Raymond Berry is a writer, poet, and educator. His poetry is published in Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas and the Amandla Literary Journal. He earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from
Below is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with Berry earlier this month.
My writing process changes with each project. I did not map out Diagnosis, like I did with my current manuscript. I didn’t say, “I’ll write a poem about this, then I’ll write a poem about that.” Nor, did I make a list of prompts. I wrote when I was most vulnerable. In the late hours of the night. When memory comes back to haunt, and shadows return to remind us of our choices. I dreamt a lot. And I would wake up and try to record what I saw and heard, if I could recall it. I would hear the ancestors speak. Somehow, I felt what they felt—when they were in that moment, facing death. Realizing that they would be next. And I used that. This passed on fear. This passed on emotion. This passed on knowledge. Our fire. It’s interesting because I used this “emotion” in the writing of this book, yet in the poems, there seems to be a disconnect between the speaker of the poem and the action that occurs. Sometimes there is not enough emotion. Almost as if the speaker wears a mask. So, I had to revisit those places, and fully capture who this dominant speaker is. The poem “journal” was written from a dream. Or should I say in a dream-state. I felt this young kid who was in pain, and I thought I imagined it. Or rather, that is was some manifestation of my own insecurity. I believed him to be real. And I had to tell his story. He would not “let me go” until the poem was written. After producing a publication-ready version of this manuscript, I began to feel alone. Because I could no longer hear the ancestors. It was as if they were done with me, and that I no longer needed them-like I to continue the journey on my own.
Let’s talk structure. I was not sure how I would open the book. If it would begin quietly and end loudly, or vise versa. I always certain the title of the book would be Diagnosis. To me, it represents a transformation—a knowledge other than an HIV diagnosis. There were some who expressed a disinterest in the title. But one goes with what feels right. To me, diagnosis is a process. There are many processes in this work, especially involving the main speaker.
Can a poem stop someone from putting themselves at-risk?
Okay, so here’s the real question. Can art prevent death? Can it save?
It took more than four years, more than 40 encounters, and more than 6,000 pills to finally understand that loving does not mean accepting. So, I will say no. If someone would have told me “this can happen,” or showed me his or her scars, or made reference to the uncontrollable shit, then maybe I would have slowed down-became more cautious of who I allowed In my circle. Pun intended. When one is searching for worth, it takes experiencing the worst to understand. Again, knowledge is a process.
1.) Can mammograms prevent cancer?
2.) Do condoms prevent pregnancy?
3.) Does donating food eliminate hunger?
And now, a poem by
as he pounded between my cheeks, i smelled my own shit. went to wipe
for another round. feces covered white cloth. realized i was dirtier.
returned to bedroom. decided to ride. sat on top of him moving toward
someone i never wanted to be. showered in the morning. afraid to take
home the smell.