Sarah Clark: Both of your chapbooks are so viscerally about the body. Can you tell me how you conceptualize of bodies, in a broader sense, and how bodies play into your books? You both also utilize many different forms in your books. Do you feel there’s a relationship between the body and form?
torrin a. greathouse: To me, there is no separation. The conception of poem as body is intrinsic to my personal poetics. My poems are not just about my body, but an extension of it. Which is why I am so obsessed with breaking them, filling them with fractures. The most natural mode of construction for me is to pack each poem with line breaks (especially those which disrupt meaning or move toward surprise), virgules, em-dashes, white space, or unconventional punctuation. I inhabit a crippled trans body—a body outwardly defined by fractures, gaps, dissonances. I want to infuse my work with the same kind of fracture, to both rend and render the body of the poem and the bodies within a poem.
Linette Reeman: Much as the tongue-in-cheek theory that “if you’re trans [or otherwise marginalized], then every poem you write is a ‘trans [or other marginalization-centric] poem,’” my body is in every poem I write, even if the poem isn’t about my body. I talked a little bit about this in my conversation with Spencer Williams for T.A.R. (which should be checked out, Spencer asks very intelligent questions and I sort of cobble my brain into answers)—BLOODMUCK is my body and everything that happened to me this past year. Arranging this manuscript was the first time in my life I had complete control over how my body was seen/used/experienced, and so I asked myself, in what way do I present my body? In which order do I talk about the experiences it has endured?
SC: torrin, your book begins with a dedication naming each trans person who was murdered in this past year, including those we may not know about. Linette, you detail personal narratives of institutional discrimination and carceral violence. How do you feel about the idea that by writing these books, you’re writing trans history?
tg: The book’s dedication actually includes far more names than that. It is a list of every “officially recognized” trans murder in the US since they first began recording them in 1988. 151 names. This number is still paltry in comparison to the number of trans, gender nonconforming, and Two-Spirit people who have been murdered or disappeared in the US and other countries. To write about survival as a trans person is to write with the weight of these ancestors behind you, what I write about in my poem “Ghosting” as “a lineage / of apparitions.” Our experiences, our strength, and love, and holiness, are so often erased in our deaths. To write, and to publish, as a trans person is to create an indelible addition to an archive of our history. It is to create a record that refuses to be erased.
LR: As a white historian with access to university academia, I am very conscious that what I am writing might be repeated due to my privilege and not necessarily because it is the trans narrative that is most urgent. Therefore I try to avoid claiming that I am writing trans history—I feel as though I am documenting it. Of course I am also writing about myself, and thus documenting my own social and physical history. My comrades and I joke about what media and records will survive after we’re gone, and I’d like to think my work will make for some really excellent primary sources.
SC: Ownership of the body also comes up a lot—autonomy through suicide, self-harm, addiction—attempts of others to overwrite that autonomy, and reclamations through transition, positive sexual relationships, selfies—could you talk more about how these ideas play into your writing practices?
tg: I’m really struck by the sharpness of the phrase “autonomy through… addiction,” perhaps because when I was in the worst of my addiction I considered it to be an exercise in autonomy. The logic was something like if I can drink and not be a drunk then I’m better than my father. Of course this logic nearly killed me by enabling me to evade the reasons for my drinking, an inability to accept my transness and disability status. Now claiming those things, being goddamn proud of them, is one of the things that keeps me alive. I am deeply interested in the power of naming, which occurs endlessly across my poems. Naming is a form of magic, used for creating autonomy, overwriting violence, for trans people the decision to keep or change a given name is an act not unlike resurrection. This leaves me deeply interested in titling as an execution of autonomy. boy/girl/ghost’s name represents to me not only a spectra of lived gender, but also an expected trajectory. The whole chapbook bears this name because it is an exploration of being a boy, a girl, a ghost, and how transitioning in a society which reviles transfemme bodies sets my own body on the path from boyhood to a grave. Linette, I am interested in what motivated you to choose the title BLOODMUCK? What does this represent to you? What power does this act of naming hold?
LR: torrin, to answer your question—the concept of “dirty blood,” of being a whole thing made of warring parts, of inherited trauma and disease, is a theme that runs through my entire body of work, but is caught and dissected in BLOODMUCK. “Pedigree of Alcoholism in the Author’s Family,” the poem “bloodmuck” comes from, was the first poem I finished after my arrest, and it was the piece I balanced all of the other pieces in the book against, since the main narratives of addiction, state repression, bodily autonomy, and transgender identity are all present in it. When I was searching for a word/phrase to capture the essence of the manuscript, “bloodmuck” felt almost immediately correct. As for the question of autonomy, I am someone who has also used the myriad of ways to harm oneself as an “exercise in autonomy,” as torrin eloquently put it. When I think of reclaiming autonomy, there is a sense that even in reclamation we are subject to the practice stealing us—as an addict, it is an autonomous act for me to drink a single glass of wine and put the rest of the bottle away, but the act of drinking itself could still be a coping mechanism I am using in place of something else. Writing BLOODMUCK felt like being allowed to admit I am not always confident in my own autonomy, and that too is an act of reclamation.
SC: You anticipate the inevitability of the cis gaze in many of your poems, though neither of you cater to a cis-centric legibility. Could you talk a bit more about both your use of coded language, as well as what it means for you in the moments where your poems do explain (parts of) themselves.
tg: The fact that my work achieves some kind of cis-legibility, or anticipates the gaze of a cis audience, is purely incidental, with one exception. In several of the poems, I engage directly with the language and expectation of an assumed cis audience, forcing their own coded speech, slurs, and manipulations of language back into their mouths, an act of silencing those in power, giving myself the space to correct them. To me, this is not an effort toward legibility, but rather an exercise of rage. I am uninterested in writing poems which actively teach a cis audience to understand, engage with, and consume my pain.
LR: I completely agree with torrin. My work is not meant to be palpable to cis people; it is meant to be accessible to those regardless of academic experience, and it is occasionally meant to educate on some historical narrative, but there is no point in my writing that I am purposefully catering to the cis gaze. Any instance of “forcing their own… manipulations of language” as torrin said beautifully, is meant to inspire discomfort in cis people who think I should have just been nicer.
SC: Linette, I know you’ve talked about how some of the poems in BLOODMUCK are inspired by real events in your life. What’s it like to trust your readers with these stories? Have you ever struggled with readers’ assumptions that all of your work is autobiographical? I’m curious about what role fiction—or perhaps a kind of mythology—play in both of your books.
LR: The mythology that exists surrounding these kinds of narratives is tied to the difficult realities these topics force their readers to acknowledge. It is easier to dismiss violence if you can justify it as pretend. When I got arrested, the arresting police departments compiled what is essentially a narrative about me as a person, to justify an investigation into me that led to my arrest. What it boiled down to was “Linette Reeman disagrees with social norms and writes poems on the internet about it, and that makes them a threat.” That is what the state of New Jersey has decided is the truth, and I can stand on a mic screaming that they’re wrong until I pass out, and it won’t change that I got arrested, or that everything in my life is more difficult because of it. So, honestly, if readers think, that our suffering is exaggerated, and this is a reason to interrogate our experiences for their truth, then those readers can fuck off.
tg: Yes! Exactly! I think, in a similar way to the question of cis-legibility, giving a fuck about readers’ assumptions regarding the truth of our work is not worth our labor. Linette and I are both queer, disabled, trans people and as a result, our stories will always be subject to interrogation—a word that is in the case of BLOODMUCK quite literal—regardless of the form these stories take. Our suffering is always going to be perceived as exaggerated, the narrative beneath the mythology and metaphor. In a sense, there is something deeply freeing about work that plays with the boundaries between fact and fiction, because trans and disabled lives will always be treated as though they exist in the same liminal space.
SC: torrin, your book melds these ethereal recollections with the consequences of the now, as well as these almost dream-like possibilities for the future. These moments never feel discrete. Touching on a childhood memory is describing the present is anticipating these futures. Meanwhile, Linette, your book speaks with a greater urgency, where the present feels like it’s always a moment away from collapsing. The past is either indelible or obliterated. How do you feel about your books’ senses of time?
tg: I feel like this sense of composite time, let’s call it a traumatic temporality, is fundamental to all of my work. I am currently working on a nonfiction project which explores this idea more in-depth. One of the academic sources I cite in this essay is a psychologist, Robert Stolorow, whose area of research is the effects of trauma on memory. This is what he has to say about it: “In the region of trauma all duration or stretching along collapses, the traumatic past becomes present, and future loses all meaning other than endless repetition. Because trauma so profoundly modifies the universal or shared structure of temporality, the traumatized person quite literally lives in another kind of reality, an experiential world felt to be incommensurable with those of others.” I wonder if perhaps the dream-like blending of time in my work, and the sense of collapse in Linette’s are simply two expressions of the same experience, each of our work reiterating the effects of trauma upon our sense of time.
LR: To borrow torrin’s phrase “traumatic temporality,” I feel as though my perception of time within my work is intimately connected to having PTSD. My narratives’ grabbling to stay in the present and make it into the future is absolutely concurrent to the sense of urgency in my life- that at a moment’s notice, I could be assaulted or arrested again, and my life could plunge back into a perpetual dissociative state. I definitely believe your suggestion, torrin—that our writing exists within its own timelines, and reading our manuscripts in full shows the passage of time as we experience it with regard to trauma.
SC: These uses of time also feel reminiscent to dissociative states (in my experience, I know it’s a YMMV kind of thing). In BLOODMUCK, it frequently feels like everything’s happening at once. Similarly, in boy/girl/ghost, it can feel as if the past is haunting the present, or perhaps overlaid on the present. In both of your books, I get this sensation of being overwhelmed by the possibilities of how the present will branch into the future – a plane could land without incident, or be the stage for a final selfie; very literally, in torrin’s “Self-Portrait as Daedalus, Writing the First Draft of His Autobiography,” “every version of this story begins with you, which is to say, this story begins with falling, or it begins where sky ends, or with the ocean swallowing a bird or a boy, like a lump in its throat.”
I’d love to know your thoughts on neurodivergence and altered states in your poetry.
LR: Again, to reiterate the concept of trauma influencing the perception of time, my mental illness(es) **do** make me feel like everything is always happening at once! There are a lot of poems wherein I purposely ruin the constraints of linear time—in “Carrie Buck…” as two people whose lives only overlapped briefly have a conversation; in “In Which The Author Attempts To Smuggle A Switchblade Onto A Plane” as I careen from “months ago, i took all the knives out of my pockets…” and “now, in the airplane bathroom… i will send my partner when we land.” Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of poems playing with the concept of the “split scene,” as in a sitcom, when two characters are shown doing similar or vastly different things at the same time. For me, bastardizing time in my writing feels very natural, since trauma/mental illness/memory loss already warps my memories and experiences.
tg: Oh my god! I love this idea of split scene and borrowing from cinematic language to understand the ways in which a poem’s fractal narrative moves. In a similar sense, the poems in this chapbook which gesture toward quantum mechanics (“Quantum Elegy” and “Erwin Schrödinger Speaks on Dead Fathers”) are both trying to understand this complex temporality. In “Self-portrait as Daedalus…” the poem begins again and again, trying to get closer to the truth of the matter, but also opening entirely new realities with each revision.
SC: When you discuss bodies, both of you tie them in different and interesting ways to landscapes, but also to features of land such as flora and fauna, dirt—In what ways do you feel the connection of body to land, the boundaries of ecologies?
tg: As a disabled trans person, I am so typically sold (or sold as) the extremely dangerous narrative of being “trapped” in a body. As such, I am extremely drawn to the visceral freedom of “the wild,” of flora and fauna and the mythology of monsters that arises from humans’ fear. In a manuscript largely guided by the idea of trauma and self as apparition, some of my poems are built to work in opposition of this, to allow the dualistic practice of dis/embodiment. The most literal moment of this comes in the poem “Who is Monster,” which was written in conversation with Ari Banias’ “Who is Ghost.” This is perhaps my most bodied poem, and it circulates around these (crypto)ecological forms—the rose, valley, continent, (were)wolf, hydra. The invocation of terrain allows for the embodiment of my body’s slow deformation, while lycanthropy, or the act of intentional terraforming, become an extension of the body in transition. All of this is to say, when I write about ecologies, I am less interested in their boundaries, and more in their boundarylessness.
LR: I haven’t always identified as or been physically disabled, so every visceral mention of body as it relates to touch/sensation/movement/motion in my work is pining to experience a physicality I don’t always get to anymore. Similarly to torrin, much of my work deals with the concepts of mythology as it relates to monsters or the “other”—in “Two Rituals,” I say “all the creation myths are true,” and the crypto-ecology of this statement resonates throughout BLOODMUCK; the mythology of the truth, or the truth of mythology, as juxtaposed with alternating timelines, and the transient nature of the body itself, are all at the crux of my experience of being transgender and disabled.
SC: With the interplay of time, myth, and land in your poetry, I get a strong sense of the liminal being explored in these chapbooks. Both as a concept itself, and how liminality impacts our existences as a transitory element, and how we often exist within it as a state unto itself. Could you talk more about your feelings on the liminal in your works?
LR: This is interesting to me because I don’t see my work as liminal (in the sense of it existing between spaces), but rather as existing within multiple spaces at once. And therein I think is the myth; rather than the feeling of liminality that is evoked from experiencing my own gender, or my own relationships, I am (or at least I hope I am) exploring the dichotomy of being portrayed as multiple versions at once; me who is both a boy and a girl during a single shift at work, me as the person documenting state violence and being a victim of it, me describing acts of intimacy between myself and a partner through someone else’s point of view (ie, Oppenheimer’s). The work that best exemplifies liminality in my work is, I believe, work that deals with disability and mental illness, since I am a person who has a mental illness that is often referred to as “scary,” and despite having disabilities, doesn’t “look” disabled.
tg: The state you’re describing strikes me as almost Schrödingerian—though this frame of reference is clearly a space of comfort for me. The sense of simultaneity, to be boy and girl and neither, to be disabled and not legible as such, to be living and also dead. I like to think my work exists in this kind of state as well. A space of ambiguity not unlike the liminal, but at the same time profoundly apart from it.
SC: Who do you hope will read your work? Who do you think of when you write? Who has had the biggest impact on your writing?
LR: Can I have a moment of petty honesty? I hope all my shitty exes read my work. And I hope pissy conservatives and fascists read my work (and this interview—hey boys~) and either get converted or disgusted. Truly—I want trans kids in the suburbs to end up in an internet wormhole and come out on the other side with my work. And hopefully it helps. A lot of the work in BLOODMUCK was informed by Bill Moran’s OH GOD GET OUT GET OUT, and The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Other constant influences of mine are: Anne Carson, Hanif Abdurraqib, sam sax, my organizing homies and comrades, the accessibility advocating work of Erin Schick, and similar artists that I create work in tandem with, like George Abraham, John F. Quinonez, and of course torrin.
tg: The work in my chap is definitely influenced by some similar sources, George Abraham, Hanif Abdurraqib, and of course Linette themself. Their work constantly pushes me to sharpen my work to a finer point. Additionally, sam sax, Rachel McKibbens, Jeanann Verlee, Jennifer Espinoza, Nicole Connolly, and Christopher Soto were driving forces behind the development of these poems. So many of these poets’ work has given me permission to write, to make myself legible (or illegible) in my work. My hope is that my poems can do the same for other poets coming up who are looking for another writer’s work to give them permission to be.
TORRIN A GREATHOUSE (she/her or they/them pronouns) is a genderqueer trans womxn & cripple-punk from Southern California. Her work is published/forthcoming in Poets.org, Muzzle, Redivider, BOAAT, Waxwing, and The Rumpus. She is the author of two chapbooks, There is a Case That I Am (Damaged Goods, 2017) and boy/girl/ghost (TAR Chapbook Series, 2018). When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, & trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.
LINETTE REEMAN (they/them) exists on the internet at linettereeman.net.