Currents, an Interview Series with Brian Alan Ellis (Episode 55: Said Shaiye)

Said Shaiye

SAID SHAIYE is a Somali writer who calls Minneapolis home. He is an MFA Candidate & Graduate Instructor at the University of Minnesota. He has published essays and poems in Entropy, Diagram, 580 Split, Rigorous, Dreginald, and elsewhere. His debut book, Are You Borg Now?, was recently released by Really Serious Literature. It’s an experimental combination of poetry, self-interview, memoir, photography and Star Trek: Voyager appreciation.

My current favorite thing to read are: The Selected Levis (Larry Levis) & A Stranger’s Pose (Emmanuel Iduma). I’m traveling right now so they are both doing work for me. I’m such a fan of Levis’ sweeping story-poems that cover so much ground in so few words. It’s always some girl he knew, once, and something about snow drifts and obscure California towns. I love everything about his work. As for the Iduma book—that man is gifted. He has an equally visual eye with his pen as he does with his camera lens. I couldn’t think of a better book to bring with me to Africa.

My current favorite thing to watch is: Star Trek: Voyager. It’s my ultimate anxiety buster. I hum along to the theme song. I’ve seen every episode about 17 times. Traveling and disrupting my routine always flare up my anxiety. Plus, I have some pretty nasty GERD—which is made worse by travel, which is made worse by anxiety, which is… you get the picture. So I put Voyager on and you can hear me burping and sighing over the dialogue in my hotel room. Acid reflux sucks.

 My current favorite thing to listen to is: Spotify Daily Mix 2. Been listening to a lotta Griselda, too (Brrrrrrrrrt doot doot doot doot!). I mostly listen to the same stuff over and over for years. I’m still bumping Kodak Black from like 2016. And specific songs, I’ll play till the end of time. I love writing to something I already know. Something that has a predictable mood momentum. Music works like a pace-setter for me. You know, when Olympic runners have someone setting the pace for them. That’s how I use these songs. Silence is golden, too, tho.

My current state of mind is: travel, man. Travel. I’m back in Africa. It feels like I never left, and also like I’ve never been here before. This world changes so fast. Pensive. That’s a better word. Slow. I’m observing everything like an outsider. I’m in Kenya, I don’t speak much Swahili. I observe and watch. I’m mostly interested in the plants and birds. I love nature. People can be so overwhelming. But I’m grateful. All this not-knowing-my-place-in-this-culture is allowing me to remove myself from most social situations and the words just come tumbling out. I just nod my head and say sawa sawa.

My current chemical romance (drug/bad habit/toxic infatuation) involves: eating things that I know will mess up my reflux. My stummy is extra sensitive on trips, as I’ve mentioned before. But I eat emotionally. And I’ve missed Kenyan food—shoot, any food in Africa—so badly. I always tell people that the food looks better in America, but has no soul. And that the food tastes a million times better in Africa. It’s all soul. And it looks good, too. It’s like a natural look vs plastic surgery. They both look good, but one got that way through extra steps. It ain’t no extra steps in Africa. Anyway, yeah, I just had a giant pulled bbq beef sandwich for lunch, and some salted caramel cake. I really needed it, but I am also really feeling the effects as I sit here wondering how I’m gonna sleep tonight. Yolo.

My current words of wisdom are: Get money, burn it. The pursuit of money is literally that useless. It doesn’t make sense to spend that much energy getting it if only you’re gonna burn it, right? But people love to walk around flexing. Buying this, buying that. I spend most of my money on food and books and charity and lived experiences. You can’t tell me I’m not living right. Could I be focusing more on generating future wealth for myself? Sure. But would I be happy doing that? Hell naw. As far as I’m concerned, I was born poor and anything I make over that is a win. I’ll put my trust in Allah and do my due diligence and let the chips fall where they may. Now pass me the marble cake.

My current modes of transportation involve: walking and taxis. I used to love the matatus in Nairobi—souped-up minivans used for public transport (complete with banging sound systems and lcd screens playing music videos & even more). But because of COVID, I want to keep as much social distance as I possibly can. Being cramped up in a bus doesn’t seem like the best option. So I walk, I take a taxi when I need to. But most everything I need is close to me (including the places I’ve been doing my archival research, and a million coffee shops).

My current favorite fast food item is: …I don’t really know how to answer this. Everything I eat is my favorite. I love chapati but it flares up my reflux. I had some fajitas yesterday. That’s right, I flew all the way to Africa to order Mexican food. And it was spectacular. I don’t know, man. I have a pretty expansive palette. Food is a cornerstone of my writing practice.

My current workout routine consists of: showing up to the gym angry, taking it out on whatever comes in front of me. I’ll do a quick cardio warmup, some very basic ab work (not interested in a six-pack, just trying to avoid the stereotype of Somali men with bellies). Then I hit the weights. I love working on my arms, chest, back. Sometimes I’ll do legs, but very rarely. Mostly I work on the show muscles. Welcome to the gun show, aha ha. Nah, I’m kidding. But not really. I look like I can fight now, which is great. Because I can’t. But don’t tell anyone I said that. Especially not my literary enemies.

My current regrettable decision involves: mostly food, man. I know you see a pattern here. Food is the cause of and answer to most of my problems. Look, I’m just glad it’s not drugs. God, how bad was that period of my life? Thank you Allah, for saving me from myself, and from this country, and from the trauma of my childhood.

My current hopes and dreams are: an uncluttered table, my favorite pen & pad, noise cancelling headphones (or, even better, just some old fashioned quiet), a bottle of water, a few good books within reach, Google Stadia (Fifa, Madden, in that order), a Hulu subscription (no ads), and enough disposable income to not worry about ever being in a rush. I just want to live comfortably and not bust my ass to do it. I want to write in peace, and enjoy nature. And enjoy my quiet. Call me JD Salinger, I’m moving to a house in the woods. Don’t bother me.

My current projects/hobbies include: …I’ve alluded to it multiple times, but the specific thing I’m doing right now is a Walter H. Judd International Research Travel Fellowship. That’s a mouthful, huh? I had to look it up to make sure I got it right. Yikes. Anyway, I’m retracing my family’s immigration journey cuz we came up through the refugee camps here in Kenya before coming to America like Eddie Murphy (the first one… we don’t talk about the second one). It’s been interesting and trauma-flashback-inducing and restorative (cuz life in America as a Black man is hell, and being in Africa allows me to drop my armor long enough to breathe… cuz I don’t have death hanging over me here, like it does in the states). As for hobbies… man, just enjoying this African-ness. Letting my body settle. I went hiking in the forest the other day. Seen monkeys and little baby antelopes. It smelled like heaven in there. If I knew what heaven smelled like.


You can purchase Said Shaiye‘s Are You Borg Now? here

Brian Alan Ellis runs House of Vlad Press, and is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Fanzine, Monkeybicycle, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Funhouse, Heavy Feather Review, and Yes Poetry, among other places. He lives in Florida.

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