An Interview with Malcolm Friend

In "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" you have crossed out the lines. Can you generally address this formal aspect and in particular how you would like it (or how would you expect it) to shape a reader's reception of the poem? 

 “Cover: ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’” actually came out of a very particular project I was working on, looking at bachata covers and sampling of popular songs originally by African American artists. As someone who comes from a mixed African American and Puerto Rican household, I was trying to work through the ways in which, though race and antiblackness function differently in the U.S. and Latin America, they still exist in both places. In particular I was interested in the question of whether an Afrolatinx artist (such as Toby Love, whose cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” I was working with in this poem) covering the song of an African American artist could be seen as building some sort of solidarity across the African diaspora. The strike through came about as a way to think about the cover as, especially with these songs that are crossing linguistic boundaries, there’s a good deal of replacement that goes on.

In terms of how to read it, that’s something that’s going to come differently to different readers. However, I was thinking a little bit about Basquiat, and the idea of crossing out words being something that draws attention to them. What I do hope, though, is that the reader feels a sort of intimacy when reading the crossed-out sections—a sense being given interiority.

 When or how did you first realize you were a poet? Can you address how this identity has changed for you, if at all?

I didn’t consider myself a poet when I first started writing poetry in high school. I didn’t really start to consider myself a poet until my junior year of college, when I decided poetry was the form of writing I wanted to dedicate myself to. I think from that moment on, the way I went about poetry changed for me. Before then, I mostly used poetry to make sure I was writing consistently. Once I started to see myself as a poet, poetry became a way to work through the issues important to me. It was a tool I could use to talk about my race and culture, to celebrate them and lament how they’re viewed and treated in society. The longer I’ve been a poet, the more this has become the case.

In light of our current political climate, we often see the phrase, "now more than ever." Do you feel this applies to poetry? If so, how?

I’m hesitant to say “now more than ever.” We’re obviously in very precarious times right now. People’s families and lives are at risk. But I don’t want to belittle or lessen the ways in which those lives have always been at risk. I also don’t want to idealize poetry in a certain way that makes it seem like those of us who are underrepresented and discriminated against and threatened haven’t been constantly making this art and fighting for our right simply to exist at the same time. What I will say is I think that, as always, we’re going to continue that work. We’re going to keep creating these small worlds within our poems because that’s how we go about trying to better the one we live in.

Read Malcolm's poems "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" and "Ode To Stevie Wonder, or Mom Calls After Milwaukee and All I Can Do I Listen To 'I Wish.'"