Many of your poems involve historical events and figures, like the “Not Welcome Here” poems in your American Smooth volume. Do you write historical poems any differently than the others?
I do research, but I don’t think I approach those poems differently than I do others. The research is driven by curiosity more than anything else. When it’s done, while writing the poem I try to forget the research, although I have to make sure I get my facts straight. When I wrote the play Darker Face of the Earth, I had to do the research first, but writing, it’s just these characters and assigning their personalities.
Essential Theatre is producing that play this summer. Is it true the story is Oedipus on a slave plantation?
That’s it, in a pretty small nut. When I began working on the play, I was trying to understand what it would be like to not know who your mother and father were on a plantation. Around that time I was reading Oedipus and thinking, “How could Oedipus not figure this out?” and then I realized it was much the same thing, and I could transplant that myth. It allowed me to really enliven and embody the story within the scene and scenario of slavery. And it helped me understand Oedipus, and realize that this original text is not dead and buried; it still has to do with real life.