Sensual, Evocative & Powerful: An Interview with Chi Sherman

Chi Sherman is an issue #2 contributor.

Audrey Bowers: What does the word brave mean to you?

Chi Sherman: I guess being brave, at least in a writing context, means that I am finally starting to write about “myself myself” instead of the fantasy self I’ve been in poems. The fantasy self that lingers with languid lovers on lavender sheets while sipping liqueur, that is. Being myself in my writing means composing essays about potentially difficult topics, such as being a person of size, being biracial, or being gay (just to name a few identities) and preparing myself for questions my friends and family might ask. Like many people, probably, I hold back parts of myself that even my closest friends never see, so it wouldn’t surprise me if a family member read one of my essays and assumed I had leaned into the creative side of creative nonfiction a little too much. To wit, my mother read “I Ate This” and was surprised to find out everything I say in that piece is true. I guess I’ve just wanted to shield my parents from negative experiences I’ve had as a large, permanently tan lesbian, but I know it’s better to live in truth. I want and need to dig deep into the pain that has shaped me, but I also need to face myself when I do, which is definitely not as fun as watching Netflix. 🙂

AB: How can poets & writers be brave when working on their own writing?

CS: Well, if you’re me, you can stop waiting for your entire family to die so you can write some gritty stuff without any blowback. J I think it’s like any difficult mental/emotional situation: In order to heal, you need to walk through the fire. For most of my writing life, I’ve been standing just outside the proverbial doorway warming my hands instead of pushing through (and onward to more writing, better writing, etc.).

AB: Your poem I Ate This seems unapologetic and powerful. Can you explain the process of writing it?

CS: (Note: I consider it a creative nonfiction piece. J) I wanted to write something that gave a glimpse into my life as a big woman, something that wasn’t dressed up in “Someday I’m gonna lose weight” kind of outfit… sort of like a sad, fatphobic TV trope about a fat person finally being “redeemed” by diet and exercise.

Much like journaling, most of the text just came pouring out. As I wrote, I remembered more and more experiences. I get very upset when I see media that portrays fat people as always eating, always dieting, unhappy, never loved, etc. and I guess I wanted to say, basically, “I’m fat. Sometimes it really sucks. But fat is not, no pun intended, the whole of me.” I wanted to be seen as a person instead of just a fat girl. I hear the sound of doors slamming as I write that. As a fat girl, I have been ignored, forgotten entirely, mocked, looked at with disgust, asked when I’m going to lose weight, and threatened with locked doors on kitchen cabinets. I feel like I lose my humanity in people’s judgment, so I wanted to write a piece that said, basically, I’m just a girl who wants to go dancing with you. (Apologies for any similarities to Notting Hill. 🙂 )

AB: You write non-fiction as well. How do you find it different from and similar to writing poetry?

CS: Writing nonfiction allows me to lean into the lyricism of words. I generally like to keep my poetry short. My longest poem is two single-spaced pages and it’s a beast to read at an open mic. Generally, I like to keep my lines short and somewhat staccato (as I did in my recently published piece, “commingled”). With nonfiction, I get to float in the depths of phrases that would ordinarily be chopped up by The Stanza Machine. Just like other writers, my style is evolving and, to be honest, if I would get out of my own way and stop dropping a big old FEAR paperweight on things, I think my writing could go in an amazing new direction.

AB: Can you describe your work in three words?

CS: Sensual, evocative, powerful

AB: What can readers look forward to from you in the future?

CS: I’m still trying to decide what 2020 is going to look like. I made no resolutions or writing goals because I’m very good at coming up with great ideas at night and balking at actually doing them come morning. I’m interested in releasing a fifth chapbook and think I might make it a “greatest hits,” if you will, in which I revisit old pieces from previous books and throw in several new pieces of writing. It’s been a long time since I had a book run off at Kinko’s (hell, I’m dating myself just by mentioning Kinko’s! lol) and I’d like to get that energy back in my life. Maybe attend some readings instead of just thinking about it. I’ll definitely be submitting more work for publication!

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