Inseam: Topaz Winters
1.) Firstly, when you set out as a writer, speaker, editor, and even now, what has been your goal/mission/core desire in regards to your work? (i.e. your short film, tedx talk, poetry, starting/directing Half Mystic)
I’m here to spread my truth in every way I’m able—truth in sadness, in hope, in creation, in loneliness, in wonder, in moving through the world as a creature full & flawed & aching & growing with presence & absence alike.
2.) How has running numerous projects influenced your work? What have you learned from experiences like Half Mystic and SUPERNOVA?
I joke that I cannot stand to work on any project for more than a few months before I become bored & flit off to the next thing—but, really, it’s not an inaccurate statement. I am constantly contemplating what to do next, preferably something completely new & unlike anything I’ve made before; it’s the part of me at work that is a builder, that is dissatisfied with life unless she is creating something out of nothing. I have learned so much from all of the incredible opportunities I’ve been afforded, but I think perhaps the most important thing is how to let go of my natural perfectionistic tendencies (which are, unfortunately, only exacerbated by my obsessive-compulsive disorder). The universe does not care whether I keep creating, whether there are two misspelled words in my book, whether I bungled a line when I performed my latest poem. The world would keep spinning if I shut down Half Mystic tomorrow & never picked up a pen again. I think there is something beautiful in that: if I am to gift the things I care about to the people who matter, there is no one to grant me permission, no one to blame if I’m held back by my perfectionism. We need more soft bright people creating soft bright things. I am trying not to let typos prevent me from being one of them.
3.) There is a lot to be intimidated by when starting out, do you have any advice for young writers who are just starting?
Just start. Don’t worry about “branding” or “selling yourself”, don’t worry about your work’s “aesthetic” or what is “popular” these days, don’t worry about the “crowded market”, don’t worry about how your style doesn’t match up to your tastes quite yet (because—spoiler alert—it never will), don’t worry about the thousand what ifs clawing up your throat & making a hometown out of your mouth. Just start. Write the poem. Launch the blog. Publish the book. Reach out to the author you admire. I promise you the rest will fall into place. It’s cliché, perhaps, but no less true: the most frequent word we use when listing our regrets is not.
4.) Poets often start at their identities and write from their experiences, how have the intersecting identities you hold salient influenced your writing?
I am proudly a queer, neurodivergent woman of colour, & my work is nowhere & nothing without those identities. Even when I am not writing explicitly about identity, it is part of me that constantly leaks through, informing every poem I write, every interaction I have, every moment I experience. Often I think about whether the person I was before I fully began to embrace those identities would look at who I am today & feel proud. I think about whether she would be grateful to have a mentor or a role model or a friend doing the work that I’m doing. I think about whether reading my poems would make her feel empowered, or even just slightly less confused. That is answer is never fully yes, but the closer it is, the closer I am to who I’m trying to be.
5.) What have you come to realize from writing about your experiences as a queer neurodivergent poet of color?
That I am enormously disadvantaged in so, so many ways, & enormously privileged in so, so many more, & neither of these facts makes my work more or less important than anyone else’s.
6.) Your work is an exceptional example about how the political is, in fact, deeply personal. How does your work fit into the conversation about what is going on in the world right now?
Oh, thank you so much—what a beautiful thing to say. I suppose I don’t think my work necessarily forms a particularly vital part of modern discourse so much as it reflects my own thoughts & beliefs around such discourse. I try not to get too stuck in whether my work holds significance to anyone besides myself. That is too much responsibility for me to take on; I’m not a doctor or a firefighter, just a storyteller trying my best to make sense of this tender furious world. If that resonates with others then I am deeply flattered, but nothing more. I cannot attach any sense of self-worth to my readers’ reactions, or I will drive myself insane. In these times my existence alone is an act of rebellion, & so perhaps that is why it reads as more political—but yesterday I wrote a poem about kissing a girl in a city I’m only now learning how to love, & it was not subversive or defiant or courageous. It was just a kiss. I must believe that too holds value.
7.) While we have discussed how your work has a transcendent ability to consider big ideas, concepts and essences of being, your work also has one foot in the material world with a heavy grasp on the physical elements of space, texture, setting and that allows for a reader to be heavily immersed in the poem. (will link to some of your poems) What about your physical space, your presentation self, and your experience as a person in a body influence what you write about?
You are far too kind to me, oh goodness! To be honest, this is not an element of my work that I think about often—I dissociate far more often than is probably healthy (thank you, mental illness) & I write extensively about the experience of not particularly wanting to have a body. That said, now that you bring it up, I suppose much of my writing is in fact grounded in physicality, & I would attribute that to my efforts in recent months to be more mindful, more aware of my surroundings, to savour them even when I think at the moment I’d rather be anywhere else. I am trying to hold onto these days. They will be over sooner than I know.
8.) What are the small things that show up in your writing? Why do you think they appear? (for example: things like rain, hands, coffee cups, hair, kitchen)
Girls as wolves. Rain. Illness. Bodies, human & water alike. The anatomy of healing. Hands. Music. Language. The moon. The juxtaposition of softness & savagery. These are all images I think about often on a daily basis, & those that symbolise far greater concepts to me than what lies on the surface. My writing is an extension of myself, & so it makes perfect sense to me that these are the ideas that represent the bulk of my poetic arsenal, so to speak. A dear friend once told me that the concepts we come back to again & again are those we haven’t explored to their fullest extent, those that require a new way of seeing that we have not stumbled upon yet. Until I find that way, I am content with delving into these themes for as long as they’ll have me.
9.) What’s your personal poetry cannon (we 100% are anti-cannon when it’s all old white straight dead men but we like to ask people about their personal favorites) who are your faves and the works you look to when you need revival or inspiration?
In no particular order: Richard Siken (especially “Litany In Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out”), Ocean Vuong (especially “Aubade With Burning City”, Tina Chang (especially “Fury”), Margaret Atwood (especially “Pig Song”), John Murillo (especially “Stolen Starlight Lounge Sutra”), Mary Oliver (especially “Wild Geese”), Robert Hass (especially “Meditation At Lagunitas”), W.S. Merwin (especially “Some Last Questions”), Simone Muench (especially “Wolf Cento”), Monica Youn (especially “Drawing for Absolute Beginners”).
10.) Finally, we ask all of our interviewees this, what do you do for self care?
I’m learning to prioritise self care as utterly imperative for my creative process—&, more relevantly, utterly imperative to being a human in general. I have a self care mix on Spotify that I play when I am in need of a soft place to fall, & I generally tend to retreat into myself, exist in my own presence & no one else’s, as a form of self care. Other small self care elements: going for very long walks; watching mindless superhero films; hanging out with my dog; writing poetry for myself & no one else; breaking out the watercolours; savouring a single square of dark chocolate; putting on a full face of makeup only to take a few selfies, & then washing it all off; volunteering at my school’s elementary school library; listening to these sound machines or this song; staying very still & breathing in &, for once, not yearning for anything in particular.