Tobi Kassim

Nigeria

My work is always informed by the experience of migration, existing in a shadow state where one can neither stay nor remain. Poetry is one way to give voice to the unnamed positions outside of official documentation. Much of my work considers the difficulties of immigration, family separation, and poverty that my family experienced in the wake of moving from Nigeria to the United States. I search for confluences of meaning between my experience and the world around me. I turn to the weather, geography, and music to chart an asymptotic, andoumboulou-ish movement through the real and imagined geographies that flow in and out of the borders of myself.

Dear Sly Stone

Artist Notes

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Transcript for Dear Sly Stone by Tobi Kassim

Rain came down
from a clearing in the body​​
my punctuated skin
wind clear through
my body like a fire
alarm through the city
but to call us all back
in crowd us
toward promised fullness

once i was a membrane
on both sides of the rain
I was evaporating
collected weather
to unhold
home in the body
feels so good
I moved through the edges
of town with water
song flowed past
the edges of ontology
ink clouds for each breath
In the blood stream
new color pressed
in expression wave
upon wave lifted me
to step where the ground
refused fundament

just thrown myself
at the back beat
for grace to keep
space in the chaos
as it closes
to be inside and outside
of it closing
to meet the rain
between rising and falling
I pushed ground
water up around my escape
hatch the first
time my body took
over in a long time
I believed in the drums
to be reconciled by silent
Music to move backward
through air future
flashed back at us
steel against sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i unheld
myself

Poems

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Tobi Kassim

Tobi Kassim

Biography

 

Tobi Kassim is a poet from Nigeria. His poems have been published in Poem-A-Day, The Volta, The Brooklyn Review, Zocalo Public Square, and elsewhere. His chapbook Dear Sly Stone came out on Spiral Editions and considers music, absence, and history in “letters” to Sylvester Stewart AKA Sly Stone, the frontman for Sly and the Family Stone.

Tobi received an undergraduate fellowship from Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry and received an MFA in Poetry from The MFA program for Writers at Warren Wilson where he was a Holden Scholar. He won the Sean T. Lannan Poetry prize from Yale’s English department for Africa Talks to You and other poems. He received the Katherine Bakeless Nason Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Conference for Writers. He was a 2021 Undocupoets Fellow and was a resident at Stove Works and Millay Center for the Arts.

 

This piece is an invocation of the spirit of Sly Stone’s “Luv n’ Haight” and a celebration of funk’s inherent connection to my will to dance. Reading experimental poets like Harmony Holiday and Fred Moten, I discovered writing as a state of heightened attention to the sensations aroused in deep listening. Following Charles Olson’s injunctions in “Projective Verse”, I deploy enjambments and spacing within the text to chart energy’s movement in my body and create multiple streams of movement in sound and language. I call on sound, image, and language to move from meaning’s headwaters in unpredictable ways. By addressing Sly Stone, who faded from the public eye, I hope to index the “music we make of music’s absence,” in Moten’s formulation, to archive the joy of listening as a condition that persists in the body even in music’s absence.

Black Listening's website front page header art and Obsidian 49.2 cover art were  created by Nettrice Gaskins

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