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Poet Alan King Exposed

Alan 1


Q:  Where do you see yourself in the larger scheme of African American poetics and Contemporary American Poetry?
I see myself as up and coming. Following a long line of those following a legacy laid before them. The larger scheme of African American poetics, for me, is the landscape I tread within. It’s also an incubator for me, where I’m still developing my voice and play with new vehicles of driving my point home in a poem. Contemporary American Poetry is my guide through that landscape.
So writers like A. Van Jordan, Ross Gay, John Murillo and a host of others show me what’s possible in expressing myself through poetry. They show me that African American poetics is not this monolithic form that I have to fit into but it’s a host of possibilities. So I can get away with a persona poem, a poem addressing taboo issues such as my perception of homosexuality, and the vulnerability between Black men.
Fred, Derrick and myself had a discussion about how A. Van Jordan, Terrence Hayes and Ross Gay are opening a space for Black men such as ourselves to be vulnerable and it be OK. 
Q:  Do you believe a Larry Neale type will emerge and write about what black poets are doing here in the states and worldwide?
I think that’s going on, right now. Maybe not on the scale Larry Neale did it, but there are several examples. I think you’re one of them. You profile emerging and established Black poets such as Sonia Sanchez on your blog, Poetic Noise. But there’s Kadijah Sesay in the UK, with her literary magazine, Sable. That publication not only showcases Black writers from the US, UK and the continent of Africa, but it also profiles Black writers in those areas.
One of the cool things that I dug about Sable was its issue on the emerging group of Black Sci-Fi writers. A lot of those cats were show some possibilities not only with Black Sci-Fi character wrestling with some complex images but some of those writers also based some of the stories in African countries, which won me over to Sable.
Another example is Kyle Dargan, with Post No Ills, which is an online literary journal strictly devoted to book reviews, commentary and profiles of Black writers.
So that work is going on, but there is only one Larry Neale. Maybe what should emerge shouldn’t be another Mr. Neale, but an extension of the groundwork he laid out. 
Q: What is the first poetry book you read cover to cover?
The first poetry book I read from cover to cover was the suite of Dr. Suess books. As I got older, I got into Nikki Giovanni and read several of her books. But one writer whose work knocked me upside my head and made me a lover of poetry was Sonia Sanchez’s “Shake Loose My Skin.” My girlfriend, who’s not a poet but enjoys what she can get her hands on, heard about Sonia Sanchez for the first time at this year’s folk life festival in D.C. She talks about how Sacremento, where she emigrated to after leaving Nigeria at an early age, has deprived her of Black culture. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But when she said she’d never heard of Sonia Sanchez, I passed her my copy of “Shake Loose My Skin.” That book is the only thing that can pretty much sum up Ms. Sanchez’s body of work.
I remember reading it the first time and not getting what Ms. Sanchez was getting at. I didn’t get it until my second reading of it cover to cover. In all, I’ve probably read that book five times and appreciate it more each time.
At the time I didn’t know she and Etheridge Knight were married. So it was cool to read her book, wondering about the brother that put her through so much, and then reading Etheridge Knight’s work and getting the answers. 
Q:  How would you define literary community and have you experienced divides in the literary community?
As I understand it, the literary community is any group of writers getting together whether it’s to workshop, pass on resources for publications and readings, or just a support network. With that definitions, there are several literary communities in D.C. — a community for playwrights, memoirists, the fiction crew and creative nonfiction.
I don’t think there’s one literary community in D.C. With so many communities, of course, there are divisions. Everyone’s skill level and knowledge base is different. So there may be certain writers, resources, etc that many members may not be familiar with. That’s natural. It would be cool if there was a central place for these communities to meet and interact. I’d love to go to an open mic for fiction folks, playwrights and memorists. The closest I came to a fiction open mike was the speak easy series at HR-57. I really enjoyed that. 
Q:  Do you familiar with any poets who live on the Continent of Africa?
The only poet I’m familiar with from the Continent of Africa is Leopold Senghor, poet and former president of Senegal. I’ve read a few others who were also part of the Negritude Movement, but not a whole lot. That just means more work for me to seek out those writers and check for their work. 
Q:  What poets/writers would you say are the most important to you and why?

Haha.. I think you know the answer to that. There are many but one that comes to mind is Tim Seibles. I can respect any artist who not only pushes himself but also pushes his peers to do more.

Here’s an excerpt from “An Open Letter,” which was published in his collection, Buffalo Head Solos:
“What energizes me is all the nay-saying I bear about what poets and poetry can do: ‘Poetry will never reach the general public. poetry shouldn’t be political or argumentative. Poetry will not succeed if it’s excessively imaginative. Poetry can’t change anything.’ Because the first people I heard saying such things were poets, I used to believe these notiosn were born of thoughtful consideration and humility, butnow I see them as a kind of preemptive apology, a small-heard justification for the writing of a hobbled poetry — a poetry that doesn’t want ot be too conspicuous, a poetry that knows its place, that doesn’t mean to trouble the water, that is always decorous and never stomps in with bad breath and plaid boots.
But why not? Why not a sublimely reckless poetry — when the ascendant social order permits nearly every type of corruption and related hypocrisy? Why not risk more and more? So much is at stake. this culture, deranged by both spoken and unspoken imperatives, mocks the complexity of our loneliness, our spiritual hunger for dynamic meanings, our thirst for genuine human community, for good magic and good sense. And, given the growing heap of human wreckage, why not approach language and its transforming potential with a ravishing hunger, with a ferocity bordering on the psychotic?”

About Abdul Ali

I'm a fellow at American University studying creative nonfiction and poetry. I write across a few genres but it's all brought together by larger questions about culture.


2 thoughts on “Poet Alan King Exposed

  1. Abdul & Alan –

    Thanks to you both for the good interview questions and thoughtful responses. You both add a great deal to the literary life of this area and I am grateful. I am curious about Alan’s comment regarding the different “communities” within the Washington literary world, the idea of a central place for writers/poets to meet and interact meaningfully. I worry that some of our identification circles get too narrow.

    This is a thoughtful interview which prompted my thinking. Thanks to you both.

    Posted by Joseph Ross | October 28, 2009, 12:33 PM
  2. Abdul @ Alan,

    Good to see both your work on display here. I think the literary world, like everywhere else, has grown smaller, or at least our interaction has got easier. It’s nice to know the lines of communication are open, and I can tap into all the great minds doing work like this.

    Many thanks. Stay well.

    Posted by courttianewland | October 29, 2009, 12:00 PM

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