I preserve you
but come home to find a child
has dug you up, crumbs of us
strewn in the carpet.
The wind left little,
but the rest I’ve filled
in the space of the volume:
here is your handwriting;
a message, come home;
the shame in a jar,
after all I uttered was
I want to tell you something;
a pool of water then the pond.
Each day I regretted
I never gave you a
call. Each day
I hated you for making me
feel my own body
was finally seen.
If God is real
then he put you here
then took you away
that someone asked, is this it,
what we deserved?
I put you back and think of warmer things.
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
The language that I use to describe myself is always evolving. I prefer the title of “emerging” poet or writer to “aspiring” or “wannabe.” I once gravitated to the term “emerging” because it felt active and resists the idea that writers are stuck or static. It brings to mind the image of a butterfly breaking out from its chrysalis, which is pretty but ignores the chrysalis left behind, the work of it.
I think there is a problem that comes about when we challenge that language: “Emerging into what?” The scene? The Twittersphere? Does a writer have to be published to be considered as emerging? Do they have to finish a new piece of writing each day? Must they be on track to win the biggest awards? I hope not.
Relatedly, I think that my biggest quibble with the word “emerging” is that it implies that life is super linear. When I look back at my twenty-five years of life, things don’t seem to have happened in a logical or linear fashion. Things circle back, things fall out of the sky. Life switches lanes or stops moving entirely. If I’m “emerging” now…is there a timeline attached to that? Should I have a book in five years? How long can I be “emerging”? Is there an expiration date?
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
Today, I consider myself first and foremost a nonfiction writer. Though I’m beginning to understand that nonfiction writer and poet are not mutually exclusive.
I began my more serious journey of creative writing with personal essays, and I think I will always see myself as a memoirist—but this is perhaps a result of circumstance (certain classes I got into, a particularly encouraging professor). I don’t have as much formal training in poetry as I do in nonfiction. So while I often say “I sometimes write poetry,” calling myself a “poet” is something that is new for me. I know so many poets who make beautiful, technical, devastating art that I really admire and I’m not sure I’ve let myself fully claim that label yet.
That being said, I don’t know what the future holds. If I can straddle genre lines, or cross over into one or the other, or neither, or both…I feel fortunate enough just in that act. I’m happy to emerge into anything.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
My nice answer to that is that it takes good, compassionate editors that see something in someone’s work (and work that is not just coming from a name that they know). Editors that take risks. Or friends and readers that share your work with other people.
My not so nice answer is that, like many other communities, I imagine it takes knowing the right people and a bit of luck, a certain level of access, and so on. And it probably doesn’t hurt if you’re good-looking or “cute.”
I had a conversation with some other writers recently, and we were talking about how we really just need to do the thing and believe that our work is good enough to be held up with the writers that we see published everywhere else. It can be easy to hold back—to sit with an essay or poem forever and never feel like it’s done. If we want to share our work with others and believe our work is important and will help others, then we just have to put it out there in some way or another—whether that be reading it in front of a crowd, submitting it to a journal, or posting it on your blog.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
It’s funny because while I think my writing engages with politics and engages with the idea of power, I don’t ever want to think about institutional politics or power when I am writing. It takes the fun out of it! When I’m writing I don’t want to think “well X publication won’t publish it,” or “I’m not friends with X so no one will care.”
Power politics seem to affect who is allowed to do what kind of writing. I’d love for one day to have a staff or contracted writing position for some form of culture writing at a publication, but I’m finding that it’s easy to get sanctioned into one type of writing, or that some people think of genre and audience as more distinct, making it harder to jump around in different modes and styles. In the future, I’ll have to do some thinking about what I want to set myself up for, but right now I just want to write what I want to write right now.
I’m trying to keep my head down and avoid being wholly consumed by all of these thoughts about existing or succeeding within the poetry and literary communities. I’m mostly trying to make sure that in my own reading and editing practice I’m not exclusionary of new, critical voices and that I’m thinking for myself. I also think it’s important to remember that people are people and your fave on Twitter can’t always be right about everything.
What does community mean to you?
Community takes time. Community isn’t necessarily people that do the same thing as each other. Sometimes people may even need to have diverse interests and different habits to form community. I think community is people coming together and just caring for and about each other. For me, community is usually Black people. Community is usually queer folk.
For the Fourth of July, I hung out with all Black people. They’re also all poets. I wouldn’t have had it any other way in 2017. Community is something that feels necessary to make it through the day-to-day.
I’m pretty introverted and sometimes like to think I could make it on my own and not interact with people during the week. But having people around me that just care about my well-being, and are also genuinely interested in what I’m doing from day to day is so important and has really “gotten me through it” all.
I feel like I’m truly in community when I can say something I haven’t fully worked through, or can say something silly and know that I will be affirmed in some way. I get so happy when someone laughs at my jokes. It’s not easy to find people who let you be you and I try to nourish those relationships when I can.
STEFFAN TRIPLETT is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. Steffan is a VONA alum and a 2017 fellow for Callaloo and Lambda Literary. Steffan’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Offing, BOAAT, Wildness, Underblong, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @SteffanTriplett.