Sam Sax, the first Bay Area Unified Grand Slam Champion
Sam Sax is the first ever Bay Area Unified Grand Slam Champion and Oakland’s
first two-time queer Grand Slam Champion. He is co-creator and -curator of the new sh!t show, a reading series in San Francisco that features exclusively new work.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them … ?
I’m a writer. I write poems. Also I read them. I’ve often been given the moniker performance poet, but neither performance nor poet seems to fit quite right. They’re not the itchiest suit, but never something I would choose to wear. The action of writing, building community around writing, sharing, finding, and building platforms to share the work is what interests me, is the work I do.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
What I struggle with most in my work is very much the reason why I write. The journey is to find what my body responds to without thinking, those corporeal reactions of disgust and pleasure, with no obvious cognitive process behind it; to put my thumb on what I do not understand and twist.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
I’m going to answer this with two quotations, out of context: “We consult our ancestors not worship them.” — Robert Pinsky
And “All water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” — Toni Morrison
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Easily my brother. He’s four years older than me and a bad-ass; so everything that he thought was interesting grew extra limbs. Music I heard him listening to once became my favorite band. The clothing he tried on as a joke became what I worked hard to fit inside of.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I’m not sure exactly how it’s organized, but I’m pretty sure a large part of it is me trying to leave the wilderness.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
My answer to this used to be consistently, but now that I have a more complicated understanding of the various ways love can operate, I’d have to say even more. Though, I think I fall in hate even more than that.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
More outer space miracles!
What is art? Is it necessary?
I don’t know. Yes.
What are you working on right now?
A series of poems titled, “gay boys and the bridges who love them” that will eventually turn into a chapbook, and slugging away at my first full length poetry manuscript, in the dark room. That unpacks how we speak, receive, and become the stories we tell through the use of confinement, light exposure, shame/desire, shifting internal and external geographies, photography, and fractured narrative. This text is heavily informed by working with young queer people and growing up as a closeted queer child who rarely saw my voice or image reflected in media or other print.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or, what kind of writing do you most admire?
Brave work, the kind that makes my spine tremble on a first or 30th read, whose honesty bleeds through the ink until it gets all over your fingers, the poem that translates to any room where it is read and transforms it. Quiet exquisitely crafted sorrowful work.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
On a small scale: more mobility between the various literary scenes. Otherwise: I’m not the right person to ask.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?