Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Lesleigh Owen, poet extraordinaire

As promised, an interview with the amazing Lesleigh Owen (aka Elle Hill). To supplement this, I recommend that people read Lesleigh's poems in Fat Poets Speak. That is one way to discern just how awesome Lesleigh and her writing are.


1. When did you write your first poem?  When did you write your first "fat" poem?
I wrote my first real poem at the age of thirteen. It was an anti-Vietnam War sonnet. Yeah, Shakespeare twisted a little in his grave that day. As for my first explicitly fat-themed poem, I penned a freestyle one entitled “Boogeywoman” around 2000. I used it in my fat zine (so 90s!) by the same name. 
 
 
2. Which poets/Whose poetry do you like most?
I have mad love for Sylvia Plath. Her poems evoke so much feeling through her rich descriptions and her persistent messing with interiority and exteriority.  Her work inspires me to reach deep into myself – in this bloody, painful, visceral way – for ways to express and understand issues far bigger than me. Emily Dickinson also rocks my socks. Such a dry, quiet, and brilliant wit. More contemporarily, I am always moved and inspired by the luscious, fat-positive works of Susan Stinson. And finally, I love the poetry of my friend and mentor, Frannie Zellman, who somehow manages to straddle the line between lush and sparse, interior and exterior. I have so much to learn from all these verbal artists.
 
 
3. Tell us about your muse or muses :)
My muse’s name is Shi-Shi, and she’s much more interested in playing with the cats than ensuring I remain inspired. I’m enormously fond of Shi-Shi, you understand, but I do kind of wish she would spend a little more time cramming my brain with brilliant ideas. She’d rather play hide-and-seek with the kitties’ catnip toys, though, than be bothered with such petty concerns.
 
Given my muse’s more hands-off approach, I’ve developed a bunch of strategies for inspiring myself. When it comes to poetry, I will often place my hands on the keyboard and tell them they can’t stop writing, even if the words on the screen don’t make sense or, worse, are loaded with clich├ęs. This is a great, organic method for pushing past writer’s block and birthing poems. Heck, it’s also pretty good therapy.
 
 
4. What is the most important thing for poets, especially fat poets, to remember?
Their greatest source of inspiration can come from the very body that places its fingers on the keyboard and sits its butt in the computer chair. Our bodies are wonderlands; they’re symphonies of delight. My fat body is a garden of sensory input. What more could we ask for? Living in this body, listening to the music of my thighs rubbing together, feeling gravity tug me in a way very different than someone thinner, seeing my lush body fill a mirror, I find endless sources of inspiration. I am endless sources of inspiration.
 
From an artistic perspective, it’s also wonderful to realize fatness can serve as a new lens for many of our readers. Over seven billion people occupy this planet; we hear all the time about the impossibility of new and creative art. Yes, we are bombarded with images and words about the human body. However, only particular kinds of bodies are highlighted. Right now, we celebrate – even worship – thin bodies. Art pays homage to it, magazines glorify it, novels and poetry rhapsodize about it. As fat poets, we have the opportunity to grab those images, sounds, and words and map them onto our larger bodies.  What does a fat fairy tale look like? What does fat sex feel like? How do racism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of oppression change when we place them in fat contexts? Everything becomes new when we shift the focus from thin to fat. This is both validating for people of size and educational (and interesting) for smaller persons.
 
 
5. How do your cats influence your writing?
I nominate this for best question of the year!
 
I did write one poem about my fattest cat, Sabhu. It’s called, appropriately, “Fat Cat.” Less literally, I credit my cats with a lot of my equanimity. I’m a pretty calm, happy person who enjoys communing with my body and journeying inside my mind. I find a lot of pleasure in being me. I’m quite sure my cats are largely responsible.
 
 
6.  Tell us a little about the place in which you share your poems in South Dakota.
Last spring, a student told me about a local poetry contest. I immediately entered and ended up winning. Yay! This was my introduction to the High Plains Writers’ Group, which focuses on all things literary. They recently sponsored a poetry reading, which is pretty much my idea of heaven, since I design a lot of my poetry as performance pieces. I performed three of them, two of which were explicitly fat positive. They were a hit!
 
Thank goodness for this group and for this opportunity to share my creativity. Living in South Dakota, which isn’t exactly a haven for progressive ideas, I’d probably explode all over the state if I didn’t have some way of getting my creative groove on.
 
Next stop: Poet Laureate of South Dakota!
 
 
7. What is your favorite among poems that you wrote?
I’m definitely not opposed to hierarchizing my poems, but I honestly don’t think I can choose one. I’m super fond of “Lilith,” a poem celebrating Adam’s first wife. I did a lot of research into Lilith before writing the poem; as such, it teems with symbolism. I’m also in pretty hopeless love with “Ceres,” a poem about autumn, my favorite season. I recently wrote a poem about a humiliating medical experience and recorded myself reading it. I’m honored to know it served a very political and educational purpose for a group of nursing students. Finally, I really like “Soft,” a freestyle poem that meanders everywhere, winding throughout my experiences of a fat and queer woman, before finally reminding everyone that the softest things are often the toughest.
 
Thanks for the interview questions, Frannie!
 
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time
to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.
~Miss Piggy 

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