Kore Biters

A bi-monthly interview series that highlights the writing and literary activism of

women writers who are transgressive and transformative.

by Arisa White and Imani Sims

What was your last bite? (“Bite” as in its slang or conventional usages.)
The last bite I had was reading some essays and poems by the recently transitioned writer Michelle Cliff.
If your heart could sing a hip hop song on repeat, what song would it be and why?
 “Time: The Donut of the Heart” by J Dilla. I fell in love with hip hop when I was growing up in the Midwest, and it is one of the most perfect loops I’ve ever heard that samples The Jackson 5’s “All I Do Is Think of You” and reminds me of a sweet R&B group called Troop. I’ve often written to it and the rest of the album Donuts and Dilla’s other instrumentals that have been the backbone for many other rapper’s songs.

To paraphrase an Adrienne Rich quotation about how a poem breaks silence to be made—what silences did you break to create your newest collection?
 I wanted to break the silences around divorce—those feelings of shame, failure, and inadequacy, and even if a person feels angry, depressed, or abandoned, you remember there was love, at some point, and you can find it again. I have found that many successful people have confided in me and tried to seek support after their own divorces, but I also feel like this book is about claiming reinvention. You are not a niche, you are not a brand. You are an evolving human being, and even Adrienne Rich was a master of evolution as she wrote more and openly claimed herself sexually and politically. However, I often find myself thinking of Audre Lorde’s quote on breaking silences from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” from The Cancer Journals: “The fact that we are here and that I speak not these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”

Take three colored pens/markers/pencils and color outside of the lines (interpret however you'd like).
I find myself drawing in the lines that I need to find a form, but I think it makes for a compelling representation, even when it’s more than 3 colors…That’s another parameter isn’t it? In any case, here’s my attempt:

What is the truest thing you know? How did you come to know it?
At first I wanted to say change because it inevitably visits all of us, but really, “the truest thing” I know is being aware of my solitary self. Sometimes, I profoundly enjoy the peace of being by myself, but as people have died and relationships have dissipated, being a person who spends a lot of time alone seems clear, even if you’re in a room full of people or you’re surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, you can be alone.
Write a ritual for mourning.
Shower and dress with oils. Bring flowers in a favorite color of the lost ones. Write their best words on the streets where they walked. Think of the phrase “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Remember that the afflicted do not always make it. Mend the ruptures that you can, and release the other fragments, like paper birds folded, then cast adrift on the ocean.

If you were a god, what would be the first three things you create/change?
At this point, I would probably want to eliminate cancer. We have lost too many women, too many people to this disease, which clearly feeds and flourishes off stress, processed foods and sugar, and environmental toxins. If the cure could eliminate the roots of such problems—greed, stressors, and irresponsible pollution, then that might even better. I would like to create the innate ability to read, because reading allows people to discover other choices
Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQucWXWXp3k. What are the ways in which you shrink yourself?  What is your advice to shrinking women?
I think I have given up on shrinking. When I have time, I love cooking. I love eating. I do not apologize for being myself, but I do ask questions as if somehow I’m unclear when I know I am absolutely clear, because I know that questioning sounds less threatening. The thing is, I see nothing wrong with exercise or cultivating lifelong healthy eating habits with occasional indulgences. I do think fashion industry practices are wrong when the clothes are made for tiny 16-year-olds throughout your entire life, especially when plus-size and maternity clothes are often over-priced and cheaply made, and the access (and time to prepare) healthy food is still limited. The one unfortunate way that I see women engage in shrinking, and I’ve engaged in it too, is minimizing accomplishments to avoid being “intimidating.” Whatever that means often entails making other people feel better. Since I am no longer interested in coddling people like that and I can’t even minimize it well, I’m just going to continue to follow what I need to do. People will have to wait a lifetime if they want me to “shrink”.

Use the image to inspire a gentrification haibun.
When I walk through my old neighborhoods, I find faces with new contacts, wigs, Too much eyeshadow plastering the countenances of buildings that I used to know. The subterfuge feels suffocating the longer I look at it, and the place I used to know is embedded under layers of concrete and time. Places I knew are whittled masonry now, and I miss the robust bricks that are replaced with buildings like blocks. Blues clubs and soul food restaurants disappearing because high-end retail makes college students feel citified, and thankful that Chicago is still green, even though the bullets are in the places where people are thinking these buildings can be restored, start over.

Prune away the dead
leaves, poison the roots, avoid
recalling the past.

Write a 100-200-word lecture, titled “Getting From Under the Gaze.”
Writing is always addressed to someone, so writers at least imagine that someone is looking. Even if it’s one person or the writer talking to their self, there is an anticipated gaze. As writers, we can always brainstorm every perspective, every gaze falls on a subject or an event and follows its whereabouts and fashions how that final destination or feeling is perceived. But the reality is that writers and artists have to experience a sort of DuBoisian “double-consciousness” where any gaze, anticipated or otherwise, is tuned out and obscured, even if the writer is aware of the gaze and how it functions differently from their own. There is a need to eliminate the distractions and criticism of a gaze that may not understand, relate, or support that work. In the process of creating something to be gazed upon, a writer has to build a universe or a scenario as they see it, and hopefully, that writing can create something we haven’t seen or at least affirms something ignored, denigrated, or hidden. Sometimes, the only way to get from under the gaze is to insist on writing exactly what we would write if the gaze did not exist.

Kore Biters Womanifesto: Please add two-three approaches, recipes, directions and/or practices for transgressive and transformative behavior that you believe every woman writer should incorporate into their lives and writing.
• Think about one area that you want to specialize and write about if you wanted to focus on it throughout your writing career. Even if it’s a wide scope, so much can fall under it that it becomes and elegant, vast vortex that allows you to create a universe that other people can visit.

• Always remember that you are your first lover. So many of us are looking for another person to be that, and they don’t always know or understand what you need. Typically, if we spend some honest time with ourselves, we DO know what we need. Love yourself accordingly.

• Keep reaching out to other younger writers. I find that younger writers inspire, motivate, and challenge me to keep growing and learning. Again, just like sitting down and writing at a desk, maintaining those relationships is a discipline that shapes a larger writing community without the hubbub of readings, conferences, workshops, and formal programs.
Come up with a writing prompt inspired by a plant.
Think of a plant on a particular day in your life. Physically describe the plant in your piece, but your writing should focus on what immediately surrounds that plant and rests beneath the roots. Consider what the plant might have witnessed in the poem during that fixed amount of time.

Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit (Trio House Press, 2016) and Arc & Hue. Her chapbooks include the upcoming Never Been Lois Lane (dancing girl press, 2016), 7 x 7: kwansabas (Backbone Press, 2015), and THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali (Argus House, 2013). Tara holds a MFA from New England College and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. Her poems, essays, and short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Essence, POETRY magazine, NYLON, Cicada, Octavia's Brood, Bum Rush the Page, The Break Beat Poets, Home Girls Make Some Noise, and both Spoken Word Revolution anthologies. Tara currently teaches at University of Illinois-Chicago.


























































































































































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