Forthcoming: Bluest Nude, Milkweed Editions, September 2022
Hear Ama Codjoe read from Bluest Nude:
Beginnings: What prompted this book? What were you thinking about, how is it the same or different from previous work? How long did you work on it, how did the pandemic affect the process of writing it?
AMA CODJOE: Bluest Nude became Bluest Nude while I sat facing the large window beside my desk at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida. During that month, in the spring of 2019, I thought I was starting another project, but when I looked back at some of my older poems, I recognized a through-line: an obsession with being naked or clothed; an attention to questions of intimacy; an allegiance to the making of art as an act of self-making. I also noticed these questions and themes as they appeared in my chapbook Blood of the Air. With this realization, the poems easily sorted themselves into what became Bluest Nude. And, then, I continued writing.
I completed the manuscript a year after that moment in Florida, in spring 2020. A few poems in the book date back to 2017, but I wrote the majority of the poems from 2018-2020. The pandemic shaped the book in ways I find it difficult to discern and articulate. At the least, I can say that the unsettling and eerie quiet I experienced in the early months of the pandemic created both a peace and a restlessness within my living environment that seeped into my writing, thinking, and being.
What was your favorite thing about writing it? What gave you the most satisfaction, what was energizing or enlivening about it?
AC: My favorite thing about writing Bluest Nude is also my favorite thing about writing poems, which is the ability they give me to think through a question on the page. It feels like a gift to have a methodology to think through questions that provoke and trouble me, such as: Am I ever only myself or am I ever-tied to the histories, intimacies, stereotypes, and ghosts that hover on top of and around my body? Is that what “myself” means?
I also enjoy how individual poems in the book speak to each other and how they can change merely from being close or far away from one another. It was fun to order the book, find the right epigraphs, watch it evolve and become. Even the process of choosing the cover art by Simone Leigh felt intuitive and enlivening. A lot of what happens after the writing is “done” still feels like poem-making to me. Certainly it is creative work. I’ve enjoyed envisioning what the book could be and watching that vision come into materiality.
Was there a section or poem or part of the book that you felt doubtful about including? What made it so? How did you come to the decision you did?
AC: There weren’t poems I felt doubtful about including, but there was a poem I changed my mind about. The poet Jenny Xie mentioned in passing, via email, that she hoped the poem “After the Apocalypse” was in my book. At that point it wasn’t, but her comment made me rethink the possibility of including it. Subsequently, I revised the poem for Bluest Nude by breaking the long sequence into separate poems and recasting the frame. I can’t imagine the book without it.
What are some lines, phrases or images from the book that stay with you, either because they capture something that feels very true, or they came to you in a way that felt whole and generative, or some other reason?
AC: The phrase “Grief is the bride of every good thing” from “Burying Seeds” comes to mind. A friend of mine who is a novelist came to a reading at the Brooklyn Museum before this poem was in any book and remembered the line without having ever read it on paper. The novelist repeated the phrase to another friend, a poet who lives in Vermont, and who I have a hearty letter correspondence with, and that poet quoted the line back to me in a letter. That boomerang and the way it boomeranged felt so intimate and dear—and so specific to people who love words.
Can you share a few other art forms / works / books / experiences that influenced you in the writing of this book?
AC: Bluest Nude is in explicit conversation with many visual artists: Betye Saar, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Deana Lawson, Lorna Simpson, Romare Bearden, Malick Sidibé, Artemisia Gentileschi, Henri Matisse. Also, there are poems that reference the choreography of Pina Bausch and Trisha Brown.
Epigraphs by artists Lorraine O’Grady, Carrie Mae Weems, and Mickalene Thomas anchor the book. The curator Denise Murrell’s Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today and the conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady’s “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” are central texts in my research for Bluest Nude and led me to many more artists, art works, and scholarship.
I could not survive in the world without art, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to abide with these artists and scholars (and many more) while composing Bluest Nude.
AMA CODJOE is the author of Bluest Nude forthcoming from Milkweed Editions September 2022 and Blood of the Air, winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. She has been awarded support from Bogliasco, Cave Canem, Robert Rauschenberg, and Saltonstall foundations as well as from Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hawthornden, Hedgebrook, Yaddo, and MacDowell. Her recent poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry series, The Nation, and elsewhere. Among other honors, Codjoe has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council/New York Foundation of the Arts, and the Jerome Foundation.