In conversation, they go by Breezy. When Michael Mercurio and Brionne Janae spoke via Zoom, Breezy was at home in Brooklyn, and Michael was in Northampton, Massachusetts. Though Michael had known Breezy’s work for several years through their publications in Ploughshares, Waxwing, Frontier Poetry Review, The Sun, The Rumpus, and The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, they hadn’t met until they worked together on a program for the Tell It Slant Poetry Festival, cohosted by the Faraday Publishing Company and Black Writers Read. Here, they talk about musicality, authenticity, and the importance of bringing voice to what might be left unsaid. (Please note this interview discusses childhood sexual abuse and trauma.)
The Healing Nature of Truth: An Interview with Brionne Janae
Patrick Rosal is an interdisciplinary artist and author of five full-length collections of poetry. Former Interviews Editor Willie Perdomo connected with Patrick over email this winter, and in this lively exchange, they discuss the spirit realm and its ability to breathe life into writing. Rosal shares his perspective on music and performance in his work, as well as the importance of honoring rituals, ancestors, and legacy.
We Insist on a Godliness, a Mystery, a Laughter: An Interview with Patrick Rosal
Abdelmajid Haouasse’s transportive short story “A Hot Day” is a highlight of Issue 21‘s portfolio of fiction from Morocco. An award-winning scenographer, director, cinematographer, and author of short fiction, Haouasse is interviewed by The Common interns Sofia Belimova, Olive Amdur, Adaku Nwokiwu, and Eliza Brewer, with the assistance of Nashwa Gowanlock, who translated the interview as well as the original story. Here, Haouasse discusses his story’s unique narration, the translation process, and drawing inspiration from the Moroccan city of Asilah. This is the second of two interviews conducted by the summer interns with Issue 21 contributors; the first is with Latifa Baqa.
Language Is a Living Substance: An Interview with Abdelmajid Haouasse
Xochitl Gonzalez has an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Prize in Fiction. She was the winner of the 2019 Disquiet Literary Prize, and her work has been published in Bustle, Vogue, and The Cut. She is a contributor to The Atlantic, where her weekly newsletter Brooklyn, Everywhere explores gentrification of people and places. Her debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming is out now from Flatiron Books. Prior to beginning her MFA, Xochitl was an entrepreneur and strategic consultant for nearly 15 years.
Reclaiming Brooklyn and Puerto Rico: An Interview with Xochitl Gonzalez
In this interview, Nathan McClain’s mode of inquiry evokes substantial and insightful responses from John Murillo. The ultimate craftsman, Murillo understands the value of writing from a space, from a feeling, instead of toward a subject. In other words, he does not make an event of writing a poem. His practice is uncorrupted by a chase for validation. Instead, we understand the time and dedication necessary to achieve Murillo’s exquisite lyricism and masterful use of form.
John Murillo’s most recent book, Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and the NAACP Image Award. He is an assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Wesleyan University.
How to Write on a Ledge: An Interview with John Murillo
Latifa Baqa’s gripping stream of consciousness short story “Adam’s Apple” is a highlight of Issue 21’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco. A feminist, human rights activist, and award-winning author, Baqa is interviewed by The Common interns Sofia Belimova, Olive Amdur, Adaku Nwokiwu, and Eliza Brewer. They discuss editing, the devil in the details, and countering the traditional expectation of the male gaze. Nariman Youssef translated the interview, as well as the original story. This is the first of two interviews conducted by the summer interns with Issue 21 contributors; the second will be with Abdelmajid Haouasse.
TC interns (TC): What inspired “Adam’s Apple?” Can you describe your process of writing and revising it?
Latifa Baqa (LB): The idea behind “Adam’s Apple,” like pretty much all ideas you may find in any of my fictional texts, began with a sentence. Meaning that one sentence preceded the idea, in a way not unlike how one note might resonate in a musician’s head before the rest of the tune. This is how it often happens: before I begin writing, a lone sentence rises up in my thoughts, for no obvious reason. I remember how this one stuck in my head for days: “We shouldn’t lay bare what we carry within us more than once.” The rest of the story followed from that sentence, beginning with a minor character who barely features in the narrative: Alzamourie, the neighborhood’s baker, who was a real person in the working class neighborhood where I was born and raised. To be more precise, one element that started making its way into the story was Alzamourie’s teeth. I just could never forget his teeth. It seems almost absurd, but I find more reassurance in the foggy arbitrariness of memory than in the clarity of conventional reality.
I Will Be in the Place You Least Expect to Find Me: 10 Questions with Latifa Baqa
In this interview, Ralph Sneeden traces his journey as a poet and essayist, avoiding the destructiveness of being pigeonholed, the inherent politicality of landscapes, and drawing from a pool of resources and poetic techniques to achieve a voice that is at once reflective, visceral, meditative, exploratory, and willing to uncover the veil of comfort and human complexity in an attempt to “testify, to lay bare the quirks, ironies and nuances of history in a way that suggests something new or different about them.”
Fugues, Evidence, and Arguments: A Poet Finds His Way
This piece is a selection from Byobu, out this November from Charco Press.
The Sensitive Toad
From the bottom step, where the stairs rise from the stone path between two patches of grass, Byobu sees a toad cross in front of him, hopping from green to green. It’s followed by another, just as quick. Not long ago, Byobu read a horrendous list of little tragedies that could befall an Englishman in the nineteenth century: it included stepping on a toad, believing it to be a stone in the road. Byobu is not English, nor is he from the nineteenth century, but there he stands on one foot, like a heron, which luckily for these batrachians he is not. On a magnificent summer night like this it’s normal to hear them, but seeing them is not so common, thought Byobu when the third little fellow appeared. Why the third fellow? Well, because as we all know three is a sacred number, and besides, there were three.
Translation and Q&A: Ida Vitale’s The Sensitive Toad
Recently published in The BreakBeat Poets Volume IV: LatiNEXT, Cuban-American writer Kyle Carrero Lopez holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and is the co-founder of LEGACY, a production collective by and for Black queer artists.
Carrero Lopez is unapologetic about his poetic concerns. In this powerful interview, he explains how sonnets give him the ultimate space to practice his multitudes in a pressurized space, and the way anti-Blackness is provoked by capitalism, dangerous clothing, and cultural brutalization.
Sasha Burshteyn (SB):You have such a feeling for form in your collection MUSCLE MEMORY— “After Abolition” and “Inheritance” are both sonnets, and “(SLANG)UAGE” is in the Oulipian beautiful outlaw form. What draws you to these forms? What do you feel they offer your work?
Kyle Carrero Lopez (KCL): In the case of the sonnets, something about the compression really works for me. I appreciate that a sonnet demands a turn via the volta. It’s a pressurized space for those two poems. They’re intense poems as far as the subject matter, but I wanted to work with brevity in both, and so the sonnet felt like the right pot to put the poem in. Terrance Hayes has said that a sonnet is a room that you can scream into.
Sitting with Ugliness and Complicated Beauties: An Interview with Kyle Carrero Lopez
Poet and journalist Sara Elkamel is currently pursuing an MFA at New York University, dividing her time between Cairo and New York City. Her work can be found in several literary magazines including the Los Angeles Review and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her most recent work is a chapbook, Field of No Justice, published as part of Akashic Books’ African Poetry Book Fund.
Birds, Language, and the Desire for Repair: An Interview with Sara Elkamel