What would possess me to write about poetry?
I am no expert in the poetical canon or what makes a poem, much less what makes a poem “good.” I vaguely recall learning about iambic pentameter and reading “Dulce et Decorum Est” in high school, but honestly, I don’t remember most of it. In fact, for years my refrain has been that “I don’t really like poetry.”
But really, I don’t hate poetry. I have enjoyed Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and the beat poets. I worship poet-musicians such as Leonard Cohen, Tupac Shakur and Patti Smith. I even penned one or two poems myself as a young misanthrope.
But somehow after college, I lost touch with poetry. Once in a while I’d come across something particularly compelling, especially spoken word. I love hip-hop and appreciate the rhythm, energy and veracity of the artist in spoken word—Saul Williams, Andrea Gibson, Sonya Renee Taylor, Dasha Kelly Hamilton—but I didn’t find myself seeking out poetry or keeping up with what was being published. And then, last year, something wonderful happened: I was sent a book of poems.
I decided to read the forward, by queer Black poet Danez Smith, who writes: “Britteney Black Rose Kapri knows the gazes set upon her and in Black Queer Hoe she sets the conditions of our looking.” I fished my post-its out of the basket on the shelf, the little colorful ones I use to mark passages that strike me in books I’m not sure I will keep.
Smith goes on to caution white readers to not describe the work as “raw” or “unflinching.” While admitting it is, Smith stresses the importance of the vulnerability also present in the work. “To hell with fearlessness,” they write. “These poems know fear and embrace it; their strength is drawn not from an attempt to vanquish fear but an attempt to understand the matrix of it, to learn to strive beside it.”
I placed six Post-its in Smith’s three-and-a-half page forward alone. After this, I had to read a poem or two. By the end of third one, “zaddy,” I was done—dead, hooked, in love with this work. Kapri had me gleefully astonished, mouth agape, holding my breath, face flushed.
What was this? The language, the lack of capitalization or breaks, entire poems with all the words stricken out. It’s unforgivable, I know, but I had never read poetry like this before—not just in terms of style, but also content. These were explicit poems about sex, fatness, Blackness, racism, beauty, love, sisterhood and power. It’s what I love most about the work: the blatant, intentional confrontation and subsequent destruction of the accepted norms of the genre.