Kofi is interviewed here by the publisher, long-distance, some months ago, during the height of the pandemic and under the previous administration (to which you will see reference). We hope you enjoy this peek into the artist’s process.
How has the pandemic affected your work as a writer? What do you miss most, about your writing life before COVID?
There was a period of concern surrounding my thoughts, due to the devastation caused by the global pandemic. The stories about close friends, and family members who loss love ones, and or contracted COVID-19, began to mount with each passing week. Although, the global pandemic halted majority of things we deem as normal, I don’t think I have missed one specific aspect of my writing life prior to COVID-19. But, I believe the pandemic made me reconsider my approach to writing, and how I enter my work.
Whose work most inspired your approach to structure, in your chapbook poems?
Writers, and poets such as Nasir Jones, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Randall Horton, and Major Jackson, have inspired my approach to structure, and finding a balance with my voice. While working on my MFA degree I began to explore their writing, and I noticed how each writer had a unique approach to craft their syntax, and how it distinguished their voices.
In “light years, at bay,” you conclude, “there is an art / in poetry and assembling the gods.” Can you talk about the relationship, for you, between spiritual and artistic development?
I believe the relationship between spiritual, and artistic development isn’t a singular relationship. The line in light years, at bay is a metaphor of one’s process of understanding the creation of art, and how it correlates with a spiritual act, because when both are observed from a critical perspective, it can be perceived as a common ground for the artist.
Was poetry your first creative outlet? What other arts do you practice?
I would like to believe that creative nonfiction, and fiction writing was my first creative outlets. I have worked on a series of non-fiction, and fiction projects that have been calling my name as of late.
Is the music of a poem what first inhabits you, or do your poems grow from ideas, or emotion, before finding their music?
There’s music within everything that we do as human beings. I don’t purposely attempt to configure my writing in patterns, but more so interject the writing with a chord that balances the poem’s rhythmic tone. For example in Tidal Wave, the music is embedded in the syntax, and offers a tempo that resembles a lyrical tone.
How does living on an island influence your writing?
I didn’t understand the severity of living on an Island until; I became concerned with my writing. When I worked in Manhattan, and the Bronx, I would take the ferry to travel to work. During those commutes I would board the Staten Island ferry, and was able to observe how commuting off the island, which could be rigorous, was apart of a routine for the working class.
Also, being apart of a voice of community of writers in Staten Island, I began to understand each voice plays a significant role in confronting issues in our communities such as politics, environment, social, and racial issues.
What was the last book you read that really shook you?
Staten Island Stories by Claire Jimenez. The short story collection is an honest depiction of life in Staten Island, and how politics, and race relations divide the community. It’s refreshing to read a story that conveys what our community endured during pivotal moments such as hurricane Sandy, the infamous NYC blackout, when the ferry crashed. Most of these stories are probably foreign to those who live outside of the parameters of Staten Island, or New York City, but it encapsulates the horrific beauty of an island on the fringe of a revolt.
If you could sit for an afternoon with one revered writer, talking about anything at all, who would it be and what would you discuss?
It would be James Baldwin, and Amiri Barka. Both writers were dynamic, and trailblazers. I would want to discuss how the writers were able to address issues that concern their communities, and be able to forge space to craft stories that addressed concerns outside of their communities.
If you could rewire the literary enterprise, as it exists today, to better represent and lift up writers of color, what three things would you begin with?
I’m not sure how I would rewire an industry that operates in a manner where it financially benefits those who are in position of power, rather than the writers who produce the work. But, equal compensation should be a starting point. If a writer dares to bare their soul, or confront issues that are prevalent in their community, and society, I would think writers who identify as colored deserve the compensation that justifies their art. In my personal opinion, there’s only so much a writer can take on the chin. Writers need to be paid adequately.
Does the ongoing visibility of BLM demonstrations affect your energy for writing? Do you feel any uplift from it, any balance to the emotional erosion of living under the current administration’s overtly racist regime, and legacy white supremacy of this country?
When I think of the current global up-rise that places black and brown people in the epicenter of a revolution, I think about the civil rights movement, black panther party, black arts movement, and how each organization/movement played a significant role in uplifting writers and artists. As to my feelings or awareness about BLM, I think it has stirred up question that power structures didn’t want to confront. So, yes BLM voice and presences is needed during the global pandemic, and civil unrest.
What is the most essential nourishment for your creativity?
Time, and distance seems to be the most useful approach to inspire my writing. Through this act, it allows me to see things from multiple perspectives. When I first began writing, I had built the habit of writing throughout the day, and sometimes nights. It stifled my writing, because I was living within my writing instead of enjoying the process of finding/reestablishing what drives my writing.
What writing projects are you working on these days?
I’m flickering back and forth between a personal essay I have been avoiding for some time, and a fiction short story that may need a few drafts of revisions, or perhaps a different set of eyes.
Although, these writing projects have kept me busy; the beginning of the pandemic I found myself compelled to work on an essay that dissects prevalent issues in inner city communities, but I believe the other two writing projects are closer to seeing the light of publishing.
Photo by Christine Cruz, courtesy of the poet