I’m working on The Feminist Killjoy Handbook right now, in which I have a chapter about the feminist killjoy as a poet. I use a very simple expression, “to let loose.” To let loose is to express yourself. It can even be about losing your temper. But it can also just mean to loosen one’s hold. Lauren Berlant taught me a lot about loosening a hold on things. They had an incredible way of creating room in the description of an attachment to something, which I think is really hard to do. And my aunt, Gulzar Bano, who is a feminist poet, taught me something, too. She wrote poems that were angry, on one level, but also very, very loving. When I think about both Gulzar and Lauren, I think about how the tightness or narrowness of words—of pronouns, say—can be experienced as giving you no room. You have to experiment with combination. There’s a connection between moving words around and opening lives up.

There’s one line in Audre Lorde’s “Power,” a very difficult and painful poem, about power lying loose and limp as an unconnected wire. I’m interested in the idea of language as a connected wire. You keep it going so that something can pass through. It could be electricity. When I think of electricity, I think of snap, snap, snap, sizzle. You have to let the violence in to get it out, to express it. In an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde talked about writing that poem after stopping the car because she heard about the acquittal of a white police officer for the murder of a Black child. She had to stop the car, she said, otherwise she was going to have an accident. She had to stop the car, and a poem came out. She had to stop the car to get the poem out. That’s the connection, I think, between my auntie, and Lauren, and Audre—the absolute willingness to register the impact of violence, so that that registering is also the creation of a possibility for being otherwise.

The Paris Review, "You Pose a Problem: …