Poets in Conversation: Jason B. Crawford
How did the poem “3-ManWeave: Learning to Braid” come into being? Tell us a little about the origin, inspiration, or circumstances surrounding it.
I started a project, that I have yet to complete, that investigates the violence we teach our Black youth. Growing up, I was taught by my father how to “be a man” and these lessons often revolved around how to survive without fear or emotion. His thought, as it is for many Black households, was that “perfect” is only displayed when the Black male is completely void of emotion. We teach Black men to bottle up anything other than aggression, some for the facts of knowing how America will treat them; others for the fact of understanding how America (and the world) teaches men that power and aggression are the only masculine acceptable traits. I wanted to couple this with the idea of sports and how we tell boys they have to be strong, cutthroat, and unwavering in their conquest. This becomes an interesting opposition when we think about how team sports are places we are allowed to be a family unit. By definition this is a place where you should be allowed to be emotional but because of the teachings of America, we tend to still bottle that aggression instead of confiding in the very people we are spending hours upon hours with. Lastly, I wanted to talk about how my father both wanted me to be perfect and made me often feel like I wasn’t doing well enough. Everything for him was a joke. That moment when I completed a drill, one that took me so long to master, correctly in front of him was a proud one for me. But as I grow older, I wanted to interrogate why I was so proud, was it because I did the drill or because I didn’t mess up?
How do you determine the form or shape for your poems? (“3-Man Weave” finds such a striking shape!)
For me, if I am going to add a specific shape or form to a poem, I need it to have a reason. If I want the poem to feel congested or squeezed, like I don’t know if I can make it out of the poem, I will make the stanza very small or take away the spaces. If I want the poem to feel like I’m pausing or being paused, I will add a lot of periods. For this poem in particular, I wanted the poem to feel like a flowing movement. Both like the reader is participating in the 3 man weave, which is three player weaving behind each other while passing the ball in the center and not dribbling, and as the act of braiding hair, something the 3 man weave can sometimes feel like. Originally in the collection I wanted to make, this poem was directly after a poem about braiding my sister’s hair and it felt like I needed a poem that visually looked like braiding.
What’s something you wish you knew when you first began writing
Honestly, I wish someone had told me rejections do not mean I am a bad writer, they do not mean I have failed in anyway, they do not mean I should give up writing, or any of that. Rejections are going to make a writer feel inadequate in their craft but ten “nos” and one “yes” is still a yes. We should use the “nos" as guidance on if a piece or a collection is not ready and celebrate the “yeses” because we worked hard to get them. That and not everyone is in your corner or will want to see you succeed as a writer. Find the people that are here for you and your craft and most importantly for you. Those are the people that will stay no matter what a book contract says or what magazine has published you. Those are also the people to turn to when you are feeling low about those rejections.
If you could have a conversation with any musician, writer, or artist (past or present), who would it be and why?
This may be a very off the wall answer but I think I would like to sit down with singer Vincint and talk about his career so far. Most of the time, it is hard to find positive representation of Black, Queer Femmes in media. We have some but not as many as we need. Having a Black, Queer male Femme who openly identifies with his sexuality as well as speaks about the triumphs he has experienced gives space for other Black and Brown Femmes to exist as they are. We often get to see white men be not afraid of color and dresses but for Black men, it becomes an issue on both sides. Having a figure we can acknowledge as successful and ours is huge for younger people like us.
When the BPJ editorial board gathers for selecting poems, it has been our tradition to cook and share soups and stews. Do you have a favorite comfort food (or food tradition) that sustains you? Would you be willing to share a recipe?
Even though I grew up in the North, my family cooks from the soul of the South. I love anything that is hardy and sticks to the bone or falls off the bone, either way it is good for the marrow. These are the traditions of cooking I learned from and cook from daily. Possibly my favorite to make for a loved one (if we are dating and I make this, it is because I want you to stick around) is sausage biscuits and gravy. Here is the recipe I go to:
12 Ounces Pork Sausage
⅓ cup flour
2 ½ cups milk
Cayenne Pepper to Taste
Maple Syrup to taste
Cinnamon to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, preferably European style
1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Meanwhile, sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a food processor. Cut butter into pats and add to flour, then pulse 5 or 6 times until the mixture resembles rough crumbs. Return dough to bowl, add milk and stir with a fork until it forms a rough ball.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and pat it down into a rough rectangle, about an inch thick. Fold it over and gently pat it down again. Repeat. Cover the dough loosely with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently, about 5 to 6 minutes. Sausage should be 80% to 90% brown.
Add in maple syrup, cayenne, cinnamon, salt, and pepper all to taste. Allow the syrup to caramelize the meat.
Stir in flour until well combined. Gradually add milk, stirring continuously, until the gravy thickens and comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer and stir for 2 more minutes.
Gently pat out the dough some more, so that the rectangle is roughly 10 inches by 6 inches. Cut dough into biscuits using a floured glass or biscuit cutter. Do not twist the cutter when cutting; this crimps the edges of the biscuit and impedes its rise.
Place biscuits on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.