October 18–24, 2021
Andriniki Mattis is a non-binary poet who has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Poets House and the Poetry Project. They earned an MA in creative writing and education from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in political and poetic resistance from Brooklyn College. Their work has appeared in Nepantla, the Cortland Review, Paperbag, wildness, THEM and elsewhere. Andriniki is from and currently lives in Brooklyn. On Thursday, October 28, they will read online as part of the Brooklyn Poets Staff Picks reading series.
the sun isn’t out long enough
the pitch-black from outside plays against the clouds in your chest
the wreckage of it all leaves you
& you wake in the morning
dressing for the arrival of a new you
who talks like you & looks like you but happier & charming
you say to yourself how did we get here
you count all the lines in your palms and every tattoo etched into you
you find a piece of metal welded together that fits the nape of your neck
yet you are not a cyborg
it’s the year 2020
& pandemically speaking
you have never felt so close to death
it disturbs you enough to wonder
if it will be you or someone you love
or someone you met at a bookstore
or your first friend from college or your fifth-grade teacher
or your neighbor across the street with the great dane
or the person you were supposed to meet three years ago at a festival
or the passenger next to you on the plane
who reminds you of your mother
or your mother
& then you wake up & do your job and do your life & then it’s 7 months then 10 then vaccine
& then the why so many deaths & then it’s fall
then the winter & the story writes itself now
& the administration will be blamed in the book you haven’t read yet
that will be out in five years
that you’ll hear of in a group chat about divesting from capitalism
& a knot grows in your throat as you realize there is no grid to fall off of
& no country to have you but your own
—Originally published in The Sun Isn’t Out Long Enough, Anamot Press, 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I was trying to gain consistency in my writing practice, so with a friend, the poet Ricardo Hernandez, I did a thirty-day writing challenge last December, during which (almost) every day we sent each other a new, original poem. It was hard to process the heights of the pandemic and what it meant to be in the world in a shared crisis unlike any other. It really made it clear to me that we live in a global community, so I wanted to express this global experience through this poem, which for me meant expressing the difficulty of being close to mortality, loss and grief that can never be held in its entirety. Each day we were expected to resume our lives as if it didn’t feel like an apocalyptic end. We had to find new ways of being and closeness that required patience and sometimes the inherent risk of death if our patience was waning.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on writing a collection of short stories based in Brooklyn that expands and undoes the common queer and Black narratives. I’m in the ideating stage of what I want a new manuscript of poetry to be about and look like, but it will probably be a hybrid work.
What’s a good day for you?
Any day biking through Brooklyn and finding my way to the water with a good book in hand or with good company. Finding time to write, or being inspired and going to a local bookstore or record store and leaving with good finds, then having a dinner that feels like home.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I’ve pretty much always been here. I was born and raised in Crown Heights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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 Brooklyn all my life, minus a year in London for my master’s program. My time in Brooklyn has been spent in various neighborhoods, some of which I’ve lived in more than once, like Bushwick, Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, where I currently live. I will be moving back to Bushwick next month after a year in Bed-Stuy. Brooklyn will always be home and my love for it is unending, but like most jaded New Yorkers, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the city at times. After living in London and traveling to other cities, I have come to realize there truly is no place like Brooklyn, which has helped me to appreciate Brooklyn despite its ever-changing landscape. I know there will always be a place for people like myself here.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I’ve lived here so long that sometimes I can hardly distinguish a Brooklyn moment from an everyday moment, but I saw a woman in a red-and-white jeep and an outfit to match twerking in the moving vehicle down Flatbush with no parade but her own and I remembered there are no limits to the Brooklyn experience.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community for me means a place to grow and expand as a writer that fosters experimentation and joy with other writers and readers. It means a place to share your work and be heard and seen by people who are devoted to the craft of poetry. I have been a part of the poetry community here for the past ten years, and I have developed as a writer because of it. For me, one of the most rewarding spaces I’ve been a part of was Cave Canem, which has been a life-changing experience for me in how I think about what a community can be. I have gone to many poetry readings over the years, and I’ve experienced readings that remind me why I write and the power of words and the comfort they bring.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I can’t think of any specifically Brooklyn poets, yet some poets who get under my skin in a good way are Ross Gay, Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith and Morgan Parker, who all seem to have spent some time in Brooklyn. Their work achieves the same things I look for when I feel a poem is successful, and for that their writing has been important to my work.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’m so lucky to have found mentors through fellowships and workshops who have shaped the ways I think about what it means to be a poet on this earthly plane. Pamela Sneed, Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Sara Jane Stoner—these mentors I have known through their work and compassion, and they always push me to believe in my craft and see my potential. I am so grateful for their continued presence in my life and for helping me to channel the pulse of my writing. They have influenced the ways I think about what reading poetry to an audience can be.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void by Jackie Wang has been an astounding work to read. I just finished reading it and then started reading it again immediately after, which is a rare thing to do for me. It is a deeply layered book and easily gives you more and more each time you read it. I also recently revisited one of my favorite poems, Nicole Sealey’s “Medical History.” This one-stanza poem delivers such a punch to the gut, as the best poems do.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I have been meaning to read Gwendolyn Brooks’s work for a long time. I know it will be rewarding reading her work at the right time.
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 am an emotional reader, depending on what mood I’m in at any time of the day or week. I read from about three or four different books, usually of different genres, poetry to fiction to theory, based on the current feeling I’m in. I cannot read digitally; it takes away from parts of what makes reading so enjoyable to me. I stare at a screen all day for my nine-to-five job, so I don’t have much screen time left in me after that. When I read books that resonate deeply, I am sometimes so moved that a line pops into my head, and I must get it down and make a note of it.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I would love to write a sonnet. It is not my style to rhyme, but I think every classic warrants a try and there is nothing more classic than a sonnet.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
It’s always been so great to read on the train, to be transported physically and mentally amid the chaos of the subway. I like reading and writing in the park or at the beach. Outside of that I do all of my writing at home in my study. I like to be alone with my thoughts when I write unless I’m writing in a group.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I adore Prospect Park. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. It provides the necessary relief of trees and nature, quiet space, and peak people-watching for when I want to be alone yet among people. It’s always fun to hang out in the park with a few friends. When it comes to local bars, I enjoy going to Happyfun Hideaway for a very queer-infused night. Brooklyn Bridge Park has my favorite view in Brooklyn, stunning any time of the day. Since I was a child I have spent a lot of time at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza; being surrounded by a seemingly endless amount of books has always brought me great joy and wonder.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the wonder that won’t leave me,
And what I know as truth is the only hope I can provide you
that you are more than a speck or a star close to earth,
For every sunrise that signals me as good as any untamed fire
I am reminded of you.