Dear Arisa, what’s life and what are the struggles of a poet, a writer, an artist, a woman?
Convincing myself that I matter, what I do matters, that my stories matter. This is the struggle in a society that reinforces your destruction, that reduces you to stereotypes, that elevates those who put whiteness at the center, maleness at the center, heterosexuality at the center, and name you marginal—not to be really heard. I meet this negative energy in all aspects of my life—in publishing, in conversations, in our canonized literatures, epistemologies, and it takes residence in the body, in the psyche. Being a creative person is then to create different charges of feeling for us to experience, so that we can carry those frequencies into the world, into our futures.
What makes you fearless? How does your creative streak impact the daily realm?
My creativity is my daily realm. It’s not a separate thing that then becomes an additive. It comes with the package and is the whole of me. This is my power; it’s what permits me fearlessness. It is my truth.
You are contrary. I want the wet from the whiskey. Press my breast against my chest and keep them for myself, and we’ll be left with our original design. A seed tight and confined with my own potential, numb to all my paradises in another's hands. Your smirking continent is where I never belonged. On waves that make a calculus out of our misery, I’m happy to join this boat away from the heart that cannot feed us.
Your poems have details, intricate imagery, and beautiful descriptions of feelings and mental states. Refugee is particularly striking, “Your smirking continent is where I never belonged.” What serves as food for thought and word choices?
The stories that I find myself encountering—my own mind-stories, from the media, from the people around me. Listening to the noise and quiet, where things fall silent, and the combination of sounds that serve as examples (or templates) for word choices and phrases.
Treating everything as its own language that opens me up to a distinct point of view.
Taking flight from your line, “The danger awaits over there,…” from your She’s Dying: Episode 2 of How to Get Away with Murder, we ask, what are the dangers to avoid with all that’s going on around us in this country and around the world?
Falling into dualistic thinking, taking on polarized views—them against us, us against them, and the distractions that keep us in a state of (collective) denial. Denial doesn’t make for truth, for accountability, for a more responsible citizenry.
We become too invested in believing that the emperor has clothes on, in the narrative that reinforces how good we look, we are made into narcissists, chasing waterfalls and tail, after tale.
She’s Dying: Episode 2 of How to Get Away With Murder
To see Annalise on the screen it all becomes less pornographic. Her color so rich you want to plant something in it. Tend to it so it grows. You are in a constant relationship, sustained by the impulse, the desire, and the willingness to put your hands to use. Sometimes go as far as to bring your nose to just inches and breathe and breathe and put it to your tongue and put your back into it and make the fruit and the fruit is kissing a woman. Annalise says to love her was too real. She got natural with it. The next day on her porch, wig gone, instead, some black headscarf, reminding you of an old pair of stockings, repurposed. You can’t shake the fear of visibility. How seeing her kiss her goodbye in the morning daylight, you wait for the mob to come for Annalise. That danger waits over there, from maybe that neighbor, that Annalise is not safe. That this is another time and an elephant is in the state. Then you see a down-home place in her glow, the know-how of deep pleasure, a network of roots and serpents that makes Annalise a redwood, and not just a bone.
What are the myths we can’t shake off or break free from in today’s modern world? The one of the hero, the savior, that someone bigger, holier, whiter, male, richer will make your life the better. As a result, we make ourselves victims; we make ourselves passive. It is then the responsibility of someone/something outside of ourselves to activate who we are. We labor in such myths as money, race, gender, experiencing ourselves in divided ways, we then become conquerable, corruptible. Even when we think we’re doing something new, believe we’ve made it, we are often fulfilling the myth-making of the empire, spinning or replacing the same cogs in the machine and calling it progress.
“I’m sorry to have ruined any crops/that may have fed us….” A bit of background story on what made you write this poem? I was recovering from the ending of a significant intimate partnership and I reached that point in grief, in heartbreak, where I recognized the role I played in its failure. I saw how past experiences continued to define my present behaviors, and my hunger was for something that no romance could sate. There’s that devastation in realizing that there is no one else to blame, but yourself. And so, your victim consciousness becomes so apparent. How then do you love? When I wrote this poem, I was at Port Townsend’s Writer Conference in Washington, where Alexander’s Castle is located. I deeply empathized with John Alexander. The way we build, real and imagined, edifices to mark it in memory. There is so much “it” we hold on to: love, promises broken, the pain that another’s path diverged from your own, from what you thought expected. And so now, after the thing has been built, you will be reconsidering the journey you’re on.
by Arisa White
Countries away from his bride-to-be, he built a home on a hill, went back, and she already married.
He tailored his hurt into a shop, a man’s fine-cut suit—they wore the seams we couldn’t stitch for ourselves.
What comes from threading tears: needles rust to the color of your eyes. Missing you becomes a button.
Each morning, the morning I left you. The guilt is a murmuration in my chest. I resent you for this love you’ve found.
It surprised me like bougainvillea on a dull day and I see all that is woman and wound in me. These stamen
without your pockets are vagrant. I beg for your arms, for the confidence of your slacks. When we undressed
and ran in the farmer’s field, we were as promising as shoots, breaking dark and shells that held us safe.
I knew little of my yoke then, took on my father’s shape, made absence
where a bridge could have gone, where a jacket could have hung, the hooks still gesture, come.
I built our home on a desire for you to father me, to begin again on his shoulders, a life that ended at three.
We stood tall as the highrise in the distance, towering over Brooklyn. We watched waters that later severed our relationship.
I’m sorry to have ruined any crops that may have fed us. The girl I am is haunting and drowns to feel.
Every day is a good day when… I find ways to define my life not based on default settings. The meaning of a well lived life is always …. It is the “always” in this statement that makes me pause. I believe there isn’t an “always” and so what makes the meaning of a well-lived life is knowing this. Tomorrow means…