Audio

Roll Call: Radical Literary Friendships

February 15, 2022

Roll Call: Radical Literary Friendships

Transcription by: Victor Jacskon

Ajanae Dawkins

And in 5432 (air horns)

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Hi everybody, I'm Maurisa Li-A-Ping. I use she/her pronouns. I'm from Brooklyn. I rep it hard. Right now, I'm living in Providence, Rhode Island. I'm a writer. I'm an artist. I'm a lover, a sister, a friend, all things that makes me beautiful. I don't know, I feel like check out my LinkedIn for the professional stuff. But you know, that's who I am at heart.

Brittany Rogers

I love that. That was real poetic. My name is Brittany Rogers. I am from Detroit proper. I am a educator for high school students. And I'm also a poet and writer… living in my city.

Ajanae Dawkins

I love that for you guys. My name is Ajanae Dawkins. I use she/her pronouns. I'm from Michigan or New York, depending on who's asking. And I'm a poet and educator, and I currently live in Columbus, Ohio. Welcome to our radical literary friendships special edition of versus. We're super excited to be here.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Um, yeah. I feel like, it's so insane. Oh, go ahead Ajanae.

Ajanae Dawkins 

No, you go you go. Okay.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I feel like it's so insane that we're all on this podcast because what was it? Oh my God. A year and a half?

Ajanae Dawkins 

Yeah, a year and a half. Oh my God. Yo, That's wild.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

that’s wild a year and a half ago, we were all well, Brittany and Ajanae. They've been best friends since before time. And, you know, we all applied to the MFA creative writing program at Randolph college as poets. And we all got in and we all became Blackburn fellows, which we’ll tell you more about later. But that's what kind of brought us together, you know, and it's just so dope to like, be amongst these two amazing, fierce black woman poets, who are like, doing such amazing work being such amazing humans outside of their work and within their work. And like, shout out to Randolph for the connections, but it will definitely go beyond that. So I'm excited.

Brittany Rogers

Shout outs to Randolph. I think a huge part of what brought us here is the fact that we applied to Randolph and got accepted literally a week before the world as we know it, had its lovely, unprecedented time and we were shut down from then forward. So our first two semesters at our program were virtual. And I think in a lot of ways, it made it so hard to like connect, although I think they you know, did a very good job of trying to make sure we were connected so it was almost like the black girls was like, hey. Hey sis.

Ajanae Dawkins

It was like we ganging up on this thing together. And I think, Well, no, I think we are we always would have been gang gang. But I think covid definitely had us on some extra like, folks need support systems around here.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Yes, I slid in Britney's DM’s like, Ajanae’s DM’s like: Oh they posted about y'all, you know, you the other two, okay? Anyone else?

Ajanae Dawkins

What it do, baby?

Brittany Rogers

We got lucky enough to have the same mentor for the first two semesters, so we spent a lot of time writing together, being stuck together, studying together, and complaining together. And at some point, I think realized that we were developing a friendship and A) not only how valuable it was, but I think B) like beyond being valuable, we just realized how necessary it was, which led us to a lot of conversations around intimacy, around friendships, around how did the Great's do this, like Did they have? We know they did, right? So this is what we would love to know more about. And that's how we came to talking about that with y’all today.

Ajanae Dawkins  

Yes. And so this episode is really just an attempt to look at friendship, and the literary lives of black folks and how those two things intersect. And who are the greats, who are out here just living their best lives, like really ki ki’ing it up together? And also who is out here in our contemporary literary lives really being sustained by friendship, and how is that important for them and us and black folks in general? So welcome to our little world.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

And I feel like it's because, as black people like we are naturally collectivist. We don't exist on our own. And in the poetry world, that's even more heightened. Right? We need community for so many of us. We might have heard that poetry is a lonely sport, right? Or a lonely activity. And I think for so many black poets, we know it to be communal. Yeah. And I think some of you know, Ajanae was mentioning, some of the greats that have came before us. And one of the most like, I'm out here Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, like, let's gay gay for life. Just super queer. And I think like, I look at Pat Parker and Audrey Lord, and I'm just like, just like blushing. Y'all can't see it, but I'm blushing right now. It’s just like, it's just amazing.

Brittany Rogers 

No, I remember when I read their letters, I would be sending Ajanae screenshots like “This, this is how I feel about you.” But something that stood out to me most was that there, not even just, not just the conversations that they were able to have about publishing because I felt like that was so important, right? I love the way Audrey would be like, “Listen, this is what this organization is gon’ do. Don't let them get you.” Or “These are the people that you need to talk to. Let me connect you.” But I extra love how mama Audrey would be like, I” wrote you letters upon letters? And you haven't answered yet. So like, are you trying to play me?” And that's to me is so endearing, because I feel like I'm a person who needs a lot of reassurance. And that was the first thing that clued me into the fact that I'm like, Oh, they're not just friends because they're both writers. This is an intimate like, important communal space. And it felt really affirming for me in terms of what I need from friendship spaces.

Ajanae Dawkins 

Yes, it very, even though it was like these physical letters it very much so felt like our version of the girl I know, you see these text messages? Like, I know, you're looking at these messages. If you don't respond to me, or I'm gonna come down there and we ‘gon see what's really good. Yes.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Yeah, I think about one Pat Parker says, no, when Audrey Lord says to Pat Parker in the letter, when I didn't receive a letter, and I'm paraphrasing, but like when I didn't receive a letter after 15 years. And I'm just like, the intimacy there, like Brittany said, and like, the Platonic romance of like, waiting for a letter from your friend for 15 years. And the kinship is that deep, you know, the sisterhood is that deep? Like that, that really hit me in a way that's like, oh, cuz I got some friendships that I'm like, oh, like, “Oh, like, why you didn’t write me back sis? You know what I’m saying? But like why you not giving me feedback on my poems? You don’t fuck with me no more? You don't, you don't message me no more? Um, that timeline of like, I haven't spoken to you in this long. Something feels wrong. And I know, we could pick up where we left off. But like, I don't know, I just feel that void, being filled with so much intimacy and love and like romance in the most platonic way. But in the most longing, yes. Yeah, tell us more longing. Tell us more.

Ajanae Dawkins 

I'm just, I'm just thinking about cuz me and Brittany talk a lot about romance and platonic intimacy and friendships. And I think about the ways we talk, we think about missing our partners or like missing folks, but what it means to like really long for someone, and like, long for their place in your life, and like, want to know what's going on with them. And obviously, these were, like different times. And access was not what it was in the same capacity, but also to not have, I think, given up on that relationship, and for that longing to have sustained her, you know what I mean? Like to be sustained by the desire for someone, you know? No, go ahead Brit.

Brittany Rogers 

I think too, that also makes me think about not just the longing, but the vulnerability that had to be present, to say, I've been waiting all this time, and I'm still waiting, and to keep reaching out. And I think that I don't know, just that transparency and vulnerability and conversation really, really shows me the intimacy and our friendship because it's hard to reach out. If you've been the person not being answered, and it's hard to reach out to when you're the person who hasn't answered. I know if I’ve like slacked on text messages, after a while it gets to where I'm like, oh, I can't even respond back because now I'm gonna be embarrassed, right? If they messaged me three weeks ago, do they even still want to talk to me? So to just, I don't know, think about that vulnerability and that certainty and knowing I'm just gonna keep reaching out because I know at some point, you're gonna respond back and I think reading their letters and also word to Erica Furman because Erica Furman is the person who was like, “Ooh chile, you looking at tenderness. This is who you need to be reading.” And recommended this text to me has been foundational in the way that I look at friendship and intimacy for sure.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

And I feel like it's holding space for their humanity, like, you know, when you be going through things, and I always send my friend messages. And I'd be like, you don't gotta respond, but just know that I'm thinking about you. You know, that's what the letter felt like to me, like, I'm gonna keep writing because I know you're in a space. But I want you to know, when you get out that I, I'm gonna still be here.

Brittany Rogers

Yeah

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

And I don't know, I guess like looking at Pat and Audrey's friendship. And the way that also their friendship was like, not for show. You know what I'm saying? Like there wasn’t no IG back in the day, but like, it wasn't on IG like, “Oh, that's my best-” Well, I don’t know if we can be singing songs and stuff without getting um, but like, they weren't on IG Instagram. They were on on Instagram, back in the day flaunting their friendship. They were invested in this even when no one was watching. Right, like the friendship and the sisterhood and the kinship was not, um, performative, right? And also, it wasn't sexual. And as like a queer black woman, it's really hard to be friends if other woman without evolving into something else. And I don't know, I guess just thinking about Pat and Audrey. It makes me want to like reflect on our own friendships. Right. And, you know, are there friendships in y’all lives that you feel like have nourished you? Have been there 15 letters later? Yeah.

Ajanae Dawkins

Brit, do you want to go first?

Brittany Rogers

Sure. Okay. I was just thinking I mean, yeah, too many to count honestly. I think that's a space friendship is a space where I feel very blessed and very lucky to be surrounded by folks who love me the way that I love them and who show up for me, Ajanae Dawkins is absolutely one of them. Spoiler alert, right? Who I've been friends with for over a decade, at this point, Mars, Marshal is a very deep and close friend of mine Phoenix like, Hello detroit folks, I feel like I've been blessed in that my poet friends, were awesome in some way orbiting as friends before we were poets. And our friendship was cemented outside of that space. And I think that if I stopped writing tomorrow, those friendships would still be what they were. And I think that that's what sustains us largely. So, yeah, I'm grateful for them.

Ajanae Dawkins

Yeah. And I think, Britney, obviously. Clearly! And I think thinking about the literary aspect of it. I think a lot of us have connected over poems, and poems were maybe what brought me to people. I think, you know what, this is kind of making me think of, when people always say that like writing save their lives. And that's not to say that for some people it's not true that the act of writing saved their lives. I think, for me, it's the people that writing brought me to in my life. Because, because I was writing, I ended up in a space and a time, high school was ghetto, y'all. Okay, so, um, because I was writing, I ended up in a space where I could be a more full version of myself. And I ended up in a space where I ended up developing relationships that just did not exist in the other spaces that I was in, and those relationships sustain me, and with those relationships came work on craft and work on poems, and people telling me that my poems was to dog online to dog on long. And, you know, they didn't know what I was talking about. And I was using too many images, trying to avoid the point. And it also came with people nourishing me and just checking on me and doing all those things. And those are relationships that exist as far as like my core group of friends. 10 years later. So that's definitely Britney, Miana shout out to my other best, um, Ari, Grover, Justin-

Brittany Rogers

Who I’m married to by the way. I should’ve shouted that out.

Ajanae Dawkins

Listen, we keep it. Listen, we really kept it close. I love that for us. Um, and so I think I feel nourished by what writing brought me to and out of that nourishment my writing developed, as opposed to like it being like writing was the thing that saved my life. I think writing is like the compulsion. But It's the compulsion. It's the thing I was going to do whether I was doing well or not, like it was the relationships that made sure I was doing well while I did the thing.

Brittany Rogers

Yes, Ajanae I love that. ‘Cus there’s a version of myself that’s a writer, but as a trans person, and that version would be very, I would look like a very different person without y'all for sure

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

So the reason why I wanted to do this podcast is because I don't know if everybody has those radical literary friendships. And I think, like, I'm on this podcast, right, we're having this conversation, which is Super dope. And I have Brittany and Ajanae. And I'm so grateful and a few more other people who I really hold really close to and are in great conversation with my art and with me, but I, I can't say that, like, I have a really large poetry community. Um, or that I think a lot of my closest friends are not poets. And I guess like, for anybody who's out there listening who's like, I don't have that yet, but I want to know how. Like I'm on here, I'm on this same way with you about like, how do we look back to the past to see what they created? And how do we cultivate that in the coming time now I'm also like, really awkward and anxious Abby, you know, full on anxiety, and it just sometimes can be really difficult to navigate poetry spaces when we talk about scarcity, when we talk about competition, when we talk about imposter syndrome, you know, so I don't, I ask the question, right. And I was sitting here getting emotional, and I'm like, I have people, but I don't know… it feels complicated.

Brittany Rogers

And I think that's so real. Because part of I think we helped our like squad of folks be able to kind of sustain a relationship was how young we were when we first started, like our friendship. And we came up in slam together. And I don't think we have the pressure of like, you know, what felt like the business of poetry, if you will. So all we did was write and travel to slams together, because we wanted to slam and, you know, read each other's very long, very unedited poems. And that made it so much easier. I don't think there felt like a scarcity, because it didn't feel high stakes, if that makes sense? And so I absolutely, or not high stakes in terms of, we're both trying to win like the same award, or we're both applying to the same school, as you know, obviously, we were able to do, but I think 10 years into a friendship, that's the sort of thing we don't think about, whereas I definitely, I feel you, Maurisa, had we been trying to start that in the middle of community, or, you know, what poets love to call community, but that's a podcast for a different day. I think that might have felt a little different.

Ajanae Dawkins 

No, I 10 out of 10 agree, and I was thinking about the age that we came in. But also I think the way capitalism in a lot of ways has, capitalism, and also the just the politics and culture of the spaces have manipulated these things. Because you're not, you aren't going into spaces to quote unquote, build organic relationships. You're, it's, you're told to go network, you're told to go do all of this stuff, which, at this point, I'm like, I'm not good at that. Okay? Either we're gonna be friends, or we're not. I don't know how to pretend to care about folks. So, um, and I think, I think I agree with what Brittany said, in terms of, in terms of the ability to build relationships without those things looming. I know, that was one of the things that we really connected with in the Pat Parker and Audrey Lorde thing where I believe it was Audrey, who essentially reached out to pat and was like, Yo, essentially, they're trying to pit us against each other. And like, we're not about to go for it. Like it's not about to pop off. They're not ‘bout - I don't know if it was like over some money or something. But she was like, be clear, this friendship is more important than any of these other things.

Brittany Rogers

Okay, my my three plus

Ajanae Dawkins

period,

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

and period.

Ajanae Dawkins

And I just think about that with some of the stuff that I feel like Britney, even me and you have come up against in relation to this, like us getting into Randolph when we, I don't know if you want to tell this story with me Brit. But just thinking about scarcity and competition and what it looks like to resist that. I feel like part of it has been about imagining that there's more abundance than what like capitalism is trying to tell us there is, or that what systems are trying to tell us there is because when we applied for Randolph, one) we're applying to the same schools. I think our list with the exception of like one or two schools was virtually the same. Which makes a lot of sense because black women, yeah, you know, but whatever. That's besides the point. Um, and not only that, but we both decided that Randolph was our number one pick, we were like, alright, and they were a very new program, are still a very new program, but they had one fellowship, and it was the Blackburn fellowship. And only one person had gotten it before because they were literally that new. So the one person that got it, so we assumed that this fellowship goes to one person because one person got it the year before. So when me and Briteney talked about it, she was like, I need the fellowship. I was like, Girl, I need the fellowship too. So it was like, alright, we both ‘gon get the fellowship. We literally prayed for we was like, we praying that we both get this fellowship. And then to find out that the abundance was not even just about us, too. But it was about like three black women operating in that space. And there being enough space for the three of us. Yeah, I feel like, I feel like a lot of that, that battle starts in, like refusing to, like internalize that stuff and being like, I don't care what they said.

Brittany Rogers

And I think what was also helpful for me and Marissa, like, you could chime in, because I don't even know if there was any, or what concern for like, on your end applying to a program in a space where, like, as Ajanae said, scarcity is a thing and wondering, do they even have enough spots for me? Am I even gonna get in? Like, is this my one shot to get in? Um, for me, I'm doing an MFA a little bit like later, I'm not fresh out of undergrad. So there were like, tense moments around that. But there was never a space in which I was like, if, Ajanae gets this, and I don't, or if I get it and Ajanae doesn't, that this is going to impact any part of our real life? Um, if anything is like, okay, we these are, we've edited each other's applications, we have read, there's not a poem that I have written over the past 10 plus years, that Ajanae has not seen at some point in time. Um, so I don't think that there was ever a space that felt like, things were going to change if we did not. And I think that that also contributes to us not feeling like, okay, there is no competition, because you winning is like me winning, and not in terms of I'm weird, we're sharing the reward, but it's like, oh, that makes me just as happy. If I know that I did not win a thing, but this person who I love so deeply did, you know, for me, it's like, what's the difference? What difference does it make? I guess that's something that was cool.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Yeah, I think I was definitely surprised to see that there were three Blackburn fellows considering that there was one the year before and I was also like, super hype, like, super dope. And I think I've been aware of like, you, Brittany and Ajanae. But we've never like interfaced, you know what I'm saying? So I was like, Oh, I know of these people, but I don't really know them. And then I think when, like competition and scarcity. I felt like I didn't have the bandwidth to think about that. Because I'm, I consider myself like, I don't always know what's going on in the poetry community because I don't have a bunch of poetry friends, like a lot of my friends are in other industries, or they're creatives, but they're not poets. Right? And it is, it is a great blessing, because poets drive me nuts. Love y’all to death, but you drive me nuts. But it's also a beautiful thing. I will never forget, like, I think some I'm not recalling who said this to me, but somebody said like, it's so cool to be around- I think somebody said it at our first residency. like to be in a room with someone who is obsessed about the same thing that you are. Yeah. And I was like, that is what it means to be in a room full of poets, you know what I'm saying? Where like, I say something, and they get just as excited as I am, right? Because I mean, I didn't really have an understanding of like, low rez, high rez, top programs, not top programs. Who's at this program? Like, I didn't have that context. So it felt like although I had a previous master's degree, I felt like I was first gen all over again. And entering and applying for the MFA and figuring out like, how do you know what's the best program for you? Like, that's the thing you tell, and I and I have a background in higher ed. So I'm like, we tell college students like you got to make sure this is a good fit. And I'm like, how do you know it's a good fit? Like I don’t know if it’s a good fit? Like, so? I don't know. It was it was weird, but I was just surprised that I got into programs you know, I think that like, again, not having that poetry community can lead to like imposter syndrome. So I was just like, oh my god, I can't believe I got into program, got into this program like, you know, but also in the same way if I had to remind myself like, oh my god, this program is so lucky that I've accepted this so lucky that like, yes, you came through the door. And I think that's been a really great fruit of this friendship of like always being reminded of like my worth and my value. Being in community with you all, as Brittany mentioned, we had our first semester we had our first two semesters with the same faculty mentor, and it just felt so great to have to be insulated. I say that word, like I feel insulated by our friendship, you know, to know that like, alright, I can put a trash poem out there, but it's not hitting concrete. You know what I'm saying? Like, it’s hitting some real soft, pillow cushiony truth that's gonna tell you, this is not giving what it was supposed to gave. But here's-

Brittany Rogers 

To kind of echo back on what you were saying a minute ago, I think what I value most of my being able to work with y’all was that things felt like less of a mystery. So, seeing like oh, friends are able to share resources, you know, about this place that's publishing this type of work. Marissa would be hitting me all the time with you know, hey, I don't know if you've seen this contest, but this looks like a great fit for your work. And that's something that Yeah, so like so much of the literary again, community kind of, quote, unquote, is shrouded in like this sense of security, big secrecy, because there's this sense of like, competitiveness, or even if we're not talking about secrecy, just maybe people don't have the time or, you know, there just seems to be a lot of conversations that happen behind closed doors, and not necessarily that are forward facing that feel very, very mysterious to people who are newer poets, or even poets who just don't feel like they have as much community or are as tapped in.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

And so many poets are awkward, like, we're all just in our feelings in a bag. It's about like, looking at life through metaphors and similes and onomatopoeias, you know what I’m saying, like, Oh, that felt like, bam, I can't name it, but it was bam. You know what I'm saying? And I think that like for people who are tuning in who are like, alright, but I don't got this, but I want it. I think something that I've been encouraged from by Brittany is to be like, and Ajanaeis just to, Brittany is just like, Yeah, I think you’re cool. I want to be your friend. And I remember Brittany was like, Yeah, I don't know if you know this person, but we're friends.

Brittany Rogers 

I believe in making it plain, okay.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

There’s someone out there who like you really love like, now I feel so encouraged. And Ajanae is just so authentically herself. She’ll be like, you know what, this is who I am. You ‘gon love it, or you ‘gon love it?  you know, so it gives me courage. Not but for real, though, but it gives me courage to be like, alright, Anxious Abby is who I am. You ‘gon love it or you ‘gon love it? And I'ma come up to you. And I'ma tell you, I think you're really cool as a person. And your poems are the plus. And that I want to continue to build with you as a person and get to know you more, because I think it’s really important to differentiate that like we are human beings who make art. We are not just solely poets, right? And, you know, we know that we have our amazing friendships and extended friendships outside of us. But we also wanted to know, like, how are other people building black literary friendships, you know, how are they being sustained in this poetry world, as a person and as a poet?

Ajanae Dawkins 

I was I was actually super caught up with something that you had said previously. So I was still like, ruminating and the wheels were turning about, like you were talking about imposter syndrome. And I was thinking about the way that in conjunction with the scarcity and competition impacts our ability to engage with friendships. And I've been working through like this, like these theories about like, what actually causes imposter syndrome to, to manifest in us. And my most recent theory is that part of the issue is the way that we elevate and put people on pedestals in our mind. So if I have this idea, if I've never met Brittany before, and all I see is I go to Britney's Instagram and I see she's the editor of Muzzle, and she's fine, I'm just gonna put that in the atmosphere. Oh, yeah. Period. Okay. So I go on Instagram, and I find nothing. She's a co editor of Muzzle and she's a teacher. And she's this like bomb poet and she is absolutely fine and like looks good all the time. And it's absolutely ridiculous. I could be mad intimidated when I go see Brittany because I have her like elevated to this idea of something. I've made her this thing that is not human. That is beyond human. I've also separated her from myself because I see myself with all my fullness and all my flaws. And a lot of times we're seeing artists, through art and through things that they've curated and edited and collaborated with on and like, sent through community for double checking before they put these things out into the atmosphere. And so then we get into spaces. And we see these people that we've only known through social media and through art, and through all of these things, and we feel like we don't measure up. And it's impossible to build genuine friendships with people that you have elevated in any kind of space, or sometimes not elevated, somebody that dismissed Yes, for whatever reason, ego is tearing you up, and you think he like you think you better than them. And I think, I also think that is a big shift as well, because I feel like most of the time when we were going into spaces, early on, we didn't know who nobody was, we're finding out in real time, like, you didn't know who wrote good poems, or who didn't until they started reading them at the slam. You know what I mean? And we you were communing with everyone before that. So I was just thinking about that, like with you talking about imposter syndrome. And like the way I think what some of the things that I think, the culture and the politics of everything, how it pushes imposter syndrome, and then how imposter syndrome like erodes the ability to build actual relationships in this space. And then you start looking at people as like somebody who's gonna pull you up or down, as opposed to like somebody you're going to be in relationship with. And so also, it's easy to look at somebody as competition that way, because you immediately- It's an immediate space of comparison.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I'm like, I just retweet, retweet, retweet. I'm so glad you said all of that. I think it's also like, there are some people who are amazing poets, and not great people. Yes. When I say people, I’m not pointing the finger at anyone else, but myself. Like, there's been moments in my life where I couldn't show up as a as like, the best friend that I wanted to be. Was I writing cool poems, maybe, maybe not, you know, but like, as a person, I wasn't in a good space, right? And I think like that pedestal, putting people on a pedestal. And, you know, creating this illusion of scarcity is also tied to that.

Brittany Rogers 

I agree. And I also think that has to do with like people's expectations, right?  So expecting more of a space or more of a person than what they have offered to give, I think to me, is a surefire way to you know, ruin a relationship. And I think that as poets sometimes we go into things with, like, our heart, full of flesh, you know, so we see somebody at the open mic, or we see somebody at the minute or reading, we're like, oh, they seem so great. And then now, there's this, you know, kind of build up where these tense moments where they're don't need to be tense moments, because you've expected a thing that was never communicated. Or, and I mean, if we're just gonna put it all the way on the table, I think that there are also people who just have ill intent, right. So if you are a person who's like, oh, I need to make it to this space, or I need to meet this person. So I can publish in this space. That's not approaching a thing from a space of like, genuine, transparent relationship. And I mean, I don't know about other folks. But I just feel like that's not necessarily a good way to try to maneuver through writing or try to maneuver through anything, poetry or life related, because I think it sets people up for failure. And it sets you up to be, you know, all of these poets that now you beefing with everybody? And how are you beefing with everybody? How does that happen?

Ajanae Dawkins 

And because ain't that much drama in the world, honestly. And I think that goes back to the question you asked earlier is like, why do you want these relationships? Why do you want to be friends with people? Because I'm like, I can tell you why I want to be friends with Brittany and Marissa. And as bomb as their poems are, it don’t have nothing to do with it. Like, Brittany could never write another poem a day in her life. Well, she can't. Because we’d fight because I’d be like girl, what is you doing? Okay. But if Brittany never wrote another poem a day in her life, like it's us to the end like period. If Marissa never writes another poem a day in her life, like I'm still about to be at this virtual housewarming. If Britney, you know what I'm saying?

Brittany Rogers 

I think that also comes in being able to differentiate between like friend and classmate and colleague and adjusting expectations in that way, because I know that this show is about friendship, which is very important. And I think that what's equally important is not trying to make everybody your friend, because well what my mama used to say “everybody ain’t your little friend Brittany, just because they laugh and Kiki with you, that doesn't mean that that's your friend.” And I think sometimes we do our own hearts a disservice when we are anticipating something from somebody that they are not able to give.

Ajanae Dawkins 

So then maybe can we do a defining a friendship and community as we like are getting ready to move forward in and looking at like some of our interviewees and like some of the stuff like how do we define friendship?

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I really love that question. About how do we define friendship, ajanae? Because I have been like doing like this friendship plans and like putting a lot of work into, like a lot of my friendships and relationships in my life over the last two years. And as someone who's like a writer, and I work full time, and I'm a full time student, and I have a chronic illness, like for me, a friend is someone who can hold space for all that I am. Like, if you cannot show up, if you if you could be there, when it's time to celebrate my birthday, but you can't be there when I'm having a flare up, you're not a friend. You know what I'm saying? If you can't sit in silence with me, if you can't kiki with me about random things, you know, if I can't send you random flowers I seen on the street, like, you're not a friend. So for me, it's about the bandwidth. Like, can you be both and? Because I am very multifaceted. And I need someone who can be both and, and I think that's when I'm thinking about like the friend of like all friends. But I think something that I realized is that like, not every friend is going to be that person. So I don't think there's a universal definition for like, that's like the friend of all friends. But I don't think there's like a universal definition for like friends, right? Like, there's some friends who like, you know, when I find a really amazing poet, I'm not sending that to my friend who's like a software engineer. You know what I'm saying? They're like, Maurisa, I love you, and I support your art. Just send me your poems, you know what I'm saying? Like, just send me your poem. Like, I want to support you, you know what I'm saying? Or if I find a video that's like about hospitality, like, I'm gonna send that to my friend who works in hospitality industry. So I think like, it's not a universal definition. And there are some friends that are good for venting. And there are some friends that are good for like hikes, you know, you need to have a friend who could swim just in case. So I don't know. I am not that friend, I am looking for swimmers-

Ajanae Dawkins 

I’m that friend. I will go hiking. I will go swimming.

Brittany Rogers 

I think friendship for me, is definitely like a skill, right? Like you said, everyone is not gonna show up the same way. All of my friendships have not existed in the same space and time, all of my friends are not poets. But I think what is most consistent about all of them is that my friends are someone who I feel like I can be myself with without filter. If I find myself constantly like filtering the conversation through whatever reason, I'm like, Oh, this is probably not, you know, a good friends for me, which doesn't make you a terrible person. Again, you could be a colleague, a co-worker, a lot of things, but maybe not someone who I would seek if I needed to talk, or needed to vent, or just needed to be in space with someone. Um, and I'm a person who is very communal, so I need to be in space with folks a lot. But but tiny spaces with folks. To also clarify, I'm not extroverted, I just, my community helps me feel tethered to the rest of the world. And also, I'm very busy. I have three kids, I have a full time teaching job, etc, etc. So when I feel like I am showing up in this, this space, that brings me more joy, as opposed to being a space that is depleting. That's typically where I'm like, oh, I have found a homie.

Ajanae Dawkins 

Oh, I would. I would second what both of y'all said 10 out of 10. I don't remember where I read this. I remember if somebody tweeted this, or something's I probably should look it up, because I don't remember who said it. But somebody said something along the lines of if you're 99% known, then you're unknown. And that really tore me up because I was like, oh, dang. Like, that means like, if I'm like holding things back, and my most intimate friendships, I'm still unknown. I don't know that. That applies to every tier. I think I agree with y'all, there are like tiers. There's all of this stuff, but I think about friendship as a space where there's not another motive other than the relationship. And that doesn't mean there aren't that is always mean there aren't other benefits. Like there are plenty benefits to being Britney's friend. You know what I mean? Like giving Okay? Benefits, all right? Y'all never had Britney's Turkey greens, let me tell you something, okay? There are plenty of benefits to being Maurisa’s friend. But the motive has nothing to do with those things. And I think, I think that is like the defining thing for me, or the difference. So which I think kind of presses into this idea of like, what it looks like to care more about the human than the art

Brittany Rogers 

I think that's so important. And like, even bigger than the friendship is the human. Because I think that friendships like any other relationship can be so fragile. Um, and so many things can come in the way of like cultivating a good relationship or a good friendship. And I think it's just so much easier when you care about who the person is, aside from the fact that they're your friend. Like if, you know, heaven forbid we fell out somewhere, would I still care about you as a person? And the answer is yes, but I suppose we're not falling out tomorrow.

Ajanae Dawkins 

I was about to say, but also the fallout wouldn't be real. You can be mad if you want to, girl, I will see you soon. See you next weekend. Yeah, see you soon girl, attitude and all.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I feel like a really good example of that is Willie Kinnar III, the third and their beloved friend Asiah. We asked them like, we asked Willie, how has your friendship with Asiah impacted your life? And who would you be without that friendship?

(Music Interlude)

Willie Kinnard III 

I think without Asiah, I would probably be as lost as Ruby without Sapphire on steven universe. Together, I feel like we are a literary garden. I feel that without the friendship of her, I don't, I don't feel like I would be the artists that I am. Without Asiah honestly, like, words almost don't even make sense.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I was so moved by Willie's friendship. I mean friendship feels like, like similarly to Audrey Lorde and Pat Parker, like friendship doesn't even feel like enough. There's a kinship there. Right? Um, that is so much deeper than like, friends. Like when we think about like, as a poet, we think about language and like diction. And like, the word friend doesn't feel like it holds the capacity for what they have. Right? And the most like, oh, intimate. What are you saying? Yeah. So I think that like, I don't even know, like, I was like, prepping for this podcast. And I was like, How do I even like, talk about their friendship? When I hear about it, I'm just so moved beyond language. Because the love is that present. I don't know, maybe Brittany, and Anjanae has thoughts. But like, you ever met, or heard of two people were like, you are just so moved by the connection and the kinship and the accountability and care that they have for one another that it's like, how do I, how do I even, you know?

Brittany Rogers 

I think the thing that struck me most about Billy's friendship with Asia is the way that they talked about how they made each other better people. Because I think that's what we're talking about ultimately when we think about caring more about the person. Like, yeah, your art is great. But as we mentioned earlier, you could be a great artist, and maybe not the best human. You can be the great artists, a great artist, and maybe not a good friend. So in what ways are you, in what ways? Am I holding you to your ethics? And what way? am I letting you know, like, hey, look, I love you. But that thing that you did was vile or you're not showing up for your folks, or you're not showing up for yourself? Like, in what ways can I challenge you to be the best version of yourself in a way that goes beyond poetry? Because I think that is cool to have a friend who can look at your poems and be like ooh chile you use this cliche like 10 times, like, give it up. But I also think it's even more fruitful or has been more fruitful for me to have a person who could say, Who's this? You really seem like you hide it from yourself right now. What's going on?

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Yes, all of that

Ajanae Dawkins 

@ me Brittany. If you really, you really want to throw the shots

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Brittany coming for necks like we doing a workshop on the podcast.

Ajanae Dawkins 

I swear. Yeah, no. That definitely got me the sense of accountability to each other. And really specifically, I'm thinking about moments where Willie is mentioning, again, thinking more thinking still about this idea of the human and the art, where Willie is talking about like having open conversations about like, what the art is doing to the person. So like, when he was asking questions like Is this art re traumatizing me or traumatizing me, and how am I taking care of myself. So like that kind of knowing, that is stuff that your friends would care about the audience don't really care about the audience typically cares, that the work is good. Folks typically don't care if the work, or the labor to produce the work is really traumatizing you, they care about the product. And so I thought that was important, but also the intimacy. And the way that Willie speaks about Asia, oh my gosh, there's one part where he literally is like, words almost have no meaning outside of her. I was like what! What? The romance! Word like, not a lover, a friendship, words have no meaning,

Brittany Rogers 

But you know what that makes me think of Ajanae. And this is ‘gon seem like a shameless plug, but it's not. But I think we've talked often about how, after your friends for so long, there's almost like this combined language that you have, that is unintentional. But at this point its certain things that I don't have to say. So even in workshop, like I can send as an air farmer, and they can send me a poem and we show up to workshop with it. But as you guys comments may seem, like harsh or even lacking some other people that I might not know exactly what she means. I've been listening to her talk to me about my poems for 10 years. So there are certain things that she doesn't have to say, and which I know that when she wrote question mark next to there, she was like, are you really gonna try this again, right now? Or if there's a line where it's like, can you push here? That's her saying, ma'am, I seen you use this image too many times. What are we going to do? And that abbreviated language is really its own set of like, its own love and instruction and intimacy, I think

Ajanae Dawkins 

yes, yeah. Yes, Brittany, you've literally I've literally given you poems and you've literally crossed out every line of the poem except the last one and handed it back to me. And been like, “here you go.” Like this triflin’

Brittany Rogers 

Because I know where the truth begins. Okay?

Ajanae Dawkins 

The beginning and end of your comments were the poem starts here. See you when you, see you when you rework it

Brittany Rogers 

I tell them that the rewrite is fire. Let’s tell the whole story.  Okay, let's rewrite this go. Back to a question you asked a little while ago, Marissa about friendships that we've seen where this type of caring is taking place. And I think the great mother, Toni Morrison, and the great Sonia Sanchez are also an example for me and like beacons, who I look towards, especially, especially looking at the documentary that came out. Was that 2019? Toni Morrison’s documentary, what's the title?

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

What a song?

Brittany Rogers 

I think so. Right? It's in the before time. I know that it was in

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Pre-pandemic pre-pandemic, that’s all we care in reference

Brittany Rogers 

And I remember it it's a distinctly because me and Ajanae went for my birthday. Um, and we sat in this theater and we sat and we held hands the whole time and just cried watching that documentary. But part of it I think, for me was because not only I'm watching people whose work I’ve read so many times I can, I can quote you Lyons, who I'm like, deeply devoted to him that way. But watching folks who so clearly and so deeply love each other, in a way that felt so instructive and so healing and so communal, Um and so very black and so very, very hurt and talking trash about who cooks better food. Who shows up with the best recipes was really beautiful to me. But I think it also just, it really modeled the type of tenderness that can exist in friendship forever. And that was something that I was looking at, and I'm like that How long have they been friends? Like?

Ajanae Dawkins 

Or even who delivered the news to Tony yet? She got her Politzer I don't remember who it was. Who do you remember who it was that called her?

Brittany Rogers 

I think that it was Sonia Sanchez?

Ajanae Dawkins 

Was it Sonia? I couldn't remember, but just the idea that like says called it like 1am like girl girl, like I love that. The idea of like, who in the midst of all of these literary accomplishments, let downs, whatever. Who is the one calling you? Who is the one celebrating with you? Who is the one like waking you up saying no, we need to know and see and see you in this film.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

No, no, no, hold up Brittany. Let me tell y’all how I always got to tell Brittany. If I got to find out about something on Instagram. I'll be finding out she a finalist and she be winning stuff on Instagram. I'm like instagram, but we have numbers. So I just, I just have to, like piggyback on what Ajanae said on like, you know, I'll be seeing something I'll be having to phone a friend. Britney knows what it is when I just sent her a screenshot with an emoji, you know what I'm saying? Like, oh, so this what we doing, you know what I'm saying. But that's because I'm excited and I want to celebrate my friends, you know, and celebrate their greatness and not in a external way, but like, let me send you a text and just let you know, I'm real proud of you. You know what I'm saying? Like, I see you. And I know that sometimes in this large poetry world, it can feel like we miss the small wins sometimes. And we don't even see them as big wins. And I will never forget, Nico Anon, I think that's his name, as I see it. Somebody has said to him, like, oh, I can't wait ‘till you make it. And he said, Oh, sweetheart, I done already made it. You missing it, you missed it, you got to pay attention, you know, um, but I also just wanted to jump in and say that, like, I am not - texting, it's not my ministry for meaningful conferencing,

Ajanae Dawkins 

Feel this in my spirit. You already know, the vibes.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Texting is not my ministry. And I was so moved by Pat Parker and Audrey Lorde writing letters to each other during a time, which I feel like letters were more popular. But, you know, I just started hopping on my email and emailing my friends letters, and some responded, and some didn't, you know, some people have different love languages. But I think that, like, they inspire me, because I was like, Damn, what I'm gonna look like in the 21st century, 2021 year going on 2022, writing my friends letters, but I just did it. You know, and I write letters to poets who I love as well. And I don't like writing letters. This is not a thing that I enjoy. Just so y'all know. But like, I do it, because I'm so inspired. And I'm so invested in like, kinship and giving people their flowers while they can smell them and finding multiple ways to be in communication, because I'm like, who's gonna be reading the Marissa and letters? 10 years from now? You know what I'm saying? Like, yeah, yeah.

Brittany Rogers 

During my first, no, during my second semester, I've been service engineer fees. And that what you just say, reminded me of the conversation we had about letter writing, because we were talking about was being able to, like reach out to friends when we don't have anything left to reach out with. Um, and so as I was, like, kind of trying to get my creative, whatever going in the middle of these, you know, gestures wildly at these times, and pregnant and all of those things. Letter Writing was something that Angel asked me had I been considering, but also, Angel kind of, like, encouraged me to surround myself with things from my community, and for my kin. And it's so ironic, because one of the first things that I found after she encouraged me to do that was a letter that my best friend wrote me years and years and years ago, um, and my best friend's name is Danielle, right? She is no longer living. But she was an actor, and a screenwriter. And in the poem that she wrote me in, it's like, yeah, it's yellowed at this point. Um, it had to have been one of those letters, you know, that we was putting in people's memory books, the last couple of weeks of school in our senior year, we met as freshmen in high school, so I don't even know, what I'm trying to say is, I don't know how this letter survived anything. Um, but it was like, maybe a day after this conversation with Angel. And the next day, I go and open a drawer. And there that letter is. And in that letter, she's telling me like, Okay, I know that you're going to grow up, and you're going to be a poet and a writer, and I can't wait to read your work and I'm going to grow up. And I'm going to do this. And now I keep it next to me anytime that I'm writing, because that letter is like the last. It is the last thing that I have of her. So it's so resonant, Marissa, for you to be talking about these letters and how valuable and important they are. Because I think that we don't think about it, we're completely digital. Right. But that that archival that somebody can touch, You know, it means something significant.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Yeah. And what I'm hearing you say Brittany is like, their words had an impact on you. Yeah, their livelihood had an impact on you. You know what I'm saying? Like, you know, the person who permissioned you to be a poet, you know what I'm saying? And they're like, oh, yeah, you can do this.

Brittany Rogers  

It was such a gift to read. It felt like something that could have been written yesterday. So again, I took it as a gift from Angel and a gift from Danielle because I'm like, Oh, sure. You know I needed this right now?

Ajanae Dawkins

Yeah, so yeah, that makes me think of Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte. And the way that Cornelius talks about the impact that Toi Derricotte had on his life like I don't think y’all hearing me was gorgeous. Like a homie says, Can I call you homie? Homie says, You know what I'm saying like, I'm so glad I didn't have a different 25 years without you.

Cornelius Eady 

The best way to describe how Toi Derricotte has impacted my life is to say, and I think Toi feels the same way is that there was clearly a before Toi world I lived and walked through an after Toi world from which I speak to you now. How best to describe it? Like living in a cave, before fire. And after it's lit like a plate of dull food reborn after the ships carried spices over the land, roots, and water, like a baby brain, before the eyes scan the page for the first time, and those squiggles turn into language. I prefer the post Toi world because it is filled with things I didn't think I needed then. How the deep and complicated ways friendship and trust works. Toi has been my guide, my defender, my questioner, the brake pedal and my impatience. The reality check to my ego, a flint and spark to my voice when it's dampened by fear. He’s that kind of a friend. I thank the fates, I didn't get to live a different 25 years

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

Who don’t want me for 25 years. Let me know. Let me know.

Ajanae Dawkins

Listen, I was about to say, me an who, um, me and Brittany. It was, for me it was the oh my gosh, the line there's just before Toi and after Toi. Like, so impactful. This is a terrible comparison. So not comparing this in like a bad way. But in the way that like COVID has like so like irrevocably undone our lives, that we're literally measuring time as like before and after, like to have a person but in the positive like to have a thing so bomb somebody so popping come into your life, that it’s like, who I was before this person and who I was after this person. And I love it because a lot of people make those references to familial or non platonic relationships. So who I was before I became a wife, or a husband or a partner, you know what, whatever, or who I was, before I became a mother, a father, a parent, but not in friendship. And that like distinction of these timelines of you can trace who I've been by this person. Whoa, the intimacy is what I stand for y'all.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

It’s the intimacy for me. For me. It’s my thing y’all.

Brittany Rogers

One of my faves is also for me how long, the length of time that you known a person can mark so much and can deepen so much too. Like in the wild times, in the wild year, my birthday party and my baby shower had to be virtual. And my birthday party, I felt like especially Ajanae threw me like a virtual birthday party that I didn't have any information for it, but show up on this zoom at this time. And the the range of folks who were on the call for me was like, Oh, she's known me forever, because she knew to invite my sands crosswind in 2006. And she knew to invite my favorite cousin and she knew to invite you know what I'm saying, folks from residency and folks from water at home, and just these people that span all of these different points of my life. And I've always joked and said that you don't even really start knowing me until we've been friends for at least five years. Because you have to also, I think, I think it's impossible to know me without knowing my relationship with Ajanae, or seeing how deeply that relationship functions right like there's a me that doesn't exist without this friendship and not in a way that’s like really co-dependent, it's just there are things that Ajanae has taught me, you know what I’m saying, that other folks haven't taught me, or there things that Mars has taught me that show up in the way that I communicate day to day. Um, and those things I think are hard to separate. You know what I mean? It's hard to filter through and say what I would have known or who I would have been without the presence of that person and that wisdom in that graph?

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Yeah, Brittany, I'm here, you're talking about time. And I resonate with that so deeply. And I just want to read this clip, by Cornelius. I'm so moved. Because I think of you Brittany, and I'm like, oh Brittany knows loads of things, you know, Ajanae knows the things I'm out here in my little poetry dictionary trying to find the things or how to say the things. Right, um, and we know you said, Some people consider me wise, I will simply say that it is a byproduct of learning how to be Toi Derrecot’s friend, and Toi learning to be mine.

Brittany Rogers 

Which is so beautiful.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping

I'm just like, ahh! Poets are the best people in the world? But that's what I'm hearing you saying with your friendship with like, Ajanae, and Mars and myself and like, like, it takes time. But also, your wisdom is a collective wisdom.

Brittany Rogers 

Yes. Right.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

And I feel that too, like, I call my friends all the time. And I'm like, you know what Brittany just taught me. You know, it's always like, here is the collective knowledge that's being passed, and then they pass it to their friends, and so on and so on. And it's like, it reminds me of I'm forgetting the how to say it in the language, but the African fiber was like, I am because you are or I am because we are. What is it? Do y’all know? No. Okay. It's like I am so we are. Yeah, and that's what it's making me think of. And I'm wondering, as we close out, like, what is, what do y'all think is like, the key to sustaining black literary friendships?

Ajanae Dawkins 

The key. That's a that's a heavy question. I don't know that I can point to a key

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Or like an aspect.

Brittany Rogers 

Integrity.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Say more about that. Yeah,

Brittany Rogers 

I think integrity hinges at the center of everything we've been taught, we've been talking about, you know, showing up for the relationship’s sake, not for the art’s sake, being able to hold one another accountable, being able to discuss our ethics, being able to care about the person outside of any type of like business or competition, or, you know, outside of the work, if you will, I think that the real work is in the way that you show up for folks. And the real work is the way that you, you maintain your integrity and friendship.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I think for me, it's a love. Like, I need love, like love is the how, the what, the why, the when, the where. Um, I also believe what's love got to do with it. So, don't get it twisted, like love will not sustain you alone. But without love, you will not be sustained. Right? And I always say that, like my poems are only as great as I am. And I think these friendships helped develop me as a person, and thus is developing my work. So it was like, if you are not, I feel like pouring love into me is pouring love into my work and pouring love into my work. Well, that may not be true, but the people I'm thinking about it applies, pouring love into my work is them pouring love into me because they also do the other work that comes with that. So I think love it can't be the only thing but it is definitely a key aspect that is going to sustain black literary friendships for me.

Ajanae Dawkins 

Yeah. And I think I would say, this is about to sound so corny. Um, I think I would say kindness and a willingness to grow. And I kept going back and forth with whether my thing was going to be kindness or honesty, but I think honesty is included in kindness. But kindness isn't included in honesty. I think there have been people who have been honest with me who didn't care about me. And who didn't love me But honesty was an integral thing for them. And so they were honest with me. And on the other end, I think willingness to grow. I think the combination of that, and willingness to grow is important because I think part of friendships is that you just got to see, if you talking about friendships, friendships, like I'm on, meaning, we bout to be in this thing for a long time. I remember Brittany, when we were at the watering hole. And, you know, we were in a workshop and we were just reminded, like, the folks that you're in community with now, like, you're gonna be, look around the room in 10 years, and it's gonna be those same folks. And in 20 years, it's gonna be those same folks.

Brittany Rogers 

Word to Jericho Brown for the amazing advice

Ajanae Dawkins 

Yes, word to Jerich. Word to Jericho for that. And just thinking about that, like, folks are gonna see you through a lot of versions of yourself, and not all of them are gonna be good, like, in the hope that one, you or me or whoever is not too stubborn to be able to receive accountable, like, somebody's holding them accountable in a healthy way and be willing to change but also that people wouldn't become disposable because I think it's easy, or not easy, but it becomes easy to treat people as a sport, especially when you're young, and you don't have like the concept of longevity. Like when you're 22 and like you only been in the community for two years, it's really hard to imagine for like the next 30 years like that person that you was beefing with is going to be at the next function and I think so yeah, I think about that. So those are those are my keys.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

Thank you. I feel so full. How y’all feeling?

Brittany Rogers 

This has been so cute.

Ajanae Dawkins 

This was really beautiful. I know, y'all know I love talking about love.

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I feel so full. I feel so humbled to be on this call with y'all I feel so loved and insulated as my word anything else y'all, before I stop recording?

Ajanae Dawkins

I love y'all and just want to make it clear this friendship has sustained me year one in a MFA and COVID was not the Randolph was great but the the

Maurisa Li-A-Ping 

I literally sent Brittany a text like thank you for always listening to me complaining about school because I be in my bag

Ajanae Dawkins 

Listen that group chat saved us. That group chat had us straight up laughing through tears some days and this so this friendship has been I want to be clear this friendship has been a sustaining one

Brittany Rogers

Aman to the group chat!

Ajanae Dawkins 

Somebody else got to say goodbye. You know I’m not good at good byes.

Brittany Rogers

Good night.

This episode is a roundtable discussion between Brittany, Maurisa, and Ajanae. We discuss the way that friendship has sustained us and been the catalyst for our growth as writers. We also highlight other literary friendships that inspire and guide our practices (i.e Pat Parker and Audre Lorde, Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte, Willie Kinard and AsiahMae, etc) and how valuable community is to the development of Black writers.

Hosted by: Maurisa Li-A-Ping, Brittany Rogers and Ajanae Dawkins
Produced by: Camille Mojica
Transcription by: Victor Jackson

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