torrin a. greathouse is a transfeminine nonbinary, cripple-punk, queer-do from Irvine, California. Their work has been published or is upcoming in Rust + Moth, TQ Review, The Feminist Wire, Caliban Online, & Glass. torrin is the co-founder Black Napkin Press & an editor of The Black Napkin Literary Magazine. When they are not writing or editing poetry, they are trying to survive long enough to earn a degree.
Crab Fat: Tell us about your upcoming poetry collection, In Search of Stray Gods.
torrin: In Search of Stray Gods came about at first as a pun, stray dog / stray god, but it got me thinking about what we define as sacred, or holy, what small parts of our lives we find / or make “god” in. As it evolved, it became a strange way to sort of marry my history of trauma, my uneasiness with religion, & my near dogmatic belief in love, & attempt to come to terms with how those coexist within me. In the end, I think that the book almost creates its own self-contained world where those things are finally able to reconcile with each other. At the same time as I was finishing up this project, I have been working on another chapbook, Therɘ is a Case That i ∀m, which deals more directly with gender & sexual identity, & the violence faced by LGBTQ+ people. Both have been a year’s labor of love. Stray Gods will be releasing soon through Black Napkin Press, & I am currently shopping the chapbook [Therɘ is a Case That i ∀m] around to several publishers.
CF: How do you begin the process of writing a piece?
torrin: I think every poem is a living thing, one of my partners likes to say that writing is like capturing fireflies in a jar. The beauty already exists, you are simply giving other people a chance to see it. They often blossom from a single line, or an abstract idea, like comparing myself to a monster movie, or using the uncertainty principle in quantum physics to talk about gender policing. Once something catches it continues to grow in every spare synapse until it feels finished enough to write down. Sometimes poems are very self-aware & demand strange things of me. One of my upcoming poems in Yellow Chair Review refused to be written without a prologue, three parts, & an epilogue.
CF: How did Black Napkin Press, the press you co-founded, come about?
torrin: I think from the moment I started really getting into the poetry scene, I wanted to start a press / or a magazine / something. To raise up other writers & not just myself & to give some of the amazing poets I know a place for their work. Right around the same time, I met the other founder, Matt Rouse, who wanted the exact same thing. Neither of us thought we could ever afford to do it. But when Matt’s father died, he put a chunk of the inheritance aside & we founded Black Napkin Press as a nonprofit publishing company & started taking submissions for our literary journal The Black Napkin. One of our primary goals was to promote marginalized voices, & I think we have had the chance to publish so many amazing poems by poets with mental illness, physical disabilities, poets of color, trans poets & queer poets. Every month someone submits work that blows us away & gives us a new way to look at the world. In terms of publishing books, the first two books being released by Black Napkin Press are my collection, & Matt’s chapbook The Final Word… which went on sale in June. We aren’t ready to announce it yet, but we also have a third book in the works from a fantastic poet Matt & I love, & we will be running a manuscript contest in the coming months to determine our books for 2017.
CF: Your poems are written mostly in lowercase. Is there a reason for that?
torrin: Trans poets occupy a unique space in poetry, trying to write with a language ill-equipped to contain us. In a way, it becomes necessary to invent a new language, lexicon, & syntax that is more capable of creating writing we can exist within. I am constantly searching for ways to play with language / create new pathways for myself. The lowercase writing is a very political choice in a few ways. First, it queers the basic sentence structure, leaving less emphasis on where one thought logically begins & allowing me, or the reader, to manipulate where a unit of thought begins & ends. Second, it allows me to de-emphasize myself in the poems, allowing a reader to place themselves in my shoes, or at least in a place close to my body.
CF: And lastly, why do you write?
torrin: This de-emphasis of self ties a lot into this. For me, poetry has always been deeply personal, a way of making beauty out of the ugliness I have experienced. But at the same time, I feel my work has grown more political the more I see that I exist in a world that (for the most part) would prefer me / & other trans people or queers / or just others / dead. I write because maybe someone who does not understand an identity like mine will come out the other end of a poem understanding, or willing to try. I write so that queer bodies like mine cannot be swept under the rug & forgotten when we are murdered in cold blood. I write, hoping to change one life, just enough, the way so many other poets have done for me.