Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.
Samiya Bashir is a poet, editor, and a professional focused on editorial, arts, and social justice movement building. She teaches creative writing at Reed College. Her tweet from Pure Surface caught our attention.
What brought you to poetry?
Language, precision, openness, tickle, cupid’s arrow and other assorted weaponry, an ongoing crush on the lush of what words can do.
How have collaborations impacted your work?
The collaborative opportunities I’ve found and made so far in Portland have been life-givingly transfusive. I appreciate the ways in which Portland’s arts culture is collaboratively open and curious. In the past year alone, my work with letterpress artist Tracy Schlapp, film and video artist Roland Dahwen Wu, printer and letterpress artist Daniela Ragan of Letra Chueca Press, the Poetry Press Week team which gave me the space to present work-in-progress by collaborating with both my Reed students and my beloved artist peers, and the important and powerful community of the Black Creative Collective, or BCC: Brownhall, have all helped me to think through problems, questions, and opportunities in my work with which I’ve struggled while simply isolated in the room of my own where so much gets stitched—which is also of course important too. The solitude of the room is important to the work, but so is a community of artists committed working and thinking and succeeding and failing and learning and growing and making separately and together and for a good that supercedes the individual.
Who are some of the most interesting local writers and artists?
Keyon Gaskin is the most magnetic artist to watch in Portland right now. Keyon is a dancer whose performances are dangerous, heart-wrenching, beautiful, painful, and most of all necessary. Keyon’s voice, his generosity, his take as well as his give, his loving heart, his (not un-)flinching questions, challenges, demands are important to engage with NOW. They are now and they are, he is, needed. I’ve recently stolen his toss-away warning to the gathered swarm of audience at his recent Yale Union show as the entry point to a poem—“Where you are,” Gaskin muttered mid-rush, mid-movement, “is gonna be really unsafe soon.” —because we don’t just get to consume the challenges presented to us, we get to respond. Some might say, in fact, that we must.
What are you working on now?
I have a few projects ongoing as well as just poems, poems, poems. It’s been a busy travel season, during which I’ve debuted excerpts from a multimedia poetry project I’ve been working on, M A P S :: a cartography in progress, which throughlines sound and image and umph with light, language, and fractured narrative pulled, reshaped, and remade from Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah’s Maps. Farah’s novels—here we might focus on home and place and family and diaspora and generational knowledge and legacy—are written in a deliciously different register than my own. The interaction feels a bit like dowsing wand to lightening. Magic, of a sort.
I’m also shaving the final excess from a collection of poems whose central interrogation of quantum physics theory includes questions of how our bodies, especially black bodies, might carry, sustain, and resist gender, class, ethnicity, home, place, and race, as well as the physical relationship to its own interior and exterior landscapes, under the ever-present rays of an often misguided, dominating cultural gaze. A blackbody, for instance, is a hypothetical, idealized object that emits no visible light, among other things; it appears black to observers. I am curious about this qualifier: “visible.” Who can we trust to measure our light? To tell us where and how much? How bright? How hot? Can we trust ourselves? Others? “Who are you going to believe,” asked Groucho Marx, “me or your lying eyes?”
Poems from this collection have been published widely enough in magazines like Poetry, which also framed an interesting conversation around my poem, “Consequences of the Laws of Thermodynamics,” for last April’s National Poetry Month podcast (their podcast is pretty fantastic, I’m a fan); World Literature Today, which chose me and my work as a cover feature and offered a thoughtful reading of two of my poems in its editorial; and Poet Lore, which nominated my 15-sonnet cycle of poems, “Coronagraphy,” for a Pushcart Prize. These poems exist in dialogue with a growing conversation about our human& relationship to the larger universe around us and how it works. And how we do. And how we don’t.