February 14–20, 2022
Daad Sharfi is a poet and immigrant-rights advocate from Chicago, by way of Sudan. She earned a BA in economics and another in ethnicity, race and migration from Yale University. She is an alum of Winter Tangerine and Cave Canem workshops and won a Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium fellowship in 2020. Her work has been featured in the 20.35 Africa anthology, Sawti, the Drinking Gourd, PANK and elsewhere. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn and is pursuing her JD at NYU Law, where you’ll often find her daydreaming in class about the endless possibilities of language. Sharfi was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last summer for study in Starr Davis’s Writing Convictions workshop.
Author photo by Deanie Chen
The Story of My Sound
after Nikki Giovanni
to dissolve on my tongue
a language must ripple,
must soundlessly assemble
a dance to the confluence of two Niles:
white & blue & both
i feel most lion-like at that convergence
on my way out of a revolving door
under skies the color of a bruise
that won’t stop bragging
about its tolerance for more pain
i am loudest when left alone
i know my way around stillness
just as well as my given name
i split & make a road
wide enough to hold all
twenty-seven shades of my rage
i remember everything, look:
my earliest memory is
the rupture between me & my origin is
blood breaking at birth is
birth of a silence is
silent surrender to an ocean
of my own mother’s making
Once, before becoming…
a bloody cord coils itself
around my neck
as if to say
i guzzle down this word
& tower to protect my quiet
casting my whole heavy shadow
over every speck of dirt
as if to say
DON’T FUCK WITH ME
Now, imagine a current so daring in its quiet
it calls its own self into question
Imagine me the way that I arrive
before you, a timely tempest.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem after reading Nikki Giovanni’s piece “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why).” I read Nikki’s poem in a workshop led by Marwa Helal, where we grappled with the poetics of placelessness and our experiences with physical and dream landscapes. It was also in that workshop that I began learning about biomythographies—a form of writing developed by Audre Lorde, infusing history, biography and myth-making so as to blur the boundaries between reality and myth.
In this poem, I am attempting to write a biomythography of my own voice. I am not the loudest voice in the room; I am mostly comfortable with silence and that often makes people uneasy. When writing this piece, I tried to invoke the power of quiet and explore the shades of emotion that can exist underneath silence and stillness.
What are you working on right now?
These past few months, poetry hasn’t been a very consistent part of my life—it has mostly visited me in abrupt bursts and those bursts haven’t lasted very long. I used to feel a lot of guilt during those “non-writing” periods, but I’ve been trying to grant myself some grace. I’m realizing that even when I am not actively writing any poetry, I can remain open to the experience of it in my everyday life.
Lately, I’ve been working on being more observant—these attempts at being more present and attentive have drawn me closer to parts of myself (and parts of others around me) that I choose to show love to, but I’ve also been considering the parts of myself and others I tend to neglect. In trying to be observant, I’ve been reading more praise poetry and I’ve been writing poems that are thank-you notes to the mundane parts of my body, myself and my days. I’ve written poems in praise of my knees, the sandalwood my mother packed into my suitcase the last time I was home, the jars of dried-up flowers along my windowsill, which have extended me beauty past their time. I don’t know what will become of these poems, but I’m just content with the process of singing praises at this particular moment.
What’s a good day for you?
One where I cannot really feel the passage of time. Usually that will involve going outside on a sunny (and crisp) day, towards one place knowing that I will end up somewhere completely different. I love a day that involves a lot of walking—I’m talking a three-to-five-hour period of wandering around and the weather encouraging it. Having a good friend walk alongside me—someone with whom I can just sit in silence if we want to, or spontaneously hop into different stores and galleries together. Oh, and for the day to be great, there must be multiple stops for caffeine and baked goods along the way.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I moved to Brooklyn in 2018 for my job at the time—I was working as a legal representative at an immigration legal services organization until a couple of years ago. I could say that the reason I stayed is because of grad school, but the real reason I stayed is because I met some incredible people within the first six months of living here (most of whom are poets!) who made me feel so at home in such a short period of time.
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 currently live on the edge of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. I’ve lived in Crown Heights since I moved to New York in 2018, and my last move within the neighborhood was the shortest one yet (I moved two blocks over on the same street). I really appreciate that it’s a multigenerational neighborhood—one where I can share community with little kids and people who are forty years older than me at the same time. I think I may have also been drawn to Crown Heights because it reminded me of Albany Park in Chicago—the neighborhood my family and I lived in the longest while in the United States.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Going to my first BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in the summer of 2019 was most definitely a defining experience—I honestly still can’t believe I got to see Burna Boy and Sampa the Great for free on one of the hottest days of the summer that year.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community to me means finding people who are just as curious and excited as you about words and language and all of the sounds that can emerge from a poem and its making. I was first introduced to poetry through spoken word in college—the spoken word group I was a part of (Oye) was all about building community with one another such that we could trust that our words would be held by our fellow poets. That introduction still means so much to me because it rooted me to the idea that poetry is a shared experience, so I’ve never really considered writing, reading and experiencing poetry to be an individual or insular thing, even if I were in fact going through it by myself.
I am so grateful to have found some small (but mighty) poetry communities with big-heart energy in different corners of Brooklyn and NYC, through places like Cave Canem, the Women’s Poetry Workshop, the House of Abundance—and the friendship that grows out of those spaces. Some of my closest friends have come out of being at a poetry workshop or an open mic and having an exchange that goes a little like “Hey, I was really moved by your words. I really appreciate you sharing them, let’s hang out,” and I absolutely love that.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Many of the Brooklyn poets in my life I’ve met through House of Abundance—an intimate community of poets, writers, singers, improvisers and creative people who are brought together on a semi-regular basis by Tina Kachoo and Solange Claws for a night of poetry and expression of all kinds. I remember going to my first House of Abundance poetry night in November of 2018 and being captivated by the magic of the moment. Tina and Solange are two Brooklyn poets who are very important to me, both because of the beautiful creative community they’ve cultivated in their own home through these poetry nights, and also because reading their poetry often invigorates me and moves me towards the blank page. They are both incredibly talented and generous poets and community-builders.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
When I think of my poetry mentors, I think of a long and timeless poetic lineage of Black women whose words and work accompany and guide me pretty much every day. I think of Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks and June Jordan and Nikki Giovanni.
I recognize that the word “mentor” connotes a type of personal relationship that I didn’t / don’t have with these poets, but their work has really been somewhat of a compass and a source of recognition during different points in my life.
This short poem by Lucille Clifton comes to mind:
to black poets
just cause you don’t see me
don’t mean i ain’t there.
when you be together
and being together
and you feel something soft
rubbing you just like sisterskin
don’t turn off please,
Communicating with this poetic lineage is always making me feel something and I hope I never turn off, and always feel something soft.
I also think of my friends who write poetry as mentors in many ways. There is so much they teach me through their various ways of relating to language, the writing process and craft.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Heavy is a book that has lingered with me a ton since reading it last year. It’s a striking memoir by Kiese Laymon, written in (what I experienced as) a mixture of essay, poetry, prose and confessional—a letter to his mother, to his body, to himself as a Black boy and man interacting with his world in Jackson, Mississippi. I can’t stop thinking about this book for a few reasons—one being that it is written in a way that reveals and names … without always explicitly doing so. Heavy also made me think about love and what it means to experience and give love responsibly, from a place rooted in being wholly accepting of the person receiving your love.
I also haven’t been able to stop thinking about Nate Marshall’s poem “imagine” from his latest collection, Finna. Actually, I can’t stop thinking about the whole collection. There’s a line from “imagine” that I’ve been leaning towards as a daily practice, for which I’m very grateful: “consider how love is a great idea / we keep having every day.”
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
So many! I can feel the pile of books I insist on buying at a much faster rate than I can possibly read staring intently at me right now.
A few that come to mind: Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks, The Carrying by Ada Limón, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib.
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 usually dipping in and out of multiple books, partly because I enjoy reading a few different genres at a time and experiencing the kind of blurring and connection-making my mind might potentially want to do with whatever it is I’m reading. And partly (actually, mostly) because I have such a short attention span and often need to take breaks from one text, unless it’s completely consuming me. Ideally, I like to be reading one poetry book and one nonfiction at a time (I am just slowly reintroducing fiction back into my life, in the form of YA).
I infinitely prefer physical books—I need to emote on the page and for me that looks like dog-earing, underlining (in ink if I have to), scribbling my reactions in the margins, and that’s a pretty tactile experience that I need a physical book for.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I have never written a visual poem before, one that illustrates something in the very physical form it takes. Chaelee Dalton’s poem “we eat” is one I’ve been reflecting on recently.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love reading and writing in parks—especially smaller, seemingly unremarkable parks that are easier to hide away in. On most walks, I usually carry a little prayer rug with me that I also use as a mat to sit on when I walk by a park that calls my name. I love laying my mat down under a tree, taking out my journal or the book I’m currently reading and spending some time reading or writing before continuing on my way.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I absolutely love Herbert Von King Park—I often find myself walking towards it without having made a conscious decision to. I especially love the park in the summertime, when there’s a lot of life at any given moment—drumming circles, kids biking, that one person going through their yoga routine to a Drake playlist, sometimes even a DJ in the middle of the afternoon—but no matter what’s going on, there’s always a quiet corner you could find if you wanted.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the dying light
And what I see as sun you consider delusion
For every arrangement of hearts that finds me as good, also stirs in you.
Because it is home to people who are home to me.