Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘who’s your daddy’

I’m delighted to welcome Arisa White back to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a little about her upcoming release, Who’s Your Daddy, a poetic memoir due out in March 2021, and a video poetry reading. Please give her a warm welcome!

****

Who’s Your Daddy started as a series of epistolary poems when my mother first asked me if I wanted to write my father in Guyana. He was deported back there for involvement in a criminal case. Because I did not know what I would say in the letter—in part because I didn’t know what my feelings were—I needed the space to reflect, feel, and prepare for language.

At its root, the work is personal, it requires a telling, and it’s seeking to know something and someone. I was wondering how the poem could hold this journey that would be expository, observational, interrogative, and self-reflective. I was pushing the poem to its extreme, asking it to come explore with me as I figured out my relationship with my father, his absence, and the woman I’ve become in this estranged dynamic.

I wrote the epistolary poems for nearly two years, all of which were addressed to Gerald, my father. Fortunately, I received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, which allowed me to create a self-publication of the poems, host a series of letter writing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area, and take a trip to Guyana where I met my father after 30-plus years of his absence from my life.

The self-publication is called Dear Gerald, and I gave out these chapbooks in exchange for letters addressed to absent, distant, dead fathers and patriarchal figures. This resulted in me collecting eighteen letters, one came as far as the Philippines and two from inmates sentenced to San Quentin. My mom even sent in a letter.

When I went to Guyana in 2015, I kept a journal and read the newspaper every day I was there, so when I returned back to the States, I now had notes and reflections from actually meeting Gerald, being in his home country, in the neighborhood in which he grew up. All these pieces felt necessary to the book.

The project was expanding and broadening. Throughout it all, I was reading articles on father absence, the historical role of the father, pieces on Black fatherhood and The New Jim Crow, books on endarkened feminisms, Afrofuturism, neoliberalism, Black death, as well as poetry collections that employed documentary poetics. Reading works like Zong!, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, and You Da One, I was intrigued with how to include all the ways I was responding to (and how life around me was helping to answer) the questions of what do I feel when it comes to my father? Who am I as a result of his absence? What is love in abandonment? What role does disappearance serve in my intimate relations?

After the trip to Guyana, I felt physically done with the project. I was exhausted from it. And it wasn’t until 2017, when writing with my friend Emerson Whitney (who has an amazing lyrical memoir out called HEAVEN) that it started to make sense how I could integrate these different pieces together. Emerson’s style is wonderfully lyrical and fluid. He pulls in and weaves citations along with personal memories and his sentences have strong poetic sensibilities. What you get is an autotheory that feels more authentic to how a life lives, learns, senses, and makes meaning.

In the writing game of tag with Emerson, where I would send a prompt (photograph, quote, etc.) to him, and then he tagged me with a prompt, I started to push the length of the line and challenged the function of the sentence. I became less afraid of the sentence as a thing of prose writers, and started to feel it as a way to communicate with my father–off in another country, miles and miles away, with decades between us. The sentence was a way to connect, it was a conjunctive experience.

Who’s Your Daddy finally took a coherent shape while curating a reading series, and being in residence, at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco for eight weeks. I wrote a twelve-page piece that included citations from writers like Henry A. Giroux and Christina Sharpe, the artist Meleko Mokgosi, the letters received from folks, prose poems, all of which comprise the final section of the book. Writing that twelve-page piece taught me how to develop the rest of the collection, and with the help of my editor Kate Angus, I was able to recognize which narratives I needed to include from childhood and young adulthood. Now, as I look over the book, the opening sections of Who’s Your Daddy are more poetry, the shorter lines, and then as the collection progresses, the genres blend, the sentence takes over as I make my way to the father.

****

****

About Who’s Your Daddy

A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

Advance Praise:

“Arisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.” —Terrance Hayes

“In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching
fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between
father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every
little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will
recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender
and unerring.” —Patricia Smith

“Somewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s
“a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork
fashion . . .” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it
doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent
parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with
and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and
presence, there’s a mother who says “you raise your daughters, and love
your sons,” there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother,
brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love.
Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is
forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book
shook me to the core.” —Dara Wier

Goodreads | Pre-order

****

About the Author

Arisa White
Photo credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

****

For more about the book, and to follow the blog tour, click the button above.

Read Full Post »