Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Anaïs  Duplan

What’s the earliest experience, or a stand-out experience, you can remember that made you realize that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you? Has this been difficult for you?

This has been immensely difficult for me. Only until recently, maybe just in the past six months here, have I learned how to write as myself. What an amazing thing to do! I think that writing is imperative for me because of its ability to act as a mirror. It’s not a mirror that tells you anything you’re not ready to know, but when you’re ready to know it, you discover your poetry knew it all along. That’s the wisdom of being a writer, it’s always just slightly out of reach and something else better than wisdom prevails. Anyway, a moment that really elucidated all this to me was the experience of sitting on the subway and realizing that everyone else on the train was also a human and that, as a human myself, I shouldn’t be afraid of any of the other humans. I like to think that I get better all of the time at learning how to be myself and I also like to think that that impacts the kind of writing that I’m doing. The more without fear I am, the more honest my poetry and prose. And the more honest my prose, the closer we come to contact.

Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?

My poems are like surrealist memoirs. Like I’m recalling scenes of my childhood but interpreted through dream and deconstructed into parts and assembled somehow back again. For me, the truth is not interesting. I like frameworks and models of reality and thinking about poems as parallel universes to ours, where reality unfolds almost like it does for us here on earth, but just slightly differently. In poems, it’s possible to be all the multiple genders all at once. I do think people interpret my poems to be autobiographical nonetheless, which I’m more than okay with.

How do you feel about the ongoing debates concerning “writing outside of your identity?”

It makes me wonder whether anything can truly be outside your identity.

VIDA has recently expanded their annual count to include race, LGBTQ+ identity, and ability, using self-identification surveys to collect some of this data. What are your feelings toward self-identification in author bios? Do you feel editors and readers approach your work through a lens that you don’t control?

Yes, but I’ve always felt that way.

Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them?


Anaïs Duplan was born in Jacmel Haiti. He is the author of Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) and Mount Carmel and the Blood of Parnassus (Monster House Press, 2017). His poems and essays have appeared in/on the Academy of American Poets, PBS News Hour, Hyperallergic, and other publications.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. 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 these anthologies. 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.