Voices of Bettering American Poetry 2015 — Terrell Jamal Terry

Do you feel that your writing is necessarily assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption?

I use the first person quite frequently. I would also subscribe to the notion that at this stage in my development I have primarily used the lyric mode of expression. I chose this for the immediacy of sound and emotion. The majority of the poems that I’ve made imply that someone has experienced/witnessed something and because of this they are psychically transformed. There is no safety in biography. To be completely honest, I would be satisfied if the reader was unsure who was speaking. Then we’d be on equal footing; being that I myself remain mostly unknown when I am making poems. Poetry is a slow revelation for the poet and reader. However, one would be far from wrong to assume that I am relaying observations about my experience. I’m simply more interested in the process of creating art, rather than transcribing personal facts.

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

POC, women, and the LGBT community are obviously marginalized in the literary world. However, this crude and very real fact has limited power because it cannot change that I was invited to poetry by poems. Why I write, the purpose behind my spiritual investment have nothing to do with these things. I am intrigued by various modes of poetic expression. The politics of my poetry is the act of making the poems in my own nature. Voices have risen to call out gatekeepers and such. Shame tactics are necessarily exposed. I believe at this moment we are more free to create and have our works published as we wish. From what I know, most people don’t see the value of poetry, and can’t fathom a relationship with this art, however intriguing it may be to some.

This is indeed why I feel it is so very critical that a myriad of voices and perspectives be represented in a variety of publications and venues. Lest the poetry world be deemed uninformed, reaching out to no one.

All of the best advice/criticism that I’ve received have commented on the poems, irrespective of my cultural identity and lifestyle preferences.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

Anaïs Duplan.


Terrell Jamal TerryTERRELL JAMAL TERRY’S poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Gargoyle, Green Mountains Review, Washington Square Review, West Branch, cream city review, Columbia Poetry Review, and elsewhere.


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.