You wear your hair down—
a bouquet of curls splashing against
the refrigerator light.
You wear your gym clothes, still.
You are asking a question into the shelves,
and it falls down the ripples in the egg crate,
between the beer bottles lining the door
like a row of teeth.
The door is open, and so it is practice
for your mouth. There is no answer, yet.
It is not for me to deliver
or demand. I see, without looking,
hunger with its foot caught
in your guilt; your brows reaching
for each other across the table
of your forehead. Sit down.
Here is where the war dines.
This is the mirror you inherited
into a blade. The dishwasher
humming in the corner.
The sink piling up inside you.
You want what winter does to the trees.
You want to pull breakfast from its bed
and put it back on the stove.
As for me, woman,
I am watching the tears stand
in your eyes. I know you
will drink them tonight
and nothing else. Call it dinner.
Call it plenty.
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
The way I understand the title of “Emerging poet” is in the motion of breaking through some fabric, some ceiling, some wall within or outside you to step intentionally, with your words and vulnerability, under the eyes of the rest of the world. To me, the status of a person’s emergence has no correlation to their standing as a poet. I think the concept creates a distinction between the individual poet and the larger, broader community, and constructs a lens through which we can view an artist that is doing the work of rising into visibility.
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
I do consider myself an “emerging” poet simply because I am committing to a vision of my art that lives and breathes outside of my own body, and has the ability and reach to inhabit someone else’s, despite the distance.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
What I love about the poetry community is how connected it feels even as it sprawls across the country. I think people realize that recognition comes from making those connections and supporting each other’s art. Poetry is growing now to reach further than the people behind the pen, but it still relies heavily on poets and writers to engage in and advocate for each other’s work, simply because we are a community built on listening, and one that is consistently growing and transforming as we challenge the norms. In my experience, recognition has come from investing in spaces of exposure such as local slams, and open mics through which I have met artists and friends who propelled me towards opportunities that built bigger platforms for my writing as well as my learning and personal growth. I think what it takes to be recognized is not only the hunger to put yourself out there, but the intent of rising with a community and not just as an individual.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
It’s interesting to think about because the usual power dynamics that are always at play across communities at the intersection of race and gender have a specific influence on the poetry community, but there exists more nuance and complexity than just that. Personally, having moved to the United States only three years ago, I encounter a certain distance between myself and American poetics and politics. I think the poetry community has embodied an aesthetic of artistic activism that implies a constant strive towards demanding and delivering an open and accepting society. Though I believe this is a noble and necessary pursuit, I think the power dynamics get skewed because we are literally building this as we go. I witness a lot of conflict turning sour because people assume similar access to information and etiquette. For example, my knowledge of the particulars of language and pronouns was confined to what I had experienced in India; there was work ahead of me to fill in those gaps. I think politics in general are so polarized here that a lot of people don’t allow the space and time for that work to be done, while many on the other side do not even acknowledge the work. While power sits heavily in the palm of white supremacy and patriarchy, I don’t think it is limited to it. I believe there are far more intricate threads of identity and education that can fissure or form this community as it grows.
What does community mean to you?
I experience community as a network of simultaneous support and challenge. I think the best version of a community is open and accepting while still perplexing your assumptions and providing a space to reconstruct them as you grow. All in all, community to me, can be whittled down to the tough and persistent string that threads us all together, to holding it in respectful space, to letting some loose for the person beside you, and to keeping warm and well with what you have sewn together.
SANAM SHERIFF is a poet and writer from Bangalore, India. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA where she is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College. Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, All Def Poetry and The Academy of American Poets. Her writing explores intricacies of the self and beyond in pursuit of constant, transformative vulnerability.