Poetry Cure: Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Poetry Cure ends on a transformative note with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's Bodymap (Mawenzi House), a collection that meditates on what it means to be a queer woman of colour in North America with sections on disability, queer transformative love, politics and Sri Lankan identity, and queer parenting. We read "everyone thinks you’re so lazy. don’t let them" from the book, talk about the disability justice movement, and the practice of writing.See more details below
An Interview with Leah
All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: Bodymap is my third book of poetry and is absolutely a product of the disability justice movement—a cultural and political movement lead by sick, disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent queer and trans and Black, Indigenous and people of colour. It's my third book, and the first one where I collected writing on sick and disabled themes, many of which were created through my work with the performance collective Sins Invalid. The creation of cultural spaces by oppressed groups, where we get to create on our own terms and for our own people, is so important for marginalized writers to be able to create—without Sins and other spaces created by disabled QT/POC I would never have written these poems. This is a book full of love and sex poems about queer survivors of colour navigating triggers, QTPOC collective houses in Oakland with $175 rent, Occupy/Decolonize, going with your brown queer best friend to a 5am MRI, finding other disabled queer poets at the walking lane at the YWCA pool and on the subway elevator, resilience in the face of environmental racism in rust belt cities, hard femme love and bodies negotiating bank accounts in overdraft. It came out in 2015 and I decided to go on a six-week tour for it, which brought me into a lot of communities of queers wanting to talk about sex and bodies and survivorship and disability, and ever since I've heard from people who read it in the psych ward or say that it really changed the way they felt about disability in their life. I'm very proud of it.
ALU: Do you have any steadfast writing rituals?
LLPS: Not always, but often, I pray before I write. I think about the lineage of queer writers of colour who I am writing in, whose work saved my life and taught me to write. I think about why I'm writing what I'm writing. I ask for help. I have kind of badly printed-out pictures of different artistic ancestors thumb-tacked above my altar—right now it's Gloria Anzaldua, Leslie Feinberg, Ibrahim Farajajé, Taueret Davis, and my grandparents. It helps me write on purpose.
ALU: If you wrote a memoir, what would it be called?
LLPS: I already did: it's called Dirty River: A Queer Femme Of Color Dreaming Her Way Home. I'm working on my second, it doesn't have a title yet ;)
ALU: What books are you currently reading?
LLPS: On my bedside table are Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's As We Have Always Done—everyone should be reading her work, I'm savoring it. I'm re-reading a lot of Patrick Califia, because his writing on kink and survivorhood was really foundational to my 20's and coming of age, and a lot of it is going out of print. I'm also reading Justin Chin's work, another great queer poet with Malaysian roots, some of it for the first time. Making my way through Joy Harjo's Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and re-reading Nayomi Munaweera's Island of a Thousand Mirrors. I also have Romesh Gunesekera's Noontide Tole, a new collection of short stories—both such good Sri Lankan writers. I also am in the middle of a big re-read of Ursula Le Guin, post her passing.
ALU: What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you about writing, or life?
LLPS: Writing takes bravery—not just to write the things your family tell you they'll kill you if you talk about, but also to be honest about the true stories of your community, when they want you to write a simple, happy narrative. And not just the writing, but also the taking yourself seriously, carving out time, saying not o your friends when they want you to listen to their problems or go to brunch—the making a life for yourself as a writer where you have enough money to sort of pay the bills and the time you need to write. Some people assume that only the privileged get to do that, but I am here to say that I am from a lineage of writers without trust funds who have done a lot of wild things to make a living that makes time to write.
You also need to practice. Marge Piercy's line, "You need to like it (writing) more than being loved" has always stayed with me. I also like what Octavia Butler said: "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice.” I don't sit down at my desk every morning at 9 to write, but I do write consistently, block off time to write, and treat it like a "real job." I get ideas when I'm on the bus or walking around and write them down, but I also make time to sit down and make regular writing time because you build trust with your body and your practice; when the writing knows you're making time for it, sometimes it shows up more.
everyone thinks you’re so lazy. don’t let them
this is your work:
slam the alarm over and over again.
then grab your Hitachi.
this will melt the shards of ice hardened in joints.
whole grains in tupperware, coffee and drugs await you.
do your yoga: your ancestors knew how to melt rock in hard
then get back home under the covers.
this is your commute:
to bless the daily act of breathing
as work as necessary as nine-to-five.
this your work:
like other invalids able to make art under the sheets
to be blessed just for breathing
this labour not paid not union:
this is your work.
make sure you get paid what you are worth.
make sure you pay yourself first
make sure you say work
exhale and inhale:
our survival is
the opposite of lazy
–From Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha (Mawenzi House, 2015)
Winner of the 2012 Lambda Literary Award, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha is a queer disabled femme writer, teacher and performer of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan, Roma and Irish ascent. The author of Bodymap, Love Cake and Consensual Genocide and the co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities, her writing has been widely anthologized. She is the co-founder of the queer people of color arts incubator Mangos With Chili, a lead artist with Sins Invalid and co-founder of Toronto’s Asian Arts Freedom School. In 2010 she was named one of the Feminist Press’ 40 Feminists Under 40 Shaping the Future. Her first memoir, Dirty River, was released by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2015.
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