Jasmine reid | deus ex nigrum
an excerpt & interview
it is winter
& my father runs barefoot into the cold.
a child flinging himself
into a strange city, strange weather.
feet unsprung from concrete
like a hand reaching the stove
& learning the speed of retreat.
limbs recoiling into the new house
& a new hum of skin:
him shivering, aunties & grandparents
laughing. this time, my father is a story
with mirth. a bright yellow sunrise
of caution. everyone is still alive.
& danger is escapable
The stakes in your work carry tension between feminine beauty and the danger of possessing it in a trans body. In “Morning Routine” you write, “Oil the body to trap the light / Color nails, mouth, eyeline depending / On how you would like to be found.” How does loss manifest in your poetics?
in my poetics, loss is carried in the articulation of movement, of crossing, verb-ing, living, "trans". my speakers lose ways back from, out of, extreme vulnerability. they are knowing of what they're losing &, sometimes, they move in order to lose, to let loose of what strangles growth, to become. & so the poems often carry a mourning-tone entangled with a song of hopefulness & a swaddling of the self. in "Morning Routine," movement is rather matter-of-fact, in an almost algorithmic sense. if alive today, then cross with your body into a form of feminine glamour: be as vulnerable to the world as glitter eyeshadow, nail polish. the only other choice is death. & the speaker knows this, & the daily-ness of this movement becomes a routinized reckoning of the question, "if i die today, how would i like to be found?"
Deus Ex Nigrum’s wealth of forms evoke the lines’ chameleon-like ability to shift where they are broken. Can you describe your process for dressing these poems before they leave the house?
when thinking about poetic form, i'm often reminded of a quote offered by Jamaal May during a craft talk: "poems don't mean things. poems are things." & so, in the process of forming, dressing, the poems in the manuscript, i wondered after each poem's object-nature—is the poem a letter, a flurry, a constellation, a planetary system? in terms of breaking the line horizontally & vertically, in addition to what was intuited, i thought about where the poems themselves are wounded, sutured, & where they need holes to breathe. sound is really important to me. i write towards a chorus-effect in which the poem's many aspects are singing together. at that point, when i feel a hum during my whole reading of the poem, i can send it out into the world in good feeling. sometimes the form is the first layer set, as in setting out to write a contrapuntal or a poem in couplets, tercets, etc.. most of the time, the poem's form is the among the last layers to settle into place.
In your artist statement, you wrote, “Like Sylvia Plath’s ‘I am, I am, I am,’ my writing is an act of triangulation, of locating myself by way of persistence.” How does triangulation or triplicity inform the way you craft poems?
graphing feelings comes to mind: using words, images, & memories to create lines unto an inner emotionality/world/self. i write to say as precisely as i can, to get as close to the thing as possible. & so i use triangulation as a method of locating what i yearn to know/say out of what i have already held, seen, can measure the distance to myself from. particularly in this manuscript, the yearning to know the answer to "who am i? what am i?" manifests into many attempts at saying that accumulate into knowing. the collection is, i think, a layering of triangulations in order to get as close to something as vital & obscured & always-been-there as my gender. in terms of triplicity, there's a magic that i don't yet have words for that is conjured by saying something three times. something about the effort of it, the persistence of it, is vital to my ability to be.
In the poem “Somewhere, Queer” you build queerness as a landscape. If queer is “A field... Open under the stars & sun at once,” what timeframe do you situate it in? In other words, when is queer(ness)?
i think queerness stretches across time, can collapse time. in queerness the sun & stars of further galaxies can shine in the same sky. there are entanglements of tandem with no explanation other than other: a she & a she, a he & a he, a they & a they, a they & a she, & on. & when? i don't know. maybe in continuous-time, togetherness-time, simultaneity, a time-space when-where i get to be a woman & love a woman & "we" is a water shared with all my friends & all their loves. maybe queerness is any time, just beneath/beside the ticking of clocks, boxes, normative separations. i just started a course on "Queer Time", so maybe i'll have more answers & questions in a few months!
Water abounds in a variety of bodies throughout Deus Ex Nigrum. What draws you to fluidity as an image?
As a member of the Black diaspora, water reminds me that there are origins other than city, country, & biological family. in my estrangement from those things, i turn to water for proximity to ancestry & posterity. the phrase "bodies of water" reminds me that we are bodies of water, as is the earth, as we are worlds, ourselves. as an image, i'm in awe of the way water holds onto itself, the way water gives images back to themselves as reflections. in my search for elsewheres, the sea is a way into the sky. &, myself, every form of jasmine needs water: to flower, to fluff (as rice), to disperse into tea.
Jasmine Reid is a twice trans poet-child of flowers. A 2018 Poets House Fellow and MFA candidate at Cornell University, her work has been published or is forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Yemassee Journal, WUSGOOD?, and WATER. Also a finalist for the 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Prize, Jasmine was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.