Over the summer, Andy Fitch interviewed 60 poets about their latest books. Ugly Duckling Presse will publish these collected interviews in 2013. This interview focuses on Williams’ book Howell (Atelos). Recorded August 21st. Transcribed by Maia Spots.
Andy Fitch: Normally I’d start with more general questions, but I last interviewed Evie Shockley, and we discussed the complicated legacy of Black Arts Movement poetics—how BAM seems quite generative yet also quite constrictive in its impact upon subsequent writers. And I remember, in the past, you citing BAM’s personal importance. As a poet suspicious of stable identity formations, of instrumental language, your career could seem antithetical to what BAM advocates. But have you found space for your work under the BAM umbrella, and can you describe this space? Can you trace a perhaps convoluted trajectory in which BAM’s liberatory struggles help to produce your own liberatory aesthetic practice?
Tyrone Williams: Absolutely. I began taking myself seriously as a poet during high school, the early ‘70s, in the middle of BAM (depending how you cite the movement’s historical trajectory). Again, this is high school, so I thought of myself primarily as writing love poetry, occasionally some political poetry. I remember trying to address what seemed an absence in both fields. I admired what I saw from BAM, to the extent that I knew about it, but conceived of myself as trying to complete this other project, defined by traditional love poetry. Then as I went to college and beyond, reading and thinking more about BAM, I began to sense its contradictions, its gaps, how I could contribute in my own way. I didn’t have to restrict myself to one tiny sector of romantic poetry based on the faulty premise that BAM already took care of all social and political and economic issues. Some of these same problems needed to be addressed from a different angle. And I still see myself as operating (though you’re right that much of my work could seem antithetical to certain reductive formations around identity politics and so forth), as following in the wake of BAM and with BAM’s spirit—trying to create new spaces for African-American culture and people, not just in terms of a popularized embrace of African-American music or whatever, but every aspect of what it means to be black in this country.