Precious Okoyomon’s writing is like local honey I see being sold at the rest stops in upstate NY: raw and sweet, with positive health benefits if you consume regularly. I’d seen her writing online, and of course followed her on social media(!) After wanting to meet her for a while, I reached out formally to conduct the interview that follows. Here we focused on her new book Ajebota.
Ben Fama: Precious, Hi! We’ve never actually met, so this is what I know about you: You live in Cincinnati, you know Dana Ward, and you wrote a great book called Ajebota. Could you tell me about all of that?
Precious Okoyomon: Cincinnati is an interesting place.
At the moment I’m transition to Chicago, moving is kinda insane / all the things you somehow have and weighing your attachment to objects / it’s like how did I get any of this shit. I really love Dana, his work really influenced me. He’s a really wonderful person. We get coffee and he tells me what I should be reading and like he vapes the whole time and I just like really soft beautiful moments I get to have with him .. it means a lot. And Cincinnati has this amazing poetry scene with so many amazing people who really encourage and foster this sense of growth it’s endless kindness but then it’s this feeling of a never ending episode of Gilmore Girls but like that’s problematic cuz i’m like where are all the people of colour ?!? Ajebota is my first book of poetry it’s more like a purge of my feelings. I really didn’t censor anything.
BF: I think a lot of first books are a purge for their authors. Actually Trisha Low explained to me when we were discussing our own second books—how the first book has so much of life in it that the second book takes some negotiation to figure out how to proceed (I am definitely misquoting her). What are you working on now? Do you like Gilmore Girls/cute towns?
PO: A purge of my teendream fantasy .. It’s this fleshy part of myself / I was stripping away rotting flesh but now i’m stripped and what’s left is this totalizing corrosive structure underneath. So it’s this brewing self implosion I have left. Right now I’m working on an ebook for ghost city press summer chap series it’s called “puppycat” .. it’s a little thing .. i’m working on this full length as well… that’s a vomit mess at the moment. I’m giving myself this breath but I’m also choking idk I feel like my first book was gushy a leaky space i hover in a suspension of this reality i created for myself.. With my second book I’m taking a breath but I’ve also stopped breathing or maybe I’m holding my breath. Oh gosh I like want to be a person that loves cute towns with apple butter festivals and where everyone knows your name, but it gets repetitive and I feel frustrated with slow growth, it sometimes can feel like this endless feedback loop but then sometimes it’s nice to be around wildflowers and soft breeze that comes with sleepy places.
BF: There is no Stars Hollow right? The sexless fantasia of a conflict free, easy life, or, as Robert Hass put it when he described nostalgia–a place to locate desire where it suffers no active conflict. I lived in a small town before and it was so boring. Yeah, there was apple butter but I felt like I needed to live in a more confrontational environment, whatever that meant. So to change the subject, you mentioned you were going to read in Denver before coming to read in New York. Artist Ann Hirsch recently tweeted that she was sad the poetry trend was over. I felt what she meant, it seems like things are in-between right now. How do you locate yourself in the poetry world?
PO: IDK where i am really. I love taking up space .. well demanding space investigating what poetry for me . the body as destruction // idk where I fit .. idk where I fit .. or where I want to fit. Somewhere between / writing as a weapon/ something about destroying the language machine // I don’t know where that leaves me … embodied exorcism of the poetic body .. I think I’m afraid to be labeled as something. I can be whatever the fuck people want me to be.
BF: I had to look up the title of your book, and found an explanation that I wanted to ask you about, then changed my mind. It seemed to involve a class distinction between butter and margarine, and who could afford it. “Abejota” referred to those who could. Is this accurate?
PO: You seem to have it .. it’s a class difference it like translates to fatty butter.
I’m a butter baby my mother grew up poor in village in Warri. I grew up creamy with thick creamy cold butter. I grew up in between Lagos and London a disjointed privileged view .. one where I don’t melt but I guess I’m always melting .. it’s always been reminded to me of where I come from and the sacrifices made for my existence and the path I choose ..writing, it’s constantly reminded to me that it’s a privilege a gift to be soft butter this privilege to melt .. so I’m a full ajebota creamy butter baby but I come from margarine something I can’t shake .. I don’t want to shake .. something about a first generation child with the weight succeeding/roughly trying to stay intact .. never exiting the rupture // trying to sit in my skin while bursting out of my skin .. realizing there is no such thing as skin. Haha the colonization of butter ….
BF: I’ve noticed you have some lines from my poems in your poems, and walking it back, I’m not sure where I even got them from to begin with (and if it matters?) It’s common, I think, to take in and use the things you’ve been engaging with. Can you tell me how appropriation and influence informs your writing, if it does at all?
PO: Ahh well a lot of my work is influenced by people admire and love.. Dana does this thing where he like appropriates so many different text and sources all at once and weaves them in his poems it’s something I really love .. when I start to write I read everything it’s this really crazy system I have I go online I read a bunch of stuff spend like an hour on Instagram or tumblr back and forth / twenty books around me .. the stimulus leads to the end product the stimulus can also end up in the end product .. it’s the digestion of the work it’s this system of absorbing it .. something about this utopian view where we all share and it’s a merge … I’m still trying to figure out the mechanics and complications to the poems I write .. they are very situational moments of something / trying to understand / someone having moved me … moments of conversation, or when something gets through to me when I have this moment of shit oh it’s usually oh fuck .. but that happens sometimes when I’m reading as well .. emulation of the moment maybe .. when I write poems I feel the repetition of voice and text and bodies haha I’m possessed by a poetic demon or like I’m just insane I’m not sure what’s that Mandelstam quote like // I divide all works of world literature into those that are authorized and those written without authorization. The former are scum, and the latter, stolen air // … I’m like deep in the air.
BF: A lot of people who’ve read your work have been asking, “What’s next for Precious?”
PO: I’m adjusting to a new place , i’m trying to survive myself / a small fight , baking bread and smoking weed reading a lot , learning how to sew so i can make dresses for my dogs, working on my first full length. So far it’s just fragments or pieces of pieces.
I’m reassembling myself.
Ben Fama's latest book of poems, Fantasy, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He is the co-founder of the press Wonder and lives in New York.