The latest episode of Line / Break features Whiting Award-winner Tyree Daye. Tyree joins our host, Director of Publicity Laura Buccieri, for a conversation about eavesdropping, coffee habits, and the enduring influence of Lauryn Hill.ARVE Error: src mismatch
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Stay tuned for next week’s Line / Break Season One finale, featuring poet, activist, and educator Rachel McKibbens!
Line / Break is a new interview series from Copper Canyon Press that goes off the page and into the homes and minds of our beloved poets. We’re hungry to see poets on screen talking shop, answering questions, and taking us behind the scenes of how they do what they do. So we’re giving them a call, and bringing those conversations to you. New episodes, hosted by Director of Publicity Laura Buccieri, launch on Fridays this spring.
Laura (00:00): Hey, everyone. I’m Laura Buccieri, the Director of Publicity at Copper Canyon Press, and I am coming to you live from Brooklyn. You are watching our new interview series, Line / Break, which goes off the page and into the homes and minds of our beloved poets. I’ve always had the dream of seeing more poets represented on screen, talking shop, answering questions, and taking us behind the scenes of how they do what they do. In this episode, we are speaking with Tyree Daye. Tyree, thank you so much for being here. How’s your day going?
Tyree (00:33): It’s okay. I’ve been getting some work done, which is nice. Had a really good cup of coffee this morning. It was coffee I’d had before but don’t you know, some days the coffee just hits you different? It was one of those days.
Laura (00:48): Yes.
Tyree (00:50): So, that was nice.
Laura (00:52): I love that. I’m glad it was one of those days. Are you a person who puts sugar or cream or anything in your coffee?
Tyree (01:03): It depends on, really, how I’m feeling. If I wake up one day and I’m like, “Today’s a straight black cup of coffee day.” And other days I’m like, “I’m feeling a little …” Usually, when I wake up in a good mood I’ll take a sweeter cup of coffee. I don’t sleep the best, so those days where I wake up, I’m like, “Oh, I slept really well. I think I’ll take a little cream today and sugar.”
Laura (01:27): I love that. I wish I could be that flexible. I’m not flexible. I’m like cream, pour it in. Like half cream, half coffee. That’s what I got to do. Anyway, I would love to … Besides your coffee habits, I would love to have you introduce yourself to our listeners. Maybe name, pronouns, where you live, most recent book you’ve published, anything else you want to throw in is fine with me.
Tyree (01:58): Okay. Yeah. My name’s Tyree Daye. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. My pronouns are he/him/his. I published—it might be a little dirty—this is my second book of poems, Cardinal, published in October of 2020. This is a little bird mark. It’s actually a cardinal, too, which is really cool.
Laura (02:22): Did you make that?
Tyree (02:24): No, my poetry teacher Dorianne Laux, sent me a card. It was like a Christmas card that unfolded as a cardinal. And I asked, “Could I take it out and use it as a bookmark?” So, now it’s a bookmark.
Laura (02:39): Oh my God. I love that you asked that. That’s very sweet.
Tyree (02:46): I didn’t want to just destroy someone’s card. I would feel bad about it.
Laura (02:51): Yeah, I hear that. All right. I would love to just get into it. I wanted to start at the beginning almost, and I was wondering if we could go back to when you started writing poetry. I’m wondering if there was one thing, whether that was a song or a movie or a poem or a character, that you identified with that pushed you or inspired you to write? Or was poetry just something you were drawn to? I just would love to go back there.
Tyree (03:33): Yeah. I think the idea of telling a story, I’ve always been interested in that. I think because I grew up sitting on porches listening to people gossip. I’ve always been an eavesdropper. So I think it began there but then as I went through life there were certain things that also sparked it. I think … Let’s see. I’ve always been interested in stories. I was thinking about this. I think Langston—not Langston Hughes—Lauryn Hill’s MTV: Unplugged album, I think, had a big …
Laura (04:13): Yes.
Tyree (04:15): … influence on me being a writer. And I think you can hear that, her tone, underneath my poems still today. In high school, I think it’s the end of junior year maybe, my mom bought me the collected of Langston Hughes. And I think that had a huge part on my writing. And I think that was really the first time I started really considering poetry. Before that, I was writing little short stories. That was the first time I was like, “Oh, I’m going to try poetry.” And really, it kind of blossomed out of that. I think I still can hear his work underneath my poems today; that kind of blues tone and syntax.
Tyree (05:06): Yeah. And it just grew from there. I went on to graduate school and I put out River Hymns, which was my thesis. And now Cardinal.
Laura (05:16): Now Cardinal.
Tyree (05:18): Yeah, yeah.
Laura (05:19): When you say you can hear the tones of Langston, of music, are you talking about, truly, pace and tone and rhyme and things like that? Or are you talking about content? Or were you more drawn to the rhythm of those things? I’m curious.
Tyree (05:44): I’ll say just because I know I’m always a writer of music first, I think I was drawn to the cadence first. I heard a similar music in the poems that I was maybe drawn to. And then content. Content, as well. But for me, it’s music first. And then I start peeking closer at the poems, like, “Oh, this is … These are the same kind of obsessions that I have.”
Laura (06:15): Poetry is obsession. I agree with you there. I think an obsession, to me, is just being curious about the same thing over and over and over and over again, right?
Tyree (06:28): Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Laura (06:29): And I wonder, though, if you … At the very beginning of this you said, “I love telling stories. I loved eavesdropping. I loved hearing how those stories evolved.” And I feel like that was a big, you said, influence. And then also music. I’m wondering if you write music first, are you layering the stories on music? What’s that process like?
Tyree (07:03): That’s a great question. I think for me it’s the music first and then I go back and figure out, “Oh, this layer was just telling this type of story.” And I try to grow where that story seems to want to grow or dim where that story seems to want to dim and trusting what the language is doing. But it’s always the music and then I go back, right? “Oh, this music is saying this. This part should go up here. And it fits this way.” Story is definitely second for me.
Laura (07:32): Okay. Okay. I’m curious, then—
Tyree (07:35): I’m—
Laura (07:35): Go ahead. Go ahead.
Tyree (07:37): I love what you say about the obsessions because I feel like that’s so true. The obsessions, we dig into them and they get more complicated as we learn more about them. And also, we have more questions about them because of that. But it’s like we’re just trying to find new ways to talk about the same thing, right?
Laura (07:59): Right.
Tyree (08:00): That’s what we do over and over again.
Laura (08:02): Yeah, and when you get more knowledge you inherently have more questions because you know more and you don’t know so much more, then. That’s the one thing I love about poetry, is it’s okay with … it’s at peace with being an art that leans on obsession, I think. And I love that. But I’m curious, you took us through when you started writing poetry and you went to school, you kept writing poetry and then you had these two books published. I’m curious, was publishing a book the moment you started to think of yourself … maybe not call yourself, but think of yourself as a poet? Or was that something … Has that happened yet? Or is that something that came earlier? Was there that tipping point in which you’re like, “Oh, okay. Now I’m a poet.”
Tyree (08:59): I really love that question because … I don’t know. I don’t think I … And I think this is for a lot of people. I don’t think we think about the things we just like, because life doesn’t … maybe life didn’t give me time … doesn’t give you time to think about it. But you’re just in those things and like, “No, this is what I’m doing. This is what I got.” That’s how I think about it; like, “This is what I got.” If it was math, I would be doing math right now. But this is just what I have, you know what I mean? I don’t ever think about, “Oh, now I’m a poet.” I’m like, “Nah, this is …” Poetry is weird because it’s not … Okay, the writing part of poetry isn’t the job. That’s the passion that I’m blessed to make money off of. But then the other stuff—the reading gigs, the teaching—that’s the other part. But really, I’m just doing it and this is what I got and, yup.
Laura (10:04): No, I hear that. I like, though … I think that’s really interesting, thinking about if, “Hey, I’m a poet” … that meaning not just the writing and not just the art but the lifestyle, almost, that goes with that art form. I think that’s really … I’ve never thought of that before. I think that’s really interesting.
Laura (10:30): Maybe this is not, again, something that you have to stop and think about and maybe this doesn’t give you time for that … doesn’t give us time for any of this … but when you thought about publishing your first book, publishing your second book, being a poet as a way … as a lifestyle, as a what you would spend the majority of your day doing, perhaps, is it how you thought it would be? Is it how you imagined this would be? Did you even imagine it? Was there a life as a writer or as a poet?
Tyree (11:23): I definitely don’t think I imagined this. And also, growing up I had no example of this. You know what I mean? I think a lot of us—
Laura (11:32): Yeah.
Tyree (11:32): —especially … I had no example of this. Though when I was younger, I don’t think … I don’t really even think I thought about the future much. And I’m thinking of me as a child … like I thought of the future much.
Laura (11:48): Sure.
Tyree (11:52): I know I wrote, but I didn’t think of like … this also is a profession that people … You know what I mean?
Laura (12:01):mOh, absolutely.
Tyree (12:01): I didn’t think about that part. And though I didn’t grow up wealthy, but also because of that … I didn’t grow up wealthy so I didn’t think about money, because I had no money to think about. I think that’s the idea in my mind. I didn’t know that people … I didn’t need to think about the professional side of writing. I just enjoyed it.
Laura (12:25): Yeah. I wonder, though … I don’t know. Are you that person? Is seeing you for a kid in high school or something like that …
Tyree (12:39): Yeah.
Laura (12:40): Is seeing you like that … I mean, that’s wild, right? Is seeing you the representation that you didn’t have of a person … “Well, here’s what a poet … Here’s what that’s like. Here’s what that life is like.” I think that’s awesome. I think that’s really cool.
Tyree (12:57): I’m also now thinking about how much … Have I changed away from that perspective now that I’m publishing? I have two books in the world. And I guess I’m thinking about am I … I know the professional side has grown, but is it overtaking the writing? This is in my own head.
Laura (13:21): Oh, yeah.
Tyree (13:21): I probably should—
Laura (13:22): Poetry is something that’s being asked … Poets are being asked to respond and respond quickly these days as its gone on. And I’m just curious as to … And they’re also, in terms of they’re being sought after by perhaps larger institutions and media outlets and things like that. I wonder, you’re talking about the business side of things … I just wonder how do you hold that and still hold time for your writing and what you want instead of what you are being asked to respond to, which seems very constant?
Tyree (14:11): I’m not a poet that will respond to something right when it happens. I need time to process. That’s really how I work. Also, to be honest I’m not one of those poets that are asked to respond when … in that time. And also, I think because they know that I don’t write that way as well; that I haven’t shown myself to be one of those writers that respond quickly in that way. I don’t know. I think it’s my aesthetics. I think people know my aesthetics, too; that I am a poet that’s exploring memory, though I do write on … I think it’s memory that in a way still echoes what’s going on presently. That’s something about Cardinal. Though Cardinal is about the past, it’s also very much about now.
Laura (15:27): Oh, yeah.
Tyree (15:27): But it’s because it’s done in the past it might not be considered the now, though it is.
Laura (15:39): I know. That’s very well said. I feel like that … We’re publishing a June Jordan book in the spring and I was just reading some of her poems the other day and I was just like, “Those could have been written yesterday, even though they were written in a different decade.” It’s crazy to think of that cyclical nature.
Tyree (16:09): That …
Laura (16:09): Go ahead.
Tyree (16:11):mAnd I think that’s what makes a good poem; when you pull it out years from now, that action feels like it’s still happening on the page.
Laura (16:24): Yeah. Yeah. I feel like you have those TV shows that were … whatever … in the 60s or 70s and some of them still hold up and you’re like, “Oh, man. That legitimately describes my experience yesterday.” And others are just so dated. But I feel like you’re right, the good poems—
Tyree (16:49): So true.
Laura (16:50): They hold true. Speaking of amazing and good and beautiful poems, would you mind reading us a poem that you wrote? It doesn’t have to be from your book, but one of your poems? And then maybe—
Tyree (17:04): Oh, yeah.
Laura (17:05): —giving a shout out or reading a book … from a book that you’re into these—
Tyree (17:12): I will shout out these two books that I really enjoy and keep coming back to, and then I’ll maybe read a new poem?
Laura (17:20): I would love that.
Tyree (17:23): Is that okay? Okay, okay. Great. Let me first … Okay. The first book … I hope I’m pronouncing her name right. Havizah Geter, Un-American.
Laura (17:40):mI love that.
Tyree (17:40): Really, really … This book is so good. Yeah. Just really well done. I also just love how the book is put together and how we move through time. Also, Leila Chatti’s book Deluge, which is such a really great book.
Laura (18:00): Yeah, she’s amazing.
The world-building and myth-making in this book is like … Yeah. Those are two books I’ve really been enjoying lately. And I’ll read you some new poems … a new poem. I’ll say I’ve been really interested in thinking about the interconnectivity of a neighborhood, this being a southern Black neighborhood, and how what happens in one house affects a house three doors down and … I don’t know … how they all depend on each other. I think that’s enough . Okay. I’ll read this poem.
Tyree (19:01): This poem is titled “Pantoum for Vikki.”
A harvest song in Vikki’s heart won’t let her sleep.
So Vikki wakes us singing pass sundown,
before her oldest sister Betty can come get her
out the middle of the street.
Vikki wakes us singing after sundown’s pass.
Vikki sings while mama says we’re supposed to be quiet,
Betty’s called to pull Vikki hollering a song in the street
before the police come over the dead filled hill.
Vikki sings while mama says we’re supposed to be hush quiet,
in Vikki’s sleep is a moon with her mama’s face.
Before the police come over Ancestor Hill,
daddy testes a rifle upright in the closet.
Vikki sleeps seeing her mama’s face filled with moon.
She said she saw three horses on Ancestor Hill.
Daddy tested the rifle three more times, then laid it upright in a closet.
The next day church people came to Vikki’s door to complain.
Vikki spoke to them of three horses on our dead filled hill.
Said what she saw was no different than their grandmamas wanting to go to heaven.
The church people turned away from Vikki to Jesus to complain.
It was claimed Vikki danced in the world constructed by the dead.
She promised it was no different than your grandmama wanting to go to heaven.
She ate snake berries, drink Old Mo’s concord wine
then danced in the world assembled by the dead.
Everyone knew death slept in river cane.
There Vikki ate snake berries, drink country wine,
song a harvest stuck in her heart
while death fell asleep in the cane.
Betty saw Vikki & asked could she come too.
Laura (21:03): Thank you so much. That’s …
Tyree (21:06): Thank you.
Laura (21:07): Talk about narrative. That’s amazing. That’s a narrative. But there’s also music. The repetition in that is phenomenal. Well, thank you so much for being a guest and taking time to do this and reading us a new poem. I really appreciate it so much.
Tyree (21:32): Thank you so much for having me. This is a good way to spend my day.
Laura (21:36): Of course. And thank you everybody for tuning in. Check back on CopperCanyonPress.org for all of our other episodes and more info about Tyree and Cardinal. And thank you all so much and I hope you stay well.