July 13–19, 2020
Xandria Phillips is a writer, educator and visual artist from rural Ohio. The recipient of the Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging Writers, Xandria has received fellowships from Oberlin College, Cave Canem, Callaloo and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Their poetry has been featured in American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Poets.org, Virginia Quarterly Review and BOMB. Xandria’s poem “For a Burial Free of Sharks” won the GIGANTIC Sequins Poetry Contest judged by Lucas de Lima. Xandria’s chapbook Reasons for Smoking won the 2016 Seattle Review Chapbook Contest judged by Claudia Rankine. Their first book, HULL, was published by Nightboat Books in 2019 and was the winner of the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Trans Poetry as well as a finalist for the Believer Book Award. On Thursday, July 23, Xandria will read online for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series along with Donika Kelly and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
I gulp into
my lungs for
a few cents of
oxygen. It is for the
dead’s inability to do so
that I rattle the coins in my
chest. In every exhale there
is audacity. Some of us still drown
in our own lungs. We are in need of a
plan. Let’s deflate something monstrous,
and take its air inside us. I’m holding quorum
between my sternum and the equator for survival
lessons. Here I learn my skin on hers won’t liberate us,
and I begin
to touch her
as though it will,
remembering fat to be
an unruly flesh, our uprising
lungs a cacophony of inverted
sound. Only when there was nothing
left to sing did the hull-song quiet to breath.
By the flush of a roseate moon, a ship presses
its belly into the Atlantic’s lap. At this tempo, persons
breach objectivity, and must then revert back. The objects
approach personhood. I won’t count breaths as the cargo cusps
in continuum, a salient stain on the horizon that never makes port.
—From HULL, Nightboat Books, 2019.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
“Hull” is one of those Frankenstein poems, resurrected from the better parts of discarded pieces and my most proselytizing journal entries. I had to connect the beginning last. The form is sacred geometry, theory and a cross-section of the ocean cupping a ship’s hull bisected.
What are you working on right now?
I am learning about myself as a visual artist by trying new medium combinations. I’m currently working with pen, colored pencil and watercolor. Before recently, my experiences with watercolor have only been frustrating. I think we are on better terms now. I’m also working on a book of nonfiction called Presenting as Blue / Aspiring to Green. This work is more process-driven and speaks directly about color theory, media and gender.
What’s a good day for you?
I love a day where I have the flexibility to focus on a single task. At night a vibrant, vegetable-forward meal with my love, Dominique.
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?
Dominique and I just moved in together in Chicago, and this feels like the first family home I’ve had as an adult. I’ve been hovering since I graduated from college. I lived in Virginia, Chicago and then Wisconsin before this. I’ve missed the abundance of the produce section in certain Chicago grocery stores. My local store, for instance, has dandelion greens, ube yam and plantains organized by ripeness.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I’ve spent a little time in Greenpoint, and I’ve been to the Brooklyn Museum. I finished my final edits for HULL at a high table in the café.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
For me community is disparate. Even before quarantine, I was on the phone too much, portaling my world to a friend. I feel most in community when another’s words inspire in me discord from some violent internal process I was undertaking subconsciously.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Marwa Helal, my museum comrade. Devyn Mañibo, a wonderful curator, artisanal baker and cofounder of already felt, a project centering queer and trans Black poets and poets of color. Tara Jayakar, founder and editor of Raptor Editing and Press, and an absolute soul-charmer.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I remember Vievee Francis talking to me about gendered syntax in my work, and that one analysis has haunted my pedagogy and craft since.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
Right now I am really enchanted by The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985. Some of the intuitive elements of the book feel akin to building abstract poetry forms.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I got a third of the way into A Little Life in 2018 and I still haven’t recovered. I absolutely love Yanagihara’s writing and devoured her first book, The People in the Trees. Trauma is so heavily foreshadowed in A Little Life that I find myself unable to read onward.
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 have way too many books in rotation. Genre feels like a continuum of itself, so I slide between books, often as they feel in reference to one another. Lately, I’ve been so drawn to revisiting books, and this also enhances the ever-growing pile. Every once in a while a book comes along that demands I read it through without interruption. In recent memory, both of Carmen Maria Machado’s books have had this effect on me.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I just started experimenting with a sequence of ekphrastic poems that addresses television. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m looking at spectacularized instances of Blackness.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
When not in quarantine I love to amble around the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and write in Marisol. I read and write most urgently when I am in motion. A good amount of HULL was written on public transportation in Chicago.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I’m definitely no Brooklyn expert, but I am in love with Xi’an Famous Foods. I also feel grateful to the Brooklyn Museum for getting me out of my head enough to finish my book.
Because the Lorde demands it.