In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—A. E. Wynter

by Mar 12, 2024

Bowl of candy from above on a white surface.

Your two poems, “Retching,” which deals with generational trauma and generational choices that live within descendants, and “Now & Later,” which examines how people are taught to open themselves at a young age to experiences they don’t want, are beautiful, tightly-woven pieces. What was the impetus for their creation?

I think at the root of these two poems is an “I” that has both experienced and witnessed the ways that life can rob us of our innocence and choices. In “Now & Later,” we see a father impart unwanted teachings on a daughter, and I wanted to explore that assault on the self. Meanwhile,“Retching” widens the lens beyond our immediate, exploring the fear of what fractured histories our bodies may be housing. Can our genetic and ancestral coding dictate the future self and its options? But even more than fear, even more than life’s cruelty, these poems became a way to push back.

There’s a beat to “Retching” that pulses with the internal rhymes and repetition. What was your process for crafting the rhythm of this piece?

In “Retching,” I wanted the movement of the lines to mimic a sort of heaving—a burden being unloaded with very few pauses. So, I used very little punctuation, which I hope translated effectively to a quicker pace and rhythm. 

As for the internal rhyme and repetition, that seemed to come naturally in this piece and it felt present from the very first draft. In fact, I’d describe “Retching” as one of those poems that just came right out of me (which feels appropriate), and when I first shared this poem with my writing group, they said they could feel the ancestors talking through me. So, as much as I worry about what fraught and fractured histories my body might be housing, I also know it’s housing immense power. “Retching” felt born in this power, and I leave credit with my ancestors, who I feel had something to say to me the day this was written.

“Now & Later” emphasized the importance of a lesson it took me ages to learn: having the choice to say no. This piece really struck home. When writing, do you think about the impact your pieces will have on the audience, or is your creation more internal until the world sees them?

First, really glad to hear the poem struck home. Learning you have the option and every right to say no is so so important. And teaching others to hear and respect no is essential. For me, the act of writing is very internal. I am analyzing, distilling, questioning my experiences and this world through a very personal lens, one shaped by my identity as a Black woman and all of its intersections. I want that process to go uninterrupted. When, and if, the audience enters my creative space, it is during the editing stage. At that point, I have gone through my process of discovery, and I have learned for myself what a poem or story is about. Then, I lean even further into my formal choices—stanzas, line breaks, rhyme, rhythm—and how those choices might impact a reader.

When I initially wrote “Now & Later,” the final lines were: “each day the sharp animal in me spearing through / all I cannot digest.” But during the editing stage, I realized I didn’t want to leave the reader there, or myself. I wanted us to take something back. And in this case, the reclaiming was really an expelling: “we spit out toxins, bare red stained teeth / with wet acid muzzles.” I wanted that final image to be one of strength and prowess.

While these are separate pieces, they both end on a note of rejecting things you don’t want to include in your life. Was there a kinship between these pieces as you were crafting them, or is this a theme you find recurs throughout your work?

There was actually a lot of time and space between the creation of “Retching” and “Now & Later.” So, while there is certainly a clear kinship, this likely points to my writerly obsessions, and the ways that my interests and fears naturally weave into my work—across poems and stories, even in my drawings and visual art.

Nature versus nurture is one of the themes I often find myself returning to—what elements of a person (spiritually, emotionally, physically) have been passed down through genetics and generations? What elements of a person are circumstantial, environmental? I think both “Retching” and “Now & Later” end with images of spitting, of a forceful expelling, because I want to believe in choice more than anything. I want to believe in our ability to reclaim our bodies, despite all it may have unwillingly experienced or inherited. 

You’ve also published Poem With an Absent Father with West Trade Review, and To the Protesters on Vandalia with New Millenium Writings, among many other poems. What themes do you find you return to in your writing? What role, if any, do you see your poetry, and poetry in general, playing in relation to being in conversation with the community?

I’ve already spoken about some of my writerly obsessions above, but as you can imagine, the list is long and ever growing. I’m also interested in, and often return to themes of family and womanhood; of spirituality and inheritance; of religion and ghosts; of truth and rumors; of being Black and American; of my Caribbean heritage; of mental health and caretaking; of land, absence, and memory. 

Poetry is a medium of endless possibilities—it can be a record keeper; a justice seeker, a creator of worlds; a whittler of memory. But at its core, what I want my poetry to do, what I believe all poetry does, is create a container for the human spirit. And when that container is gifted to another person, I imagine they must, in that moment, feel seen, a little less lonely. I especially write for my Black community—to hold them, as they hold me, in love, in pride, in power.

What books or stories shaped the writing you do today? Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oh, dear god. I’m just going to write a very incomplete list of storytellers that impacted me at different stages of my life—from childhood to now. They are in no particular order: Lucille Clifton, August Wilson, Vievee Francis, Stan Lee, Hayao Miyazaki, Toni Morrison, Ross Gay, Mohsin Hamid, Helen Oyeymi, Edwidge Danticat, Jericho Brown, Yona Harvey. I’ll stop here, because I must stop somewhere.

You are a cross-genre writer, and were recently working on a novel-in-progress, Far Cry From a Woman, through the Loft Mentor series. How is that project going? What other projects are you working on now?

The Loft Mentor Series is such an amazing program. Shout out to its admin and organizers, and of course to the 2021 mentors and cohort. Everyone was so amazing! Far Cry From a Woman is in revision, and I’m feeling really excited about the direction the book has taken. I’m also working on a poetry collection and a graphic memoir, which is a very slow burn, mostly because my drawing skills are limited—but I love the challenge, and I love having a creative space to return to when my creative expression needs to move beyond words.

A. E. Winter is a Black writer from New York. She currently lives in Minneapolis, where she has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, was a fiction fellow in the 2021-2022 Loft Mentor Series, and most recently, participated in a regional Cave Canem workshop. Winter won first place in the 53rd New Millennium Writing Award for Poetry, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in West Trade Review.


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