Poet Of The Week

Blake Lapin

     February 13–19, 2023

Blake Lapin is the author of the chapbook I Look at You Instead of the Road, published in 2022 by Bottlecap Press. His work has been supported by Brooklyn Poets, the Community of Writers and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. After obtaining his undergraduate degree at Claremont McKenna College, Lapin spent a year in Malang, Indonesia, on a Fulbright grant. His poems have appeared in Foothill Poetry Journal, the Community of Writers Poetry Review and the Journal of New Jersey Poets. He resides in Brooklyn, NY, and is pursuing a master’s in public administration at New York University. Find him on Instagram @blakelapinpoet.

Branch and Soil, Soil and Branch


In that burning throat of morning

How does one wait for bad news?

Is there a posture? Lake water

Gargles pebbles. As innocuous

As my sleepy hound. Eyes encrusted closed.

All news, all circular life

Fits in or between two categories:

Matter of the branch,

Matter of the soil.

Where does today fit on that spectrum?

Submitting applications, calling Steph.

Imagining futures is of the branch.

Rejection is of the soil.

You get it now. Driving, hairflung,

Is of the branch. Devastation

Is of the soil. We land in the soil,

We spend our lives reaching

For the branch, often staying

For some time. What I’m saying is

Lake water, pebbles, sleep, hound, gargles:

Branch. What I’m saying is body

Can only push so hard against the spirit.


—From I Look at You Instead of the Road, Bottlecap Press, 2022.

Brooklyn Poets · Blake Lapin, "Branch and Soil, Soil and Branch"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was written during the first few months of COVID. I was at my mom’s place after having to return to the United States from a teaching fellowship in Indonesia. During that time, I felt a magnetism towards rest. I kept attempting to resist it: applying to new jobs, writing new poems, reaching out to friends. But those efforts felt futile. A life shouldn’t have to coax action from natural resistance.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m sending around a poetry manuscript with the working title In Season. The individual poems I’m working on center ability, the meaning I construct from my own relationship with ability. How the boundaries of our capabilities affect our preferences and skills. That’s a broad and general context for the poems. Within those attempts, I’m combining different speech registers, intellectual subjects and physical objects to create an emotional landscape that’s between what I can currently articulate. Striving towards wonder. I guess that’s what all poetry does. I’m always curious about how far a poem can go—the line between surrealism and combining disparate (but related) concepts. I’ve been thinking a lot about material (what our physical world is constructed from), materialism (the work of brands and consumption) and community (how our political infrastructure informs our day-to-day lives).

I’m also interested in the similarities between poetry and policy. Poetry imagines new intellectual and emotional realities by combining disparate ideas. Ideas communicated through lexicon, experience, senses. Policy creates new lived realities by changing or keeping constant the way we order and distribute our resources. I think more exposure to the former has the capacity to train and prepare us to act, and be hopeful, about the latter.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is waking up after having gotten a lot of sleep, making breakfast, reading, sipping coffee, going to an art museum, sneaking in a climb, getting drinks, going dancing. That’s a killer (and packed) day.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I grew up in and around Manhattan. My undergraduate degree took me to Southern California, and then a Fulbright grant took me to Indonesia. Eventually I knew it was time to come back to New York, and my roommate suggested Brooklyn. We spent a day on Citi Bikes cruising from Greenpoint to Gowanus to get the lay of the land.

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 South Slope since October 2021. I adore it! I appreciate living at the intersection of three neighborhoods—Gowanus, Park Slope and South Slope. Each has a distinct feeling, none are overwhelming. I really like going on walks to verdant Prospect Park or industrial Gowanus. I’m definitely part of the change in the neighborhood. Rents shot up right before I got here, according to StreetEasy. What I love about New York generally is the tiny margin between comfort and adventure. I have no idea what to expect when I turn a corner, emerge from a subway station, enter a venue. How many environments I can experience in a day, and how quickly I am comfortable again right when I enter my apartment.

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

What I love about Brooklyn is that the space has such differing meanings to so many different people. We’re all here living our lives. Like when you make a new friend and they introduce a new part of Brooklyn to you. A place that exists far from your usual routine and so close to many others’. Our micro-communities. Getting to know these hidden worlds and learning from them, if we can. Whenever I stop learning or having new experiences, I try to allow myself to get grounded in this protean place.

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

Community is more important to me than poetry community. Having friends who are honest about what’s occurring in their emotional and spiritual lives, and with whom I can practice respect. When those people are poets, we can share the way we translate our interests and experiences into form, but that’s not a necessity for me. Since I’m currently in school for a non-poetry subject, I have limited capacity to devote to poetry and poetry community, so I’m not able to be as present in a poetry community space. Instead, I have drafts in my inbox of friends’ work that I can look at and comment on when the time arises and vice versa. Cultivating those readers I trust is so important. For almost every draft I think has some spark and life, I rely on other readers to know where to take it. My original drafts of poems are often very associative and require second opinions about whether the rhetorical or syntactical moves are effective. It’s difficult to make editorial decisions. Once I have some opinions from others, I’m able to form my own opinions. So poetry community is really important to develop the poems. But the poems are a representation of my growth, which is facilitated, challenged and supported by the people (poets and non-poets) I hold dear.

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

Amanda Larson, author of Gut. Kyle Carrero Lopez, author of Muscle Memory. Daniel Owen, author of Restaurant Samsara. Tawanda Mulalu, author of Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die. Brionne Janae, author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Jade Yeung, author of ANTI. Beatriz Yanes Martinez. Yi Wei.

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

My mom, Elizabeth Lapin, is my most influential poetry mentor. She teaches me the impact of the craft on a life, the wonder poetry begets. Thankfully for me, she’s a skilled editor who seeks clarity, precision and thoughtfulness from each draft. She locates the center of the poem within a draft, which way to move towards, when a poem is asking to be about something else.

Henri Cole was my poetry teacher and thesis reader in undergrad. He taught me that poetry requires honesty and sincerity. That there must be stakes in the poem. That a poem creates its own logic and must adhere to that logic. I bring this with me to each poem. Just because I created a logic in one poem doesn’t mean that logic leaks over into new work. When editing a draft, I consider the logic and rules that the subject matter requires. What form and syntax pushes the subject matter forward? He taught me the bravery required to be a poet, and the immense rewards of such bravery.

Daniel Owen introduced me to a world of contemporary poetry, publishing and translation. He’s shown me the possibilities of getting work into the world, and the types of expansive reading that someone can engage in. His work also teaches me to remain inventive and playful with language, and that poetry is fun.

Malcolm Oliver II encourages me to be a champion of my own work. To print it, share it, continue.

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

I just read Spring and Autumn Annals by Diane di Prima. I’m fascinated by the history of New York’s literary and fine arts culture. This book places the reader right in the middle of New York’s cultural scene from 1954 to 1964. The book traverses quotidian subject matter, plays with form, references renowned New York artists, explores the difficulty of creating community and collapses time. To me, great work finds intrigue in the everyday. It uncovers systems of power within and extracts relevance from the routine. As a writer, it’s extremely difficult to find and then lift meaning from seemingly unextraordinary subject matter. She does that well. The prose is poetic—it moves beyond the sentence.

A touchstone in my work is community. How do we create and sustain relationships when the world has been crafted to force us to work long hours and depend on one partner, when it robs us of our autonomy to explore other lived realities? Di Prima’s life exposes possibilities about searching for platonic and romantic relationships by describing an ecosystem of artists who are involved with each other’s domestic and creative lives.

Finally, one of literature’s potentials is to flatten and thereby control the experience of time. Di Prima collapses time by dividing a period of ten years into the four seasons, each season carrying ten years of that season, before moving to the next. It allows di Prima the flexibility to switch rapidly from one year to another, to contradict the reality of, say, one summer with the next, holding them against one another.

The book is also written to her friend Freddie Herko, who died at a young age. My chapbook is dedicated to and motivated by the passing of a friend at a young age.

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

I take my reading one book at a time. If I thought about reading as a list of authors I need to get through I’d stress myself out. I try to stay away from goals and focus on the process. For my reading process, I pick up many books that I put down. It can take me a while to find a book to stick with, but I do wait until I find the right book. My interests in life and poetics are always cycling and to honor that I trust what I find pleasurable at the 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 read one book of poetry at a time. I usually read it on the subway, or in the mornings, when I find the reading can also help me draft lines. I also carry around a few nonfiction books about craft and art history. For example, I’ve been piecing through A Poetics of the Press published by Ugly Duckling Presse and Cuneiform Press for a year or so now. I just finished the sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s collected essays and conversations. I find poetry and the other fine arts to be extremely related. All about creating abstractions from reality. Giving form to beliefs, lived realities, and perception. In doing so, creating something totally new that is its own machine. I like to listen to albums; in a similar way, I like to read full-length poetry collections, or chapbooks, smaller books that I can get through. I like the echo of one poem to another in a single collection. The orchestra of them sounding against each other. If it’s not a library book, then I’m a note-taker. I only read physical books. I get too distracted otherwise, and I really adore the physicality of the whole process. Sending ideas through time in a time capsule declared a book.

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

Ekphrastic poems, inspired by dance rather than paintings. Sonnets following the tradition of Wanda Coleman.

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

I really like to read and write at my mom’s house in New Jersey. There are many books for source material, great light, space to spread out. I also really like libraries. It’s nice sitting in silence with people. I often go to Park Slope Library. Finally, it’s nice to read in other people’s apartments. Especially when I’m bored of my own.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Room 205 in Gowanus, Variety in Park Slope, the Cliffs at Gowanus climbing gym, Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Roots Café, Big Reuse. The cafés leave you alone. You can sit there and feel comfortable and get to some pleasant reading. Sometimes I forget how important it is for me to exercise, but I’ve been reminded recently. So I’ve been at the gym a lot, using my body, feeling weightless at times. I like places where I feel anonymous, in my own head, stylish.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate us.

And what I see in our sunlit afternoon, you hear.

For every curious me as good as wandering you.

Why Brooklyn?

I love Brooklyn! I love living in my apartment filled with treasures. I love getting off the subway from Manhattan and entering a space where the buildings are less towering. I recognize my neighbors and the people working in the stores I often visit. I like that there are many little, specific stores for every need. People from all times and locations in my life end up passing through New York, which is a pleasure.

There’s so much history in New York. I was born here. My mom spent thirty years in New York before moving to New Jersey. I feel so incredibly independent. So social. Living in an apartment, with other people living their lives somewhere close to me. The ability to hop on the subway and enter all these different environments. The changing seasons. How the city opens in the spring and closes in the fall. Walking, all the time.