Q&A: Hanif Abdurraqib, Poet And MTV Cultural Critic

When not writing or presenting poetry, Hanif seeks out the best ice cream in the cities he visits. May we suggest Lick, or Pearings, or Nicey Treat, or Brics, or Huddles, or …

Before touching down in Indy on Thursday, poet and MTV cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib touched base with IM about his writing process, the impact of Twitter, and his search for Indy’s best milkshake.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city?
I tend to look up what the best ice cream place is.

Where is the best ice cream in Indy?
I haven’t found it yet—I was just there on Friday, but I read at Butler and then came straight back home. So I haven’t had a chance to seek it out yet, but I look forward to doing that when I’m there on Thursday.

You’re reading at IUPUI Thursday evening. Do you have a set lineup of poems you always read from, or does it depend on the night?
Because I have a wide range of work, I always try to see what would serve the room best. So it varies night to night, but I let the room dictate where my reading goes.

What are you thinking about when you’re reading? Are you invested in the poem, or like, Oh, three people just walked in, or Wow, I could really use some steak after this?
Oh, I’m invested in the poem, and I’m invested in the room. I think about the reading space as an exchange between the reader and the room, and so I’m often thinking about not only the poem, but how I can best read and engage the room.

How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I write every day. I not only write poems; I’m also a music critic and an essayist, so I write at least five hours a day.

How long does it typically take to finish a poem?
It depends. I do a lot of the pre-work in my head, so by the time I sit down to write I have a fully formed idea. The work comes in translating the idea onto the page in a way that hopefully makes sense to the reader. From conception to completion, it can take anywhere from three to five minutes to several days.

How do you know when a poem is finished?
A poem carries you to a stopping point. It’s something that often feels natural now because I’ve done so much work, but the poem tells you when it’s there.

Do you write in silence, or do you like to listen to a specific type of music?
I tend to listen to a lot of instrumental music. I don’t listen to a lot of music with lyrics.

How has Twitter changed your creative process?
It actually hasn’t, much. I’m pretty active on Twitter and Instagram, but I can tune it out and do work when needed. If anything, it helps because I enjoy engaging in dialogue with other writers who I don’t see a lot and sit down and talk to in person.

You’re a Starbucks guy. How often does Starbucks get your name right?
Oh, never. They usually don’t, and I’ve kind of given up hope that they will, but it’s okay.

Biggest fail?

Hanif Abdurraqib will read at Eskenazi Hall on the IUPUI campus Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. The reading is free and open to the public.