We had the good fortune of connecting with Aerik Francis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aerik, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
I love this question because it is complicated. The kind of knowledge to know whether to keep going or give up is ultimately about cultivating better senses of intuition and senses of self.
I think it is important to acknowledge, first and foremost, that it is absolutely okay to give up or quit. We live in a culture where we are expected to push through and endure anything in order to succeed, even if it means accepting oppression and abuse. I personally love quitting things when they no longer suit my needs – nothing is quite as satisfying as quitting a relationship or job that doesn’t treat me well.
I gave up a previous life goal to become a professor of political theory (I had been studying in grad school for 3 years by the time I made that decision) in order to keep going on with my poetry work. However, just because I gave up academia doesn’t mean gave up on the friends I made there, and it certainly doesn’t mean I gave up on study or theorizing – all of this knowledge and life experience seeps back into my artistic work. I would say the decision making is part acknowledging how you are feeling and what your goals are, and part looking around and seeing if you have the support you need. I don’t think I will ever give up poetry, but it is possible in the future I may give it up as a career path, or give up sharing it publicly perhaps, in order to keep exploring my ambitions. I also think it depends on your situation, if you have what you need to survive and thrive.
Poetry is a merciless craft: it is notoriously undervalued (especially compared to other forms of art or writing), is made to seem hyper-sophisticated/esoteric and inaccessible, is often trapped in the ivory tower, and is bound to come with lots of rejection. It is easy to get bogged down by low slam scores or numerous rejections for publications or various opportunities. And it is difficult to find sustainable employment as a writer or teacher or poetry. So what keeps me going are two-fold: the way poems always seem to nourish me, and the way poetry communities ardently support each other. I have found that the times I feel the lowest about my craft are the times I feel most distant from community. When I take the vulnerable step to be present and commune, I always feel reinvigorated. Getting involved (in person and/or online) in book clubs, writing groups, public workshops, open mics, poetry slams – watching slowly but surely my poetic craft improve, and eventually making friends in these spaces – is ultimately what has kept me going, what has kept me from giving up poetry.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I would say I am still in progress professionally. Still applying for jobs and residencies and fellowships. Still submitting my work out, getting some acceptances and way way more rejections. Still looking out for any opportunities to read and perform. I think one of the biggest lessons I want to share is that I am enough right now – that no amount of publications or awards or degrees will affirm my work better than I can affirm myself. By and large, we already have the tools we need to to do the work and all we have to do is be present. I think being present in the craft and in poetry spaces as often as I was capable of it has been the number one reason I have grown in my craft. This sounds way easier than it actually is – being present is a craft in and of itself, it is a practice we have to intentionally work on. But we are capable! The poetry world can be much crueler than one would imagine, but all that makes one a poet is simply the creation of a poem, which can be as easy (and beautiful) as speaking a single word. As seductive as it is to imagine a lucrative career in writing, I think one of the biggest challenges I continue to face is how to live ethically as a poet without submitting too deeply to capitalism or systems of oppression. While I don’t have a good answer to this problem yet, I know for sure it can only happen with the presence and support of other artists unionizing together.
There is a quotation I hold dearly from poet Robin Coste Lewis from her feature in the Commonplace Podcast: “I don’t want the poem to stand alone.” Neither do I, which is to say, I don’t think there is much that sets my art apart from others. In fact, one of my main artistic goals is to grow closer to others, rather than set myself apart, and make my citations and conversations with others as clear as I can in my work. The poetics of relation and citation are what excite me the most in poetry. My poems always seem to lead back to questions about the body and questions about politics – these are areas that are inherently wrapped up in how to live and relate with others. I’ll end with a line from a Robin Coste Lewis poem called “Landscape”: “I no longer imagine / where my body / stops or begins.”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Colorado has so many beautiful poetry communities that I have to shout out all the poetry spots, of course! Many have had virtual programming during the pandemic, which has been so lovely, and are now opening back up for in person events. The Mercury Café Sunday night poetry slams have been my go-to for poetry in Colorado. Redline Art Gallery, which also hosts Slam Nuba’s open mic every final Friday of the month, is such a Denver gem as well. Sacred Voices hosts fantastic monthly poetry programming at Denver Open Media that features poets both on the stage and on the radio. Creative Strategies for Change hosts a monthly Community Cypher that is always such a joy to see and perform in. The Corner Beet and Mutiny Information Café are also great spots to get coffee or catch poetry, music, or comedy. Blush & Blu is one of my favorite queer spots in Denver and also hosts a queer open mic. And when they host, King LadySpeech Sanofa’s open mics, Freedom of Speech, and Connor Marvin’s open mics, AlleyCat Poetry Nights, are also among my favorite poetry events in the city. Since we are talking Colorado at large, I also want to shout out Poetry719 and Keep Colorado Springs Queer as great poetry organizations in Colorado Springs. I also want to shout out Writer’s Block and Trident in Boulder, and mourn the closing of Innisfree Poetry Café and Bookstore. I’m certainly missing some spots and organizations, so many apologies to them – it just goes to show how bustling and lively poetry is out here in Colorado.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First, I want to say that I am so indebted to the Colorado poetry community at large, as well as my family and close friends, some of whom I’ve only met via social media. I stand on the shoulders of so many giants – thank you all for writing, reading, performing, and communing together with me.
I could list many names, but one individual in particular I want to shout out is Hakeem Furious. We met when I first started performing in Denver in 2018. We immediately bonded over our mutual admiration of each other’s poetics, and our mutual hunger to constantly perform & improve our poetry. He is fiercely devoted to craft and it shows in his work, in his performances, in his workshops, and in his many accolades (including winner of many slams and artist residencies). I am very grateful for how many poets and artists he has brought to Denver, and how many Denver poets he has helped foster more widespread recognition. I really can’t thank him enough for how many opportunities he has opened up for me.
Bre Blake Photography and Jennifer Joines