Under Pressure: Malcolm Friend

Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple,
Malcolm Friend

Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and the full length collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple (Inlandia Books, 2018), selected by Cynthia Arrieu-King as winner of the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. He has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, Backbone Press, the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, The Frost Place, and the University of Memphis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry. He is a Poetry Editor for FreezeRay Poetry, and together with JR Mahung is a member of Black Plantains, an Afrocaribbean poetry collective. He currently lives and teaches in Pittsburgh.

Here, Malcolm Friend talks curation, musical influences, and the story behind his debut collection.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple take to write from conception to publication?

Malcolm Friend: Our Bruises was born from my MFA thesis at the University of Pittsburgh. A few of the poems in there were first drafted the year before, during my senior year at Vanderbilt. During my second semester I took a manuscript workshop with Lynn Emanuel, and during the first month most of us in the class participated in a daily grind, writing a poem a day. Only some of those daily grind poems ended up in the chapbook I wrote for the course, but that’s when I first started writing around The Bomba Man and The Blues Man, and started to form the ideas of what I wanted the manuscript together. That manuscript ended up winning the Inlandia Institute’s 2017 Hillary Gravendyk National Poetry Prize and was published in 2018, so in all it was around a four-year process.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

MF: Deadlines are very helpful for me. My mind wanders a lot and, like so many other writers, my day job isn’t focused around my writing, so it’s easy to lose track of it and go spells without writing, editing, etc. If I have a deadline I have to meet, that helps me focus and bear down a little bit more.

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

MF: Wow there are so many names I could put here, from Ricardo Alberto Maldonado and Ana Portnoy Brimmer, both with debut poetry collections coming out soon, to folks like Yesenia Montilla and Jasminne Mendez who lately have just been blowing me away with their poems. I also have to give a shoutout to the homie Cameron Barnett. He was a year ahead of me at Pitt and we still send each other work from time-to-time. Everytime he sends me something I just have to step away from the computer for a second. And, of course, I’m really excited for Yona Harvey’s new book coming out this fall..

Outside of poetry, Lianna La Havas just released a new project, so I’ve been listening to that on repeat for a second.

SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

MF: Honestly, for me, it’s all about remembering to nourish myself as a person, not just a writer. So I have to make sure to take time to do non-writing related things, like cook, spend time with my partner and our rabbits, watch sports–things like that to make sure I’m taking a breath every now and then.

SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

MF: So this is kind of combination of what two people have told me over the years. In 2016, Juan Felipe Herrera was one of the faculty members at the CantoMundo retreat, and his workshop was based around play in our writing. The next year, as I was working on my thesis, Yona Harvey noticed how I was working with epigraphs, and encouraged me to play around with them a little more—let their rhythm echo through the poems a little bit more. Both of these together remind me to have fun with my writing, and to remember to write around joy when I can.

SHP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

MF: When I was in high school and college I used to just write on looseleaf and keep it in a folder. Then for the last year or two in college and first year of grad school I used to have a journal. In the past few years I’ve more so been on the computer, just because of how often I have to be on it anyway and trying to scale down how much stray paper I have to keep track of. If there’s a line I need to remember or that’s just repeating in my head, I’ll take whatever I can find to write it down–a teaching notebook, an index card, a receipt. Otherwise, I just park myself in front of a computer until I feel I can’t do anything else with a poem for the time being.

SHP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

MF: I guess I’d have to say curator here. I think my work is always trying to see what voices and sounds are being pulled together, to find some sort of harmony out of that mix.

SHP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

MF: It just comes when it does. Sometimes it’ll find me when I’m watching TV or listening to music, sometimes while I’m cooking, others when I’m on the bus on the way to work or the airport. I think that’s just a byproduct of the way my mind wanders. Those connections end up being made at any moment.

SHP: If you could curate the perfect reading experience for your book, name a meal, drink, and 3 song playlist that would describe the book.

MF: Meal- Pernil, tostones, and arroz con gandules

Drink- Palo Viejo gold rum mixed with pineapple juice and guava nectar

3 Song Playlist- “Las caras lindas” by Ismael Rivera, “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, “Calabó y bambú” by La Sista

Now not really sure if those all go together, but that’s what I’m going with.

SHP: If you could describe Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple in three words, what would they be?

MF: A resounding echo.

Order Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple here!