Amber Atiya

“Writing is a solitary endeavor and it’s important to come up for air.”

Amber A.

the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014)

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.

Many of the final poems were written for National Poetry Month 30/30 groups in 2013 and 2014. When I sent the original manuscript to Argos in spring of 2013, I was trying to make a deadline and wasn’t thinking about theme, narrative arc, and all that jazz. (One of the editors had invited me to submit, so I thought, what the hell, why not, and put something together.) The acceptance email came six months later and I couldn’t remember which poems I’d sent. At the last minute, I gutted half the manuscript in order to include newer pieces, make the chap more womyn-centered, and then it became more New York-centric, and recently I realized a lot of my poems (including poems not in the chap) are in various stages of grief, mourning the loss of what was, what might never be.

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

Word to my mother I can’t recall. I may well have tossed a stack of poems to the gods and then ordered the chap based on how they fell on my carpet. Divine Ordering, Asé. I’m not above doing things like that.

What are you working on now?

Sometimes I’m working on a full-length. It’s weird. The chap is 39 pages, but another 10-15 pages and it would’ve been full-length. It feels like a full-length. Of course chaps generally aren’t reviewed or stocked by bookstores or eligible for literary awards, whatever those things are worth.

Been thinking about singing, creating multi/transdisciplinary art. Thinking about a visual poem that incorporates a sonogram of fibroids. For them to be benign, they sure can cause a shit load of trouble.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

Good grief, I’m bad at titling things. If I could snatch Mama’s Gun from Badu, I would.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I love food writing, magazines like Edible New York, the foodie lit journal Alimentum when it was in print. I love reading about bizarre sea creatures. Song lyrics. Just this week, I’ve googled

“what’s happening, rerun, head of lettuce”
“symbols, alchemy”
“4c hair texture”
“poems, danielle legros georges”
“the sound of crystal singing bowls”
“badbadnotgood and ghost face killah”
“the sound of bread” (Nothing like the song of sourdough cooling. Sounds like rain or the ocean. Trying to incorporate this into a poem.)

Okay, some of these search results include audio/video clips, but everything helps.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

Writing is a solitary endeavor and it’s important to come up for air, to eat and drink and dance and shit-talk with your peeps, to do non writing-related things. Poeting, I think, is like being an emotional psychic. You pick up on and internalize the energy of everyone and everything around you, pour it into your art, and then what? How do you recharge? How do you maintain emotional and spiritual balance? Just reading the headlines wears me out. I watch Youtube–Haka, cat videos, episodes of The Dog Whisperer, episodes of The Chappelle Show. (My friend Luis sent me a clip called “Denzel Makes Guarantees,” which was pretty funny.) Listen to songs for Legba, Minnie Riperton, Jadakiss. Frankie Knuckles. I need to eat more fruit and drink more water. When the weather’s not wilding, I like to walk across the bridge, Brooklyn to City Hall. Or walk from West 4th to 42nd.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

B, C, and D–the initials of the women in my writing group. (Well, it’s our writing group, and I’m A.) We’ve been writing together since March, 2002. We used to write at Café Rafaella in the Village, and when they closed down, we started writing at Washington Square Diner, and then it was the Cosmopolitan, this tiny café with an amazing filet mignon sandwich, also closed, and then it was Whole Foods, which became noisy with the toddlers running around, and then we found Gee Whiz Diner. We’ve been at GW for three years I think. We choose a topic, write for 10 minutes and share, no commentary, no critique, no judgment. We always aim to do three 10-minute prompts, but after catching up over bagels and coffee, we do what we can.

What advice would you give to an aspiring chapbook author?

Almost nothing’s as serious as you think it is and you’re not nearly as special as your mama said you were. Have fun. Don’t be afraid to let go (of friends, lovers, toxic shit in general, words, lines, images that fall flat and aren’t moving the poem forward, etc). Record yourself reading poems, get a feel for how you perform your own work. Read at open mics, slams, museums, in the subway, read wherever you can. (The poet Amanda Deutch had a fundraiser for her organization Parachute Literary Arts at Coney Island. At one point, there was mist and fog and the park lit up at night and beer and mini key lime pies and poets reading to passengers on the Wonder Wheel. Gorgeousness. I had such a good time.)


Amber Atiya is the author of the fierce bums of doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her poems have been selected for Best of the Net 2014 and nominated for Best New Poets 2015. Amber’s work has appeared in the Boston Review, Lithub, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, and been featured on the Poetry Foundation’s radio and podcast series PoetryNow. A proud native Brooklynite, she is a member of a women’s writing group that will be celebrating 14 years next spring.


unnamed (songbird)

i’d hoped to birth a songbird ‘til the sky swapped its bright
petunia-blue light
for a black slip

‘til the child slid past the sentinels of my womb in its red

it could not hear the cradlesong
i sang then

it could not see the baby names
fade from the list

for weeks motherly curves
ordained by sadness

for weeks sadder than the saddest
destined to roam night’s
dark corridors

(darling sadness to step
into you
feels no different
than baby weight )

i’d hoped to birth a songbird
appealed to the goddess
of small feet

offerings of dahlia root
rum-soaked kiwi seed
for the songbird’s safe return

for nights i dreamt of starlings
darts of blood-orange and blue
initiated in song

for nights i dreamt a harp on fire
the air singed
with music
and feathers

’til i awoke to a morning gorged on quills
my bed sheets and carpet

’til everywhere signs of flight and landing
in the open field of my room

i sang a cradlesong
then too

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