February 22–28, 2021
J.C. Rodriguez is a poet and educator from Westbury, NY. His work has appeared in FreezeRay, Voicemail Poems, Taco Bell Quarterly, Meow Meow Pow Pow and elsewhere. He serves as a poetry manuscript reader at Interstellar Flight Press. This past fall, J.C. was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Jason Koo’s Silence & Sound workshop.
Author photo by Fiona Chamness
Why can’t we just hold hands & listen to Glassjaw records or something?
Long Island Hardcore was a dead trash swan, kept afloat
by boys who’d hit anything that moved
the wrong way & the wrong way moved
like I do; darting through a sea
of bodies for my kin & unlike you my kin didn’t look
all the same. My kin was just anyone else afraid to come
alone; without crew or brigade or battalion;
on the wrong sides of misunderstandings; who heard
I don’t see
[ ] like you around
& got stopped on the block & clenched
if extremities needed to be thrown.
WORSHIP AND TRIBUTE
I do not remember this venue or the bodies
just the Dominican diner my dad took me
after church. From before the town became a target
& we all became fog. Clouding new buildings;
ports; bases; even venues & when bands
started playing there I was mystified
by a screaming I did not understand & assumed
it was divine. Not knowing the difference
between early admissions & tracer bullets; dipping
into cultured waters before magazines could say
this is a quaint downtown area. Something took up
the shore. I thought this only happened in cities.
It lives here too & opens up arts programs
to reduce gang activity but none
of our children will be allowed
in. We were children the night
we met. My first show
go back to Queens
so I tattooed 516
to my teeth, spit back
on the pavement
In my parents’ backyard I buried a chest. Filled with flags
& write-ups & show posters & citations & tickets & a map
routing church to diner. So whoever lives here next knows
what used to hold up this town. So they can determine
if it was the house or my family that became historic
the day we moved in
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SILENCE
Damage control stitched lips; tithed
for the reputation of another good dude
until all the good dudes moved
to claim the outer boroughs & you live there too
& from your new apartment
you still say
this is not what the scene stands for.
I wonder what shows you remember
or if you just didn’t notice.
Did you notice
how they had to print eviction letters
before they handed you a lease? Not everyone is so lucky
to lay anchor elsewhere;
to call it moonlighting
& never tell a soul
where they come from;
building new histories
& ending several more.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
It started in a poetry workshop called Emotional Historians, led by Jon Sands. He was giving us an outlet to talk our shit, so I went off on the local music scenes I grew up in. After a couple weeks with the poem, I started feeling uncomfortable with the work because I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say. But I couldn’t pinpoint what it actually was. So after each meeting in Jason Koo’s Silence & Sound workshop, I would slowly add another thought or feeling I had about the subject matter and use the lines to try to make sense of it.
By the end of the year, I finally had a poem I liked reading out loud but not how it looked on the page. Fiona Chamness showed me how I could experiment with white space, which reminded me of the way I used to make lines look when I was formatting for performance instead of the page. It’s a reconciliation of the different things that drive and have informed my poetry. This poem gives me permission to be messy and scattered. To talk my shit about something messy and scattered.
What are you working on right now?
I’m finishing up the last year of my master’s in social work while trying to maintain the writing practice I formed during quarantine. When the quarantine hit, I had stopped working sixty-plus hours a week after like three years of being on my grind, so I’ve just been taking every opportunity to read and write as much as I can.
What’s a good day for you?
Manage to make a cup of coffee and take a hot shower without any interruptions. Eat three square meals throughout the day, in which one is a smoothie and one is a cheeseburger. Read some poems. Revisions. Revisions. Revisions. Maybe write a line for something new. Get an iced coffee. Have an easy shift at work. Don’t smoke too many cigarettes. Catch up with my kid sister about her day. Listen to some songs in bed with my eyes closed and my headphones on. Play a video game for a little bit. Sleep.
What brought you to New York?
My dad is from Sunset Park. My mother’s family immigrated to Queens from the Philippines. I was born at Booth Memorial in Flushing before it became New York Presbyterian.
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?
At this point I’ve spent just under seventy percent of my life in Long Island. Definitely not a fun place for a chubby brown boy to grow up and like explore identity or whatever but I think I made the most out of it. I have a strange love for this place that I can’t explain. I used to tell people I was from Queens but now I claim Long Island and own up to all its ugliness.
I never felt comfortable or welcome here growing up. Yet as an adult I can’t feel comfortable anywhere else. It’s such a weird little pocket that can only be accessed by passing through the greatest city in the world, and it’s not a favorable comparison. There’s a general complex for the people who have either embraced or resigned themselves to living here and I think for better or for worse I’ve bought into that complex.
In my town, neighborhoods are finally starting to move past the redlining practices that literally built these houses, becoming more diverse. But on the other side of that, we have gentrification just looming over the ethnic and cultural communities that have persisted despite and in opposition to that history. Sometimes, I wonder if there is any winning in a place that was developed to escape the multiculturalism of the city.
All that said, the water is gorgeous and we have the best pizza and bagels in the world. I will fight anyone on this.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I have mad love for Brooklyn. There’s always something happening and something good to eat; it’s just a matter of finding things that are affordable now. I used to go to Bushwick a lot when I was in college; probably hungry for some sort of community. That period is kind of a blur for me at times but still it’s astounding and unfortunate how much Brooklyn has changed even since then. And certainly most of the places my dad took me to as a kid are gone. It’s a strange place to wander. One minute you think you’ve found your people and the next you just sort of get slapped in the face by community displacement and the ghost of generational loss.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
I started my engagement with poetry in the months leading to the pandemic, so my community is anyone on the Internet that says nice (or not so nice) things about my poems. I like when people are honest with what they want; both out of their poems and what their intentions are with them. Brooklyn Poets certainly gave me the opportunity to engage with more people that way, from the workshop afforded to me and the events I’ve been able to attend. I also joined one of those #rejection100 groups. While I am not (and probably will never be) someone who submits work in large volumes, it’s fun to talk to people trying to make sense of their place in craft and publishing.
My community in the physical region of Long Island is the water. They give me the feedback I need; both supportive and critical. For real though, Nassau County is hard because most people wind up finding their creative home elsewhere, because the gateway to the rest of the world is right next door. But I did wind up finding some cool and surprisingly diverse and inclusive creative spaces in Suffolk shortly before everything had to close down. Figures.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
I would not be here answering these questions and sharing these poems if not for Elisabet Velasquez. On October 10th, 2019, on a whim, I called out of work to attend a free reading and workshop she was doing. For the first time I saw poetry as this living space rather than a piece of paper in a lockbox. I can’t forget how she just shot out all those facts and emotions like that. That energy. That life. I would never have turned to poetry had I not been able to witness her art like that. And she so generously shares her knowledge and support. Truly a poet of the people and someone who carries Brooklyn with her everywhere she goes.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I didn’t study English or writing in school but I got to take the occasional class. Special shout out to Uche Nduka and Amy King at Queens College and Nassau Community College, respectively. Uche Nduka has such a love for poetry. He reimagines every poem that hits him as if it were painting or music, only to bring you back to the beauty that can only be conveyed through words. Amy King ran a nourishing and challenging workshop that reflected through our work as students. She encouraged us to make heartfelt and concrete arguments within our expressions.
I can’t not mention Jason Koo again. Aside from the platform and resources he’s been able to help provide the community with, he is a gift as a poet and a teacher. His earnest playful joy in poetry’s history. The way his work is referential and doesn’t give a second thought about it. Jason is someone who uses every ounce of the craft to make something his own. It’s not purposely brazen or bold, just honest and without fear of language. Since learning under him, I feel more mindful of the sound of my thoughts and the volume of my emotions, which makes them easier to translate into written words. But more importantly, I can read poetry with an open mind. To feel the freedom of enjoying any poem and find the lessons in them. And if there are no lessons, just for the joy of reading.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The Visible Planets by Aly Pierce. It’s massive and world-building, yet delightfully self-contained. For all the poet / moon jokes you’ve ever heard (or made), this book has a banger poem about planets to knock you on your ass. And queer planets with personality at that.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I think Kaveh Akbar’s “Reza’s Restaurant, Chicago, 1997” is an all-time top-three poem personally, but for the life of me I have not been able to put myself in the right headspace to read through the copy of Calling a Wolf a Wolf that just chills on my table.
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?
Definitely a dip-in-and-out kinda dude. I have a small poetry bookshelf that I wanna grow but most of my poetry intake comes from reading online journals. FreezeRay was what made me like poetry so I just got in the habit of looking for poetry online whenever I was in the mood to read it. Nowadays, I try to spend at least an hour each day scrolling Twitter and journals for poems and poets that slap, jumping around from the stuff in people’s bios and whatnot.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I don’t know if it’s my Long Island accent or me thinking every syllable needs to be announced like a mosh call but I have such a struggle understanding stressed and unstressed syllables. I’d really like to throw myself to the wolves with that concept and just try a crown of sonnets.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Outdoor picnic tables at North Hempstead Beach Park so I can workshop my poems with the water. Eisenhower Park will do in a pinch. Many years before COVID, my dear friend Liam Kinsella and I used to write and read in different coffee shops—the kinds with couches.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Every year my dad and I would go to Junior’s to pick up cheesecakes for holiday dinners with our extended families. The prices have skyrocketed and they’re not open twenty-four hours anymore but it’s one of the things he says feels the same.
Black Square Tattoo is a really cool shop. Shout out to my dude Christian. One of the best American Traditional-esque artists in New York. On God.
That bar Ba’sik. I never made it to any of those Brooklyn Poets events, but I have a lot of great memories with friends on that back patio.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate you, and your life
And what I do with mine, I hope you do even greater
For every day can break me as good as long as the sun can still wake you.
If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
Pokédex Entry #133: Eevee —> Pokédex Entry #471: Glaceon
after Marlin M. Jenkins
Eevee has an unstable genetic makeup that suddenly
mutates due to the environment in which it lives.
Any who become captivated by the beauty of the snowfall
that Glaceon creates will be frozen before they know it.
Scientists have determined my life
only has eight possible outcomes; jack-
fruits of the labor of an unwonted
people; anomalies of crypt doors open
only every other generation. I am
lucky to be born. One future; I find love.
In two others; happiness. There is
no overlap in projections but I am of sin
in all of them & despite my best
efforts there is one where I am my father
& in the rest I am a frozen tomb
under perpetual stones. I cannot dodge er-
uption; my fate. I am destructive
even when I am gorgeous. Like a big e-
thereal car crash; scattered glass
& rippled ice still smiling despite a rob-
bery of lives. They cannot stop
their shine. I could not stop you
from climbing that roof in Brooklyn.
For the people.