I’m happy to welcome Arisa White to Diary of an Eccentric today to talk about her new poetry collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. Please give her a warm welcome!
I believe the poet helps you locate a feeling in yourself. Helps you define what that feeling is and what it calls up. The poem is a way to get to that feeling in yourself, like how a map guides a tourist. When you find a place similar in you, you can make something from it. What will you build? Then look outside of yourself and locate that feeling in the personal and social spheres you occupy, as well as where it shows up in the body politic. Begin to make connections, make images, combine words, maneuver syntax—use language so it builds that feeling in the phrase, the sentence, the image, the rhythm and meter of it all. The prosody sets off its sounds in the body. Those waves, vibrations move through the body. We speak the poem and it re-sounds. The feeling is passed along.
For You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, I came across an international list of words and terms used for gay and lesbian. I used these words and phrases to locate the struggle, hurt, and beauty within myself and around me. Here are these words, the majority of them being derogatory, some neutral, and this is the purpose it serves in the body politic. How then do these words exist in the individual body? What are the feelings inside me and how have they taken shape through my experiences? How are these feelings operating in the world?
I soon began to recognize that, regardless of sex and sexuality, I was constantly locating a wounded feminine. Religion, Patriarchy, Misogyny, Whiteness; Capitalism; Deforestation; Supremacy; Domination; War; Death. All these systems of thought and organization that teach us to hate ourselves and then promote ourselves by hating others. This is wounding action—there is loss on both ends. This is not sustainable. And to let this go, to begin some kind of healing, to make beauty, this is the feeling of grief. Of so much grief.
However, the act of creating the poem is life. All this pulsing life. Life and loss, as a shared encounter. There is the unspeakable that is present with the speakable, and only you can uniquely reconcile the hush. Your body is the only body that reads as it does. For this collection, I considered the somatic as I built each poem. I generated imagery and emotionally intelligent language by accessing the wounded feminine, personal experiences, and popular culture. The poems live an orchestral arrangement that amplifies a feeling.
“This Ache and Its Silent Amplification” was originally the manuscript’s title when it won the Augury Books Prize. It came from a line from the poem “Mary Indigo.” I wanted the title to communicate that sense of reverberation that comes from a silent or silenced or erased or misrecognized or marginalized or buried place from within. However, when I said the title to others, they couldn’t hear it correctly. It caused so much confusion.
After being inspired by an episode of How to Get Away With Murder, and getting the opinions of fellow writers, we came to You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. There is gratitude at the core of these poems. A deep appreciation for life and its nuances and complexities and flawesomeness. People now smile when I say the title to them, because it’s heard as an affirmation. This collection is the first time that I’ve put black female queer desire at the center. I’m not being square in my location of desire in myself. Round and spiral, curves, bark ridges, flamboyancy on sapphire bays. I felt love and loved.
I played as another way to experience these words and phrases. Thinking how play builds empathy, helps us cope with social realities, makes sense of what is happening, and so you drag yourself into the performance of the things you fear, or turn away from. In that vulnerability something can be imagined. The way a slab of clay can inspire vulnerability in a potter, because there is an invitation to connect, to change—transformation is being offered.
About the poet
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.
About You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
Angular, smart, and fearless, Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding. “To live freely, observantly as a politically astute, sensually perceptive Queer Black woman is to be risk taker, at risk, a perceived danger to others and even dangerous to/as oneself,” writes poet Tracie Morris. “White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms, lithe anecdotes, and disturbed resonances put us in the middle of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses.” You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened works through intersectional encounters with gender, identity, and human barbarism, landing deftly and defiantly in beauty.
Click the button below to follow You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Poetic Book Tours
© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.