Poetry That Slaps: Profile of FINE’s Resident Poet, Nikki Burian

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Photo of Nikki Burian

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, we celebrate some work that really slaps, as the cool kids say. Whether it slaps or slams or whatever the lingo is, FINE is lucky to have a secret wordsmithing weapon-- our very own published poet, Nikki Burian.

Poet first, project manager second, and all-around non-binary badass, Nikki is on a mission to create fun, authentic art that is accessible to everyone. With two published books and appearances at both national and global slam competitions, Nikki makes big happen one kind, inclusive, and empowering word at a time.

Step inside the mind and vibe that is Nikki Burian.

"I think there’s always a fear that I’ll write something that will be hurtful to someone. Even if all I do these days is write about joy, there is that worry that someone will buy my book, read it, say 'this is so offensive to me' and then burn it - but I ask them to do exactly that anyway, so it doesn’t matter."

Tell us a bit about your creative journey from pre-poetry to slam to publishing to your current Anti-COVID sads good vibe note initiative?

Believe it or not, I used to be highly introverted. I grew up wanting to join show choirs, acting clubs, marching bands - anything performance-based, but I’d get stage anxiety so horrible, it would prevent me from participating in anything. It took me months of attending poetry slams for me to finally read something I wrote. The first time I performed in an open mic, I was met with so much applause, hootin’ & hollerin’, etc., that I felt as if I, out of all the people in the world, had experiences that were worthy of being shared. I walked off of the stage knowing that my voice was super important. That one audience changed the trajectory of not just my art, but my whole life. Now I love and welcome any opportunity for performances, I love public speaking, I love hosting, all of it.

After a few years, I felt like I had enough content to put a physical collection out into the world. I taught myself how to lay out a chapbook in InDesign and printed everything at UPS, and stapled & folded everything on my own. The response I received was wildly motivating. In terms of what I put in books and when I release them, I publish things when I get a feeling. I don’t schedule anything, I don’t set a minimum number of poems to write for each book, I don’t put together a book of older work. As weird as it sounds, it’s just a vibe. An idea for something will worm its way into my brain and I’ll immediately obsessively develop an entire book of poems around it. Everything is written specifically for that idea. For my most recent book, I think I was up scheming until close to 2 or 3 in the morning the night I decided on a central theme.

The Anti-COVID-Sads Project was really born out of that same idea. I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to be helpful during this quarantine. I have a relatively decent Instagram following, many of whom I know are fans of my writing. With that, I posted an offer to write people happy little notes and mail them for free, if there was something in particular that would help them feel better while being stuck in isolation. So far, I’ve received 71 requests, all of which I’ve replied to. The requests have been wild and beautiful, and I’m keeping them to use as another book down the line. Maybe after we get through COVID-19.

What or who inspires you to write?

Mike Young is currently my biggest inspiration. His poetry is very matter-of-fact story telling. He’s wicked brilliant. His book Spezzatura helped me find my writing style of “this is how it is. This is how it should be. This is how I think you can get there. Do it or not, I don’t care.” We also live in what I call “The Lizzo Era” - fun, authentic art is so wildly popular and important right now, and poetry has a bad rep as an emotional, sad, difficult-to-understand form of writing. The Lizzo Era has inspired me to try and change that.

How important is accessibility of meaning in your poetry?

It is the single most important aspect of my writing. I remember reading Shakespeare in high school, being completely unable to understand literally anything he was saying. I don’t want to be a writer like that, to be honest. Which isn’t to say I can’t appreciate work that forces you to think, but that’s just not my jam. Saying something as simple as “I know you can be better” will be interpreted by 200 people in 1,000 different ways. I want my writing’s simplicity to be as dense as the reader decides it will be. My books are never written for me, so accessibility is essential.

What are you most proud of?

My first published book, Letters in my Nightstand. Man. It’s not the book I’m proud of, actually. It’s the type of stuff people have said to me after they read it. Stuff like, “I bought this to keep in the library of a queer summer camp for the kids.” Really, I am proud of the ability I have to make people feel really big, important, wonderful emotions.

If you could leave readers with one takeaway, what would it be (aka what is your hope for your audience)?

I want them to know something exists within them right now to get them to where they wish they could be. And that some stuff just is or it just isn’t. But none of that means they can’t go out there and make something so or make it not so.

Where you can find Nikki’s work:

  • Powell’s has sold out (for the second time in a row, no big deal or anything).
  • Anyone can order the book on Nikki's website HERE.
  • ALL the net proceeds will be donated to an immigrant justice organization, Al Otro Lado. So far Nikki has raised over $500.

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