Poetry Muse: Charlie Petch + Why I Was Late
Today on the blog we are joined by Charlie Petch, author of Why I Was Late (Brick Books). Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist who resides in Tkaronto/Toronto. In our Q&A, Charlie shares a poem from his new collection, and shares how for this specific poem, his muse was Mike Tyson.See more details below
Who is your muse?
Being open to all that people are, is my muse. In this poetic offering, my muse is Mike Tyson.
Picture of Mike Tyson
What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing?
I didn’t aim to have a collection really, as a spoken word/theatre artist I don’t usually envision my work statically on a page. I just kept adding to folders called “Manuscript (year)” and when a friend nudged me about where my collection was, I decided to see what I’d amassed at this point and found a full manuscript. I write most mornings, before the world seeps in, before the muses arrive, when I am at my most raw, open, and emotional. I believe writing is a muscle so my morning exercises include stretching, lifting weights and putting 26 letters together over and over again, in pleasing partnerships, and hoping they convey what I have in my head.
When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?
I started writing stories when I was around 9 years old, but didn’t get into poetry really until I got a notebook at 16, and then the angst began ha ha. It really helped me to sort out my brain, though, being a trans person at that point of history, I felt there was a whole language I didn’t know, which was how I felt in my body. I think us non binary and trans people really have to do that extra searching, and that this is an art onto itself. I never stopped writing stories, novels or plays so I can’t claim to have held poetry up over all other forms of literature, but I do feel like poetry is the basis of all my other writing.
How would you describe your poetry collection?
Humourous, heartbreaking, transformative.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
Let yourself fail, let bad poems out of you so the great ones can find you. Believe that there is a little you in every audience, that needs to hear what you have to say.
Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?
Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?
I absolutely love to write with music in the background. My upcoming spoken word theatre piece, “Daughter of Geppetto” was written while listening to Chopin’s nocturnes, as they were popular at the time of the original Pinocchio in 1880. The first poem in the 4 part show ended up lining up so perfectly with Chopin’s nocturne "Opus 9, No. 2," that I have kept it in the show. At this point I really believe that because I listened to it so much in the creation of the work, I wove the poem around it.
Poem from Why I Was Late
My First Lisping Hero
To be performed with ukulele fingerpicking
We called you champ.
when you and I open up our mouths
they turn into bull’s eyes
and we are silent in our defense
because words can be landmines
the first time I saw you
unabashed unapologetic on the
you became my first lisping hero
I imagined us in my playground
bullies fleeing our earthquake footsteps
I tried to duck and dance like a butterfly Ali
you were no one’s punching bag
launched iron fists to the tune of thirty-eight arrests
before you hit age thirteen.
The boxing world plucked you from reform school
maybe you felt saved
I know how education can seem like the enemy
and for a boy targeted for his
high-pitched lispy voice
you probably felt relieved that the teacher
would never call on you again.
Your lisp never got better
your voice never dropped
you put up your dukes
gave up on language
and let your dreams narrow
Before your mom died
she gave you to
your boxing coach
who polished you up like a
but never could install any breaks
There were no bells in the bedrooms you strode into
no towels to be thrown in front of your thundering ways
Raised to be a wild animal
you look calmest wrestling with your Bengal tiger
even your friends say you belonged in a cage.
you’re as used to betrayal as getting punched in the gut
I mean the man who could have protected you
when you were just two years old
there are no “s” sounds in “Dad”
you could have said it everyday
without the worry of retribution
Instead you shouted it into barrel chests
It bounced back with the blank stares of men
who love you
for your fists
and the bags of money they bring
Maybe what you needed
was a male embrace
not cut short by a bell
Now in the wake of Holyfield’s spat-out ear
your empire crumbles
your four-year-old daughter dies
your other children look at you in fear
and your beloved tiger
paces behind some stranger's bars
The television calls you a monster
speaks of your failures
your legacy of violence
I like your new heavyweight fight
the one called Sobriety
as your daughter’s easy laughter
makes you champion
the father who’s there
the father who came back
I’ve written so many endings
to your poem Mike
some were too kind
others damned you
but you grew
in love and recovery
Some humans are capable of so much
when we give them a chance
to get up off the mat
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Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist who resides in Tkaronto/Toronto. A poet, playwright, librettist, musician, lighting designer, and host, Petch was the 2017 Poet of Honour for SpeakNorth national festival, winner of the Golden Beret lifetime achievement in spoken word with The League of Canadian Poets (2020), and founder of Hot Damn it's a Queer Slam. Petch is a touring performer, as well as a mentor and workshop facilitator. They are launching "Daughter of Geppetto", a multimedia/dance/music/performance poetry piece with Wind in the Leaves in April 2022 , launched their full length poetry collection Why I Was Late with Brick Books which got a "Best of 2021" from The Walrus, and filmed their libretto "Medusa's Children" with Opera QTO. They have been featured on CBC's Q, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, and were longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2021. Find out more at www.charliecpetch.com
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Happy National Poetry Month!
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