November 30–December 6, 2020
Deon Robinson is a Queer Afro-Latino poet born and raised in Bronx, New York. He received his BA in creative writing from Susquehanna University, where he was a two-time recipient of the Janet C. Weis Prize for Literary Excellence. His poetry can be found in the Adroit Journal, ArLiJo, Glass, Homology Lit, Vagabond City Lit, Variety Pack: Black Voices of Pride and elsewhere. His work was nominated for Best of the Net in 2019 and he is currently working on his debut poetry chapbook. This past fall, Robinson was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Xandria Phillips’s Feeding Yourself workshop.
Author photo by Devonne Tourre
On Trick Candles and Blank Rounds: A Portrait of Love as Mad Libs
after Rachel McKibbens
Some days, I forget you had
[ A ]. Almost like those June
dog days when I clenched my fist
around the steel promise of a seatbelt.
You apologized [ B ] times. I hate to say
this but that was never enough. [ C ] law
states if something can go wrong, it will. Meaning,
if you don’t know the names of your bones,
someone you [ D ] will teach them to you
as they break them. Don’t be me. I learned neither
the brain nor the heart is the part of the body that
[ E ] forgiveness, so I used my liver. A lesson in
anatomy is still a lesson if it is too early to be an autopsy.
[A] = anger issues / anti-social personality disorder / a god complex
[B] = zero / one / a hundred
[C] = (insert name) / The / Murphy’s
[D] = love / fuck / hate
[E] = creates / processes / releases
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Originally the piece didn’t brandish this form. It was just the upper segment of the poem with the blanks filled in. As I spent time alone with the poem, I realized the paradox of it. When I wrote this poem, I was still in love with my abuser, but I had realized it wasn’t healthy for me. The poem functions on that mindset of undeserved justification and I need to hammer that home. I was obsessed with creating art that I needed to hear, after all. That’s why I’m thankful to Rachel McKibbens for her stellar reading at the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival which inspired the change of form. She read a poem sprinkled with these pauses where her eyes looked out into the distance and you had to read her face to understand the context. Some grievances play out exactly the same even if we wish they didn’t. I added the fill-in-the-blanks portion mostly for me as the author, which makes this poem impossible for me to read out loud. It’s one of my first poems that started my recovery from a physically abusive relationship but also from my alcohol abuse.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am compiling my fourth poetry chapbook about my personal experiences in romantic relationships. It speaks on domestic abuse, learned helplessness and what it means to “deserve” happiness. It has been on my mind for the last two years and I can’t seem to “finish” the chapbook. I don’t know if the collection is finished or if I am just afraid of completion. But that’s just what art feels like when you’re an anxious-avoidant personality! I’m also returning to a previous chapbook about caretaker fatigue and what it means to unpack a word like love considering my mother was chronically ill my whole life. But realistically, I’m fighting myself daily on whether I should scrap it or not!
What’s a good day for you?
Honestly, any day where I write at least two draft poems in a moving vehicle is a gift. Also, free food and a nap rejuvenate my soul.
What brought you to New York?
My mother’s side of the family has lived in the US for only one generation; before then, her side resided in Yauco, Puerto Rico. My father came to the US as an immigrant and spent time in NY to make a name for himself.
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 was born-n-raised in the Bronx, but I’ve spent time in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other NYC boroughs. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I would disclose that I was from the Bronx. Everyone assumed I came from Brooklyn because they considered me sophisticated. It used to bother me, but I love telling people now, especially since I attended a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). If I could live elsewhere though, it would be Philly. I love that city and I travel there pretty often.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
My boyfriend has taken me to Brooklyn a couple times to eat roti on Fulton Street and hang out around Prospect Park. That was right before the pandemic heightened in mid-March of this year.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Thanks to Brooklyn Poets, I took Xandria Phillips’s workshop. They were just the most dazzling instructor! Everyone in the workshop was so engaged and invested, I was so sad that it ended. It was the closest community I’ve had since I graduated this year in May under COVID-19. It got me thinking about what I seek in community, outside the parameters of those who simply want to write and receive feedback. I trusted my peers in that workshop to guide me through emotions I never experienced in writing. Like now, I don’t want to just create work, I also want to befriend other writers through work. I spoke to this in workshop, but I think about the idea of community not just between people but in art. Something more timeless than these bodies, you know?
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Tina Chang! I heard her read at the last in-person Dodge Poetry Festival back in 2018. I cannot describe the feeling of absolute awe when she read her work. All my friends and I were shook at just how evoking she was. At that time, she read from Hybrida, which wasn’t bound for release for a couple months. I still wish I had the chance to speak with her and tell her just how amazing it was to discover a new poet I loved in person!
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Hanif Abdurraqib, Aziza Barnes, Safia Elhillo, Rachel McKibbens, Hieu Minh Nguyen, sam sax and Danez Smith were the writers and performers whose work drew me into the poetry world. Watching them compete at slams and read work on the Button Poetry YouTube channel felt like home. I listened to their poetry everywhere I went. My former professors Monica Prince, Hasanthika Sirisena and Karla Kelsey played a huge role in my development as a literary artist: the one-on-ones where they dared me to push myself further, challenged my approach to form and recommended endless provocative works that would push me in new necessary directions.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The last collection I read was Paige Lewis’s Space Struck. I loved their work since I read their poem “When They Find the Ark,” published by Passages North a couple years ago. I love work that never feels like enough and through reading their collection, I was very impressed by how much it made me yearn for that spectacular sight they have for this world and its mysteries!
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I love to read Queer and BIPOC (especially Queer Black folk) so Inheritance by Taylor Johnson, Summertime Fine by Jason Crawford, Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams and Fantasia for the Man in Blue by Tommye Blount mock me every night for not having read them yet! Reading more prose collections was a personal resolution of mine starting this year, had 2020 not been an absolute dumpster fire hurtling towards me at high speed! However, I do have my sights on water & power by Steven Dunn, A Fish Growing Lungs by Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison and Borrowed Time by Paul Monette.
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?
Picking up different collections to read at once is how I read when I’m excited! It is super unhelpful but eventually I chill out and only read one at a time. I read all the blurbs first, then notes and acknowledgments. The creative content comes last for me. I like physical books, so I despise notes with the utmost passion! I bought Jamaal May’s Hum and the previous owner marked it up so much that it was almost impossible to read some of the poems through the scribbles! I am totally not still upset about it!
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Well, in my WIP full-length collection, I travel throughout my life showing how bullying transforms into harassment when you’re an adult. There’s a series of erasure poems that operates in a very similar manner to the AIDS quilt in San Francisco. It’s meant to address youth suicide among Black boys as it continues to climb in these years. I have been trying to write it for at least a year now, but I worry about mishandling the poem. Like, what if by sewing these stories together I somehow ruin them, even though the lives of these victims are so dear to me?
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Any moving vehicle: bus, train, plane, car, etc. The thought of going somewhere while simultaneously trapping myself helps me a lot! I process the entire world in motion, so if I stay too long in the same place my work suffers drastically. Which also means that when it’s colder out I suffer through worse writer’s block because I’m not going outside as often.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Fulton Street—the hub of downtown Brooklyn. Along Fulton “mall” is everything you’ll need when going through your day—shopping, food, places to sit and think. It’s my go-to whenever I find myself in the borough! Once the pandemic clears out, I plan to see a lot more of Brooklyn. Besides the Bronx, I’ve only really explored Queens and Manhattan.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate unhinging this body’s swollen vengeance,
And what I practice in the solitary, you repent with finite language,
For every anecdote reinvents me as good riddance, all for the sake of you.
I will always have this phantom relationship because my mother was born there, making it the first place my siblings and I ever touched as second-generation immigrant children.