Religion and faith play a major role in several of these poems. How do you go about approaching this kind of subject matter?
In thinking of answering this question, I cannot help but hear the old clichéd quote that writes hear when they first start out: Write what you know. When I started writing – or rather, when I decided that the only way to survive was to write – I knew a lot of sadness and I knew a lot of death. I knew the Bible only because I grew up around the Church, but I also knew that I loved to tell stories, so I had from the Bible this deep well of stories that I could use to try and comprehend what I was unable to comprehend. I suspect it is no different than writers turning again and again to classical mythology (of course, too, a religion) to tell these stories.
I know you just went on a book tour. Did anything (or anyone) surprise you during those readings?
I found that I wasn’t exactly ready to talk about my work yet. I wasn’t ready for people to take my words away and formulate their own opinion about them. The thing with reading from a manuscript is that I could control the impression the audience made about my work to a certain extent. Because they only have the poems you show them and the words in the air. Whereas reading from a book, yes, still I can “control” what the audience hears, but I cannot control the poems they’ll read in their homes, that I’ll never read aloud, and the conclusions made.
Too, when the book was going through its metamorphosis from manuscript to book, I found out that it was being listed as inspirational and religious on sites like Amazon. Going back to my Greek mythology references, books using those references wouldn’t be cross-referenced as Greek Myth or Religious reference texts, but because my book was titled How God Ends Us, and because I call it a conversation with God, it got listed as such. I was extremely uncomfortable with this, and even asked for it to be removed.
On the tour though, when I was traveling and reading with Raina J. Leon whose book Canticle of Idols really stretches this idea of God in flesh and puts emphasis on the Virgin birth of Jesus (among other things, I am largely generalizing to make a point), I realized that I do – at times – approach this Creator God in a more reverent and awe-full tone, and next to texts like hers, maybe it is inspirational in a way and religious, or at least religious-contemplative or rooted in reverence – even in this idea of contemplating death and things that don’t prosper. Even when considering the hard stuff.
You’ve said before that Kwame Dawes was a real mentor during the process of making this book. Are there any other writers that touched theses words?
Some of the poems were written – in truth, a large portion – during my time as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, I studied History, but used my elective courses to take English and Creative Writing courses. I studied with Thorpe Moeckel and Michael Chitwood. But it was outside of the classroom that I found the biggest and most important support base. I met Raina J. Leon in 2004. She then introduced me to this collective of black writers: the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, founded by Lenard D. Moore. Many poems went through the collectives’ hands and were then encouraged to be sent out into the world. Also, through my friendship with Raina, I was introduced to this larger collective of black writers – Cave Canem. Even before I was a fellow (now graduated through the three summers), I became friends with poets Aracelis Girmay and Remica Bingham who became vital readers and cheerleaders of the early stages of the book and through the whole process.
Other important people who helped in their own way are: Randall Kenan, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Myronn Hardy, Mitchell L.H. Douglas and Lauren Alleyne.