July 3–9, 2023
taylor alexis young is a writer and musician from the South. In 2021, her prose piece “Remembrance” received honors in the North Carolina Writers’ Network’s Jacobs / Jones African American Literary Prize and her poem “For Bobi Wine” was published in Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath. Her experimental essay “TRIP-TICK: hymn / examen / fellowship” was a winner of Appalachian State University’s Student Research Prize in Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies in 2022. taylor’s writing honors the rich tradition of the African diaspora—its music, dance, myths and magic. She was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow last year for study in Ana Božičević’s workshop “Lyrical Commons: Poembodies.”
after Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few
i heard your history
& tuned myself
in cognac key
weeping the day
baptist parables spread like rouge
i watched mercury
into a gorgeous pinball
the universe became high
an ecstatic groove
in your palms
come on sing
come on wail
& slip the ride
up our spines
come interstellar clink
let us sail uncharted
on holy breaths
lift your heads
& gaze over the stony edge
& call our tomorrows
from the abyss
& the dust-bunny den
let the brutal earth turn sweet cask
& our blood
be new wine
let my hips roll
unveil the eyes
of my eyes
i want to hear that bone of my bone / music
that ache of my aching flesh / music
play it again for me
that cosmic Black
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem was written in 2021, shortly after the release of the incredible record Cosmic Transitions by Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few, a group of Black American musicians. The quartet comprises Isaiah Collier (saxophone), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), Mike King (piano) and Michael Shekwoaga Ode (drums). If I could describe this record with two words, it’d be sonic transcendentalism. I wanted the language of the poem to evoke a feeling of both classicality and futurism, as well as praise. I drew a lot of inspiration from biblical texts and Yoruba praise poems. On the first track of the record, “Invocation,” Isaiah chants in this beautifully slow way the words “Cosmic … Black … Music.” Young musicians of today deserve to have poems dedicated to them, just like Coltrane, Bird and Mingus. This poem was a love offering.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on both poetry and prose that centers on the Black diaspora, specifically Black American music and the Black religious experience. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with typography and other visually experimental ways of writing a poem.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is simple, I think. A good cup of coffee (maybe two or three), a good record, a good book and a good spot out in nature. Thankfully, for me a good day doesn’t require much.
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 feels a little split. I have lived in both North Carolina and South Florida for roughly the same amount of time, about twelve years each. While both are geographically considered the South, North Carolina and South Florida have provided me with two very different “Southern” experiences. NC gave me the gift of knowing good BBQ, gospel music and the impressiveness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. South Florida taught me about a good Cuban sandwich, reggaeton and the lush tropical landscape that is the Everglades.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I haven’t spent too much time in Brooklyn! Not enough to talk about it, anyway. That being said, I am looking forward to checking out Brooklyn Poets’ physical location sometime soon.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
In one of my first writing classes at my current university, my class had the honor of being visited by Michele Tracy Berger. My question to her was, “When did you start to feel like a real writer?” Her response, to paraphrase, was that she felt like a “real” writer when she found community with other writers. So, to me, a poetry community provides of sense of affirmation for the writer’s existence. Witnessing and being witnessed by other writers are both vital to the flourishing of my practice. I have been extremely fortunate to find community in workshops with local poets as well as poets who live across the country.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
June Jordan is probably the most influential Brooklyn poet in my personal life. Her writing was among the first to open my mind to poetry as a form of work against oppression.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
My first poetry mentor was former North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. He was the first person to read my poetry and believe in it. He has encouraged me and supported me in too many ways to count, but most importantly, he has always encouraged me to honor my voice and lived experience in my work.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’m currently obsessed with a couple of books! I’ve been digging into Mahogany L. Browne’s YA novel-in-verse Chlorine Sky. Her authenticity in writing about Black girlhood really speaks to the insecurity and longing I experienced when I was a teenager. Every Black girl deserves novels like this. I’ve also been enjoying Tiphanie Yanique’s novel Monster in the Middle. She writes about the experience of love in a way that feels all-encompassing, weaving in the role that religion and mental health play. These two books have encouraged me to expand my ideas around genre and form.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I’ve been wanting to read Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange for years now! It’s one of just a few books written by Shange that I haven’t read. That and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, though I’ve enjoyed the film version for years.
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?
My reading process is a bit chaotic! Though I am an avid and detailed note-taker, I do have a tendency (particularly with novels) to dip in and out of multiple books. The good news is, I usually end up finishing the ones I start! I usually walk into a bookstore and pick up whatever books call to me, either by cover or synopsis. I’ve found that it’s easier to finish digital texts, but there’s nothing like the feel of a book in my hands.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I would love to experiment a little more with poetic form. I am especially a fan of Japanese forms and would love to try writing a sedoka, or perhaps collaborate with someone on a katauta.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love to write in motion! I recently heard Eileen Myles speak on the value of this. I love writing in airplanes, on trains or (cautiously) during a walk out in nature!
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I haven’t spent enough time in Brooklyn to say! I’d love to visit the Williamsburg Bridge someday. I’ve written about it a few times for its connection to the great saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the music of all things.
And what I sing, you shall sing.
For every song
belonging to me as good
in the image of you.
Because June Jordan! Richard Wright! Walt Whitman! Mos Def! Lil’ Kim! Max Roach! Eric Dolphy! … Sonny Rollins!