Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 – Joey De Jesus

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about? Who would you love to collaborate with?Cover of the book "Witch Wife," with an etching of a hand.

Today, I am reading a deerskin’s underside, tracing my fingernail along derma until it teaches me something of fresh shoots and panting. I’m pawing dust bunnies around the base of my altar thinking, Death was this gift from my father. I fan air with three feathers, noting how they cleave spirit river. I train myself in reading the unreadily perceived but today, I am reading Witch Wife and Eleonora Fabiao’s short essay, “The Archive of Everything that Exists in the World,” on Arthur Bispo do Rosário’s assemblages, drawing inspiration for laser-etched poems on leather scrolls. I want to conjure until reality shakes, to open portals scribing a single line. I wonder about the imperative to archive it all before end-time—Ferdinand Krivet’s rota-poems and John Furnival’s “Tower of Babel”—death, too, has been colonized.

I am currently reading Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, and am thinking of poems as agentic object imbued with various potencies (spectral, psychic, cemi) in the context of Eduard Glissant’s Poetics of Relations. My personal reading list thus far this year includes Kazim Ali’s Silver Road, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: philosophy and ecology after the end of the world, essays from Karin Schneider and Begum Yasar’s Situational Diagram, Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, The Picatrix, and Alexandra Vazquez’s Listening in Detail, because of all the formal classes I’ve taken in my life, her course in Migrancy and Performance was of my favorites.

I want to collaborate with anyone interested in helping me build immersive virtual environments.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?
Image of the cover of Apogee Journal Issue 09, a light blue book with a chalkboard in the center, repeating the line "The last immigrant is in captivity the galaxy is at peace."

The first collections that come to mind are Leila Ortiz’s chapbook Girl Life, manuel arturo abreu’s Transtrender (which I guess came out it 2016), Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s No Comet, that Serpent in the Sky Means Noise, Juliana Huxtable’s Mucus in my Pineal Gland etc… I absolutely love Ernestine Hayes’ poem, “The Old Woman Standing” in Apogee’s folio “#NoDAPL #StillHere Native and Anti-Colonial Craft against Dispossession,” 최 Lindsay’s work from “Cartesian Products,” Suzi Garcia’s “The war is over if you want it to be,” and many other Apogee contributors. I suggest ordering your copies of Apogee Journal Issues 09 and 10, for a sense of the poems I enjoy.

What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too “intense” or “upsetting?”

How fortunate for you
foreclosing the gate
of dririmancy to impose
upon your shadows
a fixed regime of silence.  

Because this very life
is crafted of bloody matter,
how can you claim to love
poetry if you out here
refusing to read it?

Is there anything in your work that people frequently misunderstand?

I can’t imagine that I have that wide a live readership, considering my audience waits in the avenir and the disdain most poets seem to feel for me—many of whom are in this very anthology. If my reader misunderstands my poems, it is because I misunderstand my poems. I reread my poems countless times and on special occasions they teach or tell me something new or different. Over time, they grow, they change, and therefore, I could never chastise my reader for “not getting it.” Over the years, the poems come into conversation with others in new ways, sometimes they want to exchange moments, or say different things, sometimes they listen to their readers and grow into something unrecognizable. Then I listen. I can only sharpen the spirit ballista, and take aim at a star. So I rearrange them, decouple the couplets, rewrite, remix, rethread, write poems out of them anew like an excised cancer growing in a vial, etc… I organize a full-length and break the family apart. Reorganizing the poems draws autonomy out of them respectively, announcing it as such. My poems cannot wait for me to die.

How do you feel about recent conversations about “literary success,” prize culture, personal brands, and the Idea of “poetry business?” What are the best ways to support poets and poetry?

The shadows have grown tired of settling for visibility and more interested in seeding the idea of seizing cultural authority.

I’ve grown tired of shouting over, up, and down, and have found happiness divesting from literary community at-large in favor of lifting up and being lifted by my immediate community of queer bbs.

They will never attend AWP because it has not earned the body’s coin.

They will not tolerate apologia for destructiveness.

They’ll not network just to work this name across the net.

They won’t consider poems from The Paris Review or The New Yorker anything other than a metric of normativity and whiteness. They refuse to spiderwalk across the ceiling, head-spinning, just to prove magic to any mortal gatekeeper.

Get in line.

I think it absurd that some poets win hundreds of thousands of dollars and ridiculous awards for poetry and people applaud as if the commodification of poetry and reification of prestige form some idols to worship. The young still benefit from old inequities in publishing and we cannot sleep on this fact if we are to recast the future.

Because I am tired of how readily poets activate and adapt the rhetoric of being in community, without sensitively reflecting on the implications of their words. If you have access to a large platform, don’t just hit me up to perform my grief following massacres and hurricanes. Don’t tell me we are in community when we have never met, and I have no idea if our politics align. I just find it so off, odd, how poets refrain from unlocking their potency when they engaging each other.

But then there are other entities~ This was why I joined Apogee, to seek them out. Muriel Leung, Alexandra Watson, Safia Jama, Leila Ortiz and Zef Lisowki have become confidantes of shared essences. I love the writers. I got to meet Soraya Shalforoosh’s family once, and showcase Wendy Chin-Tanner’s poem, which once made my associate’s degree student cry. She wrote about an essay about it. So there are magical forces, and if poetry is to unite the world, as the poets cry out for, then we need to celebrate learning the beyond limits of demystification. But there are other important intellectual people in my life, my friends. I think of Sylvia Morse and Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City, RAGGA family, Chris Udemezue stepping up to organize family, Shanekia McIntosh programming in the Hudson Library, the boos, my boo Mya Green in the desert out west~ Lirael O’Neill, Magical JJ. I feel like I am surrounded by people who inspire me all the time. Vessels of life-affirming potency, I believe in magic. So I shake off poetry-world nonsense, because that dream is coming to an end. Poetry, like karma, must undergo a radical revolution from ritual to way of being if it is to spirit the world in benignity. The future is awake to the illusion.

If we are to break this diabolical eschaton, and steer fate from the plane of consistency, we are going to have to all do better. Poetry offers the way by which to save this planet from soon-looking like Mars. We need to celebrate a guidance counsellor motivating life toward healthy change as poetry. Busta Rhymes is maybe the greatest living poet, but this conversation cannot be contained by literary this or that, and doesn’t map out in the illogic of literary merit. We stifle in spiral toward doom like a storm set on its course of damage. A literal teleology.

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

Recuperating the future through imagination radically demands.

Break oppressive apparatuses into which you would otherwise emerge. To do this, you must first bend its chronometric regime.

Imagine the traces of your life, each living lives of their own since you. They retain and accumulate more than the power you give them. Let them go.

Tomorrow is not promised.

What would you like to see change in the literary world, or how would you “Better” American poetry? Can American poetry be “bettered?”

I would offer, Bettering American Poetry because it’s past-time to un-America into paradise. Where would America be if it never declared independence from the British? Healthcare for all, look at fucking Canada. It’s all a fucking lie on stolen land and the wealthy have it all. Our education is a global joke, the prison-industrial complex is an atrocious shame—biopolitics bureaucratize into flip murder. The people of Puerto Rico endure humanitarian crisis because the global community won’t act against the United States, who limit Puerto Rico’s recovery options. I see the award-winning, and think, I am tired of this level. What are you going to do now that you’ve won? Recede into shadow? Publish your umpteenth book? Where is the exit to the next level? And what zone boss might have to be beat with your one-hit magic? I think we need to decouple poetry from any semblance of nationalism and I think we need to seize authority, and that poets have power across this country, but literary culture establishes a paradigm of prestige and valorizes the personal amassment of publications, which foresaw and perpetuates the rise of Trump.

Why aren’t any of these majorly famous poets running for office? Is academia really where a poet wants to spend their entire career navigating? Why are so few poets directly engaging the political sphere? Why aren’t literary presses or organizations? I just see so many poets out here branding themselves, and presses branding their books, and sometimes I wonder to what end? The planet is overheating and overpopulating toward doom, so I just don’t understand this large-scale reticence to mobilize or be overt in action.

Do you find the literary landscape in America to be different from other places? What do you think is missing from American poetry? Has the concept of “American poetry” changed for you following the rise of public “America First” rhetoric?

American poetry foregrounded America First rhetoric. The concept of “American poetry” has not changed for me since Best American Poetry 2005, edited by Paul Muldoon.

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

Identity is one of those words. I think that identity has to be liberated from neoliberalism. Post-Enlightenment ideology that situates the individual at the center of the universe, commits us to diabolical fate. I believe bodies are a matter of relations: poems, things, kinships, poisons, the faced, the faceless—extant across space and time. So I read yours as a question of interiority and exteriority; which I don’t have an answer for, but every poet imbues specific potencies into poems—in their writing or performance. Where that potency comes from? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out the specificities of that membrane. I’m more interested in thinking of instrumentality. An instrument’s being is determined by its usage: a saxophone is just twisted metal if you don’t know how to play it. What spectral forces play me and from what forces am I protected? People name identities into infinite possibilities—I’m more curious about the -entities in identities.

Do you think literature can influence social change, or reflect it? Or both? Are there any past or contemporary social movements that have affected your poetry? Can poetry be activism?

I think activism is poetry because poetry is everything. Heidegger names poetry the ancestor of psychoanalysis and “worlding,” making a world over what is to be assumed uninscribed earth. Gayatri Spivak translates these terms, reading them in the colonial paradigm. She and many scholars of her work write of that which is earthed as spectral content. So what might poetry offer? I read Muriel’s Bone Confetti and read into the world ghostly matter. I read that work in direct relation to worlds built, built-over and destroyed. Those forces conjured in me from that book reflects and inflects the world as I see and pass through it.

How does performance fit into your writing?

“Liberation” is a section in “NOCT: The Threshold of Madness”, which is a long poem erased from a popular “how-to” book in black magic. In it, I isolate rhetoric which syncretizes anti-blackness to the demonic and construct encoded symbols out of arrangements of the words on the page. The work reads as an 18-page series of poems chronicling identity damage through radically assimilating found text. A visual projection of the 200+ pages of source material accompanies the performance; through MaxMSP, I control the brightness of the video with the pitch and volume of my voice. I augment my voice using a TC-helicon, loop pedals and a mixer. I’d like to create a literal cosmology of the erasures by constructing a virtual planetarium.

I think of performance as potentially disruptive of the propriety conventional reading spaces enforce. It draws forth the implications of couching one’s presence behind a podium, and extends poetic potency as form and formlessness across matter. If the reading embodies or imbues the work with potency, why deliver content in monotonous or sterilized form? Because the norm demands it? Not I. I think of the radio, the internet, the sand, the bedside reading, the passenger seat, the whispering ecology.


A black and white author photo of Joey De Jesus, a person with dark hair pulled back in a bun with dark eyes and slight mustache, wearing a leather jacket, holding a smart phone, sitting at a table in a space with a high ceiling with an array of hanging lamps, exposed pipes, and a large cut-out of a flying horse and on the wall.Joey De Jesus is a 3000-yr old manticore with a dark agenda and a glamouring amulet that is slowly losing its luster. Gender? An open portal for unclaimed souls. Spirits so powerful, that despite the fact that Joey is a phantom plethora, you can still glimpse Joey whispering to your shadows as they betray to them your secrets. Joey is also a recipient of the 2017 NYFA/NYSCA Fellowship in Poetry.


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.