This is the seventh and final part of an interview series with authors whose work appeared in Erase the Patriarchy (University of Hell Press, 2020), the erasure-poetry anthology edited by Isobel O’Hare that offers readers myriad points of entry from which to consider & re-consider the subgenre in all its weird, messy power and unreduced complexity. In addition to Mx. O’Hare, authors who’ve participated in this series include Tara Campbell, Kitty Stryker, Addie Tsai, Katie Manning, and Tara Burke. Part seven creates a lovely, thoughtful conclusion to this conversation with poet, ghost/mermaid, essayist, and Yes Poetry EIC Joanna C. Valente. Joanna is also an Agape Editions author, and you can read their chapbook Xenos as a free PDF download from the Morning House section of our website.
Fox: Tell me about your piece that’s included in the anthology. What was your process like in creating the work? Were there any experiences or events that precipitated it?
Joanna: I did an erasure of Matt Lauer’s “apology” for his abuse of women. At the time, I was really interested in the language of accountability, apology, and humility. For me, I was curious in the linguistics of it, and focused on his apology in a way that highlighted what really did, what he was hiding and masking, and what I wanted his apology to be. Often times, I think we focus on what we want to happen, or what we think people should do, through the lens of our own experiences (trauma or otherwise, but specifically pain and trauma in this situation) — and that’s what I brought to the table — my lens. That, of course, doesn’t make my lens either right or better — but merely looking at the situation through my own perspective.
For me, I think I wanted to focus on validation — and validating the experiences of the women he harmed, much in a way that validates the experiences myself and others have lived through when it comes to similar situations.
I’d imagine that speaks to, and for, a lot of us, since it’s sadly such a common story. Had you worked with erasure a significant amount prior to this piece? I’m curious to hear about your experiences with the form—how did you come to it, and what have been your most rewarding experiences of using it?
Over the years, I used erasure or cut up poetry as a prompt and challenge — a way to use language in a way that I may not initially turn to — and to think outside of myself and my own experiences. I first came to it as a teenager because of some truly amazing English teachers I had the fortune of studying with.
It has been especially rewarding when I’ve combined it with creating collage art or collage poetry or mix of all of this — and really understanding how different forms and mediums can make us feel, think, and react.
I love that insight—especially since this anthology includes work that really does take (and take liberties with) so many forms, and incorporates all kinds of different media. What was your experience of this book, reading through it after it was released? What new insights, if any, do you feel you gained from the collection once you had the chance to experience it as a whole?
It was incredibly powerful for me to see how so many writers harnessed healing energy — and used language as a form of healing, protest, rebellion, and education. I especially loved the more visual pieces that used color or objects (or food!) in unexpected ways.
Is there anything you hope that readers will get to experience, feel, or consider from a fresh perspective? What experience would you wish for someone who picks up this book and pages through it?
Most of all, I want people to feel seen, validated, and also free to explore and interrogate ideas and experiences — and to live and understand their truths. And of course, try to understand other truths, other people — and why and how toxic and/or abusive structures exist. When we understand how behaviors form, we can prevent more abusive or toxic situations from happening to begin with.
What are you working on now? Any new projects you’re particularly excited about?
A lot of old projects that I never quite finished, but most importantly, my novel Baby Girl and Other Ghosts. But I also have some poetry collections I need to organize — and my photo series #Survivor (which I have some plans for). I did just finish illustrations for a poetry chapbook by Nate Logan coming out soon. And of course, your poetry book, Raven King [which just came out in February]. I’m always creating and enmeshed in something! I mostly just love being in the act of thinking and exploring.
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Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Joanna is the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Xenos, Sexting Ghosts, No(body), and A Love Story (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault and the illustrator of Dead Tongue, a poetry collection by Bunkong Tuon (Yes Poetry, 2020). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College and a double BA in creative writing and literature at SUNY Purchase College. Currently, Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine.
Fox Henry Frazier is a poet, essayist, and visual artist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of Southern California, where she was also a Provost’s Fellow. Her poetry collections include The Hydromantic Histories (Bright Hill Press, 2015), Like Ash in the Air After Something Has Burned (2017), and Raven King (Yes Poetry, 2022). Fox created Agape Editions. She lives in upstate New York with her daughter, her dogs, her gardens, and her ghosts.