On Wednesday evening, poets Fatimah Asghar and Danez Smith discussed their experiences expressing themselves through poetry and finding solace in each other’s work.
The poets gave individual readings of their work and answered questions posed by co-moderators Arya Sundaram ’21 and Yale Literary Magazine Editor in chief Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21. This event was hosted by the Yale Literary Magazine and the Elizabethan Club. It was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship at Yale and the Elizabethan Club Maynard Mack Fund. Originally planned to be held in person this spring, the talk was postponed due to COVID-19 and rescheduled for the fall. The event was instead streamed on YouTube, where 31 people watched it live.
“I came up through traditions of shared poetics, where you would be in a community-oriented space where you would bring a poem that you wrote, that you performed, and that was a moment of connection with everybody that you were with,” Asghar said. “That’s why I write. Always for that.”
Asghar created the web series “Brown Girls,” which was nominated for an Emmy in 2017, and authored a poetry collection, “If They Come for Us,” in 2018. Smith is a writer and performer who has written three poetry collections, including “Homie,” which was published in January of this year. Smith also co-hosts the podcast “VS” with poet Franny Choi. Both Asghar and Smith are members of the Dark Noise Collective, which describes itself as a “nationwide, multiracial, multi-genre” group of six poets.
During the event, both writers presented pieces of their work. Asghar read her poems “Old Country,” “Boy” and “Partition,” as well as an unedited excerpt from the novel she is currently working on. Smith prefaced their poem “my president” by urging audience members to vote in local and national elections. Then, Smith read their poem “WAITING FOR YOU TO DIE SO I CAN BE MYSELF” and “self-portrait as ’90s R&B video.”
“I was floored when Danez read their poem ‘my president,’” said Eileen Huang ’23, a managing editor of the Yale Literary Magazine, who attended the event. “It feels particularly relevant as the election approaches in the middle of a socially, environmentally and politically uncertain year.”
Following the readings, Kumar-Banerjee initiated a conversation with the poets. She asked them about their choice in art mediums and how their place within their communities may have changed over time.
Kumar-Banerjee said that Smith and Asghar have been influential poets to her, and that she was particularly interested in the poets’ focus on ideas of community in their writings — particularly in this time of intense isolation and separation. Asghar and Smith spoke to these ideas of community and relationship building during the event. For them, the idea of a lonely artist is a fallacy, since they said art requires collaborative effort.
Asghar said she and Smith were friends and collaborators long before either of them gained recognition for their poetry.
“Run towards the people that make you feel smarter and more curious, the people that you want to think aloud with and dream with,” Smith said.
Kumar-Banerjee noted that when deciding to frame this event as a conversation between the two poets, she had their friendship in mind. To honor their relationship, Kumar-Banerjee hoped to encourage the poets to engage with each other during the event.
“When I think about myself, I’m like a very earnest orphan,” Asghar said. “I’m a person who’s constantly looking for love and constantly looking for belonging and constantly looking for home and constantly trying to understand who my people are and where I come from. I have a lot more questions than I have answers, and that’s kind of been my guidepost.”
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