Welcome back to Text Message Interviews! This month we text with Marisa Crawford, girl culture writer and poet extraordinaire, and the founder of the feminist literary webzine Weird Sister.

DUM DUM’s Music Editor Julia Gibson chats with Crawford about the release of her new book of poetry Reversible, a shared affinity for Courtney Love as well as music and fashion as a reflective tool to connect us with past selves. Read on, and #GetDuM!

DUM DUM Zine (DDZ): Hey Marisa! It’s Julia Gibson from DUM DUM Zine. Ready to get started with some questions?

Marisa Crawford (MC): Hi Julia!! Yesss so psyched! ✨

DDZ: Yay me too!

First question: can you send me 3 images that are inspiring you right now?

MC:

DDZ: So good! Also Courtney Hole is in frequent rotation at my house.

DDZ: How did you get your start writing poetry? What drew you to poetry as a medium?

MC: Omggg my inner 7th grader needs that Hole record!

I wrote my first poem in 4th grade when my best friend moved away. It was called “Lost on Friendship’s Path.” I sort of never stopped writing poetry, but I started taking it more seriously in college. I was drawn to the immediacy of poetry, and to the emotion, mystery, and openness of it. For me, writing a poem always starts from a feeling I’m having in the moment, rather than something I sit down and decide to write, which is how my relationship to writing in other forms/genres often feels. And there’s so much space in poetry for weird leaps in logic, for giant shifts in perspective and piles of objects and images and memories to all hang out together.

I’m texting you from the CVS makeup aisle by the way. Firework by Katy Perry is playing.

DDZ: I love that description, “piles of objects and images and memories” all hanging out together. That reminded me immediately of the poems that make up your recently released collection, Reversible. Can you tell me more about the book? Your intention, your process? (Also, Did you get any makeup?)

MC: I didn’t get any makeup sadly; I just went in there to escape the rain since the CVS makeup aisle is one of my fave places on the planet

My book Reversible just came out last month from the feminist poetry press Switchback Books. It’s a collection of poems I’ve been working on for the past 7 years or so about teen girlhood, female friendship, self-expression through cultural ephemera like fashion and popular music, feminism, and time, among other themes. I think my intention with these poems is to bring attention to and draw connections between several different ideas: how music and fashion allow us to access the past, and how appropriation of and nostalgia for different periods of time is tied into fashion and marketing, and is also part of identity formation, especially for some teenage girls (I was obsessed with the 70s as a teenager, and in the present day the 90s have come back into fashion), and how that relates to time and memory. The poems are very interested in going back in time, and how going back in time means something really different for a teenage girl than it does for a 30-something woman.

 DDZ: The CVS makeup aisle is one of the best places for tooling around, even if I only ever buy the same revlon liquid eyeliner ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I know you touched on music as a way to access to the past…can you talk a little more about the role that music plays in your poetry? The musical aspect was something that caught my attention while reading Reversible: your inclusion and subversion of song lyrics, the nostalgic band name dropping, etc.

MC: Music channels the past in such a visceral way. When I listen to a song I listened to a lot at a different time in my life, it brings me back into the feelings I felt then in a way that’s much more powerful than looking at a picture, or even reading old letters. I can remember days and clothes and friendships and feelings that I forgot I ever had. Does this happen to you too? When a song was important to me as a teenager, I became obsessed with its lyrics–this was before I had the Internet, so I would listen to songs over and over to memorize the words, sometimes mishearing them and creating my own mythologized versions of what the song was saying, which meant more to me than the real words ever could. Some of those misheard lyrics are in Reversible, and others that channel memories or say something that feels really essential to the world of a particular poem. Like many other forms of pop culture, music has such a huge impact on how we think and feel about the world around us, and influences our views on gender, race, class, age, etc, without us even consciously realizing it.

There are a lot of classic rock songs by dudes for example that I loved as a teenager, but when I look back on them some of what they had to say about women was pretty fucked up. I reference these songs, and others, in my poems to interrogate what they’re saying from a feminist perspective; but also from the perspective of a speaker who still loves them and grew up on them and whose identity was very much shaped by them, so it’s a complicated relationship to have to a song.

And then there are songs that I just kind of adore as pure poetry from an intuitive childhood or teenage place — Hole, The Cranberries, Ani Difranco, and on and on. When those come up in my poems, I think it’s like I’m shouting them out as formative to my poetics or my entire being or something.

DDZ: That absolutely happens to me: there are some songs that will never escape their association with certain times and events in my life and the feelings that came along with them. I love seeing that phenomenon reflected in your poetry; I think that that is a really relatable thing for many people and you capture it beautifully. 

Another aspect of your poetry that I found myself interested in is fashion/style/beauty. So many amazing details throughout your poems (naming outfits in “Ridiculous Thoughts,” meditations on hair color in “The Brunette with Glasses,” lavender eyeshadow in “Lady Gaga Looks like Aunt Linda”) make reference to image and appearance. How do those things play into the creation of identity in your poems? Do they play a role similar to music?

MC: Like songs, clothing can connect us to the past, and also to the future. I think that fashion and style and beauty and appearance are really important to how young women in particular learn to understand ourselves — we’re expected to look and dress a certain way, and every element of young women’s appearances is constantly scrutinized in our culture, from fashion magazines telling women what to wear and how much money to spend and how to fix their bodies to rape culture and street harassment. Young women get so many conflicting messages about how we should look and what that means, and I think it can be really hard to navigate this. My poems try to look at those ideas and also to take fashion and personal style seriously, rather than dismissing it and the girls and young women it matters to as trivial. I *love* fashion and makeup and planning the perfect outfit; I think that fashion is a source of power and magic.

I love the feeling of putting together an outfit that is so wildly rad that it totally clears my head and makes me feel a million times  better about my day and my life in general–I wrote about this idea recently in an essay about Claudia from The Babysitters Club — but having the time and energy to indulge that love of clothing is something that I think is harder to hold onto as you get older and busier with adult responsibilities, which is part of why it feels like such a powerful connection to the past. I also have always loved wearing my mom’s old clothes, and old clothes in general. They feel like an anchor into understanding what it felt like to be alive at a different time.

DDZ: Do you have an outfit in particular that really brings you back to the time and the place it originated or connects you to a state of feeling?

MC: Omg so many! There are certain clothing items that I just can’t let go of for purely sentimental reasons, and some of them are weird ones! I have this peach t-shirt with process sleeves and the dictionary definition of the work “sunrise” on it that I bought at like Forever 21 in like 2004. It brings me back to this feeling of just after college & being in this very transitional place and dating a really mean shitty ex and working at a weird retail job and dressing up every day even though & while I was feeling really sad. As for my mom’s clothes, I have a poem in my book called “The 70s” that’s in part about this 70s polyester button up shirt with people riding tandem bicycles on it that I borrowed from my mom in like 7th grade (and by borrowed I mean took from her closet) that I have worn at different points of my life in different outfits. When I first started wearing it, I think it made me feel connected to the 70s, which I totally exoticized at the time via movies like Dazed and Confused. Now when I wear it I think about that and about my younger selves and I also think about my mom, who was not at all like the kids in that movie in the 70s, and all the hard things and the good things that she went through wearing awesome polyester clothes.

DDZ: I’m picturing that t-shirt and I love it. I know what you mean about having difficulty parting with things like that.  I’m super into how able you are to find the connections between things: the present to the past, yourself to past or future iterations of yourself, etc. It makes me think of how important making connections are to understand ourselves and the world around us, and also makes me think of why something like Weird Sister, the site you founded. Can you tell me more about what Weird Sister is, and how it came to be?

 MC: I just noticed I meant “princess sleeves” not “process sleeves” in my last reply lol

DDZ:  That’s amazing. I googled process sleeves and concluded that I was just not fashionable enough.

MC: LOL re. process sleeves! That’s amazing

 Weird Sister is a website and organization exploring the intersections of feminism, literature and pop culture. I founded Weird Sister in 2014 because, at the time, I noticed that there were a number of popular literary blogs featuring smart analysis of contemporary literature that was often lacking in feminist perspective (and sometimes felt like a bit of a boys club), and a number of feminist blogs that offered insightful critique of gender in pop culture and the world at large that didn’t have much literary-focused or experimental content. I felt like we were missing a space that focused on the place where experimental literature and intersectional feminism collided, which is very much the space where I and many of the people I relate to most exist, so I decided to create it. Since then, Weird Sister has evolved to also host live events, readings and talks as well as being an online forum. Some recent pieces on the site that I’m really excited about, and that I think capture what Weird Sister is all about, include an amazing look at the female gaze on the show Pretty Little Liars, and a review of two new poetry books about female beauty, and I’m currently working on an interview with the artist Portia Munson that’s going up soon :)

DDZ: I love that you spotted that void and created something to fill it I’m excited to read that Portia Munson interview! So what else is on the horizon for you? Any other upcoming projects/readings/CVS makeup runs that we should look out for?

MC: At the moment I’m working on putting together a collection of essays about pop culture, nostalgia & feminism. I’m also working on an interview with the writer/producer of Dirty Dancing Eleanor Bergstein for Broadly, and I have a few other interview and essay ideas that are coming together in my brain. I’m feeling a little less focused on writing poetry lately but am slowly putting together a new manuscript of poems that’s tentatively called DIARY. And I’m working on continuing to grow Weird Sister and make it more sustainable! Oh & I also have a YA novel that I started a while ago & am trying to get back into that’s about cutting and riot grrrl and Sylvia Plath. Most importantly I’m trying to be more fashionable than ever at 35 and do everything I can to stop our country from slipping further into complete dystopia.

DDZ: I truly can’t wait to read any and all of those works in progress ⚡️⚡️⚡️ Lastly, what inspires and astonishes you as a creator?

MC: Thanks! What inspires me most is the amazing, rad work created by other women writers & artists, past & present. I spent the day yesterday at the Women, Action & the Media conference meeting and hearing talks by so many brilliant women journalists, critics & media makers whose work inspires me so much. One of the keynote speakers was Salamishah Tillet, who gave a really great talk on the connections between activism to end sexual assault on campus and racial justice movements–it was so illuminating. I’m always so inspired by critical and creative work that brings a really incisive & bold intersectional feminist lens to culture and media, whether that takes the form of essays, poems, YA literature, visual art or TV shows. It motivates me to keep doing the work that I care about.

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Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible (2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, as well as two chapbooks. Her poems, essays, and articles have appeared in publications including Hyperallergic, BUST, Bitch, The Hairpin, and Fanzine, and are forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque (Saturnalia Books, 2017). Marisa is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website Weird Sister. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, June 19th 2017