January 13–19, 2020
Michael Frazier is a poet and high school teacher in Kanazawa, Japan. He received his BA from Gallatin at New York University, where he was the 2017 poet commencement speaker and a co-champion of the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. He has performed at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Nuyorican Poets Café and the Gallatin Arts Festival, among other venues. A reader for the Adroit Journal and an alumnus of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Frazier has poems published or forthcoming in Construction, the Visible Poetry Project, Day One, the Speakeasy Project and elsewhere. Ask him about his favorite anime and what Christ has done in his life. This past fall, he was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in JP Howard’s Poetry and Memoir workshop.
And just like that
Mom summons Fred Hammond’s drums
& tenor into the kitchen. His choir asks, Are you ready
for your blessing? Your miracle? Today’s
miracle is a house that can never stay clean
relearning its white linoleum tiles, the size
of its walk-in closet, the smell
of Lemon Pine-Sol. We begin
with dad’s uniforms: I prick my thumb
on his badge, my blood
meets his blood on his patrol pants.
My brother & I divide & conquer sun-
faded boots, gun
holsters, bullet cartridges, red
polka dot speedos, dumbbells
too heavy to carry. By afternoon
gospel done tied its hair into pigtails, & ’90s rap
serves the second wind with Sweet
Tee, Salt-N-Pepa, women who
get our mom to PUSH IT
PUSH IT REAL GOOD, squat, bob her head
’n laugh as she lays hot banana bread
on the granite. While we blow
& chew, she lowers the Swiffer:
a third arm, or a partner who never leaves
stains to scrub out. The fleeting
sun spills its orange light into the kitchen,
our shadows grow long like dad’s
punching bag out back. A type of magic:
she lures day’s remaining gold
into the wicks of passion fruit candles.
Soaks her swollen corns in bath salts
& Xscape’s Who Can I Run To while her boys
flip & stack Yu-Gi-Oh! cards across
Fresh Breeze powered floors. Amen to peace
& bleach. Women who rise homes
out of endless mess. She surveys her domain
like I imagine God did
on the sixth day, & says to anyone
willing to listen, Now watch he tear up this house
by tomorrow. But mom was wrong
dad slows into the driveway
slams his door then the next
says It smells
like shit in here.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem a few years ago. I was thinking about how grateful I am for home-training, ’cause it’s an education I’ve never strayed from. Yet, so often, domestic spaces are disvalued, because of their deemed femininity. Even though I dreaded waking up early to choirs and drums on Saturday mornings, looking back, those hours of cleaning, cooking and talking were when I felt most at peace, focused, and loved. I wanted to write an ode for this crucial part of my childhood and wanted to understand what brought my mother joy.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my first manuscript! I’m still deep in the brain factory, but it seems as though it will engage my relationship with my mother, Shōnen Jump anime, and acne.
What’s a good day for you?
Eight hours of sleep and out of bed by eight. The first half of the day, I’m alone reading, writing, singing, praying, exercising, and studying Japanese. Starting in the afternoon, I ride my bike and meet up with friends for long conversations over good food. Spend the night with some combination of writing, listening to RnB, drinking tea, watching YouTube, video-calling friends and praying.
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?
Home is a difficult question! When I was a kid, I moved about thirteen times across three states. Then university in NYC. Now I live in Japan, where I’ve been for nearly three years. My family is scattered along the East Coast, so my working definition of home is wherever my mom is (Rochester, NY). Rochester will always be a home because of the loving teachers, mentors and peers who family-ed me. They taught me the importance of community and being the change you want to see in your city. Shout-out to my high school, School Without Walls—I believe so much in their mission.
My brother lives in Brooklyn, and I have lifelong friends in NYC, so that’s a home too. Now, thanks to the community that has embraced me, Kanazawa has become a home. Kanazawa is not big (half a million people) and very traditional (tea houses and temples as ubiquitous as Starbucks in Manhattan), but it’s also modern with a thriving jazz and art scene. And the nature. My recent writing has so much nature in it. I’m surrounded by mountains, bamboo forests, rice fields, fruit-bearing trees leaning over rivers, and the sea. And no matter the season, something is always blooming. I’ve learned a lot by being quiet and observing how the world moves from one season to the next.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Yea! I lived in Manhattan for most of my time in NYC, but I spent a summer in Brooklyn as a teaching fellow at Uncommon Charter High School in 2016. I lived Downtown near LIU. There are parts of Brooklyn that reminded me of Rochester (the black communities, at least). Besides that, I’ve been to a bunch of poetry events, bookstores and churches in Brooklyn. Most memorable is seeing the 2017 Brooklyn Slam Finals at the BRIC House Stoop. So many inspiring poets vying for a spot on the Brooklyn Slam Team.
Circling back to nature real quick. I saw my first hydrangea in Bed-Stuy. My first day commuting to UCHS, I saw these bright pink and purple puffballs. I had no idea what they were, but I couldn’t believe they were real; they looked out of place among the concrete and brownstones. I took photos, Googled what they were, and kept on about them all week.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
I was lucky to get my poetry feet in NYC and watch many amazing poets slam, write books and support each other. I’ve gotten to teach and share poems in Japan, but the community, at least in my region, dims in comparison to the glut of poets and resources that NYC has. Tokyo has some thriving scenes like the Tokyo Poetry Journal community and ポエトリー・スラム・ジャパン (Poetry Slam Japan). But outside of that, what I’ve seen has not been as public and political as American poetry spaces.
These days, my poetry community is mainly virtual. I read more, by necessity, to stay connected, and I’m always reaching out to poets to let them know their work moved me (reach out to the poets that move you, it’s so important!). Being away from the States has been surprisingly beneficial for my work ’cause my poems have been able to breathe and come into their own voice. But yeah, to stay connected, I read for the Adroit Journal, regularly edit peers’ work, do online classes, etc.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Mahogany Browne, Ashley August, Timothy DuWhite, Jon Sands (shout out to the podcast that got me into podcasts—The Poetry Gods), JP Howard (just finished her workshop! Love the energy she shares with everyone) and Golden (who briefly lived in Brooklyn, but now lives in Boston).
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My high school English teacher Mariana introduced me to slam. Every year we formed teams in our high school, did poetry boot camps and poetry slams. I not only grew as a poet, but also as a youth who believed he had a story worth telling. I’m also indebted to the NYU poetry community for teaching me that poetry is a way of life and not just something we do on a page or stage. Just to name a few: Crystal Valentine, Safia Elhillo, Paul Tran, Mahogany Browne, the NYU Slam club and especially the 2017 CUPSI team. I was constantly surrounded by writers whom I aspired to be like. That kind of pressure does wonders for growth.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Why isn’t everyone talking about K-Ming Chang??? I had just begun reading literary journals actively, and coming from slam, I was skeptical of online journals as an urgent place for poetry to live. But I’m grateful for the Shade Journal for introducing me to Chang’s “Yilan.” I was amazed by how butcher-knife sharp each and every one of her lines were. And the music! My copy of her chapbook Past Lives, Future Bodies is so annotated, I may need to buy a new one, haha. Chang has taught me a lot about how to tease pleasure and play out of language even when interrogating violence or trauma. And the way she carries her family and homes—I see kinship in that regard.
As of recent, I’ve been moved by Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost of, Louise Glück’s Wild Iris and C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I felt exposed by Lewis’s short novel because, while it explores a fictional heaven and hell, it’s actually about how we create those places within ourselves while on Earth.
Recently, I traveled to Manila and brought home some great collections by Filipino poets: What Passes For Answers by Mikael de Lara Co and Boyhood by Charlie Samuya Veric.
Also, I’ve been returning to “Becoming a Forest” by Ama Codjoe in the Adroit Journal and “Langston Hughes in Shanghai” by Kassy Lee in the Shanghai Literary Review.
I’ll stop there ’cause I can go on forever.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Poetry aside—’cause there are some big poetry collections I still haven’t gotten to yet—this year I plan on reading Sula and Jazz by Toni Morrison, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois (I keep starting and stopping halfway through), A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, more James Baldwin, and the Bible (I haven’t read cover to cover, so it’s about time).
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?
Books are teachers who won’t ignore my emails or leave me on seen, haha. I say that to say, I’m a big fan of rereading books and asking the same books new questions. At any given time, I read a full-length, a chapbook and a manga (to improve my Japanese). I’m constantly reading online journals ’cause fire is being published all the time. I prefer physical ’cause I like to write in them, but, given my itinerancy, eBooks have become necessary.
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 collaborate with my brother! He’s a musician living in Brooklyn. I plan on writing a poem or lyrics, and he’s going to accompany on flute or one of the other instruments he’s proficient in. I think we approach art making very differently, so I’m excited to collab with him later this year.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
In bed! Besides that, anywhere I can be warm, supine and unbothered by eyes or noise.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
BRIC, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge, my friends’ apartments.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate poets,
And what I am you taught me by doing you,
For every poem blooms me as good as it bloomed in you.