Poet Of The Week

George Toussaint

     December 9–15, 2019

George Toussaint is a writer, musician and supermarket worker. He majored in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and spent six months living in national forests across the southeast while working as an environmental conservationist. His work has appeared in journals including the Minetta Review and the Penn Review. This past summer, Toussaint was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Candace Williams’s The Poet at Work workshop. He lives in Brooklyn.

there is a silence

 

i think about the way your tongue flicks

the top of your mouth at the end of my name

& spend a warm moment as a coin

slotted in the slit-mouth of a Coke machine.

see me breathe as the leaves die,

we have a limited number of these left,

so walk your hands through their hair

& listen to the sound of time

slowly taking off our skins.

i can’t tell anymore if the sound

as i try to sleep is water on the windows or

the wet patter of semi-automatics

in children’s chests.

the yellow slides behind the barricade

have hearts carved into their sides.

in my head, there is a silence :

the ring left by a glass of lemonade

at a summer funeral. when our idea

of this world ends & we sit with our faces

to the ATMs & police tanks, i wonder

which poems we will be dying for.

 

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was birthed in a poetry workshop I took in my last semester of college. It came together as a sort of collage of different images that kept visiting me as I was thinking about anthropocentrism and capitalist violence and trying to find tenderness in the face of those.

What are you working on right now?

Simultaneously a lot and very little. Grad school applications, a pantoum. I’m trying to fix up this bicycle I got off Craigslist but I think I’m in a little over my head.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day is usually a Thursday or Friday, which is my weekend. It’s crucial that I get up early—I’ll make coffee and do last night’s dishes. I love getting out and walking around, exploring the city, finding new sights and sounds. I’ll try to go to a reading or a show or an art space or something. I like going to the movies by myself. At the end of the day I’ll usually end up at a bar somewhere.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I’m a very recent transplant, but (funnily enough) it was sort of Brooklyn Poets that brought me. I was working as an environmental conservationist in Louisiana when I applied for a fellowship for the summer workshop with Candace Williams. I thought it was a long shot, but decided that if I got accepted then I’d be able to also use that time in New York to try to land a job and housing. I was in a big transitional time—just graduated from college, just out of a relationship, living a strange, semi-isolated life in woods and wilderness areas across the southeast. It was very much something that I didn’t really think through, which is a pretty classic George move. But here we are.

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 live in Park Slope and I’ve been living here since September. Before that, I was sleeping on various futons and couches across the boroughs. The neighborhood is lovely, and being within walking distance of the library is so nice. There are these birds that will sit in the sun on my windowsill and they are the best part of my mornings. Being new to the area, I personally can’t really speak much to its change, but one of my neighbors grew up down the street in the 1970s and he’s told me about how aggressive the gentrification was, how it displaced the working class and families of color. That violence is very visible everywhere you look here, even if it’s not immediately apparent.

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

The week I arrived I was living on a blow-up mattress in Bushwick. I remember coming back from a job interview I totally bombed, very bummed, and there was a block party going on. Kids were cooling off in fire hydrants and there was music and joy and community everywhere. I think about that a lot. Also the protests against the NYPD’s disgusting crackdown on “fare evasion,” particularly the initial mass march on November 1. There is a state-sanctioned war being waged on people of color, the poor, and the working class, and being out in the streets alongside so many people to fight against that was a beautiful thing.

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

To me, a poetry community is a place of, and for, growth. I’m still settling into Brooklyn in a lot of ways, but I’ve met so many truly incredible writers and artists here that make me want to keep pushing myself in new directions at all times. It’s exciting and exhausting.

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

Angel Nafis, Louis Zukofsky, Tommy Pico, the birds on my windowsill.

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

In my last semester of college, I took a class with Henk Rossouw (his book Xamissa is vital) and he opened my eyes to so much. I very much doubt I’d be writing today if not for his encouragement, critiques and guidance—both in and out of the class setting.

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

Kamau Daáood’s poem “Tears.” I want to inject it directly into my bloodstream.

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

I’ve been meaning to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for so long. My library hold on Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning just came in so I can finally read it. I’m excited. But there is just so much to read. It’s so tragic.

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 very much a random dipper, and absolutely prefer physical books. I wish I were able to just sit down and finish one. That was one of the great things about working in the woods—I could only pack one or two books and I was kind of forced to really immerse myself in them. I think I’m between like fourteen different things right now—Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, Morgan Parker’s Who Put This Song On?, a book about cartography, a book about lead water pipes … those are just what are in my bag right now. I used to never take notes, even though I love reading what other people scribbled in the margins. Now I’m a big scribbler.

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

A collab with 100 gecs. I hope they see this. I’d also like to actually write a long poem. Long poems are such difficult things for me to harness.

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

I like parks, bars, trains, coffee shops—pretty typical places. It’s hard for me to read when it’s quiet, or when I’m alone in a space, so I actually don’t really do much reading at home. I need a buffer of noise around me.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Prospect Park, any rooftop or bridge, Brooklyn library—I love the enormous terraces in front of the central branch.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the memory, grainy as an old pear.

And what I was given by you: cold air blown into a dollar-store balloon,

For every moment I hold in my lungs is, for me, as good as becoming you.

Why Brooklyn?

I was going to try out for the Dodgers, but apparently they moved?