Poetry Express: Molly Cross-Blanchard + Exhibitionist
In her debut collection Exhibitionist (Coach House Books), Métis poet Molly Cross-Blanchard reckons with a devastating break-up. A saucy mix of love poems, break-up poems, and musings on sexuality culminate in a brutally honest and funny collection of sorry-not-sorry confessional poetry.
Below, Molly Cross-Blanchard chats with us about writing poetry through a soul-crushing break-up, shame and artistic breakthroughs, and dedicating her book to “the young people who feel so embarrassed, all the time.”
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During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout. Or you can find it at your local independent bookstore.
All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?
Molly Cross-Blanchard: Exhibitionist is my master's thesis from UBC. It’s colloquial and voice-driven, and there’s a big pop culture influence and a focus on sexuality and Indigeneity. But more broadly, the book is about a failed relationship. They’re break-up poems. But they’re also love poems to myself, and to my future.
How it came to be is a classic conundrum: the man I was in love with hurt me really badly, and my whole life changed in about 30 seconds. Poetry helped me white-knuckle it through the soul obliterating agony I felt for a solid 3-5 years, and still sometimes feel. Through poetry I realized how many compromises I’d made every day for him, and how different I had become from what Little Molly thought she’d be. Little Molly dyed her hair blue because she felt like it, and told bullies in her shaky little voice “You can’t talk to me that way!” and then she grew up into someone who deleted facebook statuses about body hair because her boyfriend thought it was “gross,” and she allowed him to make her feel stupid. I was so disappointed in myself, and I knew I needed to turn that ship around. I think this book is a record of how I’ve pulled little pieces of myself back to myself. Not really in a rah rah kind of way, but in a “this is what my life looks like without him in it and it’s not perfect or glamorous but it’s mine” kind of way.
But I’m actually just interested to hear what readers think the book does. These poems have done their work in my life, and I hope they can make an impact on other people struggling to stand in their power.
Photo of Molly Cross-Blanchard
[Image description: A front-facing photo of the author smiling and standing against a brick wall; the photo is cut off at her chest. She is a light-skinned woman with brown hair that is pulled back, and is wearing a white t-shirt and a beige Montana hat.]
ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?
MCB: The things I thought I’d never want anyone to know. Exhibitionist is dedicated to “the young people who feel so embarrassed, all the time.” There were so many things about myself that I was (am) ashamed of, like that I have nipple hair, and I get jealous of other women, and when I was in middle school no one wanted to kiss me during spin the bottle. But now these are the things that feed my writing, and I really just want to lay it all on the table because it’s liberating to not have any secrets that stem from shame. When you’re young especially, the social pressure to fit in and be popular is so paralyzing, and the stakes feel impossibly high, or at least they did to me when I was younger. When I realized I didn’t really care about that shit in the same way I did before, it was a huge artistic breakthrough. I started writing into that discomfort and people responded positively to it. And it just felt so good to release the shame.
ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
MCB: Absolutely. Poetry never felt very accessible to me growing up, or even in my early twenties. And I still don’t like most published poetry, if I’m being completely honest. I can understand when someone is doing something cool with language or form, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but do I enjoy the process of reading it? Not really. (And that’s just on personal taste. Poetry can be whatever you want it to be, and I hate when poets shit on other poets, because we have it hard enough already. So that’s not what I’m trying to do here at all. But I felt, and still sometimes feel, alienated by poetry. Like poetry doesn’t care if I engage with it or not.)
But when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Winnipeg, I met the poet Hannah Green who was writing these incredibly funny, deadpan poems about domesticity and addiction and mental health and I was completely enamoured by her and her writing. I didn’t feel like she was trying to trick me. There was no smoke and mirror show, there was just her, take it or leave it. We formed a writing group with some other friends from class and I tried to soak up every little piece of advice I could from her. It was a mindfuck, to see how bold and accessible poetry could be, and that you could say “fuck” in a poem and it wouldn’t become any less beautiful. In fact, it could become more beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay Hannah for that gift. But I do hope to pay it forward and write accessible poetry that opens other young writers up to this practice that has truly become one of the greatest joys of my life, and that I used to think I had no business trying to be part of.
ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?
MCB: I’m reading fiction, mostly. The next book I write will be a novel (she said confidently, having not written any fiction in two years). I figure if I read enough good fiction, the rhythm of novel-writing will find me. But I’ll always come back to poetry. And the poets I’ll come back to are Hera Lindsay Bird, Kayla Czaga, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Chelsey Minnis, Monica McClure, and Selina Boan (whose debut, Undoing Hours, you should order immediately). The comedian Catherine Cohen also just released a book of poems, God I Feel Modern Tonight, and I’m super into it. More funny, nihilist poems, please!
ALU: Describe your ideal escape.
MCB: Right now? I’d like to escape to Ireland to see one of my dearest friends who I miss very, very much and haven’t seen since 2019. I want to sit in a pub with her and drink our weight in Guinness, and pass out on her living room floor, and go for greasy breakfast the next morning, and baa at some sheep, and there’s not a mask or a bottle of Purell in sight. That would be perfect.
A poem from Exhibitionist
YOU HAVE TWO GIRLFRIENDS
and I have McMuffin wrappers on my windowsill.
You have two girlfriends and I’m in the bath
plucking hairs from my nipples with my teeth. Fuck you
if that turned you on. You have two girlfriends
on my birthday. It’s my birthday
and I’m eating a bloody steak
at my desk with a plastic knife, turned away from
‘The One Where Rachel Finds Out.’
I found out you have two girlfriends
on my birthday. I’m twenty-five
and smelling the crotch of all my jeans.
I’m twenty-five, in a basement suite with rats
that scratch in the walls at night and a coin-op
washer-dryer I try to shove three weeks of clothes in
at a time. Instagram says your new condo building
is round, overlooks the river walk, and you’ve got
a chaise longue for each of your girlfriends. I’ve got
a slipper for each of my feet, and I swish swish
haunt this place.
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Molly Cross-Blanchard is a white and Métis writer and editor born on Treaty 3 territory (Fort Frances, ON), raised on Treaty 6 territory (Prince Albert, SK), and living on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples (Vancouver, BC). She holds an English BA from the University of Winnipeg and a Creative Writing MFA from the University of British Columbia, and is the publisher of Room magazine.
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During the month of April, you can buy Exhibitionist and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!
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