Throughout the course of contemporary Classics studies much scholarship has been done on the triumph of Theseus in his traversing of the labyrinth and his ill-fated sails. As a result, this poem is concerned with the symbolic significance of the lineage of the semi-bestial mythic body as a contemporary site of Identity Politics. Throughout this poem it can reasonably be assumed that some discussion of the symbolic barrier of placing a shameful beast inside a series of intraversible walls can stand as a place marker for a decidedly unpopulated and, it follows naturally, unmirrored existence. What can we, as citizens of the poem, learn from a son who has never seen his own face not caked in gore and other casualties of loneliness? In this vein, the poem eschews a beginning in the Aegean Sea in favor of an image of a Biracial child sitting in a lunchroom in Omaha, Nebraska being told by local children, who could barely be troubled to acknowledge the beast otherwise, all the sports his blood will make him “a monster” at. And then the boy’s fingers weeping scarlet onto the linoleum his skull freshly crowned with the beginnings of horns.
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
In general, I take this to mean a poet who hasn’t put a definitive introductory project out into the world in a way that has been noticed by a certain cohort of poets who are considered to have “arrived.” To me I think of it more as a collective title, that the narrative of the poets whom I have entered this work alongside is still emerging and that makes so many cool things possible.
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
I suppose I have emerged several times over depending upon who you ask. I don’t have a book out, I’m not a fellow of several spaces without which certain folk don’t take me seriously, many markers of having “arrived” are not on my resume. That being said, I have cohorts of folk at several spaces who already I love to tell the stories of who we were then and how it foreshadows who we are now and it’s exciting to think that those stories are still unfolding, emerging in that way.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
At the risk of being labeled “divisive” I don’t believe in “the poetry community” because that would, as far as I can see, require that we were all reading from the same script and I can’t see a time when we were. I think the most important thing we can do is ask ourselves constantly what was imparted to me by the God MC Vievee Francis “Who are you writing to? Who are you writing for?” that’s the recognition you need to be focusing on and what those standards look like will be different from the folks I am trying to see and be seen by. It’s really ok to have an art form where some people really want to win the Yale Younger series and some really prefer a press that is closer to their home community, some want to win IWPS and some want to win a Pulitzer and some, like me, want a big ass combo of all these goals to come together. It’s ok, it’s actually necessary, we would be a very boring genre without it.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
Money and longevity and how the two intersect to create a gatekeeping culture. One example of this is that I spent a lot of my early time in my career being labeled as a “slam poet” by people who do not slam nor have they ever attended a slam. And, as I’m sure lots of the folk who are reading this can testify, when it come from the mouth of somebody who doesn’t know that sector of literature it’s often them saying “you cannot sit at my table.” It’s frustrating mostly because I have never met someone who believes that people who slam or began writing in that context cannot write that I was not actively writing circles around. It’s a preservation instinct, and I understand why folks feel this way, why they feel they have power or an advantage over me and my writing and I understand the lengths to which they will go to feel as though they can cut off my access to resources to feel like they still “own” poetry; that doesn’t mean I don’t seek to shatter that myth whenever the opportunity presents itself.I think also that it feels as though I am coming of age in a time where the number of “untouchable” figures in literature is beginning to shrink and I am very, very, here for it.
I think it’s possible, necessary in fact, to be able to respect and love the art of a person and also recognize that they conduct themselves in a toxic fashion and decide what it looks like for you to try and help them dismantle the harm that has caused/is causing. I’m hoping those power dynamics continue to be dismantled as my time working alongside the folk I love most is allowed to continue.
What does community mean to you?
I want to use Paul Tran’s definition on one of those late nights where we stayed up on a skype call to discuss our lives and all we hope they will become, that we are “responsible for doing the work to keep each other alive.” I don’t know how to say it better than that.
JULIAN RANDALL is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. A Pushcart Prize nominee he has received fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT and the Watering Hole and was the 2015 National College Slam (CUPSI) Best Poet. Julian is the curator of Winter Tangerine Review’s Lineage of Mirrors and a poetry editor for Freezeray Magazine. He is also a cofounder of the Afrolatinx poetry collective Piel Cafe. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Nepantla, Rattle Poets Respond, Ninth Letter, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner and The Adroit Journal among others. He is a candidate for his MFA in Poetry at Ole Miss.