Poet Of The Week

T’ai Freedom Ford

     March 2–8, 2015

T’ai Freedom Ford is a New York City high school English teacher, Cave Canem Fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat; Sinister Wisdom; No, Dear; African American Review; PLUCK!; Vinyl and others. In 2012 and 2013, she completed two multi-city tours as a part of a queer women of color literary salon, The Revival. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College.

ode to an African urn

               for Trayvon and them
               (after Keats)

what men or gods are these?
what mad pursuit?
what sin or odd odds are these?
what men or gods are these?
what unarmed boys down on bruised knees?
what mad blue suits?
what men or gods are these?
what mad pursuit?

what struggle to escape?
fair youth, beneath the trees, you cannot leave

what’s suspect? brown skin? hooded drape?
what struggle to escape?
what estranged fruit? frayed rope round nape
unfair youth, beneath the leaves, you cannot be: leave.
what struggle to escape?
fair youth, beneath the trees, you cannot leave

who are these coming to the sacrifice?
whose bloodied hands shall stain the earth?
what eye for what eye shall suffice?
who are these coming to the sacrifice?
what’s worth this brown skin? who shall pay what price?
or else why be born? why be bothered with birth?
who are these coming to the sacrifice?
whose bloodied hands shall stain the earth?

–Originally published in Union Station Magazine, April 2013.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I was meditating on the murder of Trayvon Martin for a long time. It stuck with me, but I couldn’t find any words to articulate my feelings of anger and sadness. I don’t know how I came across Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but the lines “What men or gods are these? / What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?” matched the narrative of the conflict between Zimmerman and Trayvon. So that was my catalyst, and from those lines the poem was born.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on my second poetry manuscript—a collection of sonnets. Many of the sonnets are ekphrastic and based on the work on African American artists like Wangechi Mutu, Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon and Carrie Mae Weems.

What’s a good day for you?

To me, I honor the Creator by being creative and so a good day is one in which I create something. Some days I feel bad if I skip the gym, but if I skipped it because I was working on a poem, then I’ll give myself a pass.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the last fifteen years. Currently I rep the hood of Bed-Stuy. It’s one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, but I’ve also been dismayed by the real estate vultures, gentrification, and folks not being able to afford to live here any more.

What do you like most about it?

I am blessed to live and work in Brooklyn. And since they gave us a Whole Foods, I love that I don’t have to go to the city for NOTHING. The vibe in Brooklyn is just so chill (compared to the city). And I love that things are still raw and graffitied and abandoned and scary. I also love the bodega culture of Brooklyn. You really get to know your bodega owners—they accept packages for you, extend credit when you forget your wallet, and let you know who has been snooping around your building.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

In order to get from Bed-Stuy to the city by car, I usually drive through Bushwick. One summer day, I drove down this street and salsa music was blasting from a garage area and three Latino men were sitting in plastic chairs clanking claves and cowbells and singing to the song. And just a few yards away were two little Latina girls at the open fire hydrant trying to steer the water with a tin can so that it would splash the cars. The cars in front of me were all trying to avoid the water but I rolled up my windows and drove close so that they could splash me. They were so tickled. And I thought, This is such a Brooklyn moment.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Believe it or not, I actually dig Whitman. And I teach his poetry to my students. There’s this poem by him, “I Sit and Look Out,” that speaks to all the fucked-up shit in the world and the kids really relate.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Unnameable Books is dope. It’s what a bookstore should be—a mess of books and hidden treasures. A nice anti-corporate place to lose yourself. Greenlight is cool. I pop in there when I need a quick gift. And they always have good readings.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love Outpost on Fulton street near Classon. It has a great outdoor space that’s cool for reading and writing in the sun. And if you have to be indoors, they play great music and there’s always cool, artsy patrons to look at. Before I got too good for public transport, I used to love writing on the train. So many characters … there was always a poem waiting to be written.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

I like thrift stores like the Salvation Army or hipster thrift stores like Beacon’s Closet. I also love Fort Greene Park in the spring and summer. On weekend mornings, it’s cool to watch the dogs run free in the big dusty field or later in the afternoon to watch the men play soccer in that same field.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Boyishly by Tanya Olson was an awesome read. Currently reading Patient. by Bettina Judd and it’s wicked good.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the most beautifullest thang in this world,
And what it do  what it is  what it was  & what it does,
     you should do it too,
For every thang & every time I see me as good as that
     good-good I glimpse in

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.

we gets no love
us (s)mothered kids with no father
we know everything but don’t know jack
’cept he was black and prolly a draft dodger
ditched us for some bitch in Brooklyn
mama say & i ask is being a bastard a sin
she say i’ma child of God & hand me a pen
i write him a letter telling him what he rob
of me   but i go hard regardless   no dad   no biggie

Why Brooklyn?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself this question ’cause everybody and their mother seems to be on Brooklyn’s shit. And I’m not one to be on the bandwagon, even though I’ve been here for years. It’s just starting to feel like one big ol’ hipster trend … a real estate get-rich scheme. So I’ve been thinking about ways to create Brooklyn elsewhere. Clearly, I’ve not much luck. I’m still here (until they raise my rent).