July 26–August 1, 2021
Saoirse’s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They work full-time as a freelance editor and serve as the guest editor for emerging voices in poetry at Oyster River Pages. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. This past spring, Saoirse was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Ana Božičević’s Lyrical Commons workshop.
I have never desired the embrace of a home.
I don’t want to settle down in a place.
I don’t want to settle for a home or a city
or a man who will not miss me tomorrow.
This man refuses to miss me tomorrow.
His tender hand pulls me to a place he calls home.
His calloused hand pulls me from a place I call home.
The cracks of his palms grow in a vase meant for my roses.
A vase meant for my joys cracks in his hands.
Cracks I overstep on my way home.
Here is the way to the place I call home:
Keep walking, stopping only for conversation among friends.
The man I called a friend never calls me for conversation.
I never desired the man, I just called him home.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
The story of this poem began in 2018. I spent the spring in Maryland, the summer in Harlem and Aberdeen, the fall in Egham and the winter in London. Temporary residency in so many cities made me think long and hard about what home means and problematized the assumption of home as a desirable space for existence. I remember writing early drafts that played with these questions at the Langston Hughes House in Harlem but the poem really came into this form during a workshop I had with Kimberly Quiogue Andrews. And I returned to NYC in spirit to develop fully at the Brooklyn Poets workshop.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a suite of prose poems. Using the liminal space between a poem and a lyric essay to interrogate the English language and its fraught relationship with lands colonized by the British, I hope to create a body of work that fuses the interrogative and creative modes.
What’s a good day for you?
Waking up naturally and spending the day in a free flow of creativity and spontaneity. There’s pets for my puppy Malaika and chats with friends. I get to write and be creative without the pressure of productivity. I like a day that throws a curveball at me—forces me to do something I couldn’t have planned. A day goes from good to great when a poem just clicks into place.
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?
As “Duplex” says, I don’t know yet and I’m not sure I want one. I grew up moving around a lot, so never associated the word “home” with a specific place. And pre-pandemic, I was truly enjoying the life of a traveler. I’d love to continue being unmoored and spontaneous.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Back in a previous life, I was a student of sociology. While writing a paper on gentrification in New York City and its impact on the criminal justice system, I spent the summer of 2018 collecting data in Brooklyn. What really struck me was the indomitable community I found there. From the food to the music, the steadfast spirit is infused in everything. I particularly enjoyed walking home at sunset in the summer when my neighbors would get together on their stoops and sing, chat, play music. I’m really looking forward to returning in the future.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
A poetry community for me is an international, multilingual group of folks who support each other in the creation and curation of a more egalitarian canon. It’s a space where we can learn, grow and make mistakes while being our full selves. It’s a kind of home, I suppose.
As much as people like to deride the Internet, I prefer to curate those connections in online spaces. Platforms like Twitter and Zoom and online lit journals can be such fantastic spaces for finding genuine connection with people you wouldn’t stumble upon otherwise. I say the more you put yourself out there, the more you increase your surface area for serendipity. There is no better way to find that community. After all, that’s how I found Brooklyn Poets.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Mahogany Browne is the first name that comes to mind. I’m so grateful for all the work she does to create community both in and out of Brooklyn. I also hadn’t realized Donika Kelly once lived in Brooklyn until I lived in East Flatbush myself. I always associate her with Flatbush now and associate her work strongly with my research and writing.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
It takes so many beautiful souls to come together to create a poet. Kimberly Quiogue Andrews really brought me into my own as a poet and thinker. I was lucky enough to take a few classes—both academic and creative—with her and truly dive deep into contemporary poetry under her guidance. Her approach to the creative writing classroom taught me how to integrate my academic and creative pursuits in a way that defines my approach to poetry.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’ve been reading a lot of translations lately. The last one I read was Unexpected Vanilla by Lee Hyemi, translated by So J. Lee. The delicate sensuality and queering of the prose poem she undertakes in this book is both intimate and fluid. I’ve paired it with Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile, translated by Bonnie Huie, and the combination is a delight of radical self-inquiry.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve been recommended Moby-Dick by a number of people I usually listen to. But I just haven’t gotten around to reading this specific recommendation. I’ve been told it’s an all-consuming book on obsession, so I keep waiting for the perfect time to be consumed by it.
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 to read books of poetry in one go, cover to cover. But prose—both fiction and nonfiction—is something I enjoy reading over a few days. If I enjoy a book of poems, I go back and dip in to reread my favorite pieces. And I usually have a few books going at a time, for my leisure reading but also because my work requires that. My approach is to treat poetry and prose like food with a fine wine; I curate my reading to create a diverse array of flavor notes that enhance each other when experienced together.
I maintain a TBR list both digitally and on paper. Every time I need to decide what to read next, I turn to the TBR and pick out what I’m in the mood for so the approach is impulsivity applied to a predetermined set of texts. I love both digital and paper books as well as audiobooks. Traveling as much as I do, the convenience of digital books is undeniable while the feel and physicality of a paper book makes for a gorgeous experience. I don’t annotate while I read but I do highlight. I then collate the highlights after finishing the book and make notes at that point. This system allows me to immerse myself in the reading experience while still engaging with the text meaningfully.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Sonnet crowns. Ever since I heard Terrance Hayes read from American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I have wanted to write sonnet crowns. The prospect is so intimidating, though.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Places of transition—broadly defined. Cars, airplanes, doorways, staircase landings, anything that could be defined as the in-between or moving-towards. I find liminality particularly conducive to both consuming and creating literature.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Frankly, the residential streets in East Flatbush are awesome! The area has resisted gentrification, which makes it a refreshing neighborhood to walk around in. There are barely any chain stores anywhere—no Starbucks or Whole Foods to be seen. In the summer evenings, there is a vibrant, complex and welcoming community on the stoops of people’s homes.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the strength in your arms,
And what I swallowed when you breathed in my ear
For every friend that breaks me as good as you did, I remember you.
The people, of course.