November 12–18, 2018
Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer and emerging visual artist. She is the author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery; KONG and Other Works; and a chaplet, Gift, and book of short stories, Sweet Dreams, from Belladonna. She has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker and on the cover of New York Magazine. She has performed at the Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Poetry Project, NYU, Pratt, Smack Mellon, the High Line, Performa, Danspace and the Public Theater, among many other places domestically and abroad. Her work is widely anthologized and appears in Nikki Giovanni’s The 100 Best African American Poems. In 2017, she was a visiting critic at Yale and Columbia University, and she is currently a visiting professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. On Friday, November 16, she will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series at 100 Bogart in Bushwick with Darrel Alejandro Holnes and Hadara Bar-Nadav.
There are only 3 men in my life I’ve ever wanted dead
The man who orchestrated the Rwandan massacre
Who was found dead in a ditch
Jerry Dahmer who ate the flesh of black boys
He was found in jail stuffed in a broom closet and I
Smile thinking of the prisoners who orchestrated that hit
The last man was my father’s friend who tried to molest me
I might have been 6, 7 or 9
He gave me rides home and asked me to
Kiss him touch him
I was terrified don’t tell your father he’d say
I still remember his stinking whiskey breath
I might have been 9 or 11 when he was found dead stabbed in an alley
And I remember feeling grateful
Though I can’t remember who taught me or how at a young age I could
feel this way
But I was happy when I heard the news
Every time someone says me too
There’s a knot in my stomach
Every time I see them splashed across the television
I’ve learned to be suspicious of media
Me too is just another episode of reality television
Who gets voted off the island
The 10,000th episode of People’s Court
Every day the perps more monstrous
And every time the guillotine goes down
I get this feeling of satisfaction
But I can’t believe this is justice
I can’t believe I’m participating
And a part of me is raising my hand
Like it goes up involuntarily
It testifies against my wishes
It just takes on this voice first whispering
All of this brings me to the ex
Her staring at me through the glass window of a restaurant
Trying to see if I were broken or aged
She bowed her head like she was some sort of now
Faux spiritual Buddha
Wishing me well
Sending love light and peace
Though she was the darkest character I’d met
And I could never say to her or to the friends
Who protected her
It was quite astonishing how she went away reinvented herself
And I remember saying no while she continued
She goes around campaigning for women’s rights
Everyone believes her
I got what all the Cassandras got
Shunned ex communicated by those
Who don’t even know me
I remember having an argument with her
And another woman who’s known me forever
Walked up and said to her I love you
And so to all of them I raise my hand
My voice and shout
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote “Me Too” because I have had ambivalence about the #MeToo movement, whether or not it brings justice for women who are survivors of sexual assault. Also, I’ve struggled with the fact my abusers have been women and where that fits into the narrative.
What are you working on right now?
So much that I’m working on: a new book of poetry conceived after Sweet Dreams and also trying to publish a full-length hybrid memoir–short story collection, Anna Mae, For Me, Tina Turner and All Black Women Survivors.
What’s a good day for you?
I love to wake up and have a tall cup of coffee. My day starts with that and a twenty-five-minute walk. I love going to museums, painting or making a collage / writing something political.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’ve lived in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, for over twenty years. I like it because it is away from the main drag, Smith St. There are trees and children, and it is multiracial. What I don’t like about my neighborhood now is that it is very crowded and popular. There is a Mac store on the corner near my house. There is a new racism in the neighborhood, and it has also become snobby and more expensive.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I love the New Year’s Day marathon reading at the Poetry Project in Manhattan and feel a sense of community there. I don’t really belong to a community of poets, though I love all the poetry and artfulness in Brooklyn. I would never want to live in Manhattan anymore; it feels artistically dead because of the expense. I think poetry communities can become too small and competitive.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Ntozake Shange, author of For Colored Girls, who just died a few weeks ago, lived in Brooklyn for many years.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’ve never had a poetry mentor per se, but I’ve been influenced by many: Sekou Sundiata, Chrystos, Sapphire, Ntozake Shange, Dorothy Allison, Amiri Baraka, June Jordan.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
My students’ poems stand out to me a lot, because I am watching them form the word and it feels miraculous in response to the world.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I haven’t finished Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad or Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I like physical books and I read one at a time. In short or long sittings, depending on when there’s time.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I don’t think I’ve ever written a sonnet. I’d like to try that.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to read at my parents’ house because it’s quiet there, and sometimes I also like reading at the Barnes and Noble on Court St. You can stay there all day and read a book off the shelves.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the Brooklyn Museum: the café and the art shows. I like the Court St UA cinema because I love going to see commercial films there and the crowd is pretty Black and Brown. I love BAM because it’s the epicenter of culture / movies / theater. I love BRIC because of the art shows and the seating. I like Downtown Brooklyn / Fulton mall because they play a lot of gospel music there outside.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate art.
And what I love you love.
For every poem belonging to me
As well belongs to you.
Because it’s full of artists and art and quaint historic brownstones, and there’s a rich history of diverse peoples. It’s still nice to walk and ride your bike in, and my favorite activity is to go to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and gaze at the Statue of Liberty from there. She moves me.