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Detroit poet Casey Rocheteau releases new book “The Dozen”

Mar 25, 2016

Casey Rocheteau
Credit Ian Brown

Poetry can have a way of pushing you out of your comfort zone and into a place that challenges your perceptions and makes you question your beliefs.

The Dozen is a new book of poems released by Sibling Rivalry Press. The poems in these pages will really make you think.

The author, Casey Rocheteau, was the recipient of the first Write A House permanent residency in Detroit in 2014.

Rocheteau tells us the book’s title refers to an African-American tradition.

“It’s always difficult to describe,” she says. “'The dozens' being sort of, you go back and forth snapping and sort of insulting each other, and it’s this idea of, like, I’m going to tell ‘yo momma’ jokes to toughen you up because when you go out into the real world, there’s going to be way worse things that happen to you.”

“So I took that concept of the dozens, and I wanted to flip it on its head and sort of aim it at these things which oppress us,” Rocheteau says.

It’s almost impossible to talk about Rocheteau’s work without talking about racism. For her, it’s a topic that started at home.

She tells us her uncle started stealing cars when he was young, and spent time in jail as a consequence. She says he fell in with the Aryan Brotherhood behind bars, and “really took it to heart.”

"At a very young age, I really understood the extent to which racism was turned into violence, and how that violence was aimed at me specifically."

“When I was nine years old, he had left a hit list with his cellmate in Denver that included some cops from my town, and then pretty much every single family member who was black, or who had married or had children with a black person,” she says. “It’s been one of these things about my life that’s been sort of hovering over me in certain ways, because at a very young age, I really understood the extent to which racism was turned into violence, and how that violence was aimed at me specifically.”

Rocheteau has a lot to say in her powerful, sometimes gut-wrenching poems. In pushing her readers to examine themselves and the world around them, to “think about the things that maybe you don’t think about,” Rocheteau wants to foster a sense of connection and understanding.

“I think overall, who I want to hear my poetry, anyone who can connect to it. Anyone who can find any sort of solace or even empathize and say, you know, I’ve been through that too, and this is really hard, and I want to connect with this person,” she says.

Rocheteau strives to lend a voice to those that society often chooses to ignore: the oppressed, the misunderstood, the others. To that end, she tells us it’s not hard to find inspiration.

“I mean, look at America,” she says. “It’s to me so evident that when we talk about the people that are oppressed and groups that are facing all kinds of different obstacles, societally, that’s actually the majority of people, and we’re lead to believe that it is actually the minority.”

“Some poems will start as little vignettes of things that just happen to me in my day to day life … and then sometimes it’s something that I want to think about a little bit more broadly or something that’s troubling me, and usually those are the things that I write into, is what what troubles me at the core of my spirit.”

Casey Rocheteau is an Artist in Residence at InsideOut Literary Arts in Detroit and an editor at The Offing.

In our conversation above, Rocheteau shares more about her writing and reads from The Dozen.