Who are some poets or writers that have influenced your work?
I’m inspired by a multitude of writers, including: Saida Agostini, Fatimah Asghar, Eduardo C. Corral, Camisha Jones, Travis Chi Wing Lau, Patricia Smith, Tracy K. Smith, Jillian Weise, and so many more.
How do you approach conveying the urgency and impact of climate change in your poetry? In your opinion, how can poetry contribute to raising awareness and inspiring action on environmental issues like global warming?
I’m terrified of how our Earth has changed, is changing, will change. I’m terrified of the world my children and great-grandchildren will inherit. The urgency is not invented; we have to act now. Eco-anxiety provides a great deal of fuel for my poetry. Fear can motivate people to care, and maybe, hopefully, to act.
I try to express this fear and urgency and reality that climate change will impact everyone at some point. It’s already affecting vulnerable communities around the world. And it’s incredibly unjust — the countries and people facing the worst effects are the ones who emitted the least greenhouse gas emissions. In some ways, it feels like I’m parroting what incredibly smart scientists have been warning us about for decades. But, then again, not everyone (is able to) reads the science — the world always needs poets to translate, to remind us to feel, especially in this age of emotional/grief overload.
In my poetry and prose, I try to uplift diverse voices and show how much we can learn from disabled communities, communities of color, and Indigenous and Island communities, who are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts. I’m often inspired by a detail in a newspaper article, an interview on the radio, youth climate activists, and often incorporate quotes, real events, or retellings into my work. And science fiction, with its long history of creating worlds of the future, bleeds into our reality by inspiring technology, health, and more. These themes are expanding and including more diverse, representative futures through climate fiction/climate poetry, speculative fiction, and solarpunk/hopepunk/cyberpunk. I truly believe that writing these futures makes them reality.
How do you navigate the balance between personal experiences and broader feminine concepts in your poetry?
I think of my personal experiences and the broader concepts I explore in writing as scales — zooming in and out offers different ways of understanding. Zoom in: see the genetic letters within me that cause skeletal dysplasia and pain in my joints. Zoom out: see that I’m one small speck in the vast universe. Thinking of scale in this way gives me perspective.
As a woman, I feel it’s necessary for me to call out sexism, the patriarchy, and inequity. I have written poems about the Jewish religious rule that if a woman is on her period, she cannot attend a funeral; the mere name of menstruation; and both obvious and more insidious harassment. I’m just one person, but through poetry, perhaps I can push for change.
What role do you think poetry plays in fostering understanding and empathy for those dealing with chronic illnesses?
I hope my work helps spread awareness that disability does not look one way and that accessibility needs are varied. Nearly 1 billion people in the world are disabled. Disabilities can be physical or cognitive, permanent or temporary, from birth or developed later in life, and they can also be visible or invisible. In the U.S., the ADA was a good start — but we have so much more to do to make the world accessible for those with disabilities.
Writing helps make the invisible visible, helps portray other perspectives and experiences. Through poetry, I attempt to describe the indescribable — pain, internal bodily processes, or emotion. When I’m experiencing intense pain, it can help to be reminded that I’m one person on a rock floating through space. My short stature and the joint replacement surgeries I’ll likely need in the future don’t seem so big against the backdrop of the ever-expanding universe. Poetry allows me to work through anxiety, sadness, fear, uncertainty, grief.
In what ways do you believe poetry can provide solace and healing for those experiencing grief and loss?
A poem can resurrect, as Melissa Fite Johnson wrote. Tracy K. Smith and Sharon Olds are experts at grieving through poetry. Smith’s “Life on Mars” grieves for her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, and for our lonely planet. In “Stag’s Leap”, Olds grieves the loss of her marriage, her daughter growing older, and reflects on grief itself.
Poetry can paint such a clear image of a place, a feeling, a person. I’m proud of my poem “A visit”, where my grandmother returns for a casual lunch. It always makes my sister cry because she said I captured my grandmother’s intricate details and quirks, even after most of what the family remembered of her was tainted by Alzheimer’s.
How do you draw inspiration from real-world events or personal experiences when creating poetry that tackles societal and personal challenges?
The personal is political. Writing is also a deeply political act. There is power in telling your truth, whatever that truth is. I am called to write about various aspects of my identity — queerness, femininity, mental illness, chronic pain, skeletal dysplasia, Judaism. For me, writing is catharsis. Through poetry, I raise my voice to call out injustice and support human rights for the disabled and neurodivergent, LGBTQ+ folks, people of color, immigrants and refugees, incarcerated, and others who are marginalized.
I majored in journalism in college and have always been inspired by current events, history, and writing that bears witness. Like Patricia Smith’s “Blood Dazzler”, where she weaves poetry with headlines from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and snippets of conversation she overheard from her reporter husband. Recently, I’ve been reflecting and writing about the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Jews, Israelis, and people of many other nations, the ensuing attack on Gaza, and rising Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Within these poems are echoes of the Holocaust, of historical pogroms and expulsions of Jews. Scientists have found that the children of Holocaust victims, even in the absence of trauma, are more likely to have altered chemical patterns and epigenetic changes. Our stories are wrapped up in the present, but also intertwined with the farthest reaches of history — migration, countries of origin, religion, intergenerational trauma, our very DNA.