The Life of a Poem: “In a Picture on My Boyfriend’s Phone” by Taylor Byas
Welcome to “The Life of a Poem,” a monthly column at Frontier dedicated to uplifting our previous contributors’ new poems. We love to see how our writers continue to thrive after publishing at Frontier, and we are excited to share some insights into their writing process and what led them to being published at Frontier in the first place.
In a Picture on My Boyfriend’s Phone
Another woman ripples,
naked in his eager grasp.
In our bed, they dirty the sheets
I cleaned. He snaps photos,
fills the memory card,
shot after shot
of a woman who looks like me.
I do not know
how to leave him.
I touch him, I learn
to step outside of myself.
He makes love to a distant thing and records it.
To step outside of myself,
I touch him. I learn
how to leave him.
I do not know
of a woman who looks like me.
Shot after shot
fills the memory card
I cleaned. He snaps photos
in our bed. They dirty the sheets.
Naked, in his eager grasp,
another woman ripples.
This poem was previously published in Big Lucks’ The Neon Hollywood Cowboy Plays the Hits.
Tell us about this new poem. How did it come to life?
Taylor Byas: This poem is a product of my most recent 30/30 attempt! (30 poems written in 30 days.) The last time I did 30/30, I wrote formal poems for the entire month and was really happy with how most of those drafts turned out. I think when I’m producing that much work, form helps to keep the writing fresh and forces me out of my comfort zones and writing tics, so I decided to try it again. This time, I added the palindrome to the calendar because I have an obsession with mastering as many forms as I possibly can, and I’d only written one palindrome before this one. And so this poem was born! I’m also working on a manuscript right now that’s considering the gaze, the mirror, what it means to watch and be watched. And I think the form of the palindrome itself was perfect for this project and for the actual content as well.
How many times did you submit or revise this poem before its publication?
This is actually the very first draft of this poem. I was really lucky to sort of land on what felt right the first time, which happens for me sometimes! The whole publication process for this poem was really unique. The wonderful poet Matt Mitchell reached out to me and asked if I would be a part of this special issue that Big Lucks was releasing to celebrate his book release. I love Matt’s work so of course I agreed, and this was one of the poems I sent to him to consider for this issue and he loved it and wanted to include it! It was so cool, I got lucky on the first draft and first sub with this poem!
What does your poem-writing process look like?
My poem-writing process is sort of sporadic unless I’m forcing myself to do a 30/30 or some sort of writing challenge. But for the most part, I sit down to write a poem when I feel like I have an idea that’s formed enough to turn into something. But I’m always “writing” even when I’m not at the computer actually putting words into a document. I’m always writing phrases, lines, and images in the notes app on my phone. I voice to text things while I drive. I have been on the brink of falling asleep only to bolt upright and frantically write an idea on my phone or in my journal. I’m constantly collecting and gathering little snippets of things, and then eventually
some of those snippets start talking to each other. THEN I sit down at a computer and throw them on the page and see what they have to say to each other, see what they’re talking about.
How do you know when you’re ready to submit a poem for publication?
This is a hard one! And I only say that because once a poem is out on submission for a long time, you start to feel differently about it. At least I do. I remember submitting to a journal, and the packet sat for about 6 months. I went back and looked at the packet and suddenly I felt like WHY did I send THESE? But I also had to realize that I felt that way because I’m constantly improving, or trying to. And so six months later those poems don’t feel like my best anymore, and perhaps they aren’t! But that’s also okay! So now that I know that no matter how much I tinker with a poem, six months later I’m going to look at it and say “ehhh, I’ve written better stuff these days,” I don’t stress about the “readiness” of poems. I get a poem to a place that feels
good and I send them out. I can always write more. As long as I’m proud of the thing in the moment, that’s all that matters.
How do you recharge and regroup from rejection?
It definitely depends on the rejection! Regular rejections tend to be pretty easy to bounce back from. I usually will just send those rejected pieces out to another place to sort of give them new life, revive them. And that positive rush of sending work out works to cancel out the sting of the rejection. Contest rejections hurt a little more (because the pain extends to my pockets after those contest fees) and for some reason I tend to write something new after a contest rejection. Perhaps it’s an odd urge to remind myself I can still write a good poem in the way of feeling sad? I’m on submission right now with a full-length manuscript and the book rejections??? Cake. They require cake. I cannot stress that enough.
Question for our Editor: What do you love about Taylor’s voice? Why did you hit “accept” for her poems “My Twitter Feed Becomes Too Much,” “South Side,” and “And So You Want a Poem?“
Josh Roark, Editor // Frontier Poetry: Taylor is an exceptional poet—one, as you can see, I’ve been a fan of for a while! I’m not sure there’s a poet we’ve published more. I was so happy when the judges chose her “South Side” as the winner of last year’s Award for New Poets. Particularly compelling is the way she infuses energy and contemporaneity into traditional structures of stanza and poem. As poets, we are all pieces of this great effort to bring tradition forward, to drag it before ourselves to meet the present moment truthfully and with power. Taylor’s writing is on the front edges of that work, connecting herself and her readers into history in a way that transforms it and ourselves. That’s exactly the kind of poetry I wish for Frontier to share.
Taylor Byas is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the 1st place winner of both the 2020 Poetry Super Highway and the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.
Saba Keramati is a Chinese-Iranian writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of University of Michigan and UC Davis, her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and appears or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Vagabond City Lit, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @sabzi_k.