by Danez Smith
5 Questions is back and we have a good one for you today. We are very excited to have Carrie Rudzinski featuring at the Berkeley Slam this Wednesday. She’s toured all over the world, was a finalist at WOWPS this year (and the year before!), and has been published in several lit journals. She’s a talented writer and a moving, powerful performer on the stage. Come to the show this Wednesday and see for yourself!
AND our interviewer this week is one of the hardest working poets in the game, today: New Shit Show grand slam champ, one of the stars of Chasing Mehserle, Youth Speaks program associate, and author of the soon to be released, ‘[insert] Boy from YesYes Books, Danez Smith!
So let’s kick this off.
1. So you lived everywhere and once told me you lived nowhere. I was wondering how have your travels and your many, many homes transformed your writing? Is your process informed by where you are currently rooted?
I think traveling so much has led my homes to be rooted in people, less in cities or buildings or beds. That definitely effects who I am and how I’m writing. Denver specifically transformed my writing because it was the longest I had stayed anywhere in two years. So I was able to invest and listen and grow within a community for the first time since I left Boston. Of course it’s always going to be a balance of where I’m at physically and where I’m at emotionally and how they blend. I love that it can take a while for a country or city or experience to be loud enough inside me to be noticed but when I scoop them out they can transport me to that balcony in India or that truck stop in Iowa.
2. The first time I heard your poetry, I knew I was a fan from the moment you said ‘street light arms’. Your images often strike with a wild abandon. Where do your images come from? How do you build the body of your poems? What poets have influence that wild beast of an imagination of yours?
Mmm it was mutual love at first CUPSI.
I am a visual learner, I studied film in college, and it was a huge compliment when people would tell me during my early (very image heavy) work that it felt like watching a film. I’ve always started poems by collecting images in a word bank and having pages of notes: I’ll sit in a room and let word association take over while I make a list of things I can see. By having a thick word bank, I’m able to jump into a poem with a lot of the work already done and juxtapose surprising images. I really like making up words.
Some of my biggest influences have been Brian S. Ellis, Omoizele Okoawo, April Ranger, Rachael Mckibbens, and Gypsee Yo.
3. What poem(s) do you want to marry?
Sherman Alexie’s poem “Tiny Treaties.”
4. You’ve become a major player on the touring market and you have conquered all the slam finals that there are to finalize in. Where do you see your career in 10 years? What dreams are you muscling into reality?
Oh God, I can’t plan my life more than three to six months in advance and you’re talking about 10 years. You and my dad are asking the same questions. I have a lot of artistic dreams outside of poetry I want to develop over the next few years but I know that poetry is so necessary to my survival – it just keeps opening doors and I keep going through them and feeling lucky. I think I’d like to drop everything at some point and just tour for a full straight year without anything else on my plate again. And teach more. I just taught at Cal State Northridge for six weeks and it was an incredible experience. There’s a couple big dreams I’m working on making happen this year but I’m gonna keep my head down and rub some rabbit feet for now.
5. What has poetry taught you about yourself?
That my voice can be and is important.