By: Alex Falck
This is the third in an ongoing series of interviews with trans authors. You can find other interviews in the series here.
I wasn’t planning to interview poets as part of this series. I hadn’t read more than a handful of poems since I left college, and I was more interested in fiction writers. As I searched for trans writers, though, I kept finding poets. When I finally read some of their work, I realized that I’d been missing out on some of the most affecting expressions of trans identity and experience.
H. Melt is a nonbinary writer, poet and editor who grew up and lives in Chicago. Their writing has appeared many publications, and in 2017, Lambda Literary awarded them the Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. H. Melt is the author of The Plural, The Blurring and editor of Subject to Change: Trans Poetry & Conversation. They have a chapbook called On My Way to Liberation coming out from Haymarket Books this fall.
Subject to Change: Trans Poetry and Conversation is a unique book. Each section has a selection of poems by a trans poet, followed by an interview between you and the poet. Why did you want to combine poetry with interviews? And why have the poems precede the interviews?
I think it’s important for trans poets and trans people generally to be in conversation with each other. I interviewed several of the poets in the anthology before I came up with the idea of publishing the book. The interviews were a way for me to get to know each of the poets, and ask genuine questions about their work and lives. There’s not a lot of trans literary criticism, and I wanted to model how to engage with trans writing in a respectful way. The poems precede the interviews because I wanted readers to form their own thoughts about the work, before learning more about each writer.
In your interview with Cameron Awkward-Rich, he observes, “Black sorrow and queer/trans sorrow are often consumed in ways that reinforce these systems [of oppression] rather than disrupt them: I can consume your sorrow in order to alleviate my guilt about being complicit in producing it, or I can view your sorrow as inherent to you rather than (potentially) the product of a system.” And yet, in The Plural, The Blurring, you write about the importance of queer people presenting their stories “to as broad an audience as possible.” How do you reckon with this conundrum?
I definitely agree with Cam’s sentiments about the consumption of sorrow. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza also ends her poem “A Guide to Reading Trans Literature” with the lines “Now pretend you can feel my pain/Now pretend something in you/has been moved, has been transformed/Now pretend you are absolved.” I think both writers are speaking to the reality that it’s not enough to read books by marginalized writers. You have to find ways of supporting people and actively showing that you care about them in your everyday life. I think writing and reading can illuminate that for people, it can provide them with an understanding that can lead to direct action.
You open your new chapbook, On My Way to Liberation, with Trans Lit is Bullshit, a forceful poem that takes inspiration from Jamila Woods’ Blk Girl Art, which in turn takes inspiration from Amira Baraka’s Black Art. All three poems are concerned with the importance of poetry that reflects the lives and physical realities of oppressed groups. How has earlier literature about trans people failed in this regard, and do you think it’s changing?
There’s a long history of trans lit that is directly relevant to our lives. The poem is critical of the mainstream publishing industry, and cis people who’ve written into trans tropes. The poem isn’t meant to be critical of trans writers. Trans people should write about whatever they want. I think it’s important for trans writers to imagine a trans audience. I want cis writers to stop writing about us in such harmful ways. The publishing industry has failed trans writers and people. It continues to fail us when cis people are hired to write about our lives. It’s not hard to hire trans writers. The publishing landscape is slowly changing, largely due to the efforts of small trans presses, queer publishers, and the internet.
The poems in the first part of On My Way to Liberation focus on experiences of pain, especially the pain of misrecognition. This is also where we find poems about your relationship with your family. In the second part of the book, you talk about trans strength, perseverance and liberation. The final poem, On My Way to Liberation, is the only poem in the second part of the book that mentions your family. It draws parallels between your grandfather’s experiences and your own. Can you tell me about your relationship with your grandfather and how it’s been shaped by your mutual, though distinct, experiences of oppression?
I talk about my grandfather a lot in the introduction. His experiences as a Holocaust survivor are an important part of my family’s history. He understands the power of storytelling, especially recounting real stories of trauma and resilience. I get that from him. He frequently talks about his experiences in concentration camps, the impact of family separation, and state-sponsored killings—all issues that are still relevant today. Once he realized I was a writer, he asked me to write his story. The poem “On My Way to Liberation” is a response to that request. One thing my grandfather taught me is that no matter how repressive, violent, and hateful a government is, it’s important to make sure that our stories will survive.
You’re a person who creates, studies, collects, preserves, and curates queer—and especially trans—art, artists, and creative spaces. What does this art mean to you, and why do you think it’s important to preserve not just the art itself, but information about its creation and history?
Art is created in a larger cultural context and who is making the art, why they’re producing it, and how it’s made are all parts of the art itself. Queer and trans history is not always easy to access. Not everyone considers it worthy of preserving—in fact, there are people, institutions, and governments that attempt to erase our existence every day. The vast majority of trans writers I know, myself included, have published their books with very small independent presses. What happens if or when our work goes out of print? How will people find our work after we’re gone? Preserving our work is one way of keeping our stories alive.
Alex Falck is a Children’s Librarian at the Chicago Public Library. Alex is particularly interested in hearing and amplifying the voices of historically silenced people, including people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. Alex listens to lots of podcasts, and blogs at teenlib.tumblr.com. Find them on Twitter @AlexandriaFalck.