BY BEYZA OZER
BO: hi jamie. you're my favorite. can you talk about a few projects you're working on right now?
JM: hi beyza!!!!
sooo, i work on a thingy called voicemail poems and i really love it and it’s really picking up steam and we have so many great writers calling us and i work with amy saul-zerby, j. larry, anya bychko, and brinna dessert on this and they are WONDERFUL.
aaaaands i’m wrapping up things for my new poetry collection some planet with yesyes books and i am so so excited to see this come to life (it’ll be out in time for AWP and i’ll be reading from it!!!) it’s been ~5 years in the making. i’m simultaneously working on my next book tentatively titled ‘good morning america i am hungry and on fire’on and off.
over the past year, i really discovered a love for doing performance poetry and i’ve been competing in slams in the MA, NH, and VT areas. i really want to go to NPS even if i don’t make it on a team i think that would be really cool thing to see. i never had anything like that early in my life so i’m having a lot of fun.
i also do this project called today/tonight/remember and it’s this thing i started doing because when i was still on prozac it made me wake up in the middle of the night and i’d check weather and moon cycle stuff and i did the first one randomly like this and then this person reblogged it and it looked cool like that so i decided to make them in photoshop whenever i woke up before sunrise and had an idea. i can’t post them if it’s not before sunrise it’s a thing.
BO: what emojis would you use to describe your next book?
JM: because i am a capricorn i went through the manuscript for some planet page by page tried to come up with at least one emoji for each poem/theme:
i can’t wait for you to see how stupidly accurate this is also i’m sorry.
BO: what planet do you identify with & why?
JM: i think i could spend a long time agonizing over this question but i’m gonna go with mercury because i always think of it as this whirling dervish in the sky moving fast and doing all the things and simultaneously being so hot and so cold (it has the greatest temperature range of all the planets) just so tiny and free and mercury was a roman god that delivered messages and sometimes i feel like that’s what poeming is sometimes and also like, people tend to stare at the sky and the calendar and blame mercury when they should be taking every opportunity to fight for themselves (did i get too real on that one?)
BO: who are some trans/gender non-conforming poets you love & want the rest of the world to love?
JM: ok. REQUISITE reading and listening: sara woods, joshua jennifer espinoza, ethan smith, codi suzanne oliver, alok vaid-menon, jos charles
i hate these questions because as soon as you publish it i’m gonna be like OH CRUD AND ALSO this person and this person
BO: how has coming out affected your place in the writing community?
JM: this is such a difficult question because it has both affected my place in the writing world a lot and also not at all. people kind of always knew i was queer, they just didn’t know the details and really, the artists i spend time with really don’t care. i mean, of course they care. but they don’t mind not knowing. they listen whenever you are ready to speak. and that is so very valuable. i remember when i first got booked at moonlighting (boston poetry slam’s queer reading series) about a year ago i was so flattered but also not really out-out and was still trying to understand a lot of things about myself. i also don’t have a lot of work that i would say is explicitly queer. a lot of what i’m working out is really under the surface. imposter syndrome is a really real thing. people that inhabit middle spaces are often super scared of being erased. i always wondered if i was gay enough to my gay friends.
i often worry that i will be pre-judged for being a bisexual person who has up until the past couple of years only pursued romantic relationships with ciswomen. i always wondered if i was genderqueer enough to my trans friends. i got booked for a trans/nbd/female reading at UNH this month and i am SO excited for it but there’s also this internal war that happens to people like me. i am always like, am i really deserving of this attention because 1. there is still so much i still need to understand about myself and my identity and 2. isn’t there someone more worthy of this? someone who is a little less of a cloud when it comes to things? someone who really KNOWS THEMSELVES? i’d really like to be that person but it is so so hard but i am not. i’m changing all the time but the hardest part is like, crap, i pass as a boy so often. i pass as a hetero person so often. these are weird privileges that i hate but benefit from but i am also am hurt by them. wow this is turning into a bit of rambling essay here.
i could go on. i think another hard thing is really feeling like i am worthy of submitting to magazines or issues dedicated to fem/trans/nb people. a lot of times i’m too afraid to submit to those things. i have recently. but only because the pieces i submitted were explicitly about gender identity. wow. feel free to edit this and/or cut it down.
BO: do you think there are any specific limitations for trans/gender non-conforming people in the writing community & if so, like what?
JM: i feel really privileged in this regard. all the writing communities i have inhabited have been super inclusive in general. gender identity, race, sexuality, etc. sometimes i really fear that i live in a bubble in this regard. it was so easy for me to talk to other writers about being genderqueer/nb. maybe i’m just projecting but i feel like 90% of my favorite writers/artists that i know and admire are queer in some regard. if we’re talking about mainstream ‘literature’ then yeah. the space trans people deserve is much larger than what currently exists and we have yet to carve it out for ourselves. then you run into the whole problem of like, do we even want to? it depends on who you ask.
i feel like i’m really unqualified to answer this question because of aforementioned privilege of being in very safe spaces my whole life. i just encourage people to really step back at their communities and be like, hm, how inclusive is this community? how much better could it be? what can i do to make that happen? also, everyone should check out this awesome (and weirdly cute) interactive illustration of diversity dynamics.
BO: what's a book or poem that changed your life & can you talk a little bit about what it means to you?
JM: there are just so many that i’m just not going to try to figure out which of them is the most important one. i am going to pick the first one that pops into my head right this instant and run with it. and that is richard brautigan’s revenge of the lawn short story collection. it just blew me away. specifically this tiny, beautiful story. it still kind of makes me happy cry and i really worry that it’s one of those things where it’s like ‘john, we’re sorry, it’s just you, no one else loves this like you love it, it’s…okay…we guess…’but i think i really like revenge of the lawn a lot and keep coming back to it because these are just tiny tiny stories that contain a weird magic that i don’t even think brautigan even understood.
they also really challenged me to hang onto tenderness, fun, humility, and absurdity, even in the really dark times. i just remember getting my hands on that book at the library one day and looking at the card and seeing how no one had like checked it out at all since forever and i just felt like i found this really wonderful treasure.
BO: if you had to pick a title for your life, what would it be?
JM: i seem to really like titles, maybe because they are easier than actual things, so i went through my twitter account
BO: do you have any advice for trans/gender non-conforming writers?
JM: so i only have my own perspective but every now and then people ask me for help and i try my best. i’ve said this a lot in some replies to tumblr asks but i’ll say some of it again (sort of): you don’t have to prove anything to anyone but yourself. you don’t owe anyone an explanation. the people that love you will take you as you are. the people that love you will respect your wishes when it comes to pronouns. just like gender or sexuality, identity is so often fluid. as you discover yourself, carve out space for yourself. i know it’s hard but you gotta own your identity and selfhood with pride. people respond to confidence. when i stopped being scared and casually said to an acquaintance ‘hey actually i’d prefer you didn’t call my your bro because i don’t identify as male’ or when i beamed a smile and said ‘thank you’ to the gas station attendant when he asked me what the heck was wrong with my nails (i paint them) even though he was definitely not complimenting me i was basically telling the world ‘this is who i am wait do you have a problem with it i don’t understand i’m gonna go about my day lol.’ obviously i’m oversimplifying.
also, i once again, benefit from the privilege of being in mostly safe spaces. i can’t pretend it’s not a difficult and violent world out there for queer and trans folk. so many other queer/trans/nb people are far less lucky than i am. that’s why community is so important. stay close to the people that love you and really care. i know my friends are my biggest advocates and protectors when i am so often unable to protect myself. also. anytime you hear somebody say the phrase ‘trapped in the wrong body’to describe someone other than themselves, you yell at them. really really loud. yell a lot. even if it’s just random nonsensical sounds. yell yell yell for me.
BO: lastly, why are you so amazing?
JM: this is really hard. i eat self-doubt for breakfast every morning. as soon as i email you these responses i will worry that somehow something i said was wrong and feel horrible. basically, i am just really glad people like you love people like me because people like me rarely love themselves.
beyza ozer is the winner of nothing in particular & a recipient of spam email. their work has appeared in/is forthcoming from skydeer helpking, electric cereal, fruita pulp, & other journals. beyza is the author of GOOD LUCK WITH THE MOON & STARS & STUFF (bottlecap press 2015). they are the social media coordinator of the lettered streets press, an assistant editor of yesyes books, & an editor of probably crying review. beyza lives in chicago, on twitter, & on tumblr.
jamie mortara is a poet from New Jersey built out of bikes and bagels and anxiety and punk rock and too many episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. They hold an MFA from UNCW and are the author of small creatures / wide field, an interactive fiction collection from tNY Press. jamie currently operates voicemailpoems.org from Boston, MA and, frankly, wherever there's free WiFi. some planet (YesYes Books, 2015) is their first full-length collection of poetry.