READ A BOOK INSTEAD
I made an iPhone wallpaper for you.
I was tagged by Kristen Stone.
1. What are you working on?
My first full-length collection, Mysterious Acts by My People, was published in March of this year (2014), and my second collection, which also served as my doctoral dissertation, is also scheduled to be published, which is very exciting, but it leaves me, for the first time in over a decade, without some major project at which I am plugging away. I think in terms of books, so without a book-length project, I feel aimless. Though I have a series I’m writing right now, what I call my Jenny Boully poems, because the idea came out of a conversation with her, and they center around the slippery nature of memory, as well as everyday life as a queer with chronic illness that means I spend almost every day in pain. How does that pain impact my daily life? These domestic details (so often the realm of “women’s work) become insurmountable when there is so much pain, and I live alone, so there’s not another person to make tea or walk the dog. I’m interested in the way that pain, in the words of Elaine Scarry, “shatters language” and how it influences memory.
2. How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre?
I dislike this question, because one of the most important things I must do to protect my work is to avoid comparison. There will always be people better or worse. There will always be someone else who got a poem on the same topic published before you. I could come up with a reason you should buy my book instead of another book if you only have $15 to spend on books, but if that were truly the case, I’d be likely to just give you my book, and recommend one of the fine contributors to Adrienne, the literary journal I edit.
I will say that while there are many wonderful poets writing about experiences of disability, there are not as many writing about being fat. In the project I reference above, I’m also invested in capturing the quotidian experience of a fat faab person who is daily assaulted with others’ opinions of my body. Every single time I went to the supermarket when I lived in Utah, someone told me their opinion on the items in my cart regardless of what those items were. They felt entitled to do this because fat bodies, especially fat faab bodies, are considered available for others’ public scrutiny and contempt. Especially when I am walking with a cane and dare to be fat in pubic and more visibly disabled (not to mention queer), I face an onslaught of abusive behavior, and I try to record that and challenge it in my poems. I find the queer world, and the poetry world, and especially the academic world, to be profoundly fat phobic, so much so that I’ve had workshop leaders tell me, when I wrote poems about my body, that they were disgusted, and wasn’t that my intention? (No.)
3. Why do you write what you do?
I am trying to not only record my life (though very few of my poems are autobiographical in the way most people assume they are), but also to make sense of it, and forge connections with others. The relationships I’ve built with fellow artists mean everything to me, and it is my favorite part of being an editor. I write to connect with other people, but also, I am trying to create art. I think there is a difference (not a hierarchy, necessarily, but a difference) between being a writer, being an author, and being an artist. You can be all of those things, but not everyone aspires to art. Not everyone wants to be published. I do. I am trying to create art when I write, rather than merely entertain. My press, Sibling Rivalry Press, has the motto “to disturb and enrapture.” I want to make people uncomfortable. I want to make them laugh sometimes, cry more often, and feel moved in some way. I want you to want to look away, but be unable to do so.
4. How does your writing process work?
I keep a notebook in which I record and paste in anything that inspires me, anything that intrigues me, disturbs me, enraptures me. Quotes from others’ writing, a turn of phrase from a TV show, or the experience of being deeply in pain in public. (I write about that a lot.) I write a poem a day, though I should really say I write a draft daily. My rule for myself is that I must scratch out 10 lines. I write a lot of letters (I have over 30 pen pals!), and that has actually made me a more diligent poet as well. I have a sign on my wall that reads “Art before dishes,” which reminds me to always prioritize my work. I frequently write more than 10 lines a day, but I think it’s important to, as Melanie Rae Thon says, “touch the project daily.” The writing process is also very visual for me. I see how I want the poem to look on the page before I write, and it’s a matter of sculpting the words into place. Being an editor has changed the way I think about this, as well, knowing how much effort goes into getting every word placed perfectly in a journal.
Mostly I read, though. Right now I’m reading Heroines by Kate Zambreno, Depression: A Public Feeling by Ann Cvetkovich, and Kristen Stone’s The Story of Ruth and Eliza.
I tag: J.P. Howard, Sossity Chiricuzio, and Arisa White. (all Adrienne contributors!)
I am so sick of physical descriptions of women writers being used as a contrast to their writing, or as if one’s physical form has anything necessarily to do with one’s writing.
We were shocked by the content of her work because she is a physically unassuming woman. Everything about her appearance says “don’t notice me.”
How many readings have I attended where some male says something along the lines of, “Wow, you wouldn’t expect such poems to come out of such a tiny, beautiful woman!” or “For someone so small, you sure write big poems!”
Women are teeny tiny, thin little waifish birds, you see.
Unless they’re not!
I shudder to think what kinds of poems someone expects me to write just by looking at me. I am not teeny tiny or small. I am quite large and lovely, but I don’t have a pretty face. I might not be what you want to look at during my poetry reading (as a male PhD colleague once told me. “You are as uncomfortable to look at as your work is to hear,” he said. He told me later that he meant it as a compliment.)
I write a lot about bodies, about my body, about having a chronic disease, a congenital disability, and being fat. My poems try to be embodied. But this isn’t what I mean when I ask, why does it matter what a woman looks like? Why does that affect her writing?
I have much more to say about this, but these are the random thoughts today.
Acrylic on a book page from “The Great Gatsby”
6” x 9”
H 30” x W 30”
Acrylic, mixed media-paper collage, matte gel, gloss on canvas
Publication info New York :New York Botanical Garden,1916-.
New York Botanical Garden
Advice to young poets from Mark Wunderlich.
To see more postcards from our 2012 Poets Via Post program, visit poets.org.