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May We Present… Nefertiti Asanti’s fist of wind

May We Present… Nefertiti Asanti’s fist of wind

Author: Willem Finn Harling

November 5, 2021

Welcome to May We Present…, a column from Lambda Literary that highlights authors with recent or forthcoming publications. This November, we’re featuring Nefertiti Asanti and their new poetry collection, fist of windpublished on October 29th by Foglifter Press. fist of wind centers the simultaneously magical and mortal Black body as a site of healing and transformation from pain, ranging from larger forms of structural, communal, and intergenerational pain to the personal pain of menstruation out of which the collection was born.

With fist of wind, Asanti became the first winner of the Start A Riot! Chapbook Prize, a prize for local emerging queer and trans Black writers, indigenous writers, and writers of color, created by Foglifter Press, RADAR Productions, and Still Here San Francisco. The win was well deserved, as fist of wind is a breathtaking and candid lyrical testimony, one that might be thought of as an exceptional exploration in translation. Asanti masterfully translates the physical into the textual and, through the reader, back into the physical again. Through bold engagement with form and space, Asanti translates the dynamic qualities of the spoken word into the written word without losing its sense of embodiment. Reading fist of wind becomes a transfixing, corporeal undertaking, one that everyone should experience at least once. 

Below, Nefertiti Asanti elaborates on the most difficult tangible sensation to put into words, how poetry interacts with other forms of text, and the last thing she read that surprised her.

When did you realize you had to write fist of wind?

When I started writing toward fist of wind, I was actually writing toward stopping some pain. I was living alone in Brooklyn in a basement-level apartment I could barely afford after resigning from the first full-time job I’d ever had. I was living alone, and I was in pain, physical pain as a result of my period. I had cramps, debilitating cramps that demanded my attention once they hit and kept hitting. 

One day it was just out of control—the pain was so uncomfortable and relentless and beyond me, something inside me was like, “This don’t belong to me; this ain’t mine,” so I prayed a spell into it. Eventually, the pain subsided and along with it went the idea of the pain being a singular thing that I owned, that owned me. 

During that time, I wrote what I called “full moon lunes,” three-line, three-syllable, three-word per line poems that were prayers to my womb to welcome healing and expel the pain I’d absorbed from being Black and bleeding and alive and the un/healed histories of my ancestors, lineage, and community. As a person who absorbs so much of what’s around me, it was important that I let go of what I could in a form that echoed the physical boundaries pain can create and transcend them. At least two pieces in fist of wind are in lunes or borrow from the form. I wrote fist of wind because I wanted to have conversations with other Black people about periods and healing from violence, whatever the source. 

fist of wind

Your poetry is so wonderfully palpable that reading it feels like a physical undertaking. How do you go about translating the tangible into text? What is, for you, the most difficult sensation to put into words?

That’s a beautiful compliment, thank you! The tangible exists for me in the oral tradition. I hear the words as I write them by hand, and the body of the voice materializes on the page. I like to think I write the way I talk and the way my family has spoken to me, internal rhyme and all. Sound and voice drive me to the written word. Feeling the ache of my hand as it moves through a five to fifteen-minute focused free-write is such a delicious feeling for me. 

I was gonna say pain is the most difficult sensation for me to put into words but I think it’s actually joy. Though all sensations, emotions are fleeting, joy feels most elusive because when I am most joyful I am present in the moment, not necessarily writing about. I believe all emotions are as complex as we are, and I aspire to write joy as complex. 

Numerous works in fist of wind begin by citing scientific journal articles. In your experience, what is revealed when you juxtapose the poetic form with the academic and scientific journal form? What is unique about the ways poetry enables you to engage with other forms of text?

Juxtaposing the poetic form with the academic and scientific journal form reveals the dangers of using a single form to relay important information about health and community. Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder and reproductive health, especially as it pertains to Black people, is severely under-researched, misinformed, and under-treated. But whenever I talk to anyone about what I’ve experienced, they reveal to me that someone in their life has a similar experience with their period, and I often feel that this is so common why aren’t these conversations happening more often across identity? 

Poetry offers space to make language accessible and bring out the human, embodied, felt aspects of academic language and science. Poetry holds space for multiple perspectives and conversations and inspires folks to act on what they believe in. 

As a poet who places their words so intentionally and dynamically on the page, what is the relationship between your words and physical space?

The page offers physical space for my words to exist dynamically. Words can be really dynamic when spoken aloud, and I desire to translate that feeling onto the page as best I can. Enjambment is one of my favorite ways to do this. Playing with white space is also a helpful tool, though I often default to prose block to help me see where the line wants to end, which feels familiar to how I read most words nowadays whether it be text or social media messages, articles, emails, etc. 

Not only do you write poetry, but you also perform it. If you could hear any poet, dead or alive, read any of their own poems out loud, who would it be and what would you ask them to perform?

The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America: Something like a sonnet for Phillis Wheatley” by June Jordan.

As the weather turns colder and Winter begins its approach, what are you looking forward to and what are you dreading about the coming season?

I am actually looking forward to resting for the Winter. My body is already existing in pre-hibernation mode, so I am looking forward to blankets and cuddles and chamomile tea and binge-watching Christmas movies. 

I can’t say that I am dreading anything in particular about Winter since I don’t experience snow anymore…

What is the last thing you read that surprised you and why/how did it surprise you?

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris. I don’t read nearly as I’d like to, and this book was my first time reading a graphic novel. I was struck by the imagery, the stories within the story, and how the protagonist, a little girl who had such a strong, clear voice, was really here for monsters and considered herself a monster.

Who are some LGBTQ+ poets you are currently loving?

Arisa White, Faylita Hicks, jamal rashad, and kiki nicole.

Lastly, what’s the one line from fist of wind that you just can’t get out of your head?

“she kissed the lines on her hand & drew new lines in the sand”

Willem Finn Harling photo

About: Willem Finn Harling

Willem (he/they) is a student at the University of Chicago studying Gender and Sexuality Studies and Performance Studies.

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