Directing You Down The Path To Clarity: An Interview with Caseyrenée Lopez

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Tell me a little bit about your new full-length collection. Are there any recurring images or themes that you feel run throughout? How does it compare to the composition of QueerSexWords?

My new full-length is an exploration of my evolving gender identity, and how I’m beginning to understand how my transness is different from my husband’s trans identity or anyone else’s really. I’ve started to realize how much of an impact it’s having on my sexuality, my relationships with other people, and how I see myself as a person. In constructing this collection, I became almost hyperaware of language, and find that more often than not, language fails us. I’m still working out the kinks and getting used to the way I see myself versus the way other people see me. It’s often hard for me because my writer self, my internal self, doesn’t match what people see as my outside self. My femme presentation offers me the security of passing privilege, but I hate it, I hate being read as a straight woman. It erases me and my work. This collection actively works to reject the notion that a femme passing person must be a woman—in working with these revelations about myself, the central theme of this collection is gender and sexuality, and although it does include a few poems from QueerSexWords, the overall feel is far less angry and much more exploratory. I decided that I’d spent enough time living in the past, mining those painful memories that make up the bulk of QueerSexWords, and instead, I spent the last 3 months writing and revising this new collection. It’s airy and new, a theme that mirrors where I’m at in my life right now—I’m very proud of this work, which isn’t something I say often.

What, in general, is your writing process like?

Writing comes to me in bursts. I write whenever I can, typically on my phone because I always have it with me. I don’t have a concrete process, but I do spend serious time on craft, revision, and language. I’m definitely not one of those poets who writes the first thing that comes to mind and says that it’s publishable (though, to the poets that can do this—I’m jealous because you make poetry seem effortless).

Are there any writers you can say have influenced the manner in which you write, or got you attached to writing as a whole? What writers have you grown to admire over the years?

Oh, there are so many writers that I encounter and love from the first line of a poem or story. However, early on, when I was a teenager, I read a lot of Anne Rice (and still do). While all of my friends were reading Twilight and Harry Potter I was reading The Vampire Chronicles and other folks like Whitley Strieber. I never really got into YA back then, with the exception of Christopher Pike, who writes some really terrifying stuff. These foundational writers really hooked me into reading and writing as an art form. I’ve since expanded into reading almost anything I can get my hands on. I’ve really gotten into auto/biographies and creative non-fiction or anything related to being queer. Right now there are so many working poets that I just adore, but I can’t possibly list them all, though two of the best chapbooks I’ve read in the last year have been Lisa Marie Basile’s war/lock and Fatimah Asghar’s After.

You work as an English teacher at Georgia Military College. Do you feel that there is a distinction between writing and teaching in terms of end results? And, while on the subject of education, do you find it necessary for aspiring writers to get the degrees for a proper introduction to the art form?

I definitely think that education and writing often go hand-in-hand, but are the two exclusive? Hell no. Writers tend to learn from other writers, so teaching is something that I do to make me happy. I love being able to direct my students down the path to clarity and beautiful language. But to say that to be a successful and engaging writer one needs the support of academia? No, no, no. Academia can provide structure to the people that need it, but it can also stifle other people. It offers guidelines and a foundation for starting out. It engages you with community and teaches you to use feedback and criticism, but it does not make you a good writer. Being a good writer is something that I think is inherent. I’m not sure you can teach talent. Can you help a not so good writer do better, absolutely, but can you teach a writer to become an artist? No.

What sparked the creation of Crab Fat Magazine? Is there a story behind the name?

Ahh, Crab Fat, my baby—when I started Crab Fat Magazine in 2014 I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I only had one thing in mind when I did: make space for queer people. I spent about 2 months doing research and looking up literary magazines. I sought out venues that catered to the southeastern United States, and at the time I found nothing. I came across blogs and small pocket communities, but nothing that was dedicated to people like me. I tossed around ideas for the platform, the name of the journal, and other important aspects, and all the while I was drawing a blank. I knew I wanted the name of the journal to be cool and memorable, but at the time I was in a pretty dark place, depressed, and filled with dread about the outside world, so everything I thought of was bland, off-center, or been done. I was struggling to find the words to make this damn thing happen, I took suggestions that no one wanted to give, I looked up obscure words in the dictionary, and I read my favorite books hoping for something to jump out at me. Then in the beginning of June 2014, I remember sitting at Waffle House with Paul (my husband). It was really hot outside, the windows were covered in condensation, and the parking lot was visibly steaming. “I want to do this, but I can’t even think of a name for the project,” I complained. Paul thought for a few minutes, and started humming the tune of Crudbump’s “Illuminati Shit.” We’d spent the better part of six months hooked on that song; we loved the harsh beats, Angel Haze’s sick verse, and in particular, the weird ass lyrics: “I grab your rope with my crab hand, turn you around to see the crab man, square on my head, I wear my crab hat, rock a big gut that’s my crab fat.” All the while we’d been jokingly calling Paul’s belly “crab fat,” and then he suggested that be the title of the journal because it was cool and memorable and made me laugh. I immediately agreed, and after stuffing our faces with hash browns and scrambled eggs, went home and bought the domain www.crabfatmagazine.com (I wanted to buy crabfat.com, but it was taken as a parked, unused domain).

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Personally, no. I think I may’ve drained my personal creative reserves for a while after going so hard on my new collection, but I’m working everyday on new issues of Crab Fat and editing books for Damaged Goods Press—I cannot recommend Monstrosity by Ally Ang enough (we  just released it July 25th)! At the press we have almost an entire roster of work lined up for the year so I’m looking forward to keeping busy with all the details of getting some awesome books out into the world.

Where can we find more of your work and how else can we offer support?

Awww, thanks for asking! I recently had some poems published in Sea Foam Magazine and Thank You for Swallowing. Over the next few months, I have work coming out in Thank You for Swallowing (2 more pieces), Walking is Still Honest Press, Yes, Poetry, and Glass. I’m shopping my new collection around as well and I hope to have some bites within the next 6 months or so. My chap QueerSexWords is also available directly from me via PayPal, or Yellow Chair Press, and as an adjunct I can always use the extra dollars.

Interview conducted by Jordan Hoxsie.

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