Angel Nafis vs. Observation

May 29, 2018

Danez Smith: She once starred in a movie with a nerdy girl, took off her glasses to reveal more glasses, Franny Choi.

Franny Choi: And they’re the hot, judgmental barista of contemporary American letters, Danez Smith.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) And you’re listening to VS, the podcast where poets confront the ideas that move them.

Franny Choi: Presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.

Danez Smith: Post-post-post-post-post-lou-lou-lou-lou-loudness.

Franny Choi: You do that every single time. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I do, I like it so much. It's my signature. (LAUGHING) How are you doing, Franny?

Franny Choi: I’m doing good, how are you?

Danez Smith:  Uuuuuuuh…. well!

Franny Choi: Okay?

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I feel like that is a shady way of correcting my grammar.

Danez Smith: No, girl, you know I don’t know shit about no grammar, I can’t even spell grammar. I actually [INAUDIBLE]

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Oh my God. That speaks so many volumes. So many good volumes.

Danez Smith: So many good volumes? I can’t spell volume either. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Oh man. Well, luckily in the age of spellcheck one does not have to be a great speller. They just have to be, like, a good poet. Which is…. I think, often, I feel like, just, like, a function of, like, looking around and noticing shit.

Danez Smith: Word. Do you feel like… Are you observant? Like, do you look around and notice things, or, like, you know. Or what are you observant of?

Franny Choi: Well, ok, this is... the thing is that my partner always accuses me of not being an observant person and it's primarily because, well, like, I think I have a bad sense of direction, is mostly what it is. And never know what street I'm on, or which direction the street is going in. So there will be so many times when we'll be, like, walking down the street and then I'll look at a store and be, like, oh my god, is that place new? And he'll be, like, that place has been here for 45 years, like, what are you talking about. We pass by this every single day. But I think when, like, being in the world, I feel like I'm less observant about street signs and cardinal directions, and I'm more just, like, looking at, like, the color of houses and the shapes of plants.

Danez Smith: Word.

Franny Choi: You know what I mean? And, like, what the light looks like and how my heart feels.

Danez Smith: Word.

Franny Choi: I think I use up all my observation juice on those things and, like, cannot remember a street name. What about you?

Danez Smith: Well, I think it's, for me, it's a question of location and time. And there are just places where I feel like I can slow down. You know? There are some times where I don't feel like, you know, I'm in a space where I'm not allowed to take my time.

Franny Choi: That’s very real.

Danez Smith: And I think also, though a question of time, I think it's about what I'm doing, you know, if I'm in a rush to go someplace, I can’t really look at anything.

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: And, like, you know, even just, like, small things. Like, I notice if I'm taking a walk, I'm more observant if I leave my headphones at home. If I'm listening to music, I don’t notice anything.

Franny Choi: For sure.

Danez Smith: I’m just, like, going forward.

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: But, like, the second I allow myself to, like, hear a bird and turn my head and then, you know, maybe that makes me see something, then I’m, like, OK, cool. I'm paying attention to something. But I do think I could be more observant. Because I think I'm sort of similar to you, like, I’ll also, like, look up and not notice that something has been there for 20 years.

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: Like, how long has my mom been here? (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: That chick’s been here the whole time? That’s who’s feeding me? The hell?

Franny Choi: Oh my god.

Danez Smith: But I think our guest today is very observant and I was very excited to hear her talk about the multiple ways of her looking.

Franny Choi: The power of observation and how, like, at its height, looking is praising, right, it can be a form of praising. Or that, like, I guess—to sort of summarize some of the things that she's saying—that praise is, like, the ultimate looking. Maybe that's the better way of putting it.

Danez Smith: She said that. Who said that? Who is she, though? We talk about Angel Nafis!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: Angel Nafis is a brilliant poet from Michigan by way of Chicago, currently living in New York. Author of BlackGirl Mansion and many many other poems, brilliant poet and writer and editor and, like, she was a bookseller for a lot of years and I look to Angel to know what I should be reading. And just an all around great person.

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah. Impeccably good speaker of words.

Danez Smith: And you're about to learn some stuff here in this conversation. So let’s… oh, quick note. Angel talks a lot in this episode about her experience in grad school. The grad school that she’s talking about is Warren Wilson, a low-residency program held in North Carolina.

Franny Choi: Shout-out.

Danez Smith: Shout-out. Let's get into it with Angel.


Danez Smith: Hey, Angel!

Franny Choi and Angel Nafis: Hiiii!

Angel Nafis: (SINGING)

Danez Smith: What was that little tune?

Angel Nafis: I don’t know if you guys know, I’m also a major recording artist.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: People think it's just Jamila, it's just Shira, but it's actually... Angel.

Danez Smith: I know, and you’re, like, very big in Cape Verde…

Angel Nafis: Canada. Huge in Canada.

Danez Smith: Big in Portugal. Yep, uhu. I see it, I see it. So you guys good, have been enjoying the sun? (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I feel..  The sun when you haven't had it is, like, revenge.

Danez Smith: Woo!

Angel Nafis: You know what I mean, like, I was out there, like, looking at… I don’t know what they’re called, Tampa-ons, like, I was just like, ha! Goodbye!!!

Danez Smith: It’s true! For, like, people who grew up in winter, right? I always feel like every summer is the first summer ever.

Angel Nafis: You feel like… you just got out of the divorce you needed to get out of, you know what I mean? Like, you’re like: I left him and I’m never coming back.

Danez Smith: Amen.

Angel Nafis: I burn all history.

Franny Choi: All of my clothes are off.

Angel Nafis: So I feel great. Happy to be in Tampa and… I don’t know, I feel like this is a different kind of AWP, I don't know why. I feel very positive, Shira and I have a pact, no complaining while we’re here.

Danez Smith: OK.

Franny Choi: Oooh!

Angel Nafis: So that’s been taken us there.

Franny Choi: Have you been sticking to it?

Angel Nafis: Yeah, I think so.

Franny Choi: That’s amazing!

Angel Nafis: And when I find myself wanting to, like, wow, I really want to shade this thing, but I don't really need to. And then when you need to shade something, you... you can. And it feels more righteous or something, then when you're always, like…. Because you can shade anything.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: So it feels good to be, like, this moment actually deserves….

Danez Smith: Purposeful negativity.

Angel Nafis: ...purposeful negativity…

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: There we go.

Angel Nafis: opposed to just this glass-half-empty continual. So I feel great and I'm happy to be looking at you guys right now.

Danez Smith: And maybe it feels good too, because you're on the verge of a graduation coming up some time real soon.

Angel Nafis: That’s right! Gradee-masion. Can’t wait -hait-hait! (SINGING) There’s nothing quite like feeling like you always should be doing something else. Which is how grad school feels.

Franny Choi: Totally.

Angel Nafis: Like, I'm, like, man, no matter what I'm doing, I probably should be doing this shit for grad school. You know what I mean?

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: There's something that I could be doing that I'm not.

Danez Smith: I know I need to eat dinner but I should be reading.

Angel Nafis: Bitch, I’d be, like, I need to sleep, but I really should be writing that paper, like, there is no reason to sleep. I will be great to be, like, walking even, like, this is what I should be doing and taking a bath and be, like, this is what the fuck I should be doing, so.

Franny Choi: Are you feeling ready to be done?

Angel Nafis: Well, yes and no. Yes, because of what I just said.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And no, because, like, learning is the baddest bitch. And, like, learning from masterful thinkers and huge brains is… the baddest bitch, and I’m never gonna go to school again.

Franny Choi: You’re, like, set on that.

Angel Nafis: So it feels weird and a little sad to be done with school on this end forever. And the program went by very fast. And I feel in some ways like I just... I just now get it. And so that's sad too. But I also have had a very unnaturally, stretched out, like, undergraduate experience. And so I think this is maybe what everyone else feels like when you finish things on time. It feels too fast.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)


Angel Nafis: So, like, just, like, this is normal. (LAUGHING) Did this go by too fast or should shit be two years? And not ten? So...

Danez Smith: We’re kinda talking before about this sort of adversity to deadlines and, sort of, all these rules that conflict, like, you…

Angel Nafis: Yeah!

Danez Smith: Yeah, I think that’s a little too good not to give to the reader, I mean audience.

Angel Nafis: Yeah. It sucks. I don’t know about anybody else, but I just feel like… everyone doesn't like deadlines. Even if you, like, need them to have anything be done ever. But I just didn’t like… these rolling deadlines are a piece of work. Like, the way this program works is, like, every three weeks... something’s due. So, you're literally always under deadline. Even when you're not at the other deadline yet. Like, a deadline is even just something due in two months. So if you have, like, 6 deadlines in 3 months that's, like, what some people have is one deadline. One deadline!

Franny Choi: One evergreen deadline.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: Exactly. And so that was a tough thing. And also, I think I just… am working with such... people say “brilliant” all time, but I really mean, like, the brilliant people, like, and the actual word brilliant, like, shit that is light, like, they, like, are luminous with knowledge, that I feel like, I can't just, like, spellcheck, hit save as, and send that shit off. Like, I have to really look through and see if my ideas are coherent and making sense and I want to do right by specifically them and I think that puts, like, a huge, like, onus … I feel very pressured to do that. And so sometimes the deadlines feel, like, a shucking. Shucking my spirit because I feel so indebted to them for what they're teaching me, and then I want to do right by them. And I wanna do right by myself, and then I’m, like, paying all this money and I’m, like, let me do right by that.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: So it’s just a whole thing... Now that I'm coming to, like, the end, I see so clearly that it's very purposeful. The way the program is designed. And Ellen Bryant Voigt, shout-out to her, she's, like, the one, she knows. And the program is designed in a way that you're... you will later reap that tiny effort, that tiny rule will, like, produce a bounty later. And that's not how I live, I live on the, like, the now bounty.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I'm, like, not about planting a seed for the later orchard, like, n***, where is my current orchard!

Danez Smith: When there is a tree right there!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Yeah, I’m, like, I don’t like thisssss.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Why am I doing this? We're just gonna assume I'm alive, later? For this, like, later orchard, n***? But the later orchard really came around real quick. Two years was a bing bang boom, and I'm... the bounty is, like, maddening. It's just, like, so clear, all the, sort of, core staple texts they want you to read there, I can see clearly why those were the texts. And I feel, like, learned, you know. In some ways I don't. Like, there are people's poems who I loved before I went to grad school and I explicitly… I was excited to go to grad school because I was, like, when I’m done, I'm gonna, like, really get this person. And now I'm, like, bitch is almost done, I still don’t understand what the fuck this person’s talking about.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: So there is, like, that element. But then there is some stuff… For instance Shira, my partner, when we were, like, very... fine-tuning and, like, going through her manuscript with a comb. I felt so, like, useful and, like, I felt like a resource. And I could see it. And I was, like, hovering over myself seeing my... sailing a ship, and I was, like, you go off! I was, like, you better really just be a resource and give language to things that I've always felt or known on a gut level, and be able to explain why it is so, or why I think it's so. And then give examples and kind of talk about it in depth and…

Franny Choi: That’s beautiful.

Angel Nafis: It just feels good, and I can see it more clearly with other people's work than with my own, I think. Maybe when I am done I'll see it. It's, like, when I'm in a workshop with people I feel like... to be honest, I feel like an asset to the space. Like. I feel, like…

Danez Smith: That’s dope! And in a new way?

Angel Nafis: Yeah, and, like, I can see it on the people's faces when I'm in the workshop. Like, kind of being, like, no let this bitch talk a little longer. You know. So I feel, I feel good. I feel, like... And if that was the only thing I got, I would be happy. But that's only one of, like, many things that I’ve gotten.

Franny Choi: Yeah, you were talking a little bit about what you learned about your own work. Can you talk about...

Angel Nafis: Yeah!

Franny Choi: … what you’ve learned about what you've been doing?

Angel Nafis: That’s the best part, actually.

Franny Choi: Right!

Angel Nafis: Who knows why we, like, write poems. And I don't mean why, like, why we do that as opposed to doing something else. I mean, who knows where it comes from. Like, why do I, and not my sister, kind of thing who-knows-why. But I think part of the helpfulness of the program and especially this semester, in my final semester, I'm working with Maurice Manning. Shout-out to…  the God. He's the trillest and the realest and… just this all-nice Kentucky dude. Anyhow, he…

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) That’s a good word. Kentucky? It’s so fun in the mouth.

Angel Nafis: It is!!

Danez Smith: And in the ear.

Franny Choi: It’s also a way to describe someone.

Danez Smith: Kentucky, Kentucky.

Angel Nafis: Yeah, he's just great. And you get to see all these lectures. So you get to, like, see how people are and what they think like, and what they're urgings and gestures are towards. And I would have never thought that I would be, like, so severely on my nature shit. But, like, he taught this one class…. Bitch, it had me on zeh floor.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I truly was like…. We all know that as people of color…

Danez Smith: Hmm, shout-out.

Angel Nafis: Everybody who's listening out there. Who is of that. We are... But, we all know that there's a coded language around the desire or the gesture to morph a poem…

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: ...that is explicitly not about nature…

Danez Smith: Hmm!

Angel Nafis: ...towards nature.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: So there's a racialized cut that is almost to say: stop talking about who you are. Talk about some shit that everyone can relate to, like this deer.

Danez Smith: This false universality, like, we've all experienced nature in the same way.

Angel Nafis: So I was, like, already…. There’s just certain keywords as a POC that you’re, like really alurk, as my dad says, he doesn’t say alert, he says alurk….

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: … that you’re really alurk to when you roll up in a literary space. Like, someone starts talking about “what a good reading you gave…” When it’s a fucking, you know, just writing workshop. And you’re like, but what about these lines. Anyhow, so I was very, like, skep’. But then I went into his class and… it was a lot. I’m not even gonna try and break down what it was about. Because it was, like, you know, two hours long and it was some of the most brilliant shit I’ve ever heard. So I’m not even gonna disrespec’ what went into that by just breaking it down. But at the end, he started talking about the canon. Again, triggering.

Danez Smith: Very! (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: But he starts talking about the canon. And he started talking about how.. just, like, how I was saying. Like, why me and not my sister, essentially. That built into the poems that have always existed, not necessarily are those answers but are those same questions. That the poems themselves gesture to, like, why me and not d-d-dah. And he started talking about the pastoral poets and he started talking about all these, you know, these Romantic poets, when they talk about nature, it's their reckoning with the bigger questions. And that nature becomes a symbol, right.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: And so then it got me thinking about how talking about nature was, like, you being on the utmost meticulous, the utmost humble, and the utmost reverent of the bigness of the universe. And now it might be actually in many ways—the ways that we are exhausted with it, are the ways that people use it actually to flatten and not talk about the world, right.

Danez Smith: Hmm!

Franny Choi: Hmm!

Angel Nafis: That is why we're kind of resistant, maybe, to that. But he started talking about how the original tradition was, like, when you're talking about God or death or war and some shit that we ain't got no answers for, that's why the poem then slightly—at least towards the end—will turn and start to gesture outwards towards nature and the sky, because there is sort of…. almost, like a kindred or a parallelism in the idea that, like, the things that we don't have questions for as humans are just as natural or in some way tied to the things in nature. Those things are…. or I should say, like, the question of love. There is no human answer. But there is a river. You see what I’m saying?

Franny Choi: Wooo! (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And so that really turned me out, as you can imagine.

Danez Smith: Yes!

Angel Nafis: (LAUGHING) And it got me thinking about how that is true. For me.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: And we've talked about a lot…

Danez Smith: In thinking about, what do you turn to…

Angel Nafis: What do I turn to?

Danez Smith: ...what do you turn to when you have no answers?

Angel Nafis: What’s the bigness I turn to when I have no answers… cause it’s the bigness. You don’t turn to a smallness. You turn to a bigness. And then I thought about it, that I turn to a smallness that to me represents a bigness. And that's wild, like an Ode To Shea Butter or an Ode to [INAUDIBLE], those small things, the molecular-ness mimics the expansiveness to me. And, you know, him and I are talking a lot about the ecstatic tradition, which is the tradition that he has dubbed to me that I'm working within. And I entirely agree, and it's been very revealing and spooky and wonderful and amazing to explore that truth. Look at Whitman, not as just something that I love, look at Dickinson not just as something that I love, but look at them as a sort of mirror. Where am I in that tradition? It has really been illuminating because…. a couple of things I wanna say about this whole idea of nature. So he was saying: you're doing so much that is so great. And you're doing so much that is so rich. If you're not looking towards the tradition that you're a part of, however you got to be a part of it, they might drag your ass here, but you're still a part of this tradition, right, like, this is the tradition you're speaking within. And so if you're not looking at the ways that they're utilized in this tradition, you can't fully realize yourself as an ecstatic poet. So he said... he'd, like, was just circling in my poem, he was, like, where are the birds, where are the trees. They're here! They're in what you're talking about. So where are they. He's like, if you're walking down the street and you're seeing all these people and you're talking about them and you're talking about the subway... That is there. You don't move it. But where is everything else. He said, the ecstatic poet notices everything. Doesn’t miss anything. And is able to flatten the boundaries that exist between things that are disparate. So if you're able to talk about people this way, you're able to talk about everything else this way. And you want to. Your poetic voice literally wants to talk about everything. And so we've been talking about the ecstatic tradition as a mode of emphatic noticing. So that means beyond... you know, I think, people hear the word ecstatic and they automatically hear joy and they automatically hear...

Franny Choi: Happy!

Angel Nafis: ...happy, they automatically here... But I think there's more to rapture than joy.

Danez Smith: Hmmmm!

Franny Choi: Hmmm.

Angel Nafis: One of my favorite authors is this, like, crusty old amazing Irish dude named John Banville, a novelist.

Danez Smith: (CHUCKLING)

Franny Choi: (CHUCKLING)

Angel Nafis: And I was introduced to him by my best friend, Amen. We were talking about “The Sea,” this book that he wrote. I love this book. Anyway, we got to talking and we came upon this interview with John Banville—I love interviews. I'm, like, a sucker…

Danez Smith: Interviews are the jam. Like, to really hear, like, your favorite folks sit down and slow down and this is what I’m about.

Angel Nafis: And not just writers. With a chef, with anybody who can really go in, right? So, it’s my jam. It’s a really great interview, I'll try to actually pull it up and send it to you guys, just to see you have it for reference.

Danez Smith: Thankees.

Angel Nafis: He’s talking about writing, cause the interview… it’s towards the end of the interview. And he’s asked about being a writer, and he was like, ah, what a preposterous, maddening, wonderful thing to find the right… no. The exact… no. The only word.

Danez Smith: Woooo!

Franny Choi: Wooo!

Angel Nafis: Right? And I think about that in the ecstatic tradition. What it’s like to cut close to the bone of something. What it's like to say exactly how it is, and that is the rapture. Whether the thing you're talking about is a sorrow, whether it's rage, whether it's a joy that you're talking about, it's so molecularly close to what it is, that you've transcended description. You're talking about essence. And to me that is the core of ecstasy. And that is the why. That's why I write. That's why I and not my sister, is because perhaps I'm interested... and this is something that I wanted to talk about. This is the other element that Maurice was saying... So he sent me this response to my second packet of poems and stuff that I sent in,  and we were talking about the ecstatic and trying to figure out what the fuck that was and… just kind of creating definitions. And this is what he said. The ecstatic as evidenced by this poem has the following qualities: an inner dependence of metaphor and image, sensory overload (we call it synesthesia), a doubling of metaphor and meaning, outward gesture that then releases some of the speaker's interior as well, spontaneity, intimacy, immediacy, and a pinnacle sense that all of this is fleeting and only momentarily grasped.

Danez Smith: This is some grade A teaching.

Franny Choi: Woof!

Angel Nafis: I was, like… By the time I was done, I was, like, naked only wearing a hat.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: So what I'm saying, what I'm getting at here, is that the ecstatic is concerned with the real-time essence of it. That once you've fully seen something, the moment you're done seeing, it's now a new thing, and you have to say what that thing is now, so that it's…  It's almost like you're running out of time. So whenever you read Frank O’Hara, whenever you... there's a sense that you're, like…

Franny Choi: There’s a rush.

Angel Nafis: They’re rushing, they’re quick to get it all out, and that is part of it too.

Franny Choi: I love that definition that relies on, like, precision or, like, accuracy. Because I think we might think of the ecstatic as, like, because of that spontaneity to just be, like, a mess.

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Franny Choi: But it's, like, actually the opposite, which is wild!

Angel Nafis: Yeah!

Danez Smith: It's really a focus. And it's a quick focus, sometimes, I think. You know, like, sharpening this line of sight. Once you notice the bird, I think, maybe in an ecstatic poem, then the bird is the poem. For that moment…

Angel Nafis: For that moment in time. And as the I, as the poem’s I focuses on the bird, the bird is privileged above all else.

Danez Smith: Yes.

Angel Nafis: And there is nothing else but the bird. And then the moment it turns, there was never a bird.

Danez Smith: Yep. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And we think about Ross Gay, right, which is another incredibly ecstatic…

Danez Smith: Shout-out Ross Gay.

Angel Nafis: … ecstatic as fuck. And we talk about this one quality that Maurice is talking about, this immediacy, and the idea that it's, like, running out. Look at his poems, look at those long-ass sentences, look at the commas. The commas as if to say: look, I know technically this should be a new sentence, but I just want you to hold on to the feeling of what I just said as I say this new thing, because I want to get it all in there.

Danez Smith: It’s more about energy than it is about feeling.

Angel Nafis: You’re lapping yourself. Um, Ross’s comma is like Emily Dickinson’s dash, is like Frank O’Hara’s exclamation point, is like Aracelis’s ampersand, right? So you get these moments that are benchmarks, that are saying look, I know I'm doing the most, but I'm going to keep going. I can’t help it.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) God, I’ve never thought about ecstatic punctuation before this moment.

Angel Nafis: LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Well, it is, I think especially, like Aracelis, I think that’s really clear for me, like, what do you put in your poems that allows you to continue, you know, that don't stop your thought. You know, that allow you to say... more, you know. And you can edit it out, but, like, what propels the poem? I think those are those punctuations…

Franny Choi: It’s the “and another thing” school of poetics.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Danez Smith: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's the thought catching up to you. Or you following it, and being, like, ooh! Wait, now I gotta say this.

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Hmmm.


Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) I’m sorry, I gotta take this all in for a second. This was, like, a lecture. 

Angel Nafis: It’s a lot. And it feels very… obviously it’s, like, very helpful but I feel also, to a certain extent, like… and not to get all, like, woo-woo, but I know that I haven’t processed how helpful and how strange it feels to be told what I’m doing. Like, it felt like I had my Tarot read when he got all my poems laid out. It was like, see what you’re doing here? I just was, like, aaaaaah!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I was, like, you’re telling all my business to me, and you've just read these, like, eight poems. You know? I feel—and I can't speak for everybody—but when somebody says something that’s true and helpful about your poems, it’s usually true and helpful about you. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Poems are just our Doppelgängers.

Franny Choi: For sure. It can be a fucked-up feeling. Get out of my heart, and head!

Angel Nafis: And so it’s been… I’m still processing.

Franny Choi: What is the role of divinity in your poems, of the divine?

Angel Nafis: Well….

Franny Choi: Because I think about… I link those two ideas too; the divine…

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Franny Choi: ...and, like, the beloved in ecstasy, for sure, you know.

Angel Nafis: Yeah. I’m glad you said that. That's actually something that I'm having to mitigate, because so much of the ecstatic work that I'm looking at, is so centered around God. Because that is the why, also, right?

Franny Choi: For sure.

Angel Nafis: And I don't know exactly how...I've never said this, so I literally don't know what words to pull from. So Shira and I were… we watched that documentary on Netflix, that Joan Didion one, have you guys seen that?

Danez Smith: No, but I’ve been hearing everything about it.

Angel Nafis: Eeeeh, you need to… watch that shit. We thought we were gonna have a little, like, wine-down, we were like, ok, we’ll fall asleep to this. Bitch, an hour later, we were like…. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) I wish you could see this right now, you’re making an extremely intense face, is that the face you make when, you know, Beyonce first came on television, you had to lean in and see what was happening?

Angel Nafis: We were a centimeter away from the computer screen an hour later when we thought we were gonna be asleep. And something that they were talking about was… her book that she's the most famous for, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” which is the really beautiful, really difficult text about the loss of her husband and then at the end her daughter in a very close span of time. And it's, like, renowned, obviously because she's of the baddest and such a great writer, but I think it's also so spread out, like, so known, because it's one of the only grief texts that doesn't deal from a religious perspective. It deals with grief almost as a journalist would. As someone who's just, like, factually talking about it. Just reporting live from Grief, USA.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: For real!

Danez Smith: Live from my mourning.

Angel Nafis: That’s what I’m saying. And it still is spiritual, because she's so specific, and so then I'm, like, ha… Is spirituality just, like, specificity and noticing? And, like, telling the truth? Is telling the truth spiritual, is that all it is? Is, like, not lying?

Danez Smith: Yeah! I think so. I think it's about…. it’s us trying to inch towards goodness.

Angel Nafis: Yeah! Yeah!

Danez Smith: You know?

Angel Nafis: And a morality.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: And people use God as that bench post. Because that is…. people are religious. And then that's, like, these are our polls, I won't do this shit because God... that's not the look, right. And I will do this shit because this is the look. And, I think, in some ways when you're just trying to tell the truth, you're trying to be specific, you're trying to catch the essence of something... It requires that same morality; and I use morality not to mean good or bad but to mean, like, truth or not, sort of. The beloved is much more easier for me to think about...then... I guess, like, capital G God. But, I think, that is why in the ecstatic tradition, you know, so many poets that I love... there's that, like, undertone or just sometimes just straight-up overtone. I mean, it's also just really about gratitude. And you're, like, tithing. And to whomst…

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: ... are you grateful, right? And so you're noticing all of this stuff, not just for the sake of noticing, you're paying rent for being able to see. For being able to notice, for being able to experience. And who are you paying that rent to? And it's, like, as it's coming into you, as you're seeing it, you're giving it back, and people give it back to God, they give it back to the beloved, or they give it back to the fact of it happening at all itself. And I think that's also why people fuck so deeply with “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” right, because it's just…. The giving it back is the tithing.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Absolutely.

Angel Nafis: The beloved becomes... the reader.

Danez Smith: Yeah. It's all y’all. (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And so, I think, to answer your question, the divine is the act of noticing, is a prayer, is…. And then the giving it back, somehow... I wonder if that's why I'm so attracted to the ode. Is, like, close to, like, a religious gesture that I'm comfortable with.

Danez Smith: It allows you to make that thing into a little tiny God for a little bit.

Angel Nafis: Yes. Exactly. I’m working it out.

Franny Choi: For sure.

Danez Smith: Can I ask you something about looking?

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Because... full disclosure, you know, most of these people on this show be our friends, y’all… It was like these small, like, you know, meet Angel and Morgan Parker, shout-out Morgan Parker, we took a trip to Europe last year, and I was really impressed by, like, what you were able to see. Because whenever we'd be walking someplace, you'd see something that I would never notice in 10 000 years. Who’d you learn to look from?

Franny Choi: Oooh!

Angel Nafis: Oh, that's a great question. Well, I wonder if it's conversely, like, who didn't push that out of me, right? Like, I think aren’t we just some looking-ass people as children? And some question-asking people and... You know, I think I was just always encouraged to... I mean, my dad was very encouraging of that. He was never annoyed at me asking questions, and he was never upset if he didn't know the answers. So there was never a stifling around that. And more than that, he's a big question asker. He's very annoying, and he will, like….

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: He will, like, ask questions when he knows the answers, because he likes asking questions so much.

Danez Smith: Oh, wow.

Angel Nafis: So he… And he just wants to see the way that you'll answer it. And so that's the way he has learned to move through the world and get through the world. He’ll ask for directions and you’re, like, dad, you know where we’re going.

Danez Smith: I just wanna see what you were saying.

Angel Nafis: I just wanna see the route he be taking!

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And so in some ways that’s my natural… disposition. And, also, it's…. the ecstatic tradition is a questioning tradition. So that's... I'm already lined up that way. But then also... I mean, my partner, she’s, like, very attuned to specifically notice the shit that I see but don't see in that way. And I've learned a lot from her. And we take a ton of walks. We walk a lot in New York. And it’s been more difficult for her, the transition to living in New York from Massachusetts than it was for me moving from Michigan to New York, for whatever reason. I think my disposition is just to be around loud terribleness.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Welcome…

Angel Nafis: Just to be, like, in horrible, smelly lands, and she’s… was truly happening while we were here. But I think something that has been a way for her to transition into living where we live is…  I mean again, it's the urban pastoral, right, like, she has had to find the daisy in the no-daisy situation. And so, I've never walked with her and we haven't stopped so she could point at something, or take a picture of something, the way that something looks. And it's not, like, anything you would take a picture of. It will be, like, the way a smoothie spilled. The shape the spill made, or some shit like that. She’ll be, like, oh! And I’d be, like, well, that really is, like, a pretty dog, and she's, like, no! And it's, like, a heart-shaped vomit or something. You know what I mean?

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: She’s like very… you know. And so that is something for sure, because it teaches me about the debris that we leave and that, like, the way that we touch things or leave things is, like, reverberating and she sees that.

Danez Smith: Aaah.

Franny Choi: Hmmm. Ooof! That's a good pair of eyes to have next to you.

Angel Nafis: Yeah. It’s really helpful. Cause I’m, like, out here staying and she’s like, look at that garbage…

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: … my mom. It’s just, like, that’s beautiful.

Franny Choi: I was thinking about... when you were talking, Angel, about, like, the odes. I was at a Q&A with Robin Coste Lewis.

Angel Nafis: Yeah!

Franny Choi: Who is just, like, the smartest motherfucker I've ever heard speak.

Angel Nafis: Yeah, I can’t…

Franny Choi: She was, like, everything in my poems is God and everything in my poems is boo. Like, every word, every object, is boo. And so, like, every feeling is boo, so, like, if it's a terrible feeling…

Angel Nafis: It’s still boo.

Franny Choi: … it’s still boo, so I have to, like, deal with it in a different way than just being, like, fuck you.

Angel Nafis: Wow, wow, wow, wow.

Franny Choi: I have to, like, understand it.

Angel Nafis: Go off, Robin, wherever you are.

Franny Choi: Right? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But yeah, I think the ode is, like...It seems, like, both divine and, like, everything around me can be boo at any point, you know.

Angel Nafis: Yes.

Franny Choi: I think that's the smallness… of the things that you're choosing to observe. We were talking about, like, that relationship that you have to the mundane. All those odes to the mundane thing.

Angel Nafis: Yeah. I really love that people love that, because… I'm, like, waiting for the shoe to drop. Waiting for someone to be, like, n****, that’s not beautiful. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: It's funny though, too, because as I'm, like, getting my thesis together, and trying to, like, make this book, I’m, like, where is anything else? So I'm actually... I'm actually… It’s something I’m self-conscious about. Actually trying to, like, do the opposite of, like, what I always tell people at workshops, which is, like, stay small and let that grow big. I'm, like, trying to just, like, move outward because I'm, like, so close to whatever I'm looking at that I'm trying to rescale. You scale and you rescale, you scale and you rescale and…. And how my poems…. You see them find their scale and then they stay there. I'm trying to, like, do that. And images do that, right. The images... they make you recalibrate and rescale, especially when you put two things… metaphors do that. You pair two things that are so different from each other, your mind is rescaling as it's trying to, like, metabolize this image. And so I’m trying to do that actually. Like, I love the mundane and will stay fuckin' with the mundane. And I wonder what I lose in the way of juxtaposition. Because I often don't have it. I'm often so close to it that there's nothing next to it. Does that make sense?

Franny Choi: I think so.

Danez Smith: I think... it makes sense. But I think... because of how I think about your poems, I think I just disagree.

Angel Nafis: (LAUGHING) OK.

Danez Smith: Maybe this is from an outside look. You know, because I feel like, that closeness does allow me to see something bigger, right, and maybe not in the poem, but I know, like, I read, like, “Ode To Voicemail.” And I look back up at the world differently.

Franny Choi: Yes.

Angel Nafis: Hmm.

Danez Smith: You know. That's maybe what it is. So even if it doesn't... even if that bigness doesn't exist within the poem, that bigness is now alive for me because of the closeness.

Franny Choi: Or it’s like a big vision concentrated in a little space. But that vision is still big. The I is still… the looking is still big.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: Right.

Danez Smith: Yeah, the looking is big.

Angel Nafis: But you know what? It’s not sustainable. And I don't mean in a career. I mean… if you were to write those long-ass poems, you can't sustain a tight vision. You have to….

Danez Smith: Yeah, you gotta expand it out.

Angel Nafis: And I’m losing my ability to summon that when I want.

Danez Smith: Oh. OK.

Angel Nafis: It sneaks up on me.

Danez Smith: I got you.

Angel Nafis: I'm not able as easily to be, like, and now I'm going dah, and now I’m dah. And now I want to da-da-dah. It's more, like, I’m like, oh shit I'm, like, over here now. And I know how to, like, easily sifon this, like, close sight. And I would like to not lose the ability to step back as well. And look around. And then, like go back, you know. Because, I think, you know, that's how you, like…. And this was what my whole fucking third semester was... was talking about voltas and how every poem is a volta.

Danez Smith: Some poems have several.

Angel Nafis: Yeah! I mean, many.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: But you if it's the real for real one if it's the biggest ask. If it’s the point where it's, like, okay reader, I know, my n****,  but just stay with me. That’s the volta. And those little ones make that one believable and possible. But that is the one. That is the ask. And it's really hard to sustain that and do that and have many voltas and turning moments in a long poem if you can't rescale. And I think there are different ways to move and rescale. I don't think it's just, like, talking about big-ass ideas. That's, like, you’re sitting with friends and all of a sudden you’re talking about God or something. It's, like, I can just be the temporal. Or it could be perspective. But I don’t often move. I just get closer and closer and closer, which is, like, a skill. I'm very grateful for it, but I'm interested in…

Danez Smith: You wanna work on your muscles!

Angel Nafis: Exactly.

Franny Choi: Yeah. Is that a roadblock that you're running into with this project?

Angel Nafis: No, no, it's just me… It's not a roadblock. It’s me seeing what the fuck I have done. And being, like, okay, but now what the fuck I'm gonna do. Right? It's not, like, oh no, I can't. It's more, like, damn when you write enough poems, you just start to see what you do. You're, like, this is the shit that I be on. It's not bad. In fact, I really know how to do my shit. But what about this other shit.

Danez Smith: Yeah, there’s always ... Poets, we have to go through that several times in our lives. Just be like, this is what I've been on.

Angel Nafis: This is what I’ve been on!

Danez Smith: Now I want to start tickling my brain in different ways. Can I not just be this poet. You know?

Angel Nafis: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So it's a journey and it's exciting and weird and sometimes really annoying. But I'm grateful for it and I'm really grateful for this, like, little period of time where I will have someone who's, like, paid for me to be, like, is this right, and they’re, like, no.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I’m really grateful for that because, like, I have the homies but the homi es aren’t paid. They're, like, OK, and, like, I’ll holler at you when I can, which  is, like, in 30 years because I'm, like, making a museum. From scratch.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Right? This person is, like, it's my job, I have to respond to you within three days. This is such a precious time to have questions. 

Franny Choi: We were talking a little before about the sort of, like, patience that you have for your own…

Angel Nafis: Oh my god, really? I have none!

Franny Choi: Really!?

Danez Smith: I think you have so much.

Angel Nafis: Really?

Danez Smith: I've seen you deal with this, right, like, it's a compliment! Because people I've seen... a lot people come up to you and say, where’s the book. Where is the next book, d-d-d-dah. And I see when you push back against that.

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Danez Smith: It's such an amazing…. it's an amazing amount of patience you have for yourself…

Franny Choi: It’s so permission giving.

Danez Smith: Yes!

Angel Nafis: Really? That makes me want to cry. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I feel so much fear when I see you do that. I’m like, y’all gotta wait. (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Y’all gotta wait! You ain’t gonna catch me slippin’. You know, like, I can throw out a little chappie or something, if I wanted, but I don't know, y’all. I just think that we're in such a cool time too, because that's not the only way you'll ever hear something from me. I think I would understand it more if we were in fucking... you know, 1908 or whatever the fuck.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: And that’s the only way that a n*** is gonna encounter my work, or.. . But I’m, like, check these poems that I'll be publishing online, check your other when I'm, like, working out new stuff I did the other night, like, I’m out here, you’re out here, and your book will be here and keeping it funky-unky. I don’t know how you motherfuckers read all those damn books. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Cause we’re not.

Angel Nafis: Mine to-read stack is embarrassing. It’s mad… books that I’ve just… like…  should have read already, right, like, type embarrassing. So, like, do you want it out because you, like, will read it right away, like, are you truly drilling in these streets? Or is it just... you're used to, when you like someone's work, them just having another book out. Do you know what I’m saying?

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: Cause I’m just, like, I want you to have another book right now. Honestly, I think I’ll just sit with Uncle Osted a little bit. I’m not done. You know what I mean? Like, really.... You're okay.

Danez Smith: Yeah. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: (LAUGHING) Y’all are OK.

Danez Smith: Yeah. I think it could be such a pressure, though. I know... part of the reason “[insert] boy” came out when it did is, I felt pressured to, like, have a thing. It's this resistance that you have to making a product of your work before its time. I don't think a product is an inherently negative or positive thing, right. But, I think there is this pressure to sort of, like, have  something for people to touch and being able to say that the work that you can't touch is enough… and that it doesn’t need to be any other way…

Angel Nafis: Which also, like, I get, but also...I guess I feel too, like... My first book came out on Red Beard and New School in 2012. But like, I think about, that was a long time ago. But then I’m, like, n***, wait a minute, what was happening in between now and then, keepin' it funky. And n*** went back to undergrad. But first had to pay off that mug because, like, I couldn't even enroll in a motherfucking class until I paid, like, 3K on that. And I was, like, just working at a little bookstore gig and, like, teaching workshops, cause I had to, like stack that cheddar. And I just was, like, writing when I could write and when, you know, working full time. And now I'm in this grad program. I’m just, like, y’all, n***, I'm busy. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Like, I’m living, like, a whole-ass life! Like, if you wanna break me off with this little trust fund, n***, I’ll have this book tomorrow.

Danez Smith: But until then, I’m gonna handle these other things.

Angel Nafis: I'm still writing all the while. I’m you’re not just in these streets, like, question mark, Where Is Daffy, like, I’m still publishing. I wonder—and that's the real tea—come Yune (which is June), I’m like what kept, happy n*** will I be without… like, will the book be the next day? You know what I’m saying? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Maybe I will, maybe I’ll be a whole type of other n***. The other day I was talking to Ocean, and Ocean was talking about, just, like staying in one year. Back when he lived in Queens. Just writing that whole-ass “Exit Wounds.” Just after... he’d just finished… he’d finished Brooklyn College and… just wrote that whole-ass “Exit Wounds” and… And I’m just, like, that sounds right. That makes sense. That's, like, when you finished the thing you're…. unless you get to go on a retreat, which I’ve been blessed to do sometimes, too. But I'm, like, thinking about the actual labor of it. It actually takes time, concentrated time. Because that's also the thing: when you think about, like, the submerging required to just, like, get that flavor of what you were on so you can kind of really finish, it takes a while to just get to that flavor again. Sometimes, half the residency is just catching the scent of where you were.

Danez Smith: I just got out of a residency and it took me... it was a month-long residency, it took me a week and a half to really get in some funk. I was, like.

Angel Nafis: Yeah! Where’s the stank. Where to go, like, I’m just out here, like. So, I think part of it is, like, I'm really excited to return to what might be a concentrated, like, funk and, like, stanking on it. I'm also 29, so like truly young as fuck, and I don't know what kind of writer I'll be. Maybe I'll be the Stephen King of poems and just out here writing a book every thirty seconds, I don’t know. But, like, right now, like, that’s not how shit goes on, and I don't feel no kind of way about it other than...that’s just the way…

Danez Smith: Preach that. And take that as word, young folks, cause I wish I would have heard somebody say that. When I was, like, a little young, 20-something shortie…

Franny Choi: Agreed, agreed.

Angel Nafis: Cause also, this next book, who knows! It might not be, like, the truth, but it will be exactly how I wanted it. It might be that fire. But it also might just be exactly what I had in mind.


Angel Nafis: I could talk about something else that's, like, not even poems.

Danez Smith: Let's talk about not poems. What not poems are happening in your life right now? What are you thinking about?

Angel Nafis: Well… A n***  just had to change her insurance.

Danez Smith: (GROWL) Can I tell you… I’m in a fight with my insurance right now.

Angel Nafis: I’m, I’m, honestly, I’m not in one with mine, but I am in one with mine. Right? Like, bless these little grants, bless all these things, these fellowships. Bless, forever bless. Don’t get me wrong. But let me tell you that fucked up my little game that I had with my little Medicaid free insurance, n***? And now I’m here paying all this high-ass insurance, bitch.

Danez Smith: Once you make too much money that one year…

Angel Nafis: That one year, like it was the… Like, this is not my normal situation. It was that one year when somebody was feeling me. And now you got me fucked up.

Danez Smith: Yep.

Angel Nafis: So now they got me paying these crazy monthly shit. And now I’m, like, alr’, let me get my little money’s worth. So bitch just been out here getting every kind of blood test, every kind of fucking... going to the dentist every other day, like, I'm just out there.

Franny Choi: Physical therapy…

Angel Nafis: So that’s what  I’m on, it’s actually me and my dentist, like, having handshakes, like, I'm just there.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I hadn't been to the dentist in mad long, like, if you don’t have insurance, you just, like, don't go unless, like, you’re in pain.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: And so I hadn't been. This is truly embarrassing, but I hadn’t been to the dentist since I moved to New York, pretty much.

Danez Smith: Oh wow.

Angel Nafis: Which was.. I moved there when I was twenty.

Danez Smith: It’s been five years right now, so, I’m catching that.

Angel Nafis: But I figured, hey, a n*** brushes her teeth. How bad could it be. But it might be really bad, right. Because, like, my family has, what you call it, horse mouth, like, nice in the front and fucked in the back. So I was, like, oh no, imma be out here. I'm going to have 13 cavities. There's no way. Did you know a n*** only had four? Praise be.

Danez Smith: Come on!

Franny Choi: Wooo!

Angel Nafis: And guess who else had four, Shira. But guess who had been to the dentist and flossed, and does everything.

Franny Choi: Shira.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: So really, it’s just hard to say. Sometimes you get this ill hand, sometimes you don’t. But anyways, so I’d never had a cavity filling before. I go to Callan-Lorde—shout-out to Callan-Lorde, which is named after Audre Lorde and some other n*** named Callan, and it's, like, a gay, LGBTQ health center in the city, that’s my, like doctor and...

Danez Smith: They doing dental work?

Angel Nafis: They do dental work.

Danez Smith: They doing gay teeth?

Angel Nafis: My little gay-ass amazing dentist just was up there talking, chatting, like, it was poppin’...

Danez Smith: Oh, he single?

Angel Nafis: I don’t know, but I think he did say something about husband one time.

Danez Smith: I need you to plant some seeds of deception for me; I need a dentist in my life.

Angel Nafis: But what I wanna say to you guys…

Danez Smith: What that mouth do.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: That’s what he asks. How is the mouth situation? (LAUGHING) So… but I’m always flossing. I floss every night. You really need your teeth.

Danez Smith: You do.

Angel Nafis: You really fucking do. And like, when it really becomes a situation.. it’s, like, 20K. And so I just want to put it out there, y’all, like, floss. I love poems, I love not giving a fuck…

Danez Smith: This is the most PSA we’ve ever…

Angel Nafis: Honestly, you need to be flossing, bitch, cause you will not have these shits and you need them. It's not, like, naah, I'll just, like, keep it pushing, like, you can't eat.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Also if there are any, like, funders listening, the true fellowship would be health care.

Angel Nafis: Yeah, exactly!

Danez Smith: The true fellowship is like… the Poetry in America presents, you know, these surgeries.

Angel Nafis: Y’all, this series of surgeries.

Danez Smith: Here's lifelong health insurance. That's the fellowship. Don’t pay me no money out of pocket, just send me these premium every month.

Angel Nafis: Just send me this yum premi-a-zo. Because it’s…  like real out here. I just want us to be healthy. I be looking at all these... Patti Smith, actually, she gave, like, a wild good commencement address to … I think it was Pratt, I think that’s where she went. The first thing she said was, like, guys, just take care of your teeth. Let me tell you.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) At the commencement speech.

Angel Nafis: I see you all here, like, you think that rock and roll is cool, but do you know what’s fucking cool? Flossing.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: So that’s what I’m on right now, just feeling normal and regular. And, like, I never really had that stretch where I just was, like, that's what I was on. Sometimes people are, like, what are you doing tonight, and I'm, like, bitch, I'm going to go pick up the kind of toilet paper where you have, like, 36, so you got mad shit for later, get some shit for dinner, Shira and me are gonna make a bomb-ass meal, and then we’re gonna organize our files into our filing cabinet, and then I'm gonna floss and go to sleep. That’s the fuck I’m doing tonight.

Danez Smith: Yep. Wait, shout-out dental care, have you tried activated charcoal?

Angel Nafis: Yes, bitch, I did that right before I came to this conference! Did you know…

Danez Smith: Ah, I love it.

Angel Nafis: Yes, it’s, like, the great whitener. And, have you ever done a coconut pull?

Danez Smith: Yes.

Franny Choi: What do you mean, coconut pull?

Danez Smith: Just swishing with coconut oil. Right?

Angel Nafis: It’s coconut oil and you swish with it, and it, like, revitalizes your gums and it takes the stains off of your teeth. Bitch, it's, like, a game changer. Coconut pull, activated charcoal, boom.

Franny Choi: OK.

Danez Smith: Hmmm.

Franny Choi: Everything is charcoal, right now, everything is activated charcoal, isn’t it?

Angel Nafis: Really?

Danez Smith: It’s very healthy for you.

Angel Nafis: You gotta be careful, though, because it makes you… like doodoo yourself.

Franny Choi: What do you… what?

Angel Nafis: If you ever get food poisoning... First of all, let me tell you this real tea about the beginning of my lesbian courtship with when Shira and I met. I went to visit her in Western Massachusetts. I went to go visit this bitch, she was still living there, I was living in the city, I thought it was so cute, I was packing this cute spring bag, this bitch took me to some fuckin place... that was just… this is my spot, I should’ve known. And she got the chicken, which is what you always just should get, my little excited ass tried to get some lamb.

Danez Smith: Wait, but lamb is delicious!

Franny Choi: What’s wrong with lamb?

Angel Nafis: But was it? Was it my n****

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Because I was laid out on her floor. And this was like a first date! Because we had to visit each other to date, this was the first time we ever hung out. And I just was, like, look, I don’t know how to say this, because I’m trying to be cute to you, but I'm going to shit in your entire house, like, I’m going to throw up, and shit everywhere. And I don’t know what is good, but that is what is happening....

Danez Smith: That shit is meant to be.

Angel Nafis: ...and this bitch took me to go get some charcoal pills, we went got some charcoal pills, and I felt better immediately, because what it does is it attracts all the poison to it. So it, like, sucks it to one spot, so you immediately feel better.

Franny Choi: Like a bug zapper but for poison…

Angel Nafis: But then, like evil clockwork, my n***, like, 3 seconds later, it was just, like, (INTESTINAL NOISES) while we’re taking a cute little walk along some fucking gay-ass ravine. And I just started running… and mosquitos were…

Franny Choi: Did you shit yourself?

Angel Nafis: Al-giddy-most. Literally almost. She took me to this cafe, we, like, skirt-skirted in, I hopped out before the car even stopped, and like, hopped in, they were clearly closing, and I was like, can I use, and they were like, we’re closing, and I was like, thanks! Ran in, and just rickety-royed. And then it’s kinda like beets, where you shit red, but it’s black. So I was really…. Anyway, it’s been seven years and we’re still together. All I'm saying is, like, I don't know what you're doing, Franny, that has charcoal in it, just, be weary. Because you don’t want to swallow too much of that and be out here.

Franny Choi: I ate some pasta that had some charcoal in it.

Angel Nafis: That sounds…

Franny Choi: It was weird.

Angel Nafis: Skeptic…

Franny Choi: It was a little strange.

Angel Nafis: Yeah, everything doesn’t need to do the most.

Danez Smith: I only use it for the teeth and the detox. And a mask. With some coconut oil.

Franny Choi: For sure, for sure.

Angel Nafis: Really!? That makes sense.

Danez Smith: Activated charcoal and coconut oil in a little water… No, no water.

Franny Choi: Or in the Korean sauna where they put the charcoal on the walls, and so it steams and it sweats all the shit out of your skin.

Angel Nafis: Interesting. Yeah, I’m like down for all these tips. That's how you live.

Danez Smith: It is!

Angel Nafis: The only way I live is, like, word of mouth. If somebody is, like, have you tried this shit. Or, like, don't do that shit. That’s my whole plan. So… floss, charcoal, boom.

Franny Choi: Coconut pull…

Danez Smith and Angela Nafis: Coconut pull.

Danez Smith: And um….. put some turmeric in your face, and drink it too. Put some turmeric in your orange juice, keep that information down.

Angel Nafis: Actually, though, actually. So… that’s what I’m on, taking care of myself and feeling regular, that’s my life. 

Danez Smith: Boom. So, Angel, we would love to ask you to read a poem.

Angel Nafis: What’s your… you can type your password. Alright, imma read a sonnet, cause I’ve been talking so much shit.

Danez Smith: Yes.

Angel Nafis: I’m writing a bunch of sonnets in this next book, it’s a lot of sonnets that are persona poems in the voice of these dresses my mom made, cause she’s a dressmaker.

Franny Choi: I’m already emotional.

Angel Nafis: And it’s, like, this maybe the fifth draft of it? It might look different next time you see it. It’s called Sapphire.


Around the way girl

believe I'm for you.


Steel made pliable

to wind about your way.


Everyone wanna get close

to true. So here I go.

Cherry on top, lace overlay,

the needlework fastens

the pearl on good.


We’re so right, you say

Move over tulips

we’re a bale of fabric

garden in the hood

He curls your neck

your clean sweat

soaks the slip.


Superb on your own

but she makes us well.


But Días designs

for the real McCoy.

Her signature rich

even though pain swells.

She was the tender

we the barefoot joy.


Let me be the anti-white

flag sun shone, let me

be wrapped tight round

these holy bones.


Danez Smith: Woooof!

Franny Choi: Woof!

Angel Nafis: Little sonnet. For that ass.

Franny Choi: Can you talk about sonnets? Why sonnets, what’s going on with sonnets?

Angel Nafis: Yeah, I just, like… Again, it’s a grad school thing, where you’re, like, n***, if I don’t learn this now…

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Angel Nafis: ….tt’s not gonna get learned. Second, I started to read a ton. I was assigned a bunch. And Gwendolyn Brooks, bless, you know, was a huge formalist. Wrote.. a lot of her projects were in form, and I was just, let me just do some sonnets. And I started thinking about how I always wanted to do something with these pictures and these portraits that my mom left behind, of all these dresses that she made, and I wanted to tribute them in some way. And I never knew, like, what that would look, like, or how that would come to me, or whatever. And then, as I was thinking I wanted to do sonnets, I was learning about all of the, like, rules that go into making them and all of the… what you have to do, you know, like, there's iambic pentameter, and there's the volta, 14 lines, and then you can even do…. All that, you can do or not. And I thought about how meticulous it is. And I thought, oh, my mom was a formalist. But she was a dressmaker. It’s the same… like a form. It’s a pattern. And, you know, my instructor, Connie Voisine, shout-out, she said some wild shit to me. She said a lot of wild shit to me, she's just a huge-brained person. But she said something about how a sonnet is a container. And what's inside it should press against the container. That's how it should feel.

Danez Smith: Hmmmm.

Franny Choi: Woof!

Angel Nafis: And I thought... that’s what a dress does. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Yeah, yeah.

Angel Nafis: And I thought, oh, I’ll do sonnets. Sonnets are couture, just as a dress is a form, a sonnet is as meticulous, as handmade, it’s, like, needlepoint work, in that same way, and I thought that that could, like, honor that complex but also natural work that she did. Making a dress but making a poem. The book meditates a lot on being left but not being left all the way. And what it means to, like, transform the world, to mother you, and transform the world to be your homie in lieu of.

Danez Smith: Hmmmm.

Franny Choi: Hmmm.

Angel Nafis: And so I started thinking about the legacy of the dresses, or even not even the dresses, because I don’t have them, but I have the pictures of the dresses. And that the dresses are themselves a mothering, or they are these things left.

Danez Smith: Well, they sound like siblings, you know, like, these things, this dress in this poem, it’s speaking back, it’s also speaking to who made it. You know, speaking about that and what an honor.

Angel Nafis: So I’m figuring all of that out, but that’s sort of why the sonnet came to that. And it’s really fun and… You've said this before, you got 14 lines, say what you gotta say and get out. So that's, like, great. Because it would be easy to spin out and be, like, really in my head about such a big…

Franny Choi: For sure.

Angel Nafis: ... like, beat. And you know, I've just got all of the dresses lined up and then I have a bigger piece in the book that ties them together. I don't know, it’s the most, like, meticulous poems I've ever done. And then the series itself is very, like, unconcerned with the reader. The series is, like, sorry guys, if you don't care about this, cause I really need to talk about this. And so it feels good to have the sonnet to, like, lean on.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: For sure.


Franny Choi: We like to ask our guest to talk about something that they have encountered in the world recently that has knocked them out, knocked them to their feet, has Ko’ed their heart or their brain…

Angel Nafis: How recent are we talking? I’m trying to think about.. 

Danez Smith: In the last, like, season or two.

Franny Choi: Season, ooh, I like season.

Angel Nafis: There’s a bunch of shit that is always true. I’m trying to think of something that revealed itself and was new again to me. I guess the Franks. Frank O’Hara and Frank Ocean. They just, like, really got me through. For real! I thought about making a shirt that just says “My Franks, my Franks, my Franks.”

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I just, like, love…

Danez Smith: So many hotdogs, y’all.

Angel Nafis: So many hotdogs. What else. Or you know what? Secret shit that you just be doing for yourself creatively, that is maybe not what you normally identify with. Like, so I've been really inspired watching Shira paint. She, like, doesn't call herself a painter, but if you see anything she does…

Danez Smith: They’re amazing.

Angel Nafis: She is a clearly a painter. But it just frees her up. And so I like watching her do that. And then how much permission I feel, like, I’m like, maybe I’m gonna paint. You know what I mean? Like, I love that. And in that same vein, which is a little different, because he does think things of himself… he is a musician, Shira’s brother, Shira’s brother Shai. One day I was, like, working under deadline and just… like, a slave to the deadline. And I was bummed out about it. And Shira was, like, I'm gonna send you Shai’s music that you've never heard before to just, like, listen to. And this bitch sent me tracks upon tracks, and I just listened for the whole day. And it's all just, like, him like, quietly, like, singing and playing guitar. You know what I mean, like, it's, like, very private. So I guess I'm really interested in, like, private making. And I guess a lot of making is private, but I guess I don't just mean private, like, you're alone. I mean, like, as you're not even aware of the fact there will ever be eyes or ears on what you're doing.

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Angel Nafis: And so maybe that's actually why I love Frank's music so much. Because it sounds like that.

Danez Smith: Oh!

Angel Nafis: Yeah. Shira and were talking about…. Jamila. Like, what’s the difference between an introvert performer and an extravert performing. And she was like, an introvert to me is, like, someone who looks like they're in the room. Their eyes are closed and they're, like, you might as well not be here. I'm, like, seeing it in the fresh. You know what I mean? And it is like that, it's, like, private and alone but, like, we're blessed that she is sharing. Maybe just as I…. we all are, like, so sharing so much and being so public in what we’re making. Which is such a gift. But also wanting to retain some of the specialness that comes with, just, that kind of private …

Franny Choi: Solitude…

Danez Smith: Is there something that… I draw with crayons. I mean, like, I've been finding myself...  I doodle a lot. And I just decided to, like, up it to color.

Angel Nafis: Yeah.

Danez Smith: I’m not really drawing, like, things. It's, like, geometric whatevers. Like triangles and shit.

Angel Nafis: Oh shit! Chef’s Table. On Netflix.

Danez Smith: Chef’s Table? What’s that?

Angel Nafis: Oh shit, bitch, they’re, like mini… it’s like a Netflix series, original series. They’re, like, mini documentaries almost, but it’s a show, of chefs around the world. But, like, bomb-ass chefs. The cinematography is so beautiful. They're all varied, all these chefs, and they all have these beautiful stories about how they became chefs and why, and you just, like, follow their journey and they talk about their journey with the palate and it's, like, a really, really beautiful.

And actually, I've been playing with cooking. And that's why that made me think that. So, yeah, Chef’s Table, privateness, things that you do outside of your.. your own pocket.. Yeah.


Danez Smith: So every episode on VS we play this game called This vs. That. We’re gonna give you two things, two people, two whatever. You tell us who would win in a fight. In this corner for this one, we have Frank O'Hara. And in this corner on the other side, we have Frank Ocean. Who wins in a fight.

Franny Choi: Who wins in a fight.


Angel Nafis: I feel like O’Hara can throw hands.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)  

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Really!?

Franny Choi: Wow! That’s not what I would have expected. 

Angel Nafis: Frank Ocean is getting handled.

Danez Smith: Alright!

Angel Nafis: And, I mean, I, like, love him, but that dude is not a fighter. And Frank O’Hara is just, like… he already looks like he just got punched in the face and back up. You know what I mean?

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: I’m  just, like, Frank O’Hara is handling that. I don’t know…

Danez Smith: We love you, Frank Ocean.

Angel Nafis: It’s not because he’s, like, a singing-ass n***. It’s not that. It’s, like, something else. I was on Facebook a million years ago and a friend of mine was reposting a video of, like, someone who would come in and try to, like, stick up a store clerk. And it was, like, you know, this Southeast Asian woman, and she, like, jumped and then she looked at him, and then took the gun and, like, popped it.

Danez Smith: Ha!!! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Bitch! LMAO….  And my friend shared the video and just said, the robber came in, she looked him in the eyes, and saw not one inch about that life.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: And I just think, I look in Frank O’Hara’s eyes and I’m like, he’s about that life. And perhaps Ocean is not about that life.

Danez Smith: Not that particular life.

Angel Nafis: Not getting handled… I think it’s, like, the difference between could, in a specific situation, and, like, just kind of ready at all times.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Like w, would, like, if you step in the wrong way, will. (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Like, I feel like Frank O’Hara can’t wait, and Frank Ocean is, like, I would really love it to not come to this.

Danez Smith: OK, OK, I got you. That’s a good one, that’s a good one. So you heard it here first, Frank O’Hara, them hands. Frank Ocean, that voice! But not with hands. Not those hands.

Angel Nafis: Don’t want it.

Danez Smith: Just these feels. (LAUGHING)

Angel Nafis: Want these feels, don’t want these hands.

Danez Smith: Angel, thank you so much…for, like, popping by, talking to us.

Angel Nafis: Thank you! Let’s get out in the sun, hopefully we can do that.

Danez Smith: Do you have a website where folks can find you if they want to research a little bit more?

Angel Nafis:

Danez Smith: Boom.

Angel Nafis: @angelnafis on the gram, @angelnafis on Twitter, cause I keep it super regular… I’m out here, y’all. Y’all know where to find her.

Franny Choi: Thank you, Angel.

Angel Nafis: Thanks guys, for having me.


Danez Smith: Ooooh, that was such a good talk with Angel.

Franny Choi: I wanted her to keep talking forever.

Danez Smith: I just handed her a five, cause I was, like, this is, like, my tuition.

Franny Choi: Right? (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Keep talking, like, give me that secondhand Warren Wilson.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Secondhand Warren Wilson...

Danez Smith: I really love, like, you know, I wish sometimes we had video for this, because the way her face lights up when she talks about a teacher she loves is really gorgeous way to see. And I think, like, reminds me of, like, some really magical relationship with teachers. Who was your favorite teacher? Or, like, who’s the teacher that, like, really pivoted something for you.

Franny Choi: The wild thing is that there were so many. I remember, like, fucking every single teacher I've ever had. You know, which is, like, wild if you actually think about it. How important that kind of person is in your life. But shout-out to Tracy Anderson a.k.a. Tanderson a.k.a. coach A, who was my teacher, my English teacher twice in high school. And she was the shit. She was, like, a weirdo northern implant in Atlanta, you know what I mean, in our, like, big suburban Atlanta school and she was, like, the kind of kind of teacher who would, like, bike to school and, like, she wanted to bring us donuts one day, like, had to, like, strapped doughnuts to the rack of her bike with, like, a bungee cord and stuff. You know, I was just, like, wow, like, you exist. Like, you are strange! I love it. But I just remember she.... There was one time, like, she was really into the creative project. As, like, the final project for the unit, like, as, like, instead of writing a paper, like, you could do a creative project. And that was the first time that I, like, realized that you can do critical, academic, real-ass thinking work through a creative medium. You know what I mean? I'm, like, proving that I know the shit out of this book by writing some poems. And it was a big trajectory shift.

Danez Smith: Hmm, word.

Franny Choi: Yeah. What about you?

Danez Smith: Because I’m obvious, I'm also going to do a high school English teacher.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: But, Ms Erlich! Who was my 11th and 12th grade English teacher up.

Franny Choi: The double up!

Danez Smith: The double up.

Franny Choi: That’s huge!

Danez Smith: That’s when you know a teacher’s really good, when you go back.

Franny Choi: You go back and the second time you're not, like, mweh…

Danez Smith: What happened with Ms Erlick was, like, I cheated on our final project in 11th grade English. I just didn't have time, I was going through some personal stuff. At least I tell myself that now. And I plagiarized on our final project which is, like, worth a lot of points.

Franny Choi: You mean, like, plagiarized from…

Danez Smith: From, like, the internet and, basically, like first page Google search on, like essays. So I wrote, like, an essay and a half and, like, just plagiarized everything else about the Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and she caught me because I was easy to catch. I was not the smartest Googler back in the day. The internet was so fresh and new. And she could’ve… there was like a college in the school’s course that she could have denied me from. And she let me in the course and I, like, did, like, a whole thing where, like, the next year I was, like, I reread the same book for an individual project and, like, showed that I can actually write and think about it. And I think it was because I was always the kind of smart…. but I wasn't comfortable in that. And I think what she showed me was that there wasn't a single type of intelligence, but that my intelligence could be my own.

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Danez Smith: And I think when I first approached the book, I was just, like, oh, I think there's, like, something right to say about this. You know, and when she came to me, it wasn't about: you cheated. It was, like, you gave up on your own potential.

Franny Choi: Woo!

Danez Smith: You know, you, like, you did not rise to yourself.

Franny Choi: Wow.

Danez Smith: You know, she wasn’t mad cause I cheated, she was, like, I'm mad because you did not, like, push yourself.

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: And you could. And in certain intellectual exercises there is not a right way, there is a way that you do, and you think and you practice. Intellectualism is an individual project. And it's not something that we all agree on. Sure, like, there is a right answer to, like, some math problems. But, like, in this greater thing that we do, your smartness is your own. And I didn't really start to grasp that until I plagiarized. And I think so much of my critical thinking skills come from her. And really pushing us to define our own intelligence for ourselves.

Franny Choi: Man. That’s such a compassionate way of dealing with a case of plagiarism, too, as a teacher.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Cause she failed the crap out of me. But, like, still was, like, but you're so smart.

Franny Choi: Right, right, right.

Danez Smith: Well, shout-out to all great teachers of English, of all of their subjects….

Franny Choi: Shout-out math.

Danez Smith: Yeah! Shout-out gym.

Franny Choi: For sure! … who points students toward their own intelligence.

Danez Smith: Amen, amen.

Franny Choi: So, in the spirit of gratitude, also, we should thank some other people who made this podcast possible. Danez, who are you trying to thank?

Danez Smith: I would, like, to thank Janelle Monáe. I think, whenever it's a Janelle Monáe year, I feel it in my spirit. And, like, everything in my body and my spirit just goes, like, get gayer, get more in the future. Like, you need to be too gay in 2050 gay, right now!

Franny Choi: Wooof!

Danez Smith: I’m just, like, cool, drink some motor oil and become a robot and get gay as shit, you know, so I feel like a gay android. How about you?

Franny Choi: In a sort of similar vein I want to thank SZA. It’s less about futuristic Android queerness, but more about, like, the permission-giving for being strange and sometimes slightly frumpy.

Danez Smith: Hmm. Every time I've seen SZA in concert, she has on some bullshit..

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Danez Smith: ...and I love it. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: I love it! Love it. Love it. Than you SZA. Thank you SZA. Thank you so much. You’re so beautiful.

Danez Smith: Yeah. Wearing your flannel pajamas on stage.

Franny Choi: Flannel pajamas all day.

Danez Smith: Amen.

Franny Choi: We want to thank the Poetry Foundation, especially Ydalmi Noriega, we want to thank Postloudness, thank you Sound Asylum Studios for hosting us during this recording session. Thank you to our producer, Daniel Kisslinger, and thank you to you for hanging out with us.

Danez Smith: Yeah! Make sure you follow us on social medias, on Twitter and Facebook, @VSThePodcast, make sure you listen to us wherever you listen to podcasts, wherever you are listening to us right now. Make sure to tell your kids, tell your wife and tell your husband, because we’re podcasting for everybody out here. (LAUGHING) Until the next time! Y’all be safe…

Franny Choi: Until they cut us off.

Danez Smith: Don’t do nothing too stupid. We'll see y’all next time, do everything stupid. Bye bye bye.

Franny Choi: Bye!

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)





Angel Nafis is paying attention. She talks with Danez and Franny about learning to rescale her sight, getting through grad school with some new skills in her pocket, activated charcoal, and her two Franks (Ocean and O’Hara).

More Episodes from VS
Showing 1 to 20 of 29 Podcasts
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  9. Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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