Interviews

"A lot of what I’ve been thinking about is prohibition—like, what is allowed to be said and by whom? People I’ve talked to feel afraid to speak—and these are poets of color I’m talking about, who might have complicated views or views that don’t tow a party line. I’ve been thinking about what it would look like if we opened spaces, with open hearts, for difficult, imperfect conversations in which we don't all agree, where we are all open to growth and new thinking around race and poetics."

"The black female body is an invention of conventional thought. It has been conceived, at least in the West, via a series of manipulations, perceptions, and racist interventions by institutions—intellectual, political, and popular alike. I believe in the black female body only in so far as one is an individual who might make certain claims about their own legitimate being in the world. But that is difficult. How do we know ourselves except through the eyes of the other?"

"Formally the poem wants to operate outside of its own container. It wants to resist being the very thing we call “poem.” This acting out looks a little like a restless itch. The poem knows that it will be pulled back into a kind of familiar self, but it wants that way of being to feel more splayed than the page permits. With regard to both form and content, tension lies in this oxymoronic containment that cannot be true containment. If we buy into these thoughts about the inevitability of the leak, it speaks, I think, to the probability that power, too, is not absolute. You can access power even in the most repressive circumstances. This can save you temporarily, but probably not in the end."

"Are there languages of hierarchy that can attend to the difference between the lack of privilege experienced by the black body in America and the overt censorship in some countries where speaking can be punishable by imprisonment or death? Truthfully, I’m unsure. Does the American writer have a responsibility to recognize their own “privilege” as it relates to the struggle to speak in an international context? I would hesitate to use the word “responsibility,” as it depends certainly on the subjectivity of the American and their relationship to speaking."

"When my work does speak to audiences, when it creates audiences around it, I feel a little less crazy because what that means is that there are folks out there who are interested in thinking about themselves and the world through a prism. The prism is a labor and there can be a pleasure in labor. I reach readers rather unintentionally, I think, and those readers likely connect with the slant, the off-kilter, the part of the road you can barely see from the well-traveled road. So, when I’m writing, I’m not thinking about audience at all. Instead, I’m trying to see behind those shrubs, down that hidden path. We’re the weirdos of the world and there are so many weirdos."

"To experiment, I think, is to play, to not be bound by convention, to operate toward discovery, to be willing to fail—from the Latin experiri meaning “to test, to try.” I’m always talking to my students about “productive failure” because they get all caught up in making this perfect, polished, little darling of a poem. Experimentation is liberation from that notion. What it produces, I don’t know. I do think, though, that black poets and other poets of color often do a kind of cultural work in their attention to the experimental."