makalani bandele is an Affrilachian Poet. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem Foundation, Millay Colony, and Vermont Studio Center. Currently a candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky, bandele’s work has been published in several anthologies and widely in literary journals. The author of hellfightin’ and under the aegis of a winged mind, awarded the 2019 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, poems from under the aegis have been published in Prairie Schooner, 32poems, and North American Review. His latest manuscript, vandals of knock city, consists entirely of his invented form “the unit” and poems from this unpublished collection have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, The Common, Inverted Syntax, and A Dozen Nothing.
photo credit: Andre Howard
What poets changed the way you thought about writing?
I love this question because I can give a very straightforward answer. Fred Moten. I was hipped to Moten’s work by a poet named Randall Horton. It was around 2010 and he was editing my first collection hellfightin’ as an editor at Willow Books/Aquarius Press and he suggested I check out Moten based on what he saw me trying to do in my work in hellfightin’. When I tell you it changed everything for me as a poet, I do not exaggerate. I am pretty sure the first Moten poem I read was the salve trade. It completely blew me away, it simultaneously made me want to stop writing and write a poem right then and there. For the first time, I felt like I heard a poet speak in their authentic, complicated black self in multiple ways that intersected with my own voice, interests, and experience. Moten’s use of black vernacular, imagery from black social life, Jazz references, engaging of post-modern philosophy, and signifying on the Western worldview and philosophy resonated on all levels with my own being and poetics. In encountering Moten, I heard myself and yet also what I wanted to be and strive toward. Moten’s work was entirely liberating for me, because I realized that a big problem with my work was that I was trying to curate all the voices and discourses coursing through my work into a coherent, linear meaning. It just ended up being a jumbled mess that made sense to me, but left most readers lost as to what the meaning was. Moten taught me that I am too complicated and complex to pack neatly in a box and put on bow on it. I began to employ parataxis, non-sequitur, and troubling/complicating of meaning in my work. It has created multiple valences in my work and more ways-in for readers to have fun in the playground of possible meanings that I have created. Now I feel like I can get all my complicated selves in a poem, and not intend specific meanings in the work, but instead be attentive to the possible meanings while trying to create space for evermore possible interpretations.