Welcome to the first ever Showcase Spotlight here at 17Numa! I’ve been planning to launch this feature for almost a year now, so it’s about time I finally put the pedal to the metal and got things rolling. I have plenty of big ideas for the weeks and months ahead, but as for right now, I couldn’t imagine starting off with a better guest. I first had the pleasure of meeting Emily Ramser last year while she was working as an editor at Visceral Uterus. We began talking after she published a recently accepted poem of mine there. The formatting at the site required her to completely type up my poem from scratch before posting it, so I knew straightaway that this was someone who truly cared about poetry and was willing to give her time, energy, and passion to the small press world. Ramser is set to release her fourth collection of poetry soon through Weasel Press, and so I thought it would be a good time to reach out and ask her a few questions about the forthcoming chapbook…
Scott Thomas Outlar: Firstly, I’d like to say thank you, Emily, for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s dive right in! I’m sure you must be excited about your forthcoming poetry book from Weasel Press. Could you tell us a little about the collection and how it came about?
Emily Ramser: So to answer your question the book is titled UHaul: A Collection of Lesbian Love Poems. It is, as the title says, a collection of love poems. However, it’s also more than that. In a way, it’s a coming out story. It is me coming out to the world, saying as a woman, I love women. It’s me saying that I am proud to love women and not afraid to say it. It’s funny because my mom told me the other day, that I shouldn’t keep writing poems or books about women, but really this book isn’t about any one particular woman, though a lot of the poems were inspired by a certain person. It is about me. It’s about my relationship with women and my own kind of literary coming out as queer.
I actually started writing the poems in this book last summer when I made a Tinder account in order to meet women. On there, I met a nineteen-year-old who told me that when she was sixteen she had given herself a small stick and poke tattoo of the word queer on her abdomen. This encounter provided the inspiration for the opening poem of the chapbook “Queer.”
I eventually met a lovely woman on Tinder named Meagan who I began dating. When I was first talking to her, I wrote her poems in an attempt at classical wooing, which is where a few of the poems such as “Let Me Write For You” came from. I continued writing throughout the year poems inspired by my relationship with her.
Outlar: Sounds as if it’s safe to assume that your wooing worked. Good to know that courting and romance are still in style. The power of the written word wins again! Do you feel that this, your fourth collection of poetry, is a continuation of your earlier books, or have you taken the content to another level with the “coming out story?” Has the process of writing such thoughts down for the world to read helped you feel more liberated?
Ramser: This book is a quite different from my other books in my opinion. Toast is Just Bread That Put Up a Fight is the closest to it, but that chapbook is not quite a coming out story like this one is. Toast is more of a fighting against and never standing down kind of story. That said, it wasn’t quite as put together with a purpose as UHaul. I specifically chose the works in UHaul with a purpose.
UHaul came about in a time when I was a lot more confident in both my sexuality and my general person. I knew more who I was by the time I started writing the poems in this book. The process of writing these books, though, made me feel even more confident in myself and my writing.
I’d be lying though if I didn’t say I was nervous about publishing this book. It’s a coming out story in many ways, but my coming out publicly could come back to bite me. You can be fired in 28 states for being gay or transgender. So, this book says I’m gay and proud, but it gives employers a reason to not hire me or to fire me.
As nervous as I am with publishing it, I won’t back down from publishing it. Heterosexual love poetry has been published for ages upon ages. I think it’s time to show that homosexual love poetry is just as valid as heterosexual love poetry. It’s okay to be gay, and it’s okay to write about being gay.
I sent my girlfriend a copy of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnets From the Portuguese for Valentine’s day, but it didn’t feel quite right. It had male pronouns. It removed my female partner from the equation, as it focused on male qualities.
So, I started writing my own love poems for women because there weren’t love poems for me to send these women I was interested in. There weren’t poems about women for women. There are plenty of poems that are for men by women or for women by men, but there are so few gay love poems in comparison.
I wanted to tell my partner I loved her and there were no poems that did so, so I wrote my own.
Outlar: Sometimes in life when there is not a path laid out clearly before us, we must act as trailblazers and create a new one. That’s the sense I get from your efforts with this collection. What type of reaction has the work garnered so far from those who have had a chance to read it? Are you happy with the feedback? On that note, being an editor yourself, how do you react to critiques of your own work, and what do you feel the appropriate role of an editor should be?
Ramser: I like that turn of phrase. I agree. That’s certainly something that I’ve thought some during my work on this chapbook.
I’ve only gotten one real response so far and that is from Matthew David Campbell. I’ve included it below:
The poems in Emily Ramser’s Uhaul are irrevocably human while living in the intimacies of new love. Uhaul is a book of devotional poems that is forthright in its convictions, whether those convictions are romantic, carnal, or obsessive. Ramser comes out in declaration in the title poem “Queer,” as she “almost gagged on my own tongue” in an almost denial of her own “queerness” to her lover, only then to dive right into acceptance of self and love as the “writing” of “all these poems about caressing your hipbones and cheekbones” begins with a “hickie in the shape of a heart is left on my breast” by her muse: as the searing burn of love melts any remaining doubts as to where this is going. From here the poet feeds her lover, “decorating her mouth with chocolate crumbs” as a way of understanding love and carnal joys, or in the poem “I give you my body for your own” Ramser dismantles her physical self in offerings to her muse. Love in the book takes shape as poems take shape: always differing in form, but ever aspiring towards art. Uhaul is an earthy book that dwells in Eros with grace through tension, doubt, faith, and utter charm.
—@Matthew David Campbell, Author of
Harmonious Anarchy, and The House of Eros
Matthew’s feedback almost made me cry because I was so surprised that someone liked my work that much. This project has been intensely personal, so good feedback is a godsend. A few of my friends have read the individual poems, as I was working on them, but overall, I’ve kept this collection pretty close to my chest. It’s a little scary to let it out into the world.
As to my being an editor, my editorself honestly helps me to better accept critique. I understand the purpose and need of it. I want to know what will make my poetry better and, as the assistant editor of an indie press, what will sell more books. That said, my editorself steps back in this situation. I am not an editor here, I am a writer. Weasel is my editor with this. He’s the one I trust to look over and suggest edits and the like. Overall, editors in these situations are meant to assist writers with publishing the best work for themselves and the press.
Outlar: That’s one hell of a good review from Campbell. I can see why it put a smile on your face. That’s great that you have that type of trust in Weasel Patterson where you can rely on his advice to steer you in the right direction if necessary. That type of writer/editor relationship is certainly a nice ace to be holding in your hand. How do you manage your time between your editorial duties, writing your own work, going to school, teaching, hosting readings, etc.? I’m exhausted just thinking about all the hats you wear. Do you have a specific time of day set aside for writing, or is it more of an anytime inspiration hits sort of thing?
Ramser: Oh god, time management is my worst enemy. Keeping all the hats on usually means wearing multiple hats at the same time and multitasking. It’s a never ending cycle. There are some days where I might get only three or four hours sleep because I stayed up until 4am writing an article after a day of internship and homework. So far, I’ve been able to make it work, but I’m curious to see how my schedule and duties will change following my graduation in December. I also am starting a graduate program in the summer (hopefully), so it will be an adjustment when it comes to relearning how to keep all my hats on my head.
As for writing for myself, I try to set aside time during the day to write, but it doesn’t always happen on schedule. It tends to happen sporadically and often at night.
My partner, Meagan, always laughs because I tend to get up randomly at night, usually when I’m half asleep, and start writing. She works nights and there have been a couple times when she’s come home at 6am and I’m sitting on the bed, typing away, never having realized that the night has flown by. I also tend to carry a journal around with me to write down ideas and pieces, but I’ve been known to use receipts (I have an entire chapbook of blackout poems done on receipts actually). I also use a note app on my phone to write down ideas or poems. When the inspiration happens, it happens.
I remember this one time where I was talking to her outside while she was smoking and I got struck with an idea after fiddling with a piece of grass that had been growing through a crack in the concrete. I pulled out my phone and started writing on the app while she was still talking, by the time she’d finished her cigarette, I’d written an entire poem. I put my phone in my pocket, and she looked at me and asked, “Did you just write a poem?” to which I nodded and she laughed. Luckily for me, she takes my moments of inspiration in stride and loves me all the more for them.
When I’m working, my schedule changes a little though. I try to write when my students are writing and do the exercises they are doing. It serves a dual purpose, it makes me write and works as an example for my students. Obviously, these writing moments aren’t always the most ideal, as I still have to supervise and sometimes as such don’t get to write as much. However it helps to get this kind of built in time.
All of that said, all the work and balancing acts are so worth it. It keeps my mind and hands occupied. I can’t ever seem to sit still normally, so always having work to do works for me as a person. I enjoy working. It’s what drives me. Writing is my life. I couldn’t be me without having a list of things to write or five billion projects to work on.
Outlar: I just had several memories of writing poems on napkins or in notebooks while speeding down the highway flash through my mind. Would that be considered a worse offense than texting and driving? Well, hell, when inspiration hits, it must be seized! As the release date for Uhaul moves ever-closer, what are your hopes for the book? Are you planning any sort of launch event where you live? When it comes to promotion, how important do you believe social media is in this day and age? On what platforms can people follow your work?
Ramser: When inspiration hits, it hits. You gotta take advantage of the opportunity when it strikes.
Oh goodness, my hopes for the book. My biggest hope is that it speaks to people. I want it to mean something to readers. I could give a shit less how many copies it sells as long as it strikes a chord in someone at least once.
Though some sales would certainly be nice, as it would help support the Press.
As for launch events, I’m tentatively planning to have one, but nothing for sure yet. I’m getting ready to start social media promotion of the book soon, though, waiting until July to really get it started. I think social media is important, but I also think more traditional routes such as interviews and reviews are as well. I think a mix of them are necessary. Use social media to review books or publicize reviews. Etc. I like that kind of mixture of traditional publicization and social media publicization.
As for my presence on social media, my Instagram is emramser, my twitter is @ChickadeePoems, and my facebook page is Emily Ramser. My blog is also another option: www.authoremilyramser.wordpress.com. Also email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Outlar: I’m confident your book will do well. I can tell it was written from your truest sense of self, and that, ultimately, is what resonates with readers. Truth is the most powerful force in the end. Thanks again, Emily, for taking the time to do this interview. It’s been a pleasure from my end. Are there any final thoughts you’d care to leave us with, or anything you’d like to add that I might not have brought up?
Ramser: I appreciate your compliment, Scott. Coming from an author like yourself that means a lot. I cannot think of anything else to add other than a thank you to any readers for sticking through my ramblings and a thank you to you, Scott for interviewing me (and respectively also putting up with my rambles).
tattooed across her abdomen,
and when I drug my fingers across it,
she asked me if I was a lesbian,
and I gagged on my tongue
because I’ve been writing all these poems
about caressing your hipbones
to stick and poke a new tattoo
in the shape of your heart