DOGBYTES Interview: t’ai freedom ford

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t’ai freedom ford is a New York City high school English teacher and Cave Canem Fellow. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, No, Dear, The African American Review, Vinyl, Muzzle, RHINO, Poetry and others. In 2012 and 2013, she completed two multi-city tours as a part of a queer women of color literary salon, The Revival. Winner of the 2015 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize, her first poetry collection, how to get over, is available from Red Hen Press. t’ai lives and loves in Brooklyn where she is a co-editor at No, Dear MagazineSee t’ai freedom ford read new work alongside Cheryl Boyce-Taylor and Cortney Lamar Charleston on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, 6:30pm at Cave Canem.


Your debut poetry collection is titled how to get over. What does “getting over” mean to you?

For me, getting over has a lot to with survival. In a country where the survival of Black folk was/is not always guaranteed, I feel like the beautiful and resilient ways in which we have all survived is how we get over. And this idea of ‘getting over’ ain’t a new concept in the Black community, right? Cause many of us ain’t ever have nothing worth having, we were forever looking for a come-up or a hook-up that wasn’t a set-up. So, getting over is about surviving, living, thriving in the face of so-called white supremacy.

What have you learned about writing from being a teacher?

It’s very hard to say because I view them so discretely. I sat and thought about it for a while. I really can’t say.

What can poets do to promote social justice?

Is that really the responsibility of poets these days? hmm…Write. Write honestly. By which I mean, tell YOUR own truth. Cause for me, social justice is about a lot of small movements and poems have the power to make those small moves aggregate into some more powerful.

Name one of your influences outside of literature or art.

Isn’t everything art or literature? I really dig Arthur Jafa’s film work. And dancers/choreographers like Camille A. Brown and Kyle Abraham often inspire me to think in other vocabularies.

What’s something you tried recently for the first time?

Forgiveness. Relinquishing control. Bison burgers.

When you’re not reading, writing, or teaching, how do you spend your time, energy, and money?

I’m obsessed with food and watching food competition shows like Chopped and Top Chef. I also love cooking, entertaining and throwing dinner parties. (I’m low-key a hood Martha Stewart).

What’s something that as a child, you assumed would have changed by now, yet hasn’t; what’s something you assumed wouldn’t have changed, yet has?

I guess like why is RACE still an issue. You would think we would’ve evolved beyond this by now.

But then, I never expected that queer folks would be able to marry. That so many folks would have the opportunity to be themselves via gender transitions. That so many folks would see themselves as gender-fluid or genderqueer.

What advice would you give to emerging poets?

Read everything. Write what moves YOU.

What years were you at the Cave Canem retreat? What are a few of your favorite memories from those times?

I was at CC consecutively from 2011-2013. This is an odd favorite moment…I guess, more memorable than anything, and that’s when avery r. young did this piece about Emmett Till during the fellows reading and we legit had to stop for like 15 minutes while folks composed themselves…I guess that’s that power in them poems that I’m talking about. A truly favorite moment of mine is beating Terrance Hayes in scrabble.

Kyla Marshell’s work has appeared in Blackbird, Calyx, ESPNw, Gawker, The Guardian, O, the Oprah Magazine, and on the Poetry Foundation. Her work has earned her Cave Canem and Jacob K. Javits fellowships, two residencies to the Vermont Studio Center, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. In 2013, named her one of “7 Young Black Writers You Should Know.” A Spelman College graduate originally from Boston, she grew up in Silver Spring, MD, Morehead, KY, and Portland, ME, and now lives in New York. To view Kyla’s previous interviews, visit the DOGBYTES blog.