Crack Open/Emergency: A Forthcoming Chapbook From Karen Poppy

Karen Poppy Crack Open_Emergency

“The poetic voice has invisible instructions:/crack open in case of emergency…” from Crack Open/Emergency, Karen Poppy’s forthcoming chapbook by Finishing Line Press.

At the end of 2019, we were honored to include two of Poppy’s pieces (“Sonoma Wildfire” and “Defining”) in Issue 7 of peculiar. Now, as we inch and bide and scrimp and grieve our way through the opening months of 2020, we are in more need than ever: of help, of leadership, of voice, of comfort and instruction, of poetry. Poppy’s voice is a guide, wise and patient as she contends with plights both personal and encompassing.  

As creators we turn inward, then outward. We surge toward answers. Karen Poppy does this exquisitely in “Sonoma Wildfire,” an answer of hope during the California wildfires of 2017:

Birds returning from darkness,
Their murmuration a living ocean,
A flocking school flying high,
Obliterating obliteration.

And “Defining,” a poignant study of violence and oppression:

Why should
We be
Symbols
Of our own
Oppression?
Define us
Instead
By our
Beautiful
Spirits.

As Poppy prepares to release her chapbook next month, we’re excited to point you toward where you can get your hands on it, and share a little more of her voice in today’s Q&A.

What gave you the idea for Crack Open/Emergency?

The poems in this chapbook came together organically, after surging forth, born from emergencies personal and political.

How does it echo or diverge from your past work?

These poems are some of my first in coming back to writing. I don’t adhere to one style or theme in my work, past or present, and while I have mostly been published in poetry, I also write fiction and hybrid works. 

Describe an early experience where you realized language had power.

When I created and recited my first poem, and my mother transcribed it for me because I couldn’t write yet. I was about two years old. She wrote it into a book she kept for me, and it made me realize that language has power because it is special enough to be written down and preserved. That language has lasting artistic significance. 

My mother also always read to me at bedtime. Little Golden Books, a boxed set of classic children’s books, and just as often, Shakespeare and the Bible.

Do you find writing energizing or exhausting? 

It depends on what I am writing, and how I am feeling in general. Energizing or exhausting, I know that I still need to push through and keep going. We all do. The world needs all our voices.

What would you describe as a “literary pilgrimage” and have you gone on any?

Every time I read someone else’s work, I hope for a literary pilgrimage. Good writing takes us somewhere, allows us to transcend our realities, inspires us. The best writing, the writing that lives on, is by writers with generosity of spirit. Writing with which we can converse, with which we can continue the conversation through our own writing.

It is no accident that so many of us connect and respond to certain writers. It is their generosity of spirit. Think of Emily Dickinson baking cakes, singing, and playing piano for her community. Now the writing she didn’t much share during her lifetime communicates with us, carries on the work of her giving spirit, and allows us a literary pilgrimage. This is only one example. So many writers have this generosity of spirit. It is important that we all give generously of ourselves and remain open to each other.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

To not listen to writing advice! Trust yourself and your own voice. That being said, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to wonderful editors and others who have helped to guide and shape my work.

How does the contemplation of queer identity and experience figure into your work, or does it?

I write about queer identity and experience, and I also write about a wide variety of other topics. I find it interesting to explore queer identity and experience within the context of something different and unexpected. 

As a society, we are still forming the language to communicate our unique experiences, articulate our identities, and expand the discourse regarding the complexities of our emotional journeys. Until fairly recently, for example, we didn’t have widespread use of the word non-binary to describe someone—like me—who does not fit within the gender binary of male/female. 

Giving a name to something, defining it, gives it power. Within Crack Open/Emergency, I also focus on the power of naming and defining, with regard to queer identity and in other contexts.

What’s next for you? Tell us about your other projects.

I have two additional poetry chapbooks forthcoming, and four of my poems have been set to music for soprano (art songs) by Chicago composer Myron Silberstein. I am also working on fiction projects, as well as a cat-themed book.

Praise for Crack Open/Emergency

Although the language of Karen Poppy’s poetry is beautifully lyric and classically pure, she wants us to attend to her silences—the spaces between words, between lines, between stanzas and poems. A lawyer, she knows how cruelly words can be divided against themselves, that one can become “ashamed that you did not believe less” in them. But her silence is indisputable and clear. It fills us with “noiseless ecstasy.”

–David Bergman, author of poetry titles including Fortunate Light (A Midsummer Night’s Press), Heroic Measures (Ohio State University Press), The Care and Treatment of Pain (Kairos Editions), and Cracking the Code (George Elliston Poetry Prize), and winner of the Lambda Literary Award for his anthology Men on Men 2000.

Karen Poppy‘s poems are lush, lustrous and defined, all at once. One can taste the pebble in the mouth that confronts Goliath, smell the blood stains of post mortem life. These are poems that excite, reveal and inspire, charging us with electric appreciation. What an amazing collection.

–Rene Denfeld, internationally bestselling author of the novels The Child FinderThe Enchanted, and The Butterfly Girl, and winner of the prestigious French Prix award.

________

Two poem excerpt from Crack Open/Emergency:

In Case of Emergency

The poetic voice has
Invisible instructions:
Crack open in case
Of emergency.
We avoid the shards, but
Some cuts are necessary.
For we work close
To the pain.
Closer than anybody.

Oysters on the Beach

Water swirls below, wilds itself on rocks.
I step back, as if you were a photograph.
Withdraw from you.
Your soft, open delicacy.

Karen Poppy has work published or forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, ArLiJo, Wallace Stevens Journal, and Young Ravens Literary Review, among others. She has recently written her first novel, is at work on her second novel, and is an attorney licensed in California and Texas. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q&A with Featured Writer Kay Zeiss

QA Kay Zeiss

Kay Zeiss, the poet who graces our pages as peculiar‘s newest Featured Writer, composes her poetry like an invitation. Each line guiding you around a corner, opening a snapshot, a landscape, a person materializing in the smoke. Zeiss is a queer Seattle-based poet and licensed social worker from Chicagoland. She has been found behind typewriters attempting “name your price poems,” curating art walks, and co-facilitating creative writing groups.

When did you start writing?

I started writing on a typewriter in grade school with my dad. He and I used to write eloquent (but probably in actuality, nonsensical) stories in turn, line by line, about anything from earthworms to aliens. Despite an early start, the great majority of my life was spent not writing anything beyond what was required of me throughout my formal education.

I was briefly interested in science writing in undergrad while pursuing a research fellowship as a double major in psychology and biology. However, I did not rediscover creative writing until after I obtained my master’s in social work. A few years ago, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a writing group at the VA. This was the rebirth of my passion for writing, and I was reminded of how deeply I value the art of storytelling as a practice.

Why do you write?

I have a great passion for language generally, but specifically regarding how language helps us to connect with one another. I believe stories in any form are powerful because they allow us to realize we aren’t alone in our experiences. For me, writing has the ability to unlock lexicon gaps and allow for a playground of commonality and interconnection. In searching for the right concentration and combination of words, I hope my writing will convey my unique and simultaneously universal experience.

I find much joy out of creating poetry inspired by random words I learn (petrichor is a recent favorite). Also, a favorite of mine is to take a situation and reason out how to convey the story through nature and metaphor.

Sometimes I’ll write as a means to process what I’m going through, to understand better what has brought confusion, or to let go of the pain of suffering.

What poets and authors do you read?

Li-Young Lee is my absolute favorite poet. His poem “furious visions” is wonderful. Time begins to seem less linear, perhaps more cyclical or circular through the lens of Lee’s writing. His seemingly tangential stories are grounded by the adept weaving of memories from his childhood, young adulthood, and the present. It’s almost as though each moment across a lifespan, across generations, is occurring presently. There is an invitation to detach from our conception of time. As someone who understands intergenerational trauma first hand, I truly value a writer’s ability to convey this phenomenon.

I also adore Annie Dillard (“Total Eclipse,” my favorite story by her; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my favorite book), Emily Dickinson, Oliver Sacks, V.S. Ramachandran, Jeanette Winterson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary Oliver, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Adrienne Rich, Clarice Lispector, R.A. Sasaki, Italo Calvino, Saul Bellow, Ted Chiang, Rumi, and Rilke. There are so many more.

What’s your writing process?

I treat what I have written in the past few years as an experiment, of sorts. I tend to have a memory, a thought, a feeling, a struggle, or an existential fixation in mind that I want to reason out, toy with, or challenge myself into finding objectivity. Most of the time, I will slip into thought about what sensations or visualizations arise, and try to incorporate that sensory input into my poetry. I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors and commonly will draw on my observations in nature to help my attempts at describing the indescribable.

Sometimes I’ll sit in a comfortable place with a cup of tea and pensively stare at my computer or typewriter to reason out the latest curious thought with which I’ve been grappling. Other times I’ll festoon my hammock within sight of a lake. Always within earshot of the chirping birds.

Writing is one of my favorite activities to foster that sense of flow. Everything else fades away as I get hyper focused on the task of writing. Writing becomes about giving creative expression to an experience with intent to find a voice that will invite others to identify, and thusly connect. Sometimes the words just flow out onto the page, other times the piece requires much editing. I don’t have a structured approach to writing, though.

What inspires you to write?

People. Spirituality. Mother Earth. The elegant, yet unapologetic nature of my cats (Frenchington and Grandpa). The courage of others. Oppression. Privilege. Lexicon gaps. Silos. Capitalism. The turn of the seasons. An impossibly blue and impossibly still tarn. Sunsets. Tibetan singing bowls. The pain brought by the ending of a relationship. Impermanence. The joy of connecting with others. Channeling and practicing objectivity as inherently biased beings. The question, “how do we find commonality?”

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I love writing sultry haikus.. with a typewriter.. on heavy, haphazardly torn strips of paper.. There’s something about the intense thumping sound of each key stroke and the commanding urgency and permanence of red ink that is incomparable. It’s super fun, ridiculous, and great practice for my writing process.

Last year, during an art walk in Seattle, I wrote poetry on the spot in the form of sultry haikus. This was my favorite:

Her sway, her rhythm;
You catch your breath, arrested.
A levee breaking.

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?

I have two hopes as a writer. I hope for my words to leave an image with the reader that’s reminiscent of what I have experienced, and I hope to convey that we as living beings aren’t as different from each other as we may imagine.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Oh, I don’t know. I try to live my life a day at a time.

What’s it like being queer where you live?

In Seattle, at least when I moved here, it seemed like being queer was more the norm than anything. I remember joking with my friends back home in Chicago that it almost seemed like there was a competition to be “the queerest.” There were so many words queer folk were using as self-descriptors that I had never heard of before moving to the Pacific Northwest, despite being “out” for nearly a decade. People who identify as straight even use the word “partner” here. Back in the Midwest, labeling a person as your partner for anyone who wasn’t your business associate automatically flagged you as gay. I’ve felt the safest living here being out, loud and proud in comparison to other cities. The rainbow crosswalks are pretty cool too.

What makes you peculiar?

I dance to the Muzak down grocery store aisles, my favorite movie is The Lion King, and I also like to eat wild city lavender.

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Kay Zeiss is a queer Seattle-based poet and licensed social worker from Chicagoland. This is the first time she has been published for her writing endeavors. She is currently pursuing her second master’s degree, this one in bioethics. In her free time, if she’s not writing, she’s finding tiny flowers on big mountains with the naturalist and scrambling groups of the Mountaineers.

Love and Video Games

by Andy Winder

Love and Video Games

When Kingdom Hearts III came out earlier this year, I considered buying a PlayStation even though I’m not much of a gamer these days. I guess that’s nostalgia for you: things you associate with your first love, especially your first queer love, never lose their power. I decided that paying rent was the bigger priority, but I’ve caught myself thinking about Natalie when my mind wanders even though we haven’t seen each other for years.

Natalie’s family had left for Oklahoma and mine moved to Northern Utah the summer after ninth grade–both of us hundreds of miles away from our hometown, St. George. Southern Utah isn’t the easiest place to grow up if you’re LGBT– even less so if you announce that you’re a democrat to your peers, as Natalie had done on her first day in our seventh-grade class.

“A what?” I’d asked when rumors about this new girl circled to me.

I’d heard that word on a radio show my dad listened to every morning while driving my sisters and me to school. But what, I tried to remember, had Glenn Beck said about democrats? Bad things, I recalled. That Glenn Beck did not seem to like democrats at all.

Few students were out as gay or even supportive of LGBT issues at George Washington Academy, the charter school I attended through eighth grade. One of my teachers gave our class an hour-long talk about how, like in Ancient Rome, gays and lesbians would cause the downfall of American society–to which a student raised his hand and asked, “Excuse me, what’s a lesbian?”

Declaring yourself a democrat wasn’t the best idea on your first day of school. But that made me curious about her. Hadn’t I declared myself “emo” a few months ago after watching Phantom of the Opera for the first time? My friend Sariah had declared an intervention after I started wearing all-navy-blue uniform clothes to school and penning self-insert Twilight fan fiction, but I’d felt great at the time. I told people I was sad, but what I meant was that I was twelve and confused liking Fall Out Boy for being sad.

Maybe democrats were misunderstood. And anyway, I’d never find out unless I got to know her.

My English teacher gave me the chance when she placed Natalie in my reading group. Her voice was the first thing that stood out to me. It was clear and melodious, and she focused on how she said things as much as what she said. Everything about her seemed like she paid attention to the details–she parted her black hair neatly, she had perfect posture, and her ironed uniform put my rumpled slacks and baggy polo to shame.

“I’m very into Japanese culture,” she said, gesturing to the graphic novel on her desk. “And Star Wars, but more so when I was a kid. Do you like manga?”

I did. My sixth-grade teacher Ms. Kerr had banned manga because she thought too many people were reading them instead of “actual books.” This had turned my fascination into a defiance to invest myself in the art form even more. Sometimes, I’d even slip a hardcover book sleeve over manga volumes and sneak them into class (another reason that Sariah told our friend group that she worried about me).

We became fast friends. During lunch and recess, I always wanted to be as close to Natalie as I could. She was the only seventh-grader I knew who followed current affairs and studied for the ACT. Every time I talked to her, I felt like she taught me so much about the world and about myself.

I liked her a lot. I liked all of my friends, but the way I liked her was different. It was more like how I felt about Zac, another classmate who made me blush when he played rock-paper-scissors with me after school while we waited for our rides. And I wanted her to like me, too.

On Friday nights, Natalie would invite me to her home for sleepovers. I liked going to her house–her parents were both lawyers, and her upper-middle-class life fascinated my lower-middle-class upbringing. I found it perplexing how her family had an imported water dispenser in their home and that every kid had their own room. It was here that she introduced me to two things: video games and cosplay.

“My friends and I are doing a Kingdom Hearts cosplay group for the Anime Fannatiku convention in April,” she said, “and we need someone to be Demyx. Do you wanna join us?”

For those of you who hung out in less nerdy circles than I did growing up, “cosplay” is when dedicated fans make costumes of their favorite fictional characters and wear them to conventions. It’s just as much an art form as it is a hobby and some people (Natalie’s group included) made their costumes from scratch and entered them into contests.

This particular contest would involve performing a skit in full costume and competing against other amateur cosplayers in terms of craft, stage presence, and creativity. For me, it would also involve dressing up as a male character.

Most of what I knew about the Kingdom Hearts gaming franchise, I knew because Natalie liked it. I’d saved up my babysitting money for months to buy a handheld console that would let me play the game so we could talk about it–normal platonic friend behavior, right? Demyx was a character who I can only describe as “anime David Bowie:” a villain who wore a stylish leather cloak, wore his hair up in a spiked mullet, and whose weapon of choice was a sitar with magical powers.

“Uhm, I’ll have to ask my mom but probably,” I said. “I dunno if she’d like me dressing up as a guy.”

I don’t know why I said this. It’s not like I’d worn a men’s costume before or that my mom cared about gender norms. She always told me that girls could do anything that boys could do, and I believed that, too. But I had a secret: sometimes, I felt like I should have been born male, not female. I’d never told anyone about this, especially not Natalie, but the gap between how I saw myself and my body kept widening as I started going through puberty. Something about this costume seemed like it would validate these feelings and maybe whatever I felt about Natalie, too. It’d be one thing if it were all a costume, but in some ways, I didn’t think it would be.

“You could always go as, like, a female version of him–”

“No, it’s probably fine! I’ll just… not tell her it’s a guy, I guess. I want to compete with you guys.”

Our time together revolved around preparation during those months leading up to the anime convention. At school, we’d practice our skit and sketch concept art and notes for our costume designs. Her handwriting was like her voice–clear and controlled but still light. And on the weekends, we’d spend hours cutting and stitching fabric. Her hands would guide mine over the sewing machine, and I used to hope that she wouldn’t notice how much mine shook.

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had,” she told me. “I’ve never felt like someone cared about me the way you do. You’re so genuine.”

Nobody could make me blush like she could. By now, I’d started to realize that what I felt for Natalie wasn’t platonic. I spent months praying every night that God wouldn’t send me to

Hell for how I felt about her. Sometimes I’d feel peace, but other times a guilt-ridden pit would settle so deep into my stomach that I couldn’t eat or get up from bed for days at a time.

But I kept coming back to Natalie. I couldn’t help myself. When I was around her, her light could break through all the darkness for a little while.

On the morning of the convention, we donned sleek, black coats and wigs that we had bought online–though I would soon dare my friends to chop off my hair into a cropped, jagged cut. Something about short hair made me feel more like myself. Throughout the panels, we held each other’s hands and I rested my head on her shoulder. And even though I trembled during the costume competition, the brightness in her eyes kept me steady.

Our costumes didn’t win any prizes, but we grew even closer. We held hands even more often: gripped at an ice skating rink, linked while trick-or-treating for the last time in ninth grade, clutched as we watched scary movies. She complimented my newly shorn hair, and I told her she was beautiful. Even though shame loomed over my head whenever I went to church on Sundays, I wanted to put a word to the feelings she and I shared–to make it tangible. So on her birthday, I sent her a card and told her that I loved her, and that I knew we couldn’t do anything about it, but I loved her anyway.

It took her awhile to acknowledge what I’d written on the card, and she agreed–we were both Mormon. We were both, as far as we knew then, female. There wasn’t anything else to say about it. And we never did, though I cried every night for a month afterwards–partially because of her and partly because God had made my body and my feelings all wrong.

But it didn’t matter for long, at least when it came to her. By the end of ninth grade, our parents both decided to move away from St. George. She would move to Tulsa, where her family was from, and I would move to my grandparents’ home in American Fork. And that was that.

We’d still sleep over at each other’s houses during that last summer, but the boxes started stacking up in both of our houses. We tried not to talk about how soon we’d have to say goodbye, but that didn’t stop the day from coming. The night before she left for Oklahoma, we slept side-by-side in sleeping bags. The rest of her room was empty. I’d wished I felt empty.

The next morning, we hugged when my mom picked me up and promised we’d write each other. And then I left, just as confused as when I’d met her but with a heaviness because of how much I missed her and how much of myself I knew I’d have to face. My family would soon follow hers by packing all of our things in moving trucks and settling into a city where only our relatives knew our names.

Now that she was gone, I tried to process how I felt about her as well as how I felt when others saw me as a man. Neither were easy things to think about, and they didn’t get easier, but things started to get clearer. And things started to get clearer for her, too. We could mark these milestones in our emails to each other.

“I have a girlfriend now,” she wrote me during senior year. “She has hair like Ramona Flowers. You know, like from the Scott Pilgrim movie?”

I congratulated her on coming out and, next year, told her something I’d only ever told my parents and my counselor: “I’m transgender. I don’t know if I want to start going by Andy or Anthony but when I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

Back before I transitioned to male, every time I came out used to make me have a small panic attack. But a few days later, she told me that she admired my bravery and that she’d use whatever name and pronouns made me happy. And even though we weren’t thirteen-year-olds figuring out who we were and who we loved anymore, it gave me closure.

After a while, we stopped writing as frequently–every few weeks became every few months and, eventually, once or twice a year. But I still thought about her when I chose a new name, and when I began transitioning, and when I started dating my first partner. I’ve always had a hard time ending relationships. I’ve grown shyer the older I get and it takes a long time for me to trust people. But it takes an even longer time for me to let go of them.

That could be why I wanted to play the final Kingdom Hearts game so much. It’s not the characters I want to revisit. I want to go back to when I fell in love for the first time–not forever, just for a little while–so I can replace the guilt I felt back then for the gratitude I feel now. I want to thank Natalie for showing me how to love someone so much. And when the game’s end credits play, I’d turn off the TV screen and smile.

 

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Andy Winder is a YA writer whose work has appeared in HuffPost Personal, Bustle, The Outline, and Book Riot. He is currently revising his queer romance as a 2019-2020 Pitch Wars mentee.

Submissions Reopening January 1, 2021

Here at peculiar, we are so excited by the submissions and support we’ve seen for the journal, and we are so excited for all the amazing queer writers we have published and will be publishing soon.

Yesterday closed our submission period for issue 9, so as we move into 2020, we’ll be taking issues 8 and 9 to print, and we are so excited for you to read them.

Another goal for 2020 is getting more organized on our end of the journal. As a volunteer staff, we all stay very busy with full-time jobs and personal lives, and because of this, we want to take a little down time from editing and producing new issues just to get the business end in tip-top shape. We’ve wanted to officially become a nonprofit for awhile now, so hopefully we’ll have things in order when we open for submissions again!

So for this organization to happen, submissions will be opening back up January 1, 2021. Until then, we’ll still be running the journal, updating our blog, and working on peculiar in case you have any questions. Keep creating and get ready to send us all your wonderful work in 2021. Let us know if you have any questions at any time.

Love and support to you all,
peculiar staff

What’s the Gang Up To?

Hey, all,

We thought we’d give you an update on what everyone on staff has been up to and where in the process the next issues of peculiar are. We’ve been busyyyy.


Jack

Jack just recently started a brand-new job teaching in Baltimore! He’s loving it, and we are so happy for him!

Best food in the last month: “Homemade Honduran food, specifically baleadas 😋

Last great book: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Bekah

Bekah is currently livin’ in the sun deep in the California desert and running a Kickstarter for the release of her first book, which she co-authored with her dad. You can find all the details for the Kickstarter here and check out her story on her blog!

Best food in the last month: Curing a post-Billie-Eilish-hangover at an Indian buffet in Vegas.

Last great book: Before Us Like a Land of Dreams by Karin Anderson

Emily

Emily, our amazing designer, has just started another semester of school in Utah (Computer Engineering, her THIRD degree), and she’s studying hard while putting the finishing touches on Issue 7!

Best food in the last month: “I only eat paper scraps from homework lately.” She also lists coconut mountain dew.

Last great book: “I’m loving the artist Steven Vigil. Found him at the park city arts festival!”

Spencer

Spencer has found his way back into the peculiar family, and we are so happy to have him on staff again! He’s recently relocated to Portland, a city Aaron approves since they can have weekend adventures.

Best food in the last month: “Recently I put a whole jar of pure blended garlic cloves into my spaghetti because I thought it was just a type of pasta sauce.”

Last great book: Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Aaron

Aaron is shuffling around the streets of Seattle, hiding from the last rays of the summer sun, praying for rain, and starting edits and typesetting for Issue 8!

Best food in the last month: A copious number of dumplings from Dough Zone in Seattle.

Last great book: Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau


We’re also open for submissions for Issue 9 and our Utah Contest. Check it out, and don’t miss the deadline on December 8!

Thank you so much for your continued patience. We love peculiar so much, and we can’t wait to keep bringing you more and more queer creators.

Q&A with Featured Artist: Trevor Burt

Q&A with Trevor Burt

Trevor Burt, a young photographer and peculiar‘s newest Featured Artist, encapsulates a biosphere of pattern and story. Each image reads like a river stopped—you still feel the rumble flowing before and after. The seen and unseen keep us looking back, and for this we have chosen Burt as our featured artist. Burt earned his BFA in photography from Utah Valley University, but hails from the golden hills of Sacramento, California.

When did you start creating art?

I have always been drawn to the arts but had no idea what medium to choose. It wasn’t until I had my very first camera (a brand so extinct I can’t even remember the name) and went to New York for a middle school graduation—bougie, I know—and started snapping everything I could see. From there I graduated to more and more expert cameras and found my passion.

Why are you an artist/photographer?

Art is my therapy. It has been the most consistent passion, hobby, and coping mechanism in my life. It has never abandoned me, and I will never abandon it. It has done so much for me in how I see myself: someone who is capable and ever changing. We all need to find something that does that for us, and art, mainly photography, has been that for me.

What photographers do you most admire?

There are an incredible number of photographers I’m drawn to, and they often change as I do. Currently I’m obsessed with Ed Weston, Nan Goldin, Platon, and Peter Yang to name a few. Photographers who can create a beautiful portrait or tell an amazing story can have as much of my attention as they want!

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 2.16.33 AM

“Storm” by Trevor Burt

What’s your artistic process?

I love pre-visualizing an image. I love searching for lines or textures or forms that stand out and then composing that into something complex or simple but interesting nonetheless.

What inspires you to create?

Not to sound hippy dippy, but to sound completely hippy dippy, everything around me. The way rivers collide. Buildings stacked on top of each other. The lines around a smile. The colors in the vegetable aisle at the store. Everything is radiating with energy and something unique that I’m itching to capture. Sometimes I don’t know what it is until I’m done editing and sometimes I know right away. But I am *insert clapping hands* obsessed with diversity. It drives me to keep breathing and exploring.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever created?

I have a lot of favorite images, but as of now it might be my undergrad BFA show: Seeing Slowly. I was super fortunate to go to Europe to study art history, and I was just enamored with all the sculptures we came across. I wanted to create images of these statues in a way people have never seen before. It felt amazing to accomplish that. I have a few publications with Utah Valley University that I’m proud of as well.

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 2.17.26 AM

“Textures” by Trevor Burt

What effect do you hope your photography will have on people?

Anything that inspires someone to FEEL something is a success in my book. If it stirs emotion, good or bad, it tells me people are growing when they see my imagery. If my work can inspire or change any part of a person to be something more or help discover a piece of themselves then that’s all I could ever ask for.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I hope to be working in a studio or photographing for any of my favorite magazines. There are so many avenues and realms I want to explore with photography, but I hope I’m always doing it with a team or someone.

What’s it like being queer where you live?

Currently I live in northern California and I love it, but I used to live in Utah! I’m not an expert on queer communities, but I feel like each state has a queer community with different stories and habits while having similar themes. I love that each queer community isn’t identical but can be so much the same.

What makes you peculiar?

I love meeting new people. I’ve always found myself to be a wanderer instead of someone who roots himself in one place or with one group of people. I love listening and exploring. I think everyone has something that no one else has. Meeting people, hearing stories about their lives, or seeing how they choose to live their lives opens my eyes to how big and beautiful the world can be.

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Trevor Burt hails from the golden hills of Sacramento, California, but recently finished his BFA in photography at Utah Valley University. He has been featured in various UVU journals such as Touchstones, Essais, Warp + Weave, and recently collaborated on a book of fine art, “Arthur Futurus,” with the Art & Design Department at UVU. When he’s not behind the lens, he can be spotted at his local Target or Chipotle.

Find more of Trevor’s work online at trevorburtphoto.com or follow him on Instagram: @trevorburtphoto.

Upcoming 2019 Poetry, Prose, and Art by Queer Creators

Upcoming 2019

Amanda Steele

Life can get hectic, and it can be hard to take the time to focus on reading and enjoying art. If you feel like you used to love curling up with a good book and want to make more time for that in your life, supporting and participating in art and media by queer creators is always an admirable thing to do. We’ve put together a list of 10 upcoming books (some poetry, some prose) and a couple artists doing exciting things in 2019. You’ll want to get your hands on these, trust us.

Soft+Science+High-Res

Alice James Books

1} Soft Science by Franny Choi

This collection of poetry will be out in April and is created by one of our favorite contemporary queer poets. This poetry book is set to explore intimacy in its many forms and features Choi’s strong, singular use of voice. Expect a lot of humor as well as emotional moments from this chapbook.

when brooklyn was queer

St. Martin’s Press

2} When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan

At peculiar, we love great nonfiction in all its forms. Learning the history of queerness in the United States helps us understand being queer in the modern day. This book tells the history of queer Brooklyn starting in the 1850s and going up through to today. You can get this book starting March 5.

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Image Comics

3} Comic Book Covers by Jen Bartel

Comic books are the perfect medium if you love visual art as well as storytelling. Jen Bartel is a well-known comic book colorist and artist who creates vibrant, eye-catching covers for many Marvel comics. She also regularly opens her own shop and sells feminist and queer pins, patches, fan art, and more. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on her work in 2019.

tradition jericho brown

Copper Canyon Press

4} The Tradition by Jericho Brown

This book of poetry is the third collection put out by Jericho Brown and will be released on April 2. The poetry in this chapbook looks at evil and its normalization in both the past and present. Brown looks at topics such as queerness, fatherhood, trauma, and blackness, and he does so in ways that play with form in new and exciting ways.

unbecoming anuradha bhagwati

Simon & Schuster

5} Unbecoming by Anuradha Bhagwati

This memoir tells the story of Anuradha Bhagwati’s own life, and it’s sure to be an insightful, nuanced book. Bhagwati is a bisexual women of color who tells about her story as a daughter of immigrants from India who then became a queer woman in the military. Now, she’s an advocate for policy reform in the military and wants to change things such as the ban on women having combat roles. Available March 26, 2019.

these witches dont burn

Penguin Teen

6} These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

While serious works of poetry and nonfiction are always loved, sometimes you just need a break to read something a little more fun and upbeat. This novel is about a modern witch in Salem who has to team up with her ex-girlfriend to save her coven and town from a Blood Witch. This book is definitely in the YA category, so if you’re looking for a little palette cleanser that’s a good time, this is a great option. Expected release is May 28, 2019.

jae nichelle

Jae Nichelle

7} The Porch (As Sanctuary) by Jae Nichelle

This collection of poems is the first by Jae Nichelle, a spoken word poet from Atlanta who has received national recognition for her work. Her poetry is sure to combine more traditional forms as well as spoken word techniques and her poems have been described as “eccentric and mysterious.” You can get this collection in July.

hellcat kate leth

Marvel

8} Art, Comics, and Writing of Kate Leth

Kate Leth is a well-known creator on Twitter. She’s a fangirl, hilarious tweeter, and talented artist. Probably her best-known work was Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat for Marvel, she has also written and created other comics. And, like any great queer artist these days, she makes her own enamel pins and fabric patches. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on what she creates this year.

the music of what happens

Levine/Scholastic

9} The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

The Music of What Happens is love-story and coming-of-age story about two boys, Max and Jordan, who on the surface are opposites. One summer in Mesa, Arizona, the two start to fall in love and will have to figure out if getting what they want is worth the risks. If you’re looking for a sweet romantic story to keep you warm on a rainy weekend, you’ll definitely want to check this book out. Plus, this book is already available, so you can start reading it now.

black condition jayy dodd

Nightboat Books

10} The Black Condition ft. Narcissus by jayy dodd

This collection of poems is part-memoir and covers the author’s experience with starting gender transition, using the inauguration of the current administration as a timeline and paralleling device. The poems in this collection are described as being a mix of autobiographical to meditative, and you can get reading when the collection comes out in April.

The works on this list are only the start of all of the exciting, diverse books and art by queer creators being released this year. You’ll be sure to find something you love that makes you laugh or makes you cry, or maybe both.

You can also check out some more on these lists:

https://www.lutherxhughes.com/blog/2019forthcoming

https://bookriot.com/2019/01/02/2019-lgbtq-books/

https://www.hypable.com/most-anticipated-queer-ya-books-2019/

 

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Amanda Steele is a queer poet and writer with a degree in Creative Writing and Gender Studies from Utah Valley University. She was born and raised in Idaho and currently lives in New York City. Amanda works as a freelance writer and blogger and has been published in peculiar, The Dandelion Review, and Sun and Sandstone, among others. She loves to mix her love of writing with her passion for activism and fandom. You can follow her on Twitter: @adamantaflame or on her blog here.

Q&A with Featured Writer: Mia S. Willis

Mia S. Willis

peculiar‘s most recent Featured Writer is Mia S. Willis, who drapes you in their poetry; a small thread of it hooks to you, and before you finish, you trail the words behind you—a train of images you can’t shake. This poetry you can’t untangle yourself from is why we’ve chosen Willis as our featured writer. Their powerful words have earned them a Pushcart Prize nomination, several poetry slam titles, and a soon-to-be-published debut poetry collection. Willis took the time to answer a few questions about their craft, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share their responses with you.

When did you start writing?

I wrote my first poem after the sudden death of my oldest sister, Brandi, in 2012. In fact, my early work is comprised mostly of lyrical missives to her à la Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Woman. These pieces stand as a monument to my grief; they were and perhaps still are the most benevolent but necessary exorcism both for Brandi and for me.

Why do you write?

I think of my writing as an extension of my Rinzai Zen Buddhist meditation; it allows me to understand the world and to survive it. In a way, I believe I’ve developed Stockholm Syndrome for life in this queer Black body. Some days it is a cage; others it is an oculus. I am alive on these days whether I want to be or not, and so long as this is true, I will write so that I can continue to, as Dominique Christina once put it, “crawl out of graves”.

What poets and writers do you read?

Danez Smith. Maggie Nelson. M. Less. Ariana Brown. Lindsay Young. Thích Nhất Hạnh. Dominique Christina. Rainer Maria Rilke. Justice Ameer. Asia Bryant-Wilkerson.

What’s your writing process?

My process is incredibly emotional; I am usually driven by questions of morality, of gender, of nationality, and of culture. These queries are typically products of happenings in my daily life; for example, the titular poem in my forthcoming chapbook, “monster house.”, serves as my exploration of the ways in which physical spaces have the power to exorcise those who inhabit them (either with permission or by force). It was borne out of a negative experience I had with a white cisgender man™ in which he appropriated work written by a feminine poet (who is also my partner) about their experiences in girlhood. The poem “how to exorcise a boy (monster house).” serves as my response to this offense: “this house is a monster ready to make a meal out of any mortal bold enough to desecrate its hallowed ground”.

What inspires you to write?

“Everything is everything.”  – NoName, Room 25 (2018)

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I’m currently working on a collection of kwansabas (African American celebration poems) on the subject of my Black queer body. This creative process is allowing me to fall in love with both the words I write and the topic(s) on which I write them.

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?

My favorite review came from a poetry slam attendee who said that my work is reminiscent of a “sadder, gayer Freddie Brooks from A Different World”. From this comment, I gleaned that my work gives most folx a joyful Black queer sandwich cookie with a dollop of melancholy in the middle. I’m largely content with that analysis.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

  1. Faithful to myself and others. “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.”  – Hebrews 11:1, The Bible (4000s BCE-96 AD)
  2. Happy. “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”  – Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations (161-180 AD)
  3. In love with myself and others. “Every person is a world to explore.”  – Thích Nhất Hạnh, How to Love (2014)

What’s it like being queer where you live?

I grew up in North Carolina, a place where Black queer folx are hung either on the cross or in their closets. The hardest thing I have ever done is continue to live when I wanted to die. “Remember that none of it killed me; that all of it could have.”  – Dominique Christina, The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm: A Colored Girl’s Hymnal (2014)

Thankfully, because of my father and my queer chosen family, I survived the shame and I am still unlearning it. My queer family is multiracial and multigenerational. Our gender and romantic identities combine in more ways than mismatched socks. We counsel each other through good times and bad. We cook meals for one another. We read each other’s poems. We watch ridiculous television shows together. We give one another the space to exist exactly as we are. This is the kind of home I had to run away in order to find.

What makes you peculiar?

My undergraduate degrees are in Anthropology and Classical Civilization. I am currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Classical Archaeology and am writing my thesis on the syncretism of Apollo and the Thracian Horseman in Hellenistic Thrace. My education has trained me to be a student of the world in both the past and the present as well as to interrogate the motives of those who claim to be its teachers. My time in academia has demonstrated to me that a) Black is the beginning, b) queer transcends space, time, and language, and c) nothing is nothing, therefore no one is no one.

 

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Mia S. Willis is a 23-year-old African American artist and adventurer from Charlotte, North Carolina. Mia is a recipient of the 2018 Foothill Editors’ Prize for their poem “hecatomb,” which was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Their work has been showcased by WORDPEACE, Foothill: a Journal of Poetry, Button Poetry and Slamfind. In 2018, Mia ranked fourth out of 96 femme poets at the Women of the World Poetry Slam, placed fifth out of 150 poets at the Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam, and won the Capturing Fire Slam. They were also a member of Tender Bitch, the winning poetry performance team at the 2018 Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam Tournament. Mia’s debut poetry collection, “monster house.”, was the 2018 winner of the Cave Canem Foundation’s Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and will be published by Jai-Alai Books in April 2019.

11 Writing Prompts for Winter and the Holidays

by Amanda Steele

Writing Prompts for Winter.jpg

The holidays are here and winter is upon us. If you live in a colder climate, you might be enjoying a winter wonderland, and if you live where it’s warm, you get to enjoy the holiday season under the sun. Winter can be a great time to reflect on the year before and spend some time curled up by a fire or your holiday decorations. For writers, this makes December the ideal time to actually re-focus on your craft and write a few new poems or stories. With school breaks and days off work, even though the season is hectic, it’s always fulfilling to find some time to let things be still around you and write something new.

We know that finding inspiration can be difficult at times, and sometimes starting a new work is just a matter of beginning. If you’re looking for some winter/holiday themed prompts to get your creative blood flowing, we’ve collected eleven ideas to get you started. Often, you’ll find that once you get started, the words are there. Feel free to try just one prompt or to go through them all. Once you’re done, share your poem or story with us if you want as we would love to read it!

1: Write a poem that uses three of these words: cranberry, santa, snow, candles, solstice, crackle, dreidel, and tresses.

2: Write a poem or story describing what it feels like to go from a cold, windy day outside to the warmth of the indoors.

3: Write about a favorite holiday or winter memory, but write it in third person as if you’re the main character.

4: Write a holiday or winter poem that uses a lot of imagery, but don’t use any typical words like snow, white, santa, christmas tree, frosty, etc.

5: Look outside your window and write a descriptive paragraph or poem describing your view. To switch things up, choose a favorite poet or author and try to write using their same style.

6: Write a few winter haikus. Remember it’s three lines. The first line has five syllables. The second line has seven, and the last line has five.

7: Write an acrostic poem using a favorite holiday or winter word such as yuletide or Hanukkah. An acrostic poem is when the first, last, or middle letters in the poem write out a word or phrase.

Such as:

See the falling diamonds of water

Nestling into the snow-covered sidewalk

Over our heads the blackbirds circle and caw

Wildly, a cacophony of noise and dark above

8:  To switch things up, write some journal entries about your life or about anything that is going on. You can be as formal or informal as you want. Sometimes it just helps to start writing and get used to being in the habit again.

9: Write about a bad holiday or winter memory you have and put it in poetic form. Try to use concrete images where you use all of the senses. See if you can include descriptions for sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound.

10: Write a short story that is no longer than 300 words where you introduce the idea of winter as a persona or character. What would the character wear, say, look like?

11: Once you’ve written a few of these prompts, try splicing two of them together into a new form and see what you can create.

Now, get to writing! We hope you have a cozy and fantastic holiday and winter season!

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Amanda Steele is a queer poet and writer with a degree in Creative Writing and Gender Studies from Utah Valley University. She was born and raised in Idaho and currently lives in New York City. Amanda works as a freelance writer and blogger and has been published in peculiar, The Dandelion Review, and Sun and Sandstone, among others. She loves to mix her love of writing with her passion for activism and fandom. You can follow her on Twitter: @adamantaflame or on her blog here.

Finding Support as a Queer Person During Thanksgiving: Resources and Community

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by Amanda Steele

Thanksgiving can be a holiday full of delicious food that often only gets eaten once or twice a year like banana cream and pumpkin pies and all those homemade rolls. The idea of having a holiday where we can enjoy a feast with those we care about is a lovely idea. But, while some queer people have supportive family members, many others don’t. Thanksgiving and other holidays can be stressful or painful for anyone who has strained or broken relationships with their family members.

If you’re a queer person who finds yourself without family support during this time of year, it can be difficult to face. This is often why finding a support group of friends and creating your own family is so important to many in our community. It’s something many of us talk about frequently. Often out of necessity, queer people band together to create strong bonds of support and love with people they aren’t related to. This idea of a found family can be especially needed during Thanksgiving and other family-centered events.

Thanksgiving can be especially difficult for marginalized members of the queer community. Certain members of our community face even more ostracization and bigotry in society, and sometimes among others in the community, sadly.

Transgender people find that they face even more discrimination and violence than cisgender members of the queer community. There are resources out there to offer support and help to transgender individuals.

Here are just a few of the resources available. If you are struggling during this time of year, the trans lifeline is a hotline you can call for help and support.

https://www.translifeline.org/

https://www.equalityutah.org/issues/transgender

https://transgenderlawcenter.org/

When talking about Thanksgiving, it’s also important to talk about Indigenous people in the United States, especially Indigenous queer people in our community. Across the country, indigenous queer folx, and nonqueer people too, face increased difficulties and dangers surrounding violence toward indigenous women, youth suicide, education, health, and other issues. The way that Thanksgiving is presented as a positive sort of mythos in the country can be very problematic. While we aren’t saying you can’t enjoy food with your family and friends and be grateful for what you have, it’s important to listen to Indigenous voices and provide support.

Here are a few resources to start learning how you can help:

https://firstnations.org/about

https://indianlaw.org/issue/ending-violence-against-native-women

While the holidays can be a rough time for many of us, you are not alone. Search out specific resources in your community that you can reach out to for help. You can also find national resources. It can be hard to reach out on your own, but often people in your community are already putting together events in your area to help you find community and support.

If you are in a position that you can, one idea to help your fellow queer people out is to host a Friendsgiving dinner of some kind either before, during, or after the actual Thanksgiving Day. And, if you know someone who isn’t welcome or comfortable at their family Thanksgiving dinner, invite them to yours if possible.

It’s vital that those in our community who have support and privilege use their resources to reach out to others in the community who are still struggling or who face more bigotry and oppression. Those of us who have the ability should work to support others and try to do our part to cultivate a spirit of giving, connection, and intersectionality during this time of year.

If you need support during the holidays, you can reach out to these resources:

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/#sm.0001vfwqsbv55f2z11gnlf94cpepp

https://www.translifeline.org/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/

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Amanda Steele is a queer poet and writer with a degree in Creative Writing and Gender Studies from Utah Valley University. She was born and raised in Idaho and currently lives in New York City. Amanda works as a freelance writer and blogger and has been published in peculiar, The Dandelion Review, and Sun and Sandstone, among others. She loves to mix her love of writing with her passion for activism and fandom. You can follow her on Twitter: @adamantaflame or on her blog here.