Featured Interview with Stina French

1. How did you discover you were a poet/writer?

I have an image of disembarking on an unexplored island called Poesie, pre-littered with literati, and exclaiming, “My kin!” Or of finding a strange bump and really really hoping it’s the call to become an accountant instead of what you think it is: a textually transmitted infection! That is not an answer to your question. Sorry, not sorry.

I was written into writer by the texts that surrounded me early on, like anyone else. Both houses had Bibles sometimes used as belts. The welts were real, even when the beating was metaphorical. On my father’s shelf, Shakespeare and Kipling held court, and the more I memorized of them, the more I held my father’s attention. My mother’s holdings were a parade of Harlequin romance novels, stiff red spines of the “Desire” series broken to the good bits.

In a home where my sister was shushed angrily for saying the word “masturbation” outloud, I can’t imagine how mom decided it was ok to leave those out in plain sight. Yet I thank her from the bottom of my vasocongested vulva, because those texts were a regular underground railroad, smuggling a focus on pleasure and the body into my Southern Baptist, misogynist upbringing. Shame was taught in my home, directly in church sermons, sure, but in another way it’s often also encoded in many educated, liberal homes to this day: as an omission. What’s not talked about is seen to be something that shouldn’t be talked about. And so we didn’t.

We are written by the stories that surround us. And some stories are spoken in and by silence. The important question becomes, can we write back?

I didn’t discover that I was a writer. I was called to it by everything around me that was not being said, and as an act of familial and canonical disobedience otherwise known as “talking back.”

Or maybe I dreamed it.

2. What spaces do you like to create in?

Speaking of dreams, I get specific lines and sometimes full poems on the astral plane (since going off a harsh sleep medication last year).

In the physical realm, I’m having a not-very-well-concealed affair with Art right now. I dip into alleyways, having quickies before running my next errand. We get wet together on the floor of my bathroom in medias shower res. We sit in a slight breeze on the back porch swing, rocking long past appointed hours. Art is fitting herself into the cracks of my days, widening them, until some light gets in around the edges.

The supportive, collaborative space of the writer’s retreat or workshop is a fine cauldron, especially when the brain work is combined with movement and mindfulness, such as it is in Corporeal Writing (or other embodied writing workshops).

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3. Where’s your favorite place to write in Denver/Boulder?

I like the vibe at Mutiny. When my blank pages turn into flat worlds and my ink falls off their edges, I chew on overheard snippets of conversation there, or I find a weird, wonderful book or a weird, wonderful friend.

4. Who is someone you consider inspirational to your life/work and why?

Recently, at Mutiny Cafe, in fact, I was asked to name my favorite authors, and I found myself reeling off names as if I were trying to impress the GRE English exam scorers. Names I thought the listener would recognize. My real answer is full of names I’d never heard of myself until I attended AWP last year and cruised the book fair, and before I began making some of the lit scenes here with more regularity. I’m much more excited by the work of locals like Ahja Fox and ellie swenson than I ever was over some of the hoighty-toights I read in college. Anyway, I’m glad I stopped myself in the middle of my bullshit answer and gave a real one.

Influences are always a confluence or web, but I can say that the biggest influences on me have either been written in experimental memoir or magic realist revisions of canonical texts.

The one specific name I’ll drop is the woman behind Corporeal Writing. Lidia Yuknavitch gave me permission to be the genre slut that I am becoming, as she has moved from memoir to science fiction in the space of three books, working the same crucial points from differing angles. She flips scripts, including her own, like pancakes. Her works and her workshops are alchemical spaces that transmute old-style criticism into elicitation and collaboration and that honor the body as The Source of knowledge. Meeting her, and the community that surrounds her… well, it breathed life back into me at a time when it would have been easy to just go on and bleed the rest of the way out.

5. In a world with so much constant media and stimulation, what do you believe is the value of the written word?

The written word is a conceptual embodiment, but also the veil the mystery wears, beckoning us toward. It’s the chance of illumination. Metaphors and images are the clothing in which we dress ideas; light can be blinding if given directly. The only text is the text we make of a text. When we slow it down to its blessedly particulate nature, we can freeze frame on a detail that might not even show up in someone else’s interpretation. But the written word is both particle and wave. We can get it into our bloodstreams. In varying degrees of laminar or turbulent flow, the Self: a text made up of other texts.

The way to combat hyper-media flood is to get back into our bodies, find the stories hiding there, and fashion our own ribs into story arks.

And then, if we figure out how to do that, even a little, we row row row our little big boats right on back and bail some others out.

6. What super power would you choose, and why?

I would scream rainbows. I’d call the service with them, and when it struck, I wouldn’t need to shield my eyes or anyone else’s. Especially not yours.

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Stina French is Punch Drunk Press’s second featured writer this October. She hails from North Carolina, and if you look closely, you can still see the welts from the Bible Belt. After a stint in San Francisco, she joined the faculty of Red Rocks Community College in the Denver area. She is working on her first novel, Mistress Immaculate’s Murder Most Mildew, and has a finished hybrid/experimental collection of pieces called Hope You Like Dick: An Erotic, Creative, Choose-An-Adventure Flash Memoir. She squeals like a pig and she means it. Find her on Facebook at Stina French, Ink or at Voicing the Body: Mistress Immaculate’s Blog, to read some of her work, as well as get free writing exercises and insights on the domestic life of a polyamorous, kink-oriented mother.

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