Poet Of The Week

Taylor Steele

     December 5–11, 2016

Taylor Steele is a Bronx-born, Brooklyn-based writer and performer. Her chapbook Dirty.Mouth.Kiss was published by Pizza Pi Press in 2016 and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee Journal, HEArt Journal, Rogue Agent, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Blackberry Magazine and elsewhere. A graduate of the New School with a degree in culture and media, receiving honors in screen studies, Taylor is a content writer for The Body is Not an Apology, Drunken Boat Journal and Philadelphia Printworks. She is an internationally ranked spoken word artist. Most importantly, Taylor is a triple-Taurus who believes in the power of art to change, shape and heal.

spring fever

the spring chicken        hatches, and i came twice today. though not mutually exclusive, they are a kin o’ sorts. i split and glisten and crack all the way to the city and back. i’m packing all kinds o’ heat.        the brown boy      on my corner didn’t holla. gave me a cell block type o’ check      up/down my corridor, and went back        to his bi’ness. and the devil            in me     cackled at my pathetic woman body. and the light in my womb/heart     burst       and i’m still            swallowing      glass up.

i               wasn’t wearing the right deodorant. i            smelled like overpriced fried chicken from the new chicken spot they put up where the old chicken spot used to be. i               smiled like a dirty window that still got bird blood on it from that time B    t h r e w    his empty heineken at “god” after/because the police did what they do.

i am alone, and it’s my fault.               i jaw-clench like trap-door, mama always say. and        the boys don’t think i like boys,    mama say. i don’t tell mama        what the boys i fucked must think        about how little i must like boys    because mama already got enough to say.

pollen flits through my window like the whore i’m tryna be,        like every night      is a Saturday night and all the clubs VIP me,            and all the sweat dripping off the everything is because o’ me, because i walked through      the door lookin’ like i do when i want to be looked at     and licked clean,              and every good thing is not a dream,             and my bed gon’ see some dick tonight,      and my hands are never dry again,    and somewhere in the bible,      water was turned to wine    because everybody is tryna forget death        did what it do,        and we are leftovers           ashamed o’ our hunger. i haven’t eaten in winters, not no meal worthy     o’ the good knife, anyway.

i know when you’re lying,      mama always say. which ain’t the same as i know you’re lying, so i just nod. she don’t need to know about the kind o’ thing i been being these days: a beggar      in wolf’s clothing, so untouchable regardless.

i might as well pray to sex,            it just as much a god as any, a thing i have felt both in body and ghost, both within and out o’ reach depending    on how easily you can be filled        with faith.            Lord/sex, make me a believer.

–Originally published in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, June 2016.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was a result of me thinking a lot about nostalgia and visibility. I was wondering about how our bodies internalize incidents, not even necessarily trauma but the little things that happen to or are said to us. My body responds to people finding me attractive in such a strange way, and I know it’s because for a long time my parents thought I was a lesbian (and subsequently thought they’d never get grandchildren from me or that I’d be alone forever). Like, my body/subconscious had to prove itself to the world, and I followed suit. But also, what does it look like to want to be seen in a body that is already subjected to a violent gaze? When I wrote about the club scene, that was coming from a place of pure fantasy. I have never felt safe in a club. But I wonder what that safety might feel like, especially in a body which remembers what it feels like to constantly be up for interrogation for so many “crimes” or “sins.” I also wanted to play with taking up space on the page. Then, this happened.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on two chapbooks right now. One that interrogates the humanity of villains and another inspired by Black femme power/magic/love/heartbreak (thanks mostly to Solange and my mama). I have to work on multiple projects at once because I do this thing where I hate my poems approximately 15 seconds after I’ve written them. So I just keep writing to distract myself.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day is one with a consistent amount of simple joys. Finishing a cup of coffee before it gets cold. Lipstick that lasts as long as the brand says it will. A nice breeze when it’s hot out. Laughing with my friends. Writing something I’m even marginally proud of. A good day always ends with wine. Though, honestly, every day ends with wine for me.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

There’s just a magic about it. The best poets I know, whom I’m also lucky to call family, all live here. Plus, it’s only a skip and a jump away from the Bronx, which is where I’m from.

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 been living in Bed-Stuy for about a year and a half now. It’s a legacy neighborhood. So, these homes have been homes to generations of families. But it’s getting gentrified. Fast. Around the corner from my house, they’ve flipped a block of apartment buildings. There’s a sign on one of them that reads, “Luxury Apartment.” Across the street from bodegas and barbershops. It’s a frustrating and scary thing. It actually reminds me of living in the Bronx a bit. It’s quiet most of the day, but at night, being alive is a celebration.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

A poetry community means home. I learned confidence, that my voice matters, that I am good at what I do, that I have the potential to reach a lot of people and make them feel less alone.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Honestly, they’re all my friends. Ashley August, Timothy DuWhite, Kearah Armonie, Joel Francois. They’re all changing the landscape of what spoken word is and can do. They’ve all got such unique aesthetics, and they’ve all pushed me as a writer.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I never had mentors in the traditional sense. I wasn’t meeting with someone regularly to discuss this art form. I grew up watching videos on YouTube and sitting in the back of open mics and slams. I watched every video I could find from Def Poetry Jam, Brave New Voices, Jeanann Verlee, Joanna Hoffman, Andrea Gibson, Sarah Kay, Urban Word. More than anything, they showed me that I could do this, too. That this wasn’t some elitist art. I didn’t need to go to school for this to know how to tell my truth.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I don’t read a lot, and it’s such a problem. But the last book that stood out to me, and it’s not a book of poetry, was Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. If she’s not a soothsayer, I don’t know who is. The last poem that stood out to me was Nayyirah Waheed’s “hate.” She writes: “mothers […] sometimes give birth to their pain / instead of children.” And I don’t feel that’s true for my mother, but there is hurt she’s carried that I’ve definitely inherited.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Oh my goodness. What a question. For the most part this answer is so long-winded because I’m broke and can’t afford books. Anyway: every Octavia Butler book in existence, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Sula, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. There are so many more.

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?

Like I said, I’m a poor reader. But my process depends on the book. Some books I can read alongside others. Some worlds are too rich for me to try to delve into another at the same time. Physical books are preferred but digital books are cheaper. And I highlight and copy memorable quotes, but I don’t take notes.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

That’s such a difficult question. I know I should try to write more form poems. I’ve barely written a handful.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

The train. A front porch. The bathroom.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

The Brooklyn Museum because First Saturdays. My friends’ homes because I can always find laughter there. Super Foodtown on Fulton because their savings be lit sometimes. BAM because art.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate sadness,
And what I survive you forget,
For every undoing of love, I love still, and the hurt of it survives
     me as good as it thrives in you.

Why Brooklyn?

Ask Brooklyn, “Why me?”