1. When did you start writing?
"I’ve always been a writer. I’ve kept journals and written poetry since I was pretty young, maybe 3rd or 4th grade. Then of course, when tumblr poetry was popular, I hopped on that trend for a while and continued to write poetry more frequently. But I didn’t know that I wanted to be a poet, to pursue it as a career. When I started undergrad, I started as a fiction writer because I loved telling stories. But I found my way back to poems during my Masters, and now here I am, exactly where I’m meant to be."
2. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
"For me, it’s a combination of iPhone notes and the computer. In every day life, I’m collecting ideas, images, and phrases in the notes app on my phone and I just let them accumulate. Then as they build, some things start to connect or I start to see some things living within the same poem. Once that starts to happen I tend to get an urge to sit down and get a first draft out. I’ll open a new Word Document and throw those phrases into the document and then I work on building the connective tissues between them. I feel like an engineer or a surgeon even, the way I write those first drafts. I think writing that way is also what makes the writing exciting, I always manage to make things some sort of puzzle to solve."
3. How did BLOODWARM come about? When did you realize you had material for a poetry book?
"Interestingly enough, BLOODWARM used to be a part of a much earlier draft of my first full-length collection. But I started to slowly realize that there seemed to be two separate projects existing in that manuscript. I remember actually asking Twitter if I should just put all of these poems about race into a chapbook, and so many people were really supportive of the idea. So I took the poems in BLOODWARM from that full-length manuscript and organized them into a chapbook, and I was really fortunate for it to find such a fantastic home so soon. I’m glad I gave them their own space to inhabit, because I think in the full-length they were being buried a little bit. I’m really proud of this project and how the poems in this chapbook are speaking to one another (and how they will hopefully speak to my readers)."
4. What drew you to write form poetry?
"I fell in love with form poetry first reading Erica Dawson. I think a lot of people’s introduction to formal work is through the Shakespearean sonnet, and while those sonnets are important, the language and form of them can feel stuffy or stiff. Erica Dawson’s formal poems were so smooth that you didn’t realize they were formal until after you’d already read them. And her poems gave me permission to bend form to what I needed it to do. I realized I could write formal poems about Blackness, about my life, about every day experiences in form. Her poems helped me to unlearn all of the untrue things I’d internalized about form; that the content of them had to be 'serious,' that the language couldn’t be accessible, that writing formal poetry couldn’t be fun."
5. Where do you draw inspiration?
"I draw inspiration from just living. I would say I draw the most inspiration from reading. When I’m not reading, I’ve found that it’s much harder to write. When I’m reading more, I’m constantly changing the landscape of how I’m thinking about poems. It also helps to refresh my vocabulary as well. Joy Priest, a dear friend of mine, once told me that I write from a feeling. And I think that’s very true about my writing. At the heart of every poem I write is a feeling that I’m trying to work through, exorcise even. Feeling is both the first inspiration and priority of anything that I write."
6. You are currently pursuing a PhD in poetry at the University of Cincinnati. What brought that about?
"In a lot of ways, the PhD was a natural progression after the MA. There are more practical reasons for getting the PhD, such as being more competitive on the job market and having the time and resources to develop as both a writer and academic scholar. I also wanted to be in a program that still had a significant emphasis on academic/scholarly research, as I have a deep interest in slave narratives and the history of written resistance by Black women poets. It’s been such a gift to be in a space where my academic work influences my creative work and vice versa. It’s brought me to places in my poetry that I never would have reached otherwise, and has allowed me to grow and evolve in surprising and wonderful ways."
7. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"I hope people always leave my work with a greater understanding of what it’s like to be a Black woman in this world, in this country. With BLOODWARM specifically, the chapbook is all about race, and I hope the poems tackle it in a new and unique way. I hope Black youth read those poems and feel seen and understood. I hope my Black peers read these poems and feel a sense of community. I hope non-Black people read this book and feel inspired to do something differently, to teach those around them, to be better allies to oppressed people in this country."
8. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
"I hope to write YA sometime soon! Maybe a short story collection or a novel in verse. Maybe both! I love narrative projects and I think I’d really excel with a YA audience. But we shall see!"
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"Hmm, I think a lot of prescriptive writing advice can be useless, as writers are all different and what may work for one person may be completely useless for someone else. I think we should just want people to find what works for them and to encourage them to do those things to the best of their ability."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I actually love painting, and I don’t talk about it enough OR do it enough. Years ago in undergrad, I practically painting all of the art for the entire apartment I was living in at that time, and was even taking commissions and selling some art pieces at that time. Hopefully, as I enter a less hectic part of my PhD program, I can work painting back into my schedule for good!"
Watch Taylor read her poem "My Twitter Feed Becomes Too Much" via Variant Literature. It is from her forthcoming chapbook, Bloodwarm. The poem first appeared in Frontier Poetry.
Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is now a third year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the Poetry Super Highway and the Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and a finalist for the Frontier OPEN Prize. Her chapbook, Bloodwarm, is forthcoming from Variant Lit this summer, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.
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