i love you, it looks like rain is the first full length collection of poetry and short fiction from New-Orleans based poet June Gehringer. It was published in August by Be About It Press. Recently I spoke with June about her book, and how wild it is to be a human in 2017.
Zorko: There is a divide between what we can say in our poetry and in real life, and I’ve always thought of poetry as a space where people really can say what they feel. And I think your poems often say something plainly when it needs to be said plainly. Not “plain” as in boring, but direct and with real feeling and emotion. And I found this to be one of the most refreshing things about the book, in both the poetry and the fiction. It’s something I find in all of the poetry I really enjoy.
June: I think it’s sort of criminal that people feel they aren’t allowed to communicate emotionally, directly, and beautifully in everyday speech. A lot of that has to do with how we’ve constructed the gender roles in our society. When I write, I try to take everyday language and direct it toward beauty, which, to me, seems an inherently political act.
In the same turn, I also think that a lot of poems, especially poems that come out of academia, give poetry a bad reputation–specifically a reputation for snobbery, or maybe inscrutability. You’ve heard this before–close friends admitting over drinks that they love you, but that they “just don’t get poetry.” And so when I write in everyday language, that’s something I’m trying to push against and draw into question. Because I think at heart poetry is maybe the most democratic art form–all you need to practice it are a pen, paper, and a voice. I think it’s a shame that certain strains of capital-P Poetry tend to obscure that sometimes.
Zorko: Judging by references to current events etc. it seems like much of the collection is fairly recent work. Part of what I like about it is its immediacy. It is a book I want to read right now, and one I’ll want to read in the future to remember what “right now” felt like, at least partly what it felt like. How quickly did this collection come together for you?
June: This book was written slowly, over the course of the last three years. But looking back, it all feels like one long, slightly nauseating moment. The oldest piece in this book is a poem called Golden Mountain, which was actually my first published poem (shout out to New Bile!!! http://www.new-bile.com/vol-2/golden-mountain).
Being alive in 2017 is fucking strange. At the same time as everything that’s happening is strange, confusing, and frequently terrifying, it also feels eerily familiar. It’s a bit like walking into your childhood bedroom only to find that your parents have converted it into a home office. I recognize everything, but none of it is mine.
I think this is definitely a book for “right now”, but I’m also interested to see how the work ages. Much of this book is already so old that it feels almost completely unfamiliar to me–as if someone else had wrote it. I think a lot of writers feel this way. Already, this book is, for me, sort of a phone line to connect me to past selves. Maybe that’s true of all collections–that they are in many ways, collections of the people we have been. I guess I’m just hoping that all those folks have something more or less interesting to say to one another.
Zorko: You write about the futility of believing in fantasies like “an ideal world” and I think a lot of the poems are about turning to the world as it is, the really eerie and strange and fucked up world, like you said. There’s no way to escape it, and why would you want to? In the book there is this search for happiness and transformation, which is kind of always desperate.
June: I personally tend to oscillate between thinking that the world is insanely beautiful place that we’re lucky to get to experience and recognizing the crushing weight of everything that’s wrong with it. The world is insanely beautiful and insanely fucked, all at once.
I think I’m at my best as a writer when I’m able to realize those two truths simultaneously, without compromising on either one. There’s this maybe natural, survival urge within me toward a comforting numbness, in which all the terrors of the world become blunted by malaise. And it’s true that when I let myself become numb like that, it’s easier to survive, but all the beauty gets blunted too.
I find myself remembering a recent conversation I had with Laura Theobald, who has been a great friend to me the last year or so. As we discussed how difficult it’s been for the both of us, and for many of our friends, just to get by this year, I remember her saying “survival is not enough”.
Writing this book was an act of survival, for me, and I hope that reading it can be, too. There are poems in here that are designed to make you want to jump out of bed to marvel in awe at the beauty of it all, or whatever. But there are also poems that want to hold you there. To comfort you on days when it all seems like too much.
Zorko: That’s where laughter and humor comes in, I feel. A kind of humor that doesn’t trivialize things. So calling yourself “Justin Timberlake owner of Myspace.com,” for example, is kind of a way of showing how wild and ridiculous it is that everyone is under so much pressure to identify a certain way, or articulate their identity in a certain way. It’s not numbness, I don’t think. I don’t like the kind of humor where it’s like, “ahhahaha fuck everything nothing matters.” I don’t think of that as funny. But I think taking a humorous outlook on a lot of things is productive way to live in the world. Does that make sense?
June: It definitely makes it a lot easier to live in the world, when you can laugh at it. And, paradoxically, I think the absurd is something that can draw many of us together. like, we’re all affronted with this tidal wave of meaninglessness basically every day of our lives. It’s not just nice to laugh, but, i think, necessary.
It’s funny, the first person I shared that Justin Timberlake poem with was my roommate at the time, a really fuzzy, lovable cis dude. He laughed, but the first thing he said to me was “that’s not a poem I would expect a trans person to write”.
Being trans is mostly awesome, but it sucks sometimes. No matter how public or political I personally choose to be, my body is more or less a political battleground. And it’s exhausting, carrying around the weight of all that ideological warfare every day. So, I wanted to write a poem where it was fun. Like, “fuck it, fuck you, i’m justin timberlake. i own myspace. hell yea.” and I think there’s more to the poem than just the humor, but I think that’s something that’s so important to me – that humor or lightness. Or maybe just the chance to take a breath.
I remember this Rilke poem in which god or someone is speaking to an unborn child. and god or whoever says something to the effect of “ahead is the country they call life. you will know it by its seriousness.” It’s true that life is incredibly serious, that our lives feel serious and heavy and difficult, but life is also silly. It’s not part serious and part ridiculous, but all of both, all the time. So at the same time as it’s all a fucking joke, it’s also the most important, serious thing ever to happen to any of us. Probably the only thing ever to happen to us.
Zorko: I love EARTH IS AN ANAGRAM FOR HEART, U FUCKING IDIOTS, and for me it kind of made up the center of the book, meaning that I kept coming back to it, and I think if I had to give someone a clue about what the books is all about I’d show them that piece.
June: It makes me happy to hear that! That piece is a difficult one for me, mostly because I think it’s one of the poems in which I am most unabashedly myself. It’s funny, you can travel and perform and publish and Do All The Things, but, for me, I kind of relish those moments in which sharing my work still feels like a radically vulnerable act. Anecdotally, the first few times I performed this poem at readings I ended up getting sort of embarrassingly choked up, and I didn’t really expect to. Sometimes I still do.
To me, EARTH IS AN ANAGRAM is a survival poem, and maybe that’s why I’ve never been quite comfortable reading it. For me, and for a lot of folks like me, survival isn’t comfortable. It is an ugly, un-romantic, daily struggle. I wrote this poem in an attempt to convince myself that the struggle is worth it. And so, yeah, it makes me incredibly happy that this poem resonates with you, because I think that’s what I want my art to do. That maybe in the act of attempting to convince myself, I can help to convince someone else. That there are enough beautiful things. That this life is worth it.
Zorko: You mentioned performing the piece and the feelings that came along with that. I know you have performed a lot in the past year. You have toured the country, and perhaps one day you’ll tour the whole world! I hear you might tour again? What has touring done for you as a writer and a person?
June: Yeah!!! I’m touring again in October!!! Tour is the best thing ever. I can’t really think of a way to describe it that won’t sound saccharine or cliché, but meeting beautiful queer poets surviving and thriving in 20 different cities 20 days in a row is uhhhhhhh pretty cool.
Zorko: I had no idea it was that many cities! That’s an incredible tour.
June: I think it was actually 18? I don’t really know to be honest. We were on the road for most of a month so it all kind of blurs together. But yes, it was incredible.
Zorko: This was the first time I’ve read your fiction, and I found it exciting, and I think that the poetry flowed well into the fiction, like it wasn’t jarring. I even found that in a lot of cases the fiction pieces seem more abstract than the poetry. Do you think the way you approach fiction and poetry is very different?
June: Thematically, I view my fiction and poems as being very similar. I’m trying to talk about all the same things: love, loss, survival, family, race, class, gender, etc. but I think from a technical standpoint as a writer, yes, I approach the two very differently. There are so many additional considerations that come with writing fiction–character, plot, chronology, etc. that make the medium, for me at least, very difficult.
As a reader, I’ve had a way longer, and perhaps more loving relationship with fiction than I have had with poetry. I’ve been reading and loving and reading fiction since I was very small and I think all of that makes it very difficult for me to actually write fiction. Writing poems for me is sort of an immediate, emotional act. It’s almost like the difference between a one-night-stand and a long-distance, long-term relationship.
Zorko: I dig that. That’s a good way of putting it. I am really interested to know where you found the image for the cover? I love it! (A person giving the “hang loose” sign and drinking a Budweiser with a rainbow in the background)
June: That’s actually a picture of my dad! One of my best and oldest friends, a photographer named Jake Greve, took it at my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner. That photo is a pretty sentimental thing for me at the same time as, I think, being just visually hilarious and kind of cathartic. It took maybe 20 minutes of brainstorming with Zoe, who co-edits tenderness with me, to settle on that photo for the cover.
Zorko: Wow! That’s amazing! I think it’s such an incredible picture. The first time I saw it I was like, damn I wish I had a picture of myself like that one. So it’s neat to hear that it’s actually a picture of your dad. I do agree it’s kind of cathartic and like, uplifting. I like when a cover interacts with the work inside a book and gives the reader a clue about it. I think that it definitely does that.
You mentioned you’re going on tour again in October. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about? Any other projects in the works?
June: I run a small press and lit mag that I’m very proud of over at tendernessyea.com . we’ve published two excellent books this year, one by Zoe Blair-Schlagenhauf and the other by El Pearson, both dear friends and incredible poets. We also just published our first print issue, which is very exciting!
Additionally, I recently finished working on a new chap, tentatively titled GAY 2, which I’m very excited about and have been shopping around (publishers… hit me up ;)). I think the chap works very well as kind of a darker, and maybe more mature b-side to this book, and so I’m excited because I think the two works have a lot to say to each other.
Zorko: Thanks for talking with me! This was fun let’s do it again.
June: Greg, I’m never talking to you again. jk this was fun i enjoyed it a lot. Thanks so much :))))
i love you, it looks like rain is available for purchase here: https://www.createspace.com/7504735