“Eventually you reach a point where there are parts of you that want to come out in your writing.”
Cover the Sky With Crows (ELJ Publications, 2015)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
I can’t just name a couple. There’s a whole chunk of my personal library that is chapbooks. Two that I’m currently using in teaching other poets are Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire and The Life and Times of Susie Knuckles by Safia Elhillo.
If you have written more than one chapbook or novella, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
Quills of Fire was my first chapbook and it was just a self published collection of poems to share my work and make some money at readings. After that was Metamorphosis, which was my second self-published chapbook, but at that point I had started taking my poetry more seriously. Then there was Separation, which had a short run and was in conjunction with a publisher out of Saginaw Michigan for a reading I did there. Then there was Duality Unabridged, which was a collaborative project with Allison Bohn and I when we tied in a poetry contest at my Alma Mater 3 years earlier. I then didn’t release another chapbook for a couple of years until this one.
What’s your chapbook about?
There is a wide variety of experiences that go into this chapbook, but if I had to say one thing I suppose it would be love. Maybe that’s corny, I don’t know, but there are pieces dealing with self love and the fight against my depression, romantic love, familial love and black life in general. Looking back, I think love may have been one of the things behind my drive to complete many of these poems.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
“By the time this reaches you” (which was split into two parts for this chapbook) has got to be the oldest. I wrote it for another poet who I loved in 2011 who wasn’t from Detroit. It kind of became more than it’s intentions. I remember performing it at the National Poetry Slam in Boston that year more vividly than I do the writing process, because I broke down in the middle of reciting the poem. There were a lot of shootings happening at home around the time that I was reciting this poem about love, but also about the violence that riddles my hometown.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
The editors at ELJ Publications helped me with the arrangement. At the time of its acceptance I was still learning about looking at a collection as a whole body that worked together instead of viewing it like just a bunch of poems thrust together. The title comes from an image in one of the poems. I have depression, and it often comes and goes as it pleases. A lot of the topic matters within some of the poems permeate in my mind when the sky seems dark as if it’s covered with crows. The title kind of made sense.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
I can’t choose just one. It would be like picking the most meaningful scar. One may have a more juicy or meaningful backstory than the others but at the end of the day they are still these parts of you that show that you have survived. I’d say the fact that I’m surviving is most meaningful to me.
Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
The politics, I don’t think as much. I think the form does force the poet to be more succinct and the collection has to work similar to the button combination used in fighting video games to pull off incredible combos. The writer’s politics are their own, whether chapbook or full collection they will find a way through, like preference in character in a fighting game. The chapbook just makes the writer tighter and more precise with the buttons they press. I hope that makes sense.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
Easy, it’s “Ode to the Cats” that’s the “misfit.” A best friend of mine and fellow poet passed away in 2015, months before the chapbook was put out. She was fighting cancer from the end of 2013 until the time of her passing, and during the time she was in the hospital I would go to her home and tend to her cats for her. There were times where I was consumed by my depression, like utterly unable to shake it’s grasp and in the privacy of her home I would just lay out and cry on her floor. The cats would come to me, and lay with me and purr until I fell asleep. They didn’t have to do that, and they weren’t even my cats. I felt like it was their way of showing that they appreciated me caring for them. It was this that made me realize how I’m not always appreciative of those who try to help me, including my friend/sister who the world lost too soon. That isn’t the reason it’s the “misfit” though. That’s because I don’t own pets, so I don’t often write about cats.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The final poem was “Days I Don’t Have.” I imagine that I’m a pain to work with. I don’t mean to be, I’m just hard on myself and I always want things to be better. We were working on the final order of the chapbook, past the stage of adding and removing poems. We had gotten it just about finished as far as layout goes and I wrote the poem and without edits thought it needed to be in there. I’m like “we have to add this poem” and the folks at ELJ said alright, no questions asked. For some reason I didn’t want to add anything after that, so it was kind of meant to be in there.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I write like I hoop…in spurts. Sometimes on fire, and sometimes absolutely trash. I mean I’m 5’7, despite my speed and vertical leap, basketball requires a lot of energy and I’m getting older. As a writer I’m a bottle, holding on to my emotions and experiences, and they come out when they’re meant to. I just start linking them together when I see different threads starting to form. Similar to a pickup game of basketball, even when you’re on the court with guys you’ve known for years you rarely have set plays. You link things together as you see the threads forming.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The editorial and production process was fun to me. They paired me up with an editor and we would stay in touch on a weekly basis and make revisions on my poems, which I enjoyed doing and learned a lot from. I usually don’t let my friends see poems before they’re done because they care about my feelings. I need unbiased savagery when it comes to my poetry. As far as the cover image, they left it up to me. I like to support local artists. With each chapbook or instrumental album release I go to a local visual artist that I know. I hit up a friend of mine, a visual artist named Trae Issac, sent him the poems, and just told him to give me what comes to mind and what he drew up ended up being the cover.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?
Do you listen to music while writing and who? I’d answer James Blake. I might start listening to something else, but at some point in my writing or editing process, if I’m listening to music, he comes up in the playlist. I don’t know what is going on in Britain right now, but artistically they’re killing it and James Blake and this band called the XX come up in my playlist often when I’m writing.
What are you working on now?
My first full collection of poetry, Class, comes out with Urban Farmhouse Press next spring. I write in spurts, but when I do a lot comes out. I’m currently working on another chapbook that I might turn into a full manuscript, another full poetry manuscript and my first collection of nonfiction. So one, maybe two full poetry manuscripts and a nonfiction manuscript. Other than that I’m trying to learn how to cook (I know, late bloomer) and just becoming a better person altogether.
What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?
I don’t have a favorite piece, that’s kind of like having a favorite child…which I guess people do, so that wasn’t the greatest analogy but I don’t have one. A child, but I mean, I don’t have a favorite piece either.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I guess painting and music. I see things in a very visual sense in my head, and I do wish I continued pursuing illustration when I was in high school but I felt like they didn’t care about the art department like that in my high school. Music, I felt forced into playing violin in high school, so I gave it up when I graduated and now I wish I hadn’t. I didn’t give singing a fair try then either, which is funny considering how often I sing horribly these days.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Start writing about what you know and about what you don’t want to or have to share with everyone. Everyone starts off with what they think poetry is, or what they think people want to hear. Eventually you reach a point where there are parts of you that want to come out in your writing and you have to choose between what’s easy and what’s difficult. What you know and what’s difficult is often where the strongest poems come from.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?
I wish someone told me they wanted to give me thousands or millions of dollars just to write. I’d still work my teaching job since I love teaching and I’m not even a fan of money as a thing, but I guess it’d be cool to get a lot of it for writing, and it would make living a lot easier. Wisdom comes with living. As far as writing goes, I’d say live more, it gives more depth to the pool writers can draw from when they’ve lived and experienced a lot.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
Read a lot of chapbooks. We learn through imitation and then doing it on our own, our own way. I think of chapbooks like mixtapes to where the full collection is like an album. Two different kinds of great collections of an artists music. When it comes to music you won’t make a dope mixtape without having listened to mixtapes. Other than that, remember that it isn’t a competition. You are writing from your own experience, and worrying too much about what others are doing will only get in the way of great creation.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook? What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Life inspires me. I text myself ideas when they come up and I’m not by my computer. Poetry comes out when it’s meant to and I just roll with it. I can’t say just one person. I read a lot, and I’m thankful to know a lot of people, phenomenal writers and just phenomenal people, so I’ll just say a lot of people.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Where can I find your chapbooks and do you want to exchange? I’m a big reader so the more the better.
Deonte Osayande is a former track and field sprinter turned writer from Detroit, Mi. He writes nonfiction essays and his poems have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology, a Pushcart Prize and published in many online and print publications. He has represented Detroit at multiple National Poetry Slam competitions. He’s currently a professor of English at Wayne County Community College, and teaching youth through the Inside Out Detroit Literary Arts Program.
The Paranoia Says the Helicopter Searches For Me
As the announcement
of the training
exercise on campus
for the police force comes
into my classroom and I joke
about the threat, about
my blood pressure as if
there wasn’t a shooting
at a community college
weeks before, as if I weren’t
the same complexion as the targets
cops use at their shooting ranges.
This is a poem from the chapbook, although it’s renamed “Gentrification” in the book.