Posted by: DéLana | August 4, 2010

Randall Horton on What’s the Word? Wednesdays

Randall Horton is a quiet force behind the scenes. He is a tireless worker and harbinger for all things Black and all things Poetry (capital B and P). If you ever get near him, he’ll give you everything he can, give you a dap or a huge hug (look at those arms), ask you what’s up?, and get down to the business of poetry. He agreed to sit down and answer five questions for my humble blog; I’m thankful to have caught him in between residencies at the VCCA and running operations at the Idlewilde Conference in Michigan. Okay, enough gushing — here’s Randall giving us the Word.

Me:  You have two books of poetry published: The Definition of Place and The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (both Main Street Rag). What’s next on your list? What are you working on?

I have currently completed a manuscript titled The District. In this manuscript, I take a look at urban landscapes without ever specifically naming a place. In other words, The District could be any major urban center. I am interested in shifting landscapes where place is important, but to be human is more important. I am also interested in the erasure that is hidden in urban landscapes, so I try and address things that are constantly being erased. For my next full project, I want to explore Blacks in the Civil War through a book length poem, most specifically the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. And too, I am working on a memoir that is almost complete.

Who are three poets or writers that stay constant on your personal reading list? On your syllabi?

In my own personal readings, I found myself turning back Stephen Jonas’ Collected Poetry because of his brilliance in using the line break and how he can wring multiple meanings from a poem. In other words, I never get tired of reading his poems. Every time I sit with Jonas I learn something new about language and the function of the poem. In many regards, I would say Ed Roberson does this for me as well. I would also have to say that I am also in love with Blue Front by Martha Collins, and find myself fascinated by how she uses repetition, misdirection and imagery to tell a narrative that doesn’t seem like a narrative but is. In terms of the classes I teach, I keep Tyehimba Jess, Remica Bingham and Suji Kwock Kim on my syllabi. They are mainstays in any of my creative writing classes.

So many people credit you for so many things: teaching, gigs, publications, editing work – how do you do it all? What’s in it for you?

Well, first of all, that is humbling. I will say that whatever I do in life now, I do simply for the love and satisfaction it brings in helping people to contribute to the landscape of American Literature. The playing field is so unleveled and I was never taught to play on an unlevel playing field. You have to even it up. Also, I once lived a very different life from the one I now have. I was so unhappy in many ways. Now I wake up and there is a purpose for me in the world, and I try to take advantage of the day ahead of me. I look at everything I do as part of the air I breathe to stay alive. I must breathe to live, so I live my life accordingly.

Speaking of teaching, how important would you say mentoring was to your own career?

My first mentor was Sterling Plumpp. I love that poet for how he took me under his wings and showed me the ropes in a way no other poet would. He was honest and he pushed me to reach for things I had no idea I could achieve. Sterling remains a close friend to this day. I got him on speed dial. I see too many poets with the “Me” syndrome, always concerned about self. He showed me the way a poet must encounter and engage the larger world of poetry.

Can you spend some time telling us about The Symphony and what is means to be a part of an intimate collective?

The Symphony is the brainchild of poet John Murillo. This collective consists of John, Dwayne Betts, Marcus Jackson and myself. The Symphony centers on our mutual love, respect and admiration for Etheridge Knight and each others’ work. We come from diverse backgrounds, but we intersect through Knight’s poetry. Our readings offer a brief panel discussion on the work of Etheridge Knight and then a reading of our own work. We are also committed to doing community and prison workshops. It is our belief that the poet must have purpose, and through The Symphony we exercise that purpose into passion. I will also say that it means a great deal to be part of something that isn’t self-centered. The Symphony serves as our refuge, because we all are negotiating the landscape of poetry in some type of way which includes academia and elitist organizations. When we get together it is about reading and doing the work, No egos at all. Plus this collective serves as a medium through which we can continue to help people while remaining true to our sensibilities in this thing we call poetry.

—Randall Horton

Randall Horton, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, resides in New Haven, CT and is a former recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. He is the author of the poetry collections The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street, and The Definition of Place, both from Main Street Rag. Randall is the current editor of Reverie: Midwest African American Literature and co-editor of Fingernails Across the Chalkboard Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDs from the Black Diaspora (Third World Press, 2007). He is also the editor of four children anthologies. He received his undergraduate education at both Howard University and The University of the District of Columbia (B.A. English). He has a MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry from Chicago State University and a PhD in Creative Writing from SUNY Albany. Randall is also a Cave Canem fellow. Most recently his poems, fiction and nonfiction appear in the following anthologies and journals: Motif: Writing by Ear, Mosaic, Black Renaissance, Crab Orchard Review and The Red Clay Review. Randall currently teaches at the University of New Haven and is the poetry editor of Willow Books and the managing editor at Tidal Basin Review.

You can find Randall Horton at: where you can check out and buy his books.



  1. This is nice exchange, you two!

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