Poet Of The Week

Felice Belle

     March 15–21, 2021

Felice Belle consumes and creates stories to make sense of the world and her place in it. As a poet and playwright, she has performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, TEDWomen and TEDCity2.0. Her writing has been published in several journals and anthologies including Oral Tradition, Bum Rush the Page and UnCommon Bonds: Women Reflect on Race and Friendship. Playwriting credits include Other Women, Game On! and It Is Reasonable to Expect. She holds a BS in industrial engineering from Columbia University, an MA in individualized study from NYU Gallatin and an MFA in creative writing from Long Island University. She is a lecturer in the low-residency MFA program at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and chief storyteller for the global nonprofit Narrative 4.

you are here.

 

here is the hole in your bathroom ceiling

roof water rains through

here is the rubik’s cube man

you cannot resolve

here is your rented hatchback economy

thunder road on repeat

doing eighty-five on the garden state

here is your last date

here are the shoes, dress, spanx

you will wear for your best friend’s wedding

then never again

here is where you think

you could be a vegetarian

here is your first love calling

from texas, hauling fuel

down eight-lane highway

here is the text you sent

like a twelve-year-old ’cause

you’re still too scared to say

here is the phone call you should have made

here is your heart whole

first time since first love

here is the one

you were trying to forget

when you sent the text

to the one who can commit

to everything except you

here’s what you learned about truth:

claim you want more

and she will make you kneel

with reverence

here you are

looking for parking

when you no longer have a car

here’s what freud has to say:

the hole in the ceiling is a metaphor

for your repressed trauma

here is the space you filled with myth

made real because you believe

here is god giving do-overs

here is your hard pack of cigarettes

say a prayer over your part in things

and lay the past to rest

here is the order of events

here is an alternate theory of the crime

here’s the gap

between signifier and signified

here is a sign:

it doesn’t end here

 

Brooklyn Poets · Felice Belle, "you are here."

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I was on maid-of-honor duty for my best friend’s wedding. It was like a less funny version of Bridesmaids; I wasn’t very good at the job. I was also at the end of my MFA program, unsure of what my next step was—personally, creatively, professionally. It felt like everything was changing and I had no plan. This poem is a mapping exercise—me trying to locate myself by cataloguing the things I could touch and feel, the things I knew for sure.  
 
What are you working on right now?

My brother’s a graphic designer and we’ve been collaborating on an animated series. I just finished a draft of my contribution to the canon of pandemic plays—it’s currently a one-act, but I think there may be more to the story. And a book of poetry, always poetry. I recently read an interview with Jericho Brown, where he’s discussing his collection The Tradition, and he says, “It’s the best example of my soul on earth.” Lately, when I edit my work, I find myself asking, Is this the best representation of my soul on the page?

What’s a good day for you?

Honestly, in the last year I’ve experienced so much grief and loss, that just waking up every day feels like a win. I feel an immense sense of gratitude having survived 2020, healthy and sane. Pre-pandemic, and hopefully post-, a good day is reading, writing, prayer, meditation, BFF brunch, belly-laughs, karaoke, a movie at Alamo Drafthouse and dirty martinis. 
 
What brought you to Brooklyn?

Growing up, I spent summers at my aunt’s house in Flatbush. Brooklyn was this magical land where all the stores were in walking distance, I got to stay up late watching horror movies, and my cousins and I spent hours hanging out on the stoop. As soon as I had enough money to pay rent, there was no question where I wanted to live. 
 
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 Prospect Lefferts Gardens for ten years. I’d never heard of PLG before moving here, I thought realtors invented it. Turns out it’s historic. Also, it’s (a part of) Flatbush. These days, there’s new construction on every corner. I was in Crown Heights for ten years prior. PLG felt suburban by comparison. I love all the small businesses and cafés and my bodega guy who shouts “My queen!” when I stop by. 

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

Two memories come to mind—

1. I had lived in Brooklyn for about a week. I was on the 4 train to Crown Heights, on my way home from the Nuyorican Poets Café at 2 AM-ish. There was a young man passed out on the subway seat across from me. Another guy slid up next to him, took the wallet out of his pocket, and walked off. Everyone saw it happen. No one said a word. 

2. The summer after Prince died there was a Purple Rain singalong in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Everyone there knew every line and came prepared to act out the movie in its entirety. At the end, lighters were up, hands were waving, and all of us were hitting the high notes. It was a perfect Brooklyn night. 

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

Inspiration and accountability. Through Cave Canem, I had the opportunity to take poetry workshops with Sonia Sanchez, Tracy K. Smith and Tyehimba Jess. Each of those workshops was filled with writers doing their own special brand of word magic. Beyond being in awe of the innate talent, I was inspired by that community to take risks in my writing and to deepen my own knowledge of the art and craft of poetry. I’m also in a writing group that meets monthly. They keep me honest—What’s up with the manuscript? What happened to the play you started? Their insight, feedback and encouragement have been invaluable.

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

Some of them are no longer Brooklyn-based, but they’ve all been important—

Jennifer Murphy, Carl Hancock Rux, Tish Benson, Willie Perdomo, Suheir Hammad, Paul Beatty, Travis Montez, Steve Colman, t’ai freedom ford, Saul Williams, Lemon Andersen, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Patricia Smith, John High, Ocean Vuong. 
 
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I wrote my master’s thesis about Ntozake Shange, there is so much about her I love. Through her life and work I learned I didn’t have to limit myself as a writer. I could be a poet, a playwright, a novelist, I could write plays made only of poems, and when the words didn’t exist to describe what I did, I could invent a whole new genre. In my MFA program, I worked with Jessica Hagedorn, another iconic, multi-hyphenate writer whom I adore. Jessica encouraged me to be curious about everything, showed me that every work of art can teach you something, that you can learn as much from the work that resonates with you as you learn from the work that doesn’t. Jessica actually took me to meet Ntozake when she lived in Brooklyn. A story for another time.

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

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with “Blood History” by Reginald Dwayne Betts. That first line, “The things that abandon you get remembered different.” Damn. The poem moves from that truth to an exploration of what experiences the English language can and cannot hold, intertwined with the speaker’s reflection on his relationship to fatherhood. The emotion, the multiplicity of meaning, the interrogation of how personal history shapes a life, it’s breathtaking. Also, “Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying” by Noor Hindi. This poem had me at the title, again because of the sheer truth of it. It reminds me of the Brecht quote, “You can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen.” Hindi manages to do both, giving attention to the tanks and prison cells, the moon and the flowers. She writes, “Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound,” a reminder that our value systems are subjective. Emily Dickinson wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” These two poems do that to me, over and over.

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

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

This Waiting for Love by Helene Johnson

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell
 
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?

Reading is a full-on sensory experience, so digital texts have never appealed to me. I write all over the pages, underline, highlight, make notes in the margins, fold the edges. I love the smell and the feel of books. I used to be the type to finish one before starting another. Now, my desk is stacked with half-read books. I’m reading less for pleasure and more for research. I go searching in a bunch of books until I find what I’m looking for.
 
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to try the Golden Shovel. I’m still thinking about the source text I want to be in conversation with. Also, I’ve been thinking about, but have not yet attempted, a found poem using lyrics from my favorite musical. 
 
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 on the subway. I credit long commutes with my ability to get through multiple books in one week. 
 
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

My favorite spot in Brooklyn is the cobblestone plaza by the old Ice Cream Factory, right below the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s a perfect view of Manhattan and the river, and there’s a Whitman quote on the railing: “Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!” When I get the urge to go to the water, I go there. 
 
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
 

I celebrate magic in the mundane,

And what I can’t explain makes you believe,

For every divine illusion becomes a part of me as good as the ghost of you.

Why Brooklyn?

It’s the borough of champions.