“YAWP! An Open Dialogue on Creativity and the Arts”- Tarfia Faizullah


you All current liter Kia is the is the
Delbanco the Andrew Delbanco Disneyland’s I’m Nicolas no mokou
there’s a few Delmonico’s the Nicolas Almagro visiting professor at the
University of Michigan which teaches poetry and difficult boys and as all the
way to Connecticut to be with us here today to read from the beautiful first
of all the scene and also to read some new poems which she was just written she
met with my intro class this morning great discussion that we had about race
identity comic books video games all kind of stuff you haven’t read their
first book as my potion students have done you should definitely try to pick
up a copy read itself that’s an incredibly intense book based upon some
of the experience that she had on a Fulbright fellowship in Bangladesh where
she was living in for a year interviewing many of the rape victims of
the 1971 war for independence Pakistan and over 200,000 women raped during this
war she interviewed many of them and wrote about some of their experiences
also wrote about her own experiences in doing that those feelings that she had
about that soul and so forth so as I remember Tim promoted the reading at his
reading it’s a very dark book but also a very compelling book I think one of the
most important books published this year it’s a really fantastic very important
book she’s gonna read from it a little background she was born in Brooklyn
China of course where I live it’s now you make fun of me for doing commuting
here she came with me the Hutchinson today there was a huge
accident so we got here late good times racing to West Texas at an MFA at
Virginia Commonwealth and it’s when many fellowships probably too many to name of
some of the highlights she’s the cumin fellow that’s what a
Fulbright fellowship as I said and has been a scholar at brother Writers
Conference seeonee Writers Conference in the Kenyon review Writers Workshop as
well a very decorated young poets also very exciting poets very well-dressed
poets good hair please so much for being here as the comedian
John Mulaney says it is easier about a hundred percent easier to do nothing
than it is to do anything so thank you for being here I told the water I told
the water you’re right the dead are broken sidewalks that we
try to avoid told it the math of you folds into corners small enough to
swallow I told the water you only exist because of thirst beside your glistening
membrane I lie face down in dirt the first time my father threw me into you I
was hieroglyph a wet brain cut in your throat I knew then how war was possible
the urge to defy gravity the urge to disarm another I knew then I would live
to be your mirror you graveyard of windows you black eyed barnacle I told
the water last night I walked out onto the ice wearing only my skin because you
did not tell me not to the hidden register of violence slavery
remembers dreaming he cut off the head of the soldier beside him he thought he
knew better thought he understood suspicion but sometimes light on water
is treated like the Holy Ghost when is just some wave-particle residue
I could love jealousy if he’d show up in a better tailored suit or didn’t ask me
if I had another ten seconds to chat tonight rage is a God entering my body
from behind while the sky is a lush calyx I set on fire just to watch it
bloom today I’ll trade I’ll try not to say his brother’s name war but screw it
because he doesn’t deserve the wind carrying the vicious music to the
orphans I should love you mourn what bitterness do I have to tell you
show me the softest part of your throat I still want what’s yours because every
day sorrow shows up and turns all of my teeth into Tasers today and this is class we were talking
about loss and memory and history and one of the things we talked about was
sort of these different losses outside of the ones that I researched in
Bangladesh so I wanted to read these three poems that are about the women but
also about losing money so strategy reengage interview with a Berliner
do you have siblings where were they on a thin lavender evening like this one we
sisters sat and waited until we were only listening for them to come we
became these four walls or gated toilet on a thin lavender evening like this one
we were each other’s world and tired both the wood rose as well as its
tangled stem when they came for us on a thin lavender evening like this one we
tried to pull each other out of their rightful black hands we tried to scream
through fingers ripe with our own rivers on a thin lavender evening like this one
she was not yet the ripped bandage the night turned into the Crimson moon under
which I did not know I would stumble gasping alone we had held each other’s
hands but we didn’t promise not to let go interviewers don’t but wasn’t it the
neat narrative you wanted the outline of the rape victim standing against a mini
wind darkening sky shadow flurrying a cross shadow they tossed me into that
river but the river wouldn’t kill me she said yesterday you want to be the
darkness she stood against to be yards of violet velvet your mother once cut
into dresses for you and your sister when she was still alive rewind play
rewind they tossed me river mean you want this blade part of another’s hand
clasping yours you want to know if cruelty exists or if it is only loves
threadbare desperation River me River me me the interviewer acknowledges great
sister I waste time I play and replay the voices of these current women
flowering like marigolds or thistles something lost forgotten that picture of
you violence on fast to your shoulder bow in one hand poised eternal again the
Power has gone out tell me what is it to say I miss you because you want grow
breasts never feel desire we’re bullying across you like bowls of silk these many
light men unshelled daily from my choosing because you can’t reassure me I
have the right to ask any women whose bodies won’t ever again be
their own you can’t blot away this utter such a darkness you don’t hesitate one
another war heroine asks you do you have any siblings for decades you’ve been so
small a child tapping on opaque windows now through the Brando’s black iron bars
I see you dark silhouette hurrying past a bag red box dangling from one slender
arm gift for a lover or a mother again the generator shudders me back into
light isn’t this sister what I always said I wanted self-portrait a slinky it’s true I
wanted to be beautiful before authentic say the word exotic say
minority a coiled dart curl a finger my rapid self in the long staircase and I
was the momentum of metal Springs descending down down say attention the
long staircase and I was a staff series of Spears fingertips again into motion
say taut like a child who must please her parents but doesn’t know how a curl
pulled thing I wanted to be a reckoning to gather into each day’s pale hands
that helpless lurching forward in the dark another soaked black ringlets that
sudden halting yeah since uh blossoms in the dark
if only love could be like that first slice of bacon dissolving on your tongue
or the short tight skirt rolled into your purse nice you so long your parents
goodbye to arrive at the party bare-legged redolent of cigarettes
kissed with lips read and hastily and with dark his love your father’s silk
tie you’ve learned to let dangle between your bare breasts is their faith woven
into the skullcap he unfolds each dawn noon and Twilight or is it in his meat
shorn nails scratching skin off the back of his son black neck today you ask the
Muslim at the deli to please let the ham paper-thin is it faith whose hand holds
back your hair while your stick beside the keg your skirt riding up tomorrow
you’ll love any man willing to fling his tongue into that valley above your
collarbone no one can tell you what to do with your
breath raiding his throat no one can tell you what to do with your fingers
mother will call twice while you’ve got one hand on his cock and you will
consider picking up I’ve been thinking a lot about love
poems lately I totally didn’t go to fight with my really wonderful boyfriend
last night but um so I’m gonna read this now in the hopes that somewhere in the
city wherever it is he’s on his way to everything love poem an ending with the
eye of a needle sure I know I summoned you away from me but don’t you know that
I’m heavy with you’re leaving a single branch to swing from another Finch
alighting every night my spine dreams a child their side that taints my torso so
it won’t unravel towards you but please love tell me again that water is a
pattern interrupted by my unbuttoned body even if I don’t tell you the shape
I made once arching beneath the drape of his panting atop her things so natural I
wonder if there’s a placket in me large enough to pocket the thought of you I
wanted to pleat your fingers slight bending when they hovered over my knee
you parked the car reach toward me to flick another suicide bombing off the
radio it fucks with me the binding of love between two people who have always
loved each other and always will the severed distance between us this far
apart width of the widest river or narrowest blade of grass length of the
strand of thread my mother taught me to first bite free with your teeth then wet
with your tongue to struggle through the thin eye of any needle so this next poem is for me annals of
what it’s like to grow up in West Texas as a brown girl self-portrait as mango
she says your English is great how long have you been in our country and I say
suck on a mango bitch so that’s how do you think I eat anyway mangoes are what
model minorities like me are supposed to know nothing about doesn’t a mango just
when spelling bees and kiss white boys isn’t a mango a placeholder in a poem
folded with sarees but this one the one I’m going to shove down her throat is a
mango that remembers jungles jagged with insects the river’s darker thirst this
mango was cut down by a side that the headed soldiers a mango that taunts and
suns itself into a hard compost only a few months a year fattens while
bloodstains green prawns why use a mango to make her to death you might ask why
not a coconut after all because this exotic fruit won’t be cracked open to
reveal to you its own whiteness this mango is an alien merely because of a
bone of hard brown shell I know I’m worth waiting for
I want to be needed for ripeness mango my own son said skin heart waiting to be
held and peeled mango amore taught me to cut open with my teeth
davia she would say this is the only way to eat them homes Perico would recently talked about how
all poets for some reason give the audience a two-point winning and it’s
actually so this was um because Halloween was just what I want
unlocks itself at the Halloween party the vampire congratulate Smee on my
corset as though I’ve been promoted or hash mark it prickles like cold water
Dawn’s I loved turning a coin in the sky between my fingers a zombie knocks past
the punchbowl don’t flinch put your arm around him it’s easy it’s easy to
thistle the error into fortune with the lit cigarettes harder to lean into the
werewolf who begs me to unzip him in the drawer I never left open at home are the
blades of scissors pressed together like the thighs of the drunk dinosaur passed
out across the stairs the one who reached past me into the bowl of
eyeballs and laughed I mean if you can’t screw in paradise where Canyon it’s easy
to not think about how my father might feel if he saw how I sniffed gardens of
plums out of my clothes and lacerate my inner thighs an astronaut cups my ass as
we dance that drunk dinosaur wakes roars what I want locks itself into the same
old muscle passes again into the mosque on Midland Drive beside mrs. Baird’s it
was there that I first learned the word shame could rise with a shape and a
taste and his scent this fall of 100 bells and I wrote this
after beating really astonishing astonishing poem by a wonderful poet
named by B Francis and the name of the poem is called saying it’s a her poem is
saying I’d say it anyway you can this is one of my girls my sister died he raped
me they beat me I fell to the floor I didn’t I knew children their smallness
her corpse my fingernails the softness of my belly how it could double over it
was puckered like children ugly when we cried my sister died and was revived her
brain burst into blood father was driving he fell asleep they beat me
I didn’t flinch I did it was the only dance I knew it was the cut up my ankles
sang with 100 bells the stranger ranked me on the fitted sheet I didn’t scream I
did not know better I knew better I did not live my father said I will go to
jail tonight because I will kill you I said but she died it was the cut the
Khalif only men were allowed to dance it I threw a chair at my mother I ran from
her the kitchen the flyswatter was away the flyswatter daily last water I was
thrown into a fire and bed I wanted to be a man it was summer in Texas and dry
I burned it was a snake dance he said now I’ve seen a Muslim girl
naked I held him to my chest I held her because I didn’t know it would be the
last time I threw no punches I threw a glass box into a wall somebody is always
singing songs loud mother said dance and the bells
will sing with you I split last beneath my feet I locked the door I did not die
I shaved my head until the horns I knew were there were visible until the
doorknob went silent Wow and I’m gonna close with the last poem
poem from scene thanks again so much for being here and for listening I think you
know it’s so amazing to me that there are these articles that are published
every year and I don’t know and really what you would think of as top-notch
places like if I had monthly in The New Yorker that are like just poetry matter
anymore and you know just yeah it’s ridiculous because it’s a yes or no
question thanks again for being here and making sure that’s not true
on rates Bangladesh another crisis of faith we pass over heavy shadows a large
clouds pin two train cars lined up like unused box of colored chalk red and
green blue and orange until we’re propelled higher and the trains are
swallowed by these jagged strictures of land that are no longer sand or rock nor
water but a child’s drawing instead until the distant ocean is the only
fabric that fills this punched out plastic hole of a window that is the
blue that falls over everything that is everything blue and blue on blue like
the one seam of light left always on the airplane ceiling that the pale plastic
shades cannot shut away until that narrow beam of light is the only belief
left a cream thick ribbon across our eyes like I wish I got them from a little bit what related to this speakers – to the
speakers on sexuality and yo-yo that hundred motion you’ve wanted to really
into in creating yeah I mean so yeah I mean I think there is that conversation
that’s happening there you know I guess I’ll say her different version of me but
I think she is struggling with her sexuality and trying to understand how
that conversation with what has happened to her as well as what has happened to
these women yeah and I think like you know I mean I think we all sort of spend
years of wrestling with these ideas of morality or you know modesty or shame or
desire so I felt like for me it would be
dishonest if I excluded those things from the conversation yeah I know you’re
inspired a lot by a free lunch event sermons to happen around your life are
there what are some other inspirations that
you draw from like music or anything like that you know it’s a good question
I mean I feel like I do draw my own life but I’m legally have been kind of
interested in writing things that are just about this current moment and kind
of noticing the world around me I have a couple of poems I didn’t read them today
but I have Germans of them for example and so I’m I’m always kind of interested
in whatever kind of conversation is happening between
exterior whatever materials are there at the time whether it’s what’s happening
in the Middle East or what’s happening down the street I love everything I know
everyone says that but I really do like everything from musical theater to
really hard rap to trying to let me think of some people who I and they’re
genuine to Nick a violent game we remember Nick came today on a heavy
rotation right now I have big boy Santigold Nick Cave Mozart and tongues
Vince and Johnny Cash content cycle politics
so identity politics arranges kinds of I suppose instead of films and phones you
have it specifically how pillows inform your your method yeah um I guess I think
of all of these different genres as different formats in which there are
certain vocabularies and tendencies that these different formats have so I feel
like I’m influenced by format in general whether that’s you know like I mean I
feel like sometimes like I’m as influenced by Twitter as I am by say you
know like suddenly Detroit is a very famous Bengali filmmaker
and really some of them are really imaginative you know so I would say I’m
influenced by the format of thinking about a frame you know and it’s sort of
like what the lens can do and where the lens can go and what you’re choosing to
look at and whether you’re looking at something off to the side or if you’re
sort of handing slowly away from something you know and fading to black I
would say that and you know the same thing we’re talking about comic books
like I feel like they’re they’re framed there I feel like the format what phone
teaches me about this is frame and we’re to look at how and what to do
with the light I think to create a light falls and what you can see in the light
and how our conversation we had we didn’t get into that I want to talk to
you but you think of the video of the woman walking around New York City I mean I think you guys have a video yeah
as Iaconelli the person so what happens in the video the problems that were
raised all right Roxane gay and others complained that all the men were men of
color and they didn’t show white men doing the drawing it so the issues there it’s interesting I feel like part of the
reason those things sometimes stay in my periphery I kind of wait until the hub
the kind of chaos around it dies down and then go look at it so I can make my
thing in I think it’s right because I I just don’t want to be influenced by the
way everyone else is talking about something so what I think of it from
afar is that you know like I think like there are all of these one of the things
about the Internet is that it just like creates all of this
space for you know just like picking on people I mean it’s just it’s just kind
of amazing it’s like you’re screwed if you do and you’re screwed if you don’t
you know I think like there was a lot of if there’s a lot of validity to the
notion of like a woman trying to make a film that Messiah documents her
particular experience of something and if her particular experience of
something does not include white men than how can you say that she’s doing
something wrong it’s interesting the Roxane gay would be critical of that
because she is far less critical let’s say somebody like Lana Dunham for
example who there’s all of this equal controversy around about whether or not
she actually was sexually abusive to her sister right and I’ve seen Roxane gay
take up for when a Dunham in a way that you know like I think like you know a
lot of people have a real problem with Leonard Dunham whitewashing a show and
only depicting people of color as 1980s and you know so I sort of feel like you
know like I try to keep away from some of those those and then there was this
recent I think like kind of like a lot of women coming forward and making
accusations about being you know sexually insulted or sexually violated
by different prominent writers house insane reasons but they’re having and
that was enough meeting yeah but a lot of these things that was happening you
know meeting about the poultry community in New York and I just feel like that’s
certain people’s communities where all that right yeah I mean I mean I think
like I could I so much time getting angry if I wanted
to you know truthfully like there is pulling tea to be pissed off about and
I’m really actively trying every day to live in these three seconds of the
president and the next three seconds are the next three seconds and to try to you
know like to the practice as well visa sounds to practice joy like it’s just so
I’m so bored by being angry and sad about like just doing anything I feel
like we’re away from you know like focusing on how much extraordinary art
there are there is how many amazing people that are doing real
groundbreaking work that’s chipping away at these issues I think what happens
sometimes is that people focus on the controversy well there are a lot of
people off to the side who are really actually directly addressing the thing
as we were writing this book to kind of remember come back to like just the idea
of joy this your you know obviously surrounded by darkness and thinking
about like in the present in the past and a lot of things being
mind yourself uh kind of balance in some ways just active writing poetry itself
joyfully even if you’re writing dark stuff yeah I mean I was evasive I feel
like I live on the phone you know like the awesome but there’s awesome stuff
that happens in between but there’s nothing to me like that feeling of
losing yourself in the act of creating something but when I was in Bangladesh
and I think it is hard sometimes because you don’t like I moved to think in this
sentence was a phrase that I really hate saying I was talking to my therapist just right now I’m doing okay I was
talking to my therapist about this for the very thing like about how there are
certainly lots of reasons I could sort of point to his reasons I feel sad like
I probably feel sad because my parents are because my sister or there’s a war
happening you know but you know like and I don’t I feel like it’s it’s something
that I’ve been trying not to do because it just keeps me in the darkness for
longer and when I was in Bangladesh I was really lucky to have some friends
there who I made who pulled me out of my spinal vision cuz like I would just sort
of I would go and interview the women and all right or I would do all this
research look at all these difficult kind of horrible in a really excellent
photographs for example and and then I would basically come home to the
apartment I was staying at the capital and kind of like not
leave the house or shower for three days you know I’m like like it was just so
hard to do anything after that and I had this really sweet friend named to Linda
who is just like super bubbly and just kind of like relentlessly cheerful you
know and so she was her blegh be like no we’re getting your house out now
take a shower of no such idea and and we’re gonna go we’re gonna go on an
adventure but we don’t have a bite to eat or whatever and so I was really
lucky to have a few people around to kind of like not just encourage but
really like you know like demanded that I put my I know there’s really a couple
I don’t think that I would have been able to sustain their research I was
doing otherwise without those breaks this putting your attention elsewhere
and going back to your statement about the joyful immersion and making
something how much a part of your practice is shutting off the firehose of
the web just fending off social media in terms of your practice this is your
focus where this is it this is the president not a distracted one focus one
or you allow yourself to sort of be interrupted and you’re bringing it all
all terms of screens how does that work yes I go back and forth I mean some days
are definitely more distracted days and those days are sort of more like
áthe days you know where like I kind of like this thing on Facebook and I’ll
follow it too you know I call it Robin : you know where like somehow you start
out by reading about the adventures on Wikipedia and then somehow you’re you
end up reading about incest in popular culture like I don’t know how I got
there but here I am um so I love myself to that you know is
that’s a different kind of research or a different kind of focus I don’t think
and it’s more more wandering I guess that’s the thing that’s so great about
opening things up but um so some days are really unfocused in terms of that
but I feel like a different writers and then other days it’s just everything
gets shut off totally what why does everything get shut off and I think
because I think because when that distraction is not when it doesn’t feel
useful to me is when it’s distracting me away from tapping into the vastness
inside of me and the vastness outside of me you know I’ll sort of be looking at
things like these micro cosmic ways but one of the things that is so astounding
about the world we live in is that is so vast and I feel like for me stories and
art comes from tapping into that deep deep and less vastness inside of you
like you can like reach in to this like super long paint dark abyss and pull
something out and wrestle it into something beautiful or awful or both and
so I feel like it’s harder for me to tap into that fastness on days that the
distraction isn’t right but you know but again sometimes that though the
wandering can lead to experiencing the vastness in a very different way which
is you know these associations destroy things which i think is what the
metaphor to thank you when you were interviewing the women is how did that like affect the hug that
affect interview up vanish or every in America because I was watching this
movie once it’s really cool that he said you know we we think we believe in
something called the rally but we don’t we believe in something and the Bill of
Rights you know if you attend the ones to make everybody seem equal but this is
a very young country and burn for centuries it seems like the middle of
Rights has been has been coated to protect only you know the white males of
America since they were still talking about topics I’ve even talked about the
years when we have this stupid little price and I just wanted to know like the
you know how did how did interview with women in Bangladesh affect affect your
view of the issue of rape in America and how we are still we’re still neglecting
it even though we want to go over to other countries and say yeah I I don’t
know I got asked a very similar very different question
I hated men after the answer is no I didn’t I actually saw a lot of support
and I think that’s I guess like what I have to say about it is that to me it’s
not divisive as much as like it gave me a kind of optimism that men can really
step forward and be supportive there are a lot of sensitive men in this country
at this moment you know I mean in the end there are men who believe that this
is that it’s really cool and I mean my partner is one of those men he’s he’s a
real you know like he doesn’t need to spend a lot of time to crying
break because he knows what he would do if something happened to somebody he
cared about you know and so I feel like like I feel like I hear this phrase all
the time now created culture I don’t understand what it means you know like I
don’t understand what it means to say that there is a culture of rape when it
is so ancient and so you know deeply embedded in our psyches either as
victims of it or as perpetrators of it or as witnesses to it so I feel like you
know these these problems they perpetuate themselves and part of it is
because of fear and because of shame and because
like them moralist and there’s I mean how many times do we see the situation
where a woman comes forward and but he’s like no but he couldn’t possibly because
he’s going Toso so there’s an immediate defense of somebody’s personality as a
somebody’s personality is what you know eventually like what keeps somebody from
doing or not just this horrible act I realize that I’m not answering your
question as much as I am just kind of rambling about the various issues that I
see around it but I think that’s part of it too is that I don’t see it as an
answerable question but I see it as an addressable issue you know that can come
from try building come come from sharing these stories can
come from you know like encouraging both men and women to scrutinize the way they
think about it to be introspective and thoughtful about the way
but I don’t feel like you know I don’t I don’t know that we are addressing these
issues in America because there’s not oh we still we don’t we still don’t have a
legal system that protects us you know it’s a legal system that claims to
protect us but it’s not a system that actually does and so until I think if
you know like until I think the infrastructure changes I think like not
that I think it’s hopeless but I think we’re kind of screwed you know and so I
think a lot of changes have to be actively made both on an individual and
on a community level for whatever rape culture you know that is to diminish and
dissipate

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