Latif Askia Ba is a poet with Choreic Cerebral Palsy from Brooklyn, New York. He’s currently an MFA candidate at Columbia University and is the Print Poetry Editor for the Columbia Journal’s 61st issue. He’s also an author at Stillhouse Press, who published his first full-length collection, The Machine Code of a Bleeding Moon, in September of 2022.
In The Machine Code of a Bleeding Moon, Latif Askia Ba brilliantly delineates the possibilities of the imagination as he builds a bulwark against humanity’s creeping sense of hopelessness. A meditation on the body, the African-American experience, and what it means to live in the United States and the world as a disabled man, Ba’s work is also, at its considerable heart, an ode to the poet’s psyche and a testament to human capability.[TL1]
Tiffany Troy: How does the opening of The Machine Code of a Bleeding Moon set the reader up for what is to follow?
Latif Ba: The opening poem is a collage of my earliest memories. By sharing these experiences with the reader, I hope not only to prepare them for the rest of the collection, but to lend them my perception of the world. When I was writing the poems, sifting through these dreamlike scenes in my head, what allured me wasn’t really the content of the memory, but the way it was preserved—what as a child I thought was important.
TT: Can you describe the process of writing the book?
LB: This book started with a type of poem I had been experimenting with, which I first named “streams.” These poems were long, meandering, free-association poems with relatively short lines—they looked like little rivers.
When Tommy Sheffield (Stillhouse’s poetry editor) told me that Stillhouse would be interested in publishing a full length book of my work, I only had three of the “stream” poems written, so I focused all my attention on writing them, and the more I wrote them, the more the book came into place. It became immediately clear that I was interested not just in the “stream” as movement of thought, but the physical stream—the river.
Much of this book was shaped by the research I did on geomorphology, aided by my dear friend Colleen O’Neil who studied geology at Edinboro University. The movement of water from land into the ocean and the geological imprint of this continual voyage consumed me—became the writing of the book. This research allowed me to further categorize the “streams” into actual parts of a river: source, rapid, meander, oxbow, etc.
The rest of the poems (occurring in between the river poems) were written at different times and were selected to aid the reader in their river journey.
TT: How does form inform your collection?
LB: I thought of this collection literally as a river (from source to delta), and I used the different parts of rivers and their characteristics to choreograph the poems.
Movement. That’s what I was paying attention to. I was pouring water into these new forms and seeing what happened. I was concerned with the reader’s eyes, how they’d proceed from one line to the next or across gaps in the middle of lines. I was also interested in how the lines stacked up sonically: as a new line came in, did the previous ones wash away?
TT: What themes/ motifs does the form allow?
LB: The river form allowed me to explore memory as an act of the present.
In Heraclitus’ conception of the river, there is no past river, there is only river—in its sublime particularity, and therefore cannot be stepped into twice; the river rushes into delta and is gone, constantly gone.
The past, I think, is like this. My memory in these poems don’t exist in the past (especially not for the reader). I try, with the river in mind, to constantly push the reader forward. It’s the movement of memory that I want to share, not really the memory itself.
TT: You incorporate yourself as a character and your name in your book. What possibilities does this allow?
LB: Writing this collection felt very similar to writing personal essays, in which the “I” goes through a lot of pressure and inevitably becomes something new. When I wrote my name on the page, a name I rarely ever see on the page, I was able to exist as a poet and not as Latif—this is incredibly useful. I felt a greater affinity towards the reader: I too was curious about the main character of this collection and how he was related to me.
TT: Any closing thoughts for your readers of the world?
LB: I love my readers, and I’m blessed to be having more opportunities to reach them and for them to reach me.