Interview #1: Amanda Earl

Amanda Earl (she/her) lives in Ottawa with her husband, Charles. She is a pansexual polyamorous poetesse, editor, publisher, prose writer, and visual poet. Amanda drinks a lot of tea. She’s the fallen angel of AngelHousePress and the managing editor of Bywords.ca. Her latest chapbook is Lament: Doll (Ethel Zine & Micropress, USA, 2020), and Kiki, her poetry book about the creative and ribald times of Montparnasse between the Wars (Chaudiere Books, 2014) is available from Invisible Publishing. For more information, please visit AmandaEarl.com or connect with Amanda on Twitter @KikiFolle.

Amanda's visual poem, m / other, will be published for blood orange's upright card The Nurturer on November 14, 2020.

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What drew you to submit your work to blood orange?

I first heard about blood orange probably last fall on Twitter. I was interested because the call for submissions was different from the submissions I typically read or hear about. I am drawn to whimsy, community, and bad ass small press projects that don’t fit into yr typical mainstream lit scenario. Also, coincidentally, my first chapbook was Blood Orange (Friday Circle, 2003), so I felt a certain kinship.

I was also interested in the possibility of supporting a project created by a nonbinary publisher. The North American literary world continues to be run by cis het white guys and, consequently, to center cis het white guys. I’m tired of that. 

I mulled over possible poem ideas, started to read the poems published on the site, and then I saw the call for visual poetry. I took a look at the card index and noticed that “The Nurturer” was not yet spoken for, and it resonated. I make a lot of visual poetry and most of it is digital. For this project, I knew I wanted to work with the physical card, and manual techniques. 

What poets have influenced the way you write?

Nathanaël has been a great influence on my writing since I first read Je Nathanaël (Book*Hug, 2006) fourteen years ago. I loved the resistance inherent in Nathanaël’s writing: resistance to genre, to gender, the eroticism of it, the switch between pronouns from I to you. The loving nature of the work, the engagement with the body. It’s a stellar piece of writing and I’m so glad it was re-released by Book*Hug and Nightboat Books last year.

Not a poetry book, but Hazel Jane Plante is a poet and Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) (Metonymy Press, 2019) is poetry to me, even though it’s classified as a novel, and that’s fine with me too . It is full on imagination, zaniness, love and grief. The story within a story form — or, in this case, a made up TV show inside a queer trans love letter — is playful, and takes risks. Metonymy Press publishes great work. Another book that resonated for me was Trish Salah’s Lyric Sexology Vol. 1, which Metonymy republished. They’ve even published a tarot deck, “Thea’s Tarot”, by Ruth West. 

I wrote recently in a Top 5 feature over at the Poetry Question about some current and long-term influences, which included Sandra Ridley, Christine McNair, and more recent influences Joshua Whitehead and Canisia Lubrin, so I won’t repeat myself here.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on anxiety reduction through motion and light in the form of becoming a Senior Raven. This may translate into a manuscript.

I also have an experimental prose novella on the go and am finishing(?) the umpteenth draft of a poetry manuscript I’ve been working on for seven years about my near-death health crisis. 

My long-term visual poetry project is the Vispo Bible, my attempt to translate every book, every chapter, every verse of the Bible into visual poetry. I’ve completed about 12 books so far (6 from the Old Testament and 6 from the New). I don’t expect to finish it in my lifetime.

How did you discover tarot?

Once upon a time, I was in Gimli, Manitoba with my now ex-husband and his family at their cottage on a cold winter afternoon. Or we might have been in his parent’s kitchen in Winnipeg in the summertime. I had heard about tarot cards and readings but hadn’t explored them. He was interested in making tarot card reading available online (it was the early  ’90s, long before that sort of thing was possible) and so he brought a set with him when we visited his family and we read them. I admit I was highly nervous about it. We didn’t know what we were doing. We were using a standard Rider deck. I hadn’t ever held any in my hand, and I found them quite beautiful. I loved the colours, the symbolic meanings behind each object and colour, the placement. It seemed fascinating but still scared me. 

How does tarot play a role in your artistic practice?

Two years ago, when I was starting to research a novel, I decided I wanted to have my characters as teenage girls attempt to read tarot cards on Toronto Island. I went to Toronto to do a tour of Ward’s Island, which is where many of the residents live. 

I also arranged to have my tarot cards read by Liz Worth, a writer I admired who also does tarot and astrological readings. I admit, dear readers, that I didn’t have much of an open mind about tarot, but I needed to experience a reading so I could write about it. I also bought a Rider deck and a guidebook and did a reading daily for a while for the novel. Liz was amazing. She listened a lot, she was quite thorough in her explanation of the cards and how they related to the questions I asked her, and she gave excellent advice. The reading felt like a therapy session to me. It was quite cathartic. I gained a new respect for tarot and for those who study and engage in it. 

I see tarot as one of many explorations typically not accepted by mainstream skeptics that seems to be engaged in by many people in the queer community. I could be wrong, but I seem to remember Adele Barclay talking to Mica Lemiski on the wonderful podcast, Fainting Couch Feminists, about queerness, tarot and astrology. There’s a feeling of otherness, of being outside the status quo that seems to go well with the practice of tarot reading, its rituals, and lack of acceptance. There are also queer decks, feminist decks, and diverse decks as well. I’m learning!

I learned a few things about myself a few years ago after the death of my mother: 1) I am not straight, and 2) I am a feminist. For various reasons relating perhaps in part to our difficult relationship, I didn’t realize or accept these aspects of myself until I was 54. 

I want to make art that prioritizes these aspects of myself and I want to engage with fellow queer creative folk. Since my mid thirties, I have always preferred queer communities for various reasons. Queer art, film, literature have always resonated with me, made me feel less alone. If something I write or create makes someone feel less alone, I am grateful. That’s all I want. 

Do you have a favourite tarot or oracle deck?

I don’t yet. Liz used the Cosmic deck for the reading she gave me and I found the drawings beautiful. Perhaps I will explore other decks.  

Do you feel a particular connection to the card your poem is published under?

Yes. The Nurturer made me think about my mother, our relationship, and the othering of those who do not fit into patriarchal concepts of gender roles. 

How important is the spiritual to your poetry? The political?

I am ten years past my death date. I was supposed to die in 2009 from full body sepsis and a toxic mega colon. I am alive. Why? Perhaps there are angels. This possibility informs my writing, and has from before my near-death.  

I am driven by the Duende as described by Lorca, and altered to suit my own purposes: a connection between the living and the dead that can lead to intense, imaginative, and urgent creations, if you let it, if you’re open to the presence of the dead.

As a feminist, I want to write work that undermines the patriarchy, that celebrates and centers women and gender nonconformers, that fucks around with the status quo. So yes, the political is important to my work. I just rewrote “the Raven” by Edgar Allen Poem as “the Mansplainer” by Edwina Alien Po’ and this amused and satisfied me.

How important has community been to your work?

Community is essential to my work. I am constantly on the look out for kindreds, those who share my love of whimsy, connection and exploration, and can expand my understanding of life, love, the world, as I, humbly, might be able to expand and enrich their understanding of the same. 

I am a nurturer. I learn a lot by giving my time. I’ve been mentoring writers for almost twenty years now as a publisher and an editor. Frankly, I think I’ve probably learned more from them than they have from me. I’ve also had the fortune to be part of a very rich, local poetry community for twenty years. I’ve been given lots of advice, support, help and pep talks over the years. When I had my health crisis in 2009, the local literary community helped my husband and me greatly with groceries, driving him to the hospital, feeding him, coming to see me in Intensive Care, and visiting me at home, bringing music and flan and their great company. I’m so fucking lucky.

In the end, it’s all about love. 

Why is small/independent/anti-publishing important?

To counter the dogma of the mainstream; to ensure marginalized voices are given the attention they deserve; to give artists a chance to take risks and audiences a chance to enjoy these risks.

Can you name a poet/press/project you think more people should know about?

I suppose it is terribly selfish of me to mention my own small press, AngelHousePress, (and I also talked Metonymy Press in an earlier question) but here I go anyway… we began in 2007 and for 12 years we made chapbooks until last year when we decided to focus on our online publications and activities and reduce our workload. I run it and my husband, Charles who does layout and design. We publish raw talent, ragged edges and rebels. 

We publish two online magazines: NationalPoetryMonth.ca, which comes out in April every year. Its mission is to transcend borders and boundaries and to act as an alternative to institutionalized representations of poetry with a capital P. In the month of April, we publish a poem or visual poem every day by people all over the world. For 2020, we have a call out for small poems and visual poems. My favourite response to the work in NPM is “this isn’t poetry” or “is that poetry?”.

And Experiment-O, an annual pdf magazine that celebrates the art of risk. It usually comes out in November or December. We publish experimental prose (although we haven’t been receiving much of that and I’d love to get more (nudge, nudge)), poetry, visual poetry, art, and hybrids or uncategorizable work.

We also do a monthly-ish podcast which explores the poetry of Central Canada and beyond, co-hosted by me and local poet and playwright, a.m. kozak, and we have an essay series for essays, rants, manifestos, real or fake interviews, artistic statements, and other playful forms that the contributors suggest (always looking for more!).

Thanks for the opportunity to think about the tarot and my relationship to it as an artist, the small press, and community (and to plug AngelHousePress!).

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