Voices of Bettering American Poetry 2015 — Bhanu Kapil

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter?


What poets do you identify with, or feel you are grouped with by editors, readers, conference organizers, or educators? What misconceptions do you see about these groupings of poets? Do you feel these groupings can be useful, can be potentially marginalizing or disenfranchising, or can be both?

I have been grouped with experimental writers, white experimental poets mostly, and am trying to ungroup myself—following a crushing year of ostracism and retaliation of various kinds and sorts, after “speaking up” about racism and appropriation in the poetry community. I am still trying to figure out how to make my experience explicit. For now, my first step has been: to de-link. And to orient to writers for whom the experiment is: to live. I identify with poets for whom somatic writing is a political category.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  1. In what sense is creative writing a form of cultural and institutional revenge?
  2. Take pristine care of your blood.
  3. Every day, orient to joy and pleasure.  How?
  4. Scrub your arms up to the elbow with salt then rinse them in cold water.
  5. Change your clothes and shower when you get home, even if you are tired.
  6. Let nettle and oatstraw steep in a mason jar and drink the resulting infusion.
  7. Chelate long-held, chronic trauma, anxiety and fear.  It’s time.*  I love you.  *How?
  8. Remove yourself from situations that cause you distress.  How?
  9. Spend time with your beloveds. Who are your beloveds?
  10. Drink hot water in the morning.
  11. Write anyway.
  12. Write until you reach the edge of something, whether it’s the world, the community you live in, or your skin.


Bhanu KapilBHANU KAPIL has written through the cyborg, the monster, the humanimal—and other forms. Her most recent works comprise a diptych: Schizophrene and Ban en Banlieueboth from Nightboat Books.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry 2015. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for the anthology. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.