Poet Of The Week

Saprina Howard

     June 20–26, 2022

Saprina Howard is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a BA in African American and diaspora studies. Her interests include watching zombie films and talking too much while doing so, analyzing race relations in the US, and writing music. She enjoys playing keyboard and singing lead in her neo-soul rock band Battletramps and hopes to continue publishing creative works inspired by her experiences in kinship foster placement, in hopes of helping other foster alumni navigate the nuances and meaning of family. This past fall, Howard was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Luther Hughes’s Just Say It: The Art of Telling workshop.

Chasing the Dragon (II)

 

I first met ___

at my birth and

not again til she released

from prison

4 years old

She sang me her own version of Annie

the Orphan that night

“Tomorrow tomorrow I’ll love ya tomorrow

You’re only a day away”

Tucked me into toasty bed

Enamored by her, the woman I imagined

who for years lived only in my head

and in letters collected

that said

“I miss you

___ misses you so much”

covered in color penciled

jailhouse art

Tweety Bird and the gang, ugly cupid hearts

4 years old and dumb

Too young, no questions

how ___ missed someone

she never truly met

Jailed just ten days

after she first sung love

songs of tomorrow

I prayed we meet again

I turned seven

grandma told me the news

after school

___ released on condition

she sobered in program dorm

We visit

___ less enthusiastic seeing

me than expected

Her hugs stale

no smile

and once grandma

left me stay for a day

___ sat me aside

in a corner while she

socialized visitation time away

I spent it watching her mingle

with program peers

eat, poker, dominoes, laugh

repeat

I clutched little

mermaid doll

and enjoyed her company from

a distance

a puppy who loved her

with no conditions

When she dragged

me to her room

I loved her while we walked

She so fast I trot

“Keep up”

I loved her while

she fed me

few crumbly Ritz crackers

after hours of

rumbly tummy

I loved her even as she ate two cups of Top Ramen

for herself

I loved her while she

sang me Annie

the Orphan

Tucked me into cold bunk

and left me there while she slept in a friends room

I loved her while I had her

because I missed her when she left

At the time that made

sense—thinking

she loved me too—or she wouldn’t sing

I just knew

mothers without love

never sang.

But a promise of

love tomorrow leaves no room for love today

And I don’t remember

when I realized tomorrow

may not come

as soon as mama liked to say.

 

—From Growing Pains, KDP Amazon, 2021.

Brooklyn Poets · Saprina Howard, "Chasing the Dragon (II)"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This piece is the second part of the “Chasing Dragons” three-part poem series. It was originally written in 2014, and rewritten roughly twenty times over the course of five years until it became a series.

When this piece finally started taking its most sincere shape, I was writing poetry under the mentorship of the revolutionary poet Aya de León, one of my professors at Berkeley. She pushed me to write a story only I could tell in frank honest prose.

As my mother and I are estranged, I revisited this piece from a place within me that longed to rekindle our relationship, as much as it longed to make sense of our humanity tangled up in an American mess, and to decipher the impacts of the criminal justice system on Black youth and motherhood.

Writing this piece was cathartic. By recounting one small memory with my mother, it sums up a lifetime of complex emotions around growing up in foster care with occasional access to her. I have never read it to her. I hope to one day.

What are you working on right now?

I just self-published a collection of poetry titled Growing Pains. It is a meditation on the quirks of growing up in the foster system under kinship placement. With it, I hope to help other foster alumni make sense of their own feelings towards and understandings of family. It’s important for foster kids to break down the traditional concepts of family in order to understand their worth and accept themselves. Though I’m proud of myself for designing and self-publishing this collection, initially I just meant for it to be a sample for myself to visualize these pieces becoming an official work. I was surprised to actually sell a few, and now I’m focusing my efforts on submitting this to publishers and getting it formally published.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is one where my workload is minimal, and I have plenty of time to drive the long way for errands and sit in the cemetery on the top of my favorite hill to think. On a good day, I’m able to be myself for myself instead of existing for the benefit of others. I’m a giver, so a good day for me is a day I get to keep.

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?

After living in the United Kingdom and Los Angeles, I currently reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ve lived for four years so far.

If home is where the heart is, I left my heart where I was born in Skyline Hills, San Diego, California. 619 Daygo, baby! I love the Filipino food here in the Bay, but respectfully, nothing beats the weather and food in San Diego.

The Bay is the most expensive place I have ever lived, and like my old haunts in LA and SD, it is rapidly gentrifying. Besides the wealthy Whites and their tech-bro adjacents, I don’t know how any of us manages to remain here. But there’s something to be said about the obligatory trait we people of color exhibit, to simply exist against all odds.

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

I have never spent any time in Brooklyn! I was actually planning to visit for the first time just before the pandemic hit. Now, I hope to visit when the pandemic subsides and it’s safer to travel. I acknowledge the people we put most at risk when we travel during times like these are Black and Brown folks. Respectfully, my wanderlust can wait.

If Brooklyn was a person, I think it would be among the smartest, most good-humored and stylish folks in the room. I follow a lot of Black artists from Brooklyn on social media and know a few of them personally. Brooklyn is definitely rich with culture, American history and intellect!

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

To me, a poetry community is a support system made up of people with whom a writer can test their writing limits, push boundaries, discover new things and ultimately improve their craft. In poetry communities, I always set my intention to find a truer version of my truest voice, as I continue to learn how to tell stories only I can. There’s so much we humans have in common that even unique stories touch a place of familiarity for a reader somewhere. I love to make people feel seen in that way.

Years ago I found my first poetry community in college, and I continue to find brave creative writing spaces in the company of my band and with Brooklyn Poets.

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

Not sure if they both lived in Brooklyn, but Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde! Both wrote such fantastic canonical works that inspired me as a lil’ ol’ queer Black girl to embrace my quirks and intellectual curiosities, and to write about them!

In my writing, I tend to meditate on death a lot. My existential angst is off the charts (understandably as a twentysomething living through what feels like a social apocalypse). At first I assumed it was suicidal ideation, but a close friend suggested this to be my immense love of life. I accept that assessment: I’m so in love with life that I never want to leave it. Still, its temporariness is its beauty.

To bring this all back around full circle, one thing that Hughes and Lorde have accomplished through their writing is their impact. Their consciousness still inspires and electrifies minds. I hope my words help someone to live. Thinking about impacting someone in that way sounds like achieving immortality to me.

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

Aya de León is one of my major poetry mentors. She ushered my writing into a new era, less concerned with pretty aesthetics and more with sketching emotions so specific that a reader could be shaken with familiarity. She did so by stripping me of every poetic crutch I depended on and forcing me to write in new ways. Practicing writing without “to be” verbs, for instance, was just one of the memorable and impactful exercises that continues to keep my poetry frank.

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

The last book that stood out to me was erotic fiction by Chuck Tingle called Buttception: A Butt Within A Butt Within A Butt. This book stood out to me because of its incredibly self-aware title. I am quite drawn to books with odd titles anyway, but lately the state of the world seems somehow worse than it’s ever been. Living through these times of war, sickness and loss, I learned to cherish the silly things. So I find myself reading goofy literature more than before.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. First introduced to it in college, I was so impressed by its contents and the conversations it inspired in my classes that I bought it. However, with the pressure of finishing undergrad during the pandemic, I didn’t have as much free time to read for pleasure. One year later and finally graduated, I fully expect to finish the book!

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 dip in and out of multiple books. More often I complete full novellas and anthologies, but rarely novels. I wish I had the patience to sit through a novel⁠—I’m one of the people who can’t. Just built different.

Usually I prefer physical books so I can annotate and write things like “woah” and “yes!” or “what the f***?!” but since purchasing an iPad I’ve read on it occasionally. I prefer physical books so I can feel it and see it on my shelf.

My next reads are usually random and almost always at the suggestion of my genius bookworm younger sister.

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

I’d like to try writing a poem in another language. Though I got an AA degree in Spanish, I’ve never written poetry in any other language besides English. I’d like to challenge myself to do that, but of course I have my reservations that it will sound … silly?

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

I love to read and write beside streams. Sitting in solitude with natural running water, in the dark cool of woodsy shadows, is my happiest place. Bonus if it’s morning time.

As a student at UC Berkeley, I was privileged to do this often. Locations like this were right on campus or within walking distance. Now that I live in a concrete jungle, serene spots like this aren’t as accessible.

The good thing is that sitting with the evening sun in my third-floor apartment’s living room window, watching the community bumble down below, works nearly as well.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the honesty in a child’s smile,

And what I find in their eyes you

will surely find in mine,

For every glint of joy they flash

as good for me as it is for you.