Ahead of the release of their debut full-length poetry collection, Year of the Unicorn Kidz, jason b. crawford spoke with Editorial Intern Iqra Abid about queer love and livelihood, masculinity, and dancing along with Michael Jackson.
Iqra Abid: Could you speak more on what it means to be a Unicorn Kid? What makes someone a Unicorn Kid?
jason b. crawford: The Unicorn Kid derived from my collective, MMPR. In our group, we each have an emoji that best describes our being. Lannie Stabile gave me the unicorn because of how much I wore them and talked about them. In writing the collection, I believed the unicorn to be the Black Queer and Trans body in a sense, we are mythical and thought not supposed to exist. I wanted to talk about the magic of being Black and Queer without having to continually say we are magical.
IA: What were some of the first poems that made it into your collection? Did you write the with this collection in mind?
jbc: The book started out completely different. Originally, the book focused more on Black poems and Queer poems separated within the collection. I also wrote a chapbook about cruising and Queer violence called How We Fed the Hunger. Realizing the connection between the two manuscripts, I decided to merge the two. I wrote “Unicorn Kidz Dance Underneath the Moonlight, too” within the first ten poems of the collection; it is one of the first groups that survived the merger a lot with “Beasts,” “Beast Boy,” “Notes on Cruising the Rest Stop off 187 at 11:45 pm,” and “Unicorn Kid Discovers Sugar.”
IA: In “The Etymology of Cruising,” the speaker explores dangerous facets of queer existence. One of the many lines I was drawn to is “Again I feel so much like the dead. I feel myself becoming.” What made you place these two feelings together? How do they complement each other within the context of violence, consumption, and desire?
jbc: “The Etymology of Cruising” is both a fact and fictional tale that highlights the violence directed at Queerness and Queer desire. Because of this, I am forced to grapple with what is thought of me and what I think of myself in terms of Queering. Constantly, I ask myself, “What am I becoming? Is it what I expected?” On the other side of that, I am asking the audience, “What will you do with all this Queer body now that you know what it has become?” At the intersection of these questions is death. Looking historically, Fem Black Queer and Trans bodies are more likely to be murdered just due to their existence. Becoming in this moment is both being happy in finding your Queerness and fearing what destruction your Queerness might cause.
IA: When you write about desire or love, a recurring metaphor is becoming an animal or a beast. What do you mean when you say becoming?
jbc: I really wanted to capture the outside perspective the body used to enslave Africans captured and indentured during the transatlantic slave trade. Part of the justification for enslavement was based in the belief that the Africans were bestial beings, less evolved and not deserving of rights. This justification led to rulings such as the 3/5 compromise. This is a form of othering. I wanted to showcase Black and Brown Trans bodies as we are depicted today, as others; something less than deemable to rights.
IA: “Unicorn Kidz Dance Under the Moonlight, too” interrogates the gender roles ascribed to dance. Why was it important for you to write about the relationship between gender and dance?
jbc: I grew up very free to dance; Michael Jackson, and all his complicated past, was easily one of my biggest motivators for performing. I wanted to be a singer-songwriter growing up, but thrived in dancing like Mike. Even in his most masculine, there was no gender to his dance. Because of this people questioned his sexuality. Being in Black neighborhoods, going to Black schools, you are taught to not dance, it’s for the girls. I want Black boys and Black bois like me to know it’s okay to move your hips.
IA: In the poem “in defense of boys being bois”, you write “There is violence in every action, / love is not the exception.” Can you speak more about the different types of violence you explore throughout this collection?
jbc: The violence forms from isolation, misunderstanding, from fear, hurt, love. When I wrote it, this line started from the idea of every action having a reaction. This is Newton’s Third Law of Motion stating in order for something to move, an opposite force must be applied to the object wishing to move. Applying this to violence, it begs the question, “What violence occurs (both to ourselves and to others) when we apply love to something?” The same could be asked about isolation, hurt, and fear. I want to know what violence I am asking for in my movements.
IA: What poem was the hardest to write? Why?
jbc: I think it has to be “from the mouth of the Beehive” because I am a huge Vincint fan, have been for many years. For me, this piece was more than just an ode to Vincint; it was a symbol of what magic is possible if Black Queer people are given the time of day to showcase what we can do. In crafting this piece, it had to dance, sing, create, smile; I needed the work to be more than the pain that comes with being Black and Queer in America.
IA: What do you hope readers will learn or take away from Year of the Unicorn Kidz?
jbc: The biggest thing: Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. Black Queer Lives Matter. That is always number one. I want Queer people to know they are loved, that we see them, I see them. Sometimes dance is the only form of salvation, the nightclub our only place to pray. We’ve all lusted for something we didn’t need but needed in that moment. I want people to know that being Queer, being Trans, being Black is okay. There is nothing wrong with us, we are beautiful and capable and powerful and amazing. That we won’t stop fighting until the world remembers us as us, not as who they wish we would be.
Jason B. Crawford (they/them) is a Black, nonbinary, queer writer. They are the author of three chapbooks: Summertime Fine (Variant Literaure, 2021), Twerkable Moments (Paper Nautilus, 2021), and Good Boi (Neon Hemlock, 2021). Crawford is a current poetry MFA candidate at The New School in New York, NY.
Iqra Abid (she/her) is a young, Pakistani, Muslim writer based in Canada. She is currently a student at McMaster University studying Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour. She is also the Founder and Editor in-Chief of Kiwi Collective Magazine. Her work can be found in various publications such as Stone Fruit Magazine, Tiny Spoon Lit Magazine, Scorpion Magazine, and more. You can find her on Instagram at @iqraabidpoetry.
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