November 28–December 4, 2022
imogen xtian smith is a poet and performer living in Lenapehoking / Brooklyn, NY. Their work has appeared in Baest, b l u s h, Folder, the Rumpus, the Poetry Project Newsletter and Tagvverk among other places, as well as in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics. imogen holds an MFA from NYU and was a 2021–22 Emerge–Surface–Be Fellow at the Poetry Project. Their debut collection, stemmy things, is out from Nightboat Books. On Friday, December 2, imogen will be a featured poet along with Cea at the Brooklyn Poets Friday Night Open.
the way we get by
Counting calories, disassociating during sex.
Saying yes when what we mean is
when what you want is
when nightshade numbs nostrils, powder
& breath. Whatever your pleasure, take it—
now subtract by half. Who am i
to deny it? Pills crushed, back-throat tickle,
brown liquor kick & blood bluing veiny
the more supine we get. There can only be so many
the Ones—so many it-girls & queer celebs,
stable, gassed up, new bodies to market to.
What makes me tender but this sense we share
of lack? Shutting my eyes on Riis last Sunday,
in the boombox blur of gay boy strut,
i imagined there was enough for us
& before me lay the fullness
of the sea. Everyday someone tries to feed me
cake, says you’re asking for it, threatens
to bash face, mansplains the body in & out
of being, compounds many
to one. i want this white world flayed,
floundered to muck. May the muck
receive me, the plastic pass freely through
the belly of a bird, her tubes unknotted
& loosed of debt. Tomorrow, some WE will gather
in the plaza crying never say yes when
what you mean is FUCK THIS! i’m headed there
from many directions—land & sea, a stolen
estuary, stolen hillside, cul-de-sac & car park
with basketball net. Violence holds it all
in place, keeps me keeping & us kept, a state
of insurmountable owing. Listen—that’s ENOUGH
i say—eat what you want & will to live, take my hand
& know me deep, splatter gush as night
unsettles, moss about our ankles like lips
gliding north a wrung of clavicle,
moonlight spooling curves
like drenched dogs dilating with heat.
If we get real good at loving ourselves,
do we get really good at loving each other?
i mean damn differences & exalt them,
top to bottom, cop free & free your mind
bb, does it work like that? Apoplectic morning
pouring musk in our gourds—the two of us,
now three, four, fifty, a hundred hundred
loaves & fishes, red veiled yolk queens
run kink deep for joy, punk-ass chains
hickeyed round our necks in a fellowship
of thorns. When i say you of course i mean me,
mean not not-you, we halfway-to-it-girls
gathering abundance while mistaking
seven seas for salt. Knowing pain, seek
NO PAIN, yet build by any means—the fire
-wicked bottle breaking glass, a trowel poked glory
hole tilled in mud—the how of our love, caloric,
igniting, what i always mean to say when wavering.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Honestly, i have very little memory of writing “the way we get by,” other than it must come from the summer of 2020 and was directly influenced by June Jordan’s “Intifada Incantation: Poem #8 for b.b.L.,” one of my all-time favorites to which i eternally return. The indentations were likely haphazard, a result of play and wanting something more visually engaging than left-aligned quatrains.
What are you working on right now?
i started a new job in September and am still feeling my way through a sort of nine-to-five-influenced work / life / art-making dynamic. Things are busy and tiring and the world can be so harsh. With that said, i’m near completion of my next manuscript—a book of ten or so long, durational, quasi-concrete(ish) poems that wanderingly question the nature of language, where in the body it comes from, what its relation to a larger eco-godthing-whole might be, that sort of stuff. It’s also kind of love poems to language and writing and is full of citations.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day involves a long walk, time for reading, the ability to write between the hours of 11 AM and 5 PM, remembering to eat, and some kind of interaction with friends.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
i came to Brooklyn to actualize myself as a transexual and poet.
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 Crown Heights for the entire eight years i’ve been in NY. i love it and it’s all i know, as far as living in one place in the city goes, and i’ve been at my current address for seven years, which is the longest i’ve lived anywhere in my “adult life.” It’s vibrant AF, and i love the hardware stores and shoe shops on Fulton, among so much else.
It is, of course, a complicated thing, queers being arbiters of gentrification. That’s an entire conversation that i don’t have the answers for and try to work with in the space of stemmy things. As far as comparisons go, i can’t make any here re: the city (having again been in CH the whole duration of my life here), but having moved from small-town southern Appalachia, it was quite a shift.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Every day brings multiple defining Brooklyn experiences—it’s where i live after all! i fear that picking one moment might prove reductive.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Poetry community = life for me. As concerns my work, it all emerges out of the space of my community(ies). As in, whatever questions i may have that i’m tending to in my art at a given moment are not only mine, are not only tended by me, but by a whole that either i see myself as part of, or aspire to be part of. Community is the wellspring—and within that, poetry is a way that we communicate that furthers our language(s), connections, possibilities, politics, etc.
When i first came to NYC, i just went to readings as often as possible, particularly at the Poetry Project, and met folks over time. It’s important to put yourself into the world, to kind of step into the communities that maybe you’re curious about or want to be part of. Developing community takes work and i think one needs to think and act with a sense of duration to really find and develop those tethers.
i can be very solitary if left to my own devices, so it can be hard for me to summon all of the energy that community requires. That said, it is joyful, life work.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
i mean—all of my poet friends who live here! That list is long and vibrates with so much grace! Historically though, there’s June Jordan and Audre Lorde, as well as living icon Patricia Spears Jones. i went to my first belladonna* gathering a block away from my house, and that was an important community-building moment for me (i met Chia-Lun Chang after all!). Unnameable Books has been a constant source and center for readings (as well as the best poetry selection in the city, IMO). But really, so many wonderful poets and other artists live in Brooklyn, i wouldn’t know where to start in naming them—or i do, but this would go on for pages and pages (also shoutout to Ridgewood, Queens, as another spot that feels so full of creative life).
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
People i read, mostly: Bernadette Mayer being preeminent. I’ve been fortunate to be mentored directly by Terrance Hayes, Stacy Szymaszek, Miguel Gutierrez and Tan Lin, and have learned so much through workshops with jayy dodd, the Anchoress Syndicate and Laura Henriksen. i see Anaïs Duplan as a kind of life mentor and am so indebted to folks like Kay Gabriel, Omotara James, Alisha Mascarenhas, Wo Chan and Becca Teich.
Ideally (for me) a mentor is someone you’re in a kind of deep, intimate conversation with. For example, with Stacy (vis-à-vis the Poetry Project’s Emerge–Surface–Be Fellowship), we really just talked through issues that concern us both—poets we admire, work, civic art, queerness, all these things. So when i wrote, Stacy was always with me, not looming over or directing me as if there were a student / teacher hierarchy. We learned from and with one another, which is what i’m always seeking in poetry community, let alone mentorship.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
In the last month, reading new books by Kay Gabriel (A Queen in Bucks County), Chia-Lun Chang (Prescribee) and Wo Chan (Togetherness) has been really joyful. All three books are so rigorous, adventurous, committed to the universes in which they exist. Stone cold classics, IMO. i also just read and loved Cat Fitzpatrick’s new novel-in-verse, The Call-Out, and was moved to a really grounded space by Dennis Cooper’s I Wished. This year i’ve obsessed over and binge-read Clarice Lispector, Simone Weil and Cody-Rose Clevidence. The last book i read (just yesterday) was Bernadette Mayer’s latest, Milkweed Smithereens. OMG. Perfect, thank you, rest easy, Bernadette. In terms of individual poems, i’ve been sharing some pieces with my Brooklyn Poets class, and both “New Hampshire 1980” as well as “Poem about My Rights” (Mayer and June Jordan, respectively) have been particularly moving and helpful.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
For years? A by Zukofsky. Anne Waldman’s complete Iovis cycle. Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. In the last month? i’m so stoked to read Nico Vela Page’s Americόn and An Eros Encyclopedia by Rachel James, both from Wendy’s Subway.
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?
Slutty. i am always reading at least three books at once. Not finishing a book is the worst for me, so def cover to cover, with different time slots for reading each of whatever books they are. i plan and also expect books to find me—i listen closely and follow signs. Def prefer a physical book and am an on / off note-taker.
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 learn more about design and printmaking and create a series of concrete poems for gallery installation. Writing a collaborative work would be groovy, too.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Home and the train, that’s pretty much it. Home though, for sure.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Queer spaces, because Life. i also love a summer reading in the Vale of Cashmere, or Happyfun Hideaway, Unnameable or Molasses Books, that sort of thing. Also that place where you enter through a vintage store into a wardrobe and emerge in a performance space, but i’m bad with names, LOL.
People. Ginkgos. Coney Island (Baby).