November 8–14, 2021
Tracy Fuad is the author of about:blank, chosen by Claudia Rankine as the 2020 winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize and published in October by the University of Pittsburgh Press. She is also the author of the chapbooks PITH, DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD and Body of Water 2. Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Poetry, the New Republic and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Rutgers–Newark MFA program and a 2021–22 Poetry Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and she teaches poetry at the Berlin Writers’ Workshop. On Wednesday, November 17, Fuad will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series via Zoom along with Simone Kearney and Ross Gay.
I wish I could think with my nose.
Be possessed by a sense
without pushing it down the long canal of language.
Even during sex, I translate:
it feels good, I might say.
I don’t want to say this.
This to this,
that to that:
not everything has to be mapped.
The pyramids were silvered in limestone to pull the sun to earth
and capped in gold to draw the spirit back
should it wish to return.
A building cannot love you back,
feel or say hello.
Still, I stand at the threshold of mine,
see a polaroid of me I must have dropped
propped on the sill by the door.
I pocket it and enter.
Here, I am allowed to spread my objects.
My mute proxies with clean boundaries.
They stake out my space while I’m away.
My mind works, I think,
by drawing lines
around the edges.
But I can only think when I’m suspended,
maybe by a metal tress above the water,
a thin rain flushing the others from the city
and the sky descending
to reclaim the tops of things,
the parts it always owned.
I want to stay here,
in the slim wedge between two places,
a land outside of land.
I want to return after I leave,
back down the long canal and to a shape
that’s much like this one, or one completely different.
—From about:blank, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This was one of the last poems I wrote while I was still living in Brooklyn before I moved to Kurdistan. The knowledge I was leaving soon—my imminent departure—gave everything a slightly ghostly quality. I’d been living in this shared apartment that was kind of a disaster, though I loved my bedroom, because there was a door at the back of my closet that opened directly onto a little staircase to the street. I didn’t have a key, so you could only open it from the inside, but it made my room feel sort of magical, possessing secret powers. I liked having a secret, private address I could direct people to come to find me. And I threw a few “coming out of the closet” parties. One day I found a picture on the windowsill of the main entrance. There was this brief instant, between the moment I recognized the girl in the picture was me and the moment I deduced it just must have fallen out of my pocket or bag, that gave me absolute pause and wonder, the feeling of seeing yourself. I think there is a very special quality to “city poems” and I wrote so many while living in Brooklyn: so many dense, layered, intersocial moments that could only happen in a city.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a novel set in Kurdistan. Along with another book of poetry.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day begins with very strong coffee and a long walk or run through some woods or near a body of water. A good day is a day in which I feel possessed to write.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
First queer love! It didn’t work out, but Brooklyn did, at least for a good while.
Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I moved to Gowanus in 2012, into the first apartment I looked at, which was the top floor of a corner apartment on 3rd Ave and 9th St, looking out at the elevated track of the F and G line. A few months after I moved there, Hurricane Sandy devastated the city. I stayed home from work for a month, because the school I taught in had flooded. A lot of buildings in Gowanus flooded, and it felt like a turning point in the gentrification of the neighborhood, which changed quickly after that. I still love Gowanus but it often feels unrecognizable to me when I visit it now. I think cities are exciting because they are dynamic and change quickly, but when those changes are felt so unequally by different groups of people, it is unsettling. But when I was living there, there was a community feel. There was a bodega below my apartment with familiar cats and a very friendly owner, Samy, who saved me when I locked myself out more than a handful of times. And I ate a lot of pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, which was across the street. I like Gowanus because it has this interstitial, liminal quality to it—it’s the industrial lowlands between two gentrified neighborhoods, huddled on a stinky canal, a very in-between place. I like in-between places.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
One night, when I was living in Gowanus, I walked up 9th St to Prospect Park. A man was at the entrance with a really, really, really big telescope, and looked up and said hey, you want to see Saturn? I said sure, put my eye to the telescope’s lens, and was suddenly just staring at Saturn’s rings, totally transported. A second later, clouds drifted into the view so that you had the illusion you’d really glimpsed into some hidden other world—I mean, it was, non-metaphorically, a really close look at another planet. I gave a vociferous thanks and then continued on my way.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?
A poetry community for me means people who support each other poetically, whether that means talking about books you’ve loved or sharing work or showing up to each other’s events. I think the reason I loved Brooklyn is because I did find that there, in so many different ways, and that community I found, both before the MFA and in the MFA and out of the MFA, has made all the difference.
I think I’ve been very lucky to find poetry community everywhere I’ve gone, but I’m also very forward about seeking it out, getting involved, hosting salons or workshops or retreats. I adore the poetry community I’ve found in Berlin and am excited to spend more time a part of it.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
The “Brooklyn poets” who are most important to me really are my peers, my community, who are often my first readers and foremost my friends. Ariel Yelen, Như Xuân Nguyễn, Emily Caris, Emily Luan, Grey Vild, Phoebe Glick, Suzi Highland, Carly Dashiell, Asiya Wadud, Sevinç Çalhanoğlu, Maggie Millner, Maddie Mori and all the rest.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I’ve been lucky to have many. Rachel Jamison Webster was my professor in college and taught me to scan for meter which is something that still lives in all my work, this certain attention to metrical quality. Neil Shepard was the first person to read my poetry as an adult and tell me it was good, that I should pursue it. That affirmation was everything. And at the MFA I studied with Brenda Shaughnessy and Cathy Park Hong and they both have had an enormous influence on my work, their braveness to write into new spaces, to write from the heart, to bring a critical rigor to poetry. There are many more, and I’m so grateful, and grateful, too, to my peers, who form a community that make writing possible. Really, it wouldn’t be possible without friends.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I just finished Ari Banias’s second collection, A Symmetry, and was absolutely stunned.
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 love the luxury of bookstores and libraries, which afford for a certain languid discovery, for total exploration of books. My favorite book experiences are books I stumble upon or come by without trying to. But of course most of the time I seek out what I read. I’m usually reading a number of books at once, often halfway through one novel, one book of poetry and one book of nonfiction, though I’d never recommend that as a system.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’m sort of secretly into rhyme. If possessing little talent for rhyming.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I have always done my best writing on airplanes. There is nothing else that comes close to being physically removed from the earth that allows me to write about living on the planet.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I love the Gowanus Canal. I love trying to imagine what it looked like as a tidal creek, lousy with dinner plate oysters, and to try to fully absorb and sit with that total and irreversible loss. I love the fake waterfall in Prospect Park, which is so convincing, even though I’ve climbed up it to see the water arising out of nowhere, a false spring. I love the bike ride to Coney Island down Ocean Ave. I used to teach in Coney Island and wake up at an ungodly hour to bike there, which I called biking the alphabet because of the lettered avenues you pass. I love the grand scale of the BQE overpass and the Smith–9th St subway over the trash heaps, which do a great job of resisting gentrification.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate ________,
And what I _______ you __________,
For every ____________ me as good __________ you.
I revised the prompt and decided to do a “ladder translation” of Whitman’s original poem using a neurally networked translator. Here is the version I liked best:
I have to sing
I have back pain
For all good atoms are mine.
Because I like it.