March 28–April 3, 2022
Maya Lewis is a poet and mixed-media artist who lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. She works in book publishing and is an avid pop-culture enthusiast. She is a cofounder of the NONAC, a somewhat infrequent literary newsletter, and a member of the Inkluded Academy, a program focused on diversifying the publishing industry. Her work has been published in journals including Womanly, Lolwe, Lucky Jefferson, Soft Punk and No, Dear. Last year, Maya was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow to attend the eighth annual summer retreat.
Kin on Fulton Street
A hat brim so low
it dips and slips to the tip of his nose.
And past, stretching down under his
arm around his shoulder
and chest—a shield.
And the gait of his walk, slow
long and longer still, a bridge
tells me he
has nowhere to be but where he is.
And the loud sounds
coming from his pocket:
A call to arms
A siren call
The swing of his left arm reminds you
of your brother, the swing of the right
reminds you of your future son. And I
swear to you, he’s got your daddy’s wide
feet, look at his tread in the snow, your
uncle’s hands, too.
He’s kin, beneath that brim.
His eyes are brown
like yours, like your mother’s.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Sometime in the winter of 2020, I heard someone walking up my block listening to music. At that point, my little at-home office situation (i.e., my kitchen table) was right next to a window which was along Fulton St. I looked out the window and saw a tall Black man walking slowly up the block, listening to music coming from his phone, I assumed. Nothing that I hadn’t heard or seen a thousand times on my street. But this guy, he just reminded me so much of one of my cousins that I called my mom to check that he hadn’t made his way from DC to Brooklyn, somehow without my knowing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. And so, like most things I can’t stop thinking about, I wrote a poem about it over my lunch break.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on finding new reasons to leave my house. I’m also working on a manuscript for my first poetry collection. I’m nowhere near done. But it’s been fun to look at my poems in conversation with one another. I’m just finishing an amazing workshop called Make Waves, led by Ekoko Omadeke, which has been beautifully inspiring. I’m also working on a small run of linocut prints if I ever find the time to finish them.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day is one when the sun wakes me up and I remember to stretch. Ideally, I’m not working—I’m hanging out with friends, outside, or creating. But if I am working (gotta pay bills) it’s one where my workday ends quickly and I make time to write or create. It’s a day where I get to speak with loved ones and make dinner and finish a book maybe.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I went to college in Queens at St John’s. And I’ve been in an obsessive love-hate relationship with the city ever since.
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 Bed-Stuy since 2015 and it’s beautiful. Coming from the DMV area, I’ve always felt most comfortable in a neighborhood where I’m surrounded by Black people. The changes in Bed-Stuy are pretty obvious: coffeeshop / bar combos, lime-green buildings in the middle of a row of brownstones, White kids at the Jamaican place on the corner. My old landlord was this young White dude that lived in Queens and got our building in foreclosure. I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn but I became a woman here. I became a poet here, and it’s been odd to see the neighborhood change especially compared to the Black suburbs which, if anything, feel like they got Blacker as people got pushed out of the city. When I moved on the other side of Atlantic Ave, the changes subsided a bit and feel less stark as opposed to Fulton St.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
A defining moment for me was probably sometime in the summer of 2017, when I was working at this random startup which was basically like TaskRabbit+. I was running errands, getting groceries and generally cleaning up after rich people in Lenox Hill / the Upper East Side. I remember this one day, I was listening to Ctrl by SZA while pushing this huge cart of groceries from Whole Foods up the street and just feeling like this city was eating my twenties and licking its fingers. It started raining. It was one of those great summer sunny rains. But I was just so sad and lonely—unhappy with my job, my creative pursuits, all of it. And I was just pushing and listening and crying on the side of like Lexington or Park or something. It was very cinematic, looking back, and I think if I had to choose a defining moment, it would be that train ride home to Brooklyn and later when I sprawled out on my couch in Bed-Stuy exhausted from the day, when I decided that I wanted to take my art seriously. I probably didn’t say that out loud for another six months, though.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
It means inspiration and accountability. I’m still developing my poetry community, but I feel like I’ve found it here in Brooklyn. It grows a bit with every writer I meet or workshop I take. The question I ask myself is, “Who could I send this poem to and get thoughts from?” I can think of about six people. I think those people are your community but I also think those poets whom you might imagine yourself in conversation with are also your community.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
June Jordan! She grew up in Bed-Stuy and she’s one of the Black women poet foremothers—need I say more? Her work has inspired me so much. It was how I discovered the true power of dialogue in poetry. And Darrel Alejandro Holnes. I remember being so intimidated when I read his work. It was before my first real poetry workshop (at Brooklyn Poets!), which he taught. It was also the first time I felt like someone saw potential in my work. That workshop was truly empowering—a total game-changer for me.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’m currently taking applications for poetry mentors (lol) or rather submitting my application to be a mentee! I don’t know if I have a formal poetry mentor. I have poets who have been profoundly influential on me, whether they were aware or not. Their work has challenged me, educated me, inspired me, moved me—all just from the page.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I recently got a copy of The Poetry of Black America, a huge anthology from 1973 edited by Arnold Adoff. And wow, talk about an education! There have been many times as a poet where I’ve wondered if I could ground my poetic education in Black poetry completely—I mean, every institution pushes back against that. This book feels like it’s daring you as a reader to find another book that could better meet your needs. Nearly every form, genre and style of Black poetry of that era is covered. I’m not even finished and it’s felt like an MFA (a Black poetry studies MFA!) in a book. I also recently reread Magical Negro by Morgan Parker and felt like it unlocked so many memories of my childhood and womanhood.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Well, I’m always meaning to read something. I have a TBR list taller than me. But in terms of poetry, definitely Obit by Victoria Chang, Such Color by Tracy K. Smith and Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong.
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?
My general rule is to keep reading if I’m still interested enough to keep doing so. I try not to force myself to finish anything, especially because I read a fair amount for work. When it comes to what I’m reading personally, I like to give myself space to put the book down and return to it later if I’m having trouble getting through it. With fiction, I do typically like to read cover to cover if I can. Nonfiction and poetry seem to lend themselves to small bites for me. I usually find my next read on Instagram or through a friend or coworker. I love physical books but have done my fair share of cheating with the Kindle app. I’m an occasional note-taker, but it’s rare and usually means I was profoundly moved in love or hate.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
In a workshop I’m taking, a fellow poet sort of invented this form where your first and last stanzas mirror one another and all stanzas in between follow this Duplex-esque form. It was super creative and really fun to look at! And I’m excited to try it out soon.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Before the pandemic, I read on the train mostly. But not just the subway, since I also take the Amtrak pretty often to DC to visit family, and it’s very scenic. I read nearly all of Luster on an Amtrak train. But since the pandemic, when it’s nice out, I love to read or write on my front stoop or go to the park. The sounds of the park are one of my favorite city soundtracks: dogs, babies, kids playing, teens blasting music, random people playing a pick-up game of something.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love St. John’s Rec and park because it’s huge and has a million benches.
I love the laundromat off Rockaway Ave because it’s run by a trio of Caribbean uncles.
I love my local bodega because there’s always someone having a full-blown heart-to-heart or argument outside.
I love my front stoop because in the summertime my neighbor is always outside like the watchful grandma and she’s the sweetest.
I love my friend Monica’s studio space because it has a beautiful backyard and lots of art supplies.
I love my home office because it gets amazing sunlight nearly all day.
I love the B65 across from the Weeksville Heritage Center because it’s never crowded when I get on.
I love Prospect Park in the summer because it’s huge and I always discover some random new nook or cranny.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the long loud days,
And what I love in you grows in me,
For every laugh coming from me as good as mirrors 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.
And still … Brooklyn
How many women has Brooklyn made
and broke? I pen love notes along
the sides of Dodger stadium. The sin of the
city washes down sewer drains.
How many men has Brooklyn
crowned and stolen? Biggie rests.
City stocks jacked and they try
to rob to our legacy, lay claim to
our father but we ride and write.
Why not Brooklyn?