In her fourth collection,
day/break (Book*hug Press) Gwen Benaway lays bare what it means to be a trans woman in the world, calling into question how gender, sexuality, and love intersect with violence and institutional transmisogyny. Below Gwen tells us more about writing her collection and why day/break was a lesson in refusal for her. Read on for our interview and a poem from Gwen's collection.
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Interview with Gwen Benaway
All Lit Up: day/break is your fourth collection of poetry. What did you learn writing this collection?
Gwen Benaway: I wrote day/break over two months in the summer, but I had been thinking about the themes of the collection for years. I wanted to write a poetry collection that tried to engage critically with how trans women’s bodies are constructed without deviating from an everyday conversational language. For me, poetry is theory so I tried to do some small theoretical work with day/break— imagining trans feminine possibility beyond the spectre of death and/or the duality of martyrdom/sainthood. It was a very deliberate intervention into how I saw trans women’s work being imagined within literary spaces. It was the first time that I’ve really conceptually imagined a whole collection of poetry as a single thematic exploration. Everything from the line spacing to the image patterns was a very conscious choice and that’s new for me in this collection.
One of my hard lessons as a trans girl poet has been that cis audiences only understand trans women’s writing as subject matter lessons in transness. For me, trans women’s writing is so much more than simply exposition or description. I had an early reviewer of day/break describe the collection as simply being about “transness” which is the exact poverty of imagination that day/break is trying to intervene into. Trans femininity is more than description or narrative. We exist within affective registers as well and comprise a range of subjecthoods in excess of transness. Cis women poets are constantly praised as innovative technical poets even when they write about domestic or intimate matters but trans women poets are almost never recognized as “skilled poets.”
So day/break was a lesson in refusal for me: refusing cis description, refusing cis narrative, refusing cis desires for trans bodies.
ALU: If you were a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure story, what kind of quest would you be on? What three things would you have with you on your journey?
GB: I would be on a quest to escape a terrible dungeon hidden in a fantasy world. I would have my dog with me, a magic mirror that lets me peer into other ppl’s souls, and a lucky pack of menthol cigarettes.
ALU: Where do you draw inspiration from outside of poetry?
GB: I learn from the people in my life and the circumstances that I encounter. I find inspiration in conversation around me or in watching the sky change overhead. Of course, prose and theory teach me things, but inspiration comes from living in the world.
ALU: Help us with a poetry prompt for our readers. Can you come up with a writing prompt for our readers to write their own poetry?
GB: Write a poem in the ordinary language of people you love about an everyday place.
Gwen Benaway is a trans girl of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She is the author of three previous poetry collections—Ceremonies for the Dead, Passage, and Holy Wild, winner of the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, and finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry, and the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature, and longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She is also the editor of an anthology of fantasy short stories titled Maiden Mother and Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes. She has been a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ writers from the Writers' Trust of Canada, and her personal essay, A Body Like A Home, was the Gold Prize Winner for the National Magazine Awards in Personal Journalism. Her latest book is day/break. She is also currently editing a book of creative non-fiction, trans girl in love. She lives in Toronto and is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto in the Women and Gender Studies Institute.
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