An Interview with Michael Russell

Michael Russell (he/they) is the author of chapbook Grindr Opera (Frog Hollow Press). He’s queer, has BPD, Bipolar Disorder and way too much anxiety. His work has appeared in Arc Poetry MagazineHeavy Feather ReviewSICK Magazine among other places. He lives in Toronto and thinks you’re fantabulous.

Michael’s poem lilith appears in Pinhole Poetry’s launch 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? 

The idea for “lilith” came when I was wrestling with leaving a relationship with a partner who was unfaithful. At the same time my mental health was beginning to unravel and I was in the early stages of a manic episode. As for the poem itself, I wanted to queer the biblical figure Lilith and add layers of rage, pain and power to the voice of the speaker while also weaving in elements of Lilith leaving Eden. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a full-length manuscript of poetry that explores bipolar disorder, mania and infidelity in a queer monogamous relationship. It’s pretty much finished, so I’m hoping to find a home for it soon ❤ 

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

I usually write from the “confessional” so poems often come from life experiences, from the day to day, psychological landscapes and from memory. 

As for where my poems begin, most start from notes. I tend to text myself a lot (lol) because it’s quick, convenient and efficient. I can get an idea out without losing it and keep a log of my messages. I feel it’s easier than using a notes app.  

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

Lots! Music, anime, comic books, television to name a few. 

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

This is a difficult question, my disability dictates my routine and my routine dictates my writing practice. So, I guess, when I’m feeling stable, I tend to write a lot more than when I’m having an episode or a flare up. It’s entirely health dependent, to be honest. 

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? 

The best advice I received was to trust my reader more.

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

I’m rather isolated because of my anxiety, so I don’t belong to any groups or communities, however, I do find a sense of community on Instagram. Even though Instagram terrifies me, there’s a sense of warmth knowing I’m connecting with others in CanLit and beyond through cyberspace. 

As for feedback, I find working with an outside editor to be essential when a project is nearing completion. A fresh set of eyes is so necessary to see things that I can’t when I’ve been buried in a project for so long. 

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

I’ve always wanted to write a 20+ page poem that doesn’t *feel* like it drags terribly. I know a lot of writers who can do it well, so I guess I am trying to find the secret to a good epic? If that makes any sense? Hah!

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