Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.
Marlanda Dekine’s poetry collection Thresh & Hold was released on March 29th, 2022. Winner of the 2021 New Southern Voices Poetry Prize, their writing grapples with their Gullah-Geechee heritage, drawing from the gospel, family history, deep attention, and mess.
Enjoy our conversation about their multifaceted creative work, their South Carolina home, and writing as liberation, below.
Olivia Weeks, The Daily Yonder: First of all, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where’d you grow up, and what do you do now?
Marlanda Dekine: My name is Marlanda Dekine, and I was born and raised in South Carolina. I am Black, Southern, queer, gender non-conforming, and neurodivergent. I am a poet, a voice, a presence, a workshop designer, and a workshop facilitator. My second book, Thresh & Hold, is the winner of the 2021 New Southern Voices in Poetry Prize at Hub City Press. In a previous iteration of my life, I worked as a licensed social worker with children who survived child abuse and with people living with severe mental illnesses. I founded the nonprofit, Speaking Down Barriers, which is a team of poets, artists, and scholars oriented toward equity through poetry, reading, courageous dialogue, and building intentional communities. Currently, I live with my dog, Malachi, about 12 miles from where I grew up in Plantersville, South Carolina. I work with Gender Benders, a transgender advocacy group in the South. I love to laugh, spend time with immediate and extended family, and receive recommendations on music, books, and visual art from anywhere and any time period.
DY: What is “SOUL: An Ancestor Workshop”? How does that series fit in with your poetry? You seem to have an extremely multi-disciplinary creative process. What’s the importance, for you, of having lots of different outlets for what you’re trying to express?
MD: SOUL: An Ancestor Workshop was designed with support from the South Carolina Arts Commission, Gender Benders, and Alternate Roots. In this workshop, we use breathwork, imagination, movement, and automatic writing to consider how our individual origin stories influence our being. We tap into past, present, and future timelines, allowing our familial and land ancestries to speak more than we do. We have the opportunity to reciprocate nature’s nourishment through speculation, giving ourselves permission, and presuming abundance. Through messy memory work, recalling stories, and simply listening, we generate new writing.
Thresh & Hold was developed out of my ongoing writing practice which includes breathwork, movement, reading, and allowing myself to feel deeply. I am a multi-dimensional maker, and I believe in creativity as an innate power awaiting each of us. This belief is important to me. I move from sitting to listening to recording to walking to rehearsing to gardening to thinking to collaborative projects to feeling to reading to qi-gong to writing and to sitting alone again, and not in that particular order, and I see it all as part of my being and poeting.
As the culminating project for my current residency with Castle of our Skins, a nonprofit moving from classrooms to concert halls and inviting exploration into Black heritage and culture, Thresh & Hold was recoded into a collaborative performance with Brittany J. Green (North Carolina composer), Mahkia Greene (South Carolina filmmaker), Victoria Awkward (Massachusetts dancer), and Zahili Gonzalez Zamora (Cuban composer & pianist). In this multimedia collaboration, I witnessed my work being interpreted and translated beyond my being and beyond the page. This is another form of deep listening.
DY: The poems in Thresh & Hold read oftentimes as documentation of your loved ones. For instance, by the end of the collection, the reader has a vivid image of your mother and your Grandma Thelma. What role does faithful memory play in your poetry, and is that ever at odds with creativity?
MD: Remembering is part of my ongoing work as a Black, queer, gender non-conforming person living in the world. My memory is messy, often inaccurate, and ventures into an abundance of speculation. There is a sense of reverence and emotional honesty that tends to appear in my writing surrounding ancestral connections. Thresh & Hold is dedicated to imagination. I love the creative and uncertain realm of poetry.
I feel that the emotional truths excavated through my automatic writing or speaking freely into my phone recorder are fragments that I craft into poems over considerable time. Sometimes, these poems are narrative and persona poems. At other times, lyric poetry takes the lead.
DY: Pardon me if this is a misreading, but I sense a real struggle against death in your work. In “Shifting Shape” you write,
There were no shade trees to seek.
It was the first time. I was a single
cardinal crossing the Atlantic.
I wanted to die, so I flew.
MD: My work, including this poem, is often wondering about how humans stay within or leave their own bodies. How do I stay in mine? How is the speaker going to do it? In Thresh & Hold, there are fugitive tricksters. These tricksters allow a being to stay in the body while also leaving. There are many voices present within Thresh & Hold. This particular poem wrestles with questions of shared identity across the African diaspora, genetic and ancestral memory, and multiple forms of intimacy and vulnerability.
DY: Do you see writing as a weapon in that larger battle to keep living?
MD: I see writing as a liberatory tool regardless of whether it helps someone to keep living or to die in accordance with their own free will. I trace my writing lineage to the Black church, to my father who writes most mornings, and to Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Malidoma Patrice Somé. Each is a site of radical and otherworldly imagining.
DY: Your work has been described as a “reclamation of self.” What are the inputs that help you along in that process? Do you have any reading or music recommendations?
MD: Reclamation of self is ongoing work. We live in a world that bell hooks described as “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy.” For me, the poetics of repossession, somatics, and listening to the Black femme and futurist theoretical frameworks all around us are all helpful guides. I enjoy being in and learning about the natural environment, self-embodiment, sacred mysteries, and listening to my family members’ stories.
At the back of my book, I include a Notes & Research section. Some of the writers included are Yolo Akili, Elizabeth Alexander, Rudolfo Anaya, Dionne Brand, Kamau Brathwaite, CA Conrad, Kwame Dawes, Michael Reed Gach & Beth Ann Henning, Jeff Green, Jonathan Green, Nikky Finney, Trudier Harris, Herman Hesse, Meta DuEwa Jones, Charles Joyner, Tayannah Lee McQuillar, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Eve Tuck & C. Ree, Eden Royce, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, The Heart Sutra, and Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, and Psalms from The Holy Bible. Two songs that were highly influential in the making of Thresh & Hold are “I Am Bound for de Kingdom”, composed by Florence Price and sung by Marian Anderson, and “Running for My Life”, as sung on the album, Jonh’s Island, South Carolina: Its People & Songs.
This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a weekly email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each Monday, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.