An Interview with Cassandra Whitaker

Cassandra Whitaker is a trans writer from the rural south. Their work has been published in Little Patuxent Review, Barrelhouse, Kitchen Table Quarterly, The Daily Drunk & among other places. They are a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

You can read their poem Happiness Loop in our July 2022 issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?

This poem sprung from reflecting on my own cognitive processes with regards to my own recovery and mental health. I have a daily writing practice, which means sometimes I write confessionally, and often my work examines repetition in how I emotionally, culturally or cognitively repeat gestures, behaviors, etc. Being happy is a purposeful action that can be manufactured and repeated. Easier said than done! 

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar?

I return to Sexton, Plath, Bishop,Crane and O’Hara, Shakespeare. Larry Levis continues to reveal with each new reading. Frank Bidart, Iyla Kaminsky, Solmaz Sharif, Jos Charles, Meg Day, Michael Chang, Natalie Diaz are other voices I find attractive for their re-readability. 

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?

The arts, music or painting. The physical experience that painting affords!

What are you working on now? 

Poems about emptiness and hunger, poems inspired by symbiosis and queer ecology. Essays about my body and my identity as a transgender/non-binary person and the intersections between my identity and socio-political culture wars and education and queer families.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

As a younger writer, I would have answered image; these days my poems begin with sound, or with sound in mind.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

Cinema, painting, gardening, cooking, theater. A great play is poetry.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

Every day I write for 20 minutes or so. On a good night, an hour or more. Every so often I use Ed Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary to inform my practice; I discover new or forgotten forms in the glossary to play with.

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it? 

Read the poem out loud. Often. Repeat. I enjoy layering data in line breaks, form, whether invented, faithful or corrupted. Syntax can be a powerful crafting tool.  Disrupting the reader’s expectations can be accomplished through so many tools. Know how to use them all.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

Every so often I attend workshops with regional writer’s organizations, Eastern Shore Writers Association, or Sundress Academy, etc. I have not had a group in some time.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

How to make the prosody, music and content hold hands and sing and dance as the poem explores the human experience. 

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