May 24–30, 2021
Jordan E. Franklin is a Black poet and educator from Brooklyn, NY. An alumna of Brooklyn College, she earned her MFA from Stony Brook Southampton where she served as a Turner Fellow. Her work has appeared in the Southampton Review, Breadcrumbs, easy paradise, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Frontier and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2017 James Hearst Poetry Prize offered by the North American Review and a finalist for the 2019 Furious Flower Poetry Prize. Her first poetry collection, when the signals come home, was selected by Prageeta Sharma as the winner of the 2020 Gatewood Prize and was published by Switchback Books in March 2021. Her first poetry chapbook, boys in the electric age, is forthcoming from Tolsun Books in August 2021. On Thursday, June 3, Franklin will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series along with Cea and Mark Bibbins.
Map of Maladies
2011: kidney stones. A two-inch tube’s
planted in Mom—its bleeding can wait
for my hands and gauze
to trap the red. She can wait
on her side, voice fogged in unease, me
a step below tears as I work. I can wait
under the loneliness of our bathroom light
to rinse her blood off my fingers. Grief can wait
for another year when the living room
gives way to her news of cancer. Tears can wait
over her body, heavy with new tubes, smeared
in anesthesia and pain. The cancer can wait
until chemotherapy wipes everything clean. I count
her hairs lost to the tub’s drain. She can wait
to shave the rest as realization drags itself
under the light. Beautiful, the word can wait
on my tongue until she returns
to life before me again. I can wait
for the fast forward to 2014, Dad’s now
wheelchair-bound, diabetic. We can wait
for his bedsores, surgeries, hospitals circulating
him between them like clots in his blood. He can wait
until 2015 for the hopelessness, for his J, Baby,
let me go. Heaven is a broken vein and it can’t wait.
—From when the signals come home, Switchback Books, 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I first wrote “Map of Maladies” in 2015. My dad had been sick for close to a year and it was becoming more and more apparent to us that he wasn’t going to get better or ever walk again, which led to my father contemplating suicide. Prior to my dad being ill, I had helped my mom through her bouts with cancer, chemo, and kidney stone surgery so it is safe to say the poem was born from the frustration and grief felt during those times. To see these two people who always seemed so infallible in my eyes on the cusp of death did a number on me and the poem tracks everything I experienced and saw during those years, at least on the surface level.
What are you working on right now?
Honestly, this is a tricky question. For some reason, I’m very bad at focusing on one obsession at a time so I have a nasty habit of spreading myself too thin. Well, on the poetry side, I am working on a few things right now, which include a cache of pop-culture persona poems, possible applications for English / creative writing PhDs, booking readings to promote both my new collection and forthcoming chapbook as well as figuring out which direction my poetic voice is headed. Besides poetry, I also dabble in fiction and am currently working on a supernatural young adult novel / series.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is one where I am in the writing zone. For example, I set out to write a new poem or chapter and I just buzz with language and crazy ideas that just work.
Outside of poetry / writing, a good day for me is spent playing video games, binge-watching good animation, watching cheesy horror flicks like The VelociPastor, getting into a good book or attempting to cook a new dish.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
The birds and the bees, since I was born here.
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?
Honestly, not to sound like a novice or anything, but outside a few stints either in Oswego or Southampton, NY, due to college, Brooklyn has always been my home. Currently, I live in Midwood and have lived here for thirteen years now. It isn’t a bad neighborhood and I’m two or three blocks away from the two best subway lines in the city (2 and 5 trains) so I’m real close to a lot of the action. However, due to living so close to those trains and Brooklyn College, it can be very crowded over here, which means you will have the occasional knucklehead causing trouble some nights.
I can’t really compare it to other neighborhoods I’ve lived in like Boerum Hill or Crown Heights, because each section of Brooklyn has its own charm and air.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
There are too many moments to list. There’s taking the Q to Coney Island and seeing the Wonder Wheel punch through the horizon. There’s heading to a corner store for a bacon, egg and cheese. There’s the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when the roses bloom, or cocoa bread at Christie’s (RIP). The Central Library remains another of my favorite spots, too!
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community is less of a space and more of its people; you are free to share your obsessions, words and ideas with these people and they’re honest about what works and what doesn’t. A good poetry community gives you room to learn, grow and breathe. I’m very lucky to have found that here at Brooklyn Poets as well as other institutions and organizations like the 92Y, the Sarah Lawrence Summer Seminar for Writers, Women Writers in Bloom and elsewhere.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Well, some poets I’ve latched onto over the years are Langston Hughes and Mahogany L. Browne. Hughes didn’t live in Brooklyn, so far as I know, but he was one of the first poets I ever read and I consider him one of my first influences. I really admire Browne because of all the work she does. She doesn’t just pay lip service to the craft; she lives and breathes and promotes it. Even when I started out as a slam poet as a teenager, I remember her hosting at the Nuyorican and just being in awe of her energy and candor. Truth is, I hope she becomes U.S. poet laureate someday!
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Matthew J. Burgess is the first. He was my mentor at Brooklyn College during undergrad and is one of the most loving, warm and supportive beings ever to walk the earth. He saw something in me and helped it grow; he was open to my poetic experiments and encouraged my voice. It is safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for him.
Julie Sheehan during my MFA at Stony Brook Southampton; she was the one who welcomed me when I first started. She stuck her neck out for me and was one of the biggest hypewomen I’ve ever had. The main reason why I secured the Turner Fellowship was because she threw my name out there and fought for me.
Last but not least is the late Thomas Lux. I met him through the Sarah Lawrence Summer Seminar for Writers. He was always so funny and supportive. He was the one who encouraged me to pursue grad school and made me believe I could really be a poet. I miss him every day.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Leila Chatti’s Deluge is the last book I read and it gave me goosebumps. I love how she takes the story of the Virgin Mary and contorts it by giving her agency and a voice. I also love how visceral and raw the language is! Chatti makes you hang onto her every word!
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I hate to admit it but the book that sticks out in this regard is Olio by Tyehimba Jess. I asked for it as a gift for my birthday a few years back and have yet to start. I guess it is because I need to get in the headspace to tackle it due to all its deserved hype.
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 like reading one book at a time from cover to cover so I can really focus on the language. However, I’ve been weighed down by pandemic brain so even focusing on one is a challenge. I may reread poems if there is a line, sound or image that hits me. I usually choose the books I check out by reading a poem or two on different websites like poets.org. I’ve also gotten into the habit of attending readings virtually. If I go to a reading and like what I hear, I’ll buy a copy of the physical book because I am big on the textures of pages and the smell of a new book.
Note-taking is a mixed bag; I may jot down a stray line or idea I like as I read.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Honestly, I really want to try my hand at a book full of persona poems that really converse with one another.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to read and write on the subway or on my couch at home.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the Brooklyn Botanic Garden because of all the pleasant memories I have there. The Central Library is another haven because there is a magic there that I can’t describe; it is also the location that sparked a deep love of Buster Keaton and punk rock in me. Prospect Park can be added to the list because it is like a forest in the middle of the city. Finally, I nominate Coney Island because it reminds me to keep the kid in me alive.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate old songs,
And what I call you respond,
For every word and note within me as good will be passed unto 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.
Praise be to my father
who made and fled homes—dodger
of grief, of trauma—who grew and didn’t do jack
shit to his folks yet paid with his bones. Father who robs
the old cradle inside himself for love, who sins
just to keep us kids fed—Father who raised my pen
when he couldn’t lift his hand again. Father who loves
only with conditions because that’s all he had. Father of Brooklyn
who knows the dark beauty of each corner, each street. Biggie
spoke of fathers missing but never spoke of mine.
Brooklyn is like another organ for me, no matter how much it changes for better or worse. I was born here and I grew into my voice here. Many of the people who are dear to me are here or have resided here, so it is much more than a place to me.