Category: poetry

“Poetry should be in the middle of the civic discussion of what’s going on in this country.”

Reginald Dwayne Betts, in “Name a Song,” a conversation with Mahogany L. Browne in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

Rigoberto González helped me understand that my success as a writer would hinge on my success as a reader. I’ve translated that advice into a ratio. For every poem or page I write, I try to read three times as much work by other people. I don’t have a ledger or anything but you get the idea.

Taking in different forms of art and looking at them critically opens my mind up to different possibilities in my poetry. (Museums are great for that too.) But simply reading good writing helps most of all….I’ll also play a bit of musical chairs if I’m stuck in the writing, moving from one seat to another, one room to another, or I’ll leave the apartment altogether for a change of scenery. I’ll read my lines aloud to see if the sounds and rhythms can carry me forward.

It’s necessary to write terrible lines, awful drafts, half-hearted poems. Write ten in a row if needed. Throw pencils, get mad, take a walk. Swear off poetry, read a chapter of a post-apocalyptic novel, wash the dishes. Feel better? Back to writing. Repeat as necessary.

I have a handful of good friends who are brilliant and sophisticated readers too, and sometimes I send things to one of them. But I also feel that no one can really help me with poems, as opposed to essays. Each one is like a trial I get to undergo alone.

The current political moment requires that we speak the truth as much as we can, but truth can be relayed in many ways. We have already seen truth twisted, shaped, and contorted to fit a political agenda. Poetry works against this because poetry has no true agenda.

“the blood is red the blues is red the blues / is blood the red is dirt the dirt is brown”

t’ai freedom ford, first lines from & more black (Augury Books, 2019), featured in Page One in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

If I’m stuck, it usually means one of two things: either I need to travel further into myself, or I’ve gone too far and need to be pulled out….Often, the best cure for this ailment is a great poetry reading—a particularly hype youth poetry slam is ideal, or a living room with friends where we’re reading each other our newest poems. Something that helps jolt me back into remembering what a poem can do to the body….

“I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem.” —Joy Harjo, first Native American poet to serve as U.S. poet laureate

Photo: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress 

When I was revising…there were two nights…where I drank a little gin, listened to nineties hip-hop, and I danced as I wrote and rewrote. I broke night with my poems. In other words, you have to hang out with your book, especially if your book is becoming a living thing.