September 7–13, 2020
Dante Clark is a poet, musician, actor and essayist from the Bronx, NY. His work has been published or is forthcoming in the Root, Afropunk, wildness and elsewhere. A graduate of Hunter College with a BA in creative writing, Clark has performed and won poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Café and the Bowery Poetry Club. He has also received support from organizations including Catapult and Cave Canem. This past spring, he was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Shira Erlichman’s poetry revision workshop, The Possibility Lab.
Old ass television.
Obsolete oath I kept
when technology deserted your
model. I played games with you
when I grew tired of history,
learning about a country
with a wicked set of hands.
Afternoons and weekends spent
clicking your on switch,
my little gaze lightened by
a counterfeit world. Smiling while
the real one crumbled. Clicking
’til the screen stayed black.
Wheeling you, one day, to repairman
who said: next time’s the last time.
And sometimes I cringe
when a prophet gets it right.
Might belong to him one day, said
my mother to father
scolding me for playing
with the buttons,
clicking on my future
gift from the grave.
Clicking after you broke
down again, and nothing
but my forehead ridges
reflected off your glass.
I saw my father’s eyes in the face I make
when it’s time for another burial.
The last time I touched the dead
machine, I left it by the dumpster.
The space it once occupied
adopted new dust. It was there
where I’d die, press restart, and return.
This country I’m tired of
knowing is not as forgiving.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Welp, as it happens (damn near all the time) I meant for this poem to be about something else, but the poem wants to be what the poem wants to be. And so, what was initially intended to be a defense for rioting in a time of constant revolutionary action ended up turning into a personal, narrative-based poem about an old-ass television I inherited after my father passed away. It’s weird how that happens. One moment, you’re steering the pen in one direction, and the next moment, the pen takes the reins, guiding the writer down a path of gravel they’ve never been to before.
I just took Shira Erlichman’s The Possibility Lab workshop with Brooklyn Poets this summer, and one of the many things she said about writing that’s stuck to my brain was (and I’m paraphrasing here): “When it comes to tension, there’s a difference between throwing a vase and pointing it out in the background while an argument ensues above it.” I tried to use this approach for this particular poem by focusing on a prized and broken possession set in the backdrop of a world that continues to crumble behind me.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a collection of poems that I started drafting last year in Angel Nafis’s Poetry Generator workshop at Catapult. It’s about a bunch of things: Blackness, family, religiosity, faith, failure, failure and even more failure, some joy, my niggas, my people, the people who definitely are not my people, my desperate grip on a legacy of maleness that continues to kill us, grief, mourning, the diminishing of hope, and the ever-present, nonstop violence that’s all too commonplace in America. I promise you I’ve made room for humor as well. I try to write jokes and then a poem breaks out, blossoming from a punchline, stretching towards the heat of some truth.
What’s a good day for you?
A day off to rest. A day in which I wake up, turn around, and see my partner smiling in her sleep. A day with no phone calls about bad news. A day when all the tweets are just jokes. A day in which the news headlines aren’t a flood of propaganda from the powers that be. A day in which this empire glares at its reflection and considers fixing its face, changing its laws to benefit all the people, and stepping down from its throne built on the rest of the world’s suffering. A day in which I see tomorrow. And the day after that. And any day that gets us closer to outlasting this everyday dread.
What brought you to New York?
I was born in Harlem. Raised in the Bronx. My parents are both from the Bronx and Harlem. Their parents are from elsewhere. My dad’s mom was from Kingston, Jamaica. My mom’s mom is from Mississippi. I love that my parents raised me in this crazy-ass town. I’ll be here until I won’t be anymore.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I live uptown at the very northern tip of Manhattan in a neighborhood called Inwood. Been there since 2016. I love how I’ve been able to make a home with my partner. I love the strangers who speak to me in Spanish because they assume I speak the language (unfortunately, my Spanish is trash and sometimes my English is trash, too). I love escaping the noise of Broadway and 200th St and finding my thoughts on a walk through Inwood Hill Park. I love that this neighborhood still feels like New York. It is gradually changing because of recent rezoning laws. It’s been gradually changing even before that. Gentrification seems damn near inevitable for every neighborhood in this city. The neighborhood I grew up in, in the Bronx, has already seen a swarm of new buildings for people who’ve never lived there. I’m afraid that’ll be the eventual fate of the neighborhood I live in now.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I’ve definitely spent some time bouncing around Brooklyn, even though Brooklyn has a funny rivalry with uptown. Shoutout East New York, where my best friend lives (DJ OOO Child, waddup!). Shoutout Flatbush where I used to travel sometimes to cop books before the pandemic. Shoutout Eastern Parkway where I’ve seen every Caribbean flag known to man. Shoutout Crown Heights where my big homie Zook (RIP) used to stay. Shoutout Bed-Stuy where some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met just so happen to rest their heads. Shoutout Junior’s where me and my cousin Matthew walked across the Brooklyn Bridge just to get some cheesecake because Diddy made Da Band do it on an episode of Making the Band 2. Shoutout to the fact that they actually walked across the Manhattan Bridge upon further review. I’ll always have a tender spot for Brooklyn, even if Brooklyn snarls (sometimes) at the borough that made me who I am.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community can be many things. They can be a flock of people who remain in conversation with one another. They can be a crew who checks in on each other in a group chat and organizes around collective sustainability. They can be the workshop that pushes your stagnant work towards a growth spurt. They can be the poetry table at the slam, stoked to hear your “new shit.” They can be the kickback at a precious hole-in-the-wall where the drinks are cheap and the laughs are plenty. They can be your referral to your next living space. They can be a couch to crash on, for the night, in a city where you’ll never live. They can be your inspiration for radical imaginative practice. I’m just trying to think about all of the positive things that a poetry community can be. And I’m trying to say thank you to anyone who’s been any of these things for me.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
There are poets, who are important to me, from Brooklyn and all over. So since things are so scattered at the moment, can we just pretend that Brooklyn is the whole world? Can I pretend that this question is an excuse to fire off shoutouts to every important poet that comes to mind? Can I say that Mahogany L. Browne, Jive Poetic, Rico Frederick, Andrew Tyree, Gabriel Ramirez, Amatan Noor, Roya Marsh, Saul Williams, Aja Monet, Joshua Bennett, Jennifer Falú, Carvens Lissaint, Jenny Xie, Shira Erlichman, Angel Nafis, Alice Liang, Sophie Christenberry, Caitlin Wolper, Leena Soman Navani, Gabby Spear, Maghan Baptiste, Angbeen Saleem, Jennifer Lai, Hannah Schneider, Diane Exavier, kim mayo, Alexis Aceves, Geleisa George, Mary Ma, Greg Wands, Morgan Parker, Jasmine Reid, Trace DePass, Frank Johnson, Nadia Owusu, Carolyn Ferrucci, Irene Vázquez, Jimena Lucero, Brian J Andrade, Starr Davis, Mel Chanté, Kat Jagai, Tara Jayakar, Jiaoyang Li, Sasha Stiles, Huiying B. Chan, t. tran le, Andrea Jácome, Chia-Lun Chang, Chelsea Bunn, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Keesean Moore, Christopher Wallace, along with countless others I’m not remembering right now, countless others who pushed my pen in the right direction during workshop and countless others who wrote countless words that were important to me, all inspired me to write, and breathe, and live in this world some more?
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a legit poetry mentor other than my peers who inspire me, at the very least, to strive towards seeing tomorrow, but if it wasn’t for my partner, Julianny Gomez, who introduced me to the works of Aja Monet some years ago, I probably would’ve never been interested in putting words on the page the way I do now. If it wasn’t for Elizabeth Acevedo who wrote a YA novel in verse that made my grown ass cry, I probably would’ve never known that a poet could write fiction. If it wasn’t for my big homie, Andrew Tyree, who frequently brought a teenage me to the Nuyorican Poets Café to watch him slam against artists who shook my soul, in the mid-aughts, then I might have never had an interest in being a poet in the first place. If it wasn’t for Mahogany L. Browne who jokingly told a teenage me, “One day you’ll be better than him,” then I probably would’ve never sought the stage to begin with. If it wasn’t for my homie, Chris Marin, who invited me to check out the Bowery Poetry Club in my early twenties, then I probably would’ve never been reminded of this seed that was sown in me so long ago. If it wasn’t for my homie Anthony Gaskins who formed a hybrid poetry-filmmaking group called Unexpected Artistry, then that quiet seed inside of me may have never been watered any more. If it wasn’t for Moon Molson who always told me “You’re like a street poet” when I was just trying to be an actor, then I probably would’ve never stopped just trying to be an actor. If it wasn’t for the way the crowd’s snaps, and ooos, and hmphs, reach my ears in the middle of me doing my thing on stage. If it wasn’t for Jive Poetic, who always tells me “You need to memorize that.” If it wasn’t for Jenny Xie, who taught me where the poem should end. If it wasn’t for Angel Nafis, who taught me the importance of the volta. If it wasn’t for my mama. If it wasn’t for my pop. If it wasn’t for the Bronx. If it wasn’t for Harlem. If it wasn’t for Mississippi. If it wasn’t for Jamaica. If it wasn’t for life, the wildest mentor of all, dragging us through this thing until we grow tired of its calloused grip, then I’d literally be doing … nothing at all.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro and Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin are collections I often revisit when I need inspiration. Parker’s hilariousness matched with her guttural poignancy is a feat and an approach to the craft that I aspire toward achieving with every blank page that I meet. What Hayes does with the sonnet form throughout his collection, the leaps and vast worlds explored through every line, makes it seem possible, even for a naturally non-structured, scatterbrained poet like me, to remain interested in a style that used to intimidate me.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I picked up Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater a while back, started it, put it down, and read a bunch of poetry collections instead. I did the same thing with Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys a while back. I have a distant relationship with fiction at the moment because I’ve really been reading nothing but contemporary poetry collections since the start of 2019. But, I promise I’m going to finish the aforementioned novels then finally pick up more collections of poetry that I’ve been dying to read. I don’t own any collections by June Jordan or Lucille Clifton and that needs to change ASAP. Though I could always go for a book of poems, I need to reintroduce fiction to my reading regimen because there are a ton of great books out there, and I’m always interested in how reading novels can inform my poetry-writing process.
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?
Oh, my reading process has gone to shit recently. I’m desperately trying to regain some type of rhythm. I’ve been buying books and forgetting they’re there. Starting other books then abandoning them, mid-chapter. It’s been a rough summer for reading, for me. It’s been a rough pandemic for reading, period. I usually jump to a book that I feel is calling out to me with some “DANTE, THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN JUST FOR YOU TO READ AT THIS VERY MOMENT” type of shit, but I haven’t felt that way about any books until Nate Marshall’s Finna dropped a few weeks ago. I loved that collection, and it’s brought me back into finishing books again.
Sometimes I try to read a few books at a time, but I’m better at synthesizing the text when I take my time just reading one book, front to back. I usually only write notes about what I’m reading when I’m reading it for a class or when I’m doing research. When I’m reading just for fun, I keep the notepad far away because it takes my focus away from the page. I love physical books over digital all day every day. In a moment where touching things has become even more precious, I’m grateful for the tiny breeze that comes with the flip of a page, and the start of a chapter, and the end of one too—a climate I can control with a flick of my fingers.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I want to write a contrapuntal poem! I want to make that happen very soon.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I used to love reading and writing at my local coffeeshop, first thing in the morning. Now I read and write exclusively on my living room couch. If a deadline is near and I need a jolt, then I’ll write on one of my dining table stools which is less comfortable but supports a greater sense of urgency if I’ve probably procrastinated myself into a time crunch for the millionth time.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Tip Top Bar in Bed-Stuy because I’ve had classic tipsy nights there topped off with some of the most delicious fried fish sandwiches on this side of the world. BAM is dope for being a beautiful beacon for Black contemporary art. Any Golden Krust I’ve sauntered into where the staff was rude but the food still slapped was somewhere in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Circus and Miles Culture are both home to some of the drippiest clothes I’ve seen in the city. Prospect Park is dope. Freehold in Williamsburg is wild. Guero’s has the best fried chicken tacos I’VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. I miss getting a strike at Brooklyn Bowl. I miss meeting with friends somewhere in Crown Heights. I miss being so deep in Brooklyn that an expensive late-night cab ride home becomes a reasonable part of the plan.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the death of doubt, my dancefloor being its grave.
And what I dance to, you should too, two-stepping
for every new hope that sings to me as good as I’d sing of them with you.
Because when we say we’re fighting for all of us to be free, that means we’re fighting for everyone who lives in Brooklyn too.