January 14–20, 2019
Starr Davis is a writer and poet. Her works of poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in several literary magazines including the Rumpus, Rigorous and Cosmonauts Avenue. Her debut short story recently appeared in Transition, a publication of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Davis received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Akron and her MFA in poetry from the City College of New York. She lives in the Bronx. Her poem below was selected as the runner-up for the 2018 Yawp Poem of the Year award from Brooklyn Poets.
I collect broken Bibles
The pages hang off the binding
Those religious pamphlets
From pushy pastors
Broken pieces of English on
Broken pieces of paper
Newspaper clippings of dead boys
I had dead sex with
I collect old blood
Sticks of street incense that
Smell like burning Kool-Aid
Somewhere in this house
Is an old joint I smoked in college
The old cigarette buds from mom’s ashtray
I collect fire
My first condom wrapper
Is laminated and framed in an old shoebox
In my dresser drawer
Is a Plan B pill
(A birthday gift from guy saved in my phone as “plan b”)
I collect men
Old bottles of cologne
Whatever old love smells like
I collect that too
I collect the things from my childhood
That make me feel most poor
White Barbie doll disposable heads
Expired food stamp cards
Ramen noodle packets
I collect my sins
My old tongues
In a purple box under my bed
Is a treasure trove of my ho phase
Inside, dirty notes
From my high school locker
My first pack of birth control pills
Dirty panties peeled from my old dirty body
Old pregnancy tests
An ultrasound photo
Old suicide notes
I collect all my demons
They live in the open spaces
Where I can still see them.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I was doing a writing exercise that said, “Write a poem about the things in your closet.” Of course, this was supposed to be metaphorical, but me being me, I thought of the actual things I have kept in storage. I started listing the things I have collected and started formulating a poem about the things I have, in a sense, collected in my spirit. The mixture of present items and past items seemed a suitable contrast for a good poem.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am working on a collection of poems for a chapbook called My Old Body.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day? Hm. A good day consists of prayer, pizza and my boss taking a sick day which gives me time to write poems at work.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I moved to Brooklyn in 2014. My boyfriend at the time lived in Bed-Stuy. I moved to Bushwick (his recommendation) while attending the City College of NY in Harlem.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
Currently I live in the South Bronx. In my opinion, it’s the soul of New York City. Most of my neighbors play salsa music at all hours of the day and speak Spanish to me in the elevator. I’ve been in the Bronx for three years now. The food is the best part of any neighborhood. So far, they’ve torn down my gym to build a hotel—so I’m pretty pissed but happily fat. It doesn’t compare to anywhere I have ever lived (thank God).
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
A very timely story. On December 31, 2014, I got lost in Williamsburg on my way to a club for New Year’s Eve. My phone died instantly once I got off the train. So there I was, standing on the street corner freezing my ass off, trying to look cool and not ask for directions. I just walked and walked. I remembered the name of the street the club was on; it was called Hope Street. Surprisingly, I found the street, but no club. At the end of that street was a very small Italian bar. I went in and asked them for the time, and they told me it was 11:49 PM. I started to cry my Midwestern tears, feeling defeated, when suddenly a very large Italian woman asked me what was wrong. She let me charge my phone, gave me a free drink of whiskey, and she and her husband (a very large Italian man who I am sure was the godfather of some mob) gave me a ride to the club! At 11:57 PM they dropped me off in a black Cadillac Escalade (I felt like this was the ultimate gangster entrance to a party). My friend greeted me with very confused eyes and handed me a glass of champagne, and I toasted in 2015.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Poetry community means support, devotion and openness. As a woman of color, I am never quite sure where my poetry belongs, but it’s found a home at Brooklyn Poets. I have never felt unsafe or afraid to share my work or be vulnerable with the community at BKP.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
My old college professor suggested I get involved with BKP since I was new to Brooklyn. When I first visited a Brooklyn Poets event, I heard Jason Koo say he was from Cleveland—and that was it for me. I knew I was going to come back, haha. I had only been in New York for three or four months and I felt like Jason, from day one, extended himself to be supportive and instantly welcoming. I have also made some very strong friendships with Meagan Washington and Emily Wilkinson. My most influential instructors have been Leigh Stein (who is phenomenal) and Marwa Helal (who is a powerhouse).
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My poetry mentors vary, but as of late—I would say Patricia Smith and Nate Marshall. Smith pushes me into long, narrative prose—which is something I tend to stay away from in poetry because it clashes at times with my creative nonfiction pieces. But her work is so timely, riveting and unafraid to tell the stories of people of color—in black AND white. It moves me to challenge my own narrative and to write my own prose, which is scary and full of unwarranted revelation (but hey, that’s poetry for ya). Nate Marshall is someone I met at AWP in 2017. He writes unapologetic lyric poems, in his own voice—it’s the most lucid work I have ever read. I aspire to be that bold, on purpose, in my poetry.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The last books that stood out to me were Landscape with Sex and Violence by Lynn Melnick and Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall. Melnick—just, whoa. Her book struck me with its deep and powerful poems. It moved me beyond end. Marshall’s book is timeless. This is a book I reread at least once a month. It’s lyrical, rhythmic, familial and yet innovative. For me, it’s important to read poets who tackle the same subjects that I tackle. To read the poems of Marshall and Melnick, which advocate for people of color and victims of sexual violence, is a powerful thing. Their books keep me going. Poetry like that keeps me writing.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I have been wanting to read Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn (which is currently sitting on my shelf, convicting me every day) and Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary.
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 prefer to read a book cover to cover. However, poetry is different. Poetry is consuming. To me, reading poetry is almost like reading the Bible. There are some poems/passages that stop you dead in your tracks and speak to you for hours or days. So, with poetry books, I tend to dip into multiple books at a time. I often circle phrases and words that jump off the page in my poetry books. And I usually go back to these notes to ask myself why this moved me? Some poems I also hijack—and try writing in my words, which usually leads to me writing a ton of poems that don’t have anything to do with that poem.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I have been trying to write an erasure FOREVER. It’s the equivalent of playing a record backwards to hear some Illuminati message inside the beats, but in poetry I feel it’s the reverse of that. I want to be able to find the “poem” in something that is not a poem. Hopefully I conquer this with time.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to read and write in public. I read mostly on the train and at this coffee shop in Harlem. And I usually write my best stuff at work, which is terrible. But it’s like sneaking your boyfriend into your house when your parents are asleep. It makes everything that much better because you’re careful, full of passion—and you also know it’s urgent. Writing with urgency always drives me to write on whelm, which is usually in public or when I am at work and extremely late to a meeting.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love going out for tacos at this restaurant in DUMBO called Pedro’s. It has the best tacos you’ll ever eat in your life and the best view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman with words of your own choosing:
I celebrate my body,
And what I purge, you can have,
For the bad parts like untuned organs were as good as the
seasoned pieces of myself that never belonged to you.
When I first drove into Brooklyn with my ex-boyfriend, the highway sign said, “Welcome to Brooklyn—You need it, we got it.” That’s why.