Feminism / Lit / Society & Culture

[LIT]My Monomania: An Interview with Poet O. Stevens

O. Stevens of Black Noise Press

O. Stevens of Black Noise Press

My Monomania is an interview series I began on my personal website a little over a year ago. The name describes it pretty well.

I use the series as a way to help bring attention to people whose work makes me feel obsessed. It follows a simple format: the subject is asked to answer WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW.

How those questions are answered and what those answers are about is completely up to the person being interviewed. For example, when I interviewed author Cari Luna, she wrote to me about Lou Reed.

When I interviewed artist Liz Dosta, she stuck to talking about her project The Female Selfie. I love not knowing what’s coming, and I am very proud to announce My Monomania’s new home at Luna Luna.

I begin this relocated series with an interview with O. Stevens, poet and publisher at BLACK NOISE PRESS. I found her work via the strange magic of Facebook. I was sitting there one day when Facebook told me that San Francisco based poet Janey Smith likes BLACK NOISE PRESS.

I am so happy I clicked the link. The first thing I saw was this poem, reprinted with permission.

Reagan’s Queens

Three jobs (six paydays)
won’t feed (and clothe)
one adult and two adolescents,


an EBT card might stretch
the fridge,
and school lunches

twenty-eight days

February is good to us.

My favorite poems have been Lucille Clifton’s Superman poems since I was a child. Every time I read them again, or any of Clifton’s work for that matter, I learn or unlearn something new about the poem, and poetry, and myself, and struggle and resolution and beauty and loss. Clifton’s poems are sparse and clever and full of tension. I thought of those poems as I made my way through the rest of the BLACK NOISE PRESS Facebook page.

I loved reading what I found there, but that wasn’t enough. I started looking for information or more work by Stevens, and couldn’t find much at all. That’s why I emailed her and asked for this interview. She agreed and kindly sent me a copy of her book BLACK NOISE: THE CONSCIOUS BABBLE OF O. STEVENS and it is beautiful, too. It’s completely handmade and immaculate. Following, the poet talks about what’s inside that book. BLACK NOISE PRESS

WHO:  WE are Black Noise Press.  That sounds a lot like multiple people in some type of professional workspace, with large machines, but BNP is actually just me.  I have turned the dining room of the apartment, which I share with my girlfriend, into a creative space where I print each page of each book one at a time.  Because my printer doesn’t have a two-sided printing option I also have to print each page one side at a time. The “we” comes from the fact that I wouldn’t being doing any of this without the constant support of my friends, colleagues, family, girlfriend, and a few amazing professors.  I know that sounds excessively cliché, but if it wasn’t for these people I wouldn’t know that I actually possess writing skills and I would’ve never thought to pursue a formal education in creative writing.

WHAT:  BNP is “utilizing teachable moments through grooming life’s lessons to be words worth repeating from now until the world is without isms…call it proactive poeting.” It started out with being assigned to make fourteen copies of a chapbook comprised of the poetry I had written in an advance poetry workshop class I was taking in college. I decided that I wanted the book to look super official, so I came up with a name for my make-believe press, decided on a logo—BLACK NOISE PRESS.  I had to exchange my books with my classmates, which I was bummed about because I felt like I had put so much effort and plenty of money (to include buying a paper cutter). I made a couple extra copies for people and then some of my friends said that I should make more and sale them.  Since this is Oakland, California—home of the independent hustle—I decided it was worth a try.  I made twenty-five more copies and those twenty-five copies turned into two hundred fifty copies, which is how many of these books are actually in circulation right now—no bookstores, just hand-to-hand and a few online orders.

WHERE: East Oakland, California!!! and every place in the world where even one person has ever wrinkled his/her nose or furrowed his/her brow at the site of a Black person, told a joke about slavery to a Black person, made over generalizations about Black culture as a way of explaining away negative ideas, and any place where any White man feels justified in shooting an unarmed girl in the face.

WHEN: This thing that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around is so new it is unreal. I put this book together for the first time in December of 2012. The fourteen copies were due on December 4th, or something like that, and that was The Beginning.

WHY:  The book was a class assignment, but the topics of the poetry, the content, that is what makes and tears away little pieces of my heart with fine sewing needles. I live racism every single day of my life.  It’s a constant. I cannot remember the last day that I was not hyperaware of how blackness is perceived in this country.  Because of the depth of racism in American society our Black youth are not safe to reach down and grab those bootstraps that we’ve heard so much about without the fear of having their lives taken by bigotry. Why?  Because Emmett Till. Because Kendrick Johnson. Because Oscar Grant. Because Jordan Russell Davis. Because Sean Bell. Because Darius Simmons. Because Renisha McBride could have easily been me at 19 years old. Because stop-and-frisk targets my full lips, kinky hair, and brown skin. Because my great-nephew was born earlier this year and I never want to have to tell him that he shouldn’t wear hoodies, go outside after dark, or look Black.  Since he won’t ever be able to change that last one, something needs to change and that won’t happen if people with voices continue to sit on their mouths.

Order and contact information for Stevens:


Website:   www.BlackNoisePress.com

Contact:    O. Stevens

P.O. Box 29912

Oakland, CA 94604

Other: BlackNoisePress@gmail.com




6 thoughts on “[LIT]My Monomania: An Interview with Poet O. Stevens

  1. Manuel, thank you for your words and for sharing your struggles with us. Racism is alive and well and denial does not help it die. O’s work is some of the most important work I’ve found in a long time. As I told her, I am looking forward to seeing her win awards and to reading her biography.

  2. O’s poetry is important because it raises awareness about how racism is still prevalent in our society. I have spoken with many individuals, including my current college roommates, who feel that great progress has been made towards equality and as such certain issues no longer exits. However, if we peel back the layers of everyday thought process we unravel ideas that we might generally acknowledge as “racist” governing much of our lives. For example, my name is Manuel and it connotes, typically in California, an individual of Hispanic origin. At the same time it connotes the stereotypes of laziness, unable to speak English properly, and of the working class which is not suitable for academia. Due to this I feel at times when I receive a grade on paper it is conditional on the basis that the professor, if I have never spoken to him/her on a personal level, feels that I did the best I could for a Hispanic. It is not a matter of the professor having racist thoughts, but it is the illicit seeds planted in our minds by jokes, by media, and by our own families. The problem is even more prevalent in the academic world because we can cherry pick our way out of racism. “This wasn’t discrimination because X and Y so therefore my thoughts are justified.” I myself am just as guilty of these biases towards my own people and it shames me to think I have to fight my own thoughts to do what is right at times. Growth as a society requires more than just labeling what we think as racist, it requires tremendous self-reflection into how the “I” can bring about a better world. I believe O shows us this through her poetry and demands that we reevaluate our ideals. Moreover to stop pretending that just because we believe in equality does not mean we truly know what it means to consider the individual standing next to us as equal. It is like a car in that parts, or ideas, need to be constantly inspected, rearranged, and replaced in order for it to function properly. Furthermore it is foolish to think that a car or equality is perfect. We do the best we can to sustain it but ultimately flaws will occur. Some may see this itself as a flaw but its beauty lies in why we seek to rectify it. We fix a car because it allows us to provide for ourselves and family, and we fix our racist tendencies because we want to be better individuals. Her poetry is necessary because it shows us that we still have a lot of work to do and it is pragmatic that we begin immediately.

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