origin story / An interview with poet Caseyrenée Lopez

origin story

by Caseyrenée Lopez

once upon a time
i wanted to die

be reborn a god

i stopped short,
killed myself

watched as i
became a christ

became my own
salvation

First published in the new gods (Bottlecap Press, 2018).

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Originally from Georgia, Caseyrenée Lopez relocated with their family to Virginia in the summer of 2017. They work as a professor of English at John Tyler Community College and have two full-length collections of poetry, the new gods (Bottlecap Press) and i was born dead (About Editions), as well as a chapbook, heretic bastard (Clare Songbirds Publishing House) forthcoming in 2018. In addition to teaching and writing, Caseyrenée also edits Crab Fat Magazine and publishes poetry and experimental work by queer and trans people at Damaged Goods Press.

Caseyrenée says their style of writing is “similar to Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and other contemporary feminist writers.” They say, “One time I was compared to William Faulkner, and I still don’t know how I feel about that. I know my work is largely confessional in nature, but isn’t all writing confessional in some sense?”

Bekah and Caseyrenée first connected online when their work appeared together in the Yellow Chair Review 2015 Anthology. With Caseyrenée’s full-length collection, the new gods, being released this week, we thought this was a great time for an interview. So, here is our interview with them.

Q~How is “origin story” representative of your new collection?

A~“origin story” seems to me, the best representation, thematically, of the new gods. It provides a summary of the collection by illustrating the repetition of death, rebirth, shedding skin, or morphing into a new form or self and observing the changes—there is a lot of “watching” in this collection, and “origin story” also provides the eyes through which readers will encounter many of the poems.

Q~Do you find yourself returning often to these themes in your work?

A~I sometimes feel that I am writing the same poem over and over again. I write about queerness, orientation, non-binary gender, infertility, and trans love because these are the things that I know and experience. I’ve never written a persona poem because the thought of trying to inhabit someone outside of myself on such an intimate level turns me off—why would I write about things I haven’t experienced when there are so many people who have the lived experience to write about it? Imagery-wise, I find myself using birds, teeth, bones, and flora in my work repeatedly. I used to have dreams all the time where my teeth would crumble and fall out of my mouth, and it really freaked me out, or that I would break my arm or leg, and those images gave me a lot to work with, emotionally.

Q~Did the poem, “origin story,” come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~Just as with 95% of this collection, this poem came every easy—in that it flowed out of me with little effort. the new gods is a project that sort of materialized over the course of three months or so; it’s something that I can’t believe I completed so quickly.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~It’s pretty chaotic—I don’t keep a writing schedule, and often go through long stretches of not writing for weeks or months, then it’s like I get random bursts of energy and creativity that allow me to write again. I also read a lot of different stuff when I’m not writing—it helps inspire and guide my formation as a writer.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Emily Corwin, Lisa Marie Basile, George Abraham, torrin a. greathouse, and Anne Carson immediately come to mind, but I’m always reading, so this is an exceptionally hard question to pin down.

Q~How do you balance spending time on your own writing career with your work as an editor/publisher?

A~Umm, it takes organization. I have to plan things out, sometimes months ahead, to meet deadlines and goals. Without my calendar and email, I’d be flailing big time. As a writer I never spread myself too thin with projects and the same applies to my editor side as well. I only commit to the work I know I can complete in the time frame I give myself. I also work as an English professor, so I have to make sure that I maintain a good balance of work life and home life.

Q~How has being an editor, publisher, and professor of English changed you as writer?

A~I’m able to see writing in all forms, in all stages, and all skill levels, and that is a lot to take in. However, these things have greatly informed the types of writing I love, like, and dislike. My editorial tastes aren’t a good match to my writing. In fact, I often think that the two sides are at odds with one another because they are so different.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I’m really turned off by double-spaced poetry and centered poetry—I just can’t get passed the form. But, I do love other experimental stuff. I think Crab Fat Magazine illustrates my tastes.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~It’s a tie between Fatimah Asghar and Lisa Marie Basile. I love this poetry because it gave me the courage to write what I wanted to write and not what I thought I should be writing. Asghar and Basile’s work are unapologetic, and before discovering them I didn’t really have a strong grasp on what poetry could be or do. It was liberating to see myself in someone else’s words, to find peace in them–that’s why I think of their works as my first loves of poetry. It’s about visibility and making your space in the world, to know that other people share your ideas is an amazing feeling. It was also mind-blowing for me to know that these poets are living, writing today, and around my same age–I love being able to relate on that level, it’s like all poets are interconnected in some way, and in their writings I finally saw those connections in myself.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~To help people remember to be empathetic to others; we are always writing the hard stuff, people look to our words for inspiration, hope, love, to be seen. Poets help non-poets put language to the abstract of living—it’s an important, often underappreciated, role.

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~A few of my favorite journals are BOAAT, Thrush, and Adroitthey’re all publishing amazing work that pushes boundaries and constantly challenges my ideas of what makes a poem, what can a poem do, or how I look at and receive poems.

Q~What drew you to poetry?

A~Honestly, I tried my hand at writing fiction and that was a flop, then I tried nonfiction, and I’m actually not too bad at it, but my attention span and energy isn’t suited for the long form right now, so I turned to poetry. It’s my way of using techniques of fiction and nonfiction and blending them together with poetic techniques. I use poetry as a frame for my work, but really, I’ve always thought of my writing as lyrical and genre bending—for me, genre is really arbitrary and can be stifling, so I just write what feels good to me, sometimes that happens in stanzas, sometimes it’s prose fragments, and sometimes I can muster the energy to form complete sentences and work through an essay.

Q~What are your poetry highs/lows of the last year?

A~Last year BOTH of my full-length collections, the new gods and i was born dead, the “sister books,” that I wrote back-to-back were picked up for publication, and earlier this year, my second chapbook, heretic bastard, was picked up as well. On the low side of things, I’ve gotten more rejections over the last year than I’ve ever received, but I typically let it go pretty easily. The last year has been one of my most successful, creative, productive times of my life—it’s been wild.

Q~ Wow! Three poetry books coming out in one year. That sounds like quite a whirlwind! Can you tell us a little bit about each of these books?

A~My first two collections, the new gods and i was born dead, are sisters, they were written in the same year, and cover the same themes; however, i was born dead was written first and includes revised versions of some of the poems from my first chapbook, QueerSexWords. It often feels to me that these collections sort of wrote themselves because it was so easy to let the words just flow out of me. I read so often about the struggle to write and revise, and I’ve been there in the past, but I didn’t struggle at all with these poems. I think of them as a second coming-out, a revelation of my queerness and gender identity as a non-binary person.  the new gods came out on March 20th from Bottlecap Press, and i was born dead is out on October 12th from About Editions. My second chapbook, heretic bastard, is the product of a month long found poetry writing project, The Poeming, that takes place in October. In 2017 the project was based around the novels of Anne Rice, and I was assigned The Vampire Armand. It was a really fun project, and the poems that came from the text was both so alike and different from my completely original work. heretic bastard is forthcoming from Clare’s Songbirds Publishing House (date TBD).

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~I oftentimes feel like a total impostor, I mean can we name a writer that doesn’t, so when it comes to writing, I tell young/new writers to just get their ideas and thoughts down on paper. Don’t let the impostor syndrome scare you out of writing or submitting that work. When it comes to submitting and rejection you have to come to terms with the fact that rejection is a large part of this business, but that it’s never a personal thing. Learning how to accept rejection as a part of not only writing, but life, can get a person a long way. Really, when it comes to questions like this I tend to feel overwhelmed by all the “what-if’s?”, but truthfully, writing comes down to making a commitment to seeing your thoughts through to the end—it’s more so about holding yourself accountable and not letting the fear of the unknown deter you from raising your voice.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~My website is a good place to start, and it includes most, if not all, of my writing, both online and in print. It is also a good place to learn about where to find my books. I also Tweet @caseyreneelopez.  Here is the link to order the new gods.

the_new_gods_front_cover_1_large

 

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