Poet Of The Week

Keagan Wheat

     March 21–27, 2022

Keagan Wheat (he/him) writes poetry focused on FTM identity and congenital heart disease. His work appears in Shards, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Houston Review of Books, the Acentos Review, the Bitchin’ Kitsch and elsewhere. He received the inaugural Writers in the Schools (WITS) Emerging Writers Fellowship and was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year to attend the eighth annual summer retreat. As a featured poet, he has performed in events for Public Poetry, the Poison Pen Reading Series and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as in the Brooklyn Poets Staff Picks series. Living in Houston, Texas, he enjoys collecting odd dinosaur facts and listening to way too many hours of podcasts.

Transfixed

 

By the TV, I can’t tell

what’s playing.

Thoughts fall over how to ask

for a name that doesn’t feel

like addressing someone else.

A soft glimmering tree plants itself

on the edge of a scattered room.

This tree, taking four weeks

of urging to buy,

marks when my mom tries

to address my family’s homophobia.

I encourage myself remembering

my mom read the book I used to come out,

This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids,

learned the basics, asked questions,

spread resources

for queer kids.

She apologized after forcing me

to say I was a lesbian,

after no response, after

silently sitting, averting.

She drove, with crumpled

Red Bull cans, all night to make

a Tegan and Sara concert.

We stood in line alone together

for hours laughing about Autostraddle

articles and Elena Alvarez.

Now, I try to ask

as seriously as nerves

allow about getting

a new name.

The walls and ceiling amble

toward us, a trapping

comfort. After

I’m dead, she chuckles

out. I start creating

a list: off-limit topics

gerbils

my own queerness

the silliness of men’s soccer

my own comfort.

After every defense she made

between my father’s family

and my queerness, I didn’t

actually expect the woman

who wears a shirt reading everyone is gay

to dismiss me again.

She hides

in her room. After

locking the door,

tears fall, she

talks to God,

she begs for her

baby girl.

She could grow

to love her daughter performing

butch dyke,

still had the perfect number

of one son and

one daughter.

 

Brooklyn Poets · Keagan Wheat, "Transfixed"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

“Transfixed” began as a form assignment. It captures the continuity of my identity, which witnesses the destructive force of outside perception (in this case my mother’s). Since this poem tracks multiple conversations and different times and spaces, I needed some constant to pull the pieces together for my own benefit. One of my mentors showed me Brandi Twilley’s The Living Room series, which served as a perfect setting to pull these pieces together.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve been writing a lot of weird love poems lately. The most recent uses The X-Files and Courage the Cowardly Dog as grounding points. My other project is finding a visual artist collaborator for an educational comic/poetry book about the death care industry.

What’s a good day for you?

When my current fixations collide or I am asked for recommendations, I definitely consider it a good day. Recently I adopted two cats, Jeremy and Doc. If they interrupt me enough to dilute stress but not so much that I get nothing done, then it is a really good day.

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?

I’ve lived in Houston, Texas, my entire life; it is and always will be home for me. There are too many things I love to list them all here. Overall, I love how Houston feels more like a music collection than an album or song. The city keeps so many different genres and times; it’s beautiful. There are the usual city changes, like gentrification wreaking havoc, but I think the biggest change is Houston’s improving image.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

I’ve visited New York City (I know there’s a difference) to attend an Everyone Is Gay all-ages pride party. During the trip, I spent some time in Brooklyn and went to a concert and the Brooklyn Museum. I think my impression of Brooklyn was shaped by association with Everyone Is Gay. With that caveat, I absolutely loved it. Walking through Brooklyn, some parts felt enough like familiar places (Houston or New Orleans) that I could entertain my curiosity about the differences.

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

I connect to Houston’s poetry community as often as I can. This community was the first place I felt like a poet and was encouraged I really could be one. It is vast and varied and can be so beautifully welcoming.

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

The first Brooklyn poets I think of are Natalie Eilbert, Josephine Blair Cipriano and Jason Koo. They lived in Brooklyn previously and remain involved in the community through Brooklyn Poets. John Ashbery has also been a recent influence on my work. His use of a transient “you” gave me a framework to think of how I wanted to use it in poetry on trans embodiment.

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

My poetry mentors are Michael Snediker, Cait Weiss Orcutt and Niki Herd. These poets began my love and writing of poetry. They showed me poetry’s queerness and the fun in poetry’s difficulty as well. I don’t think I could have believed in my writing without them pushing me to do so.

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

“Reasonable Accommodation” by Meg Day comes to mind. Day’s performance of this poem demonstrates everything I hope to accomplish in my poetics. It plays with disability language and gender with such authority. I find this poem mesmerizing and completely aspirational, in both senses of the word.

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 Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e by Jasminne Méndez for such a long time. I’m still not sure why I haven’t, because I’ve seen her read and know how great she is. I also want to read Go Ask Malice by Robert Joseph Levy. It’s a book from the perspective of Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it would just be fun to read.

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 a bit of a chaotic reader. Though my limit is about five at a time, I often just pick up a new book when I feel like it. I usually only take notes for theory books or if I’m reading for lesson-planning. I love a physical book, especially for poetry.

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

I really want to try fantasy elements in my poetry. Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire and Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life are such wild reads. Writing mostly autobiographically, I often don’t consider fantasy, but it is such a fertile ground for poetic play.

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

I love reading while in line for events. The pre-show adrenaline causes all sorts of odd associative thinking. Although, it can feel a bit weird to sit in front of a concert venue either alone or amongst chatting concertgoers reading Frank Bidart or Joshua Nguyen.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the seating outside Brooklyn’s art museum because that’s where I really experienced snowfall for the first time. During that same trip, I went to a movie. I was drawn in by how completely different it looked and felt doing something so seemingly mundane.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate archives,

And what I catalogue you praxis,

For every true me as good

True 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.

If I have ever felt Father,

my clavicle loosened. A clot dodger

always hands too small to jack

or shake, once sturdy, twice off. Rob

myself at a lack of scapula sternum sin-

ters mocking. Have I seen His pen?

Or do thin pages call love-

vines? But I’ll follow my queer Brooklyn

St into bookstores & cathedrals looking for the comfortable nostalgia Biggie-

era clapping snares or wheezing accordion under grasping gritos.

Why Brooklyn?

Specifically to Brooklyn Poets, I met Jason Koo through Miranda Ramirez and had wanted to attend a workshop for a long time. Everything this organization presents interests me; I jumped at the opportunity for the summer retreat. For Brooklyn generally, I love Everyone Is Gay and the connected organization My Kid Is Gay, which both have Brooklyn origins.