Poet Of The Week

Forest Smotrich-Barr

     July 24–30, 2023

Forest Smotrich-Barr is a poet, visual artist and Scorpio originally from Michigan and currently living in Brooklyn. His work has been published in smoke and mold, Foglifter, Birdcoat Quarterly, Vagabond City, Dialogist and elsewhere. He was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year for study in imogen xtian smith’s workshop on the poetry of dailiness.

after egress


   suddenly all the shame     is gone,

 left before the winter      doorways shed

and we have felled     the sense

of falling,       fallen so long

we’ve come to call it

walking instead

   I hadn’t realized

     we could be here

       in the outside world                       edge edge edge

but still here in the world       giddy on beach

       we have all been crawling     in and out of hollows

     for years now,

   and so the trees know us well,

  pull us to belly       inwards and intimate

 and I am strung        so gently thru

as I pick up tuning fork

the dog biting my child-back

attuned to invisible frequency

I wouldn’t      know again

for many years       m says,

‘I have bad gay-dar but good

   trauma-dar,’ or, ‘I saw your

     fucked up vibes from across the room’

        we are driving      in hilly circles,

chasing the black octagon

      on your map

   when we reach it

we will be emptied

of ourselves          the nothing

and also the reservoir

where we are ruptured,

     warbled, crunched,

       the room    outside of a room

    in which we make each other

       gorgeous and immortal


Brooklyn Poets · Forest Smotrich-Barr, "after egress"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was written over the course of a year or two—it’s a combination of a lot of different poems and notes that found their way together and became the prologue of a chapbook. A lot of my process has been inspired by the work and rituals of CAConrad, which have brought me more into my body and into deeper, wilder connections with language. The process and form of this poem are very much in debt to Conrad’s somatic exercises; I kept moving its various pieces around until this shape emerged, which I see as being like a portal, or maybe the feeling of continuous falling that is mentioned at the beginning of the piece. At some point I stole the “bad gay-dar but good trauma-dar” line from my friend Matt, and it came to feel central to the poem—thinking about the kinds of communication that can occur on a silent, subliminal level.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m trying to finish editing and find a home for my first chapbook, Spells for the Portals, which is a hybrid poetry / prose project that investigates the feeling of passing through various “portals.” I’m also very slowly working on a longer project composed of text that I’ve scavenged and rearranged from Kafka’s diaries. I read his diaries when I was like nineteen and they just felt so weird and trans and tinged with this affect of sad, effete Jewish masculinity that is really interesting to me. So I’m writing about what it felt like to read Kafka’s words as a young person and encounter his familiar feeling of a deep unknowing of one’s own consciousness.

What’s a good day for you?

A late start and slow breakfast followed by a long day at the beach with friends, maybe dinner in my friends’ backyard and beer around a fire, making some art together, maybe going dancing.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

Friends, trans and artistic community, decent healthcare and all that. And I can’t drive!

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 Flatbush near Prospect Park for the past year, and I love how green it is, and that it feels very locally grounded. I’ve taught some visual art classes at an elementary school nearby, which was lovely. I obviously also feel complicit in the gentrification process that’s been accelerating here over the last few years. Some neighbors are doing some really amazing organizing—like through Equality for Flatbush and the Flatbush Tenant Coalition—and I would encourage especially fellow White people who live in Flatbush to pitch in some money to those orgs if you can.

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

I don’t know—too many to name and also I feel like Brooklyn means specific things to me that don’t feel at all representative of a larger Brooklyn, I guess.

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

I think a poetry community for me is just the people that I want to go to with a first draft or whatever thinking comes before a first draft! I’ve been starting to build some poetry community through a little workshop that I’ve helped organize with friends and a poetry / ritual circle of sorts that another friend has been organizing. So just through queer community, I guess.

And I’ve been to the occasional reading and class at the Poetry Project, Wendy’s Subway and KGB Bar.

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

I’m so grateful for the class that I took with imogen, who really helped me think about how to scale back the scope of my poems and lean into the poetics of everyday gossip—and their book stemmy things is such a model for me of both excess and thoughtfulness. And as a reader, so many, but I feel especially grateful to Dawn Lundy Martin, Samuel Ace, Bernadette Mayer and Akilah Oliver.

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

I had three really amazing mentors at Wesleyan. Danielle Vogel was the first person who ever introduced me to poetry and made me feel like a writer, and also the first queer adult I ever knew; I owe her so much. Ren Ellis Neyra taught me how to think about poetry and theory as interconnected and to approach reading and writing with deep care and slowness. And Douglas A. Martin introduced me to experimental writers and diaristic forms (and to Kafka’s diary!) and taught me to think about prose syntax in new and wild ways.

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

I read most of Cody-Rose Clevidence’s AUX ARC TRYPT ICH: Poppycock and Assphodel; Winter; A Night of Dark Trees over the course of one long bath because I was so engrossed. The language that they use is so wild and dense—it somehow feels like a mix of formal, archaic language and queer internet smut. I feel like Jos Charles’s feeld does a version of this too, and I’m so interested in how fucking with language like that can get us out of the limitations of English and into our much stranger realities.

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

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower—I have a really hard time focusing on fiction, but friends keep telling me I would love it, and her poetry is so brilliant. And Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s Slingshot!

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 usually reading a lot digitally on my phone, which is kind of a horrible way to read. But especially for poetry, it’s convenient because I can read it on the train en route to work or whatever. My ADHD brain means that I am usually dipping in and out of a million things, but if I do get really invested in something, I have to read it all right away. Right now I’m trying to learn more about herbalism, so my current train reads are a somewhat chaotic mix of herbalism books and lots of poetry. I used to write and draw in books all the time, but now I very rarely do; I think I’m buying a lot fewer physical books these days, so they feel too precious to fuck up. But I do kind of love looking back at books I read at different times in my life and seeing how I was thinking about them, and I love borrowing a friend’s book and seeing all their marginalia.

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

I really wish I knew more about form; I would love to have a project grounded in an intense formal scheme.

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

In Prospect Park, on the train, in my friend’s garden.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Prospect Park in the summer is just pure joy; ditto Riis beach—I hope it stays Riis forever; Ginger’s on a weekday; various other queer nightlife spaces / parties that feel kind of embarrassing to name; Zaytoons for falafel and Unnameable Books for blessed browsing in Prospect Heights.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate having forgotten some things,

And what I forget you never ask me to remember, although

For every time you see me as good, I want my bad years too to be known by you.

Why Brooklyn?

The feeling of interconnectivity that living here gives me.