Poet Of The Week

K.T. Billey

     December 14–20, 2015

K.T. Billey’s Vulgar Mechanics (seeking publication) was a finalist for the 2015 Pamet River Prize from YESYES books. Originally from rural Alberta, Canada, she came to New York City for the Poetry MFA at Columbia University, where she was recently a Teaching Fellow. Her poem “Girl Gives Birth to Thunder” won Vallum’s 2015 Poetry Prize, and her work has also appeared in CutBank, the New Orleans Review, Prelude and Poor Claudia, among others. A Contributing Editor for the translation journal Asymptote, she translates poetry and fiction from Icelandic and Spanish.

Atlantic Crossing

 
You thought I lacked facility
for foreign language, but there are depths
of mastery, my darling

my hedged bet. It’s no one’s fault
you heard harder when I said during.

Don’t worry
epidermis, I said,
over and softly again.

You are my emergency
contact, scratched out twice

until you admit this
ink is an anchor, shifting
at my mention of wing.

You want a challenge, something
unearthly. How do I say I have legs for that?

What are the words for consider our phases—
Jupiter in storm, Io as stitch on the tongue.

There is no having. There is only the tide,
one eye open, and then the other.

 
–Originally published in Phantom, Spring 2014.
 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem is a personal one, chronicling old loves and young travels, written in hindsight as I looked back on confusing, formative times. There was hurt and grief, but ultimately it’s a celebration about the person in question—of the fact that life tosses us around, but if we do the work, we can evolve alongside the people we care about.

What are you working on right now?

Immigrating permanently and finding a publisher for Vulgar Mechanics, my first book.

It’s hard to write under a stress cloud, but I can feel the next idea coagulating. I’m making notes as I go about the strangeness of splitting homes and attaching to different landscapes. It’s gotten me thinking more about my parents’ immigration stories and heightened my respect for the wrenching moves so many people go through.

What’s a good day for you?

Coffee, some kind of sweat, seeing strangers be nice on the train before a long walk and some kind of adventure.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

Going on my third year. I’m in Bushwick now after a year in Clinton Hill and another in South Williamsburg.

What do you like most about it?

The space—physical and creative. I moved to New York for the literary community and I consider it a home, but after growing up on the prairies, the crush of mass and movement can get to me. In Brooklyn I feel the difference even walking up the stairs from the train—there’s less looming over your shoulders, building-wise.

Here there’s also room to make and appreciate the art I love, and people who push the world forward by making brave, complicated things. I gravitated here because of them.

I do feel a constant ambivalence about my white, foreign presence, especially in certain neighborhoods. It’s crucial to dig into that. That anxiety isn’t enough to outweigh my reasons for being here—the best I’ve come up with is to live with it, actively. I try to use it as fuel—to listen and learn about my surroundings, to produce good work and platforms for people affected by circumstances they never signed up for.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Seeing little kids run through a fire hydrant fountain on a hot day, screaming happy Spanish, apologizing for splashing Hasidic Jewish men waiting at the crosswalk.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

June Jordan, Angel Haze, Robert Ostrom, Sam Ross, Hafizah Geter, Ryann Stevenson, Jay Deshpande, Morgan Parker, r. erica doyle, Lynn Melnick, Mónica de la Torre. There are so many.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Unnameable is great. When I’m in Red Hook I like stopping by Freebird Books. It has a great mix of books, is owned by a very sweet couple and runs a Books Through Bars volunteer group out of the basement, sending books to prisons nationwide. It also shares a backyard with the bar next door and you can take books out there and read.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

The park, if the weather lets me stretch out. Public libraries, in the summer. Outpost was my spot in Clinton Hill, then the West, especially their outdoor space. I wind up reading and writing on the train a lot.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

The park (Prospect, ideally). The beach, the water, the roof.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Jay Deshpande’s Love the Stranger, [insert] boy by Danez Smith, Bloodhoof by Gerdur Kristný.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the dark,
And what I know you can move,
For every other me as good a vessel you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because there are enough poets to meet a new one every week.