In-Depth Look: Donte Collins – “New Country (after Safia Elhillo)”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“Yeah, I’m salty as fuck… that’s what happens when you’re dragged across an ocean.”
One of the most powerful things a poet can do is know for whom they’re writing– not that there’s always an easy answer. This poem, through its listing of moments, monuments, shared symbols, and beyond, builds a relationship with its audience. It builds relationships with other audiences too, in different ways, but it never loses sight of for whom it exists.
Additionally, there’s something electric in how Collins speaks on joy, community, and family, without ever using the words “joy,” “community,” or “family.” One of the most common writing exercises that poets and teachers use is the “I am from” poem, where a poet tries to communicate who they are, what they represent, and where they’re from, usually by listing a series of concrete images– smells, moments, sounds, etc. As this poem demonstrates, that impulse– to construct our identities not through a perfect, one-line thesis statement, but through an impressionistic landscape of images– can create some very memorable writing.
Check out Safia Elhillo’s poem “Self Portrait With No Flag” here. You can also find more from Donte Collins at their website and through their new book, Autopsy, available now through Button Poetry!