Danielle Cadena Deulen: I’m going to give a two-part, probably contradictory answer to this question. First: the distance in these poems aren’t as much in space as time. Many of these poems face backward in an anxious interpretation of the speaker’s past choices—their buried ambitions, lost loves, and personal failures. To clearly see one’s life in what is otherwise the continuous chaos of living, one needs temporal distance, and to write about it, one needs authorial distance. There is also aesthetic distance between the subjects I’m writing about and my artistic interpretations of them. The poems often address trauma (both personal and political), but a straightforward discussion of trauma itself risks falling linguistically flat. The difficult situations addressed in the poems are, hopefully, made more approachable, more interesting via lyricism, meta-cognition, fragmentation, the novelty of nonce forms, and the subversion of received forms. Second: the question supposes a more traditional museum space, but some of my most memorable experiences of visual art have been in interactive exhibits. I spent five years in Santa Fe, NM, where many alternative gallery and museum spaces exist, but in one of the half-titular poems in the book (“Museum”) I also directly name an interactive installation I encountered with a friend in the MOMA PS1 in Long Island City, NY. One of the things I admire about such exhibits is the way they blur the line between propriety and intimacy. I think I’m hoping the “audience” for this work will feel invited into the aestheticized, yet intimate space of my own memories.
SP: You address non-monogamy in your proem, then address bisexuality in many poems across the collection. How does desire work with and against stereotypes of marginalized sexualities and groups?
DCD: When it comes to bisexuality and/or sexual fluidity I think there are many people “hiding in plain sight”—which is obviously problematic for a clear recognition of everyone who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community. There is strength in numbers, and without that visibility, we lose so much in understanding and potential advocacy. We also disallow any potential rupture of hegemonic stereotypes of queer people and relationships. Although many of my previously published poems have been about queer desire, because they were alongside “straight” poems, all were read from a heteronormative perspective—and while I appreciate subtlety in language and flexibility in interpretation, I’ve become tired of always being read in a certain way. I’m bisexual and draw from that experience in my work. So, in this collection, I’ve given readers clearer directions: there are love poems to men (such as “Invoice”), love poems to women (such as the “Lost Sapphics” series), as well as a couple of poems that touch on the idea of non-monogamy (“Desire” and “Two Loves, Both Ending Badly”). I also place these poems of desire alongside poems that focus on sociopolitical violence, motherhood, the unseen labor of women, anxiety about climate change, and elegiac poems, in order to highlight the way in which a singular self is manifold and mutable. Throughout the book, desire is both a subject in itself and a metaphor for transformation and discovery. Queer desire, I think, especially has the potential for radical cognitive transformation, since its existence at all disproves so much of the reigning paradigm. In this case, the beloved might be a partner as well as a guide into a new way of thinking. As I write at the end of “Postscript”: “What I knew as true / no longer corresponds. You erase / everything written before you.”
SP: Your “Remix” poems present the reader with three things: original lines, italicized passages from the poet you’ve cited, and empty brackets. Can you speak to these empty brackets and what their presence, as well as the absence of anything within them, represents?
DCD: In my “Remixes,” a (female embodied) speaker places her voice alongside the voices of canonical poets as a way of thinking through moments of personal crisis. Certain poems have always been touchstones for me and by using them here I hope to illuminate how historical voices speak through us as well as how our own voices evolve their work retrospectively. These poems are an attempt to dramatize the mind of a single speaker in the act of thinking—the closed, empty brackets meant to indicate the spaces in thought that can’t be articulated—the silence of associative leaps.
SP: Duality and interpretation are at the heart of this collection. Many of your poems can be read differently (“Two Loves, Both Ending Badly,” “We Grow Apart,” “Texas Sestina,”). How does this multiplicity of readings represent the many selves of the speaker, or the many versions of a person that must exist in the world?
DCD: The stereoscopic poems in the manuscript were especially enjoyable to create. The rhetorical strategy of trying to get a poem to (more or less) read coherently in multiple directions is so challenging, I feel like it thwarts all other considerations of form and technique…But to answer your question, I think what you imply by your question is exactly right: a poem that might be read in various ways is easily a metaphor for the many versions of a person that must exist in the world. Changing the direction in which you read the poem or the situation in which you encounter the person will produce a very different impression of that poem or person. Yet, all of the words are already there, already in a readable shape. It all depends on your approach, and how you are invited (or not invited) to experience it.
Two of the poems you mention had specific challenges in their composition. In “Two Loves, Both Ending Badly,” I wanted to convey the narrative of two relationship arcs simultaneously—one with a man and one with a woman—with a bisexual, non-monogamous woman who is the point of commonality between them. Eventually, she is too overwhelmed by the toxicities in both relationships to continue either (as the title implies). “Texas Sestina” has a singular narrative, but because its climactic moment involves a linguistic, cultural and political border (the drowning of the addressed beloved in the Rio Grande) the trick was to write in a received form in English that attempts to break out of itself via translation into Spanish. The translation forms its own poem—a quieter version of the story in the sestina—in my attempt to show the painful, intimate choices of those immigrating to America and the potentially violent erasure they face. The Cadenas immigrated from Mexico to America via Texas—two generations ago, but when I consider the current border crisis, I think of the history of my family, which is the history of so many families in America, and the human cost of these political policies, which aren’t experienced as political at all, but personal: the loss of loved ones, the divisions of families. For this poem, I hoped to create a persona that speaks from the heart of this truth.