Poet Of The Week

Taneum Bambrick

     April 10–16, 2023

Taneum Bambrick is the author of Intimacies, Received (Copper Canyon Press, 2022) and Vantage (American Poetry Review / Honickman First Book Award, 2019). Bambrick is a 2020 Stegner Fellow and a PhD student at the University of Southern California, and her work has appeared in the Nation, New Yorker, Poetry and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles. On Friday, April 14, she will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series along with Chialun Chang and Rigoberto González.

Driving to Cadiz


A kind of bird like a swan but more triangular

dives and lifts behind the knives of a tractor—

five paper airplanes poking at turned dirt.

Sometimes, he wears the condom

for hours after he falls asleep. I feel carried.

His body becomes the way I think.

Not being hungry, but wanting

to halve something.

I’ve never finished with a man

without needing to repeat, in my head,

that I want him inside me.

We pass by piles of salt, orange cattle.

He asks me to rate the day.

We both know there’s nothing emptier

than recognition in a new landscape.


—From Intimacies, Received, Copper Canyon Press, 2022.

Brooklyn Poets · Taneum Bambrick, "Driving to Cadiz"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this poem years ago and kept editing out the first stanza because of readers (wonderful readers!) were like, Taneum, what do you mean “like a swan but more triangular.” I decided to let it be weird. A lot of the poems I wrote for Intimacies, Received I wrote off old phone notes. I had the images “piles of salt” and orange cattle in my phone from a long drive, but I also had this idea of having to repeat things in your head during sex to keep yourself invested in it—especially if you’ve experienced sexual violence, and especially as a person who feels perpetually confused about their own relationship to desire.

What are you working on right now?

I have two new projects: a poetry collection and a memoir in essays! The poetry collection is newer, so more difficult to talk about, but I’ve been sending those poems out recently. Maybe the best example to explain the book through is “The breakup has me believing in god.” In that poem, I think about what it means, in a moment of crisis or loss, to scramble around looking for signs again after abandoning them to become some version of an adult. These poems chart a kind of “life low” where the speaker is assaulted by a stranger she meets in a bar shortly after being broken up with by the person she hoped to spend her life with. Marriage is a weird figure in the book (sometimes a boar in Texas, hit by a car). The poems are veering more towards questions of gender and sexuality now, or a time of deep internality where the speaker, with a lot of space and quiet after disaster, has a minute to think more about how they feel about who they are.

This project has been a lot slower than my first and second books. I only wrote three poems last year. I’ve been trying to trust that pace and not rush the work. Part of that “not rushing” has manifested into me sneaking into nonfiction classes at USC where I suffer from imposter syndrome but have felt extremely welcomed by the brilliant prose cohorts there. When I write in nonfiction, I feel looser, somehow. Maybe this is because it feels like the stakes are lower because it hasn’t been my primary genre, but I think there’s a great physical difference (at least for me) between the way it feels to write a poem and the way it feels to write in prose. Ever since I was in middle school, when I write a poem, I have to shut all the doors and light a candle and banish everyone else from the room. I can write prose in public. I can leave an essay and come back, and usually, when I do, the work benefits from that space. If I leave a poem, I usually can’t ever get back into the right mentality to finish it.

I wrote about 100 pages of an unsuccessful memoir that I have scraped and started to reframe through the lens of skunks and people who keep skunks in their homes as pets. After finishing Intimacies, Received, I’ve been thinking a lot more about how to write about difficult subjects, like queer erasure or chronic illness related to sex, without making myself sad. I am interested in how the body can resist partnerships that the brain refuses to identify as toxic, particularly through the contraction of UTIs, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. This exploration of chronic illness juxtaposes, throughout the text, with research about skunks: how they protect themselves through stink; how domesticated skunks vomit bile when they feel too hungry; the physical ways they convey their needs, delights and boundaries. I am also very interested in smell and shame and portrayals of skunks that fixate on stink as repulsive rather than fascinating.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me! I am very boring! Probably starting outside, walking at Elysian Park or doing a little rock climb at the gym I go to. Then coffee at my favorite café, Eightfold, where I have written almost every day since moving to LA. Taking a break from homework for once (I am in school). Then dinner out with friends.

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 for me right now is LA! Before I lived here, my favorite city I’d ever lived in was Tucson (where I got my MFA), but now I think they are tied or maybe I like LA even more. I am super grateful to have come to LA through USC so that I did have immediate community, and then I’ve been able to meet a lot of people—largely through poetry and poetry events!—like Jess Abughattas, Jordan Nakamura, Meghann Plunkett, Jonathan Parks-Ramage, James Fujinami Moore and Leah Zandermoore and so many others!—who have invited me to their poetry nights and potlucks. I moved here when I was going through a bit of a rough life transition, but the atmosphere has kept me really focused on my work, which has been helped a lot by people in and outside my program. I see myself going through social bursts and then being very quiet, staying in to read. It’s been an important and nourishing time (almost two years) for me. I am still learning so much about LA.

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

The last time I was in Brooklyn was eight years ago! I’ve never read in New York, and it’s been a life-long goal for me, so I was thrilled by this invitation to read for Brooklyn Poets! I am so excited to be there soon!

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

I think I kind of answered this on accident in response to your earlier question, but my favorite poetry community looks like a group of people who love and support each other as writers but don’t talk about poetry all the time. The other day, I was lying around with some friends trying to plan what we were going to read at an event, and we were calling out titles to each other and all saying “Yes, that’s one of your best” or “Wait I think you should also read this one”—I realized that was so special, to be a group of people who know and have listened to each other’s work that deeply.

Maybe my favorite example of writing (extending this to prose too!) community is this moment at a conference last summer when, while walking home at night from a bonfire by a lake, the poet Jacob Shores-Argüello handed my friend Claire Luchette and me two glowsticks to help us see through the dark. Claire and I were holding the glowsticks and grinning, and I shouted “We’re two lunch boys!” which made no sense—where did lunch come from?—but was my deepest most guttural reaction to how cute the moment was. Now we call each other the Lunch Boys (including Jacob and our friend CJ Hauser) and I think that kind of naming or keeping a silly thing going is one way that being among writers has felt special to me.

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

Jay Desphande, my sweet friend, is a poet I continue to learn from and feel so inspired by. When I think of love poets or poets writing tenderness, I think of him. My sweet friend Colby Cotton who is working on the most beautiful book that reminds me of foxes and firelight. Brilliant poet Deb Gravina, my MFA bff, lives and teaches in Brooklyn and I am so excited to hopefully see her soon. Jim Whiteside wrote the most beautiful burrata poem that I think of all time. Emily Lee Luan whose book 回 / Return I just got in the mail today! My favorite poem changes all the time, but right now it’s “Orlando” by Megan Fernandes, who I believe is a Brooklyn poet? I don’t know where everyone lives. Some poets I recently met and adore who live in NY (maybe not Brooklyn?) are Jason B. Crawford, Haolun Xu, Deborah Landau, Eugenia Leigh, Victoria Redel…I could list so many people! I probably forgot someone who is one of my favorite people on earth! Also, my prose bffs: CJ Hauser, Claire Luchette, Kyle Lucia Wu! This is a hard question, which is a very good thing!

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

Jane Miller is one of my most important mentors. She retired right when I arrived at the University of Arizona MFA program but still agreed to have somewhat regular brunches with me where she would read a few of my poems and tell me about poetry life. Our first meeting was a phone call. I asked her a question I still ask myself all the time, which was: how can we write about difficult things without making ourselves very sad? She taught me to look for the part of the traumatic experience outside but related to its core, a part of it you can look at obsessively without reanimating the sadness of the event(s). This was how I decided to write my first book about picking up trash. I picked up garbage to pay for school while I was going through one of the most difficult chapters of my life.

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

I’ve been reading Togetherness by Wo Chan and I love it so much. I can’t get this line out of my head: “thinking about a feeling is like photocopying a feeling. that scanning light is safe. / i brag my brain is fearless, yet i wear my heart smeared across my face” (2). I feel really dazzled by this book—its quickness, how the prose gathers up and screams, how the line breaks feel like tiny parties—and am hoping to write about it more soon!