During 2016, the Spotlight Series focuses on two poets per month whose work and consciousness move us, challenge us, inspire us. This month’s first poet is Margaret Bashaar.
Fox Frazier-Foley: Talk to me about the core of your creative drive and the expression it finds through poetry. There are lots of ways to be creative in this world—what motivates you to write poems, specifically? Additionally, what motivates you to navigate the poebiz landscape?
Margaret Bashaar: As far as I can recall I’ve always been driven to create—I think most people are, honestly, it’s just a matter of cultivating that drive. I’ve created in a lot of different mediums—I used to sing for many years (I took voice lessons for almost 10 years), I played the violin when I was younger, I used to draw and paint a lot—but poetry was always the medium that I carried with me no matter what other art form I was dabbling in. And honestly it’s the one I’m best at and I’ve been most able to grow and develop within. There was always a ceiling to my ability with other art forms. I have yet to find an endpoint to my growth and curiosity in poetry.
I hate the “poebiz landscape,” truthfully. I think the landscape as it currently stands is detrimental to art and the creation of art. I could rant about why and how all day, but to specifically answer your question, I navigate the poebiz landscape because if I want to share my work, it is part of what I must do. I also routinely work around the poebiz world to share and create poetry and promote and celebrate the poetry of others, so I think part of my motivation in navigating the poebiz landscape is to find new and exciting ways to try to subvert it.
FFF: What are your influences—creatively (esp in terms of other media/other art), personally, and socially/politically?
MB: I always cite T.S. Eliot as one of my influences, because reading “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” when I was in the 6th grade was what made me want to be a poet. Now having a child who is in the 6th grade, I also realize how ridiculous I was to be a 6th grade fan of that poem.
I draw a lot on horror imagery—I’m a fairly delicate, sensitive soul (I swear) and when I was a child I was exceptionally fearful. Like, lie awake at night almost every night genuinely afraid that some unseen horror was lurking in my closet ready to devour me levels of fearful. I think there is a part of me that still has those fears, and so rather than lie around worrying about them, I write them into poems. So there’s a lot of body horror and a lot of people being eaten in my poetry. I’ve had my work compared to films like Trouble Every Day and Martyrs (the original 2008 version).
Though on the subject of body horror, I got an infection in my brain when I was about 12 years old. It affected my basal ganglia, and made me unable to walk or talk for a bit over 6 months. I think some of my desire to dissect the body in my work comes from that—seeing my body as this weird alien thing that wouldn’t do anything I wanted it to at a very formative time in my life. I have some brain damage from that, and while I cannot tell you exactly where that comes out in my poetry, I know that it does—it’s this sort of floating constant, having my brain/body connection always a tiny bit out of my control. It definitely causes me to focus on the body in my work.
FFF: Describe your aesthetic as a poet. What do you value? What do you try to do with/in your work? What, to you, makes cool art/literature? What’s most important for you in a poem, or in a book of poems—as author and as reader?
MB: A professor of mine in college introduced me to Dadaism and Surrealism, and the work both of those movements did in regards to drawing unexpected, startling imagery into poetry and creating unexpected equivalencies in work has stuck with me. I think that really helped shape my aesthetics quite a bit.
If I am being honest, though, most of what I have been trying to do with my poetry anymore is just fucking have fun. If I don’t step away from something I wrote with at least some level of glee at having written, lately I have been questioning why I even spent the time writing that particular piece. I write because I love the act of writing, and I write because I need to write. The writing is the important part—that act of creation and spell-work. And I look for that as a reader, too—if I read a poem or a collection and it feels urgent and it feels like some manner of euphoria came from the creation of the work, I am more likely to enjoy that piece.
FFF: Tell me, if you’re willing, about something—an experience, a piece of art, anything really—that has fundamentally moved and/or shaped you as a person. What was the experience? What was it like? How did it shape you as an artist/poet?
MB: A few years ago I met this woman in my local artist community and we HATED each other. I thought she was a bitch, she thought I was a stuck-up cunt and we were each annoyed that the other’s friends were also our friends. But somehow, in spite of this, our mutual friend Skot saw something about both of us that made him think we would make the best of friends. So he sort of shoved us together and demanded that we get along. I guess we both like Skot enough that we played nice with each other for long enough to realize that we actually DID like each other and that our initial impressions had been totally and completely wrong. And the woman I thought was a bitch is Rachael Deacon and she’s actually the best human person friend I know and now we run FREE POEMS together and make arts anarchy and I wrote about her in my first book, Stationed Near the Gateway (Sundress Publications, 2015) and she painted the cover art for the book, and I think the moral of the story is that Rachael Deacon is awesome. In all seriousness, though, Rachael IS great, and I feel like it’s really easy to miss that person who jives with you and your philosophy and work over petty crap or an awkward first impression. I feel very fortunate to have a friend like Skot who saw that Rachael and I would get along and cared enough to work to get us to see that too, and to have had the opportunity to try again with someone who has become an amazing friend and the best collaborator in art and arts event creation I ever could have asked for.
FFF: Name a book or two that you think everyone should read, and tell us a little bit about what makes it/them so mind-blowingly awesome.
MB: Joshua Jennifer Espinoza’s i’m alive / it hurts / i love it is one of those books that, whenever someone asks me about poetry that I think is truly great I always mention. She’s such an amazing poet—I feel like far too much of poetry right now is focused on perfecting craft at the expense of musicality and movement, and Espinoza’s work really is some of the most gorgeous, musical writing I have come across in years. I cried reading this book, and I’m not a crier when it comes to poetry. Her writing is THAT moving.
I also really love Deathless, by Catherynne Valente. It’s not necessarily poetry, but Valente’s prose is so gorgeous in Deathless that I would read a few lines and then go back and reread it just because the writing is that deliciously beautiful. It’s pleasurable and satisfying to read in a way that I’d not before experienced with prose. It’s poetic, but without losing its sense of story and movement, which I find is often a problem in fiction that is going for poetic language.
FFF: Anything you want to talk about pertaining to your art/craft/literary or writing life that I didn’t ask?
MB: I’m good! These were pretty solid questions that made me go all think-y. So that’s enough thinking for a bit, there
Margaret Bashaar’s first book of poetry, Stationed Near the Gateway, was released by Sundress Publications in early 2015. She has chapbooks from Grey Book Press, Blood Pudding Press, and Tilt Press, and her poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including New South, Caketrain, The Southeast Review, Copper Nickel, and Menacing Hedge, among others. Her most recent chapbook, Some Other Stupid Fruit, was released by Agape Editions earlier this year and is available through THEThe Poetry Blog. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she edits Hyacinth Girl Press and encourages art anarchy.