Ms. Muse: Anastacia-Reneé on Poems Living in the Body, What Women Writers Need and Raising a Fist

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“To follow the steps of my ancestors, I cannot be silent,” Anastacia-Reneé said in a January 2018 interview about living in the U.S. since the 2016 election. “This act of making change, for me, starts with the pen and paper.” Via email, she also acknowledged the challenge of writing while “navigating living under our current state of chaos.”

Seattle’s Civic Poet, Anastacia-Reneé is the author of four books—Forget It from Black Radish Books, (v.) from Gramma Poetry, Answer(Me) from Argus Press and 26 from Dancing Girl Press. Remarkably, three of these titles were published in 2017. A 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House, a writers’ center in Seattle, she has also been described as a “queer super-shero of color moonlighting as a writer, performance artist and writing workshop facilitator.”

Anastacia-Reneé likes to write in cafes, museums, bars or obscure, eclectic places—“but there is nothing like writing after 2 a.m. in my place with Nina Simone playing,” she says. “I edit by day. When my children were younger, I wrote once they were in bed until just hours before I got up for work. Now they are 20 and 23 but the wee hours of the morning are still my magic time.”

This fourth installment of Ms. Muse features two new poems by Anastacia-Reneé and another from her book titled (v.), which is, in part, a portrait of the artist as a solo mother raising two Black sons in America. Then, she opens up to Ms. about raising a fist and acknowledging poets while they’re alive.

Anastacia-Reneé (Copyright Kelly O)

The Poems

Again & Again

the girl wants a vest
made of don’t touch my hair

& ancestors’ teeth.
her soul at the bottom of the ocean

like a fable no one spoke of (anymore),
she does not speak (here)—this is how

she became invisible.
the girl wants a cup

made of rainbow & blackness.
the girl wants a word

for no & stop & don’t.
a cauldron of light,

witch, angel (god)—
she swallowed the ashes & bones of sister

ancestors. she wants to become
a balm inside a girl

inside the moon inside herself.
like the end

of a jazz refrain
the girl is twilight

hovering

 

Wearing a Cape

yes/cut. it. all. off

yes/show. my. s(kin)

yes/let the long hair

be a myth on the floor

cut to the part where

the black woman is god

 

As Told By A Child

I am not sorry, I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed. I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did.

-Dylan Roof

1

you used to think the number 9 was special
like if you saw it you would feel you got
the candy from the machine, the present
& getting to stay up later before bed
& when you are a child you think childish thoughts
& you feel safe & you think benediction
is like the soul train line only for jesus
& you want to go to church
not just cuz of candy in sunday school
but because you get to use your voice
as an instrument for god
& you are young
& you think god is directing the choir
& you imagine yourself god’s favorite singer
& you open your mouth
so wide you feel
god can see your heart

2

you hear that your number 9
is now a way to describe merciless death
& you don’t feel like you can
make a way out of no(way)
you understand what the grown folks mean (now)
by no ways tired but you are fatigued
& you call on your faith like you call your mama
when you want to know what’s for dinner
& you don’t hear any(thing) back this time

3

you decide you will trust—you will lay your little hands
on your community
& make change
& that is the only thing
that makes sense when 9 people woke up
& prayed
& 9 people are now being prayed (for)
god bless the child that’s got his own
& you want your own answers
you want to ask dylan roof
if he ever sang in a church choir
if he ever sang so loud god could see his heart

[“As Told By A Child” appears in Anastacia-Reneé’s (v.) published by Gramma Poetry (2017)]

The Interview

Can you tell me about your process in writing these poems?

I have been writing every day since August of 2010. I joined a group called the Grind where writers from all over write a new piece of work and send it out by email every day. Not for feedback or edits but mainly for personal accountability. It’s inspiring to receive other peoples’ work in my inbox! At times I am focused on a particular feeling or theme. These poems felt like I had been pregnant with them for a long time, poems that were brewing or simmering until they finally decided to pour outside the pot. At the end of the night, I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to express my feelings or inspire change. I write in my head and in my body, and finally, I sit down to write. A subject or poem could live inside my heart or stomach or eyes for days.

What childhood experiences with language informed your relationship with poetry?

My mother was a reference book buff and I used to look through all the medical dictionaries and regular dictionaries and all things reference-y. She also provided me with my own books! Books from the library or books on my own shelf. I know for a fact that this has informed my writing. I was an only child until I was 11. I had a huge imagination and tons of imaginary/otherworldly friends. I suppose these were my first set of fictional characters and seeds for persona poems.

Do you seek out poetry by women and non-binary writers? Has the work of feminist poets mattered in your childhood and/or your life as an adult?

I seek out poetry from whoever is not in the mainstream first. The work of womanist poets and feminist poets has indeed had a positive impact on me in ways that I hadn’t realized until I was quite a grown person. There are many contemporary women and non-binary poets, living and dead, that I could list but a few of my favorites are Patricia Smith, Audre Lorde and Pat Parker. The way writers and poets are reshaping/morphing/re-imagining language, form and concise story-making is phenomenal.

What groundbreaking or ancient works, forms, ideas and/or issues in poetry today interest and/or concern you?

I am concerned with marginalized people. I am concerned with the mistreatment and obsessive ownership of women’s bodies. I am concerned with injustice. I am concerned with black people dying. I am concerned and overwhelmed by living within racism. I am excited by poets who can at any given time: raise a fist, write about a fist, make a fist a flying saucer or form a fist.

I hear you. And that last sentence just became one of my all-time favorite quotes by a poet, living or dead. As a woman, and as a woman who writes, what do you need to support your work? What actions, policies, and opportunities can/could make a direct difference for you—and for other women writers you know?

Thank you for asking. Asking and acknowledging is part of the support I’d like to see other women writers and myself receive. Simply saying, “What do you need?” and “How can I support you?” is supportive. I’d like to see the publishing industry continue to fight against classism, racism, sexism and homophobia. I’d like to see indie bookstores not only survive but thrive. I’d like to see women writers thrive. I cannot tell you how many amazing and gifted women writers I know who share their gifts with the world yet still are trying to figure out how to pay rent or eat—or dare to practice self-care. I would love to see more venues, publicists, agents and grants help women writers thrive while they continue to write.

What you’re saying is near and dear to my heart. I’ve always longed to give other women what I, too, need. What obsesses you, right now, as a writer?

Every week I become obsessed with something and research the topic extensively—it could be butterflies or butter! Right now, I’m obsessed with creating a poetic divide between paranormal and fiction, and hybrid work that feels ancient and new.

What’s next? What upcoming plans or projects excite you?

I am in the last rounds of edits for two manuscripts that I plan to send out in the next three months. One manuscript is poetry and prose and the other is a hybrid mix of paranormal flash fiction and prose.

I am excited to continue to share work from my books—(v.), Forget It and Answer(Me). I am also thrilled to watch my new play, Queer, Mama, Crossroads, have its second run, and to continue one last year with my one-woman show, 9 Ounces. I am excited to teach a class as a Cave Canem alum in the fall. Looking forward to the podcast I co-host with Reagan Jackson, “The Deep End,” gaining a larger audience as it debuts its new radio existence. Lastly, I will continue in 2018 and 2019 as the Seattle Civic Poet.

This all might be too much.

Are there other questions you would like to be asked? Something else you want to talk about? What do you rarely get asked?

You ask such good questions! I can tell you that I don’t care about being acknowledged, enjoyed, celebrated or critically analyzed for my work as a dead poet. Maybe 25 years from now, I’d love to be known as a “living legacy”—but I have lots of work to do.

Chivas Sandage is a digital columnist at Ms. and the author of Hidden Drive, a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards in poetry. Her poems and essays are forthcoming or have appeared in Ms., The Rumpus, Salmagundi, Southern Humanities Review and Texas Observer, among others. She is at work on a nonfiction book about the double shooting of a lesbian teenage couple in Texas. Tweet her @ChivasSandage.

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