Episode 6

with Delali Ayivor

Delali Ayivor is a Ghanaian-American poet writing for Black women and those who hope to love them. She is a 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and member of the second class of Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal residency. A 2020 Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar, Delali has been artist-in-residence in 2018 at Atlantic Center for the Arts with Tracie Morris and at the STONELEAF Retreat in Kingston, NY. Her work has been published most recently by the Iowa Review. Her debut book, She is this, a collaboration with painter Audrey Gair is currently available from King's Leap Editions. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York where she is a graduate student in library, information and archival sciences at the Pratt Institute.
︎_laney.boggs | www.delaliayivor.com



20-40-80-out the trap
Welcome back
to 1-800-POWERS
it’s a fact

It’s your chill no-chill, low-key high-key host Lex Brown. Freshly cooled off, restored, reupholstered, Renaissanced, from some waterfalls and rivers that I almost did not return from in Vermont... that little Sagittarian risk-taking impulse had me sliding down a waterfall that I almost couldn’t come back up from. But thankfully my life was saved by a fellow artist – my gratitude goes out to you. Moral of the story: Don’t go chasing waterfalls please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.

We’re back! And we’re here and what a treat it was to be up there in the trees and the nature at the 8th House Residency where I recorded this episode up there, with our first guest, Delali Ayivor who is here with us today talking about archives.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, Archives? In this heat? In this political economy? Could there be anything that’s just as, I don’t know, mouth-drying as archives?

It might be a personal bias because growing up, the National Archives is just a thing you would visit in the National Mall in D.C. And it’s a huge limestone building and it feels like history and like all archives are dead things. Which we know is very untrue, and couldn’t be farther from the truth. And a place like the National Archives, which houses the essential documents of this not even 300 year old country – the audacity – it actually gets more compelling and becomes even more fascinating the more unhinged this country gets.

So I’m so happy to have Delali as our first guest. In this conversation we talk about the archive from all sorts of angles, which is part of Delali’s practice in both poetry and information technology. We talk about family history and recipes in her iphone notes; her current project mining her Facebook messages for middle school conversations with mid-2000s boys, and we’ll hear a little bit of her poetry! So that’s all coming up next, but first the bio:

Delali is a poet writing for Black women and those who hope to love them. She was born in Houston, Texas grew up in South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana and later lived in Michigan, Oregon, Florida – mm steeped in some of the most potent flavors of this country - and finally, Brooklyn where she’s based today.

Delali has been a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and was a member of the second cohort of Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock Senegal residency. A 2020 Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar, and a resident at Atlantic Center for the Arts with Tracie Morris and at the STONELEAF Retreat.

Her work has been published most recently by the Iowa Review. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York where she is a graduate student in library, information and archival sciences at the Pratt Institute. And for our call, she was calling in from Texas. Our starts conversation right after the break.


My first question for Delali? Kind of a big one. Why not start there? 

What's an archive in your eyes. What, does an archive look like? If anything.
I mean, I think that's a really interesting question. And it's one that's like quite a contentious debate in the world of information sciences. Like what is an archive there is like, what is the strict definition? Which let me see if I can remember this verbatim, because I had to like memorize it for a test. It's like all the documents sent or received – no made or received – by a creator and set aside for future use.

So the traditional idea of an archive is that it's like every single record or document that is made or received by a single person and then is intentionally put aside to be saved or kept for later. Right. That's like the blandest, most generic, whatever definition. The thing that I really like about inserting myself in this field in this moment is that they're really having their like, oh shit moment of being like, wow, everything we think and do is like highly problematic in so many different ways.

And how can we blow that apart? And there's a lot of tension, of course, between the old head die hards and kind of like the new head contemporary people for me, I think all that an archive is, is history, right? I mean, I think that's something that's interesting about archives is that there is this idea of setting things aside, but there's also an idea of natural accumulation. So an archive happens whether or not you intend for it to happen, right? Like your records are your records, your experiences or your experiences it exists, it happened.

It's more about that crossing of the archival threshold about this idea that something is being intentionally set aside, it's being intentionally put away to be remembered to be kept. I think I'm really interested less in a single creator ownership idea of archives and more in an idea of like communal and participatory history and that's what really attracts me to the field is thinking about the many, many communities in my life that I've been a part of.

And I feel like a lot of times those histories, those communities, those stories, that's the like real meat. That's the real information about the institution, about the people who are involved about the work that they make. So I'm really interested in kind of like widening that lens and thinking about what we talk about when we talk about history and why we talk about what we talk about when we talk about history.


Earlier, you mentioned your grandmother keeping and saving a lot of personal ephemera. And it made me think about family records and how those records are especially important in black families where lineage like may or may not be lost or like untraceable after a certain point. And I'm wondering if there was any difference for you in growing up between the American side of your family and the Ghanaian side of your family in terms of like managing and organizing family ephemera.

You know, what's so funny because the, my mom's side of the family is, is quite small. It was just her and her mom and her brother and now they're individual families. And my dad's side of the family with my Ghanaian side of the family is huge because my dad is one of nine kids. So I have like a million uncles, a million aunts, a million nieces, a million nephews, a million cousins. But I often also say that my dad is like a man without biography. He like never talks about his childhood and I don't even think that it's like a bad thing. He's just an African man. So he's like, That's over now. Now I'm here. Like why would I talk about that? type of energy. So even though there seems like there would be so much more to mine on the Ghanaian side of my family, 

I know so much less about the Ghanaian side of my family than I do about the American side of my family. And I guess it's because my dad is like the messenger or the spokesperson for that half. And he just like truly cannot be bothered. But I did once – and this was like such a seminal moment in my life – find a shoebox full of photos of my dad at boarding school in the seventies. I will send you, I think it's still on Facebook. I'll send you a link to the album, but it's very like him and all his 14 year old friends, like completely shirtless with like a leather pouch tied around their waist and like a wide brimmed hat, like all posing on a rooftop, trying to look hard and cool, which they do, I'm not gonna lie. They look very fucking cool. 

That just like opened this whole portal into talking to my dad about that time and my life. And it's funny too, because it's like pictures of my aunties when they were really young pictures of my Uncle Collins. Who's like not my blood relation, he's my play uncle. But like he and my dad have known each other since they were like 14. So photos of my Uncle Collins from back then, and then that kind of triggered him to start talking about a lot of his boarding school histories. And I think that's the most I've ever really gotten to know about the, the Ghanaian side of my family and their history.

Earlier this year, my dad was making some lemon grass tea and he told me story about how he used to spend the summers with his grandma in Togo. And she owned a bakery, and in the morning she would wake up and break bread and make them lemongrass tea. And they had a well on site at their house. And so the water was kind of salty. So the tea would be sweet and salty and then they would have fresh bread. So he told me that story recently and I loved that. I was like, wow, that sounds magical. Take me there.

Yeah that sounds delicious.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know dream life.

A lot of like history telling and Ghana is so... It's like very, it's very like party based. Like I think about my Auntie Belinda. She used to have a party at her house every single Sunday. And my auntie Belinda loved to have a good time. Because Ghanaians love to have a good time. Never let it be said otherwise. So it would be catered, there would be drinks. She had a sound system and she had a big front yard. So everyone would just sit in chairs, out front, eat soup, listen to music, have some fan ice and some cake at the end of the day. And that's when like people would sit around, get a little drunk and just start chopping it up, like with the old memories, which I feel like is such a like classic black activity. 

But that's the archive right there. Like, I mean, come on. Like there's nothing more organic, more real, like better than that. And I feel like also the way in which people elaborate, like the way that people bring their storytelling flair to talking about the past is such an important part of understanding the past to me as well. So I feel like the pieces that my dad has given me of his history are very my vibe and that they're like sense based, you know, they're like really deeply sensual. They're small, but they go deep. And I feel like that's the way that I think about and experience time is like prodding that deep sensorial memory. And I feel like recipes for me are very much the same way.

Which it's so funny, I was recently hanging out with some friends from college and my friend Mason was like, I still make that cous cous that you used to make when we were in college all the time. And I was like, I don't think I've made that in like... I can't even remember. And he was like, Really? Like, you used to eat that all the time. And I'm like, Yeah, but that was like my college recipe playlist, you know, like we've moved on from that. We don't make that no more. Like, I feel like for me, recipes and playlists really, really hold memory.

Like I was talking to someone about this the other day, because I was listening to a playlist in my car and my playlists are very like it's City Girls now it's Korn now it's the Phantom Thread soundtrack, just like so random. And it's like, I guess me keeping tabs on like a certain version of myself or like a certain need that I have at a time or a certain question that I'm wrestling with. And I guess to go back to your other question like about what an archive is, I would hope that in the future, the way that we think about history is like sensory and experiential based. Because I think that's where like the real value is. 

Recipes, playlists, family, photos, and memories. All of these things come back to this idea of accumulating a record over time of a certain time, creating a whole that exists differently than its individual parts. One of Delali's poems is called IBID and it reflects this idea in a creative way because it's composed of words that only contain the letters of her full name. So here's Delali sharing that poem with us. 




So I wrote that poem at Atlantic Center for the Arts where I was doing a residency. So when I was there, I was working with Tracy Morris who's an experimental sound poet from east New York, Brooklyn. She's amazing. And then we got an assignment within our cohort from Tracy to write a poem and she was like, I'm not gonna give you any information other than interpret that prompt in whatever way that you want. Just write a sound poem. So then I was like, okay, if I only use the letters that occur in my name, then I can only make sounds that come from those letters. And I got really obsessive about it and it was really fun. It's just like a really fun way to write cus I just made this like crazy grid of words that I could make with all the letters in my name. 

And then I started like playing with it. I really like stuff like that because I feel like a lot of what I learned about writing. I now like very actively reject because I realize that it's extremely Caucasian and has nothing to do with me. And so I try to find a lot of ways into writing that are not the ways that I was taught because I find that like, my training kicks in if I start where I was taught to start. So a lot of my like generative technique now in my practice is very like, how can I be outside of that? Like how can I elide all of those things that I learned? So I really love automatic techniques like that. Like I love working with erasures. I love doing these constrained writing prompts. I love doing free writing and using my free writing technique, which I feel like I've probably talked to you about before, where you turn your font color to white as you type.

So you can't read what you've written before. It's crazy. It's crazy. I started doing it when I was like writing about really triggering stuff because I was just like, I can't like, I can't write this and think about it at the same time, because then I'll just get too caught up and then I can't keep writing. So I love doing that as well. I find that really incredible and generative and also fun because then I just have all of these word documents that are like dated and then I open it and it looks empty and I'm like, What? And then I like select all turn to black and it's like 10 pages of something just like completely nuts. And I'm like, What?! I don't even remember doing this. So yeah, hot tip. Everyone should try it.

In a section of this piece that you're working on called Considerations. There's a section titled Belly Politics and you introduce this notion of swallowing and with the sentence "In Ghana they eat fufu with groundnut soup, a pounded cassava pace meant to be swallowed, not chewed meant to fill the belly with a kind of expansion that feels like an assurance of mortality." And reading your work. I realize after a certain period of time, I, that I was, it definitely feels like swallowing something whole in this way that I probably need to sit with more to literally digest. For me it was like, I went through this process of realizing like, oh, I am actively not facing my intense intensity of things that I have swallowed whole about immersion into white maleness in a way that is like, it is so

Whoa. I don't know. It was just like, I like can barely articulate it. But I was like, wait a minute. Like I had to really catch myself. And be like, wait a minute. These are actually so many thoughts and feelings that I have or have had. And it's making me feel some type of way of like, these are words that I really feel, but I wish I didn't feel them because I wish, I wish that white maleness could be like taken off the docket as a subject for like eternity, you know? Like I don't wanna talk about like there was this feeling that I had of like, I don't wanna talk about this, but then I'm like, Wait...

Like, yes, exactly. Me too. Like this project has been so crazy. I just like got to this point, the genesis of this project, the moment that I was really just like, Okay, like what's tea? Like what is happening in any of these interactions and has been happening in any of these interactions? My entire life, I, when I went to boarding school, knew this guy, white guy, I was a freshman in college at Reed college in Portland, Oregon. And he was a sophomore at Stanford. And I don't remember how we started talking to each other, but we started talking to each other on Facebook messenger and then it became like a very like everyday thing. Um, and it was very romantic and very kind of like, I don't know, kind of intense. And I mean, I was a freshman, I was taking three classes cus I dropped intro biology cus I was gonna fail it and was just like, high all the time.

And I was like, Aren't you busy? Like don't you have friends don't you have things do? But really just kind of like dropped his life and pivoted it all towards me. And then there was this whole thing where we were gonna meet each other in Paris, which didn't happen, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then I said something to him finally, when I was in Paris, he was supposed to be there and he wasn't, I was like, I really wish you were here cus I've really been wanting you. And then he was like, Oh, did you think that this was like a romantic thing? And I was like, I mean, yeah. So then it was just like, okay, whatever. I was like, no harm foul. It's not that deep, but like I'm not gonna hang out with you if we're never gonna have sex. Cus that was really the whole point of this for me so Later.

And then over the next eight years he would reach out to me just like periodically every year, every six months just like hit me up. And because it had been so long and because there was like so little meat left in our relationship, I had so many different reactions to that. There were times where he would send me messages and I would just be like, Hey, what's up? And then there's other times he'd send me messages and I'd be like, Why are you talking to me? Just like, LET IT GO. And then some friends of mine from high school came to visit me when I lived in Miami. This is years later, like after I had graduated from college and this guy's name came up and I was like, Would you believe that this dude would DMed me like last week? And they're like, No, he didn't.

I'm like, Yes he did. And I pulled up my phone to show them and I went to show them the DM and he had blocked me! He had blocked me on Instagram – and we had had like a totally cordial, like fine fun chill friendship conversation – blocked me on Instagram, had blocked me on Facebook, had blocked me on everything. And I was just like, What?? Like what happened now? After all these years after all this time that you were just like, I can never look at or think about this girl ever again. Like she needs to be dead. Like she needs to be out of my life. And then I was just like, But what was ever happening in this relationship? And honestly what's ever happening when white men ever talk to me, speak to me, interact with me period. Cus I've always been lost.

Like, and there's been so many times like I've been in situations like this with white men and I genuinely have asked them, I'm like, Listen, I'm not mad, but just like, what's happening for you right now? Like what was this? Who am I to you? What does it mean? And people wouldn't answer the question. They just refused. And I found that really frustrating. And I also have been gaslighted by white men, a lot about a lot of things that, especially about like the nature of my relationship with white men that has happened 8 million times. So I also wanted to look for something external, right? Like something outside of me and outside of that person, outside of our experience, our understanding of the relationship that I could point to and be like, this is evidence. These are facts. This is real.

And that's how I got very into mining my personal archive and eventually to re-reading my entire Facebook messenger history because I was looking for something that was like a third party that existed outside of me and outside of him that I could just point to and be like, okay, But you said this, like you did this, like this is real and this happened and you can't deny it and just tell me that I'm crazy because it exists. And once I started doing that, I realized  what I was really querying in querying my relationship to white men was querying my relationship to America because in so many ways that's when white maleness truly became a thing in my life.

Like growing up in Ghana, obviously there were white men there, but wasn't nobody really checking for them. Like they weren't doing anything. Like they weren't really giving what they're giving here in the United States. They just happened to be there. You know what I mean? So I feel like so much for me of navigating life in the United States as like not an immigrant, but not someone who grew up here. So like not actually understanding for so long, so much of the cultural context and so much of the political context,  and so much of the racial context was just me talking and interacting to white with white men and being like What...What's happening right now?

And through context cues, like trying to puzzle together what they were perceiving or understanding about me. And then through that, trying to understand like, what is this place where I live and like, What is this interaction? And like, what does everything mean? Like what is happening? And it just got to a point where, especially after graduating from Reed college, which is like such a violently white racist place. And then after Trump winning the election and being like, oh, this entire country is Reed college. Like maybe I don't need to be here. I was like, I have to figure this out. Like I literally have to understand this. If I'm going to survive in this place.


I really started out thinking that it was gonna be a book and that I wanted it to be the first book that I ever like squirted out into the world. But the longer I've worked on it, the more that I realize that it's like a project with no end, it's never going to be over. And so now I really just like thinking of it as this like evolving, ongoing experiment, I guess maybe as an archive? Uh huh, that accumulates naturally as I go through my life. Oh my God! Never thought about it that way before. But yeah, that basically is what it is. It's like an archive of me and white men in America and all of the relationships between those things. Like it will never stop being a thing and it will never stop being so complicated and layered and like endlessly available to be mined.

But I think too, to your point earlier about it being upsetting, I was in a Tin House summer workshop last summer, 2021. Yes. With Billy Ray Bellcourt who's an amazing indigenous writer from Canada, but it was the first time I'd ever been in a workshop and had my workshop leader be like, Do you need to do this? Do you need to go this deep? Is it safe for you to do this? Like, why are you doing this? You don't have to share everything with everyone. And literally no one had ever said that to me before. Ever. No one had ever been like, You should think about what boundaries you wanna build with your reader. I had never thought about that before. There was like not a concept that had ever entered my brain. So that's something also that I'm really sitting with, especially in terms of this project.

And it did require me and does require me to be wildly uncomfortable a lot, but I find it really generative. And also more importantly, especially for me and my personality, as often as it is heartbreaking, it is hilarious. And that's what really keeps me going, is the troll within that is just like, lololololololol at so much of this because so much of it is just like, so, so ridiculous. And so, so, so funny.

 Can you read us one of those messages?

Yes. I'm going to read you two messages all from 2007 and 2008 when I was in seventh and eighth grade of boys sliding into my DMs and shooting their shot and me just being like, You disgust me, get away from me. So this is from June 18th, 2008, 4:38 PM. What's up with you, baby. Just kind of hoping if you could please give me your number so I can give you a call, always to check up on you, see how you doin aight? Okay whatever aight? And this is me. I'm not giving you my phone number. I don't just give my number to random people laugh my ass off and I don't have Yahoo messenger cuz it's no longer 2001, but I'll think about coming to the party.

Okay so that, and then this last one, March 8th, 2008, 12:31 PM. I thought it was really nice of you to have given me your email so that I could send you a little message besides you are nothing but nice dot dot dot. And although I know you so little after all, we only chatted that day. I'm not afraid to say that you are something else. I'm curious, you are nice, intelligent, educated, and elegant. Why did you also have to be this beautiful? What I'm about to say is not blasphemy. I respect all godly things, but I believe that he had to sketch an entire human race before he drew you. And when he found the formula in his loud and celestial voice, he said SPEAK and you did. And the most impressive bit of this story is that since then you've only spoken intelligent, charming things. Look Delallipop. I would like to see you again and again and again soon, send me your reply kisses, Anthony. And then I just go Fuck off, psycho

So just from the archive. 

Wow. Oh my God. It's bringing back. You said 2007, 2008?

2007, 2008. 

Oh, it's bringing back that vibe, you know like yeah. There's obviously this predatory element.


But like we can laugh at them and like your responses just spot on. Yes. Spot on. We gotta bring back that energy of –

Yeah we do. 

 Of just call it out, call out, call it out, call it out and laugh.


How do you feel about big data as something that aids this process, but also, you know, is sold and distributed and all that? 

Yeah, I don't, you know, big data terrifies me really truly just like people being farmed out as information for nefarious, larger purposes is really scary. I do like this kind of like way in which I've hijacked that to be like affective and serve me. I don't know that there's a way that that can truly be scaled up, but I hope that there is, you know, I mean, I think for every evil infrastructure and system that exists, there are entry points for liberation, for sure. So like decentralized that kind of information and see what kind of use it could have for other people to anonymize it and all that. But I don't know, I don't know where the world is going in terms of how much information we freely kind of like give up, to institutions and to corporations and to organizations and, and where that's all gonna go.

I try to, to some extent protect myself, right? Like I would never 23 and Me for that reason, cus I don't want them to have my literal genes just like ready to be sold to Meta for whatever reason. But I also feel like maybe the question is not, How do we stop this from happening? Maybe the question is Now that it's already happening, how can we hijack it to serve us? Right. So that's kind of how I feel about big data. I would be really interested to see how those kind of data harvesting techniques can be utilized by other kinds of people, other kinds of communities for positive purposes, for liberatory purposes. I feel like that's very my interest in this field too, because it is very explicitly a tool of oppression like archives were generated alongside the modern idea of the nation state as a tool to control people – straight up.

That was the whole purpose. And also to like build histories that bolster the inevitable idea of that nation state, right? That like you never had, there was never going to be any other present than the present of you being a tax paying citizen to this nation state, which is not true. There were always many inevitable possibilities. There still are many inevitable possibilities. But archives historically have been used as a tool of the state as a tool of oppression as a way basically as a tool of propaganda as a way to bolster narratives that the state wants people to believe and to follow. But if it has the potential for that, it has just as much potential to be anything else.


This conversation was such a joy. I hope that it brought you laughter inspiration affirmation in addition to a cool new writing hack. Definitely gonna try that soon. And the question we leave you with:

I'm curious to know from other people I'm curious for them to know in themselves like who they have always been, what is the most essential part of you? And if you don't know, how can you investigate and, and find them? That's my question for the audience. 

Thank you so much Delali Ayivor for sharing your work and experiences and ideas with us. Delali has a couple new projects out, including her first book:

It's called She is this I'm extremely proud of it. It's a series of essays that I wrote in response to my friend, Audrey Gair who is an incredible painter. So peep it cop it $30, best $30 you'll ever spend. That just dropped.

Delali also has two poems out in the new edition of the Iowa review:

BROP-BROP-BROP Check it out, cop it, keep it. Those are two erasures and that's a really wonderful publication to be a part of because I was brought in by Tracy Morris, who was my mentor and is really a person who kind of saved my life. And her practice is all about embodiment and knowing your power and knowing your worth. So just really excited, always to be in any way associated with Tracy, especially in print ooowww!!

Delali's work is online at Delaliayivor.com and on Instagram at _laney.boggs also listed in the show notes.

And listeners who I love: I know who you are and yet I don't know who all of you are. You can now call into 1-800-POWERS and you can send in voicemail to the show. And I will put you in the show that link is in the show. Send me an email, find me on Instagram. And that's it. I love you. Thank you for listening. And may you always know:

You are nice, intelligent, educated, and elegant.

And may the power be with you. You won't break my soul. Stay tuned for the next episode, cus you just never know what's around the corner with this variety podcast right here. Mm-hmm. Play those credits.


1-800-POWERS is a podcast written and produced by Lex Brown with theme music by Ben Babbitt and animations by Nora Rodriguez, you can find 1-800-POWERS on Spotify, apple podcast for Anchor. Thanks for listening!

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