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THE UNSUNG by Keenan Teddy Smith

For the Old Port, built and built again:

I am sure you’re indifferent to me.

We are kin, though; we are both

refuge and warmth, competition and

hope, connected by seas. your boats

here are plentiful, but your huddled

masses are greater; I feel no one

sings the songs of our kind anymore,

no one notes our role in safe

passage. Forgive me if i’ve been too

invested, too idealistic about our sisterhood.

Perhaps it’s our shared brownness,

our shared tides, our shared resilience

against time and the fickleness of men

that made us so connected as if i could

leap from notre dame and descend into

us with love, our songs and sorrows guiding me

over rooftops and café smoke plumes. Unsung saints,

lying open for the world, if the lost and found

won’t buttress us with honor,

we shall always

hold each other.


What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?

“Emerging,” for me, immediately poses a dynamic in which a subject is recognizing or acknowledging the existence of a presence that was not there before the moment the subject took notice. So, “emerging poet” titles tell the world that something about this poet (their work, their network, their visibility, etc.) is worthy of them being considered now part of the “world of poetry.” It both can deeply compliment a writer and also, potentially, erase the works they have done before this point, depending on who is the subject and who is the object of this act of bestowing titles.

Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?

Ultimately I don’t. I’m proud of the space I’ve carved out for myself in the poetry community so far, as small as it may be, because to do so is an accomplishment for someone with my background, my history in Flint and coming to New York. However, I have a long, winding path ahead of me to improve my writing, solidify my connection to community, and contribute to literary circles and society at large in ways that better reflect my voice as a Black queer man from the urban worlds of Flint and New York City and rural north of Michigan.​

What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?

I believe whichever way you look at it, it boils down to commitment. That can mean commitment to developing your work, it can mean commitment to overcoming issues of editorial bias against “niche” writing by marginalized poets, it can mean the creation and cultivation of smaller, more tailored and intimate communities within that larger “poetry community.” Any and all of these are necessary for Black queer writers, queer writers or color, but also anyone who has the passion to write in a time where art’s value is constantly being thrown under public scrutiny.​

How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?

Legacy shapes power in the poetry world. Institutions who now receive the most donations or governmental funding are those who fought for it before us, and those who had it handed to them before that. Those originators, white cis straight men, met the demands of the white cis women who followed, of the black cis straight men who followed, and of white cis gay, queer, and/or trans people who followed them. Queer and/or trans Black and brown folks are still fighting that same fight today for access to resources and visibility as artists, having less success because of power politics but nonetheless making progress every day. The Shade Journal, Nepantla and other literary journals like them are doing the important work of gathering and showcasing the beauty and brilliance that has always existed in our communities.​

What does community mean to you?

Community to me means owning a sense of responsibility to another person. Community is less about the specific qualities that unite peoples, and more about within a specific set of people the determination or desire to make life better for one another.​


KEENAN TEDDY SMITH was born in Flint, Michigan, and is working as a research assistant at Columbia University’s Center for Ethnic Studies. His writing has appeared as prose in PAPER Magazine and The Advocate, while his poetry has appeared in American Chordata, Messages from the Mitten, and various campus-based literary publications. His writing expands on the vocabulary of the aesthetics of Black queer men, reimagining their often stigmatized sexuality through works which help build an aesthetic vocabulary for Black queer family, love, and imagination.


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