When The Only Light Is Fire, is a compelling mix of politics, anger, sex and sensuality – talk a little about the creation of the collection.
The poems in the chapbook are rooted in my experiences as black queer southerner. For me, a sense of political, rage, sex, and the un-nameable are packed into those three words. Growing up in the South was hard for me, as it is for a lot of queer kids, because I either felt off-kilter in comparison to everyone around me or was convinced that I was “bigger” than the life I was living. I see that tension reflected in the poems in explicit and implicit ways. You might notice, for example, that the speakers in the poems are almost always alone or somehow distant from their subject matter. Also, an undercurrent of the poems is my desire to subvert the depiction of the queer body is an essentially victimized one. These speakers are brave, imperfect and sometimes dangerous. I love them. I find them seductive and terrifying at the same time.
You were born and raised in the South, which is evident in your poetry, but you’ve made the move to New York like so many Southern writers before you. Has living in New York brought the South into sharper focus for you as a writer?
That’s a really interesting question and one that I’ve actually pondered since I first moved up here in 2008. I think moving to New York actually blurred my focus of the South in a way. When your vision of place is accurate, I find, it’s difficult to take the leaps of imagination that trigger unexpected poems. Since the South exists in my head primarily as a place of memory and as an idea, its terrain has taken on almost a mythological resonance for me. Of course, that notion is shattered whenever I read the news and go home for a visit, but the distance – real and metaphorical – remains.
Basically, I’m continuing to embrace and make sense of the sea change that began when my mother passed away last year. It’s difficult to explain why I’ve decided to travel the world in a practical sense. All I can say is that I believe, in a deep way, that a crucial part of my self is somewhere out there. Just as I’ve found parts of my self in my poems and the poems of others. I think it’s time to find my self in other places. I’m moving out of my apartment in Harlem in the beginning of June, traveling the country for a few weeks, then I’m headed to Madrid at the end of the month. I hope to spend time in Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bali, Buenos Aires, Trinidad, San Juan, and more. I’ll be writing about my experiences for Ebony.com while continuing to write poems as they come and work on my memoir. I’m sure there are all kinds of inspiration out there just waiting to be danced with. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give a few readings and workshops, but mostly, this trip is about seeing as much of the world and its people and gaining a better understanding of where I stand in the midst of it all.
You’re a long-time blogger and active in social media. How does this connectivity hurt/help your writing?
I love social media, Twitter in particular, because I feel it has returned a sense of community to technology which can be especially helpful given how solitary the writing life can be. Social media allows me to interact with fellow writers and readers in a way I simply couldn’t have fathomed a few years ago. Friends I’ve made on Twitter and Facebook have helped me book readings, introduced me to writers I didn’t know about, helped me figure writing process quandaries, etc. Recently, I’ve created a Tumblr which I like to think of as a sort of visual poetry anthology. It’s a fun little experiment and I’ve been impressed with the response. As I prepare for the trip, I’ve started to transition into using the Tumblr as a Poet’s Travelogue, so to speak. I love how fluid social media can be. With that being said, the speed of information via social media can be a bit overwhelming for my writing mind at times. So much is happening in the world and being exposed to it constantly can wear me out. When that happens, I make a concerted effort to distance myself from social media while I regain my balance. At the moment, for example, I’ve deactivated my Facebook account so I can do just that. I’ll probably re-activate my account at the end of June when I head to Europe. For social media to work, we have to know what works for us. In my case, that means knowing when and how to “breathe.”
Name three poetry collections you’ve read recently that you can’t stop thinking about and would recommend to others.
Every few weeks, I find myself cracking open Rookery by Traci Brimhall again. Her poems are as beautiful as they are mean and I just love a poem that kisses and bites at the same time. I’m sure her new book, Our Lady of the Ruins, will devastate me in the best way possible. I’ve also been reading An Atlas of the Difficult World in the wake of Adrienne Rich’s passing. And I recently started reading Smith Blue by Camille T. Dungy. Her poems are necessary. There’s just no other way to say it.
For more about Saeed, visit his website at www.saeedjones.com and follow him on Twitter @saeedjones or @theferocity.