The title of the second collection of poetry by Lambda Award-winning poet and performer Rosamond S. King, All The Rage (published April 2021) has multiple valences: Conveying at once righteous anger towards this country’s continued oppression of Black people and the racial coding of rage, it also hints at the usurpation of the movement for Black liberation by corporations, businesses, and influencers. This is a book which urges us not to allow the intensity of public outcry against anti-Black police violence that occurred in Summer 2020 to become merely a moment in history in which Black liberation was “trendy,” but rather to blossom into a sustained movement. All the Rage is a harrowing and deeply moving collection of poetry, and yet, even in the midst of all this rage, it is also a triumphant celebration of the persistence of Black joy and life in a country which was built—and continues to run—on slavery, violence, and oppression.
Following the book’s publication, Nightboat conducted this interview with Rosamond over email to discuss the book’s writing process, punctuation enjambment, Black speculative traditions, and Rosamond’s own multiple and diverse artistic practices.
Gia Gonzales: Much of the poetry in All the Rage concerns the COVID-19 pandemic as well the political uprisings for Black liberation this past summer. What was your experience writing through, and in response to, these events?
Rosamond S. King: I have often half-joked in the last year that I’m glad I’m an artist, because if I weren’t, in the midst of all of this ongoing trauma, death, and difficulty, I might hurt myself or someone else. Writing through is an appropriate phrase; writing, creating, are ways to get through the moment, the day, the horror, intact.
GG: You’ve mentioned, as well, that the writing of the “Abattoir” poems has been an ongoing serial project contending with continued acts of state-sanctioned violence against Black people. Would you speak more about the process and the intentions of undertaking this long-term project?
RSK: I did not, initially, consciously undertake the series “Living in the Abattoir.” Instead, as mentioned in response to your first question, I was just writing to get through. I wrote the very first poem to get through the day that Eric Garner’s murderers were not indicted. The moment and aftermath of his death were hard, but the fact that a group of people sat in a room and decided that a man being choked to death could not possibly be a crime—well, it was an indication that Black life, Black lives, don’t matter at all. The first version “Breathe. As in” was a way to write through.
As has been happening for a few hundred years, the police kept killing Black people, and I kept writing poems. But as I wrote, I didn’t want the only poems in what was becoming a series to be about violent death. I wanted poems about life and pleasure and the mundane. That’s how I began to build the world of the Abattoir.
GG: There are several instances in which All the Rage makes grammar, wordplay, and syntactical structures explicit—such as within the section entitled “Avant-Garde Is a Term of War,” and throughout the book through your use of “punctuation enjambment.” This kind of foregrounding draws attention to the implicit and deeply ingrained structures that orient our ways of navigating the world. As you write, “I. As in first person singular/ . Homonym for I: eye/ . / Everyone knows who the I is – who we are/ ? How big are your eyes – whose suffocation are you able to see?” Would you speak more about your use of punctuation enjambment and these poems’ relationships to grammar?
RSK: Grammar is the architecture of language. It’s a system that most people pay little attention to, even though it’s an important part of how we understand each other. And, of course, that which is invisible can be efficiently used as a method of control. I grew up around more than three different variations of English—so grammar wasn’t ever completely invisible to me. Being multilingual, including knowing multiple registers of a supposedly single language, is a kind of superpower, because you can understand what other people can’t. You can “translate” for people and they will trust that your version is accurate. Isn’t that fascinating?
If grammar is architecture, then punctuation typically serves as traffic signs. Outside of its instructions to pause, go, slow down, or scream, punctuation is not given much thought at all. Punctuation enjambment calls attention to those marks that are at line breaks, and suggests that we re/consider their importance, their relationship to what and how we understand.
GG: In addition to your poetry, you are also an accomplished performer and movement artist. Included in All the Rage are images from your First Ladies performance. How do you see your performance practice as it relates to your poetry? Would you speak more about the First Ladies performance, and these pictures’ inclusion?
RSK: All of my work—my performances, my poetry, my scholarship—is to me part of one project. So it makes sense that one of my installations is the cover of Rock | Salt | Stone, and that stills from First Ladies are the interior covers of All the Rage. First Ladies focuses on two of the most prominent Black women connected to the USAmerican White House—First Lady Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Keckly, a formerly enslaved woman who became seamstress to and confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. The performance juxtaposed the lives of the two women in their own words with the words others said about them, derogating their bodies and intelligence. During the piece I gesture towards Keckly’s profession by deconstructing a USAmerican flag.
The First Ladies images fit with All the Rage because they connect the often painful experience of being a Black person in the USA with pleasure and humor symbolized by the hula hoop. Of course, different symbols and experiences inspire pain and comfort and humor for different people; as I wrote in “Rimbaud is not Rambo”: “you laugh / we laugh / not the same / joke”.
GG: There are speculative elements within All The Rage, such as in the depiction of the worlds of the Abattoir and Elsewhere. My colleague Lindsey Boldt recently shared with me a passage from the Octavia Butler essay “Positive Obsession,” in which Butler asks, “What good is science fiction to Black people? What good is any form of literature to Black people?” How, if at all, do you see All The Rage as writing into a Black speculative tradition?
RSK: Anyone who believes that justice, self-determination, and abolition are possible is part of a speculative tradition.
Black speculation is a radical, powerful tradition because at its root it is – in choreographer André Zachery’s description of Black Futurism—“Black people planning to be around.” In worlds and systems meant to destroy our spirit and kill everything alive within us, speculating about the future—planning to be around—is powerful. I embrace foremothers such as Octavia Butler, and I also see the Black speculative tradition all around, in Kamau Brathwaite’s poems, Katherine Dunham’s choreography, Prince’s music and lyrics…Maurice Bishop engaged in speculative thinking when he envisioned a Grenada free of both colonialism and corruption. Yes, I’m part of that tradition, and it’s good because Black folks plan to be around for a long time.