Nate Marshall vs. Fear
Danez Smith: She’s the questionable politics to my CNN anchor, Franny Choi.
Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) And they’re the all-black remake of Mama Mia called “Damn Ma”, Danez Smith.
Danez Smith: And you are listening to VS, the podcast where poets confront the ideas that move them.
Franny Choi: Brought to you by The Poetry Foundation and Post Loudness.
Danez Smith: Wow Franny, I have to admit you really took me the hell out with that “Damn Ma”. That might be one of my favorites.
Franny Choi: As I was writing it I was very conflicted about whether it was okay to say, and therefore I wrote this little tune. (SINGING) Is it racist, or is she just my friend? And if I say this will our friendship end? Here in the studio I have many things I want to say, but if I say them I fear I will lose subscribers one day.
Danez Smith: And I must also say, that the tune is a god damn jam.
Franny Choi: Thank you, thank you.
Danez Smith: How you feeling?
Franny Choi: I’m good, how are you.
Danez Smith: I’m pretty good. I had some stress dreams last night.
Franny Choi: Girl, I had stress dreams too.
Danez Smith: Did you? What was your stress dream about?
Franny Choi: Everyone got into an uber pool without me and then left me behind.
Danez Smith: Oh, my stress dreams were a little more — Well, they were just that my ex … I was looking at porn on the internet in my dream, and then I came across a video of me. I had been secretly recorded, which I guess is like a deep down fear of mine; not necessarily that I’d be on the internet doing porn, but that I wouldn’t have a chance to do my make up before. (LAUGHING) What’s a weird phobia you have?
Franny Choi: I’ve been afraid of heights my entire life. Second story fire escape kind of thing. I was sort of over it, and then a person who was really close to me in college passed away when he fell off a roof. Since then I’ve had a lot of trouble with hanging out on a roof in a fun way. But the other day, being with Fati for her book release and hanging out on the roof of that building, I think it helped me ease back into being okay with being in that setting. Friendship is the answer as always. What about you?
Danez Smith: I’m also scared of height.
Franny Choi: Heights are scary! That’s fucking dangerous.
Danez Smith: Heights are scary. I’ll ask for a lower hotel room. But I’m also scared of snakes, which is weird, because I am one (LAUGHING). But if I see a snake on t.v. I have to like pick up my feet off the floor, because I feel them in the room now.
Franny Choi: Is it because they don’t have arms, so they seem sneaky?
Danez Smith: I think I just see too much of myself in them. It’s like a slithery mirror.
Franny Choi:(LAUGHING) Like I don’t like that, I don’t trust it, I know what it can do.
Danez Smith: I just don’t think… They're not from here. Them, cats and octopuses are the aliens. I think the aliens that want to kill us most are cats, but second to that, snakes.
Franny Choi: Yeah, snakes don’t depend on us for their treats.
Danez Smith: No, no. They’re a long cold blooded shoe lace and I don’t trust that.
Franny Choi: I think that what we’ve talked about are both irrational and rational fears. Those stress dreams are always about those fears that are kind of related to those things that are already haunting our lives. I think those phobias show up not just in our dreams but also in our poems as well. The dream of you finding yourself in a pornographic video type is actually a poem that I can 100% picture you writing, you know what I mean?
Danez Smith: Tots, tots, tots. I got a draft of it this morning, trust. Like, what are you lying to me about? (LAUGHING) I’m excited to talk about fears and joys and all the rest of the stuff with our guest today, Mr. Nate Marshall.
Franny Choi: Nathaniel Armsted Marshall, aka Nate Marshall, is someone who is really engaging with a lot of these fears, both rational and maybe irrational in his work and also in the conversation around his work.
Danez Smith: Nathaniel Armsted Marshall (LAUGHING) is the author of Wild Hundreds, he is a poetry editor at Haymarket for their Break Beat Poets Imprint, he is the editor of Break Beats Anthology —
Franny Choi: Professor at Wabash College.
Danez Smith: One half of Crescendo Literary with Eve Ewing.
Franny Choi: A member of the Dark Noise Collective —
Danez Smith: which we are also members of, and just a general cute ass, smart ass, bald motherfucker.
Franny Choi: Bald and kind.
Danez Smith: Bald and kind, how I like them. Why don’t we just get into this thing with Nate?
Franny Choi: Yay.
Danez Smith: We are here in the studio with Nate Marshall. What’s up Nate, how you feeling?
Nate Marshall: Greetings. I’m good, I’m drinking a delicious carbonated beverage —
Franny Choi: A tiny, tiny Dr Pepper.
Danez Smith: You’re working on a second book, right?
Nate Marshall: I’m working on a second book. It’s called Finna, unless that changes.
Danez Smith: How’s it different from working on Wild Hundreds?
Nate Marshall: That shit is terrifying. This shit is very scary. Everything I do in poetry I often think of in terms of music, mainly hip hop. There’s so many great first albums, or at least first albums that have a really great character and quality to them, and then there’s so many trash second records. I remember reading an interview somewhere, Dead Prez was talking about making their first album and they were like, we thought this was it, so we poured our entire selves into this first record. Then it kind of inexplicably became this hit, so then you have the label and you have an audience now coming back to you 18 months later like, sup? It’s sort of why I think second records tend to be bad, because the first one is decades in the making, that’s what everything leads up to. Then the second one is like oh cool, I did that thing that people liked, now let me reproduce that in a year. Wild Hundreds was probably like about a five year thing. You drop a book, there’s all the running around that happens with that book. At least for me, it takes some time for me to sit down and be like okay, I’ve turned the page on that project, now we are in new project land. It’s maybe only been about a year that I’ve had the full weight of whatever focus I can muster toward this project.
Franny Choi: What’s terrifying about it though?
Nate Marshall: I like the terror.
Danez Smith: Terror isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A scared hand sometimes is a steady hand when it comes to writing.
Franny Choi: I don’t know, that’s a big word. Do you want to open you rdrink?
Nate Marshall: I got this. Okay, I’ll open it.
Danez Smith: Even that sound was refreshing.
Franny Choi: I know right? The years of Coca Cola commercials have me Pavlovian trained.
Danez Smith: I wish that’s the sound I made when I came.
Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) So dignified.
Nate Marshall: (LAUGHING) Right?
Danez Smith: Very posh.
Franny Choi: So posh.
Nate Marshall: So the terror. In some ways, the terror is useful and I lean into it. Part of that is knowing I’m doing something right. Yes I’ve grown and changed, and think differently and am different than the first book, so this book will be different in all those necessary ways. But I’m also thinking about some of the limitations of the first book, and wanting to push myself past that. If I can talk specifically about the projects —
Danez Smith: Yeah, it’s a podcast.
Nate Marshall: Right, true. One of the things I think about in Wild Hundreds is I think the “I” narrator, who’s pretty close to me though not exactly me, in some ways is the heroic figure of the text. Not that he gets off scott free, but you generally feel good about that narrator.
Franny Choi: You’re rooting for him.
Nate Marshall: Right. This book feels very different than that. I think that’s certainly an important practice for me personally, but it’s also frightening to say things that might make people not root for you, or at least the avatar version of you that’s presented in the work.
Franny Choi: Right, which most people are like oh, that’s Nate.
Nate Marshall: Right. Which is kind of racist anyway, but that’s another —
Danez Smith: But that feels really different than the terror of the sophomore curse. That is one particular kind of terror, which is like how do I make a shining moment happen again? But what you’re talking about is more of a sociological terror, which is like how do I be fucked up in public?
Nate Marshall: I think it’s both. How do I do what is perhaps useful and necessary difficult work that might reveal something about me to people that might make them think less of me or differently of me or whatever, but it’s also I might do that and make people think those things, and it also might not be good? It’s like the worst of both worlds. It’s like what we should’ve actually called the Jay Z R-Kelly album.
Danez Smith: It was actually a terrible album.
Nate Marshall: It was not good.
Franny Choi: It could also be the best of both worlds. That risk could pay off in doing some ground breaking work when it comes to conversations about masculinity and about x, y, z, and then it could be like wow, Nate Marshall out did himself, amazing.
Nate Marshall: That’s why i talk to you Franny! Sure, yes.
Franny Choi: I believe in you Nate Marshall, I do.
Danez Smith: I have doubts.
Nate Marshall: Perfect. No, this is why I struggle with dating apps. It’s hard for me to look at a set of infinite possibilities and be like, maybe the nice thing will happen. Which is sort of what you just said. That is also tinder.
Danez Smith: Are you telling me you’re swiping left on your book? You just deleted the app.
Nate Marshall: I’m like this close to deleting the app. I’m like, do I need Microsoft word? Maybe not! Let me just shut down my Google suite. Fuck it all.
Danez Smith: That’d be so sad if the second book was so terrifying that Nate Marshall became an accountant.
Nate Marshall: I have deep fantasies; maybe in five years I’ll do nothing related to poems.
Franny Choi: Do you really? Why? And how would you do nothing related to poems?
Nate Marshall: Easily, just get a job.
Danez Smith: Target be hiring.
Franny Choi: You have too many degrees to be working —
Nate Marshall: I could go get my commercial drivers license. My dad has a college degree and he used it for three weeks and was like this is not very fun, I’m going to get a CDL. He’s been driving for decades. He drives trucks to water departments, which takes no degrees.
Franny Choi: What would be your completely non-poetry job?
Nate Marshall: It could be retail. I don’t think I’d ever want to own a thing, but I think I’d be a dope ass shift manager at Macy’s.
Danez Smith: You would be a dope ass shift manager. Can I get that friends and family?
Nate Marshall: Always.
Danez Smith: Can I back track a little bit though, before we get too caught up.
Nate Marshall:(LAUGHING) Please.
Danez Smith: Finna, this new project, it speaks a lot about language and masculinity in this project. What about masculinity feels the scariest to say, as Nate Marshall, as the possible speaker of Wild Hundreds, what have been some of the scarier conversations you’ve had to have or admit to yourself as you make your way through the second collection.
Nate Marshall: Initially the book didn’t begin as the excavation into masculinity that it’s become. It really began as being playful with black language. It was a bunch of slang shit, those were the first poems. But I think one of the things it made me think about was the way that — I don’t want to say toxic masculinity, because I feel like that phrase is unhelpful — how there’s a violence that’s baked into much of my language, and a language that’s baked into me, that’s central to how I think. Confronting that and placing that on the page in ways that still feel rigorous and based in craft, but that are also maybe doing this important thought work and heart work. That is scary. It’s just scary to think about damn, even down to the level I say, there’s an oppression I’m complicit. That I’m an agent of, not simply a victim of or a survivor of. If there’s an antagonist to Wild Hundreds, it’s all these systems of power that I’m not necessarily at the top of; the housing structure was racist, the educational structure was racist.
Danez Smith: There’s a definite “they”.
Nate Marshall: Right, if I’m now the “they”, or if I’m a part of the “they”, then —
Franny Choi: I hear that, and I also think maybe you’re not giving Wild Hundreds enough credit. It’s also littered with these moments where the speaker is navigating that he’s been shaped by the environment too.
Danez Smith: Yeah, I agree. But I think what I’m hearing in Nate and maybe my own understanding of Nate’s poems; I think this is the harder part of autobiographical work, or work that can be seen to be at least somewhat sourced from autobiography. If Wild Hundreds is Sleeping Beauty, this is Maleficent. (LAUGHING). Now there just has to be this hero’s investigation. There is another version of this book that Nate’s writing that’s still about everyone else’s masculinity, that’s still pointing a finger and being like men are trash, but what happens when that finger also wags at the self? Which I think feels different than what’s going on in Wild Hundreds. Wild Hundreds, phenomenal book and it still follows those same tropes as a first book where there’s a coming of age story, narrative. Nobody feels bad for a grown nigga. I also always picture a little, cute Nate running around in the first couple poems in Wild Hundreds.
Franny Choi: Bitch isn’t cute anymore.
Nate Marshall: Truly not.
Danez Smith: Handsome, handsome.
Nate Marshall: Distinguished (LAUGHING). Grizzled. Rode hard and put away wet — that’s what they say in Texas.
Danez Smith: Rode hard and put away wet?
Nate Marshall: Yeah, like a horse.
Danez Smith: Oh.
Franny Choi: That’s my next book of poems.
Danez Smith: That sounds like how I leave my man’s house. I was rode hard and put away wet.
Franny Choi: It’s the put away that’s unconscionable.
Danez Smith: Okay, well when you’re not writing your own books you’re also editing them. The BreakBeats Anthology, the first version you edited. Shout out to the new anthology —
Nate Marshall: Shout out to Black Girl Magic.
Danez Smith: Shout out to Black Girl Magic, edited by a team of bad women: Jamila Woods, Mahogany Brown and —
Nate Marshall: Idrissa Simmonds.
Danez Smith: You are now the editor of the BreakBeats Imprint? Tell our listeners a little bit more about what that looks like.
Nate Marshall: So it’s this imprint we’re doing with Haymarket Books, curated by myself and Kevin Coval, and I think the idea’s just to be able to put books we think should be in the world in a variety of ways. That happens in a few ways. Number one, it’s the continuation of these anthology projects. There’ll be Halal If You Hear Me next year, edited by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo. Then there’s a Latinex joint coming, and a few other ones that are in the pipelines. There’s that piece of the project and then these single author collections. A lot of first books, though not exclusively. I had a change to edit Eve’s book Electric Arches, José’s book Citizen Illegal, Brittany Black Rose Kapri’s book, Black Queer Hoe —
Danez Smith: Shout out to all our VS guests in the past.
Nate Marshall: Right. We’re also doing Chicago Youth Poet Laureate’s chapbook every year. We’ve talked about doing some sort of chapbook contest, because I don’t presume everyone who’s worth publishing is in my phone. I think as I deal with the terror of that next collection… My favorite part of the book process is the end. Okay, you have x number of poems, how do you put them together in a way where they create a larger metapoem? That is actually my favorite part. To be able to help other people do that piece of it is very exciting.
Franny Choi: What is it about that part of the process you enjoy so much?
Nate Marshall: It reminds me of being in high school and working on rap albums and mix tapes. We’d have a bunch of songs that we’d made, be like alright, I think we have an album here. We’d listen to all of them. We’d each write down what we thought a track list could be, and then we would burn CDs, which is a very old fashioned sentence.
Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) There’s some listeners like what would we do to the CDs?
Danez Smith: Yeah, like why are they doing that to cross dressers? (LAUGHING
Nate Marshall: So we would burn CDs of the alternate track listings and listen to them. That was how we got our sequencing; just take one home every day and be like okay, how does this work? How does this blend into this?
Franny Choi: So it was a collaborative process then. It makes sense that you would like that.
Nate Marshall: I just enjoy sequencing.
Franny Choi: I also can imagine that the writing of poems and the writing of a book is also some really nebulous shit where there’s never a right answer to any of it, so to have that satisfaction of putting things in order, I definitely relate to that.
Nate Marshall: Yeah. And it’s satisfying. Especially when you know you’re pretty far from that point yourself, to be able to say okay I will pause my ish for a second and help get someone else across that finish line, it’s deeply satisfying.
Danez Smith: It probably also feeds your desire to be active in community. When we think about who you are, so much of your work beyond just the work of you moving your hands across a keyboard or a page is you enabling other folks to be their best selves, whether that be in your family, in your friend groups — Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.
Nate Marshall: (LAUGHING) I hate you guys.
Franny Choi: Speaking of sequencing books and poems, thank you for getting my shit in order.
Danez Smith: But also the block party, which I had a chance to go to this year. Nate runs the Chicago Poetry Block Party with Eve Ewing as their project with Crescendo —
Nate Marshall: Crescendo Literary.
Danez Smith: Crescendo Literary, my bad. With The Poetry Foundation, specifically Ydalmi Noriega, who is our hero of this podcast. First off, how was the block party? And what do you hope the block party does?
Nate Marshall: The block party was dope. It was a lot of fun, this is the third year we did it in 2018. We got a chance to take it to the west side of Chicago for the first time, which was really cool. My father’s originally from the west side which a lot of people don’t know. I’m of mixed parentage (LAUGHING) My father is a west sider, so there it is. The block party is a project that’s really important to me and really important to Eve I think. We grew up in these poetry communities that were really dynamic and exciting and really felt like — we say poetry community all the time, often that doesn’t mean very much.
Danez Smith: No. We’re not actually talking about community, we’re talking about people who all do the same thing.
Nate Marshall: Right, we’re talking about a field. We’re talking about a professional field which is a different thing.
Franny Choi: Industry maybe?
Nate Marshall: Right, industry.
Danez Smith: Poetry industrial complex.
Nate Marshall: Yikes. So I’m interested in being a part of communities in meaningful ways, and the way poetry can be a part of that process. Chicago like many places has a really great ecosystem of literary events and cultural events. Most of those things happen downtown or happen in particular neighborhoods in particular parts of the city. One of the things I really appreciate about the block party is we try really hard to be thoughtful about what does it mean to have a premier top tier cultural event in a neighborhood that maybe people outside the neighborhood don’t go to. THat’s just mad important to me.
Franny Choi: For people who have not been, can you explain what happens at it?
Nate Marshall: Yes. Chicago Poetry Block Party; we have a bunch of stuff. We have bouncy house first and foremost, which is terrifying.
Franny Choi: Why is it terrifying? What do you mean?
Nate Marshall: We’ll talk, we’ll talk. We have a stage. On that stage we have musical performers and poets. We do free workshops. We do an open mic after those free workshops. We always have The Happiness Club and youth performers, so dancers. For me one of the most important parts of the day is we have a number of community organizations and activist organizations and spaces of resources that are tabling. Maybe people come because they’re like oh, there’s a bouncy house for the kids. Then they’re like oh, what’s going on at the Field Museum, or what is For The People Artist Collective, let me go to their table and see.
Franny Choi: Love a good tabling fare.
Danez Smith: Now, this bouncy house.
Franny Choi: You said terrifying?
Nate Marshall: Yeah man. Because, children. Children are terrifying. Especially … This is the thing. I don’t have kids, and perhaps there’s a reason for that.
Danez Smith: Condoms.
Nate Marshall: Truly, shout out. I would like to thank condoms, I would like to thank Rowe v. Wade.
Franny Choi: Rowe v. Wade, oh.
Nate Marshall: And I would like to thank the threats from my mother I grew up with for keeping my child free to this point. Also because kids in bouncy houses all become superhero wrestlers. I will live forever, I will never die, they’re all the Hulk. It’s terrifying, but it’s great. There were a few situations in the bouncy house that I had to go into the bouncy house to diffuse.
Franny Choi: Oh no.
Nate Marshall: All the usual authority you would have as an adult on solid ground you loose in the bouncy house.
Franny Choi: Because you can’t stay up.
Nate Marshall: You’re just a little wobbly, they’re all like yeah, it’s okay, come here. As soon as you get over there they triple flip away from you. It’s terrible.
Danez Smith: I did not survive the bouncy house but I did witness. My favorite part was I was just walking by the bouncy house and Nate was currently stationed there surviving, fighting for his life. As one child was coming out, Nate was bent down a bit, and the kid was like “That sure is a bald head”. And I’m like look at this cute moment that Nate is having with this child he obviously has history with. So I go, you know that little kid? And Nate goes I have no idea who’s child that is.
Nate Marshall: (LAUGHING) I’ve never met this child before or since.
Franny Choi: The confidence of the bouncy house.
Nate Marshall: The bouncy house is going to help me write this second book. After that experience, I’m like poems aren’t that scary turns out. You know what’s scary? A ten year old who will punch another ten year old directly in the mouth with no remorse, and then do a backflip off your ankles. That’s frightening. Poems, turns out they’re fine.
Danez Smith: Nate, have you heard from white supremacist Nate Marshall lately? Have you checked in with him?
Nate Marshall: Yeah, my cousin? My fifth cousin?
Danez Smith: Yeah, yeah.
Nate Marshall: No, we haven’t got up.
Franny Choi: For our listeners who are not up on the white supremacist Nate Marshall news —
Nate Marshall: First off congratulations. You did it, you’ve made it this far. There’s this guy in Colorado who is kind of a white supremacist, I guess the phrasing he would use is a cultural nationalist or something to that effect.
Danez Smith: I’m a cultural nationalist I guess. I want everyone to listen to City Girls across the nation.
Franny Choi: Seems different.
Nate Marshall: Not like that.
Danez Smith: Okay.
Nate Marshall: But anyway, I became aware of him a few years ago because I, like all of us because it’s 2018, have a Google alert on my name. I got mentioned in this thing, “Nate Marshall gets pushed out of the state house race in Colorado for ties to white nationalist organizations” or whatever. I was like hm, seems like maybe that’s not about the open mic I just featured at, let me find more information. There’s this dude named Marshall, he used to have this right winged radio show —
Danez Smith: Called VS, but it meant vs black people.
Nate Marshall: (LAUGHING) Oh no, oh I hate you. That’s so upsetting. But yeah, so I kept track of him. It was one of those weird cocktail party chatter things I had. Maybe a year and a half ago we had a sort of strange dust up on the internet, where he started commenting on my author page on Facebook accusing the page of being a fake page built to troll him.
Franny Choi: Wow how important do you have to think of yourself …
Danez Smith: Also, what a specific troll. I’m going to troll this white nationalist by creating a whole black poet.
Franny Choi: An entire persona and CV (LAUGHING).
Nate Marshall: It was weird. Then other people started reacting to him. Then there was one time when I did troll him.
Danez Smith: I helped in that. The whole internet did.
Nate Marshall: I basically was like here’s his twitter, I want you to say the nice things you would say to me but to him.
Franny Choi: That’s the most wholesome trolling ever.
Danez Smith: It was like hey Nate Marshall, congratulations on your Image Award nomination.
Nate Marshall: So that was weird. But he’s … I guess he’s fine. He’s out here working in roofing.
Danez Smith: Would you meet him if the opportunity —
Nate Marshall: The opportunity did present itself. I got asked to do a piece for a local magazine that was willing to fly me out to Colorado to meet him. I was like, absolutely not.
Franny Choi: Why?
Danez Smith: He’s a white nationalist.
Franny Choi: Yeah yeah, for sure for sure.
Nate Marshall: I thought about it for two seconds because I’m nosey, but basically every black woman that I trust was like, nigga that’s a terrible idea.
Franny Choi: For sure. I was just thinking about the great This American Life that would arise from such a meeting.
Nate Marshall: Which is what I thought too! I went bak to the magazine and was like, can I get security? They were like I don’t know, that might mess up the vibe. I’m like, you know what else might mess up the vibe? I don’t know what the gun laws are like in Colorado, but I can’t imagine good because it’s in America. This is a bad idea.
Franny Choi: Provided that there had been security, provided it seemed like it was safe —
Danez Smith: Let’s role play. You’re Nate Marshall and I’m Nate Marshall.
Franny Choi: Can I be the Asian Nate Marshall?
Nate Marshall: Yes. There’s a bunch of Nate Marshalls.
Franny Choi: Think there’s a Korean one?
Nate Marshall: I hope so. There is now.
Danez Smith: There’s definitely a little adopted Korean baby named Nate Marshall out there.
Nate Marshall: Perfect. This makes me want to —
Franny Choi: Adopt a Korean baby and name him Nate Marshall? (LAUGHING)
Nate Marshall: I’m not taking it off the table is what I’m saying.
Danez Smith: (SOUTHERN ACCENT) So I would like to open up with talking to you and just say —
Nate Marshall: Wow. There wouldn’t be much conversation there.
Danez Smith: Now we’re just throwing hands.
Nate Marshall: Talking about toxic masculinity, perhaps. I guess I would want to ask him questions about how he came to think the way he does, but I actually don’t know if I give a fuck. I think too much of our national conversation has come down to try to understand how white folks got so fucked up. Not that I don’t think that’s a useful project, but I don’t think it’s my project. The answer is clear; white people have become so destructive in how they approach the world because at least in the short term it’s benefited them to do so. The same is true of men, of any people that have a particular privilege, particularly a privilege unearned. I think one thing I would be interested about, because it’s a thing I’m thinking about myself and having a lot of conversations about with the men in my life about; I would probably want to have some sort of conversation about his own relationship with violence. One of the things I’m curious now as a person is tracing back our investments in violence. This is the thing, this is part of .. There’s a section in the book, not about him but that uses this idea of there being another Nate Marshall and plays that out. One of the things to me that’s striking about that is there probably are a lot of things we have in common. He probably fucking likes football. If he was actually just a guy sitting at a bar and I didn’t know him and he was willing to talk to me, we probably could drink the same shit. We might see the same person on the tv and be like, they're hot. We probably might watch the same football game and be like wow, that was an incredible play.
Franny Choi: I feel like in so many mainstream versions of this conversation, the conclusion would be we’re not so different you and I, maybe there’s common ground. But that doesn’t seem like that’s where that goes for you. Am I right?
Nate Marshall: I’m interested in acknowledging other people’s humanity —
Franny Choi: Love other people’s humanity, great.
Nate Marshall: But we’re not so different … That shit is not useful. And it’s actually dangerous. As a rule, I don’t want to get beers with white supremacist.
Franny Choi: That seems reasonable.
Nate Marshall: It’s probable that it’s happened, given life, given the world and given the places I’ve moved within that. But it’s not some shit I’m looking out for.
Franny Choi: Also, there’s an assumption about power. It’s not just two people with differing opinions on the world are sharing ideas, there’s a power differential that we have to acknowledge if we’re —
Nate Marshall: Probably multiple power differentials, probably multiple ones operating simultaneously. Shout out to other Nate Marshall.
Franny Choi: I suppose.
Nate Marshall: Shout out to all the Nate Marshalls. What’s up y’all?
Franny Choi: Shout out to Korean Nate Marshall.
Nate Marshall: Especially Korean Nate Marshall!
Franny Choi: Oh my gosh, I would love it so much if the Korean Nate Marshall emerged as a result of this podcast. You mention earlier about the investment being in tracing the ways people have understood violence. Can you talk about how you feel like you’re doing that in your work these days?
Nate Marshall: Part of it is the language thing. I think I came at that in some ways the opposite way. Becoming an adult and having many friends who identify in any variety of ways on the gender spectrum, right? So initially, like many, people struggling with using “they” for a single person. Not struggling like this is inappropriate or wrong or anything —
Franny Choi: Just forgetting to make your mouth do the thing.
Nate Marshall: Right, just syntactically. I had this revelation that actually smoothed that for me, which was oh actually coming up on the basketball court and hanging out in the park, we always used “they”.
Danez Smith: That’s some black ass shit.
Nate Marshall: Yeah, I was talking to Tank and they was all like woo woo whatever. I’ve actually been doing this my whole life. There was something about that that flipped for me. I was like wow, there is an incredible way that my language even as a very very young person opened up this possibility for me. That’s beautiful, but I also can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homophobic shit was said on those courts, often in the same sentence. Or there were ways in which we were all subject to potential violences on that same court. From doing that I was like if I have to track that back the other way, then what happens?
Franny Choi: What do you mean track that back the other way?
Nate Marshall: Just if I have to think about like that’s a place where my language has held a particular kind of freedom, an expanding possibility for how to see people. Where are the places where my language has diminished the opportunity to see people? Or has made people less free?
Danez Smith: You got any poems about that?
Nate Marshall: Oh yeah.
Danez Smith: You want to read us one?
Nate Marshall: Yeah. For sure.
Danez Smith: How do you want to give us this poem? You want to preface it a little bit?
Nate Marshall: I’ll preface it a little bit? This poem is called “Everything I’ve Called Women”. I think it will be actually in Poetry Magazine soon.
Danez Smith: There’s a check in your future.
Nate Marshall: Shout out to that, to the check.
Danez Smith: But also the poem.
Nate Marshall: This bears saying; there are words in the poem that I think I will say, that I try very hard not to say in regular language, and typically even reading a poem I would pause over them and probably not say them. But I think that they are important enough in the poem to justify saying. So I will say them.
Danez Smith: Alright get ready for this New York Times article. This podcast is now called “The Nation”.
Nate Marshall: Oh, I hope that stays in. Alright.
Everything I’ve Called Women
if i said baby you might think a certain thing but nah.
that’s only maybe what i mean, perhaps i’ll say ma
& your mind says Cam’ron, women creeping up
but i’m a changed man, & that’s not game ma.
it’s practice in high school & THOT isn’t out yet.
we’re classic Chicago & bustdowns bloom in our mouths. my Ma
spits Too $hort & the line i catch the first time
is b*tch b*tch b*tch make me rich but Ma
puts me on punishment when i whisper Ludacris
& tells me sex shouldn’t hurt. i say nothing & Ma
lets it go until a few years later when i get becky
or brain or top or dome by a white girl & Ma
tells me everything i’ve risked for this escapade.
i can’t fix my mouth to say but Ma
what i got i didn’t ask for. shorty just kinda went
& i was supposed to moan street things like hey ma
you look beautiful. & after that i moan it all
& give women a rash of nicknames there’s ma
(who calls me pa) & hollywood & princess & pop star
& doctor & lady & knee socks & ma
what’s your name i just put where we met in my phone
don’t be mad i remember our whole convo ma
& bae & baby & honey & shorty & poison & tenderoni
& when i’m lonely hey stranger. how you been ma?
& sometimes i’ve called & gotten dial tone songs
or been told Nate do you remember my name? or is that why you say ma?
Danez Smith: God damn ma.
Franny Choi: Have you read that poem in readings?
Nate Marshall: Very seldomly. Maybe once or twice.
Franny Choi: How does it feel to read that poem?
Nate Marshall: Not great. It’s definitely a scary poem to place in front of people. Part of the reason why I read this poem is because I think when I think about that fear of the second book, a lot of that encapsulates in this poem. It’s constantly flipping.
Franny Choi: We’ve talked a little bit before about this book in particular and about that question of what men gain from positioning themselves as the flawed hero, or implicating themselves. You can end up still emerging victorious and still emerging looking like the good guy for admitting the bad things. I don’t know.
Nate Marshall: Yeah, it's complicated. I’m not certain that I know what I want the reception of this book to be. There’s that very real reality of power in that men get so much credit for doing the minimum in acknowledging the ways in which they’re complicit in violence, violent structures and violent behaviors. I’m not interested in profiting off of that. I’m not interested in “Nate is such a guy”, because this isn’t the book I set out to write.
Danez Smith: The currency of this book is going to be not in the awards or whatever, it’s really going to be in the conversations. I want to put that poem in a young men’s groups hands. That’s the award of this book.
Nate Marshall: The book I wrote is because this is the shit I was struggling with and remain struggling with in my life; having to take account personally and in relationships for how I’ve fell short, how I’ve made people less safe, whatever, and wanting to plot a path forward from that. But you don’t get the path forward without having to look back and take an honest account and reckon.
Danez Smith: So we want to play ac couple games with you.
Nate Marshall: Let’s go. Love games.
Danez Smith: Well not really games. This first one is not really a game.
Nate Marshall: Hate games. Fuck games.
Danez Smith: It will not be fun.
Nate Marshall: Love fun. Hate fun. I don’t know.
Danez Smith: I love the band Fun, they were great.
Franny Choi: Oh yeah, shout out to them. I had some very basic feelings to them.
Danez Smith: Really? I love a basic feeling.
Franny Choi: Basic American feelings.
Danez Smith: Man I’ve been listening to Paramore having all the basic feelings. Paramore’s like my knockout, they’ve recently knocked me out. So we want to know what your knock out is. What is something, a piece of literature, a movie, a taco, a piece of something media let’s say that has knocked you out?
Nate Marshall: I recently read for the first time the book American Journal by Robert Hayden. He’s not writing the books that many of us are writing where they’re project based, variations on a theme or thinking of a particular theme and then digging down in that and exploring that way. But his sense of voice, his sense of persona. We’ve had this really shitty conversation unfortunately over the last few weeks about this poem is not very good that engages persona. Why are we talking about then, when there’s someone who’s truly a master of that? Who can write a convincing, rigorous, thoughtful persona poem in the voice of fucking Phylis Wheatley, the first in our lineage. Also, from the voice and perspective of a fucking alien. That’s how that book is book ended. It literally goes from the genesis of Negro literature —
Danez Smith: To Sun Raw.
Nate Marshall: Right! I was like oh man, nobody’s ever done it this good.
Franny Choi: Are there things that book is teaching you about Finna?
Nate Marshall: Yeah. How to write empathetically, and how to write thoughtfully. One thing about Hayden that’s interesting is in some ways he gets discarded by many folks for years because of this idea that he’s not black enough. I’m thinking about that, and I’m also thinking about that last poem which is one of my favorite poems I’ve ever read, “American Journal”, that is from the perspective of this alien or these visitors.
Franny Choi: I think that was one of the first poems you showed me. That was like the beginning of our friendship. Sorry.
Nate Marshall: There it is. That poem makes me think a lot about the experience of masculinity, or the experience of seeing a violence system and feeling both attracted to it and entranced by it, and understanding that it will destroy everything.
Danez Smith: So speaking of violence, we want to make some shit fight.
Nate Marshall: Let’s go.
Danez Smith: We have a little game we like to play here on this show called This vs. That. We’re going to give you a this and we’re going to give you a that. We want you to decide who would get they ass whooped and who would be victorious.
Nate Marshall: Any superhero things, I’m very excited about. Any Harry Potter based things, also really happy to talk about.
Danez Smith: Alright, Voldemort vs The Joker?
Nate Marshall: Oh my god. Oh, that’s actually really good. Oh. Can I talk it out?
Danez Smith: Please, we love math. Show your work.
Nate Marshall: We want to say Voldemort because Voldemort has fucking magic, and not just magic but we can safely say the three or four most powerful wizards ever. Like him, Merlin, Dumbledore, and Hermoine, because Hermoine really is carrying the team, let’s keep it a buck. That’s your top four. But the joker also deeply ruthless, incredibly strategic, but also deeply chaotic. This is the thing; I have no confidence that the joker will survive, but I’m certain he’ll make Voldemort suffer.
Franny Choi: What does he have?
Nate Marshall: I don’t know, but Batman has been chasing that motherfucker for 50 fucking years. Yeah, Batman doesn’t have superpowers but he has billions of dollars which is basically the same thing. Let’s be honest. I’m going to say the joker, in an upset. In an upset. Because also one of the things, Voldemort’s ultimate weakness that the joker can exploit; he’s incredibly arrogant and he underestimates everyone around him. Especially a muggle because he’s so powerful.
Franny Choi: I only just realized that Voldemort would think of joker as a muggle. He is a muggle but I just forgot that those world views were also —
Nate Marshall: He’s not rolling in with a plan. He’s going to roll in and maybe want to have fun with it. He’s going to be like oh, let me give you the Cruciatus curse and torture you for a little bit or whatever. In the time that his arrogance would buy, the joker would wreak absolute havoc. Give me the joker, put it on the board. The joker might die but he’s taking Voldemort with him.
Franny Choi: Amazing. You heard it here first.
Danez Smith: You heard it here first. Nate Marshall everybody.
Franny Choi: Hottest take of the year.
Danez Smith: Hottest take of the year, we might get canceled by the Harry Potter community. Franny, talk to your people. Nate, we just want to thank you so much for coming in to the podcast. What should folks be looking out for? Where can they find you? Do you want them to find you?
Nate Marshall: You can find me on the southside probably at a Harrold’s chicken or somewhere where they serve salad when I’m feeling shameful for all the chicken I eat. I’m on the internet. You can put a Google alert on Nate Marshall and just see what comes up.
Franny Choi: See what comes up, roll the dice!
Nate Marshall: No, natemarshallpoetry.com, @illuminatemics all one word, illuminatemics on all the social media. Yeah, thank you guys for having me.
Danez Smith: Thank you for coming.
Franny Choi: We love you Nathaniel.
Nate Marshall: Love you guys too.
Danez Smith: I think I do. — That was so exciting to talk to Nate about all those things. You know what, I had such a good time interviewing Nate Marshall that I want to interview white supremacist Nate Marshall, just to balance it out. Wait, hold up, what’s white Franny like? Who is white Franny?
Franny Choi: Like if there’s a white doppelgänger Franny Choi? Franny Charles? Franny Charles is like a basic pretentious, her favorite movie is 500 Days of Summer, she went to the record store to purchase the sound track of 500 Days of Summer, bitch. She has great politics but all she does is screen printing. That’s all she does.
Danez Smith: I like that. White Danez, he’s not Danez. He’s Dane Zachary, so he’s Dane Z. Smith. Let’s be real. If he is Danez, that means his mom went to some Arabic country to find herself.
Franny Choi: Either that or he’s a huge Danez Smith fan.
Danez Smith: Yo, if there’s a pregnant white girl listening to this, if you like my poems so much, name your white baby Danez. I allow it. You say you like my poems, prove it.
Franny Choi: We should totally start a social media name your white baby Danez campaign.
Danez Smith: We should. But Dane Z he’s an asshole. He’s always showing up places being like, just to play devil’s advocate.
Franny Choi: He’s like as belligerent as you but on the other side of things.
Danez Smith: Yeah. He’s like a trust fund baby but he cuts his own hair. Wears the same grey sweatshirt everyday and doesn’t even work for a tech company but he’s investing in them so whatever. He has way more money than me honestly. And he’s a closeted homosexual.
Franny Choi: He sure is.
Danez Smith: Still using those masculine pronouns. Poor baby. He’ll find himself one day. He’ll get a tan enough and turn into me.
Franny Choi: Shout out to our white ghost counterparts and shout out to some other people too who helped make us possible.
Danez Smith: Let’s give a shout out to our favorite whites. I think I want to give a shout out to the biggest white of them all, Sandra Bullock. Sandra Bullock, I just want to thank you for everything you've done. You gave us Ms Congeniality, and for that I will never confuse you with Julia Roberts again. You do your thing girl. Shout out.
Franny Choi: On another white actress legend tips I want to shout out Nicole Kidman. Nicole Kidman is a bad white woman.
Danez Smith: Have you seen Big Little Lies?
Franny Choi: I haven’t yet but it’s because I think it’ll make me too in love with her.
Danez Smith: Oh, she does the damn thing. Pure white excellence.
Franny Choi: Love it, love that skinny nose. I love the prosthetic nose in The Hours. I love all of it. You actually made me a fan of Virginia Wolf. I went from Nicole Kidman to Virginia Wolf, that was my pipeline. Let’s thank some other people who made this shit possible. We want to thank the Poetry Foundation especially Ydalmi Noriega our hero. Thank you Post Loudness. Thank you as always to our producer Daniel Kisslinger.
Danez Smith: Make sure you share and subscribe whatever you may be using to listen to podcasts, SoundCloud, on the Poetry Foundation’s website or on Apple Podcast. If you like what you’re hearing and you want other people to also maybe hear this, think about leaving a rating and a review. If you don’t have a dope review, then just smash your phone against the wall and maybe don’t listen to us anymore. It’s been a long time, we shouldn’t have left y’all without a dope beat to step to —
Franny Choi: Step to, step to.
Danez Smith: But we promise promise promise we will have an episode coming out every two weeks from here until the end of the year. You don’t have to scratch at night waiting for another VS episode to come out, we back. Please follow us on all social @VSthePodcast. And other than that y’all, we love you.
Franny Choi: From the bottom of our bowls.
Danez Smith: To the top of my spleen, I love you.
Franny Choi: That’s a good area.
Danez Smith: We’re going to get out of here before we get too silly. Bye y’all.
Franny Choi: Bye!
VS hosts Danez and Franny chop it up with poet, editor, professor, and bald-headed cutie Nate Marshall. They discuss the terror of a new book, white supremacist Nate Marshall, masculinity and hero narratives, Voldemort vs. the Joker, and much more. Be sure to subscribe to VS, and leave us a wonderful review on iTunes to help the show grow!