Marisa Crane is a poet, writer, and co-founder of the political resistance magazine Collective Unrest. Her poetry chapbook “Our Debatable Bodies” is forthcoming from Animal Heart Press. She lives in San Diego, California with her wife and dog, and she was gracious enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions from yours truly.
First and foremost: would you care to introduce yourself for the audience? Besides being a writer, are there any other crimes for which you’d like to confess?
Oh, I guess we’re diving right in! It’s really hard to introduce yourself when someone tells you to, isn’t it? When I’m not writing, I like to collage and paint. I’m not particularly good but it’s a nice change of pace. It’s fun to be creative in a different way. I also like to play around with my dad’s 1970s film camera, but that’s also a learning process—whenever I get them developed, I’ll be super excited to see how they turned out and then one-third of them will come out blank or blurry. Otherwise, I enjoy lifting weights, camping, hiking, traveling, bouldering, and going to the beach.
I know you mostly for being a poet, but you write stories and cross-genre pieces as well. Do you find that one medium helps to inform your work in another (for example: your stories becoming more poetic, and your poems reading with narrative flow)? What benefits can young writers hope to see from such experimentation in their writing?
Absolutely. Because of poetry, I find that I focus on word choice a lot more in my prose (both my fiction and creative nonfiction). I recognize the power of every single word and syllable. It’s also helped with sentence rhythm. I wish I could say that the flipside is true, but I haven’t yet found the ways in which my prose impacts my poetry. This is probably because I’m still trying to find my poetic identity and style. I also have a nasty habit of closing myself off whenever I think, “Okay, I’m going to write a poem now.” Some part of me shuts down. I have to find a way to break through that barrier.
I think the best thing about experimentation is that you get to play. And you discover how rewarding it is to create without limitations. Oh wow, I should probably listen to my own advice.
Is there one book or magazine publication for which you are currently most proud?
I’m extremely proud of my forthcoming chapbook “Our Debatable Bodies,” because it took me being 100% honest with myself for me to write it the way it deserved to be written. It’s my angriest work to date, which is cool, but it’s also my most tender. Tenderest? No, that looks wrong. Anyway, the manuscript explores my experience as a queer woman and how that impacts my relationship with the world. But in the same breath, it’s also about how a problem in my life doesn’t have to be queer-related in order for it to be a problem. We’re all just sloppy meat vehicles covered in skin suits and making the best of it.
Otherwise, I’m thrilled about my CNF piece, “Directions from Birth to Gayhood,” which was published in Hobart. I wrote it in the form of MapQuest directions. The first draft I held back. I don’t know if I was afraid of my past or the form or both, but Aaron Burch, the editor, wrote me back and encouraged me to lean into it. And then it did, and it was liberating.
Forgive my self-promotion, but I’m also proud of “The Deaths of Popular Adjectives” in Queen Mobs—for its playfulness, confidence, and punch.
Tell us about some of your influences, both literary and out in the real world.
Celeste Ng is a gift of our time. She knows how to create dynamic and memorable characters. She knows how to make you fight with yourself. Kelly Link is also a big influence. She reminds me to have fun and to embrace the speculative, the magical. Rivka Galchen is a fantastic and fearless writer. I adore the way she combines the bizarre with the everyday. Mary Miller will always be a favorite. Without her, I would not appreciate the power of the sentence. Every sentence is a surprise and a delight. And Mary Robison waves a huge sign in front of my face that says DON’T FORGET YOUR PERSONALITY AT HOME, SUCKER. She reminds me not to temper myself.
In the real world, my wife is one of my biggest influences (don’t go getting a big head, Ash). When I’m with her, I am reminded of love, of joy, of true collaboration. She makes me happy that I’m alive. That translates into writing a lot of romantic poems about her. She’s also a huge influence on my fiction, one of the reasons being simply that she supports me and my absurdist / bizarre pieces. Although she’s a tough critic, she never tries to steer me a different direction. Like Aaron from Hobart, she encourages me to lean into the weird. I’ll never be able to thank her appropriately for it.
You studied for social work in grad school but seem to have chosen another path. Does what you learned from your time in this course of study influence how you see the world and your fellow people who walk the earth alongside you?
For sure! Yeah, I somehow ended up on this incredible, awful, terrifying path of writing. Oops. Studying social work and working as a behavioral health worker were both life-changing for me. And I’m not being hyperbolic. That was the time in my life that I experienced a major shift in my outlook on life. I learned about nonviolent communication and how that can be applied to basically every interaction we ever have with someone. I learned how to express my needs and how to ask someone what their needs are. Working as a behavioral health worker for children and adolescents gave me patience. I was cursed at, screamed at, kicked, punched, and spit on, and losing my temper wasn’t going to help me or the enraged child. I had to figure out a way to meet the kid where they were at, even if where they were at was three worlds away. It was humbling. And I wound up learning a hell of a lot more about myself than I ever would have. A thing that happens when you work with someone else on improving their problematic behaviors is that you start to notice that hey, maybe you’ve got a few of your own. I discovered my triggers and with them, my coping mechanisms.
One of the things I love about social work is that it doesn’t necessarily focus on a diagnosis—instead it uses someone’s strengths to overcome a problem, to improve their life. Its foundation is in empowerment and compassion. Of course, diagnosing someone’s condition can be helpful in guiding treatment situations, but I’ve grown frustrated with the world of psychiatry for such a heavy emphasis on labeling a diagnosis when it’s so subjective anyway. What is someone going through? What issues are they having? What do they think about these issues? Themselves? The world? Active listening, without judgment, is transformative.
How much does your own personal life affect the way in which you engage in politics and culture through your poems?
A fair amount. Because I belong to the LGBTQ community and because I had a hard time growing up and coming out, I often explore these facets of myself in my work. But it took a long time to get there. Even when I was out to nearly everyone except my parents, I still refrained from writing poems about my identity, and subsequently, the turmoil in my community. I wrote poems about women I loved, but I didn’t dig deeper. I attempted to squash the struggle it took to get where I am. Reading the news and listening to other people share their stories forces me to engage with more than just my immediate self. Plus, as I rambled on about above, my social work/behavioral health background expanded my world and nurtured my compassion. Now I use that compassion to engage in politics.
We’re about to wrap up, so last question: Any recent books or websites that you wish to plug?
I’m not sure what plug means, but shout out to Mary Miller for her new book “Biloxi,” which is incredible.
Thank you for talking with me today Marisa.
PS. Be sure to check out the online magazine, Collective Unrest. Our writer friend Marisa is co-founder and editor of this fine publication, and I would consider it a personal favor if you’d give this one some love. (Marisa was far too modest to plug this one herself, so I went ahead and did it for her.)