Raych Jackson vs. the Good Books

October 3, 2017

Danez Smith: She puts the f in Freudian slip, Franny Choi.

Franny Choi: And they’re the splash of SoCo in your morning Dunkies, Danez Smith

Danez Smith: And welcome to VS, the podcast where poets confront the ideas that move them.

Franny Choi: Presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness… 

Danez Smith: ...loudness!

Franny Choi: louw… louw….

Danez Smith: ...loooouwwwwwdness! 

Franny Choi: Who knows why we are allowed to do this. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: How are you feeling, Frannyyyyyyyy!

Franny Choi: I'm doing… I’m doing just fine. 

Danez Smith: You're doing just fine?

Franny Choi: Yeah. I mean, I feel, like, a little in my feelings because I drove here. I drove to Chicago from Ann Arbor, and I've been listening to “The God of Small Things” on audiobook. 

Danez Smith: Aaaah… I love that book.

Franny Choi: Yeah. It’s so beautiful. It, like, it just means that I'm, like, driving for hours and just, like, weeping. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Franny Choi: Which is actually not the worst way to spend an afternoon, I would say….

Danez Smith: Naaah!

Franny Choi: ... driving and weeping. This... I guess… actor—is that what you call the person who reads…

Danez Smith: Voice actor. 

Franny Choi: The voice actor, the person who’s reading it, is just killing it! 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Just killing it consistently and she's so good and I just get so, so caught up in the language….

Danez Smith: Yeah, cause that book is so lyrical.

Franny Choi: It’s so lyrical and, like, I think hearing it out loud is, like, really doing it for me. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Word, word, word.

Franny Choi: Have you been reading anything lately?

Danez Smith: Yeah. I've been slowly but surely chipping my way through Kaveh Akbar’s “Calling A Wolf A Wolf.”

Franny Choi: I’ve just read their chapbook earlier this summer, I hadn't read it…

Danez Smith: Oh, the chapbook is phenomenal. 

Franny Choi: Oh my god. Yes. So good. 

Danez Smith: So good. I cried reading the chapbook. And the book is really good because... I think Kav has done something really cool where I think, like, it does... it definitely has its themes, topically, you know. It’s definitely writing a lot of lines talking about alcoholism and addiction and desire... relationships to God and stuff like that. But I think what he's done is, like, he's moved past almost, like, topical leanings—shout-out to Hanif Abdurraqib for saying that when I was talking about it to him.

Franny Choi: Just combining people’s thoughts?

Danez Smith: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Franny Choi: Sure. 

Danez Smith: This is a Hanif-Danez collaboration. So, like, moving past topical leanings and moving more into, like, kind of curating or manipulating mood in a really cool way.

Franny Choi: Hmmm.

Danez Smith: So, like, some poems in the book almost feel more, like, trying to write a line of how the poem wants you to feel instead of, like, what, like, information. 

Franny Choi: What it’s about..

Danez Smith: Yeah, it’s about aboutness. Yeah! I mean, it’s something I’m still trying to figure out as a writer too. But it's really cool. And it's always good to have a good book, you know? A good book to read. And I'm really excited for this conversation with Raych Jackson because she's writing a good book and that book is in response to…

Franny Choi and Danez Smith: … the Good Book. 

Danez Smith: Trademark…

Franny Choi: See what we did there?

Danez Smith: Yeah, I see! 

Franny Choi: Trademark! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: It's almost like we planned that, you know? Like, we knew that we were gonna say that. 

Franny Choi: Wow, we are so insane. 

Danez Smith: I know, I know. 

Franny Choi: So smart, in the moment. 

Danez Smith: I know. 

Franny Choi: No plans. 

Danez Smith: Duuuuh!

Franny Choi: Improv.

Danez Smith: Improv.

Franny Choi: It’s like we finish each other’s….

Danez Smith: ...relationships!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Franny, leave this n*** for me. I can’t do it myself. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: No, you like him!

Danez Smith: No, OK, not current boo. Current boo.... Your still boo.

Franny Choi: Whoever’s still boo at the time. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Serious. You’re good. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I’m good! Good!

Franny Choi: Unless you’re not.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Nope. (SINGING) No names…..

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Ah but I'm super excited to get into this interview with poet, spoken word artist—well, those are the same thing—but poet (also, like, spoken word artist because her poems are inborn), and educator Raych Jackson. 

Franny Choi: Yes. Rachel, Raych Jackson, is a Chicago native who earned her degree in Elementary Education at DePaul University in June of 2013. As a Golden Apple Scholar, Rachel teaches third grade in the Chicago public school system. She plans to build her own school within the next 15 years. Hell yeah. Rachel prides herself in her current weaving of social justice and higher-order-thinking curricula in schools throughout Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. In addition to being an educator, Rachel is a poet and playwright. The subject matter surrounding her works ranges from character-driven fiction to the recent delve back into poetic verse exploring her personal struggles. Just a quick note: in this interview we start talking about the National Poetry Slam, which for those who don't know what the National Poetry Slam is, aren't familiar with that world; it's a big poetry competition that happens every summer in a different city where teams of poets from all over the country come together to compete in this basically…. an elaborate game designed really to get people in a room excited about poetry. 

Danez Smith: Uh-huh.

Franny Choi: Yeah. So we're super excited to talk to Raych. Let's do it. 


Danez Smith: (FUNNY VOICE) Le’s get into i’.

Franny Choi: Hi, Raych!

Raych Jackson: Hello, Franny.

Franny Choi: Hiiii!

Raych Jackson: Hello, hello, hello!

Franny Choi: Your lip color is so good, as always. 

Raych Jackson: Thank you. Walgreens.

Franny Choi: Really?

Raych Jackson: It was, like, six dollars. And I was, like, kind of pressed about the six dollars but I spent it. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: For those of you who can't see because this is a podcast…

Raych Jackson: Right. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: should know her lip color is, like, a very…. it's like…

Franny Choi: Like a bright violet.

Danez Smith: If somebody murdered, like, grimace from McDonald's off of his body.

Raych Jackson: Yes, yes. That is actually high praise.

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Raych Jackson: High praise.

Franny Choi: It’s that, it's not literally that.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Fresher than that grimace. (LAUGHING) Y’all are so weird. So weird! How is your day going so far?

Raych Jackson: It is going good. I'm very happy to be here, this is a very fun place. And we're adults who are put in a playground. That’s what I'm realizing.

Danez Smith: Yeah. So just, back context: we record in the Cards Against Humanity office, because they are really supportive of podcasts, and have a lot of dope projects that have to do with podcasts. And so they have rooms that are just, like, full of, like, gongs and comfy things, and then, like, a drawer full of string cheese.

Franny Choi: A drawer full of string cheese. 

Danez Smith: And avocados.

Franny Choi: A lego room. And avocados...

Danez Smith: Avocados motherfuckers… 

Raych Jackson: That’s what’s really important, you know. Everything we’re, like, Legos, pillows, the maraca room, gong... But the avocados? Fire.

Franny Choi: Uh-huh. In various stages of ripeness. But all pretty acceptable!

Danez Smith: Yeah. Oh, Raych, we should do this on air, because congratulations on winning NUPIC.

Raych Jackson: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That was…

Danez Smith: So what is NUPIC for the folks at home. 

Raych Jackson: NUPIC is the National Underground Poetry Slam that happens it's... It's no mic and it happens late at night. And it's a lot of drinking and it's a hundred twenty-five dollar buy-in. So people who do it who are not prepared, I just, you know, they're living life, they're rich. And, you know, I ain’t got it like that. But the motivation is that final prize money, which is 2000.

Franny Choi: Ooof! I have now paid 250 dollars to lose. 

Raych Jackson: Oh yeah…

Franny Choi: Feels OK. (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: I mean because, you were, we were... My first time at nationals, we were in NUPIC together.

Franny Choi: Yes! And then... was that the one where Danez and I got matched up and had to go head to head?

Raych Jackson: No I was at the one in 2015, when you went against Toaster.

Franny Choi: Oh my god, that was awesome. 

Raych Jackson: And I remember that and I was, like, oh god. 

Franny Choi: Right. So it's a head to head and then it's… the audience votes with applause. 

Danez Smith: What was your game plane, going in?

Raych Jackson: Definitely drinking. Aggression and loudness really works for NUPIC. And so, like, I can perform whatever I write in different ways. So I was, like, OK. Toaster was, like, you need some beer, we got beer, like, it was, like, a little… But I, like, studied. Like, who else I was going against, right. I was, like, if I go against this person, like, I know what they have and there's this one poet... He's a brilliant poet, Black Chakra. He does a lot of black poems. And I was, like, I'm gonna save my black poem for you. That was the pantoum that won against him. And I felt very proud of that too because I was, like, with a poetry form!

Franny Choi: Yeah! Using a traditional poem in this, like, slam context, that’s fucking amazing. 

Raych Jackson: It was it was very fun. And I was very drunk, but also very light. It was very late too, so, like, for people who don't know, it starts after groupies finals, which ends at around 1, maybe 1am, maybe midnight. And so it was very late but a lot of people are, like, pumped up about NUPIC, so so many people come, but throughout the night they leave. And for this one, it was so many people that stayed, that I was, like, OK, OK just stay here, for me, like... Even when I'm, like, in 2015 when I was watching I was, like, oh, you have to really circle the room. Like, you can't have your back to one person, that's really important. Or you have to project. Or you have to get low, with the writing still being there. You can have all these performance aspects, but if you're not bringing in your writing, you also won't do well. 

Franny Choi: Right...cause it's all…

Raych Jackson: You won NUPIC in…

Danez Smith: I was either in 2000… what was… 2014.

Franny Choi: Yeah. And it's, it's... because it's all the other poets at this competition who are there, so it's, like... Yeah, how did that feel? Winning over the respect of, like, your peers, like, the people who are, like, other poets?

Raych Jackson: It felt so cool. It felt so cool and it felt so powerful that, like, round after round after more people were, like, losing. I actually was pulling first every round. And so I had to, like, just knock them out. It was very powerful too, like, I kept going against women but it was only, like, a few women in the competition total and it was very cool to win as a woman. I was, like… Oh, I just realized this is a podcast, oh my god…. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: But it was um… I will say, like, I didn't feel that, like, male, like, aggression, like, towards it. I just felt myself, like, ha! Look at me! Woman! Doing my thang.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: It was very… it was very exciting. 

Franny Choi: How are you feeling about slam, lately. I mean, is this thing, like, helping with that? 

Raych Jackson: Yes and no. My fear is to get trapped in slam. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Raych Jackson: I don't want to get trapped in slam. I’ve been, like, submitting, I’ve been writing, I’m working on my book. I feel like it’s very easy to get trapped in slam once you win. Like, I’ve gotten, like booked to other places, like, oh we want to be in this slam. Which is, like, that's fine. Like, I also want that money. So I will definitely travel and slam. But as far as, like, you know, my goal is always to have a book. My goal is to be, like, a published writer consistently. So I felt, like, winning NUPIC was not something that I wanted off my bucket list, per se, and I was, like, I know that slam is not what I’m gonna be doing every year. And I’m not saying, like, slam is, like, bad or anything. I just know, like, some people can get trapped in slam and then it's, like, the competitive part. So I think, like, even bringing it back to doing a pantoum, and a specific poetry form, like, bringing poetry form back to an underground slam was very necessary. It just felt good to win a poetry slam with a poetry form that is very hard to memorize. (LAUGHING) Fun fact, not a lot of people knew this: I wrote out the pantoum order, like, the numbers on the back of my hand. There is, like, one video on Instagram where you see me, like, reading from... I, like, raise my hand backwards, but, like, I’m doing this (LAUGHING) so it looks, like, I'm able to see the order because a pantoum is ten lines in specific order and then one line moving changes everything. So that was kind of hard. 

Franny Choi: Have you written a lot in, like, traditional form before? Is that something that is, like, part of your wheelhouse?

Raych Jackson: Oh, I'm a strong believer in the pantoum. 

Danez Smith: Pantoum specifically?

Raych Jackson: Pantoum specifically. I write a lot of pantoums, and I think they are so fun. And I think that they are hard. But once it flows, it flows. And so, like, around line 6 and 7 you're, like, this is terrible and you want to, like, throw the whole poem away, but once you get over that hump... But I also really, like, sestinas. I like poetry forms. I think that… I like reading them. I like... I like, the challenge that it makes. Like, if you are writing and something that says you have to write in this order. That, I feel like, makes me more creative for the times where I only have 10 lines to say what I want to say. This past summer, like, at Pink Door, Rachel did a pantoum workshop.

Franny Choi: Can you explain briefly what Pink Door is?

Raych Jackson: Oh yeah, Pink Door is a writing retreat led by the glorious Rachel McKibbens.

Franny Choi: Ay!

Danez Smith: Whatup.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: It’s for queer, femme, nonbinary women of color who just want to be ... away from this world of whiteness and entitlement. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: And then you, like, grow and you write. It's like a convent and it's very important and powerful and so this past summer when there was a pantoum workshop it was a challenge we were talking about, like, you can be confined to do this certain ten lines, but it's your job to make... Those lines have to actually mean two things every time. And that's the biggest thing about a pantoum is, like, they repeat twice. Which means they can hold two meanings. So that was something that…. I don’t know, I'm smiling about pantoums, I’m, like I love pantoums.

Danez Smith: Granted, you almost cried twice in the last week talking about crowns of sonnets, so…

Raych Jackson: Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes. 

Danez Smith: The form excitement is…

Raych Jackson: Poetry forms are… And you know, like, I wish I could laugh at my high school teacher, like, my high school English teacher because, like, I was, like, poetry forms!? Like... but I was only getting presented with old white men. You know, here we are people of color talking about poetry forms and smiling and…

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Raych Jackson: Like, this is what we need, this is what we do. So I think, you know, screw you.

Danez Smith: It’s real! You know, like I… if you would have asked me at, like, 19 if I liked sonnets… I would have told you, like, fuck no bro, that boring-ass Shakespeare shit? But, like, reading Marilyn Nelson's “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” which is, like, a beautiful, like, heroic crown of sonnets. But it makes me cry every time I dive into that joint. And it shows you that form isn’t dead, in a way. Because I think a lot of us, like, you talk about high school, like: I thought poetry was dead in high school too.

Raych Jackson: Definitely.

Danez Smith: Because I never saw anybody living. And it wasn't until I started seeing younger…. even, like, people in their 30s, stuff like that, being poets and being brown and being, like, funky and, like, actually cool. I was, like, oh shit. I was, like, oh they brought this back! (LAUGHING) Oh, it never went anywhere. Crazy. 

Raych Jackson: Totally.

Danez Smith: So you mentioned that you were working on the first book. What's that been, like, what are you building towards, what are you discovering about you in your writing in this first project?

Raych Jackson: So I was raised very Christian, non-denominational, and then, like, specifically revisiting a lot of the Bible stories and just really questioning, like…. Hmm, that was very terrible and they taught this.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: So one of the poems that I did anything... one of the poems that I ended up doing on the finals stage is about Job, and, like, what depression is, and how the story of Job is that: Job was living his life, God was showering with him with lessons, and the devil was, like, Job only worships you because you're giving him all these blessings. You should take them away. And God instead of, like, being, you know, the Higher Being that we're taught, was, like, you're right! I'm going to prove to you that Job will still worship me. And he bet him. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Raych Jackson: Right? So, like, learning it as a kid, they gloss over it. But I read it. No, he murdered his kids

Danez Smith: ...his wife, right?

Raych Jackson: ...his wives, burned his land, gave him leprosy, like, God didn't just take…

Danez Smith: Yeah, Job is a…

Raych Jackson: It’s a terrible story.

Danez Smith: All because God was trying to prove a point to the devil.

Raych Jackson: Yeah!

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: It’s so bad!

Franny Choi: Wait, I thought he just made him hang out in a whale for a bit?

Danez Smith and Raych Jackson: No, that’s Jonah.

Danez Smith: No, this is Job, spelled like job. 

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But even the story of Jonah…

Raych Jackson: Even the story of Jonah, I could talk about for a while. I'm writing… So, I've written the poem about Job, and I’m writing the poem about Jonah, where Jonah made some mistakes, for sure, for sure, and he tried to hide out on a boat and God found him. And he told the people on the boat, hey, like, you can either, you know, all die, or throw this one man overboard. And everybody was, like, goodbye! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: Threw him overboard! 

Danez Smith: He’s gone.

Raych Jackson: Yeah! I just met today, I have no loyalty, I don’t know you. And so it's just... a lot of these stories.... I'm off the J, so my final, like, story that I've been writing has been on Jezebel, right. So, like, what does Jezebel mean now?

Danez Smith: Well, she's a prostitute. Or she was. Wasn’t she?

Raych Jackson: No, no. Jezebel was married to her husband Ahab. And what she did was... she was, like, oh, we married, I don't worship your God, I can worship these gods. 

Danez Smith: Hmmm.

Raych Jackson: Yeah, so Jezebel, the word of Jezebel has, like, twisted… it’s a ho, like, slut, like, has been, like, pushed to something else. But in the Bible she definitely…. I mean, like, under Christianity, right, she made him worship false gods. But even with the story of Eve and how we treat women in general, like, how it's all Eve's fault, but Adam actually bit the apple... Like, Jezebel was, like, hey, like, I'm married to you, you my husband, and I don't worship these gods. And he has, like, transformed her in, like, triflin’ ho, like,... So my poems have been, like, you know, also balancing, like, what I was taught about, like, what about these stories? And also... I was having a conversation with José. Olivarez. Awesome poet. And I was, like, I'm kind of scared about, like, the different Bible poems that I'm writing, because, like, I had a show in Philly a month ago and a person walked up to me after and was, like, not fucking with me. 

Danez Smith: Oh!

Raych Jackson: He was, like, he pulled me aside he was, like, I work in the church. And I feel like your poem about Job is not necessary. 

Franny Choi: (GASP)

Raych Jackson: And I was, like, true, like, let me know what’s up. 

Danez Smith: Not necessary is a hell of a thing to say. 

Raych Jackson: He was really feeling himself. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: So, like, I let him talk, and he was just, like: you know, in church you're supposed to take pieces of the story. And so I'm, like, you know, I let him have his thing, and then I said, well, if you are always supposed to take part of the story, why would you even teach it? 

Danez Smith: Yeah! If you going to teach the whole text.

Raych Jackson: It’s the Word! (LAUGHING) And so he didn’t have an answer, and so I kind of went, like, backwards, like, walk away from him… as the next act was happening. And another person was performing, so I kind of was able to slither back into the crowd. The whole book is not going to be about, like, Bible stories and, like, myths that we were taught. However, that is a part of my life and, like, I am writing in response and, like, this is my intro book, so I’m, like, that's a big part of it. So, like, I was, like, nervous because I was, like, well, if one person doesn't like it… Every other story they're… They're definitely... there are a lot of people that will not like your work regardless. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Raych Jackson: But there will be also a section of people that are, like, I needed this to be said!

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Raych Jackson: . I didn't know that, thank you. Or: I was in church when I was a kid and I really struggled with how women are treated across different stories in the Bible. 

Franny Choi: There's, like, stakes when you're writing in conversation with stories that, like, a lot of people have a lot of investment in. Right?

Raych Jackson: They really vibe, like, it’s there thing, like… I have another, well, that I wrote and then have also been also revisiting. Thank God for Google Drive, because, like, if you have drafts and then I'm, like, oh this is trash, but I'm not, like, ripping out my notebook and throwing it away. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: I revisit them months later and I'm, like, oh, like, actually…!

Danez Smith: I’m finding it less trash that I thought it was! (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: Look at me, doubting me, and I’m kind of decent. Like, with Jacob and Rachel, where Jacob was walking down the little path, saw Rachel,—he was, like, damn sure she’s fine—went to her dad and the dad was, like, work for seven years for her. I was, like, wow, did Rachel have a say in this at all? No. Okay. Jacob works for seven years. Her dad assigns Leah instead of Rachel. So he wakes up the next morning next to Leah and he's, like, damn I did not yo ass, like, what happened. Went back to the dad and the dad was, like, work seven more years. So he worked 14 years for two wives. And it’s like, that's the act of love. He worked 14 years for her. I'm, like, dang, I wish I was on next level where somebody was, like, hey, I’m gonna work 14 year for you! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: But it turns out, like, never in the text did he ask her for her hand. It's just, it’s just a lot. But that's, like, a chunk of where I'm writing right now. 

Franny Choi: Oof!

Danez Smith: I think, like, it's a good part of any sort of religious journey. I remember when I started questioning, sort of, what I was learning because I am a Baptist and all types bullshit too. When did that questioning…

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Well, OK… 

Raych Jackson: No, I felt it, I felt it. 

Danez Smith: Nah, God knows my heart. (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: When did that line of questioning start coming to you and, like, writing poems about it. Like, what does it reveal about you, your, sort of, questioning and meandering stories about Christ?

Raych Jackson: As a kid, I say, like, I was around 11 or 12 when I started realizing… You have not graduations, but you “move” from Sunday school classes, like, that's a thing. Like, you know, age 9 to 10, d-d-dah. And so the 13+ teacher basically would let us know, like, if you're not saved you'll be gay. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Well, I’m not that… I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I was surely baptized. (LAUGHING) And I surely suck a mean… 

Raych Jackson: And look at me now, surprise, surprise, your prophecy was gay. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (HOLIEST VOICE) Saved and ho.

Raych Jackson: I think the first poem I wrote about, like, actual religion, was the masturbation poem some people know about, where I was, like, we people with vaginas, we definitely masturbate as well, like, that's a thing. I think a lot of people, like, they don't know where it's going at first but then it's, like… It strings people along and it's… How does it go: “My body is my temple. I keep it tidy when I visit.” And you can see some people being in the audience, like, what are you talking about? And, like, I break character all the time and I'm, like, I talk about masturbation, y’all! And then the whole audience is just, like, wooo! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I like that, I like that.

Raych Jackson: I like that! Oooh, snap, snap, snap.

Danez Smith: I was doing one earlier, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) So, yeah, I mean, it’s not all about Bible stories, but also, like, sexuality and religion or... like, classism and religion, right? Like, my homie Joel. Not letting nobody in his church in Houston, like, that's a thing, like…

Danez Smith: Oooof!

Raych Jackson: It's just, like, a lot of things about religion and praising these people that are in power, that they really... they really are trash! Let's really talk about it! Let's really call them out. Like, that’s one main thing that I've been consistently writing over this past year and honestly only, like, three are book-worthy. But I've been writing it. And you know the process, like, I'm laying it out, looking at it, I’m like, hmmm… Well, you were angry when you wrote this, so this is actually kind of ranting. Or, oh, you know, is that actually what I mean?

Danez Smith: Yeah. Because people don’t think about that a lot. I think, like, all the poems that you have to write towards a book that I actually don't get to go in it? Like, you really gotta write three books in order to have one in a lot of ways.

Raych Jackson: Yeah. And you get so sad when you don't put them in, but it's, like, you still matter to me, you're still on my drive! But you do not fit! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I was talking to Jamaal May, and he was, like, once you start cutting poems from your book that are good, that's when you know, like, your book is starting to get, like, really good. So I think, like, do you feel, like, through writing these poems do you feel, like, you're...It's a process of learning? Are you learning new things about the stories as you're writing them?

Raych Jackson: Yes. Right. You read to be a better writer, so if I'm writing about a topic and not researching these stories then I'm just kind of doing anything, right. So I do, I feel, like, I understand a lot more or I catch a lot more. Ah, man… Nate said it and I wrote it down, something how he said, in that day I thought I was holy, or something like that. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Raych Jackson: And he was saying that I thought, like... Really focusing on the words that are said, or in that day. Not today! Not that other day. In that day. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: The Bible does that a lot. And so when you're really reading these stories and then I, like, read people's, like, like, ideas and essays on it… But, like, when you read how things are worded specifically the Bible, and this is a document that's been translated over and over and over again so there’s surely, like, holes and stuff, like, that. It's very cool to try to put some pieces together yourself to find them. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I'm sure that, like, for a lot of people that's our earliest, like, kind of trying to close-read texts even. You know? Like, the earliest time they were watching somebody stand up in front of a room and, like, pick apart, like, a sentence, you know and, like, really talk about it. No, definitely, definitely. 


Danez Smith: Another part of your life: on top of, like, also being, like, a phenomenal poet and spoken word artist, you are a teacher. And you teach the babies too. Which is so cool to me because I'm like, these kids don't even know how cool of a teacher they have because there's, like, you know there's, like… We just talked about, you know, like, poems about masturbating and shit, and then you go teach somebody how to fucking count. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) And that’s a thing, like… They’re like, oh man, that xxx was real cool and I'm, like, aha now you know your multiplication facts. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: Tricked you, you thought it was a rap song but now you know your threes. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I was wondering, like, is there anything poet Rachel learns from, like, elementary school Rachel, or vice versa? How do those two selves feed into each other?

Raych Jackson: For me, the biggest intersection is read alouds. So balance literacy, the philosophy is that you read to the children, like, at least 10 minutes a day. And so you're reading a book, there's maybe pictures and maybe there's not, right. But you're reading to them and when there is a character in there, there's a dragon, I'm a dragon, like, I do some voices in there, you know what I mean, like, I do a lot of sound effects, like, I'm moving a lot. And so, like, the performance poet part of me is, like, feeding into the performing for the students and, like, there was another person, like, maybe my first year teaching and, they were like, can I read your kids? And she read, and my students were (WHISPERING) so unimpressed.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: The bar was set too high!

Raych Jackson: But they were in college, and, you know, and this is, like, you know, like, you know, when you have somebody else that is ust blandly reading, you know, the bar was set high. So I think, like, performing specifically is something that I, like, do for them. And it's fun. And it's necessary. I also say, like, a lot of movement in general. Like, they're kinesthetic learners, I'm a kinesthetic learner. I have to move, I can not... I mean, teaching third grade you cannot sit an eight year old down for hours among a time. When I was teaching time I, like, tie the clock to my, like, like, Flavor Flav…

Danez Smith: Ah that’s wild. I just remember you have to learn time.

Raych Jackson: Yeah! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I just assumed, they came out the womb knowing it was 2.30…

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) It’s literally a standard. And I have a funny story about that. I don’t know, I think the coolest thing about, like, working with young human beings is that everything is new to them, and everything is exciting to them, and then they just question hella shit. Like, I was teaching time. I'm, like, you know, we'd stop, like, I walked in some music but I, like, turned the hands and then be, like, so what time is it, and they have to tell me, before they walk into music. But there's this one one of my babies, like, he came to me pissed one of the next morning that we learn. I mean he's, like, Mr. Jackson! And I was, like, okay I was, like, hey, what’s up, how are you doing, I saw somebody with a watch with hands on it, but it had no numbers!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: And, like, you know, we're adults so I'm, like, oh, that's fashion. But for them, a watch is for time. Da motherfucker what’s wrong which you, like, where your numbers, like…(LAUGHING) Pissed! Like, was incensed, not having it. And it’s just, things like that… They challenge me all the time by…

Danez Smith: Hey, low key, sorry to pause real quick, but I feel him. When I buy a watch with no numbers on it, I feel like I'm risking it all. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Do you trust, Danez, that it’s really eleven forty-five. Do you really? (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: And it’s just different things. It’s things you don't think about. I don't know. I enjoy being around children. They bring a new… Another quick story about that is: you tell a child to sound it out and then you have all these hidden words, the English language is trash! Like, one kid read geh-nah, and he was feeling himself, like, sometimes I'm, like, I don't know, the cow geh-nah this or that. And I was, like, it’s “gnaw” And he’s, like, it has a G in it. And I was, like, you right! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: They take it so seriously, like, “together”, “to get her.” No, no, together. It's just different things that, like… I also, like, have been writing as children. A play I wrote, we had to write ourselves in for the Victory Gardens Theater and I had enrolled myself as a kid, and, like, the child's response to that. Like, I have a poem where I'm like a child talking about what I think depression is, like… . They also have these conversations with me because I see them the more waking hours of a day than their parents. So it is very interesting and it just feeds right into my art. I say often my teaching is my art, like, this is... this is something that I'm, like.... It's not always fun, but it is necessary, I'll say. Unlike my Job poem according to that one. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: He's still somewhere right now…

Franny Choi: Let him be. Do you ever write for young audiences? Do you, like, write for kids?

Raych Jackson: I tried to. It's a challenge. I write for young audiences when I'm writing a lesson plan. But as far as, like, a poem, or something for children? I just find myself trying to do a voice that I just feel, like, isn't there. I don't want to force a voice. I also talk to my students, like, they are 80 years old. In the end if you correct them, like, saying I need you to work efficiently, they're thirsty to tell somebody else, like, I need to work efficiently, like, you know. It's like, a thing they do. So if you're trying to write for young audiences, that's something that I need to practice more. And that's, like, a lot of people who, like, find out I'm a teacher and a poet, they're like: I want to book you. I know you have tons of poems that are kid-friendly. (LAUGHING) I actually do not. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: But if their parents are coming, like, I could do a show for them.

Franny Choi: Is it that you feel, like, the stakes are higher because they'll, like, repeat things and, like, learn?

Raych Jackson: I think that I just hold myself higher. I could just hear, like, the words I'm using.. I feel, like, when I'm talking to them it's easy. Like, when I was bringing up to work efficiently. I feel, like, for me when I'm writing I try to break it down. Work well. Like, I wouldn't write efficiently down and say I'm not there yet. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. 

Raych Jackson: The final goal and possibly is, like, as much as I want to do poetry, eventually I want to write a children's book. I mean I know … you heard it here first folks, like, people buy children's books because you want to have a read-aloud to teach a skill. What skill am I teaching? Are they doing sequencing in this book, is this personification? It's marketing too. It’s also, like...I want to write a children's book but also, like, I want it to sell, so I want to make sure I'm not just writing anything. So it's a challenge that I haven't gotten over yet. 

Franny Choi: Hmm. I bet you would write some bombshell that…

Raych Jackson: I’m excited, like, I think so too, I just don't think… I don't think I'm there yet. 

Franny Choi: I was thinking when you were talking about pantoums and, just to cycle back for a second. But I know you were earlier talking about how you were, like, a great math teacher, like, you're, like, like, specialised in math. And I think... that makes total sense to me to, like, also love, like, a traditional form where there's, like, repetition and, like, a structure enough to be, like, that kind of, like, logic game? 

Raych Jackson: I never thought about that. But yes! No, you're right. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Right? I mean, I think that, like, is logic fun? Like, working with logic?

Raych Jackson: I'm starting to get excited. You know? My face is, like, lighting up. Cause it's... it's... it's... everything is connected in math, right? So third grade you do the intro to multiplication. Once they realize multiplication is just repeated addition, like two times three is actually two plus two plus two, they're blown away. And then once you know multiplication, you know division. It's the same numbers. And then they, like, are losing their shit when they see a multiplication table because they think it's cheating. So they kind of tried to cover it up when they, like, answering me and I'm, like, not use your fingers, like, you’re used to. So I'd be, like, numbers and logic is something I really love to teach. And so that's a good point about me loving pantoums because I'm, like, it's all the same. You just have to learn how to use the numbers. Use the numbers. And sometimes we make jokes about poets, like, no, I’m bad at math. When we start putting letters into math, that's where I'm kind of, like, oof, you guys, what are we all doing here. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: The base is.. the bottom level is... you know, I got that.

Danez Smith: I feel like I need to relearn that.

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) I mean, two times three is six. What’s six divided by three? Two. It’s the same numbers! I draw arrows, and then one time, one of them was six and, just kinesthetic stuff so they, like, moved and then they were, like, I'm over here now. Yeah that's right, that’s right.

Danez Smith: That’s so cute.

Raych Jackson: I feel like we all remember, like… Man.. I’m not gonna call her out. Ms Fountains, I'm sorry, she’s fifth grade, I had to call you out, girl. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Who? Whoa whoa. 

Raych Jackson: Yeah. Called out. That one teacher where you, like, dang, you were not only mean, you were mad boring, like, this sucked. So I’m trying my hardest, to, like, really just put in as much energy as I can. 

Danez Smith: My bad teacher was Miss Núñez in seventh grade. I think we got her... fired.

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I'm sure I think she got fired. I think it was, like, a lineage of grades the got her. She was, like, horrible and we were also horrible too. And Miss Núñez, if you are out there listening, I’m sure you weren't as horrible as I imagine you would be. No, not Miss Núñez, that wasn’t her name. Miss Núñez was nice, she was fourth grade, she was weird. 

Raych Jackson: Call out the wrong one…

Danez Smith: I did call out the wrong one, I'm sorry. I'll hear, like, misrepresenting my Latina teachers out here… (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) Franny, did you have any horrible teachers?

Franny Choi: I remember my 8th grade science teacher. I don't remember her name either, but she just didn't know…. science. She didn’t know anything about science.

Raych Jackson: That must have been the school.

Danez Smith: Yeah, she probably just showed up for pottery, and they went (MENACING GROWL) biology… 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I remember one time she was, like, class? If there were another Ice Age, what group of animals would be most, likely to survive? And there was silence, and then one person said, reptiles? And she said yes. 

Raych Jackson: And you remember that to this day. 

Franny Choi: I thought, I don't think that's right. I don’t think that’s what it is at all!

Raych Jackson: Oh, no, that’s weird.

Danez Smith: Right, reptiles wouldn’t do well in the Ice Age…

Franny Choi: Yeah, cause she was, like... Cause they are cold blooded so they can move.. But that's exactly why they wouldn't survive. That's why you don't see reptiles in the Arctic. 

Raych Jackson: You know, at first I thought, she’s right, and then I thought, no, no, okay?

Danez Smith: Wrong can sound a lot like right. You know? (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Sometimes.

Raych Jackson: You just have to have confidence and then you just shift my whole opinion, like, it’s cool. That’s really these Trump supporters out there, they really be wrong but they feeling themselves. 

Danez Smith: If you say something as, like, a white man in Montana, everybody will believe you. Who's about to question him, other white men...? (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson:... in Montana… (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I'm the God of everything. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: You, like, you know what, Daryl? You're right, you're right. You got this. White man named Daryl? 

Danez Smith: No minorities around. I hate Bigfoot. I never see that n***. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: He does not exist. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) He’s never around. 

Danez Smith: Yeah, he’s never around y’all. 


Danez Smith: (SINGING) Do you be-lieve in love… 

Raych Jackson: So I was kinda flip flopping on the poem I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the pantoum, or the Job poem… 

Danez Smith: We talked about both..

Franny Choi: We have talked about both. I think it’d be great to hear the pantoum. 

Danez Smith: Hmm. We have talked a lot about pantoums. 

Raych Jackson: OK. Here is the pantoum.


In September 2009 Derrion Albert’s murder was caught on tape. The video spread through the world quicker than the Southside of Chicago could be gentrified through the Olympic bid. Killers are seen kicking Derrion in the face and smashing his head with a wooden plank.


This is a Pantoum for Derrion Albert, “From The Plank.”


His hands were soft on my hips. 

We were brown together. 

How often does that happen? 

Wooden individuals shaped and dyed

to look the same as them. Brown like the next.

We all look the same to them. Brown like the next.



Wooden individuals shaped and dyed 

to look the same as them. Brown like the next. 

There are many uses for a snatched tree. 

Easy to be broken and passed around. 

Each ring tells an achievement of sorts. 


He needed a capable dancer. 


There are many uses for a snatched tree. 

Easy to be broken and passed around. 

Each ring tells an achievement of sorts. 

A partner whose spine can bend 

with the grace of politicians tongues 

built on corroding law enforcement. 

He needed a capable dancer. 

I’m someone that will sacrifice my body 

spreading through skulls. 


A partner whose spine can bend 

with the grace of politicians tongues 

built on corroding law enforcement. 

We danced to the music made that day. 

A slow melody assembled 

from the dull connection with heads and 

shrieks carrying his name. 

I’m someone that will sacrifice my body

spreading through skulls.

Admire me.

Focus on me.

I beat them all. 


We danced to the music made that day.

A slow melody assembled

from the dull connection of heads and

shrieks carrying his name.

We all look the same to them. Brown like the next.

Admire me.

Focus on me.

I beat them all.

His hands were soft on my hips.

We were brown together.

How often does that happen? 


Danez Smith: Wooooof! 

Franny Choi: Wow.

Danez Smith: That’s a good-ass pantoum. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: I wrote that poem in college when LTAB, Louder Than A Bomb, finally opened a college slam. And I was in college, I was a sophomore, and it was not good. 

Danez Smith: Was it a pantoum at the time?

Raych Jackson: No, it was not a pantoum at the time, the concept was still the plank talking about being connected to Derrion’s killer, but it wasn’t good. And then I revisited it last year and I was, like, what's the Kermit GIF where he's, like, typing. And he’s like, aaaaaah! That was me. (LAUGHING) I'm glad that actually… you all can see when I did that.

Danez Smith: That’s beautiful, and I love the ways that, like, sometimes form can actually be the thing that opens up a poem, too. It really shows that exercise is really what makes it, boom boom, ba ba ba boom, a little bit, you know?

Raych Jackson: Ba ba boom.

Franny Choi: Especially when writing about topics that are high stakes and, like, I don't know... Sometimes I feel, like, when I'm writing something, like, huge, that there's so many things to say about it that, like, some restriction is what I need in order say the thing that I can actually say. You know? Otherwise you can, like, write forever, you know? You can write so many parts of that story. 

Danez Smith: And that restriction is actually what forces the poem to explode, to… 

Franny Choi: Yeah exactly. It’s got to have something to explode out of, right. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. Yeah. 

Franny Choi: I also love, like, the first time a new when, like, a new line comes up and, like, interrupts some of that repetition, it’s, like, so jarring and fresh. 

Raych Jackson: Yes, yes. That's so true. And you're, like, oh yeah. This is fun. That's when I really feel, like, ooh, this line just came and interrupted. But it also comes back again and adds on to the foundation, I should say. 

Danez Smith: And I'm thinking about... as we’re talking about these hard topics, rights, so, like, writing a poem about, like, a rather tragic situation.

Raych Jackson: Hmm.

Danez Smith: It needs to remain fun for the poet to some extent, which is hard for those difficult topics, so that’s why.. You know, you need to have that the play of the form that allows you to still feel a lightness to the poem or else you kind of, sometimes, I think… you feel too locked in to the sadness or to the sorrow.

Raych Jackson: That’s a good point.

Franny Choi: That’s a great point. And it feels weird at the same time to, like, you know, be looking for play in something, like, that. But of course we have to. 

Danez Smith: We are artists.

Franny Choi: We are… artists. Allegedly. 

Raych Jackson: That’s what they call us on the streets. The streets say we’re artists. 


Danez Smith: So. Now it is time for… In Your Corner! 

Franny Choi: It is time!

Danez Smith: (BOXING MATCH ANNOUNCING VOICE) It is time, n***

Raych Jackson: I’m pulling it out.

Danez Smith: So it’s time for In Your Corner, so we ask our guest to bring in a poem from somebody who's in their corner, maybe that is somebody who would dab the blood off of your eye and squirt the water in your mouth. Maybe you’re dabbing the blood of their eye and squirting the water in their mouth, like, a good old-fashioned fist fight.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) So who are you Don King-ing for today?

Raych Jackson: I am Don King-ing for Fatimah Asghar, a good friend and a brilliant writer. 

Danez Smith: Shout-out episode… two?

Franny Choi: Three.

Danez Smith: ..three of VS.

Raych Jackson: When I was trying to dodge a lot of my feelings in high school, I was doing a lot of persona poems, and Robbie Q. Telfer called me out on that, which is awesome, like, shout-out to mentors that are, like, you're writing about the same thing because you're not talking about this. Love you! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: Or, like, how to do a persona poem but still hit home. And so I think that “Pluto Shits On The Universe” is a brilliant poem in the voice of Pluto. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Raych Jackson: You all should look this up and watch how it's written. How it's written is… where the naw is it’s own section in the poem.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: Just…

Raych Jackson and Danez Smith: ...naw! (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Stands up, breaks.

Raych Jackson: Yeah, I’ve loved that poem for years now. I feel like… the poem is about chaos and, like, breaking your rules and shit and I just, like, when you, like, visually look at that poem. It is a form to it but it really is, like... In high school, I wouldn't have guessed that this poem would be in a poetry literary magazine, because we weren’t taught that it would be. You know what I’m saying? And here is a poem using hella curse words. Love that part. But also, like, that stanza break of naw is mad important, like, we were learning about something that is from someone else's rules, like, about dead white poets and here's this brown fire Muslim writer, doing her shit and making her own standards through Pluto’s voice. So… I remember when I heard it, I remember when I saw it, I remember it when I’m feeling really down about my poem, oh, I'm going to read this poem again. So I think this poem is very, very important and fun! Whenever it’s performed, I’m like, yeah. Yeah. You wrote that shit, girl, I’ll fox with you. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: I guess at some point you just stop snapping for your friend’s poems and stand up and start shaking.. Like, that’s me. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: I did that! 

Danez Smith: I just erected a monument for your poem now.

Raych Jackson: Yes!

Danez Smith: (LOWEST GROWL) Do it.

Raych Jackson: Man! Met today at NPS finals, at one point I was just standing and nodding my head and I wasn't even clapping, like, I was just, like, yeah, bitch, you doing this shit. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: You are reading this poem! So, this is that poem. “Pluto Shits On The Universe,” by Fatimah Asghar.


On February 7, 1979, Pluto crossed over Neptune’s orbit and became the eighth planet from the sun for twenty years. A study in 1988 determined that Pluto’s path of orbit could never be accurately predicted. Labeled as “chaotic,” Pluto was later discredited from planet status in 2006.


Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.

My bad. Your graph said I was supposed

to make a nice little loop around the sun.




I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can

chart me. All the other planets, they think

I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped

moon, running free.


Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.

Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t

shit but a day to me. I could spend your

whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking

about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy

on up and marry me by now. Your day?


That’s an asswipe. A sniffle. Your whole day

is barely the start of my sunset.


My name means hell, bitch. I am hell, bitch. All the cold

you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.

And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.

Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass

you tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your

rules. Neptune, that bitch slow. And I deserve all the sun

I can get, and all the blue-gold sky I want around me.


It is February 7th, 1979 and my skin is more

copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.

Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,

and I got my running shoes on and all this sky that’s all mine.


Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.

I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids

in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:

wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.

They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other

planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like

a motherfucker.


It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:

the freedom of possibility.


Today, I broke your solar system. Oops. My bad.



Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: And I love that poem because it's, like, persona. Boom boom boom, whassup motherfucker, but also, like, it just brings up a lot of points too, like, you tried to define me bitch, like, I dick write that poem. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: OK. That's the new name of the segment. It’s no longer In Your Corner, it’s, Dick Write That Poem. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) It’s totally dick-writing to me. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) We dick write you too, Fatimah.


Franny Choi: On every episode we like to play a little game, which we call This vs. That, where we put two things head to head and you have to tell us which would win in a fight. Two people, two concepts, two institutions, whatever. This week, in this corner we have Job. And in that corner we have Jezebel.

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) OK.

Franny Choi: Who would win in a fight?


Raych Jackson: Jezebel. Would. Beat. Job’s ass!

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: Seriously though, read up on her, my bitch was a real bitch. 

Danez Smith: But Job could take a punch.

Raych Jackson: Job… Job took punches. I feel like Jezebel, like, had that conniving strategy of, like, turning minds to worship her gods, which is, like, why people don’t like her or whatever. But, like, I feel, like, Jezebel just has that, like...umpf. And I feel like Job kind of… even when he was going through shit, he was taken on as much as he… he was just kind of, moping around and shit… I think Jezebel would not only beat his ass, I think that she would, like, make an example out of him. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Raych Jackson: Cause she was a queen too. So she would be like: this is what happens when you motherfuckers disrespect me and then, like, put him, like, up for the whole courtyard to see, like. I think, like Jezebel would not only annihilate this motherfucker, I think she would be, like, yeah. Anybody else? 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: Damn. I like this.

Franny Choi: She would not only win the battle but also the war. 

Raych Jackson: Yes. My girl, my girl. 

Danez Smith: Jezebel is the biggest L that Job would have to take. (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: (LAUGHING) God for me.

Danez Smith: God, fear me. 

Raych Jackson: Boom. 

Franny Choi: Well, that settles that!

Danez Smith: Rachel, thank you so much for coming through.

Raych Jackson: Thank you for having me. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Where can people find you at?

Raych Jackson: Ah, oh, fun fact, I put a Y in my name when I was, like, 15, because if you Google R-A-C-H-E-L Jackson, Andrew Jackson's wife pops up, so…

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Raych Jackson: My name on all social medias is R-A-Y-C-H Jackson. I only follow back on Twitter if you are not a Trump supporter, so.. If you are, goodbye! 

Danez Smith: Make sure that is very clear.

Raych Jackson: Yeah, put it in your bio. But yeah, R-A-Y-C-H Jackson, Raych Jackson, on all social medias, the gram, the Tumblr—lot of people don’t really, you don’t.. I’m on Tumblr, I’m a Tumblr fanatic, so if you are on Tumblr, then, I tumble—Twitter and Facebook. 

Danez Smith: Thank you Ray! 

Raych Jackson: Thank you.

Franny Choi: Thank you!!!

Danez Smith: Yay!


Danez Smith: Oh, I loved that talk with Raaaaych. I fall more in love with her every time I hear her speak. She’s just amazing.

Franny Choi: Crazy! She is so gracious, so funny, and yeah, it makes perfect sense that she’s this great math teacher, considering how her brain works in terms of form.

Danez Smith: Yeah, I think every poet that is into form was, like, secretly a math geek. But we have to pretend, like, we are bad at math.

Franny Choi: I know, right, everybody’s always like, I’m a poet, so I can’t do much.

Danez Smith: Secretly, you were a math geek, right?

Franny Choi: Well…

Danez Smith: I was a math geek.

Franny Choi: I was a little.. I think you were much more of a math geek than I was.

Danez Smith: But did math get you geeked? Ever?

Franny Choi: It sometimes did. You know, the only time really that I I, like, for real got geeked on math was geometry. 

Danez Smith: OK.

Franny Choi: Like, doing proofs. I loved that shit, like, I loved being able to logic something out. I didn't, like, plugging numbers and then being, like, the answer is 40. Like, I hated that shit. 

Danez Smith: See, well, I was a math geek, like, through and through, like, I think I've struggled with words. So math was, like, my way to be smart for a long time. But. I just remember, like, for a long time, when we moved from, like, remainders to decimal points when doing long division, shit blew my mind. Like, cause the answer used to be, like, 4 remainder 3. And then someone was like, what if I told you it was 0.2. I was, like, bitch...This part of one, you can split up one? You mean, I take part of the apple, you take part of the apple, we don’t got to argue over who has two apples and who has three cause n**** got half apples? That’s nuts!

Franny Choi: Sharing!

Danez Smith: Sharing, sharing, decimals, I was done. Laid. Edges, smashed...

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: … by Miss Núñez!

Franny Choi: By decimals!

Danez Smith: By decimals, I have a decimal of an edge.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Better believe it!

Franny Choi: 0.2 remaining. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) OK, we can geek about math all day, we can just do thank yous and get the heck up out of here. 

Franny Choi: Yes. Fantastic.

Danez Smith: Who you gotta thank?

Franny Choi: I would like to thank… Lin-Manuel Miranda for the soundtrack of Moana which has gotten me across the country.

Danez Smith: Poppin’. I would like to thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaank Mrs. Butterworth. Because...

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: She’s just provided and poured so much sweetness into the people. 

Franny Choi: And everyone else who is somewhere on that Lin-Manuel Miranda to Mrs. Butterworth’s, you are also appreciated.

Danez Smith: That’s a spectrum? (LAUGHING) From, like, Dominican playwrights to… pancakes? 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: OK! (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: It is. Yes, it is.

Danez Smith: Alright, we’ve got some other people to thank. 

Franny Choi: We'd like to thank the Poetry Foundation, particularly the goDanez Smith: Ydalmi Noriega and Elizabeth Burke-Dain. 

Danez Smith: Yes! We’d also like to thank Postloudness and our producer Daniel Kisslingeeeeeeeeeeeer...And we’d like to thank y’all. For, you know, coming and listening to our podcast. 

Franny Choi: Hanging out with us. Being our friend. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. If you wanna hang out with us more, make sure you follow us on Twitter, @VSThePodcast, also…

Franny Choi: Make sure to subscribe to us on Soundcloud and iTunes and the NPR One app.

Danez Smith: Wooo! And.. we’ll see you next time, y’all! 

Franny Choi: Bye!

Danez Smith: Don’t do nothin’ stupid.

Franny Choi: Never change.


Raych Jackson swings through the VS studio to talk her win at NUPIC (The National Poetry Individual Competition), the brilliant kidlets in the third grade class she teaches, and remixing biblical tales in her first book, which is in the works. Plus, a new segment makes its debut, with a poem from a VS alum!

More Episodes from VS
Showing 1 to 20 of 31 Podcasts
  1. Tuesday, January 29, 2019
  2. Thursday, December 13, 2018

    Jamila Woods vs. The Remedy

  3. Tuesday, December 4, 2018

    Kara Jackson vs. Titles

  4. Tuesday, November 6, 2018

    Jonathan Mendoza vs. The Movement

  5. Tuesday, October 9, 2018

    Jacob Saenz vs. The Block

  6. Tuesday, September 25, 2018

    H. Melt vs. Trans Liberation

  7. Tuesday, August 28, 2018

    Nate Marshall vs. Fear

  8. Tuesday, March 6, 2018

    Tarfia Faizullah vs. Beauty

  9. Tuesday, February 27, 2018


  10. Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    Franny and Danez's Season 1 Favorite Moments