Alfredo Aguilar’s poems refuse to be silenced

So our current political climate makes poetry a crucial method for voicing the things that our admin & its supporters want to silence: identity, ethnicity, immigration rights, beauty, consent. How do you use poetry to respond to our environment?

I think one of the many uses poetry has is to illuminate the experience of others & in that way build bridges & cultivate empathy. As incremental as that progress is, I really believe that in sharing our experiences with others we can perhaps connect with other people & make the world a less lonely place. In thinking about the current political climate & poetry, I’ve thought a lot about this Osip Mandelstrom quote: “Only in Russia poetry is respected – it gets people killed.” Poetry isn’t thought of like that in the U.S., but I do think it speaks to the how powerful & galvanizing poetry can be. Poetry can be a threat because it encourages imagining. It also reminds me of the kind of danger poets at different times face(d) just to write. It reminds that I am here, this is my world, & I cannot be silent.

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How do you use poetry to talk about personal matters? Many writers describe poetry as a way to understand what they think about something. What ways does poetry interact with your emotional and mental journey?

I think sometimes the poems articulate certain emotions before I’m totally aware of it. This is one of the things I love most about creating something, the act of discovery that can occur if you manage to get out of the way. I think poetry has at times given me a lens form which to view & sort out my emotions on the page. & to see it existing in some form outside of myself can maybe help me understand those emotions better.

When did you begin writing poetry? Why?

I began writing poetry about four years ago. Writing poems came about because I frequented this open mic, Glassless Minds, where I saw people reading & performing poetry. When I first saw it I thought it was incredible, but I never thought of it as something I wanted to do because at the time I was writing & signing songs on guitar. But when I burnt out on writing songs, I began thinking in the kinds of rhythms I heard at Glassless. I wrote down what was in my head, shared it, & that whole community of poets were super supportive & spurred me to keep writing.

Who are you as a poet? How does writing poetry influence your identity (and vice versa)?

I definitely think of myself as poet whose entry point into poetry was song. I believe I fell in love with language through music & I think a lot about the music in poems. I’m not entirely sure how writing poetry influences how my identity. I know I am not my poems & that this hold true for other poets as well, which I always think is a good reminder. I also know that when you’re described as a “poet” people will sometimes project whatever ideas they have about what a poet is or should be.

As for identity influencing my poetry, I really can’t separate who I am when I sit down to write. & it definitely shapes how & what I write about. My poems will always be brown kid poems. But there is a range of emotions & experiences that come with that & it’s more than just how people perceive my otherness.

Tell me about the publishing process. I stumble across your poems in obscure journals and also in widely-read journals. How frequently do you submit your poems? Where have you felt honored to be published?

I tend to write for a few months, assemble packets, & see if any of the journals that I enjoy reading would be a good fit for my work. I submit maybe every couple months or so. Honestly, any place that has been kind & generous enough in their reading to be say “Yes, we’d love to publish your work” feels like an honor. It still kind of leaves me in awe when people believe in my work.

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What do you like about culture? What don’t you like about culture / society? 

One thing I love, as it relates to poetry, is the community of people I’ve found through poetry. I have met so many close friends that I would never have met had it not been for writing poems… Through this art, I’ve found my tribe. & to me it’s so wild that all of this happened because I wrote down my thoughts & shared my words.

One thing I don’t really like & that I think about often is the ways in which capitalism shapes certain pressures around creating poems. In particular, the pressures to always produce or publish. Feeling that you’re always falling behind or aren’t doing enough. I think this holds especially true for younger writers. I think these pressures can be incredibly detrimental, & I try to find ways to push back against those pressures in my own practice of writing.

I really appreciate that perspective; I know I’m indifferent to being rejected now, after years of having my poems rejected, but many other people our age haven’t built up their submitting skins yet, and rejections can cripple the creative soul. Keep on pushing back on that expectation (although if you do keep publishing, I won’t complain). 🙂

What are your goals for the future?

I’m going to try & trick myself into writing a first book. I’m also working on being a better friend, brother, & son.

I can’t wait to read more from you and wish you the best in your debut collection journey. 


Interview edited for clarity and grammar.

Stephen S. Mills on marriage, identity, & patriotism

Stephen S. Mills has received many awards and accolades for his poetry and art, and rightfully so. His poetry is powerful and honest; it explores multiple sides of identity, politics, and relationships and left me feeling and thinking a lot of new emotions and thoughts. A History of the Unmarried and He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices are available for purchase from Sibling Rivalry Press, and he has a forthcoming collection scheduled for publication from SRP next year. And, he’s been such a joy to interview!

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What’s been on your mind lately? What are you currently writing and thinking about?

The simple answer is Shirley Jackson. I’ve been working on a poetry collection about her since January. Jackson’s work is fascinating to explore and has some interesting parallels to our current world. She was writing during a period of unrest (the 1940s-1960s) and she often examined the personal anxieties of living in that changing world. Those are things I’m thinking a lot about in this moment in our lifetime when the country seems on the brink of disaster or great change. She’s also very drawn to the outsider within the community and how society continues to enforce norms even norms that hurt the people enforcing them. All of this feels pretty relevant to our moment in time, so this project is moving in a lot of different directions: a close look at her life and work as well as my own life in this time and place.

What’s your favorite place to write in?

I’m not overly attached to place in terms of where I write. But I mostly prefer silence. I have a hard time writing around other people, so I don’t work much in public spaces unless I’m just editing or jotting down ideas. I mostly work at home when I’m alone with my two dogs. I also really like to read work aloud, so it’s best to be in a private space for that.

How did you begin writing and reading poetry? What is the impact poetry has since had on you?

I wanted to be a writer from the time I can remember and began writing at a very young age. I mostly wrote fiction as a kid and then slowly found my way toward poetry by high school. In college, it really solidified for me that I was a poet (though I have written some fiction and creative non-fiction). It helped a lot to have encouraging professors who helped me discover my voice as a poet and also taught me how to better read and explore poetry by others. I love poetry because I find it to be the most freeing form of writing. You can do so much in a poem that isn’t really allowed in other forms of writing. It has impacted how I view and experience the world. I often see how things are connected by exploring them in poetry.

I love your ekphrastic pieces. Could you talk about what art does for you and art’s place in society?

The visual arts have often been a place of inspiration for me and a lot of my ekphrastic pieces explore our relationship to art and how we view those pieces (often in a museum setting). I was an art minor in college, so I’ve formally studied art but have also explored it on my own. I love museums and have lived in New York for the last five years, so my access to art is vast here, which I love and appreciate. A lot of my work explores the relationship between various arts forms: visual art, film, television, and written works. I like seeing the interconnections between pieces and putting them together within a poem. The arts as a whole allows people windows into other worlds and experiences they might not have had or be able to have. For that, it is extremely beneficial.

I, too, am queer and married; I’m pansexual and polyamorous and live in a low-income, racially diverse neighborhood, yet I married a straight, white, cis man. But none of that “contradicts” itself. Being attracted to women doesn’t mean I have to be in a relationship with a woman to still be queer, ya know? 

We’re recently married, having just celebrated our one year anniversary this fall. I’m beginning to navigate the paths of individual identity remaining intact while being in an incredibly satisfying and healthy marriage. I’m also being sensitive to the privileges that come with passing.

Could you discuss your lines: “what does it mean to be married / yet remain queer?” What is the loveliness of marriage for you? Do you ever feel like you compromised “being queer” or is there more to being queer than pride culture acknowledges?

The goal of my second book A History of the Unmarried, which contains those lines, was to explore the notion of marriage within a queer context. The fight for marriage equality really took off right as I entered a relationship that I’m still in (we just celebrated 14 years together).

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That fight was running parallel to my own experience of navigating and defining a relationship that fit me. Over the years, I became increasingly interested in what a queer or gay marriage looks like. In the end, I’m not sure marriage should have the place it does legally speaking in our country, but the fact is it does, so those protections are important to couples of all kinds.

So for me, I’m interested in how marriage can look from different angles and that being a queer person and getting married doesn’t necessarily have to mean following a heteronormative path (though many may accuse you of doing so). I write very freely about the fact that my husband and I have a sexually open relationship and I’m interested in exploring that in my work because I see so few writers doing that in significant ways. We are in a culture right now that really loves to pinpoint and label things, but I’m more interested in the gray spaces–the hard to define spots.

I agree. People are complex, and we regularly defy stereotypes, so while labels can be helpful, they can also be limiting. 

“Election Night: November 2008” was a really powerful poem. I personally despise patriotism, as I think it drives mental wedges between Americans and “the rest of the world”; it convinces U.S. citizens (I should note, mainly white citizens of all three classes) of their superiority. So: how is patriotism affecting our culture currently? How can we step back from our egos and remember our humanity? 

It’s funny to think of that poem now in the current situation we are in. That poem explores the hopeful election of Obama, but also an uneasiness about the idea of trusting government or feeling patriotic as a queer person. I’ve never felt the patriotism that so many around me have so freely expressed throughout my life, and I think a lot of that comes from living as a gay person and often feeling like an outsider. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and didn’t know any other out gay people until I went to college. This outsider perspective has made me more skeptical of things than other people might be. I’ve also always had a great love for travel and experiencing other places, which I think, to answer your question, is one of the best ways to step back and remember our humanity. When you never leave your bubble, you have little understanding of the reality of the world we live in.


Thanks again to Stephen for conducting this interview with me! Check out his new work in Queen Mobs and follow his new book release and other news via his website.

Photo credit: Sibling Rivalry Press

Thoughts with Alex Beecroft

written by Kelsey May | July 22, 2017

I recently sat down with Alex Beecroft, an activist, writer, organizer, and all-around lovely person. His attitude and smile are infectious, and if you ever see him in person, he would love to meet you (and cook with you and probably hug you). He helped found the Grand Rapids Autonomous Support System (G.R.A.S.S.) last year and is happy to say that it’s grown into an independently thriving organization.

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Photo credit: Koviak Design Festivals

So Alex, I first became acquainted with you after hearing you perform poems at open mics around town, gosh, two years ago maybe? And then I saw you regularly working at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market and eventually coordinating G.R.A.S.S. events. What are you up to these days?

I’m putting a lot of my creative energy into spaces, in the hope of making places [where] people feel safe to be vulnerable. That opens up the fertile grounds for healing.

Where did you learn the importance of community?

I’m from West Virginia [originally]. Lots of family members moved [to Grand Rapids] over the course of thirteen years. My grandparents came here just three years ago. I was the single child of a single mom, so we forged a really tight bond growing up. We had memorable dinner conversations growing up, [talking about] philosophy, politics, what is right or isn’t right.

I attended Catholic school [in West Virginia], and I was one of only six boys in my class. Honestly, I didn’t get shoved into the walls [at school] here. I would not be who I am if I hadn’t moved here.

Tell me more about G.R.A.S.S.

G.R.A.S.S. came to be out of the idea that our society is going through very tumultuous times, and we need to go through significant changes in order to survive as a species. Too many people follow the idea that it’s each man for himself. We need community to build human bonds and build trust in the understanding that working for someone else’s well-being is working for your own well-being.

When there’s that communal trust, we can localize our resources and food production. Lack of reliance on the greater systems makes the larger systems irrelevant.

And that’s when change can happen, structurally speaking.

Right. We reach a consensus for all our group actions. It sounds radical, but we should return to city-state governments because people will be more empowered and have more say locally. In starting G.R.A.S.S., equal empowerment is really vital. G.R.A.S.S. exists for sincere human bonding. Right now, it’s focused on connections and inspiration, on everyone’s ability to create and manifest into being what they hold in their heart. We’ve found a lot of resonance in art events, like the Spectacle.

We pushed it to the next phase with the Sweetgrass Sage + Burn Transformational Festival. We introduced a workshop and communal education aspect over the two days so [attendees] could understand what’s going on in the world around all of us more deeply.

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Photo credit: Samantha Breen

Can I ask you about your poetry?

Sure!

Tell me about your writing process. Your poems focus almost exclusively on positive experiences, people, and self-reflection. 

So that focus came about early on. I was less than a year into my experience as a spoken word poet; while writing my Mahatma Gandhi piece, my mom stopped me and asked, “Why should I listen?” I understood on a deep level that there’s the poetry and the art that we [create] for ourselves and [there’s] the content we share with the world, [which] needs to have substance to it.

Poetry has this ability to present ideas to anyone who is actively listening to it. I like to use poetry to talk to people about the world around us. I [also] like to engage people emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

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Photo credit: Phoenix Photography

When did you start writing?

On the forum of Neopets. Someone would start [a message thread] with a theme, anything from day in the life to having elemental powers. I really remember one [that had] a Hogwarts-style theme. That was the first time I got into using the written word and feeling creatively powerful.

How has spoken word impacted you?

I first heard spoken word at Dr. Grin’s I think in fall 2013. I sat down [with friends], and the whole night, I was really into the content. That was the first time I [enjoyed] a whole night dedicated to poetry.

Encountering poetry and art forms where people express their experiences [has] really helped me understand others. In our community of artists, people use poetry to talk about race and their lives. It’s helped me hold an openness for what people put forward.

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Photo credit: Scott Love

G.R.A.S.S. is open to anyone of any age, background, belief system (or lack thereof), or color. To find out more or check out their upcoming events, visit their Facebook page.


Conversation edited for clarity, organization, and grammar.
Featured image photo credit: Joshua Zittel