SMITTEN Poets Interview: Talia Rizzo

Talia Rizzo is a lesbian poet studying creative writing at the University of Denver. Her work focuses on her experiences as a queer woman, the complexities of family separation, and the power of images. Talia’s work can also be found in Levee Magazine, Foothills, and Prometheus Dreaming. When she’s not writing, Talia can be spotted among the Colorado mountains, taking in the sun with the wildflowers or skiing until her legs are sore.

1.How does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you? 

I don’t want to say my poetry would be nothing without my experiences as a lesbian, but I’m going to say it. In some way, when I read old poems from five or six years ago and when I read the collection I am working on now while living in Spain for a few short months, I see different reflections of one another. Sexuality is everywhere and for that reason, each of my poems has some type of image that can be traced back to a specific experience, thought, memory, fear of being a lesbian in the United States. When I began writing poetry, it became a catalyst for me to understanding my identity and my past relationships with women and how they have felt in relation to the men I have been with. It gave me a chance to create, to sit and think for hours over cups of coffee about the intensity, the vivid colors I felt when I was with women, even if it was just their leg grazing mine under the table. Over time, my poetry has shifted and taken on different forms, some I don’t even understand yet, but one thing has remained the same—my life as a lesbian is at the core of all my work; it is the way my world is shaped, the lens on which everything is always seen.

2. Whom are your favorite lesbian writers and why?

Alicia Mountain and Pamela Sneed. They are my two biggest icons in every way and I aspire to be half the writers they are. They have each, in their own very different rights, mastered the art of image, of storytelling. If the man drinking a beer at the table beside me reached into my backpack, all he would find is their two very different and sensational stories—Sweet Dreamsby Sneed and High Ground Coward by Mountain. Mountain’s collection of poetry has come to me in every moment of need, over and over again, and still each time I am able to get something new from it, something I didn’t see before. Sneed taught me things beyond myself and gave me the chance to reflect on and be thankful for all the privilege I have been given in my life. Their images are relentless in the best way, so specific and subjective to each individual woman, yet so universal to the community.

7. What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work along side other women who love women? 

It is absolutely thrilling. I am so excited to see all of their work. In countless ways, all lesbians, all bisexual women, all queer people are connected through a similar experience of identity, while simultaneously having so many individual differences. Love is both an individual and collective experience, especially when it comes to being a lesbian. I remember being eighteen in a restaurant with an old girlfriend and having to move tables because of a couple older, heterosexual couples next to us talking very loudly about how disgusting they found us. All we were doing was holding hands. I remember the way it felt when the waiters carried our plates full of food across the restaurant to a new table and every head turned to watch us get up and move. I remember my girlfriend’s eyes filling with tears and the excessive apologies of the employees. In some ways that night, a love I had never experienced before presented itself, as well as an experience I know is universal. As a community, we have been spit on, degraded, beaten, and killed for our sexual preference. While simultaneously, finding other people, other women, who love us, who accept us, who become a part of us. Being featured in SMITTEN alongside so many women from all over the world is an absolute honor for me, as all these words and stories bring us together—even when we are miles and miles apart.

SMITTEN is due out any day now. Please consider supporting this project by purchasing a book when it comes on sale. Even one purchase helps support the endeavors and hard work of these 120 authors and highlights the value of LGBTQ subjects. SMITTEN will be available via all good book stores please check the Facebook SMITTEN page for up to date information. 

Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Melissa Fadul

Melissa Fadul lives in New York with her wife, dog and two rabbits. She teaches English Literature and Advanced Placement Psychology.  She loves animals, poetry, and film and photography and baseball and screenwriting. Melissa is currently writing her second poetry manuscript and a screenplay.  Melissa hopes that someday she can work with her favorite actresses: Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett and Mariska Hargitay.

Is the Die Really Cast?

I was a sophomore and part of GLU (the gay and lesbian union as it was called then) getting my undergraduate degree in New York and two years younger than twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard, when barbed wire pierced his wrists as he was pinned to a fence on a chilly October evening. After his assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson thumped his skull, dented it, they stole his shoes and wallet before running him over in a pick-up truck— leaving him for dead in Wyoming dark.

He was found by a young boy riding his bicycle the next morning, eighteen hours later. From a distance, he thought Matthew was a scarecrow. As the boy rode closer, he saw a man—a man whose face was marred and sopped in blood—except where tears skidded down his cheeks.

Twenty-one years later, I still repeat to myself, that could have been me. I could have been murdered for being a lesbian. In Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History, Cathy Caruth states, “Freud describes a pattern of suffering that is inexplicably persistent in the lives of certain individuals. Perplexed by the terrifyingly literal nightmares of battlefield survivors and the repetitive reenactments of people who have experienced painful events, Freud wonders at the peculiar and sometimes uncanny way in which catastrophic events seem to repeat themselves for those who have passed through them” (1).Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(23).png

Bearing this in mind, it’s high time that America give credence to the power of vulnerability. However, how and why should we do this when Webster, Random House and any other dictionary defines vulnerable as weakness? The only way to look and accept ourselves as civil beings is to admit without metaphor or interpretation what it means to be human—which means we must muster the courage to reconcile our exiled musings of private vulnerabilities. It means redefining the fast food, bizarre definition of the word, vulnerable.

Thus, my reason for contributing to Smitten. I’m not naïve enough to think that by writing this essay (which seems more like a manifesto) that most will be influenced to come-of-age and pass through some rite-of-passage. One must experience to comprehends the acute power kindness and empathy possess when one
is courageous enough to be vulnerable. Momentarily, there was a bit of ambivalence to submit to Smitten—a reluctance born of unfounded anxiety—coupled with my semi-introverted nature that drew up useless excuses: I’m too intense, no one will like these pieces, they’re too graphic, etc.

However, I remembered my purpose—my students who I write for—the ones who can’t speak for themselves because of their own political hinderances—youth who can’t conjure the duende within—nor know how to use the ordinary world as a catalyst and objective correlative that stands at a distance in order to bear witness.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(24).pngI recalled my vulnerability-my greatest strength which includes the courage to believe that people do desire to listen to strangers’ stories—to really feel something especially when tragedy is on the frontlines of the tongue. This evergreen notion is a pattern I’ve noticed made most explicably apparent through the vehicle of trauma and disaster. According to Nicole Cooley, “to think about how disaster produces speech, writing, and testimony and disaster is reproduced through language. I’m not talking about disaster as metaphor in poetry but about a poetry that arises in direct response to a disaster, a poetry of disaster” Cooley, Nicole. “Poetry and Disaster” American Poet, Volume 39 Fall Nov. 2010, pp. 3-5.

My submission to Smitten has tried serve as witnesses for the LGBTQ community and its allies. These pieces are designed to be umbilicals which help guide those who need it through the uprising of Stonewall and the shooting in Orlando’s gay club, Pulse. There’s almost half a century of time between these two events with Matthew Shepard’s murder in between—not to mention countless other hate crimes that are recognized by law enforcement and the LGBTQ community.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(25).png

Ideally, in a utopia these tragedies should antagonize peace. They haven’t—nor will the next one. Nevertheless, the autonomy and my hope lie with the idea that it will create nonviolent conversation. My primary point was to create a Socratic discussion in which all voices are heard and inquiry based on all beliefs are supported.

According to her breakthrough non-fiction work, Catalysis, Dr. Alice Maher states, human understanding needs a language all its own, an Emotional Literacy that synthesizes insights from multiple disciplines. It must be codified and taught, using theory literature, thought experiments and daily exercises, until it exists on a par with other major subjects in a K-12- PHD curriculum. Emotional Literacy needs to be taught and practiced until our species becomes fluent, until the best are recognized and supported in their rise to leadership. (Maher 15).

One way to understand how Emotional Literacy works is by understanding how to ask someone a question even if one party is fuming because their subjective isn’t synonymous with the other party’s. It seems obvious—still I don’t know if as a species we know how to speak to one another in a way where there’s room for empathy, which always deems itself essential in order to reach the duende state of vulnerability.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(26).png

For example, if a discussion between two people begins on a calm and a bit of trust is created between those two individuals, when one person feels like he, she or they can be vulnerable that step will be taken. However, if the other person’s approach and angle into the discussion is volatile and branded apathetic, the option of sympathy or empathy dissipates quickly. If that occurs, the true meaning of that dialogue could be lost—Thus, truth and vulnerability aren’t reached. Maher goes on to add, “be curious, invite the person to talk about his/her childhood and share your own similar-but-different experiences.

Remember that your beliefs come from a personal center too and are probably equally distorted as a result. Be curious about your own distortions and try not to be too triggered by theirs. In order to succeed with Maher’s recipe for serenity, we must be willing to view our own distortions—that means being vulnerable. Can you bear it?Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(27).png

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Carol Jewell

Carol H. Jewell is a musician, teacher, librarian, and poet living in Upstate New York with her wife, Becky, and their seven cats. She reads constantly, being insatiably curious.

How does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you?

I think my age may have a part in this. I didn’t come out until I was 39, having had relationships with straight men before that, even marrying one of them and having a daughter with him. I just turned 60, and I am at a point in my life where I really don’t care that much about what people think of me or my work. People will think what they think, and it’s really none of my business. However, if they speak or write publically, in a negative way, about my sexuality or my writing, then we’re probably going to have a conversation. Whether it remains private or public depends on how negative their feelings are. After all, shouldn’t I share their shitty opinions with others?

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(3).pngWhom are your favorite lesbian writers and why?

Well, you know, we can never be absolutely certain about “who” is “what.”  And people aren’t out in different areas of their lives. AND, a person can be “out” in many ways. I can share that I am a lesbian with a grown daughter who gifted me with a fabulous grandson. I can let you know that I have both visible and invisible disabilities. I can tell you how I vote. Things like that. So, I can tell you which lesbian writers I like, but not necessarily why. Also, the list can change on a daily basis. This list is not inclusive: Alice Walker, Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres, Alison Bechdel, Lillian Hellman, Mary Renault, Jeanette Winterson, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, Frances Power Cobbe, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Melissa Etheridge, Louise Fitzhugh, Janis Ian, Cheryl Wheeler, Geri Jewell (no relation, that I know of), Rachael Z. Ikins, Judy Kamilhor, Nancy Klepsch, Shannon Shoemaker, Adrienne Rich, May Sarton, Marilyn Hacker, Emily Dickinson, Sean Heather McGraw, Allison Paster-Torres,  and Jessie Serfilippi.

Do you think there is enough representation of lesbian poetry and writing in general and if no, what do you think is the reason?

Should we, as lesbians who are also poets (and vice versa) be required to give that information to editors, say, somewhere in our cover letters? Is it necessary? I don’t think it’s necessarily necessary. If the work that I am submitting has any lesbian tropes, then it might behoove me to announce that.

How does being a poet inform your views on expressing emotions through writing?

If writing poetry does not reflect someone’s emotions, why bother?

What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work along side other women who love women?

Well, first, I’m glad to have my work out there, so to speak. Having my work along side other women who love women allows me to get ideas from those women, and also network with them.

Did you ever want to be a voice for the lesbian/bi community? If so, why?

I didn’t set out to be a “voice,” but, as I work on at a University, I’ve found it helpful to be out to faculty, staff, and students.

Why is love a worthier subject than erotica to write on?

Because love is bigger than erotica. I used to say that gay or lesbian relationships are not about sex, but about love. Of course, sex—in whatever form that takes—can be a big part of relationships, but not THE most important part. Being a lesbian is more than whom I share my BED with…it’s whom I share my LIFE with. People who are disabled may not have sex the way another person does, but if what they do IS sex for them, that’s great! I just think that there are many layers to love, and not so many to sex. To me, love is more interesting.

Have you ever been SMITTEN and if so, do you feel it’s possible to summarize those feelings in poetry?

My wife and I have been a couple since 1999. Later, we had a commitment ceremony and then got married, after it became legal in New York. I was smitten with her from our first contact, and love her more every day. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

 

 

Reblog: Interviewing the talented Tony Single

Reblogged from; https://crumblecult.com/2017/05/21/comfy-confabs-tony-single/

Hullo, Dear Reader. Guess what? I got talked into being the second interviewee for my brand new, ongoing feature, Comfy Confabs. The interviewer being the interviewed?! How on Cthulhu’s sweet, barren earth did that happen? Well, I’ll tell you how… It’s all the fault of one Candice Daquin, and if you don’t know who she is then you really need to edjumacate yourself at The Feathered Sleep. Okay, go. Go now! Go and have your eyes opened and your mind exploded. I’m serious! I’ll be here when you get back.

Right, got all that? Good. So, anyways, I approached Candice to be the focus of this second interview, but instead of a yes I got an offer to be interviewed by her instead. “You’ll be more interesting!” she said. “But I’m a career hack!” I protested. She was having none of it, so I folded rather more easily than a deck chair at a conflict resolution symposium…

All joking aside, I am rather pleased with the outcome. Not only have I shared dialogue with a writer of Candice’s calibre, but the resulting Q&A even makes it seem like I’m not a total and utter narcissistic halfwit—pretentious maybe, and a bit of a tool, but still…

CANDICE: Were you always an artist? Did you used to do something before that? If so, when did you decide to devote yourself more toward your art and networking your work for others to see?

TONY: I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon, so I feel like I’ve never not been an artist. I was even creating comic strips all the way through my school years, so by the time I was accepted into art college the idea of trying to be a professional cartoonist felt like the next logical step to me. However, my life since then has consisted of being equal parts job seeker, house husband, and struggling artist.

CANDICE: What do you recall as your original inspiration when you began to draw more for others to appreciate? What message if any did you want to convey the most?

TONY: I don’t really recall much to be honest. I do remember Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip featuring quite prominently in my childhood. I adored its many characters (and still do), and very much aspired to do something in the same vein. As for messages, I don’t think I had any in mind at that age—only an idea that I wished to live out a creative life.

CANDICE: Do you consciously impart messages in your work or do you think they are interpreted by the viewer?

TONY: I believe it’s a bit of both. The older I get, the more I find what I want to say, and so I’ll layer this into whatever I create. However, no one likes to be preached at, so I’ll try to find an indirect way to impart that meaning, a way that gives the reader credit for having their own mind and take on things. Of course, whatever I put out there does often get interpreted in ways that I cannot possibly anticipate, but this is no bad thing. All it means is that people aren’t being passive, that they’re actively engaging with my work, and that makes me happy.

CANDICE: Does your hearing-loss factor in the choices you make artistically?

TONY: Such an interesting question. No one has ever asked me this before! If my hearing-loss is any factor at all then it would have to be in the way I try to write dialogue. I am constantly striving to make my characters sound as naturalistic as possible (not easy to do within the silence of the page). I want their stresses, intonations, and turns of phrase to mimic what I will often hear in everyday conversations.

CANDICE: When did you begin to combine your ability as a writer/poet with your art? Do you feel more confident in one genre than another?

TONY: As a cartoonist, I’ve always combined my writing with my art. I do find it difficult to draw a standalone image as it often feels like there’s no story present. I tend to be more comfortable working with a sequence of images; it’s a less static approach that’s conducive to driving narrative or some overall message. If there’s one thing I like more than writing or drawing alone, it’s putting those two things together to tell a story.

CANDICE: If you had endless options, what would you choose to do with your art? Would you like to be a comic-artist, a graphic-novelist? Or something else?

TONY: When I was young, my goal was to write and draw a famous comic strip, just like my hero Charles Schulz. That changed. What I’m doing now with Crumble Cult actually plays to my strengths as a cartoonist, and far more so than the newspaper format ever would have. It’s emotionally fulfilling in a way that a gag strip could never be for me. Still, as a creative, I can’t say that I’ve ‘arrived’. My next big challenge is to write and draw my first graphic novel, and I want to do this in Ukraine. I have no idea how I can make this happen, but I sure aim to.

CANDICE: If you weren’t you and you didn’t know you, and you saw your art what would you think of the person behind it?

TONY: God. Again with the interesting questions! I find this difficult to answer as I’m often wondering what people make of me anyway (could someone tell me?). I’m constantly striving to get personal with my comics, to bare my all, and yet I use them to hide myself at the same time. It’s weird, I know. I guess I just like to confound people’s expectations.

CANDICE: Whom are your biggest influences both historically and in more recent times and why?

TONY: There’s the aforementioned Mr. Schulz. His Peanuts strip has always appealed to my whimsical and melancholic natures, as have the works of Tove Jansson. I grew up reading her Moomintroll books, and they were fanciful but in an extraordinarily mundane, grounded way. Then there was the Osamu Tezuka comics that possessed a certain kineticism which I very much admired. And they had a rather pleasing pulp fiction sensibility too; for me, Adolf and Astroboy will always be his definitive works. Oh, and Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku was another influence. That story was romantic, down-to-earth, very very funny, and humane. I’m also seeing an abundance of that last quality in Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Bros. That’s a more recent influence I suppose, but no way in hell will I ever reach those giddy heights of masterful storytelling. Not with my own paltry efforts. Still, I love what I do, so I can try.

CANDICE: You mentioned wanting to do a graphic novel (so glad you said that, this interviewer always felt this was your destiny, jus sayin’!) but also ‘in Ukraine’ meaning you want to write / draw it in Ukraine or in Ukrainian? Can you elaborate on this and explain to the readers where this momentum began and why? (I think I know!)

TONY: I think you do too! I once asked my writing partner Tetiana Aleksina about her home country, and she challenged me to simply go there and pay her a visit. Her feeling was that it would be better for me to experience Ukraine firsthand rather than simply hear about it from afar. That’s when I had the idea to turn this potential trip into a story that I could tell in the graphic novel format, and so I’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since. Plus, it would just be a cool thing to hang out with someone that I love and admire very much! I plan to make it happen. Again, I don’t know how, but I will.

CANDICE: What influence has your writing collaborator Tetiana Aleksina had on your work and how do you feel she has influenced your direction?

TONY: I was floundering creatively before Tati came along, and that’s the truth. I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for her timely intervention. The width and breadth of her imagination is the one thing that shone through when I first encountered her blog, and so I very quickly became a fan. And as I got to know Tati through our collaborations thereafter, I came to realise she was someone I very much wanted to work with on a permanent basis. With much trepidation, I asked her if I could, and luckily for me she said yes! And in all the time since, I’ve come to see just how meticulous Tati is with her endeavours. Everything counts for her; nothing gets wasted. Things are worth doing properly or not at all. Not many bloggers seem to have this perfectionist drive, and so I’ve really come to value her professional approach and attention to detail. I’m forced to lift my game—to strive for my absolute best—and this clearly is no bad thing. As a result, we now have many projects in the pipeline, and aim to make them all come to fruition.

CANDICE: If you could fast-forward ten years where would you like to be in terms of creative output and accomplishment?

TONY: I would like my wife and I to be living abroad, and for me to be working alongside Tati in person. That’s the dream. We want to bring out more books, to complete our first novel, and maybe even tackle a graphic novel together too. The sky’s the limit. We just have to be foolish enough to reach for it!

CANDICE: What subjects most influence your perspective as an artist and why?

TONY: Religion and mental health are two huge subjects in my life, so they tend to crop up in my work a lot. After suffocating in a Baptist church environment for nearly twenty years, I realised that I needed to get out and truly be myself for once. I’d also given up on the idea of a loving god by this point, and was feeling tremendous guilt about that—I felt like a heretic and a failure as a human being. There were also lingering questions from my youth regarding my sexuality and self-identity that were still not going away, that could not be adequately addressed the longer I stayed in such an emotionally and intellectually toxic subculture. I felt stained and stunted. I needed to escape. Add ongoing anxiety and depression to the mix, and you can see why I write and draw the things I do. I have to.

CANDICE: What role do you think you play as an artist in terms of being a ‘truth’ bearer to subjects most close to your heart and what subjects would you include? (Example; This interviewer holds mental-health and gender close to her heart and incorporates them into her work often.)

TONY: The more I follow my current path, the more I find what I want to explore in terms of themes. Of course, there’s the aforementioned religious and mental health issues, but I’m now branching out into other areas such as sexual identity and gender politics, and finding that there’s quite a bit of crossover. Actually, it’s shocking to note just how much church and society have framed my thinking in general, and in ways that are less than helpful, that quite frankly fly in the face of reality. Back in my church days I tried to cleave to some pretty dangerous ideas dressed up as piousness and a sacrificial love for mankind, but really… I was only robbing myself of the ability to empathise with others while at the same time deliberately taking leave of my senses. One particular issue seemed to crop up again and again amongst my peers: homosexuality. God and his ‘chosen ones’ were disturbingly obsessed with that, and sought to box it up as something which was ‘aberrant’ and ‘evil’. This kind of bigotry always troubled me as I’d always believed that homosexuals were as normal as anyone, but I never had the guts to challenge it head on. At the time, I was more invested in gaining total acceptance from my fellow Christians than in pursuing a form of ethical honesty. So, yes, I now incorporate such concerns and themes into my works as often as possible. It’s kind of my duty, and I have a lot to atone for.

CANDICE: Thank you for your time answering these questions. As long as I have had the fortune to know you as an artist, I have found you to be a continual inspiration, but I also know you personally to be very modest and unaware of the impact you have upon others. Do you think this came about from your life thus far? Have you felt working in this creative community and especially with your creative partner Tati, that you have begun to shed your modesty and become fully the creative person you wanted to be? Do you see this as a process of transformation? I say this because in the last year I see a shift in the courage of your work delving deeper into issues and subjects that matter to you with more willingness to ‘go there’ than say, before.

TONY: Oh, Candice, you’ve always been very kind to me. I wish I truly was modest. The reality is that I possess a massive ego, and it offends me. Seriously, I must have an overinflated sense of self to be trying to tear that down on a constant basis! If I was truly humble, I wouldn’t even be thinking about myself in the first place. As for the impact I have on others, I’m always worried that it will be a bad one, so I find I overcompensate and try not to have an impact at all. I know—messed up or what? I always suspect that I’m not being totally honest with myself, which is why I write and draw. I just want to get closer to the truth of me—whatever that may be—so the creative process is very much an act of attempted transformation. It’s taken me a long time to ‘go there’, to work up the courage (or foolishness?) to tackle issues and subjects that I personally still find very painful. I also hope I don’t end up fashioning a narrative for my life that isn’t honest, or a narrative that paints me as some blameless, long-suffering saint. A narrative that fools even me. How do you stay true to something like that? I’ve no idea.

Please visit Tony at;https://crumblecult.com/2017/05/21/comfy-confabs-tony-single/  and please leave comments on his site♡