Poet Of The Week

Chukwuma Ndulue

     November 6–12, 2017

Chukwuma Ndulue is a writer, teacher and occasional small-engine mechanic. His work has appeared in BOAAT, Muse /A Journal, Impakter, Tinderbox and Pank. His chapbook Boys Quarter was released this fall from Ugly Duckling Presse.

Author photo by Erika Luckert


                    There are things
I never told you

about the summers,
                    enough to fill

                    the thickest left-
handed bible.

The boys with
                    their flat and rosy

                    knuckles living
the dream of fighters

tangle, twist, ache.
                    What we did with little

                    reason: betray
the weaknesses

of disused lovers,
                    roll through parties

                    in sixes. On the banks
you can smell

personality cooked
                    over tin foil—tears

                    with every jab
blood with every blow.

Remember the utility
                    in loving fitfully?

                    Disassembled friends, we
drown now below

the currents, carrying
                    pocket curses. Filling

                    the gorge seven
axe handles deep.

—From Boys Quarter, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

If I recall, “Docks” came to me while I was on a coach headed to somewhere/nowhere. It started with one of those “I wonder what X is doing” thoughts. Rather than googling, I decided to write a poem.

What are you working on right now?

The last few months have not been super generative for me, but that’s left me with plenty of time to edit my unformed/malformed pieces, which is fairly satisfying. I am also secretly hunting down and translating Igbo-language poems, which is more of a labor of ancestral love.

What’s a good day for you?

If I can get up and do at least seventy-five percent of what I want/need to do without messing other folks over, to me, that’s a good day.

In terms of writing, if I can get a couple good brainwaves that actually turn into something with promise, then I feel treating myself to sleep is justified. Just to clarify, treating myself to sleep isn’t meant to be a blue euphemism.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

Same old story, moved to the city for school. When it came to finding lodging, I wanted to live in a place that didn’t feel like I was trapped in a Seinfeld episode.

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 live in East Flatbush. I have only been living in my current location for the past few months and I’m a slow learner, so most of my time is spent in Crown Heights, where I lived for several years.

It’s pretty great, going home feels like going home and going out feels like going out. Plus my neighborhood is scarily quiet, eighty percent of the time.

In terms of change, yeah, there are any number of standard soundtracks I could insert here regarding price and demographic, but change is inevitable and is everywhere.

Like Baldwin said (at least I think it was Baldwin), “you carry home on your back.”

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

Walking down Fulton (between Franklin and New York) and just hearing a bevy of different languages. I know that around these parts it is not novel, but even though I’m a third-culture kid, a fair bit of my youth was spent in fairly homogeneous places.

With that said, there are days when you are skint and on the prowl for a store that sells the cheapest ramen packets and you overhear some kid that just moved here fawning about how much they love Brooklyn and you want to tell them to shut up.

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

A good friend of mine once said, “Poetry is a stupid field to be a careerist,” so I suppose an ideal poetry community would be rooted in genuine speech and action. Hopefully this honesty would lead to a supportive environment?

I feel like between my writer and non-writer friends I have a pretty diverse and downright cool network of folks who are willing to read my crap and hear me mumble into a microphone from time to time. It’s no café society, but we do all right.

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

Well, this might be an obvious answer, but Hart Crane is a big one. I’ve always felt the emotional oomph from his work. “Voyages” was one of those poems that just gave me a gut punch.

And this is cheating, but Truman Capote lived in Brooklyn for a time. Capote’s was the first author catalog that I read in its entirety.

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

Whoo-boy. Well, I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing poets and writers in my schooling, the list would be too long and I’m afraid I would forget somebody.

Closer to home, I have to say my father definitely gave me a pretty early education in the word. He had a ridiculous collection of books. I remember him giving me a tome of Tennyson’s poems when I was in primary school. Not that I understood half of it until years later, but I do remember us reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade” when I was younger.

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

As previously mentioned, I’ve been reading and translating a lot of Igbo folk poetry. There are some great idioms and turns of phrase that I’ve rediscovered. It also means I have to call my parents more than usual to run my translations by them.

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

For years I was searching for the book that taught me how to read. It was called Buttons Takes a Bath. I couldn’t find a copy for love or money. The other day, during a fit of boredom, I googled it and found out I can just download a PDF. It was surprisingly disappointing, not the book, but the end of mystery.

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’m definitely a grazer. I usually have one or two books, and at least one comic book sitting by my bed.

I’m not very hip when it comes to finding new things, so I usually rely on my friends to land things on my desk.

Digital and analog reading are both fine, but I think I just prefer paper books. What else am I going to do with all my novelty bookmarks?

I tend to take notes only when I’m in public and I’m trying to convince people I’m reading, not eavesdropping on their conversations.

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

I always wanted to write a huge sestina, then compose a musical piece with the word/repetition scheme. Surprisingly, I just haven’t found the time.

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

I’m a lightning-strike inspiration writer. I write down notes, occasionally a full draft, whenever it hits me. Unlike many folks, I can’t read on the train, it’s too distracting. Honestly, I can’t really read/edit unless I know I’m going to be in a space which is mostly free of external distractions.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Walking down Nostrand in the early morning, you get a taste of everything.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the craft of being given the shaft
And what I learned from scuffing tiles you knew from your
     first step

For every fresh pound of me as good as a jerked inch of you.

Why Brooklyn?

Dusk and dawn.