Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Jubi Arriola-Headley is a Black queer poet and first-generation American whose work explores themes of manhood, vulnerability, and joy. His debut collection of poems, “Original Kink,” was recently released.

And, tonight, he gives his Brief But Spectacular take on the call to write and the world that has shaped him.

It’s part of our arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

Jubi Arriola-Headley, Poet: Sometimes, when I’m writing a poem, I don’t feel entirely as if I’m writing it alone. I always have on my shoulders Phillis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston. I’m writing for untold numbers of people.

This poem is called “Transubstantiation.”

“The nerve of you to think you could vesper hogs’ hooves into feast, that hymns could be coaxed into hip-hop, that wool would kink and rope and lock into something resembling God, that you could stand the lash or the late shift without wilting, spirit legacy from the spaces between the words, speak in a voice that booms, not breaks. Hope. Fix your face to smile like your teeth wasn’t butter yellow. Be better than bitter. Be roiling in joy. Be.”

The more I read this poem, the more I feel I’m channeling the thoughts and feelings of hundreds, thousands, millions of voices that we won’t ever hear.

I come from a long line of Barbadians from the Caribbean who loved to tell stories. I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States. I was also, since the age of 11, aware that I was something that I wasn’t supposed to be. I was gay. I didn’t have the strength at 11, 12, 13, 14 to stand up and be my authentic self with my father.

And it wasn’t until I got into college that I felt like I had any positive role model to sort of show me how I could navigate the world in this queer body. I just was overcome with this imperative to write a book.

But then poems started coming. And it became a conversation about living in a fat Black body when the world tries to thug and predator and criminalize that body, about how vulnerability is key to preserving your own authenticity and humanity.

That is maybe my definition of vulnerability, taking the risk of being known and hoping to be loved regardless.

My name is Jubi Arriola-Headley, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being me.

Judy Woodruff: And you can see all of our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.