WHAT: Yemassee Eclipse Salon X WGST @USC
WHERE: 3327 Prentice Ave., Columbia, S.C. 29205
WHEN: Monday, August 21, 2017 (Day of the Total Solar Eclipse)
Y: What are the five writers (any genre) that make up your canon?
All truth tellers in their own way/genres. All folks who exemplify the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Who see the beauty in the ugly and mundane. And choose to write about it. And give me permission to do the same.
Y: Can you talk a little bit about “the first poem”? What should the first poem in a collection be/do? Why did you choose “The Perch” as the first poem in Weary Kingdom?
DRAD: I think for a poet such as myself, who is interested in complicating/utilizing/writing with and into a narrative arc, and have found themselves assembling a collection, the first poem can set the tone or theme of the collection, or simply be and point to one of many doors the reader will eventually walk through while experiencing the collection as a whole.
Not unlike most writers, I read a lot. I think about the first few poems of collections I set out to memorize or return to again and again, and it’s usually the works in the first few pages that let me know if I’m welcome as a reader. When I re-named my collection, and discovered that it was going to be called *weary kingdom* and accepted and acknowledged I did indeed have a home thing, I turned to the poem that literally maps out the home I was living in when I was living in the world and times of the poems that compose the book. It was my first solo apartment, a studio, and it was four floors up above one of the busiest streets in Harlem, second to the infamous 125th street. I had to populate that world. . . decide how I was going to live in it. . . who I was going to invite into it (you know how us Southern women are persnickety about who gets invited into your intimate spaces), and so, I wanted readers too to get the invitation, to see the world I set out to create, to start to see the rest of the poetic world—its incompleteness; its yearning—from my fourth-story window in Sugar Hill Harlem, in my space I named, “The Perch.”
Y: In her essay “Uses of the Erotic” Audre Lorde distinguishes “the erotic” from “pornography,” saying, “Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.” In what do you find sensation with feeling—even if just a mundane, quotidian task. Nikky Finney says for her it is clipping her grass by hand. For me, I would imagine it would be going barefoot. What about you?
DRAD: Aww man! I would say barefoot outside. With a caveat: in my parent’s yard. It’s one of the things I’m so sure to do when I travel Home.
Second to that it might be forehead kisses.
Ok, and Third: When I’m walking with my husband, and we are about to cross the street and he holds his arm out because he sees, before I do, that it’s not quite safe for crossing. Feminism be damned. Yes, I can cross the street alone. But I admit: I love that moment, that sensation that there is someone, with me, who cares that I might live.
Y: If you could share one piece of advice with younger poets—perhaps not in age, but in trajectory, experience, career—what would that be?
Send the work out. Send the work out. Send the work out.
Y: Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting your MFA thesis to the state of a book?
My thesis, The Years The Locusts Have Eaten, is one-half of a long poem, an epic, that is sitting physically on my shelf, and digitally on a Dropbox folder waiting for me to maybe return to it one day. I set it there six years ago. It is my hope, in terms of poetry, that it might be next in line, or second in line in terms of upcoming poetry books. (I’m also writing fiction/working on a novel with my literary agent, and have been writing creative nonfiction essays for some time as well!)
So I guess I can’t quite answer that question, right? But I think that question is towards this idea that one must leave an MFA program with a publishable manuscript in order for one to feel that the time was “worth it.” I think time will tell the value of the return on investment. Sitting at the feet of certain elders will not ever be replaced—having Sharon Olds sign off on my thesis was a dream come true!—but also, I am understanding that once on the other side of any long, endurance project (I’ve run a marathon before!), one emerges with new muscles and ideas and theories and sometimes you’re a completely different writer trying to make this project you wrote before you had those muscles fit into who you are now. I think I’m there. Which is to say, if The Years the Locusts Have Eaten sees publication it will most likely look nothing like what was bound as my thesis because I am decidedly different—by time, by space, by who I am when I put a pen to paper. And that’s OK. Neither of my books at publication are what they were when they were picked up for publication, which is to say, during the publication process there is a chance, a moment, to change it.
The poems in my books, How God Ends Us + Weary Kingdom were written outside of the MFA workshop table(s). But not outside of workshop tables. I had other communities that influenced my work at those times and places: The Grind, the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, Soul Mountain Retreat, Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and Cave Canem.
What does this mean? Write who you are now. Publish who you are now. If you believe you have a complete project, send it out into the world, begin your mark in the archive. If you leave with something that gets the signature for the MA, and maybe that’s not who you want to be in the world of letters after you’ve done the work, it’s not a waste. It just might need some time to take on another life, and you might have other books to write and put out in the world that are not your MFA thesis. And that’s OK, too.
Y: What does it mean to be from South Carolina?
To be from South Carolina, without a southern accent, and to live in New York City—at a time like this—is to assert my southern-ness. My descended-from-American-slavery-ness. Something with which our country has yet to reckon. To say I’m from South Carolina asserts myself in a certain hierarchy of Blackness here, which I’ve come to understand—actually, as with other places, too—is the bottom of the barrel, per se.
So then to ask what does it mean to be from South Carolina and dare to be someone who wants to write my peoples into an archive? Well, it means that I write the mundane, the everyday, the absurdities, the beauties, the small moments that accumulate to make up a history and a story of a folk who have survived and thrived for generations despite all of the thousand offenses against them.
Mama Sonia Sanchez says: “I speak your name so there is a tomorrow.” And so, that is what I strive to do/be/live as a writer, a Black woman, from South Carolina.
Y: You’re reading at home in South Carolina for us during the Total Solar Eclipse. Your home is the prime spot in the country for the Eclipse and the only spot in the country where it is total. Is there a metaphor in that for you? In the Eclipse in general? What does a solar eclipse mean for you
DRAD: So I’m terrified.
I’ll say it. It’s tough being vulnerable.
I am terrified because I don’t believe in coincidences. I scheduled my flight and my book launch for this week in South Carolina months ago, not knowing about the eclipse.
My growing fear has been: years ago, I had a dream (ask me about some of my dreams later) that my father, who in waking life is not a Christian, though was raised so by a very pious mother (I’d argue he’s Agnostic), urged me to look into a telescope. In my dream, looking through the telescope was not unusual. My father had brought me and my sister matching red telescopes so that we could see the moon and look at planets and stars. He fed our curiosity very young. Anyways, in the dream, Daddy is saying, look into the telescope, that he can see the moon crashing into the sun. And so, I look, and he is right. I confirm it, and as soon as I confirm it, my Daddy goes into the bedroom of the house that we had at the time we also had the telescopes, and begins setting up some blocks. He says that the blocks represent civilization, and that if the blocks tip over, that would be the Apocalypse.
Yes. That is a real dream I had.
So in the dream, Daddy has set up the blocks, and lit our hurricane candles, and begins to pray while prostrate on the floor. Somehow my mother knocks over the blocks. Somehow the candlelight flickers out. My Daddy starts speaking in tongues.
I wake up because I don’t want to see what happens next.
So here we are, in my hometown, at a time wherein it will appear that the moon is crashing into the sun.
When, last Friday white supremacists marched on a college campus. And the next day, an emboldened domestic terrorist drove his car into a crowd of protesters.
My Daddy calls me this week to say that at his job they are trying to push him into early retirement, which would mean losing critical health care for my mother who suffers aphasia and paralysis from a stroke. He hasn’t said the words prayer yet, but I feel them.
Sometimes I marvel at the ways in which my life lines up.
Is this our end?
DeLana R.A. Dameron’s second collection of poems Weary Kingdom (2017) is part of the University of South Carolina Palmetto Poetry Series, edited by Nikky Finney. Dameron’s debut collection How God Ends Us (2009) was selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the 2008 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize. She has conducted readings, workshops and lectures all across the United States, Central America and Europe. Dameron holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from New York University where she was a Goldwater Hospital Writer’s workshop fellow. Dameron has had essays, interviews, and poems published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, ARTS.BLACK, Storyscape Journal, The Rumpus, Epiphany Magazine, the Tidal Basin Review, and The New Sound Journal.