Morgan Parker on Writing Poems & Holding Each Other Accountable
Sarah Marcus: I think readers can relate to the beautiful anxiety and obsessive self-reflection in so many of your poems. In the poem, "How To Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity," you write: "...I want what I want/ regardless of social etiquette and the way/ I am ashamed of my unconscious by which I mean/ I say everything out loud in other words/ I never fucking learn my lesson." Should we ever learn our fucking lesson? Is it worth it? Would we gain or lose our empathy?
Morgan Parker: I think the lesson is always changing. When we make mistakes, we learn something about ourselves. Maybe we make the same mistake again. Life is a series of failures. And that’s okay! When I say “I never fucking learn my lesson,” it’s a confession, a realization of the speaker’s limitations. Here I am, and I’m imperfect. Culture and religion tell us to chase after perfection, and I think it’s important to remember the great tragedy of being human is that there is no perfection, there is no age in which you’ve finally figured everything out. There’s a beauty and a courage in trying and knowing you’ll ultimately fail.
SM: In the High School creative writing class I teach, we are in love with "Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)." I can't help but read much of your work as social and personal commentary on symbolic annihilation. I think part of our adoration for this poem in particular comes from the poem's ending: "Combing your records you’ll see the past and think OK/ Once I was a different kind of person." This kind of closure allows for acceptance, forgiveness, even, and it speaks to a sense of hope for our future selves. What would you want an audience who may just be starting out on their writing and advocacy journeys to know about this poem or your forthcoming collection There Are More Beautiful things than Beyonce out from Tin House in 2017? Any words of wisdom on writing about what's "real?"
MP: My job as a writer is to witness and archive. To render reality as I experience it. To document every small victory or breakthrough or heartbreak. I wrote this poem in the bathtub, having just set my DVR to record Love Jones. It’s an ode of sorts-- to beautiful things, to ugly things, to understanding the bigness of the world, to fear, to confusion, and to the ability to change.
SM: You were part of an important round table discussion for PEN America on Equity in Publishing. As you mentioned there, it's no longer enough to simply lament the problem. You also said something that I found particularly powerful about the expectations of POC in the industry: "We’re pulled in so many directions, it’s a wonder we still have the energy to produce creative work. 'Indict us!' the white audience shouts. 'Comfort us! Teach us!' It’s an enormous amount of pressure. Sometimes, it can be embarrassing. In the words of Jay Z, 'Can I live?'" Is the literary community committing the classic offense of "victim blaming" where the perpetrator (and society as a whole) places the responsibly of correction or revolution back onto the originally disempowered? At the end of this piece you ask, "What is the fear?" What do you believe the fear is? Change? Do you have any additional thoughts about "what would happen if we valued stories by writers of color as much as we valued the stories of white American males?"
MP: I don’t know if it’s victim blaming so much as white supremacy. The fear is loss of power. That’s what has been fueling pretty much every conflict since the history of time. Look, it’s simple. Literature should reflect and celebrate and uplift and investigate and complicate the lives and experiences of every variation of human being with equal regard. The only thing that would happen if this were the case is white people wouldn’t be special. Not the end of the world. There isn’t much more to say or think-- there is only doing left.
SM: You are the Poetry Editor of The Offing, which "actively seeks out and supports work by and about those often marginalized in the literary conversation, including people of color, women and gender non-conformists, and members of the LGBTQIA and differently abled communities." Your recent Trans issue was incredible. Is the editing experience different when compiling an issue with a specific theme or calling? The other example that The Offing sets for the larger literary landscape is having a large and diverse staff. What impact does that have on creating a rich and representative publication?
MP: Our strategy is to include more voices, editorially and curatorially. We hold each other accountable.
SM: What is The Other Black Girl Collective? Can you tell us about it?
MP: Yes! We have a website: www.otherblackgirl.com.
SM: What can we look forward to from you? What's next?
MP: As you noted, my second collection is coming out next year. I’m both terrified and thrilled to have it in the world. The Other Black Girl will begin touring this summer. I’m working on a third poetry manuscript and writing prose as well. After that, who knows!
Morgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize, and There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce, forthcoming from Tin House Books in 2017. Morgan is Cave Canem graduate fellow, winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and poetry editor for The Offing. She also co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series with Tommy Pico, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. www.morgan-parker.com
photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths