Britteney Black Rose Kapri is the unapologetic author of the poetry collection, Black Queer Hoe, which began as a series of declarations on her personal twitter feed. Her phrase “Pro Black, Pro Queer, Pro Hoe,” quickly became the Chicago-based poet’s general ethos for the way she operates in the world. Her debut collection is raw, touching, and searing, and petty—just as the self-proclaimed “petty enthusiast” prefers it. Black Queer Hoe is unique in its ability to connect people who share Kapri’s personal and political identities, and holds a mirror to a world that insists on mistreating Black femmes. Kapri spoke candidly with me about the importance of transparency in writing, how her memoir-like collection of poems got published, and how she fearlessly navigates the world as a Black queer femme.
Black Queer Hoe is a very forward title. How did it come to you? Did you encounter any obstacles as you tried to publish this particular collection?
“Pro Black, Pro Queer, Pro Hoe” is the cornerstone of everything I believe in as an artist and an educator, so if you’re not fighting for the liberation of all three of those identities, then you’re not actually rocking with me. Haymarket is one of the most amazing publishers, and they signed on [knowing] what the book was [about]. They had faith in me, believed in me as a writer, and stuck by my side the whole time.
In the poem, “for Colored boys who considered gangbanging when being Black was too much,” you write, “like all Black Chicago women i have been preparing my womb to carry a stillborn…” When putting this book together, were you thinking about the social consciousness of Black queer femmes? How do these poems reflect that commitment?
When [you’re] an artist [with a] marginalized identity, you’re writing for that marginalized identity. I will always be a Black writer, whether I am [writing about] Blackness or tulips. So there’s no choice. It’s as radical to write about Black death as it is to write about nature, [but] white publications expect us to pimp out our trauma for the white gaze. I love Chicago. I have Chicago tattoos.I think it’s the greatest city in the world, but I can’t pretend that Chicago isn’t trying to kill me. I can’t pretend like Chicago is not trying to kill my brothers, whether [through] gun violence or systemic racism. I was always going to be a part of the story whether I realized it or not.
Poems like “brenda’s got three babies,” tend to flow from writing about fictional characters or people you know into your own experience, like “my ob-gyn tells me I may not be able to have children.” Do you see parallels between your life and the lives of other Black queer femmes? How does that show up in your work?
I don’t ever attempt to write for other people. I hope that other Black women [and] other queer folks can see something in my stories, but ultimately these are my stories. “brenda’s got three babies” is about my mom, and the other poem you mentioned is obviously about my own experience. Even if you weren’t a 20-year-old Black woman when you were told you are possibly infertile, hopefully, you see a little bit of truth in that story. I just am grateful for the people [who] have shown me love and have come to me and told me that piece meant something to them because they too exist in this marginalized community.
The book features very honest poems about some of your sexual encounters with Black men. You write: “to the nigga who tweeted ‘we need to stop glorifying fat people’ while secretly receiving my nudes behind your girlfriend’s back.” Were you at all worried about illuminating these hurtful experiences with Black men?
When I was younger, I used to write really honest and raw pieces about people around me, [pieces] that were detrimental to my relationships. avery r. young, [who] is one of my mentors, let me know that other people don’t get a chance to defend themselves when you’re writing about them. [The writing] exists without any voice outside of your own. I’m very intentional when I write about other people, but one of my favorite quotes [is], “If people wanted you to write about them fondly, then they should have treated you better.” So I don’t feel bad about writing [about] the hurtful things that have been done to me. But if I’m going to do that, I have to be honest about the hurtful things I’ve done to [others]. I can’t shortside the story to make myself look better.
[The guy I wrote about] in that poem said something really shitty, but I was also flirting with [another] guy [while we were] in a relationship. [Neither of us] were the best people. I just want to be honest even [if] I’m not necessarily [shown] in the best light. I do grimy shit sometimes, [other] people do grimy shit sometimes, and that’s just the world we live in. I’m the eldest of nine kids. I have a shit ton of sisters. I [know] a shit ton of young women of color [and] young queer folks, and if my poems can stop them from making just one mistake I made, then I’ve succeeded.
Another poem, “how to title a poem about Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore,” offers a nod of recognition to and sympathy for Black men targeted by law enforcement. How do you balance your painful experiences with Black men with your openness to addressing the systemic abuse of your community?
I love Black men. My partner is a Black man. My brother [and] most of my best friends are Black men, but I also love myself and [other] Black women first. That’s something I constantly communicate on my social media and with my friends. In my work, I will always stand up for Black men, but I’m never going to [overlook] the individuals [who] have harmed me. I also won’t disregard that the movement for Black liberation doesn’t take Black women into consideration. So while I will always defend Black men, I’ve learned to stop putting myself on the line for folks [who] would not put themselves on the line for me.
In the wake of Black Lives Matter, I went to Ferguson and traveled to a bunch of different protests. I organized and participated in protests [in Chicago], and I watched a lot of harm being done to young, queer, women movement [leaders]. Young Black men were the faces of the movement [while] young women were being harmed [within] the movement.
I just want us all to be free, but I need everyone to want for us to be free too. So first and foremost, I’m fighting for Black women and I’m fighting for Black queer women and I’m fighting for Brown queer women because typically, we are the ones harmed by the people [who] look like us—but it’s never talked about. We’re usually called “sensitive,” or just a myriad of things [that] gaslight the marginalized people within marginalized communities.
Black Queer Hoe is a refreshingly honest collection. Was it empowering to write? What do you hope those who read it take from it?
I don’t know if it was empowering to write because there [were] very few things in Black Queer Hoe that I hadn’t already shared publicly. I hope [the book] offers a place for young women to empower themselves. Young women need to reclaim vulgarity [because] being a lady is bullshit, it’s boring, and it’s usually for the male gaze. I’m vulgar, I’m fucking hilarious, and I wanted this book to be petty, to be [funny], to be a cornucopia of all the bullshit that’s me. I wanted it to be very honest. I guess that’s empowering.