Contributors: Featured Writer Karina Fantillo, Sophia Marshall, Deven Philbrick, Matthew Johnson, Kate LaDew, Manuela Williams, Kuo Zhang, Moriah Hampton, Yuan Changming, Rachel Tanner
Contributors: Featured Writer Michael Paramo (M.AZE), Jarid McCarthy, Nicolette Elzie, Joe Balaz, Lisa Brunner, Carol Casey, Eddie Kim, Barbara Daniels, Boloere Seibidor, Shannon Cuthbert
Michael Paramo (M.AZE) is a Queer Aze Mexican-American artist and researcher from the suburbs of north Orange County (which occupy the stolen territories of the Tongva/Kizh, Acjachemen, and Payómkawichum). They created AZE journal (azejournal.com) in 2016 (originally known as The Asexual), where they publish journal issues on topics intersecting with asexuality, aromanticism, and agenderness. They have been creating digital art with a focus on the self-portrait since 2018. Their work has been published in High Shelf Press and displayed at the second annual Art + Memory + Justice Symposium at the University of British Columbia. As a PhD student, they are studying the intersections of aesthetics and decoloniality.
Why writing? What pulls you into the page? What writers and/or artists first inspired you?
I was introduced to writing through the carceral logics embedded in Western colonial institutions, which teach students to write primarily for evaluation. The constant presence of a judgmental overseer (teacher) made writing feel limited, static, and restrictive. I was never writing for myself, but for someone else’s approval. So, you could say that my relationship to writing was ‘tainted.’
I did not realize until later that writing, like visual art, could be whatever I wanted it to be. Although I have not published many poems and was not formally schooled or introduced to poetry in educational institutions, I have written poetry from a young age because I am drawn to its freedom. When I feel the need to express myself in words, I find that it comes out most naturally for me in poetic language.
My mother is a huge influence on me, both as an artist and as a guide for navigating this space we call reality. Being in relationship with a person who cares deeply for you and is not afraid to demonstrate that care is always a benefit in this life. My grandmother is a poet, and I would not be surprised if this ‘passed on’ to me generationally. Artists in general are integral to my survival (I include the Earth as an artist in that statement). In the most difficult times, art and artmaking have helped motivate me to continue living.
What are you currently working on, and do you have anything coming up that readers should know about?
I am in the process of writing a book for Unbound publishers entitled Ending the Pursuit: Asexuality, Aromanticism, and Agender Identity. The book is currently available for pre-order via the Unbound website. One of the book’s central purposes is to analyze how mainstream conceptualizations of identity are historically rooted in colonialism and the subsequent imposition of medical discourses which pathologized various aspects of human experience as ‘abnormal.’ The book will also cover how asexuality, aromanticism, and agenderness can function as concepts which destabilize certain assumptions about human experience that are held up or assumed to be “truth.” It will therefore consider how we can disentangle our understandings of self and humanity from the Western colonial imagination, particularly through an asexual, aromantic, and agender lens.
What was the first thing you had published? How has your writing or focus changed since then?
The first thing I had published that I can remember was an essay entitled “Hypermasculinity and LGBTQ+ Identity Erasure in Communities of Color” for an online publication known as The Queerness. The essay covered issues of historical trauma and the effects of hypermasculinity on queer people in non-white communities. Being a queer Mexican-American myself and growing up in the constant presence of machismo, I wrote the essay while reflecting on the effects of cisheteropatriarchal performance and policing in my life. My writing has continued to focus on how historically rooted processes, such as colonialism, have inherently shaped the contours of our reality and our imaginations. My writing also continues to stem from personal experience even if it seems caught up in abstract theoretical language at times.
What would you say is the center of your work? What inspires you?
The center of my work is transformation and survival. I transform myself through my work in order to continue to find a purpose to survive. I also consider this when thinking about how my work will affect a potential audience. I am motivated to use my work as a tool to inspire people to transform themselves and find motivation to survive in this world. I have been told my work creating AZE journal (azejournal.com), a space for ace, aro, and agender people to publish their writing and artwork, has helped people think about identity differently and motivated others to survive during difficult times in their lives, which has been encouraging.
What space does or should art and writing occupy right now?
The space that encourages people to look inside themselves and think critically about the living community they are a part of (not disconnected from). For some people, this is an uncomfortable space to be and takes some time getting used to, so writing and art should also be there to help comfort people while they are on their journey.
What advice would you give to a writer just starting out? If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Do not expect anyone to care and do not desire approval. I would give myself the same advice. It is the desire of approval, acceptance, or appreciation for your work that risks trapping you in a cycle of disappointment. You can enjoy approval, acceptance, and appreciation so long as you do not desire it (and especially so long as you do not create solely for that purpose).
If you were the last person on earth, and you pulled the last book from a pile of ash, what do you hope it would be? Why?
A book on foraging, so I could increase my chances of eating something and not dying.
You can read Michael Paramo’s work in the ninth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released May 21st.
Presenting the cover of NMJ V.6! The featured writer will be announced November 15th, and the issue will be available November 18th!
Contributors: Featured Writer Sayuri Ayers, Katherine Fallon, Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, Stephanie Valente, Grace Yannotta, V.S. Ramstack, Bruce McRae, Sean Johnson, Kylie Ayn Yockey, Margarita Serafimova, Megha Sood, Paul Ilechko, Alexandra Corinth, Lindsey Warren, Jacob Hammer, Brigid Hannon, RC deWinter, Lucas Wildner, Alana Hayes, Stephen Mead, Jeanette Salib, DS Maolalai, Matthew Dube
Sayuri Ayers is a native of Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, The Pinch, Hobart, Ghost City Review, and others. In 2016, Green Bottle Press released her chapbook Radish Legs, Duck Feet. Haunt her at sayuriayers.com.
Why poetry? What pulled you in, and who was the very first poet you read/heard who just clicked?
Poetry is strange and lovely. It’s a beast in a jeweled box. Through poetry, there are infinite ways to engage the reader through imagery, tone, sound, and use of white space.
The first book of poetry I read was by Sharon Olds. I discovered Satan Says in the basement of my college’s library. As a science major, I was taking a poetry class as an elective. I remember sinking to the floor in awe as I read Old’s poem, “Monarchs.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gravitated towards Li-Young Lee’s poetry, especially his collections Rose and Book of My Nights. What I admire most about Lee’s work is its ability to transport the reader through striking imagery.
If you were the last person on earth, and you pulled the last book from a pile of ash and cinders, what do you hope it would be? Why?
I absolutely love the book of Ecclesiastes. The questions about existential meaning are essential, especially for the last person on earth.
What space does/should poetry occupy right now?
The expansion of poetry into the hybrid forms has been fascinating to watch. The subversion of genres speaks to the shifting of cultural and political borders. I can’t wait to see how poetry will demand more space and transform personal and public landscapes.
What was the first piece you ever had published? Are you the same person who wrote it, and if not, how have you changed?
I first published “Garden of Delights” in my college’s literary journal, First Circle. In some ways, I’m still the same person. As a reader and writer, I’m drawn to strong imagery and narrative. Over time, my generous mentors and teachers have taught me to be more critical of my work, and how to better honor the work of other writers.
What are you working on right now? What is the center or focus of your work right now?
I’m working on a hybrid manuscript that weaves prose poetry together with lyric essay. The manuscript navigates the landscape of motherhood and mental illness. I’m focusing on how images can be repeated, then presented in different forms.
Name some poets you’re really excited about right now. Who do you have on your shelf/in your ear/on your mind?
There are so many poets that I’m excited about! I’m currently reading the debut book by Ruth Awad, Set to Music a Wildfire, which chronicles her father’s survival of the Lebanese Civil War. Geoff Anderson is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He’s one of my favorite writers/people. His collection, Humming Dirges, was recently released by Paper Nautilus. I’ve also been enjoying Li-Young Lee’s newest collection, The Undressing.
What’s the biggest adventure you’ve had so far? What comes next?
My biggest adventure has been becoming a mother. Writing as a parent has been a series of late nights eating ramen over a keyboard and frantically searching diaper bags for lost scraps of poems. My most creative and productive years followed the birth of my son. I wouldn’t trade these years or him for anything.
Next, I’m hoping to mentor future readers and writers. I plan to volunteer at a local elementary school as a reading tutor this coming fall.
What advice would you give a poet just starting out? What advice would you go back and give your younger self?
Shape your writing life according to your goals/purpose as a poet. Take time to celebrate your successes and the successes of others. Read, read, read. Don’t give up.
You can read Sayuri Ayers’ work in the fifth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released May 17th.