I Definitely Wanted to Play with Form: An Interview with Rico Frederick


When you go to Rico Frederick's website  you already get a sense that he is a visual artist. He does design work by the way. That is very apparent in his poetry. It's very visually stimulating and still resonates emotionally. His new collection of poems, Broken Calypsonian, came out last year from Penmanship Books and it is an emotional whirlwind of a poet who not only can find himself in performance but can also bring that energy of performance to the page. Here's a nice 5 question interview I was able to do with him.

TF: You have been a part of the poetry scene for over 10 years now, why was 2014 the year to release your first full-length book?

RF: Holding this book in my hands today is a gift I will treasure for a lifetime. It took the last three of those ten years to bring this dream to life. Credit due to my publisher Penmanship Books precisely Mahogany L. Browne for sitting me down and telling me: "it’s your time".

TF: The title of the book, Broken Calypsonian is such a beautiful reflection of you and your poetic prowess. This book speaks volumes. Your performances speak volumes. How do you harness this energy so well in your pieces? Does a well balanced breakfast help?

RF: Are Gummy Bears and Mountain Dew considered breakfast? The title Broken Calypsonian speaks directly to my heritage (Trinidadian) and my humanity (love, heartbreak, race, male identity, etc.). Themes I explore considerably throughout the book. As for prowess, I teach – You must treat each performance like it's your last…what would you say if it were your last chance to speak? It also helps when you have a NYC Poetry Slam community that pushes you to your utmost potential.

TF: With books becoming less popular, the art of the book needs to be reinvented along with the reading experience. In Broken Calypsonian you have done a wonderful job in doing so - can you talk more on how the book is broken up and formatted?

RF: I definitely wanted to play with form, fonts and spacing on the page. With my over 15 years in graphic design, I saw this book as a written and artistic challenge, illustrating, type setting and laying out the entire book myself.

I think this quote from The Eagle and The Wren reading series best answer the question: "In modern times, Calypso is an Afro-Caribbean music that hails from Rico Frederick's native Trinidad, and appropriately, the hero of his book, Broken Calypsonian, is a speaker who has left his Calypso to come to live on Manhattan island. Structured around the songs and days of the Trinidadian carnival, Rico's book explores themes of fatherhood, family stories, romantic love, and questions of race and male identity. Just as he cross-fertilizes the page with street talk and Caribbean patois, his writing successfully merges the poetry of the stage with the poetry of the page. His images are strikingly fresh, and funny, and in an age of tired irony, his writing is not afraid of deep feeling. Rico Frederick's Broken Calypsonian is a joyful book that sings through its wounds."

TF: Four Hours at the Hospital" is a fascinating poem published by Muzzle Magazine. It starts out so elegant, "It's cold/ These emergency rooms frozen/ to remind our organs/ there is/ a morgue beneath every waiting room." Can you expand on this line and this poem more?

RF:This piece reaches into the gut of my fear, "the death or hospitalization of my Mother" And the questions you ask yourself if and when there is a turn for the worst, luckily this was not the case. I wanted to give the reader a sense of what I admired most about my mother, her inner strength, honesty and how much she means to those that love her dearly. The effects of that day drew us closer, and I am grateful for it.

TF: You worked with Ocean Vuong, Mahogany L. Browne, Jared Singer, and Jeanann Verlee on this manuscript -such a dream team of editors. How do you decide whom to listen to?

RF: It was nerve-racking but ultimately easy, they all know there shit and they all said the same: "You know what you’re doing. Tell the story and trust the reader to follow it to the end." Each of them gravitated to completely different poems. I got the grand opportunity to learn and listen to some of the best poetic minds in the world. Each amazing editor you mentioned took the time to challenge me on craft, comprehension, form and story telling. I also worked with other wonderful poets that sat and read these poems back to me, which helped clarify the thoughts and meaning behind each piece. It was a life changing experience that I hope people can read and truly enjoy like a ripe mango on a warm summer day in Trinidad and Tobago, the island of my birth.


Rico Frederick is a fun-loving Trinidadian transplant, a full-time art director/graphic novelist& the founder of DizzyEngine Inc. The first poet ever to represent all four New York City poetry venues at the National Poetry Slam. he has performed throughout the United States for over ten years and scribbles poems on the backs of maps in hopes they will take him someplace new. Rico loves gummy bears & pistachio ice cream and he calls Harlem home.

You can find the author at ricofdk.com or please visit Penmanship Books.