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My Poems Bear The Weight And Suffer The Limitations Of My Experiences: An Interview With Rangi McNeil


Qalandar Bux Memon: Your poems often evoke death and also aging – which we might say is a movement towards death – it seems the scent of death lingers in your poems. Why. And, then, can I ask, is, for you, live a means of preparing for death.  

Rangi McNeil: My poems bear the weight (& suffer the limitations) of my experiences. My relatives tend to die suddenly, prematurely & often, including my mother who died from lupus exactly two weeks before my fourteenth birthday at 33. (Almost) everything I’ve done since – no matter how magnificent or mundane – is a response to that loss.

QBM: There are also references to illness and healthcare – or lack of. In America this is a very political issue.  It could be argued that the lack of healthcare makes dying a painful but also an everyday experience – in particular, for historically marginalized communities in the Americas (African-America and original Americans) and all those who are outside the provision of healthcare. Would I be correct to read these experiences into your poems? 

RM: Though I can’t recall a direct or oblique reference to healthcare (or the lack thereof) as a socio-political phenomenon in my poems, I’m interested in the body’s decline. Or rather, the ways in which the body betrays itself & the process by which remedies are or aren’t afforded & to whom. I wager that my interest stems not from being black but from the fact that at twenty-five I was diagnosed with chronic auto-immune system disease that until the advent of Obamacare rendered me ineligible for health insurance. 

QBM: I also sense that your method in these poems is one of asides. Poets often note and compose from the wayside of everyday life. It seems you curate together that which, to quote you from one of your poems but out of context, that which ‘lurks along our margins’. You bring it to the centre.  

RM: I’m a notorious eavesdropper, a long-walker, a voracious reader & a lover of the subway. As much as I understand them, my poems are attempted articulations composed from recalled & recycled materials; from something I try to make something else: not unfamiliar, but extraordinary & true. Even if fabricated.

QBM: You live in NYC, where late modern capitalism operates to elapse and eradicate the idea of ‘death’, ‘of aging’ and replace them with images and ideas of ‘youth’ and ‘rigor’ and ‘work’. How, then, does your environment evoke your work and how then is your poetry received. Surely, the hipster youth don’t want to hear about ‘dying’ and ‘aging’.  

RM: I live in New York because it is the place in which I feel the most like myself. In this city I am anonymous. But New York (like life) often feels like a fight to the death with rusty knives. My poems can’t help but reflect this peril & the corresponding jubilation. I don’t give much thought to how the poems are received, reception being irrelevant to composition.


Rangi McNeil is a native of Laurinburg, North Carolina. He earned a BA in history from Rice University and his MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts. He is the author of Occasional Poems and The Missing.

For poems by Rangi McNeil please click the links below

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