Taylor Byas is a Black poet and essayist. Originally from Chicago, she moved to Alabama for six years, where she received both her Bachelor’s degree in English and her Master’s degree in English (Creative Writing concentration) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Taylor currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio where she is a second year PhD student and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati studying poetry. She is also a reader for both The Rumpus and The Cincinnati Review, and the Poetry Editor for FlyPaper Lit.
The above is Taylor’s bio from her web site, but I’ll add what those who have been following her on twitter know, she has been crushing it! (including winning the 2020 Poetry Super Highway Contest.) It was awesome to get to interview Taylor and re-present one of her poems here too, “My Twitter Feed Becomes Too Much”.
Have you ever had that reading moment that’s a ‘light bulb’ for how you want to write or maybe even ‘permission’ to write a certain way, a sign that the impossible might be possible? One of our best Flash Monsters!!! examples was the impact reading Miranda July had on Leonora Desar.
Absolutely. My “light bulb” moment happened when I read The Small Blades Hurt by Erica Dawson. I was assigned to read her collection really early in my career as a poet. I had just switched over from fiction to concentrate on poetry in my Masters program, so I was in the process of really just finding my voice and figuring out what that looked and sounded like. And with fiction, the whole point was to make up something and fall into a world that wasn’t mine, but with poetry it didn’t feel as simple as that. My first intense poetry class was an ekphrastic class, so luckily there was still that element of fiction and writing about something outside of the self. But I still struggled to come to a blank page and write something with no direct influence or inspiration.
Then I read Erica Dawson, and my entire life changed. I got to the first poem in that book, which is “Layover,” and I read the first line. “I’ve half a mind to make a move.” My whole idea about what poetry was and could be changed. I didn’t read a lot of people up until this point, let alone black poets. To see that poems could reflect the way I talk, the way my family talks, to see that they could do that and still be formal, still adhere to rules and meter, to see that a poem could hold so much of me, was life-changing. That collection gave me permission to write about my life, to write about race, to write about what was important to me and to let it take whatever form it needed to take. Her book also showed me that form could be a playground of some sort, and I think her work is a big part of why I love form so much and why I love to challenge myself by writing in form.
The Monsters also love to talk about Pop Culture. Things from the past that stick to our everyday consciousness and influence probably more than we even know and we also like to share things we are discovering while procrastinating/researching current works in progress. Do you have some all-time favorites like this and have you been able to discover any new mental breaks during 2020?
One of the projects that I’ve been working on during the pandemic is an ekphrastic chapbook. The entire chapbook will be poems written after some sort of portrait, and the chapbook as a whole is an attempt to investigate patriarchy and misogyny through art. And in the process of working on poems for this chapbook I’ve reignited this obsession for just art by extension, photography. So I’ve been writing quite a bit of ekphrastic pieces during this time, which I have found to help put me into a different mental space while writing. It’s harder to write right now as the pandemic continues to drag on and as the election approaches, so writing about art has been a really wonderful escape.
I also just went and bought a bluetooth microphone a few weeks ago and I’m falling back into the joy of singing and karaoke (even if I’m doing it alone). I’m also slowly getting my voice back after a tonsillectomy two months ago. Singing has been SUCH a savior, and it’s also been a really unique way to express love to close ones. I’ve taken to serenading my friends and family in videos and singing snippets, and some sing back to me, and it’s been a really meaningful source of connection and love really.
For the most part, we at Flash Monsters!!! work in prose. Anne Weisgerber is our most adventurous with poetic forms and I feel Pat Foran is a natural at word level poetics. You do all of the forms!!! Do you find it difficult switching between them and how do you come to the form? Does the heart of the piece decide for itself which form it’s going to require?
I love this question, and the piece almost always decides what it needs to be. Sure, I may get an idea for a certain form. I may say “Oh, I have an idea for this flash fiction piece” and it ends up being more lyrical and more about myself and it may then become a prose poem. I have written lineated poems before, and after sitting with them and failing to figure out why they weren’t working, I’ll start toying around with form and discover that the form was the issue. I’ve written poems that were begging for more space and bloomed into flash nonfiction pieces or prose poems. So I think I don’t necessarily come to the form, but the form comes to me. Switching between forms always feels really natural, because at the end of the day they all bleed into each other for me. I think the experience of writing in different forms also just makes me a stronger writer. I think about writing differently, I think about space differently, pacing, breathing, image, all of those things shift as form shifts. It’s like different forms are different muscles of the body, and I like getting a full body workout!
What writing projects are you working on now or does your PhD work dictate the day? Any writing hopes and dreams that you want to share or do they keep secret until they come true?
I feel like I have so many projects going on right now, which feels great to have so many things to work on and think about. I’m currently working on the ekphrastic chapbook that I mentioned earlier, I have a chapbook of poems dealing with race that I’ve been sending out, and I’ve been really grateful for that chapbook to have been a finalist in Diode Edition’s chapbook contest. I have a full-length collection that I’ve just finished that’s about home and place and what happens when we are displaced from home. I have another finished chapbook that looks at my father’s alcoholism and how that affects my romantic relationships. And outside of those projects, I’ve been writing a lot of poems about intimacy and faith, and some poems really look at where those two things intersect. My writing hopes and dreams? I want to be a household name one day. I want to be taught in classrooms. I want Black high school kids to read my work and see themselves and their realities reflected back. I want to be a Black author that my younger self wishes she could have read.
This poem was originally published by Frontier Poetry this past June.
My Twitter Feed Becomes Too Much
I come across pictures of two rubber bullets
nestled in a palm, their nose tips black
and rounded like a reporters’ foam-covered
mic. The caption reads These maim, break skin,
cause blindness. Another photo—a hollow
caved into a woman’s scalp, floating hands
in blue gloves dabbing at the spill. An offhand
comment in the replies—are you sure that rubber bullet
caused that type of damage?—the question hollowed
of genuine concern. The page refreshes. A black
man melts into a street curb from exhaustion, his skin
blotched with sweat and red. Protester’s hands cover
his body, and this is church. A baptism—cover
me with the blood. And there are more. Hand-
drawn threats—shoot the FUCK back. Police cars skinned
of their lettering and paint from the bullet-
aim of Molotov cocktails in Budweiser bottles. Black
Lives Matter markered in thick letters below the hollow
outline of the black power fist. A gas mask’s eye-hollows
glinting with tears. The page refreshes. Undercover
cops wearing matching armbands like a gang. A black
army tank crawling through city streets the way a hand
may tip-toe up a thigh. The page refreshes. A bullet
list of places to donate if I can’t put my skin
in the game protesting in the streets. The snakeskin
pattern of fires from a bird’s-eye view of DC. Hollowed
Target storefronts. The page refreshes. Rubber bullets
pinging a reporter and her crew as they run for cover,
a white woman’s reply—things are getting out of hand—
punctuated with heart emojis. Protester’s shadows blacking
the fiery backdrop of the riots. Badge numbers blacked
over with tape. The page refreshes. A man skinned
by the asphalt when pulled from his car with both hands
up. A police car plowing into a peaceful crowd. The hollow
promises from white friends to “do better”—a cover-
up for how quickly they will bullet
into our inboxes and ask us to hand them the answers. Black
rubber bullets—the page refreshes—a woman’s forehead skin
split—page refreshes—a bloody hollow—refresh—take cover.