“While certainly there are times you do need to just be on your own and do the work, there’s so much more you can learn when you find writers and readers you can regularly talk to.”
Mxd Kd Mixtape (Glass Poetry Press, 2017)
Could you share with us a poem from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
Why did you choose this poem?
I chose “Ode To Bob Marley, Ending in Inheritance” because in many ways it speaks to the core of this chapbook. Putting together mxd kd mixtape, I was thinking a lot about the ways in which race and identity function, and how often I was put into situations where I was supposed to choose one cultural identity over another, how rarely I was able to embrace all of cultural heritages. This poem very much comes from that space and also serves as a way of looking at how those identities are formed. I very rarely identify as Jamaican. A lot of this comes from the fact that my father is much more outwardly proud of his Puerto Rican heritage. However, every now and again he talks about Jamaica in a way that reminds me of how ridiculous it is to be told I have to choose one culture over another. “Ode To Bob Marley” for me is representative of the way in which music specifically has helped me to come that realization in my own life.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?
I feel like it’s impossible for me to really answer this question, as I’m bound to leave some things out, but here goes: When the Ghosts Come Ashore by Jacqui Germain, When the Living Sing by Yalie Kamara, Blood Percussion by Nate Marshall, To My Body by Steven Sanchez, Black Movie by Danez Smith
What’s your chapbook about?
The easiest answer is that the chapbook is about music. It’s about the ways in which music speaks to history, family, and race and culture. And, more specifically, how at many times music has been the space for me to navigate identity. The space in which I’ve been most able to look at race and look at blackness as existing beyond just U.S. understandings of those constructs.
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?
The oldest piece in the book is the sequence “mxd kd sht” sequence. Those poems were originally all one poem titled “Afro-Seattleite Fragment #7: mxd kd sht,” the first draft of which I wrote shortly after graduating from college in 2014.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
I would say the misfit is “Prayer as La Lupe Singing ‘La tirana,’” and that’s simply because it wasn’t originally part of the chapbook. It’s a poem I like, but I originally had no idea what to do with it. It didn’t quite fit into my graduate thesis, and when I submitted to Glass and a couple of other places, it didn’t fit the page limits I was working with. I was able to work it into mxd kd mixtape really by chance, due to needing an extra poem in there so that “Héctor Lavoe’s ‘El cantante,’ Translated” would appear on side-by-side pages. I gave Tony Frame a few poems that fit in that space, and Tony noted the ways “Prayer as La Lupe” would set up the different forms of breaking the rest of the chapbook got into. So I would definitely call that poem the misfit of the bunch, just because it wasn’t in the original plans for the chapbook.
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 last poem I wrote within the chapbook was “Ode To Divino, or I Re-listen To Por experiencias propias for the First Time in Six Years and Finally Stop Hating, or When ‘Pobre corazón’ Comes On I Think of My Dad,” the first draft of which was written I think a couple of months before submitting the chapbook. I feel like that poem really helped bring the chapbook together as it provided a little bit of a mirror for “Ode To Prince, or The Day Prince Dies I’m Reminded I Don’t Call Home Enough.” Most of the chapbook uses music to look at race and culture. While looking at family is part of that, those two poems are really just examining family dynamics and how music has played a role in shaping those dynamics. “Ode To Divino” helped to really bring that together by looking at a poem that was more so looking at my relationship with my father, while “Ode To Prince” looks at my relationship with my mother.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?
I like to keep myself open in the revision process. Sometimes my early ideas for a poem will be way off, or in looking at the poem I’ll find out that it isn’t about what I originally thought it was about. In those cases I’ll pretty much gut the poem, keeping just a few lines here or there. That’s really my favorite method of revising because it lets me start off fresh, essentially like I’m writing a new poem but with a little bit of a head start, knowing what doesn’t really work for it already. A number of the poems in mxd kd mixtape are like that, having started out as completely different poems than what they are now.
What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The editorial process was truly amazing. We were both in contact with Raychelle Duazo, the artist who did the cover art, but Raychelle really didn’t need much input from me. After Raychelle finished the image, Tony consistently asked for my input in designing the cover and interior, and would run things by me every step of the way. I honestly could not have asked for a better editor than Tony for this project. He put so much care into making sure this chapbook was everything I wanted it to be.
What are you working on now?
My first full length book, Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple, recently won the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize from the Inlandia Institute, so I’m currently working with them in anticipation of that book coming out later this year. In addition to that, JR Mahung and I are currently in the process of putting together the Black Plantain Tour (firstname.lastname@example.org), a series of readings, workshops, and talks that center around our experiences as Afro-Caribbean writers living in diaspora.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Read. A lot. A good number of the lessons you learn will be by seeing what other writers have done and are doing. Related to that, find a writing community that you trust and help each other grow. If there’s someone in your class whose poems you like, try to exchange writing prompts and work with them outside of class, find out what they’re reading and talk to them about it, and find ways to have fun with your writing. It’s really easy at times to fall into the cliché of the solitary writer. And while certainly there are times you do need to just be on your own and do the work, there’s so much more you can learn when you find writers and readers you can regularly talk to about both your writing and writing in general.
Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017), and has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, VONA/Voices of Our Nations, Backbone Press, the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, and the University of Memphis. His manuscript Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple won the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize and will be published by Inlandia Books in 2018. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry.