Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — jayy dodd

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

There is an unfortunate amount of arrogance in poetry, usually distributed among the most mediocre of writers. Writers whose voices & canons are brutal, concrete, lasting, though constantly decaying. There is an elitism that fosters performative rigor but also stalls the motivation to innovate from new & unheard voices. While I don’t suggest innocuously taking such a privileged approach to poetry, there should be a level of infallibility that you should feel when you create. The best advice for poetry I ever received (by a white cis straight man no less) was “write every poem as if you are a demigod, you can manifest anything as real but still can face some mortal consequence”. The infallibility of your work should be in it’s truth to you, yet we as the poets, the demigods creating but also know our work may die, may kill, may destroy, may take a whole life of its own. We can only approach our poems like bringing lives into this world — living, breathing, & hopefully undying things. Consider how much labor a poem takes out of you. If your poem born of you can’t do a work outside of your body, reconsider your power.

In tandem with productive arrogance, my best advice for anyone entering the literary realm is to lean into the naïve. If you see an opportunity, attempt. Be “unqualified” for a job. Be “not distinguished” enough for an award. Be “not published enough” for a chapbook contest. Take your insecurities in stride. Don’t just submit to submit. But figure out where you want your work to be read. Figure out the spaces you want to be in. Recognition (beyond the unquestionable social capital) is figuring out your pocket, your spot & being best your possible in it. Acclaim doesn’t make you better, setting goals & focus does.

Is there anything in your work that people frequently misunderstand?

Misunderstand is a big word because I think (the body) in my work an attempt at illusion constantly. I like the idea of linguistic illusions. A work that can shift in different lights, from different readers, most often for my own protection. For example, often my poems about racial subjugation or gendered violence are read as highly erotic & intimate. Pleasure is paramount in my work. So I attempt to displace the intensity of any occurrence with an equally flesh sensation. I don’t need to make the reader hurt the way I did, but want to have to exhale the same breath I did. Counter-actively, I sometimes bury the violence into these seemingly logical abstractions. Or somehow a poem about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade & having to write poems in English becomes this artistic statement about the violence & pleasure of poetry. Which isn’t wrong, but now I don’t have to hear “certain” people discuss slavery but still here the body in the poem.

Rainbows are optical illusions & because every person’s eyes take in light differently, every single person sees their own rainbow, even if sitting side by side. That’s how I want my poems to work. If you miss a color or can’t see it maybe you misunderstood correctly.

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

That shit is so scary to me. I’ve never had the desire to write something in which I, personally don’t have stakes. Especially for poetry, I don’t understand the call for reaching outside of your self or your experiences as an entry point. I think there has to be an unpacking of why “identity” feels like parameters for some & not an expanse. If I consider Blackness, or Queerness, or Trans-ness, Poor-ness, etc: they all are critical entry points of my voice. I think if a poem or collection is read through any ONE of of those identities, there is still going to be all the others, so why seek out another’s reality to tell. All of my work is already full of history, conversation, needs. I guess because my identity isn’t in a silo, I don’t see anything as outside of it. If anything my writing is a way to identify myself to the outside. Lastly, if you feel you have to write “outside your identity” either you don’t know enough of who you are or you have so little in you, you probably shouldn’t be writing poetry.


jayy dodd is a blxk question mark from los angeles, californiañ now based on the internet. they are a professional writer & literary editor. their work has appeared / will appear in Broadly, The Establishment, BOAAT Press, Duende, Winter Tangerine, Guernica, & Nashville Review among others. theyíre the author of [sugar in the tank] (Pizza Pi Press 2016) & Mannish Tongues (Platypus Press 2017). their collection The Black Condition ft. Narcissus is forthcoming on Siren Song / CCM Press. they are a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-editor of Bettering American Poetry & a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow. their work has been featured in Teen Vogue & Entropy. find them talking trash online or taking a selfie.


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.