Lunar Notes: An Interview with Karina Fantillo

Karina Fantillo is a storyteller, dancer, daydreamer. Karina immigrated with her family at the age of 9 to San Francisco, where she learned about Filipino and American culture through folk dancing. Once an astute student of English grammar and its rules, Karina now writes poems in the first person in lower case and minimizes any use of punctuation. It is her stand against the infrastructures that deprived her of learning her native language and history in an American colony. Karina’s poems have appeared as San Francisco Public Library’s Poem of the Day and in The Racket. She is currently a third-year poetry fellow in the University of San Francisco’s MFA in Writing program.

Why writing? What pulls you into the page? What writers or artists first inspired you? Who continues to inspire you?

I started writing at about age 10. I had immigrated to San Francisco from the Philippines with my family a year earlier. Although I spoke and wrote English fluently (it was the only language I learned to write in school), I didn’t know anyone except my immediate family. I retreated inward and found solace in writing.

In Catholic school, I remember reading Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” I felt like she was talking directly to me. I also loved Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. The rhymes were catchy, but even as a child, I felt like there was a bigger meaning behind the poems. As a teenager, I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and that book taught me that there is beauty even through trauma.

So many amazing writers out there and discovering a new one is like finding hidden treasure. I will say that my favorite poetry book to date is Safia Elhillo’s The January Children. It is gorgeous in its use of languages, English and Arabic. Even though I don’t know Arabic, the poems still speak to me. I’m especially drawn to the historical, political and cultural messages in her poems. Elhillo educated me as a reader about Sudan and still made me appreciate the art of her poetry.

What are you currently working on, and do you have anything coming up that readers should know about?

I’m currently working on my first book-length poetry manuscript, which should be done before the end of the year. The manuscript includes the poems featured in this issue of Night Music Journal. The poems in the collection explore the feelings of identity, trauma, home.

What was the first thing you had published? What is the focus of your work and has it changed since then?

The first poem I had published was “ghazal for asian americans” which I wrote in response to anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. This poem was the result of a conversation I had with my Chinese American friend. I had her read it and it resonated with her, even though she’s not a writer. Instead of submitting to a journal, I wanted to share it with the community, not just literary. I was thrilled when it was featured as a Poem of the Day by San Francisco Public Library, an institution I grew up with. (Much thanks to Maw Shein Win for facilitating.) I hoped in this way, it would give voice to people in the community and help them feel seen.

What space does or should writing occupy right now?

I think writing has always been an opportunity to chronicle the times and make sense of the chaos. It is a form of revolution, and now more than ever, I feel we have a responsibility with our writing to create the world we want to live in once we emerge on the other side of this pandemic.

What advice would you give to a writer just starting out? What are some valuable things you’ve learned so far that have helped you grow as a writer?

I would say writing is like a muscle that we have to exercise regularly. Believe in yourself. Editors, teachers and mentors can give advice, but only you will know if/how that applies to you and your writing. Sometimes what we plan to write and what wants to come out may be different. Honor what wants to come out. In writing about trauma, I like to think that once I get it on the page, it’s one less thing I have to carry.

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?

I would hope it’s a photo book with pictures of how life used to be, so I can preserve it and remember.

You can read Karina Fantillo’s work in the tenth issue of Night Music Journal, which will be released November 19th.

Lunar Notes: An Interview with Featured Writer Michael Paramo (M.AZE)

Art by Michael Paramo (M.AZE)

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 ( 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 (, 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.