When In Doubt, What Would Audre Do?
The poet, educator and Cave Canem Fellow takes a moment to sit down and talk with Kore Biters about her guiding stars, poems as lovers and why one “can’t be afraid of the Dig.”
Are you still at odds with your “lover scorned” in “the body exacts its revenge,” or have you found a way to co-exist?
I’d like to think we’re making amends. Aging is a terrifying thing for me because I work with young people all day, so (some days) I leave feeling exhilarated and young. Then my body will do something dumb to check my youthful optimism.
What is a day in the life of a New York City high school teacher?
Copies. Copious amounts of copies. Class with beautiful brown students who keep me cool. Admin struggles. Bureaucratic bullshit. Brown bag lunch. Dearth of resources. Dehydration. Piles of papers to grade. Then I head home where there is whiskey, or wine, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, the woman.
What poets are your guiding stars?
Lucille Clifton. Audre Lorde. Wanda Coleman. Ai. are all suns in my universe.
Any favorite young slam poets?
nope. i’m so unaware of that scene these days.
Describe your Brooklyn in 10 words.
bed-stuy fly. rent too high. gentrification do or die.
How do you queer it?
What is this “it” i’m queering? Umm, I guess I show up (with my gay ass). I’m not sure I’m conscious of how I might queer a space. I’ve been comfortable in my skin for a long time and often forget that, gender wise, I may present differently… So then I’m appalled or caught off guard when I’m sirred at the bank. But the writing is queer by default because it’s a product of me. I remember struggling about what to send to journals who were having a “Queer Issue”. For some reason, I thought I had to submit my gayest shit, with regard to the poem’s content, not realizing that anything I write, in spite of the subject matter, is still gay as shit.
How do your personal endings inform your poetic endings?
I’m not quite sure how they inform my poetic endings, but they certainly inform poetic beginnings. This means, the end of a relationship can spark a poem as much as the end of a life or the end of a day. My endings usually lead to beginnings more than they inform other endings.
What are some of your techniques for revision?
Revision? Who revises? No, but there was a time (when I was a very young poet) when revision literally did not exist for me. Then, after getting into workshop spaces and being around more serious poets, I began to understand that writing a poem is a process. That process sometimes involves getting another pair of trusting eyes on it. Other times, it’s reading the poem aloud countless times and listening to it. And trusting that it will tell me what to do. In a workshop at Cave Canem, I learned a radical revision technique from Chris Abani. While folks were giving me feedback on a poem, he had me execute every piece of advice as it was spoken. So, if a person said, “I didn’t feel the last line served the poem” he had me draw a line through the last line of the poem. Afterwards, it was interesting to see what was left of the poem. What the poem had become. But it was also an interesting dynamic to just trust everything. To understand that folks had your back, and more importantly they had the poem’s back. Now, clearly, this won’t happen in most workshop spaces because workshops are typically and inherently very dangerous spaces, but at Cave Canem, this sort of radical revision worked.
Write a 250-word lecture on “Getting Deep.”
Can’t be afraid of the Dig. Of the Lowdown. Of that Dirty-Dirty. That shit that gets up under your fingernails and reminds you you ain’t shit. Or that you the shit. Or that it’s all shit. Muck. We hauling a dump truck of Fear. A mountain of manure. Can’t be cute cuz we smeared with the stank of it. We wallow in the shallow but won’t fuck with the deep. ‘Fraid of the funk. Fuck it. Face it: Face down. Head on. Fuck you got to lose? Family? They get over it (mostly). Friends? They get over themselves. You? You get over. (Mostly) By getting under it. Getting in it. Knee deep. Waist Deep. You will writhe with worry. Wonder how you’ll get out: Dig. You will think that pen cap a worthless shovel. Dig anyway. You will claw recklessly around until the mountain is made mud. And your body made muddy will be ugly to people. Even you will think so. Keep Digging. Till you strike a root that makes your tooth hurt. Till mud fortifies your blood and your pores tighten and your skin glistens and your limbs resemble something lotus-like. And something inside you closes. And something else opens like a blossoming. And your breath loses its ragged edge, it’s sour milk twang. And your tongue is a fine and dignified thang. And that twang she speak called honest. And you become a freedom. And you become a ________. And you be. You be: you. Ya dig?
Thinking about your poem, “When a Poem Flirts,” come up with a writing prompt that pulls the flirtatious nature out of the poem.
Imagine the poem your lover. Now, make it do what you want.
Kore Biters Womanifesto: Please add two-three tenets for transgressive and transformative behavior that you believe every woman writer should abide by or incorporate into their lives or writing practice.
Live your truth, loudly and unapologetically.
When in doubt, as yourself, what would Audre do?
t’ai freedom ford is a New York City high school English teacher, Cave Canem Fellow, and Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Sinister Wisdom, No, Dear, The African American Review, Vinyl, Nepantla, Poetry and others. Her work has also been featured in several anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. In 2012 and 2013, she completed two multi-city tours as a part of a queer women of color literary salon, The Revival. In 2014, she was the winner of The Feminist Wire’s inaugural poetry contest judged by Evie Shocklee. She is currently a 2015 Center for Fiction Fellow and the winner of the 2015 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize. Her first poetry collection, how to get over is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. t’ai lives and loves in Brooklyn, but hangs out digitally at: shesaidword.com
Kore Biters is a monthly interview series that highlights the writing and literary activism of women writers who are transgressive and transformative. by Arisa White and Rosebud Ben-Oni.