Conducted by Nazli Karabıyıkoğlu
When did you first realize your affinity for writing?
I first realized I wanted to write for the rest of my life when I served my first lunch detention.
I was in there for passing notes in class. At the time of my most famous middle school crime, I hardly spoke aloud due to my stutter, so in order to interact I wrote things down. It wasn’t allowed, but it was the sacrifice I was willing to make at the time. Eventually, I was caught, and sentenced to serve a lunch detention in my Language Arts teacher’s classroom.
For her, having lunch away from our friends wasn’t enough. So we had to copy sentences from whatever book she laid in front of us. In front of me: Langston Hughes: A Collection of Poetry.
Scanning it page by page, I copied each poem on the loose-leaf paper in front of me, just as instructed. Eventually, however, I stopped writing and was just reading the book. By the time the class came back, I was halfway finished, with 17 words from the book that I didn’t know the definition to scribbled on my arm.
The next time I was caught for note-passing, it was for writing my own “I, Too” during a lecture.
What is your process for writing poetry and prose?
I have to wait for a time where I (probably shouldn’t) be writing. At sketchy bus stops, I pull out a pen and write a line on my arm. On the train a stanza is formed. Playing UNO with a child at my job, I finish the last stanza. While I’m in a lecture, I copy it all on paper and edit. I like to believe I’m like this because I never turn the writer-part of my brain off, but it’s probably because I just can’t focus [laughter].
When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you?
I absolutely write from emotion. I don’t think I know a single writer who doesn’t. For me, most of my inspiration comes from super strong emotions. Getting my heart broken after becoming deeply invested in someone, a child making me a Play-Doh dinosaur for Christmas at the local YMCA, watching police brutality cases, my boss remembering my birthday—all evoke strong emotion from me.
What do you want the readers to know about you?
I don’t write for White peoples’ enjoyment. All my work is Black-centered, because I’m Black. All my work is Queer-centered, because I’m queer. I fully believe white audiences can read and enjoy my work, but I will never rely on their enjoyment in order to create or publish.
Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?
Yeah! Agnes Scott College’s Ignite Poetry Collective is going to CUPSI this year in Virginia, so if anyone wants to follow their journey, follow them on Instagram (@ignite.poetry) and donate to their team’s GoFundMe. I do their “Poetry Night, Open Mic” once a month at Ebrik’s Coffee Room and they’re a group of Black, women/non-binary poets who are killer on stage. I’m also working with Gathered and Grounded for their Future Perfect Project, so readers can catch me at those events, and can follow me on both Instagram and Twitter (@ayeelliottmyguy) for any other upcoming events I’ll be at.
Do you think that magazines play an important role in a poet’s/artist’s publishing career? How do you choose “the right” magazine/ journal? Do you have a dream journal?
I don’t believe magazines play as much of an important role in artists’ careers like they used to. I think social media does. Being on multiple platforms does as well. One of my favorite poets (currently) has hardly been in large journals but has been on digital media platforms such as Write About Now, HBO, Button Poetry, Tedx Talks, Slam Find, Penguin Books UK, plus others—which has helped build her career up substantially by massively increasing her fan-base. Her publishings in lit mags helped, but for 21st-century poets, the readers like to hear voices read their own work before reading it themselves.
That being said, I’m a mix of performing poetry and writing it. I pick out journals to submit my work to the same way I pick out venues to perform at. Is it inclusive? Do they have a diverse staff? Is the journal more conservative than not? If the answers are overwhelmingly yes (and they’re moderate to liberal), then it’s a go to submit. My current dream journal(s) would be a toss-up between the Missouri Review and Nightingale & Sparrow.
Your poem “Moonlight (Coming of Age)” which is published by Human/Kind Journal, has themes revolving between fatherhood, Black identity, and memory. What is your main drive when you are choosing your themes? Which components feed your themes?
My earliest memory regarding race was the murder of Trayvon Martin. I didn’t sleep for weeks, I didn’t wear jackets with hoods for a year, and I haven’t lived since. To this day, Skittles hurt my teeth and Arizona’s are bittersweet. “Moonlight” mirrors the lost childhood of every black child who has had to grow up quicker in order to adjust to a society built off of white supremacy and anti-black institutions. I never forgot the day he died, because from that point on I was no longer a child. My father told me I was now just Black, and that’s what I would be for the rest of my life. And that’s something I’d just have to grow into. I chose those themes because I can never forget. We, as Black people, don’t ever forget.