Maybe Just Sharpen The Weirdness: A Dialogue with Sasha Fletcher & Monica McClure
Monica McClure and Sasha Fletcher wrote some chapbooks of poems and decided to have a conversation about those poems, their lives, and art, which is as follows:
MONICA MCCLURE: Sasha, many of the poems in your book, especially “Porch Light” and “Dreamboats” could be lost unconscious missives to summer camp sweethearts. Always addressed and always manically intent on being heard, the context of the address and the addressees shifts from childhood (a command over a megaphone at camp) to adulthood (an announcement in a conference room) without ever losing fragmented apostrophes.Did the epistolary theme develop from a longing for that young love summer feeling? You wrote this book in the summer. Gossipy, I know, but I want to hear about these heroic angels you may have pined for in your bunk. Too personal?
The way these tough-talking girls intervene in the unspooling ruminations of the speaker’s thoughts on love and violence and adulthood makes me think of Darger’s Vivienne Girls. They seem to be at war with a corrupt grownup world, but also opposed in their sensibleness to the innocent childish haze that sometimes overcomes the speaker. Do you think of them as tough messengers? Are they more sprite-like than I give them credit for?
SASHA FLETCHER: Dear Monica, the epistolary form developed while riding in cars with my ex over memorial day weekend in 2012. I was going through a thing at the time, although in all likelihood I am maybe always going through one thing or another, and I wanted to address this, the whole idea of going through a thing, pretty directly. Or I thought maybe if I just listed these abstracted things that were going on with me, like addressing them, like they were separate from me and I could address them in a vaguely formal manner, because that is what you do with things that are strangers, which it would have been great if these feelings were strangers, and anyway I thought that if I did that then I could maybe put these bullshit feelings of despair to use.
And I mean yes. I have pined for some heroic angels in the bunk bed of my heart, good lord. When I was working on the bulk of these poems last spring and summer, it was pine city, which is a city I moved to wherein everyone pines all the goddam time. I don’t recall much of actually going to summer camp though. Another thing I don’t recall much of is my dreams. A lot of my writing is at times an attempt to make up for this. To invent alternate emotional histories to a life i’ve never lead. To find stories I can tell myself that will teach me how to feel more of the world.
Mood Swing changed me, bb. I want to say it’s one of the bravest things I’ve read, but I don’t know how that’ll be interpreted, so for me it was this unflinching thing. I remember seeing you read from those poems at Pete’s one night and just turning over to Ben [Fama] and saying HOLY SHIT over and over again, and he just smiled and said I know. I felt changed that night. You wrote these poems that seemed to break down whatever borders I had between the self and the idea of the self. And I was wondering about that, about how you went about making these, and feeling these?
MM: You aren’t the only one who has said that Mood Swing was brave. I wonder when people say that if they mean it actually took artistic and political risks or that it espouses a kind of bratty confessionalism that most poets would be embarrassed to vocalize. That night at Pete’s it was suggested that I had crossed over into performance art; I thought it would be interesting if I told a room of people who had come to hear me read poetry that I was selling Adderall. Poetry readings come with a set of expectations, you see. It developed a character and punctured a hole in the discourse (what you refer to as the boundary between the self and the idea of the self). Well, I think it did. There was definitely a shift in my writing when I started thinking of myself not as a poet but as an artist who works primarily with language. I want my work to be an unresolved dialectic sent-up from the split. I’m interested in being a spectacle, too. Mood Swing is meant to be a bit of a vaudeville show: inhabiting female media sterotypes and female literary heroes are the two performances that come to mind.To answer your question, yeah, those poems volley a self that is created out there in the symbolic order and a traumatized self that is inside. Affect complicates this. Emotions, unfortunately I have them.
SF: Dear Monica, OK, brave was a fucked thing. I mean. It was bratty confessionalism, and it was political, and it felt so fucking real. It felt like there were risks being taken in terms of content, and they were not delivered that way. I mean that nothing in the tone felt like you wanted to point out the risks you were taking, the melding of the political, the confessional, the heartfelt, the serious amounts of what we could call swagger, the fuck-you-ness of it. The tone belied all that. The tone of these poems makes it feel like this is not a big deal. I feel that so many times when people do something they feel is brave and important they want to point it out, and I feel that that isn’t fucking brave, or important. Anyway these are all just really shitty attempts at me trying to use words to describe the things that I think and feel, as if language could contain a single thing inside of any of us.
Emotions! What do you mean “unfortunately,” bb?
MM: Sasha, you have truly touched me with this explanation. Thank you. I would hate to call attention to something as just one thing like TRUE or SMART when obviously everything is so fucking complicated and problematic.
I was quoting Andy Warhol bb.
SF: OH COOL ANOTHER DEAD WHITE ARTIST WITH A DICK [After I said that I felt like a jerk and then Monica gchatted me]
****beginning of gchat interlude****
Monica McClure: you were worried about the emotions part
sasha fletcher: hahaha
Monica McClure: ok! so that was a question?
oh this is a convo
sasha fletcher: it was!
Monica McClure: haha but my answer was so dumb
when andy was asked if he believed in emotions he said “yes unfortunately i have them”
which i love
sasha fletcher: it is perfect!
it is obviously antithetical to everything i am
and fucking perfect
Monica McClure: hahaha i know
well it is very topical for me right now
sasha fletcher: how so?
Monica McClure: cuz i have been officially clinically diagnosed as bipolar
sasha fletcher: oh whoa! bb!
Monica McClure: which changes the way i think about my FEELS
sasha fletcher: [we don’t got to put this in]
Monica McClure: hehe
sasha fletcher: yr whole shit just got recontextualized
Monica McClure: it would be ok! obvi i am not 100% invested in this diagnosis as truth.
i mean, everyone is bipolar
sasha fletcher: some of us just have bigger swings
hashtag story of my childhood
Monica McClure: right, and some of my swings are dangerous
the depressive ones
but the mania contributes to it
but i am so scared to lose the manic states obvi
because those are the creative times
and the happy times
the times when i feel like i am fucking the whole world
sasha fletcher: kind of jealous of that
i’ve spent basically all year struggling to get out of bed every morning
i still get a ton of writing done, and some of it i think is maybe pretty good?
Monica McClure: i am jealous of that
sasha fletcher: i’ve been working on writing my way to a new feeling, if that makes sense.
Monica McClure: cuz i can’t write at all when i am down
sasha fletcher: like trying to write something where i have to feel it so hard that something in me changes
Monica McClure: i love your persistence
you have so much faith in your writing to save you
as you should
sasha fletcher: i don’t know if it’s faith
nobody says sharks don’t get depressed
but if they stop swimming they die
i was very sincerely suicidal for most of the end of 2012
and i don’t ever want to be there again, because of the giant burden that pain is not just to me, but to everyone i love if i ever go through with it
and i kind of love a lot of people, really hard, and am recognizing that they also love me
and so for me, continuing to work, to write, is this way to give myself something to live for kind of
i can’t always do it for myself
but i can do it for the work
if salvation is a form of not dying then i believe in my writing as a form of salvation
and in art as a way to teach us how to be better humans
or at least make us aware that the world is both bigger and smaller than we think it is
that things are both more fucked and more wonderful than we think they are
****end of gchat interlude****
SF: But when I’m not being a dick about quotes and too dumb to see Warhol, everything IS so fucking complicated and problematic. Which is both kind of amazing and totally exhausting, right? Can we talk about that for a minute? Part of me feels like it’s the responsibility of artists to. Or no. That’s fucked. Responsibility is maybe a fucked term?
Let’s say that like, that artists, I feel, have this ability to examine these complications, and the ways in which they are problematic, and to find new ways of showing that, of exploring that. There’s this idea of the artist as being able to show us art that touches us in such a way that, for even just an instant afterwards, we are able to view the world in a slightly different light than we did before.
MM: Artists are attracted to problems. No one else can afford to be (because they can only afford to make money). Maybe this is romantic, but I think that for whatever reason we are artists because self-preservation is a low priority. Maybe our super-egos are malformed. We wanna feel fucked and for that feeling to carry us to the center of the fucking so we can look at its belly-button and, at least, report the site and feel of that tangled navel of paradox.
I used to think there were two types of people: artists and thinkers. I used to think I was an artist and not a thinker because when confronted with the ineffable or the sublime I just wanted to make something. If I had the opportunity to die for art, I would. Nevertheless, I am a humanist, so I don’t think people should have to die for any so-called higher purpose. However, we live in a country where nothing is important. To sacrifice for art by dying little capitalist deaths every day is keeps the imagination alive. When communities of people lose their culture, they replace it with accumulating wealth. The imagination is the personal culture of the artist and it has to be in opposition.
What do you think makes people normal? Childhood trauma?
When you wrote Dear Gloria, did you think about the brief infinity of your youth? There are times when it seems to be an elegy for the long summers of our childhoods. How do you feel about aging? I think we are almost the same age. Does it work its way into your themes? Does it raise the stakes for your art? What is it like for a male to age?
SF: Monica I straight don’t know what normal is. I mostly know boring and not boring. On top of that, I didn’t have much childhood trauma. My parents are artists, and they loved me very much. They were real strict, and I got grounded for grades a lot, and I didn’t have a girlfriend or lose my virginity til I was almost 18, but I ain’t so such that any of that counts as traumatic at all. I got picked on and beaten up and had shitty friends and I took myself way too seriously until I met this girl at art camp and she basically told me that if I didn’t get over myself no one would ever kiss me, so I got over myself as quick as I could after that. I don’t know.
My 20’s have been relatively traumatic, but I mean, that’s in the context of my life. I’ve never been raped. I’ve never really been taken advantage of. I’m a white hetero cis male and most people I meet are relatively decent to me, and so, for the most part, I think I can’t really comment on normal, or trauma. Plus my favorite love stories are like, Punch-Drunk Love, and Moonstruck, and Wild at Heart. I don’t know from normal, bb. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We all have these ideas of ourselves. I don’t know that normal is even real, to be honest. What about you, bb?
And oh fuck, yr last graf. I did! I did think about it, mostly because I don’t, ever. I don’t think much about the past. I would sweat too much and then take a really cold shower and lay naked on my bed with the air conditioning cranked and it was amazing. I felt longing that summer. I felt such goddam longing that summer, and it was great, and I wanted to get at that with this. And I don’t know how to feel about aging. My body feels fucked, to be honest. My body is not what it was when I was 20, and it doesn’t always feel like what I thought of my body as feeling like, and I am learning to live with that. For me to age though more or less means that my dick doesn’t work like it did when I was a teenager, and also I have to take more care of myself than I did before. My survival instinct is almost nonexistent, and whatever kind of magic or spell that made this OK for so much of my life has more or less died off, and I think that’s maybe OK. In terms of “does aging raise the stakes for my art?”: Yes, in that if I can’t write something that raises the stakes from the last thing, if the new thing doesn’t feel like I’m being more ambitious, or at least differently ambitious, then I should probably kill myself, or at least quit writing. Art should raise the stakes constantly. We should raise the stakes constantly. Being alive should be the kind of thing you invest in like how I read about retirement accounts in that this is something that is fucking essential to you being able to live.
You know that scene in Teen Witch when they are all TOP THAT? I want that to be every moment of everyone’s life forever. That is how I feel about time and art and life. TOP THAT is how I feel.
And also Dear Gloria was, looking back on it, an attempt at inventing the kind of summer that I think I’d maybe like.
What is it like for you to age? I typed “as a woman” first, but I don’t know. I don’t think I can speak for men, and I’m more interested in your own lived experience anyway. So. Sup w/ aging, bb?
MM: I don’t really know what that question about normalcy is about. I don’t mean to set up a binary. Not all artists are dysfunctional people and not all normsies are without art. I love many normsies who are artists without an art.I am very interested in the psychology of normsies because I am American. I guess. Alright, so, Mala is a lot about growing up and the anxiety of being looked at as you develop. My Mexican catholic family, though in some ways matriarchal, exists within a patriarchal culture. There is a long poem called Petocha that has a refrain that is some variation of the command, “Don’t be so chiflada.” When a girl wasn’t behaving appropriately friendly or extroverted, she was told to stop being so chiflada. When a boy was bashful, he was chiflada as in adorable. This word conjures the feeling I always had that my body and my behavior was a conscript of the patriarchy, even before I was a real member of society. Men commented on my looks, touched me, danced with me. Even when it was chaste and it was sanctioned by familial love, it was unsettling. It was a liberty I didn’t see taken with boys my age. I would say that yes my youth was traumatic. I became an artist who is ok with mining that. Others would say my youth was not traumatic and I’ve noticed that those people prey on the sensitive.
As for aging as a woman, it is weird. My mother is a beauty and has made me very conscious of the advantages as well as the trappings of gender-conforming attractiveness. She gives it to me like an embrace, “Did you see how everyone stared at us.” I am pretty excited for the day when people won’t look anymore. Sometimes I worry that there will be an intellectual deficit that was accrued in my younger years, when I was welcome at a table for being nice-looking and that in twenty years I will need to say something smart and hilarious and inoffensive to be welcome. I hope that’s developing properly (not!). Michelle, Tamika and Tanya gonna ride that train. What is the role of a chorus in your work? Both a refrain and a Greek drama style chorus. I noticed you have a slight mania for lists, but I am not referring to simply lists. There is a music you are borrowing from our culture that can’t help but respond to the primary situation you set up: an individual looking for love.
SF: My favorite song in the whole world is Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ YOU’VE REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME. I think love songs are great, especially when they have anything to do at all with love, which is almost nothing like a song at all, because songs are short, and most of the time they make sense, and love is a thing that happens between two people, and most of the time it’s beyond all of us. When I was a kid I used to tape songs off the radio, and I’d always miss these bits of them, and try to wait up for the next time they’d come around again to kill me in the way Mariah Carey will kill a 10 year old who just received a vague idea of what else it is his dick might be able to be used for, and whose heart is trying to achieve some things it cannot as yet articulate. Art helps us at times articulate things we don’t yet have the language for so that we can then begin to speak about the world around us as if it was real, and as if grace and terror were things worth separating.