's really scary. 

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: It's really scary to be, like, I ... maybe... I don't know anyone right now who has a kind of career path that I have that I can follow. And I feel a little confused because I feel like I don't always know how to get advice. Or I don't always know who I can look to to be, like, this is... you have the same wants and desires and interests as me and this is what I'm doing, right. And I think that's kind of a scary thing about art making in general. Like, actually, there is many ways of being an artist. Right? But we're taught that there is only a few kind of tangible paths to success. I'm kind of going through that right now in terms of thinking about, like, what’s gonna happen right now in terms of, what's gonna happen for me? I think that writing a web series totally changed my life, right. And I think, like, I spent a long time wanting to write for TV, but I didn't know how. Like, in another life I could write for TV. In another life I could write for film. In another life... And eventually I was, like, I'm just gonna do it. 

Danez Smith: This is that other life!(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Right! And then, my, one of the amazing questions I have is, like, what happens when poets start writing a bunch of different things. And people have done that, like, a lot of people have done, kind of, like, hybrid work in different kind of things, and I'm really interested in that. I'm really, really fascinated. Cause I think that the kind of answers are endless possibility. But I think that sometimes we only see the one path that has been set out already. And it's hard to take a step off of that path a little bit.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: Can I ask - do you feel, like, your ventures into other media... Do you think that's changed the way that you approach writing poetry in any way?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, I mean, I think that four years ago I was writing not what I'm writing now. 

Danez Smith: Very different, very different.

Fatimah Asghar: Very mythological, very magical realism, like, totally not kind..

Franny Choi: Formally experimental..

Fatimah Asghar: ...very experimental!

Danez Smith: Not interested in narrativity…

Fatimah Asghar: Not at all. Had no interest in narrativity and the narrative, kind of, elements of things, right? And I think a lot of my poems are based in scene in a way that people have told me is, like, very cinematic. And I think a lot about the people who I want to read my poems, including my family, including high school students, and I think that sometimes, like, that is who... when I'm writing a poem now, is, like my intended audience. Like, if I walk into a high school tomorrow—high schoolers who hate everything, who literally, you can have the most impressive bio in the world, and they do not care…

Danez Smith: They have no idea... what's an N.E.A…

Fatimah Asghar: Right, right. Will they be excited about my poems? And I think that that has changed my entire outlook on poetry, right, was, is that question, is, like, will these young people care about the poems that I have to say. And how can I make them care about this. And I think that, maybe, in, like, three years I'll be writing, like, really experimental stuff again and, like, really formally experimental things, like, cool! I'm down for it. You know? But I think that giving myself that permission to do whatever is really important.


Danez Smith: Shifting gears a little bit... What has it meant to, like, make the art you make in the America that we're currently living in?

Franny Choi: Woooh!

Danez Smith: Which... with, like, full disclosure, like, people listening, is the same America as before. 

Fatimah Asghar: Yes. Forever.

Danez Smith: Like, Obama was, like, great and also was, like, bombing other countries and, like, there were still, like, messed up things happening within that regime as well. Um....regime is such a word.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, regime is a word.

Franny Choi: Woot, woot!

Danez Smith: Regime is a word. Wooh!

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And that's why, maybe I think, like, Brown Girls was such a breath in the midst of orange-soda face apocalypse. It was just, like…

Fatimah Asghar: I like orange soda, don't insult orange soda. I also have an issue when people call him the Cheetos because I fucking love Cheetos, and I'm like, y'all can't ruin Cheetos.

Danez Smith: But he's, like, those, like, off-brand Cheetos, he's like Cheese Puffs.

Fatimah Asghar: You call him Cheese Puffs then.

Danez Smith: OK

Fatimah Asghar: You know?

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: What's an orange thing…

Franny Choi: But you don't want a Cheeto in every situation. 

Fatimah Asghar: Mmmm...

Danez Smith: Well... OK.

Fatimah Asghar: OK, you're right, you're right, you're right. 

Danez Smith:(SINGING) Cheetos in the morning, Cheetos in the evening, Cheetos during sexy time...(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Oh! Oh, oh. Cheetos during sexy time! I disagree. I disagree with Cheetos during sexy time.

Danez Smith: I don't know, you're never, like, in the middle of the act and you crave that crunch?

Fatimah Asghar: No. Whatever you're about to say, no.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) Not even spicy crunch?

Fatimah Asghar: No! 

Danez Smith: This is getting away from us.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Sorry, sorry.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But, like, in the midst of, like, this apocalypse, has your art changed at all? Or you’re, like, feeling an urgency? I kind of hate this question because I've been getting it a lot too. But I think it's interesting because, like, so much of your art is in my mind a direct middle finger that, like, flicks off the administration but also, like, then is, like, used, like, to rub oil into the scalp of your people.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: In a very loving way.

Fatimah Asghar: That's what I want. 

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) What's it been, like, making art in this world, living in this world... Is there anything you are learning, is there anything you, like, are like looking forward to?

Franny Choi: How is your heart!?

Danez Smith: How is your heart, girl?

Fatimah Asghar: Um, my heart is actually pretty good. I feel a lot of hope in the world, actually. And it's because I... there is like a point where I kind of just have to tap out and, like, the way I consume news is, like, very different now and I'm so anxious that I'm also, like, I can't do this anymore. But I think that... I've always thought that poems are urgent. Right?

Franny Choi: Hmmh.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: Ever since I first started reading poems, there are poems out there that quite literally... made me love myself, that were not poems that I had written. They were poems that other people had written that had this sense of urgency, this sense of battle, that I needed. And to throw a little bit of light back onto the question that you asked before about, like, institution, as, like, sometimes I think about, like, you can spend six months waiting for a journal to maybe say yes to your poem and then you spend maybe another six to twelve months for them to, like, put it in their queue and then to put it out. That is not urgent, right? Like, poems are actually urgent and I think that sometimes some of the institutions of publication need to change because I think you need to change to, like, adapt to urgency and to be able to... like, these are poems that need to be alive now. There are definitely moments were things have happened where a poem needs to be there then. There is different kinds of art for everything, right. And I think that, like, Brown Girls to me was a thing that I was, like, my friends fight so hard. They fight so hard all the time. And I want to be able to provide something in which my friends can laugh and have a little bit of armor so that they can fight again. Right? That's what I wanted for that project.

Danez Smith: Mmmhm.

Fatimah Asghar: That's not what I want for every poem. That was just that project. In this moment, I want this thing to be able to communicate X thing. You know, I've had people ask me, who are kind of only familiar with Brown Girls and maybe not some of my poetry or whatever, but ask, like, you want to write out of joy and out of, like, joy of identity and joy of this thing. Isn't it better to write about joy than trauma? No! It's, like, important to write about both, right? And it's important to have those two things together, because that is the world. You don't have joy without trauma. Or it's, like, a very uncomplicated joy, then, that you can have. And it's a very privileged joy that I don't think any of me or my friends face. Like, I wrote a poem post the election because I was feeling really down, but the thing that I was thinking about was, like, I love my people and I want to protect my people. And, like, that was the impulse of my poem. And then there's also poems where I'm, like, I hate, like, this thing that is called America. Right? And that anger is very palpable in those poems. And I think that there is kind of a way in which, like, all of those tones can exist and not be contradictory. 

Franny Choi: Hmmh.

Danez Smith: Hmmh. Amen.

Franny Choi: Yeah, I think, for you that anger, yeah, really, I think has its origin in love. In love for the people. We were talking about this last night, where we were talking about, like, the reason to hate a system is out of, like, love for the people that it's fucking over. You know?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, because it's, like, it takes so much work to hate and to be angry. 

Danez Smith: It's exhausting!

Fatimah Asghar: It's exhausting, it's mentally... It's so tiring and it takes a lot of work to organize. It takes a lot of work to write a poem, to create a piece of art, to kind of be doing this stuff. And if not love, then what is the impetus, right. Like what is the reason that we do it, what is the reason we wake up. If it’s ego, if it's something else, if it's whatever, that shit will burn fast. You can't sustain a career off of ego. At least I don't think you can? You can't sustain your life off of ego, like, you have to sustain it off of something else. And I think that everyone chooses that different, right. And I think that a lot of the reason that I choose it is out of love. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. You can tell when it's not real, you know. You can read a poem, even if it is, like, say, about, like, X political subject. You know the poem that was written... not even out of urgency but out of care and out of necessity because the poem had to be called into this world. Or you can tell the poem that was written because it was a hot topic. And you wanted to publish and you sent it out…

Franny Choi: Absolutely.

Danez Smith: You know what I mean? 

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah.

Danez Smith: You know, that ego-based work, that careerist work, you can tell! And it goes for every medium. There is a reason you've gravitated towards a TV show with heart. You know? There is a reason why this is us, it's popular, and makes people cry week after week, because there is something happening in that writing room that is genuine.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Danez Smith: That feels good. That feels like the writers are excited, and feels like this piece is necessary. You know that. You know, that's why, like movies flop. That's why all these whitewashed movies that should have Asian actors in them fail. Because you see the bullshit in it. You know, you can call... Mess can not disguise itself. And I read—you see that in poems—like, I've read so many poems, especially once Black Lives Matter became a hot topic. So many poems out there that were... interested in the currency of black lives, and not the salvation or honoring of black lives. 

Fatimah Asghar: And I think with that, if you were an artist and you were like, oh my god, like, this pain is hot right now, and I have the identity to be in this pain. What is the cost of that on your being? Like, oh my god, it is heavy. It is heavy to be, like, am I only worth my people's dying? Am I only worth my people's suffering, like. And the answer I believe, I have to believe the answer is no. And so if the answer is no, then what is the art that we are creating, right? If the art is, like, this happens, and also, like, my people are worth their joy, their love, their beauty, their existence, their whatever, like, how then does that shift the conversation of art, right. And I think that, like, there is a way also in which people can pry off of that. Like, there are like all these people are in my inbox asking for poems for, like, post-election anthologies and stuff, and I'm like, no! Like, first of all, do y'all not talk, cause how many post-election anthologies are there right now…

Danez Smith: Woooo!

Fatimah Asghar: Are you guys not on the same group meet, cause somebody needs to put you in something.

Danez Smith: Shout-out...(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: And, like, yeah! Why does my email explode only when Muslim people are, like, in pain. 

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: I don't want that to be the case, I don't want to live in a world where that's the case, and so then I have to, kind of, operate like it's not the case. And choose those projects wisely. You know?

Franny Choi: Right. Right. It's not just shine but it's, like, asking, demands once Muslim people are in pain.

Fatimah Asghar: Right.

Franny Choi: How is that grape soda though? 

Fatimah Asghar: Good, you want some?

Franny Choi: Naaah.

Danez Smith: No, I'm good.


Danez Smith: Fat', you and I have talked about this before. And I think you have a strange ego. A big ego. Around being what you have called "a mediocre-ass bitch." 

Franny Choi: Oh, wow! 

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: I am a mediocre-ass bitch.

Franny Choi: Called out on air.

Danez Smith: But you, like, love it.

Fatimah Asghar: I am, yeah!

Danez Smith: Why is it important to be a mediocre-ass bitch?

Fatimah Asghar: Well.. OK. There is many reasons. When we talk about food, like, maybe I should be eating good food. Also I'm a mediocre-ass bitch and I like Taco Bell…

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: ... and I'm drinking a grape soda right now. And I think that I have a tendency to be, like, this is the shit I like. This is the shit I grew up on, this is what I like and this is what I'm gonna eat until I fucking die. Like, you know, that is who I am.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) Is there, like, some mediocre media you are into?

Fatimah Asghar: Oh, yes. So much mediocre media. Ok, so, this is why I'm mediocre. The way I started writing was I started writing Harry Potter sex fan fiction, where everybody was having sex in the room of requirement.

Franny Choi: Oh my god....

Fatimah Asghar: Right. This is how I started my writing career....

Danez Smith: Ooof!

Fatimah Asghar: off of this. It's not off of…

Franny Choi: This is the origin story. 

Fatimah Asghar: It was literally off of, like, me being, like, wait a minute. There is a magical high school where all these kids are, and it's overnight and nobody's having sex? Questions, right, like, I have some questions.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: And there is a secret room that nobody else can find that has exactly what you need but nobody else can get into? 

Fatimah Asghar: Right. 

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: Duuuh!

Fatimah Asghar: Right. No, it can be whatever you want.

Franny Choi: Wall of lube! Wall of lube, end of discussion.

Fatimah Asghar: You can make the room of requirement whatever you want it to be. Right?

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: But what I love about the room of requirement is, you might not even know what you need. 

Fatimah Asghar: Right. And then you walk in…

Franny Choi: ... and you're like…

Fatimah Asghar: ... and there's a strap-on. 

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Is there any other list in there that I..

Fatimah Asghar: ... and that's when you're like, I didn't know! I didn't know. And now I know. And now I know.

Danez Smith: I think we just ruined a lot of people's childhoods, y'all.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Or did we enrich them?

Fatimah Asghar: I think we enriched them. 

Danez Smith: Alright, cool, so Hermione was a freak. Learn something new every day.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Hermione was definitely a freak!

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Why, because she dated Viktor Krum?

Franny Choi: She dated Viktor Krum, subverts expectations,...

Fatimah Asghar: OK, OK,...

Franny Choi: ... and is, like, braver than anyone else ever actually realizes and is extremely well-read and extremely open-minded. 

Danez Smith: OK, I'm gonna cut y'all off cause y'all can talk about Harry Potter literally for, like, another hour.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: This will be the podcast.

Franny Choi: This is not a Harry Potter-themed podcast? 

Danez Smith: No, no it's not Franny, no it's not. And I heard all of the Harry Potter references that you snuck into this episode(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: It's true, it's true!(LAUGHING) I keep, like, saying them under my breath but I'm speaking into a microphone, so.

Danez Smith: I know. I know that you really want this show to be.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I do! I do. 

Danez Smith: Oh lord.. OK, what is, like, the form of mediocre media you want to break into?

Fatimah Asghar: Oh, I really want to... OK, so for example, I love Twilight. And I love Fifty Shades of Grey and all of that jazz, I'm about it. And I would love to write under a pen name, some fanfictionesque, like, magic erotica, like, whole lineage, that is my goal.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: OK, knowing you…

Danez Smith: Like Harry Thot-her?

Franny Choi:(GASP)

Fatimah Asghar: Yes. That's exactly what I wanna write.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Ok, knowing you both personally and professionally, I can attest to the fact that this magical erotica would be incredibly good. It would be so good.

Danez Smith: So many wands inside of things.

Fatimah Asghar: Don't you also, though, I think part of it is, like, why I want to write under a pen name, is, like, I want it to be bad... (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: I want it to be so bad in the best way, like, you know when you're reading some of that stuff and you’re, like, this is so bad but for some reason my loins are moving?(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: That's, like, what I want to be.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Honestly, you get rich, like... 

Franny Choi: So rich.

Danez Smith: Like, I really want to write, like, "the sun rose / and it set in / that time, I grew," poems, you know, just like that... that have, like, the title at the bottom…

Franny Choi: Oh my!(LAUGHING) Yaasssss!

Danez Smith: Like, I want to write that type of bad poem…

Fatimah Asghar: You're taking shots rights now.

Danez Smith: You know who you are!(SINGING) I gotta say no names, but y'all should know who you are on Instagram...(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Wow, wow!

Fatimah Asghar: You went there, you went there!(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I'm like, splitting, like, my metaphorical hair, y'all. Uuuuum.... but I wanna make that, because, like, A, it would make me money and B, I feel like there is something so pleasurable at being baaad at a thing sometimes, you know? Like, shout-out to my momma who, like, is, like, a horrible singer but is, like, the loudest woman in the church.(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: And, like, I think it's because she loves Jesus, but, like, also, like, there is a... when you are just bad and you like it, who cares. Whoooo cares! It's so much fun.

Franny Choi: Well, there's like playfulness and joy, to, like, singing in the shower, singing in the car. I wanna figure out how to have that singing-in-the-shower joy in everything I do.

Danez Smith: Uh-huh. Word. So, question. Question, OK. So this is, like, the most listened-to podcast in the nation, right, like, we have everybody's ear right now. For anybody, like, producers sitting out there, like, what's a movie that you'd be down to make?

Fatimah Asghar: I mean.... 

Danez Smith: Is it just the movie version of your, like, Harry Thot-her? Or, …

Fatimah Asghar: It could be, but I also think it could be some really bad superhero movies. You know? Do y'all know when, like, a movie comes out and you know you're not gonna see it in theater, but you know the second it's on the airplane, you're gonna watch it on the airplane?

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Those are the kind of movies I wanna make. You know, that are, like, those bad action movies that, like, people kinda wanna see, but kinda don't, and I'm, like, I would loooove to write a bad Westerner. Like, literally.

Franny Choi: Western. I think Western.

Fatimah Asghar: Wes-ter-ner.

Danez Smith: Wes-tern.

Fatimah Ashgar: -ner.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) 

Fatimah Asghar: Ok, so, let's be honest. What movies have come out recently that you're like, I cannot wait until this comes on the airplane so I can watch it. The aeroplane. 

Franny Choi: The aeroplane...(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Do you know what I watched on the airplane and wept? Frozen. 

Fatimah Asghar: Frozen is really good. 

Franny Choi: Frozen is beautiful.

Danez Smith: Yeah. But I was just like…

Franny Choi: I cry, like, every time I try to sing Let It Go. To myself in the car or the shower.

Danez Smith: I cried at Beauty and the Beast.

Franny Choi: Oh my god. Yeah. Definitely cried at Beauty and the Beast.

Danez Smith: Hmh.

Fatimah Asghar: It's the truth.

Franny Choi: Oh my god, it's so gay. There is so much gender in that movie. 

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: You know? When sometimes movies just have a lot of gender in them.

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) That's some gender-heavy shit.

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I never thought of gender as, like, that kind of noun.(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Like a quantifiable noun? And not, like, gender without an adjective, you know. Not, like, gay gender, or, like…

Danez Smith: What is gay gender?(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: I think Beauty and the Beast has a lot of gay gender.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: I do. I think Beauty and the Beast is a gay-ass, gendered-ass movie. 

Danez Smith: Hah.

Fatimah Asghar: So together it's a gay-gendered-ass....

Danez Smith: But, you know, ass has really changed that sentence.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: A gay gender movie, kind of, like, gay-ass gender-ass movie, got yah. 

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But what is the ass but the most ungendered part of the body.

Fatimah Asghar: That's true! That's why I love asses. Because they are gender neutral.

Franny Choi: Yeah. OK.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: I would say that's true. That's true, that's true, that's true. 

Danez Smith: Everybody wants a nice ass.

Fatimah Asghar: An ass is gender neutral.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Word. Do you want to read us a poem?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah! Sure.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: This poem that you brought in to read today, is, what we were talking about earlier, is, was one of those poems that felt like, you know, I know that we were talking about, how there is, like, there's this sort of, like, constructed urgency after the election...This was a poem where I was, like, poetry is important. No matter what anyone else says. And even though it's our job to constantly say in public and to each other that what we do is meaningful, there... it's all coming from this, like, societal doubt that that is true. You know? But, like, this is a moment where I was like, yes. Absolutely, like, poetry is important, and also: Fatimah is important. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: You know.

Danez Smith: This is a poem that I wanted to, like, spray paint this across all the walls. 

Franny Choi: Yeah! I really, really did.

Danez Smith: Like, I wanted to, like, print it out and just hand it out to everybody.

Fatimah Asghar: I feel that way about so many poems that people write. I just want to hand them out to people. Like, everybody needs to read this poem right now. 

Danez Smith: Yep.

Fatimah Asghar: You need to read this poem.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: If They Should Come For Us 


these are my people & I find

them on the street & shadow

through any wild all wild

my people my people

a dance of strangers in my blood

the old woman’s sari dissolving to wind

bindi a new moon on her forehead

I claim her my kin & sew

the star of her to my breast

the toddler dangling from stroller

hair a fountain of dandelion seed

at the bakery I claim them too

the sikh uncle at the airport

who apologizes for the pat

down the muslim man who abandons

his car at the traffic light drops

to his knees at the call of the azan

& the muslim man who sips

good whiskey at the start of maghrib

the lone khala at the park

pairing her kurta with crocs

my people my people I can’t be lost

when I see you my compass

is brown & gold & blood

my compass a muslim teenager

snapback & high-tops gracing

the subway platform

mashallah I claim them all

my country is made

in my people’s image

if they come for you they

come for me too in the dead

of winter a flock of

aunties step out on the sand

their dupattas turn to ocean

a colony of uncles grind their palms

& a thousand jasmines bell the air

my people I follow you like constellations

we hear the glass smashing the street

& the nights opening their dark

our names this country’s wood

for the fire my people my people

the long years we’ve survived the long

years yet to come I see you map

my sky the light your lantern long

ahead & I follow I follow


Fatimah Asghar: So, I say "my people" all the time. Like, you know, y'all get so irritated, I'm, like, my people are, like, walking here or here.

Franny Choi: Like, oh that person? She's my people. (LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: And Danez... when we were in Michigan last fall, you know, you said you were, like, bitch, you just need to write a poem where "my people" is in it. Don't say that if you're not gonna write a poem. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: That, um... And then, the week after I wrote the poem. So, it was, like, when I was going to write this poem, I was looking, flipping through my notebook and in it I had written, like, "my people poem." Um... because of the conversation we had.

Franny Choi: I think also a subtlety that some listeners might not pick up on is the ways that you are bringing into that realm of "my people" includes, like, non-muslim South-Asians. Like the Sikh man that you mention. I think that's, like, actually an incredibly remarkable moment to, like, claim a Sikh person, like, given your history and the history of partition, like, can you talk a little bit about that?

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, I mean, I think that the kind of thing I love about saying "my people" is that's constantly shifting. Like, in this room I can be, like, I'm referring to all of us. 

Franny Choi: Like, the other day when I said my people but I meant people who are allergic to fruit. 

Fatimah Asghar: Yes. And Jamila thought you were saying... 

Franny Choi: Koreans?

Fatimah Asghar: Korean people.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: But, it's, like, it's such a beautiful term because of that. Right. And it can mean so many things, and I think, I mean, I do think of South-Asian people as one of my peoples, right. And it doesn't matter what religion you are, or whatever, given our history in particular, because I want to be able to look at that long history of violence and be able to say, I will always extend my hand. Thinking about the retributive genocides that happened during partition, like, I want to be able for us all to be able to extend our hands and be, like, we can build beyond this, right. And then also, like, a Muslim who is drinking whisky. As well as a Muslim who will drop to, like, to pray whenever the call to prayer comes. 

Danez Smith: Literally got out of the car.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah, and then a toddler, and then not wanting to gender the toddler. Right. So there is, like, all these moments. Muslims are of so many races and I think that there is a tendency in America to kind of racialize Muslim-ness and that's not true. Right. When people say Muslim they think about, like, Middle-Eastern folks. And, like, that's not true, right. The largest population of Muslims in America is black Muslims, right.

Danez Smith: My daddy Muslim.

Fatimah Asghar: Yeah! And just being able to be, like, all of these people are my people in many different ways, right. And, like, sometimes it's race, sometimes it's religion, sometimes it's just, like, seeing someone, right, like, it's all of these things in which we can all be considered people. And wanting that to be, like, a complicated fluid thing throughout the poem. 

Franny Choi: Hmmmm.

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Fatimah Asghar: Being Asian I think about this a lot in terms of Asian identity, but I'm sure it's applicable for a lot of different racial identities. But Asian-ness doesn't really make sense as a concept. It's just all of these different nations, all of these different cultures. A lot of times, people with deep histories of violence and colonization over each other, or genocide, and whatever, right. But then we're all grouped together and, like, made a monolith and that kind of thing about, um, both the beauty of that, right, in which, like, you can have really complicated histories of violence that maybe would not allow you to be friends, right, if you were really thinking about it, but then being able to stand in solidarity together. And then also being able to be like, wait a minute, we have differences between us. And that happens I think in almost like every identity group. Any, kind of, thing.

Danez Smith: It's true.

Fatimah Asghar: Like, how can people see you and in what sense, and how are we always working towards seeing each other fully. Right, like that's just something I'm always interested in, is, like, thinking about how wide can I make my people. Right. Like how many people can I make my people. And that's, like, that's I think my... in some ways, like, a life mission for myself. Is a thing I'm constantly thinking about, is, how can I make that the biggest grouping of people as possible.

Danez Smith: That just circles back so beautifully to what you were talking about earlier in the podcast, when you were talking about how your artistic practice is community. 

Fatimah Asghar: Uh-huh.

Danez Smith: How, like, community is the genre, and community is a genre, community is the outcome, community is the ink, community is the viewer, like, you know, how through all of this, is about people. Your work, you are a people person.

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)


Danez Smith: So now it's time for my favorite part of the show, it's time to play this vs. that. So we are going to put two things on the table and as a group we are going to discuss who would win in a fight.

Franny Choi: So we wanted to pair up some deliciously mediocre shit.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Hmmm.

Franny Choi: In the deliciously mediocre boxing match, so, we're gonna say, who would win in a fight, the Captain America franchise, or the Twilight franchise…


Fatimah Asghar: Can I ask a clarifying question? 

Franny Choi: Yes.

Danez Smith: Yes.

Fatimah Asghar: Does the Captain America franchise include all the Avengers movies? 

Franny Choi: Uuuuum….Yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: Uuuum...Yes. So let's just put all the characters that have been in Captain America vs. the cast of Twilight.

Fatimah Asghar: Ooow dang... 

Danez Smith: This might be a hot-take. But I'm gonna go ahead and say that Twilight would win.

Franny Choi:(GASP) I think Captain America would win.

Danez Smith: But this is not out of my own personal enjoyment. What I think happens, is that…

Franny Choi: Oh, so you're saying, the fight…

Danez Smith: I mean the fight. If I'm choosing which one I enjoy more, it's gonna be Captain America, because even though he is sooooooooo mediocre…

Fatimah Asghar: He is so mediocre.

Danez Smith: He is literally white privilege. He is like a white dude running around with an American flag shield. He was made by the government.

Fatimah Asghar: Who got injections to be bigger. 

Danez Smith: He took steroids, yes, yes.

Fatimah Asghar: They injected him because he was a good white man.

Danez Smith: They injected this, like skinny white twink with a whole bunch of, like, superdrug…

Franny Choi: Are you sure you don't love that?

Danez Smith: It's everything that I hate about white gay culture. But if would have to chose who would win in a fight, I think that, you know, it's sort of, like, WWE style, I just think that, once Bella, or what's the other one, Edward, dies, I think just, like, a billion white girls descend upon the ring. And tear Captain America to shreds.(LAUGHING)

Fanny Choi: They jump through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man.

Fatimah Asghar: I think if it was just Captain America vs. all of Twilight, all those Twilight fans, I think Captain America would die, but I think if it was the Avengers vs. all the teenage girls..

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Fatimah Asghar: Actually, some of these Avengers... they struggle at human cost. You know? Like, they don't want to kill any civilian.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: I think I generally would feel more fed from a Captain America movie. Like an Avengers movie. Like than from a Twilight movie.

Fatimah Asghar: Have you watched a Twilight movie?

Franny Choi: Yes! You made me watch it in our freshman year of college. 

Fatimah Asghar: And you really still feel that way?(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Yes!(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar: Whatever…


Danez Smith: Thank you so much for coming in and joining us on VS. Is there anything you want to let people know? Before we go? 

Fatimah Asghar: I think, just, keep an eye out for an anthology that me and Safia Elhillo are co-editing together called "Halal If You Hear Me"...

Danez Smith:(CHANTS) Halaaaaal!

Fatimah Asghar: ... which is an anthology that is a lot of different muslim writers that are women, queer, gender-nonconforming and trans, who are all contemporary writers who are writing right now.

Danez Smith: Word, and where can they watch Brown Girls if they haven't yet?

Fatimah Asghar: On

Danez Smith: Word. And... What's your Twitter?

Fatimah Asghar: @asghar - my last name - the grouch.

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Fatimah Asghar:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: That's such a good Twitter name.

Fatimah Asghar: Incredible.

Danez Smith: Thanks Fati!

Fatimah Asghar: Thanks y'all.. so much!!

Franny Choi: Thank you so mucheeeees!!

Danez Smith: I started saying thankees in all of my emails.

Franny Choi: No, I say "goodness gracees."

Fatimah Asghar: Ah, goodness gracees!(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) Oh, now that you say it.

Franny Choi: Right? In the Fati voice.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: But it's true, your language is infectious. I've said Bobo for, like, eight years now. 

Danez Smith: Ooooh my god, Bobo is such a part of my vocabulary now.

Franny Choi: And people, like, look at me like I'm an alien now.

Danez Smith: They will say, you mean Booboo? No, Bobo. 

Fatimah Asghar: But I also love Booboo. Like, oooh, Booboo. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, there's a subtle distinction between them. 

Fatimah Asghar: There is definitely a subtle distinction. 


Franny Choi: Man, it was so good to talk to Fati.

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: I love her so, so much.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But she's, like, so smart. We've known her for so long and she's still amazing…

Franny Choi: Yeah. The thing is that she's, like, a brilliant creator of things. Fulbright scholar. Many accolades. And also in so many ways is a basic-ass bitch.(LAUGHING) Which is what I love about her!

Danez Smith: It's liberating! To be all able to admit that we are all basic-ass bitches, you know.

Franny Choi: I what ways are, would you say that you are a basic-ass bitch, B.A.B.?(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) I'm a B.A.B. in the fact that I listen to all the same songs that I've been listening to since I was twelve years old…

Franny Choi: That's real.

Danez Smith: ... and also,(WHISPERING) I like J. Cole... 

(CHORUS): Mhhhhm.

Franny Choi: I mean, listen, we can edit that out if you want, if you feel comfortable…

Danez Smith: No, it's fine, I will stand up in my J. Cole truth today...(LAUGHING) I say it loud and proud, I like J. Cole.

Franny Choi: You contain multitudes! I suppose…

Danez Smith: On the weekend especially. 

Franny Choi: Oh my god.

Danez Smith: How are you a B.A.B?

Franny Choi: How am I a B.A.B? Um, I think maybe it's the ... umm.. I have basic accessories. I accessorize basically in ... by which I mean, I just stopped even trying to wear jewelry.

Danez Smith: Girl, you gotta have a statement piece in there somewhere.

Franny Choi: No, it's bull-ass boring and you'll lose it and, you know, who cares. Now I'm starting to sort of become a hat person, by which I mean I have three hats…

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Franny Choi: ...and of those hats I wear one of them.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Yeah, I don't really, I can't really do that.

Danez Smith: Alright.(LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Alright.(LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Well, that was one-hat Franny and this has been another episode of the VS podcast. I just want to give a thank you to the rye chips in the bag of Gardetto's. Shout-out to you, rye chips, you know you're the only real one.

Franny Choi: What? I don't even know what that is? 

Danez Smith: Those are, like, the black circle, the, like, brown circle things in the trailmix.

Franny Choi: Aaah! OK, OK. I personally want to thank Neville Longbottom for truly holding it down at Hogwarts while the… our three heroes were away... questing…

Danez Smith:(LAUGHING) We also want to thank Postloudness.

Franny Choi: And thank the Poetry Foundation, especially Ydalmi Noriega and Elizabeth Burke-Dain.

Danez Smith: And our producer Daniel Kisslinger…

Franny Choi: Thanks, Daniel! 

Danez Smith: Thank you dear.

Franny Choi: Thank you all just so much for joining us for another episode of VS. Make sure to check out this month’s edition of Poetry Magazine. We’ll see you… soon!

Danez Smith: Have a good one, y’all.

Franny Choi: Bye!

Danez Smith: Bye!

Fatimah Asghar is a poet and creator of the hit web series Brown Girls, which received a development deal from HBO. She talks about the show's evolution, finding her people, and loving her mediocrity.

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