FORWARD PRIZES: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
NICOLE SEALEY: I’ve been writing poetry seriously for more than fifteen years. From 2005 to 2010, I participated in workshops through Cave Canem Foundation, the major watering hole and air pocket for Black poetry, led by such poets as Marilyn Nelson, Willie Perdomo and Patricia Smith, and attended the Foundation’s weeklong writing retreat. This training, as it were, at Cave Canem encouraged me to think deeply about poetry and my work as a poet.
It wasn’t one thing in particular that drew me to poetry; it was more like a culmination of events that led me to it. Honestly, I think it began with the most general curiosities about the world.
FP: Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
NS: A little more than ten years ago, it all clicked. I began thinking about poems I hadn’t yet written, but wanted to write. What if I never get the change to write these poems? This hypothetical moved me to really think about poetry as my profession, to think of myself as a poet. So, I left my full-time position of nearly eight years to study poetry for the next two.
FP: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
NS: Being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes is a huge honor, thank you for it. This means a larger audience for this work. A larger audience for this work may mean more eyes on The Ferguson Report. More eyes on the Report may mean more honest conversations about bias policing. This is the hope.
FP: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
NS: This excerpt is lifted from the United States Department of Justice’s 2015 report, which details bias policing and court practices in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. I began erasing The Ferguson Report in 2017, three years after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson police and three years prior to the murder of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky police. This poem is an excerpt from that longer work. Links to more excerpts from the project and other poems, can be found on my website: nicolesealey.com.
FP: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
NS: Lucille Clifton and Brigit Pegeen Kelly, to name just a couple.
Clifton is a master of precision and brevity. Take her five-line poem ‘why some people be mad at me sometimes,’ for example. It reads: “they ask me to remember/but they want me to remember/their memories/and i keep remembering/mine.” Though succinct, there are so many poetic devices being deployed–repetition being just one.
Kelly’s work always surprises. Her poem ‘Song,’ for instance, begins: Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree. What a startling first line, and every line thereafter startles in ways that don’t feel put on or done for affect.
Clifton and Kelly are definitely two of my go-tos.
FP: What is next for you as a poet?
NS: Fingers crossed, more poems.
FP: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
NS: There will be opportunities to publish, I promise, when the work is ready. I say this to say, I’d remind anyone starting out (as I do myself) to invest the time and energy needed for this work, to write poems that have the capacity to endure.