Hooligan Mag Issue #31

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GROWING CONCERNS POETRY COLLECTIVE

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EDITOR IN CHIEF MORGAN MARTINEZ

MANAGING EDITOR RIVKA YEKER

ASSOCIATE EDITOR ROSIE ACCOLA

TEAM SPECIAL THANKS J Sath, Christiana Torres, Charia Rose, Lille Allen, Cookie Kendle, Mariela Gavino, Sharah “Georgia” Hutson, Kelly Park, Nina Raj, Erika Rodriguez, & CARINA SHERMAN. MAYA IMAN, EBONY OLDHAM,

Mykele Deville, McKenzie Chinn, Jeffrey Michael Austin, DAVON CLARK, ALEXUS MCLANE, NATE MARSHALL, LILY C. ROUSSEL,


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HM // 031 HM // 031 HM // 031



We started a new creative agency called Hooligan Creatives. We specialize in sustainable, lasting brand-building rooted in ethical and thoughtful foundations. Our clients are predominantly artists, creatives, healers and movement-builders. We believe in collective liberation and the power of authentic branding to support clients in actualizing their visions. Below are services that we offer:

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Brand + Visual Identity ( Logo )

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Social Media Management

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Website Design

Interested in expanding your organization, platform and/or business with strong, engaging visual and brand identity? Contact Rivka Yeker and J Sath at: RIVKA@HOOLIGANMAGAZINE.COM J@HOOLIGANMAGAZINE.COM


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the F in Feminist must be italicized as an ode to Black feminism as a multi-sensory and felt experience.

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Black Feminist Kitchen

// WRITTEN BY SHARAH HUTSON // PHOTOGRAPHED BY MAYA IMAN

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A Conversation with Ebony Oldham


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The BFSS is dedicated to building a political education, collective consciousness, and community with other folks and within this space, everyone is able to learn together and through being in relationship to each other. Black feminism does not wholly reside within the academy.

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Ebony Oldham (they/she), founder and curator of The Black Feminist Kitchen, explains to me, “The Black Feminist Kitchen is a small gift to the world in honor of my late grandmother Patsy J. Lee, who tended to the kitchen and tended to me, fed lifeworlds, worked at Black intimacy, livelihood and ushered me toward Black feminism.” To Oldham, the F in Feminist must be italicized as “an ode to Black feminism as a multi-sensory and felt experience.” I felt the strength of Black feminism and Black feminists around me before I found a home within the language. Also, it’s a stylistic choice.” The Black Feminist Kitchen is also an ode to Portland-based artist Carrie Mae Weems who is known for her “Kitchen Table Series” as she moved forward with exploring Black people who continue to have complicated relationships with the kitchen. Embodying a Black Feminist Tradition of “the personal is political,” Odlham is interested in curating a space in which Black feminists texts, thoughts, embodiments, and knowledge are being studied by people regardless of their relationship to the academy. As the founder of the Black Feminist Kitchen and the Black Feminist Summer School, Oldham recounts their experience with how their organization came into formation. The Black Feminist Kitchen is invested in collective political education and knowledge. Asking questions such as “How do we bring our own personal knowledge into spaces and engage with community learning,” the Black Feminist Kitchen is committed to supporting collective consciousness within communal spaces. Noting that anything that a person starts is oftentimes supported by loved ones and community, Oldham is thankful for the people in their life who have supported them in all that they do. The Black Femnist Kitchen is an emerging working group of Black feminist, scholars, acivists, artists and organizers who are committed ot Black liberaiton, interiority, and Black study. They explain, “The Black Feminist Kitchen and Black Feminist Summer School became possible because of ancestors who guide me and my chosen family who make every attempt to hold me. There is a whole lifeworld of people invested in me that brought me into this space. Even in my creation of the Black Feminist Kitchen and Black Feminist Summer School, there are people who have supported me in having the capacity to envision something like this.” The Black Feminist Kitchen’s BFSS was created in 2019 when Oldham returned home to Portland, Oregon for summer break after completing their first year in their Ph.D. program. Calling upon the work that has gone into creating Freedom Schools and the community that raised her and nourished her as an organizer, Oldham sourced the inspiration to create a Black Feminist Summer School program. During the first year of the BFSS, the summer school was created as an extension of Oldham’s passion for creating a communal space for political education. Reflecting on the gratitude that Oldham holds towards those who have deeply impacted their ongoing relationship with Black Feminisms and realizing the “potential to create more Black Feminist spaces,” their desire to further expand upon the BFSS by creating the BFK continued to grow. As a person who uses their Instagram account to reflect on Black Feminism and share content pertaining to furthering our collective understanding of Black Feminisms, they also wanted to create another space where they could further expand upon such work. Oldham desired to create a “whole page dedicated to Black Feminism” as they further thought about their involvement with Black Feminist scholarship, their artistic abilities, and all of the conversations that they have on a daily basis about Black Feminism. With all of these thoughts and aspirations to engage in such work, Oldham messaged several comrades at the end of the summer of 2019 to bounce around a few names for what the emerging working group should be called. After going back and forth, they found that calling it the Black Feminist Kitchen felt right -- and included a rich history behind the origin of the name. Being mindful of when the Decolonial Summer School was founded, Oldham is aware of the existing work around the world that are developing spaces with a similar goal and vision. Oldham explained, “the intention of all of the work that the BFK is involved with is to create a space where Black Feminists can think with and work together regardless of their trade, modes of praxis, breadth of work, and etc. The space is for Black Feminists artists, organizers, activists, and cultural makers to curate and make work together.” Due to COVID-19, the BFSS2020 was moved online in order to protect our most vulnerable communities and that resulted in utilizing online platforms to conduct the summer school in the most accessible way possible. This year, the summer school featured film screenings, viewings of various folks in conversation with each other, panels and workshops. Ranging from topics around gender, disability, fatness, Blackness, and labor, everyone who attended the summer school was given the space to contribute to the variety of ongoing conversations. Even though alterations had to be made to the programming, it still aimed at prioritizing the attendance of Black folks through making the program free for all Black transgender women. For Black folks who were interested in attending the online programming, Oldham created a sliding scale option and asked that non-Black folks who have the ability to donate funds do so. If a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color) was unable to send donations for the summer school, Oldham assured that they wouldn’t be turned away.


Realizing that even though they have been an artist and organizer for the past ten years, their involvement with academia is incredibly important to take note of. Oldham explained, “I deeply believe that as much as I do not want to replicate an academic conference or something like that, I still must recognize my positionality as a junior academic. There must always be room created for artists, activists, organizers, and other cultural makers who bring a life to Black feminisms.” This year’s summer school focused on Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals. Even though both of these texts have been highly regarded within academic Black Feminist spaces, those who came to the summer school were not required to have read the texts before attending the online events. Oldham explained, “The point is to extrapolate something that might resonate with folks regardless of if they even know of who Saidiya Hartman or Christina Sharpe is. With concepts such as the wake and waywardness -- that leads to conversations around anti-Blackness, parenting, grief, labor, leisure, motherhood, and other topics that folks are able to weigh in on. The workshops are about those varieties of topics instead of being set up as spaces that are modeled after book clubs.” Once again, recognizing the history and labor that went into creating Freedom Schools, Oldham is not interested in replicating the hierarchy that automatically comes with academic conferences. Oldham reflects, “The BFSS is dedicated to building a political education, collective consciousness, and community with other folks and within this space, everyone is able to learn together and through being in relationship to each other. Black feminism does not wholly reside within the academy. It is not about transferring information within the Black Feminist Summer School or any theme to non-academics to make it more accessible or legible to them. It is about having a conversation about Black feminisms that are capacious enough to hold space for artists like Carrie Mae Weems who has made just as many contributions to Black feminisms.” It is about creating spaces for other forms of knowledge production that does not center around the academy. Oldham continues, “How I came to Black feminism and Womanism has nothing to do with the academy. I came to it through Missy Elliot and folks across the web with Womanist blogs like Gradient Lair by Trudy. I am not interested in making the things that happen within the academy legible not because I have no desire to do so, but it is not the point. It is a chance for folks to come together and learn about Black Feminisms. The BFSS does not aim to take things from the academy back to the community as if those categories are totally separated, to begin with. We acknowledge that we are speaking to a full range of people who might have multiple relationships or non-relationships to the texts. The overall goal is to create a space that holds a full range of knowledge production around Black Feminisms.” After my interview with Oldham, I found myself highly anticipating the Black Feminst Summer School as I looked over the various workshops, interviews, and roundtables that were being offered via Zoom. Some of my favorite things about the Black Feminst Summer School was how Oldham and their team created a Digital Program that contained information pertaining to a variety of -isms/phobias not being permitted in the virtual spaces, an in-depth explanation the summer school’s goals, pre-recorded offerings, and biographies of the individuals who would be presenting throughout the four day experience. While engaging with the various live offerings, I deeply appreciated the closed-captioning, how presenters paid close attention to all the virtual comments/questions, live ASL interpreters, and the manners in which this radical space was cultivated. Each presenter spoke their truth and while these events were not held in person, I still felt warmth radiating throughout my body as I was made to witness how everyone held space for each other, presenters gave each other the space to process complicated thoughts, and how viewers consistently affirmed truths that presenters were putting out into the virtual space. The live sessions that were offered touched on topics such as Black Feminist Praxis in Art, how Black childhood needs to be reclaimed, care-centered labor in relation to our environment, poetic acts of resilience, why it is necessary to decriminalize sex work, confronting fatphobia, and so much more. Throughout the three day sessions, I learned about how Black folks are dreaming up worlds for themselves, moving past understanding intersectionality (as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) as the singular framework that will allow for changes to take place, the ungendering of Black existence, how healing/positivity culture is so deeply steeped in neoliberalism, and Black pleasure. If you would like to keep up with Oldham’s future endeavors, hear their incredible thoughts, and learn more about the Black Feminist Kitchen, then head over to Instagram to follow @ebonyoldham and @blackfeministkitchen.



growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns

TAKING A DEEP BREATH WITH

. interviewed by

DAVON CLARK

photographed by ALEXUS MCLANE


If you think about it, a deep breath and an exhausted okay feel like the perfect way to begin anything in 2020. Zoom calls. Work commutes. TV shows. Why not a lead single? Shout Across Mountains pensively brings us back into the sound of Growing Concerns Poetry Collective. The trio of artists made up of Mykele Deville, McKenzie Chinn, and Jeffrey Michael Austin, last released an album, WE HERE: Thank You For Noticing, in 2017, and a book the following year. The trio spent all the time in between working on a project, titled BIG DARK BRIGHT FUTURES, slated to release on October 16. While in-person performances and audience engagement helped manifest their first project, their upcoming work shifts the focus to purpose-driven creation for a calculated production that lives as a holistic collection of the Collective’s many talents. If this first single is a deep breath, the rest of BIG DARK BRIGHT FUTURES [BDBF] is the clarity that comes with a moment of personal contemplation. Ahead of the late October release, we talked about the interdisciplinary nature of their music, the intentionality in their process, and the timeless nature of their work. With Jeff in Texas and McKenzie & Mykele in Chicago, the group’s been used to long-distance collaboration. In fact, BDBF’s whole recording process began when the album’s producer, R. Brok Mende, was in Chicago from out of town in January 2020. More than anything, this step of the Collective’s existence feels like one that considers the whole more than the sum of its parts. In a historical moment where reckoning has become a part of every decision, Growing Concerns is making art that thrusts you



Hooligan Mag (H.M.): What has the creative process looked like for y’all? And even beyond that, what’s the production process look like? Mykele: With WE HERE, we already had pieces that, when we put them next to each other, were sort of already in conversation with each other … This record is a lot more intentional in its creation. McKenzie: We were performing a lot before we recorded WE HERE. I thought that was gonna be our thing, just performing, but it was Mykele’s vision that led to recording the album. I think the thing that’s special with how we worked on BDBF is that it really took its time. All of the pieces that are a part of this next album, we wrote between 2017 and 2019. Jeff was working on things during that time, as well. A big dynamic of our group is that we are a collective, but we are all individual artists as well. I have my own work as an actor and as a filmmaker, and as a teacher and as a poet. Mykele has his own work that he does as an independent hip hop artist, and a poet. Jeff has his work as a visual artist and as a musician. During that time, we were all working in our own fields, so with all of that going on, we would come together as we felt necessary to put this work together or to write a new piece. It just took a lot more time to become a cohesive thing. The most recent work was in 2019, but looking back at it, it could’ve been written a month ago. So much of what we were feeling as far back as 3 years ago continues today. Also, there’s no set way that we’d say, “Now we’re gonna do this thing.” It’s all very intuitive and based on what any of us could offer to each other at any one point in time. One of my favorite pieces on BDBF didn’t come together until we were in the studio! Jeffrey: From my perspective, musically, I feel such a significant difference between the first album and this. The first album felt almost like a document of the performance work we had been doing, as a way to kind of [archive] the work we had been performing. On this record, because we’re not performing, we had a lot more time to develop this work. I was able to step into new territories in my role in that I was able to put up not only what I’m able to put forward live but to really sit and build these complex landscapes around the work. To be frank, there’s so much of this album that I still don’t know how I will recreate in live performances. 10 years from now, whenever we’re playing shows again, I’m not even necessarily sure how I’m going to perform these songs. [These songs] have been so deeply synthesized, but I think that allowed me to take what I see as my role in the group to a new level as well. McKenzie: We worked on this album and our previous album with Brok Mende, who almost feels somewhat like the fourth member of the group sometimes. He picks up on some strong sonic perspective in the work we’re doing when we’re in the studio that I really, really appreciate. I have some musical inclination, but I don’t claim the title of [a] musician. I don’t think sonically, I think in terms of text. I think in terms of performance, so it’s really wonderful to work with someone who can hear the sonic sensibilities in something that occurs primarily for me in text.


Jeffrey: In terms of my relationship with Brok, on the musical & engineering side of things, I’ve been making music since I was a kid, and seriously producing music since I was a teenager. But, I never formally educated [about] how to use these production tools. I’m just going blindly into production software and turning knobs until I know that it feels the way that I want it to feel. When I’m having these conversations [with Brok] about where we want these songs to be, I’m often describing feelings to him. I’m talking to him in a language of feelings, saying “I want this to give you this feeling, and then sucker punch you with this feeling.” I’m talking about textures .. and Brok is the person who can then just say, “oh yeah of course.” If I didn’t have him there to bounce those kinds of ideas off of, the kind of fidelity and the life that’s ultimately breathed into the engineering of the work, it just wouldn’t be there. H.M.: So this was all recorded in 2019? McKenzie: We recorded it at the very top of 2020. Jeff had already recorded a version of the backtracks that Mykele and I were working with. Jeff moved to Texas by the end of 2019, so in January, Mykele and I went into the studio with all of Jeff’s music and recorded it in January. H.M.: Y’all were doing the long-distance creativity before it was cool with the COVID times. How has it been working as a group on different sides of the country? Mykele: I think the initial part of it was kinda stark. We had been so accustomed to being in the same room and having breadth to see better. We got this variable that Jeff was going to move, and we immediately had to think about how this project was still going to exist at a distance. Is it possible? We kinda came up with the idea that Jeff would lead up with the demo, we go and record with the demos. We send those back to Jeff, Jeff goes through and refines the demos until they have all of the ideas. Then, he sends it to Brok who turns up everything Jeff did. It’s a couple [of] steps involved in this record that give it a lot more detail when we were just smashing all of our stuff together. It came out beautifully. It sounds a lot more intentional because we can now take the space. This album has morphed into something that is going to be practically a digital album. Something to throw your headphones on and get into. McKenzie: It really feels like that separation and the vibe of this album underscores what this moment means and feels like for so many of us. There’s the social distance, and we found ways to connect with one another as best as we can. But, we also found a way to create community and maintain relationships, and take care of ourselves, besides not being connected to one another. Jeffrey: In retrospect, now that the album is essentially finished, I’m really glad that things were slowed down in this way. It allowed for us to digest things as they went, and we reached a new level with the work because of that patience, that slowness. I think, had we all been packed in the studio tryna pump this album out in one week, it never would have reached those levels. H.M.: Would y’all wanna talk about those new levels you reached? Mykele: Some of the stuff that we’ve been talking about for years now, in terms of our liberation as Black folk, in this album we gave each other the space to own and take over space an entire track if you want to. But, we found ways to still support each other, so the whole album still feels like it’s in conversation with each other. It’s like passing the mic to each other instead of waiting for the other person’s verse to end. Jeffrey: From the very beginning of our working together, I feel like my role in this group has been so deeply rooted in listening. Listening to y’alls performance, y’alls delivery of your work, of your message, and listening for the ways in which I can build scaffolding to help that work continue, to elevate it higher. From this position, when I’ve had the opportunity with this album to really sit and listen to the delivery of those pieces in solitude, but also to an insane degree. I’ve listened to these pieces hundreds of times. I’ve tried to pick up on all the little nuances and subtle emotional shifts and subtle visual shifts that take place throughout the works. It’s just made me that much more capable of building an equally nuanced landscape for that work to live in. All of these things we’re expressing will make more sense when you’re able to listen to the full album. I feel like the complexity and nuance of the sonic experience is so much more intense and impactful. It feels like you really are being taken somewhere sonically. That’s my goal in all of this. McKenzie: We talk about “Shout Across Mountains” as a really strong thesis for the album. It’s a nice little nugget of what we wanna talk about, but once you crack that nugget, there’s gonna be a lot more dimension.


It’s like passing the mic to each other instead of waiting for the other person’s verse to end.

” growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns growing concerns

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H.M.: What did becoming a group look like? Mykele: I had become more of a rapper and I wanted a space where I could pay reverence to just the poetry. I could just read out of my journal if I wanted to, but I had this reverence for live music. I loved Jeff’s percussive nature, so I wanted to make this a thing. We met up and performed a couple of times. We were Growing Concerns, just Jeff and I, for a couple of weeks. If it had just remained me and Jeff, it would have become a duplicate of my rap career because I’m a storyteller. To make this unique and to give my stories [a] conversation, I knew I wanted to expand this group, but I just didn’t know how, [then] in comes McKenzie into my life. McKenzie: We had met at the end of 2011. Mykele was an actor at the time, and we were doing a show together at the Chicago Children’s Theater. After that show, we’d run into each other here and there. In 2015, we ran into each other at Salon-a-Thon. We ended up chatting outside for a while, we were talking about poetry. We both had really evolved since we had met back in 2011, and we both had just started making space in our lives for poetry. Mykele invited me to come to practice with him and Jeff, and I didn’t really understand at the time that Mykele wanted this to be a whole thing, I thought he just wanted a poet for a one-off thing. I drove there, it was in Pilsen above this flower shop on Cermak. It felt like a real-life version of RENT like young people just trying to make something that matters. I pulled out some pieces that [sort of]vibed with what they were leaning towards, and it was all so seamless. I remember just thinking, “That’s cool, and that’s cool too! Oh wow!” We picked the pieces that we wanted to do for the show, and then [Mykele] was like, “We’re a collective!” Mykele: The only way so many of my things exist is through collaboration. My heart was so broken after my previous group had gone down. I kept trying different projects to find the right combination of people where it doesn’t have to feel so regimented. That was a part of the name, not just to be Growing Concerns, but to be Growing Concerns Poetry Collective, it takes a little pressure off the idea that we are this band. We can also individually be our own selves and come with our own flavor, we’re just in conversation. It seems like this exists somewhere, but I haven’t really encountered how our stuff moves. I haven’t seen another clone of that, so let’s foster it. McKenzie: Our first show was a Sofar, so we were in a living room, but the response we got was so strong. I remember going in thinking, “Is anyone besides us going to think it’s cool?” And the fact that so many people were digging it, and we were invited to do another show that same night, I realized quickly: there’s something special happening. We’re not reinventing the wheel by any sense of the imagination, but I think we are doing something within our own unique truth that other people aren’t doing right now. Mykele: The only reason I felt like I knew this was going to be something good and useful, I had got to experiment with my own rap career before this. With my own rap, it’s similar in a way where it’s uncompromising, and I got to infiltrate a lot of the white spaces, the DIY spaces, and the bar scene. [That’s] the biggest thing with my shows: that Trojan Horse mentality. I come in, I’m on a ticket with some of those rock bands, and I start, and immediately I’m off about any issue of Blackness, uncompromising in these types of ways. I knew there was a market of a lot of these truth seekers that weren’t just looking to turn up, but to actually listen to it. I just didn’t think that by myself it’d be compelling enough. So, when I heard McKenzie do it way better than I could in the way that she does it, I knew that if we hit a living room, even just a small space, people are gonna be affected by her voice, my voice, and Jeff’s sensibility. Jeffrey: I think that the multiform nature of what we’re doing is part of what, from the beginning, kind of compelled people and grabbed their attention, and continues to do so. You’re continually going through this process of, “What is this? Is this a hip-hop performance? Is it theater? What am I experiencing right now?” We have this way of never quite letting you feel comfortable with your definition of us. I think that is a real strength of ours. H.M.: Could you talk about why you started the track off with that sigh? Jeffrey: There had been a number of different instruments I had been trying to teach myself how to play that melody on to see how it vibed on the original demo track. I was down here [in Austin] visiting one of my partner’s friends who has a 2-year-old kid. When we were hanging out over there, I saw that they had in the corner of the room this little child’s toy piano. I was like, “Hey, could I fuck with that?” I took it, I let them keep hanging out, and I was in their garage alone trying to teach myself that melody from the memory of that track. Once I started getting close to it, I hit record on my phone to try and get a recording of it. So I would be recording it, and I would fuck up, and I would go back to my phone and record it again, and I would go back to my phone and fuck up. That’s an unedited soundbite of me going to my phone again and being like, ‘okay,’ and then getting it. Once I integrated it into the track and listened to it unedited like that, I said, “it feels like part of it.” It also feels like the beginning of the record, like, ‘Here we are, we’re back again.’


McKenzie: I love how that happens. I don’t buy into coincidences a lot. It’s so wild that it happened that way because when I listen to that, there’s so much in the recent past where so many of us are collectively like... “Okay. This is [the] reality now.” Jeffrey: I feel like sighing has become my main form of communication. McKenzie: I think opening up with that sentiment is a really beautiful way to acknowledge where we all are. [It’s] a really wonderful invitation to move forward in a way. To take a step into what this is. Mykele: We’re usually pretty aligned on what is beautiful. At first, I was like, “Was that me?” And once I realized it was Jeff, I was like, “Well of course!” We know each other well enough now that if Jeff goes out on a limb and does something on the track, I know it’ll be inline with elevating something that the track is saying or I’m doing. I think we have blended our styles together so well, that even if they’re different, we can trust each other in this triad of, “Lemme try this, and I’ll send it to you and see what you think.” I love that we’re able to be in conversation with each other in terms of art, even on the micro-level. McKenzie: We feel like this album really leans into shadow work. This moment that we’re in right now is not a happy time in general. There is a lot that we’re being asked as individuals, and as a society, to reckon with and really evaluate, and really look in the eye, in ways that we’re not really used to doing. I feel like this album is part of leaning into that, actually facing a shadow and darkness. Just recognizing and not trying to “love and light” it away. It’s not just good vibes. Let’s actually deal with what’s in front of us. I feel proud of the way in which we accept that work and explore that work here. I think it’s really hard to do, and as human beings, we don’t really want to do that. But, I think it’s such an important part of the moment. We’re not gonna cross over, we’re not gonna get to the other side of this moment unless we do that. My hope is that this work is a tool to help people do that. Mykele: We need to be honest about everything that is happening, honest about perspectives. Music can be a really great tool in helping people through and also giving them perspective. I think this record is really uncompromising in this way. McKenzie: We’ve been really uncompromising on when this album is gonna come out. We had a couple of opportunities that would certainly help as a group, in terms of reach and all that, but all of those opportunities would have involved pushing back our release. We feel really strongly about this album coming out this year, and before the election. We feel like this is needed now. It’s not worth it to us to delay this work for our own purposes, we feel like it’s needed now. Jeffrey: When we sat together as a group when I was in town, [we] talked through it. It became clear to us at that moment that we’re here, uncompromising to the degree in which we want to talk and confront these issues with this work. So much of the work, very loudly, proclaims a need to dismantle a lot of these traditional, tired institutions and models of working. It felt a little counterintuitive to say, “maybe in the interest of this one model, we should compromise and push our album back.” It all feels very aligned on a central principle level for us. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.




Finna and the Poetics of Black Futurity

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// WRITTEN BY SHARAH HUTSON // PHOTOGRAPHED BY LILY C. ROUSSEL


Finna is a text that breathes life into Black futurity. Out now via Penguin Random House, Nate Marshall's debut collection of poems is overflowing with references to lyrical geniuses that Marshall holds near to his heart, many elegant odes to Blackness, carefully curated spaces that make room for Black folks to bring forth their full range of emotions, and Mariame Kaba’s reminder that, “hope is a discipline.” As Marshall shares his truth with us through his poems, he also simultaneously creates room for readers to ponder on how Black folks have been rendered as disposable, the plight of Black death within places such as Chicago, and working towards imagining a new world where systems of oppression have been destroyed. During my interview with Nate Marshall, I was immediately drawn towards the imagery and craftsmanship that went into creating the cover of Finna. Painted with a deep red backdrop and a figure of a Black person looking into the distance on a Spade card, the cover suggests looking towards a kind of future where no one is suffering under the yoke of oppression, and the imperativeness of moving towards that vision. Nate expressed that creating a captivating cover for a book is important. He said, “The cover is how the book becomes to be defined by. I was really lucky to work with a press that made sure that I had a cover that I would ultimately fall in love with and be excited about.” The spades card on the cover speaks towards the importance of card games within parts of the Black community. Marshall told me, “As far as we know and can trace it back to, this card game came from Black folks in Cincinnati, Ohio around the 1930s, and passed around the country. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and went to a school in Tennessee where spades existed as a space of cultural exchange. Folks would play with their own set of house rules. It is a place where [a sense of] partnership is imperative, but also a place where everything is happening. You would see people getting mad, talking shit, and high fiving.”


The usage of the image of a Spade card also speaks to the phrase, “calling a spade a spade” which stands as a reminder for people to keep it real. While this phrase is commonly used, it is important to be aware of the term’s racialized history. “Spade” also exists as an antiquated epithet for referring to Black folks as the n-word. Finna exists as a collection of poems that dives into Marshall's frustrations with the current state of the world and serves as a tool for the readers in their everyday lives. Several aspects of this collection are drawn from personal experience. Marshall explained, “One that is sort of surprising, I pledged a fraternity when I was in college (Kappa Alpha Psi). My membership in the frat is something that has impacted my art a lot. Both because the fraternity is this way of sort of passing cultural folkways: chants, stepping, fraternity songs, all of these things. Drawn to the way that those sort of organizations become kinship..something that Black folks have always been doing as we remake the notion of family…What does it mean to call someone who I [have] no blood ties with “my brother”? What [does] that sort of association demand from both of us to care about each other? Some of the ways that the book thinks about masculinity and how do we sort of untether ourselves from the masculine notion of domination as the way to define masculinity comes out of conversations via that frat space.” Marshall started working on this collection of poems in 2016. He reflected, “One of the ways that I finish the collection is by reading it out loud in a single sitting. This helps to figure out if a poem is working by putting it on its feet and figuring it out.” Based on past experiences touring with his last book, Marshall found himself captivated by the ways in which Black and white individuals interacted with his work. He recounted a memory of himself at a reading and explained, “A white woman asked a question around ‘Why was this so sad?’ in reference to my poetry. For me, that was not my experience at all, nor the experiences of other Black readers who interacted with the text. I was shocked by the text being read as ‘sad’ and a ‘tragedy.’” From there, the work that became Finna was written as a sort of response to the ways in which white readers interacted with texts by Black authors -- it aims to push the white readers to ask how they have prepared themselves to engage with Black art.


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I hope that the poems are sort of projects that offer people some sort of subsistence and power to get them through.

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Marshall expanded, “So much of the cultural history within the United States is about glorifying Black trauma. What did people see in the poems of Phillis Wheatley, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and many of the things that were created during the renaissance that got celebrated by white critics in particular? We can think about how Hollywood and things that are ‘liberal’ or articulate a sort of sympathy about Black people is wrapped up in the adaptation of reveling in Black pain.” From there, Marshall reflected on his own work, “How do I deal with that? How do I not give myself entirely over into that project? Will white audiences ever be able to fully grasp what I am saying?” While moving through these difficult questions and a variety of spaces, Marshall turned to draw strength from the work of Phillis Wheatley, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and All About Love by bell hooks, Jamila Woods, Roy Kinsey, Fatimah Asghar, and many more. While writing Finna, Marshall recounts how the book was written over the course of some of the most difficult years within his life thus far. He says, “There have been a lot of people who have ushered me through that and through that sort of crucible with a lot of care. I don’t think the poems would have been able to come to fruition without those people and without that level of care. In terms of who those people are, there are a ton of folks. A lot of my family, political comrades, artistic homies, communities that I am a part of, and too many folks to name, although I do attempt that through the thank yous in the back of the book.” One of the many topics that Finna heavily contemplates is the role of historical memory on how we collectively converse about the role of Black people within art production. As Marshall puts it, “In this country, we have not entirely thought about and reckoned with Black folks’ role in the American project as the innovators who create work. Their labor was unpaid, underpaid, and largely not acknowledged.” Marshall is speaking about the role of Black folks within this segment of society was to also exist as the unthinking thinking machine. This thought can be traced back to understanding Black enslaved folks as one of the first articulations of what we might now think of as artificial intelligence or a kind of version of the robot/machine. This goes back to the 1800s when the industrial revolution was taking place in the north and with the creation of factories and machines. Marshall illustrated what was occurring by describing how, “In the south, there was a machine that was flesh and bone rather than iron and steel.” These points are being connected to explain how Black people were not allowed space for an emotional life in public spaces as they were subjected to anti-Blackness in all facets of their life. Marshall added, “We are still undoing and understanding the kind of cost of these mechanisms that have been at play for longer than any of us have been alive.” While I was reading Finna, I found that many of the poems dealt with vulnerable topics, from Marshall recounting stories of family members, navigating intimate relationships, and feelings of temporality within an anti-Black world. When asked about the work displaying a kind of vulnerability, Marshall said, “The hope is that the work is an example of a kind of vulnerability for folks that they can access, draw strength from, and draw some education on how to do that within their own lives.” Moving forward with the hope that Finna exists as a book that expresses care about specific individuals that Marshall has within his life and larger communities, Marshall continued, “I hope that the poems are sort of projects that offer people some sort of subsistence and power to get them through. I think about the relationships that I have with certain albums, books, and TV shows that I was really shaped by during the time of my life. That feels to me like so much of what the role of art has been for Black folks, certainly in this history of the United States and I would venture to say ‘West’ more broadly. All Black and African American cultural reproduction is in conversation with the work song.” The “work song” is used to explain Black people would use many forms of art to get through the day while they were engaged in back-breaking labor and were forced to endure an entire series of indignity throughout the course of the day. This can be tied back to a historical moment in which Thomas Jefferson “examined” Black people who were enslaved and arrived at the conclusion that they appeared to work longer, sleep less, and need less food than any white person. Marshall added, “Jefferson is missing a lot in his racist reading and this makes sense because racism is by nature an unimaginative space. His reading misses that part of the reason why Black folks would be up past bedtime even though they had to get up before the break of day to go about the work on the plantation. [It] is because that time after dark was the time that they had to themselves to be sort of creatively generative.” Creative generation might have looked like them planning to make love with their partner, telling stories with others, singing songs, imagining someday where they can stab the slave master in his neck, and other reimaginations of their current life. This exists as a kind of making and adds to the point that there is a night to the day that is the work song. Brimming with many moments in which Marshall unapologetically walks in his truth while committing himself to his own healing, Finna is a text that urges readers to question how they're honoring Black folks reveling in the radical expression of their full range of emotions, how they interact with work that is created by Black folks, and question if they are continuously creating space for Black folks to bring their full authentic selves. From poems that speak towards the vitality of Black kinship, to imagining a world, “without the cop’s unruly bullet or baton” (what it is & will be by Nate Marshall), Marshall pushes us to imagine a better world through the poetry of possibility.


SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK SPILLED INK



Catharsis on bridges by Jon-Carlo Manzo

Dotted eyes look out on the landscape, an emptied notebook grid framed with trees that I mistake for waves from a distance. I left behind a mess— ash on the blanket a mother knit, another grounding memento on which I sat smoking. The moment it fell I felt the warmth beneath moving from her heart and hands to me. Mamå Consuelo on my mind, hearing all her bendiciones for the road—for facing the country from behind masks and windshields. I am not as forgiving as a mother whose child wakes to her kneeling in tearful prayers. When driving through Pennsylvania, expect blood to bounce off metal and speckle across your windows, reflecting some optical illusion. After the natural disaster, everyone has left the streetlight coin slots to smoke indoors until their legs give. I wake up to the sun flickering across a fallen mylar balloon and cry for Naya Rivera.


abode by Sarah Sophia Yanni

when I moved back home I’d pause standing on the carpet and listen to the years carried in the walls I’d inhale the shoe-smell trailing in june rain and go downstream through journals clogged in my drawers these bedrooms are sites of lineage passed sites of story and fable my father standing in the doorway years ago reading bible tales to patient girls soon turning into sites of havoc rekindling fury I once thought lost I can hear the echo of my door slamming shut these bedrooms are sites of sensation like melancholy evenings each night my mother folds down my bed the way her mother did for them a historic gesture of bedrooms past each night her hands gently slide the pillow cover over and my head finds rest while I grow even smaller


I Was On to Something When I Said by Angelica Whitehorne

I act like a fruit fly. It comes back to this mostly always, licking someone else’s sweet off a forgotten counter, sipping their sugar thoughts through a spastic tongue and dying each day. I almost fucked five different people but fucked myself instead. I reached my whole fist inside and found a golden egg. I felt expensive and then I made breakfast. I’ve already told you I was writing this poem and thinking about the next, looking into your eyes to see my own looking back. Was this selfish or self less? Looking for bits of self scattered on the sidelines of the main road. Self like leaf crumbs on top of a grimy pool, a dirt flecked debris identity. Self like pieces of windshield after the crash, scattered, remembering nothing, stuck in the palms of others’ sympathies. I take my narrative back only to scratch out most with a black sharpie— same old me, still looking for a story of my own it seems, always scribbling myself into others’ cheap, corn syrup fantasies, ever-shocked when my lungs and wings get bogged down by their slimy, sucrose dreams.


TSA by Bethany Lewis

A big field is cause for a big blanket soaking up dew wetting numb toes hot life living up to itself The rocks you rip off beach shores are puckered sores in the daylight “Shabby-chic” a grass blade poking out of a fainting couch. We enter the glade above the airport taking spit shots as planes ascend Pull our arms out of our shirts and let the fabric hang Not knowing how to move forward with the day Which stretches out knocking on the cockpit window The dull sign of change fills the pages of my notebook I want to unknot it, not rot, swallow sloppy narcissistic thoughts. I hope my head misuses the word, “prop” On the other side of the room phone in hand, I could not be less interesting “Who are you talking to?” I can hear a shrewd version of myself crying


tower of babel & rap singing by Talia Wright

& hemp oil & shit. you look so cool with your people. your posse. possess me, too. yes, i said it: i am a language of dying sounds. i am the noises & you are the horn. you are resting on the cloud made of my reaching hands, all tangled in one. you see: i am the base, the middle, and the top. i am the tower you must climb. i am god's anger, & you are the angst. you are the disobediences made of prayer coins and molly water. of water: i am the rain when i don’t want to be the wrath. most of the time, i am not even the wrath, because i can’t talk about my needs without feeling full–– feeling so full, it is like i am bursting, gurgling: i am a language of dying sounds. i am the noises, you are the horn at the gates. i am the noises, you are the horn at the gates. i am the noises, you are the horn at the gates––but the people are wearing headphones & they’re listening to Drake.


WHAT THE MEEK INHERIT by Travis McClerking

I peer at the Big House, Gunpowder padding my eyelids. The humpback grass waddles in droves, Stooping to vacuum their shadows. I braved mammas memories to stand here, To spit upon the long rusted blood yet, I’ve never seen such gimpy green, Listless as the slack-mouth porch. Once monstrous; the envy evaporated To drift and spangle the banister, Embarrassing the perfectionist paint, Alabaster as the party guests buried out back. I bet the Pharaohs they say my bloodline promises wouldn’t have felt naked with but kohl damming their faces from a flood of tears. And here I am— How easily a lip quiver could cascade the defiance from my features.


I can’t focus right now but who can blame me? by Sofia Fey

There’s no way to throw days out the window but shouldn’t I be listening to footsteps? Poets translate intricate details & immortalize them on the page well at least I used an ampersand That’s another thing I’m not supposed to say “I” this much but I need to be in I right now I’m just trying to keep it together & shouldn’t I be outside, listening to footsteps? I have checked my phone twice now already how am I to ever be an academic again? I love my absolutes & I had breakfast with myself today for the first time in months ‘stead of the straight-from-bed-to-running every-day-like-a-boxing-match these days feel less like sport more ripple in a still lake at twilight Logged so many hours of missing you I have to be getting close now. I learned something today too, my cat, she’s not just scratching the wall she’s trying to climb.


OK HONEY by Ricky Garni

I went on a terrible date. We had nothing in common. We had nothing to say to each other. But we both loved the salad. It contained pears, candied walnuts, balsamic vinegar, and I am not sure, but I think some honey in it. I couldn’t help but think how much I loved honey and the sensation of honey and the moment of whispering and how here was another person in my life that I would never call honey or eat honey with again or even just say My sweet pear, my loving balsamic, my candied walnut,

Oh you whom I had been waiting for in life for more than half of it until I couldn’t help it I could not wait I ate all of it another in lieu of finding the other


Summits by Natalie Frijia

I have an obsession with summits. With switchbacks and mid-climb dips With following pine roots as they twist through carved-out paths And there’s no trunk in sight With broaching tree lines and how mud fades to scree And muscles burning. With passing fellow hikers — They’re not tired, you understand They’re just stopping for a quick, umm, selfie yes, that’s it. A selfie. As they avert their eyes, steady their breathing, Like it’s something to be ashamed of. Why be ashamed of a thing that’s meant to break you. If this were meant to be easy We’d all be those sea-to-summit marathon mountain runners And we all know they cannot be human. So, catch your breath, get your selfies Take a nap, if you need it. I am obsessed with the getting there. I am obsessed with false summits. I find them inexplicably hilarious Like the landscape conspiring against exhausted hikers Almost there, almost there, almost— Gotcha! My heart bursts as I crest mounds three or four and there Another in the distance Even grizzlier Even further Keep going. I love it. I love it the way I might never love anything else. And the summit.


The way the land unfolds The way borders erase The way you can spy a hiker Looking out over the same expanse from some other cliff And feel like you’re the only two people in the world Who know just this But such a gulf in between. There’s something beautiful about the distance And how if we were two strangers at the same cairn Signing our names in the weathered guestbook With a blunt pencil that more gouges the page than marks it We might say to each other Would you look at all that. I am obsessed with the idea that maybe the view inspires only one single thought And it’s something you can’t put to words More of an exhale caught in your throat A quieting A stop. I wonder what it is To share that.


thank you,


for being here.


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