Interview with Robin Sinclair
Robin Sinclair is a queer, genderqueer writer of mixed heritage and mixed emotions, currently on the road, reading from their debut book of poetry, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls. Robin's work has been published in various magazines and journals, including Gatewood Journal, Across the Margin, Shot Glass Journal, Black Heart Magazine, Red Bird Chapbooks, The Cerurove, Yes Poetry, and Pidgeonholes. Robin would love to read at your event - click here to contact Robin. Robin will read at your open mic, book store, library, bar, coffee shop, in your basement, in an alley, in a cemetery, in your closet, or anywhere else poetry can happen. And poetry happens everywhere. Website: https://www.robinsinclairbooks.com/about
Let’s start with your debut book of poetry Letters to My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls (Cosmographia Books, 2018). It seems that you had written all the poems in 2003 and they are published in a book format in 2018. What happened in those 15 years? Thank you for reading my book! I didn't actually write it during the time that the letters are dated. I chose the period of time for a few reasons, one of which was inspiration from a particularly difficult period of my life, during which I suffered a psychotic break. There are two additional poems which expand upon the book, which can be found via a special link on my website (robinsinclairbooks.com/dirt). One is dated from 2013, and the other from 2018. If you've read the book, you'll know the password and be able to access the poems.
In Letters to My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls, you are using the letter form. Is this for maintaining strong monologues for you? Or maybe for the “memories” you are telling us, is the letter form more convenient? It honestly just started out of observation. During my worst periods in dealing with my own issues, I found myself writing letters. In a notebook, on scraps of paper, sticky notes, the wall, the floor. Anywhere I could get my thoughts out to try to put some sense of order to what was happening. They weren't to send, they were just to be written. Sometimes they were speaking to people I knew, but many times they weren't. They'd be to someone or something in my head, or to no one at all. I didn't know at the time how common it was. That's where the general idea started, and I liked the challenge of trying to use this old form of missive poetry that you don't see often anymore. It opened up doors for me to discuss different concepts of identity – not only with the content of the poems, but the structure and form as well. Horrendously self -indulgent, I know, but I think it worked out in the end.
Is it possible to define or describe “they” who you tell about to Eleanor in your poems? Like in the lines: “I wanted to talk about other things/ but they wouldn't let me/They just kept coming back to the shotgun story.” For narrative purposes, I'm usually referring to the staff and doctor. What they represent beyond that changes from poem to poem, such as the metaphor for forced identity or patriarchal psychology.
Your poetry is so strong with dark images you create. It feels like you are showing us the dark side of the human being by playing with cruel feelings, patriarchal representations and self-harm metaphors. Do you agree? How would you define your style? I think that's a fair representation – I'd be lying if I said that I don't gravitate towards darker subjects and imagery. Life has a cruelty to it, and people can be ugly. Like the farm-boy said, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” If I can find some sort of significance in what feels like a meaningless life, or find a lesson mixed up in what seems to be senseless hurt, and translate that into art that someone else connects with, that is more of a catharsis for me than writing about how I think the world should be.
Do you think that magazines play an important role in a poet’s/artist’s publishing career? How did your directions take its right way on your roadmap? Definitely. I'd take that a step further and say editors as much as magazines. Editors have an impossible task in trying to balance curating based on quality, how a piece works with their magazine's aesthetic, and an intangible “merit” that is usually more or less their personal taste. Editors are the Jessicka Addams of the poetry world – they make the music happen, but they're always the villain. The poetry community is a strange one is how we dole out our reverence for art. I have no illusions about my writing – my stuff is weird and usually doesn't leave you feeling very good. I'm not for everyone. If it weren't for the editors, and by extension, the magazines, that took a chance on me, I likely wouldn't have a book out or be on tour reading my dumb art and telling stories. It is people like the Jennifer Todhunter and Alina Stefanescu at Pidgeonholes (who are truly fearless in what they publish), Joanna C. Valente at Yes Poetry (who is a tireless crusader for marginalized voices), and Tanya Singh at The Cerurove (who curates unique, provocative writing you won't find elsewhere) that made everything possible for me. They took on my words that likely made people uncomfortable, and deliberately gave them space and visibility.
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story? Stories and poetry were something that were always a part of my life. Writing was something I'd always done, be it to cope or just for enjoyment. Poetry and I were perhaps casual lovers, but never anything serious. I think the first time I truly felt that feeling of, “I am a poet,” was listening to one of my favorite writers (Diana Goetsch) read in 2000. After listening to her read lines from Nobody's Hell, everything was different.
I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it? I hate it. There's a built-in shame with self-promotion that a lot of us experience. I don't feel I'm worthy of the attention I'm seeking for my work, and there's nothing more gross than feeling like you're selling something. I don't know if I necessarily do a decent job of overcoming it – I share when something of mine has been published, because at the end of the day what I want is for what I write to be read by someone and for it to somehow speak to them. Other than that, I get the most interest in my work by doing readings. At readings, people are charmingly tolerant of my social ineptitude, probably because they can tell that I'm trying so hard even though I'm failing so miserably.
Do you feel that social media has helped poets? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?
Social media has certainly helped poets – to network, to reach new audiences, to find journals and magazines that are wonderful homes for their work. It also has a tendency to be a breeding ground for some odd conflict. Give broke writers enough time on Twitter, we'll eat each other alive.
A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time? I'm incredibly fortunate in that my day job doesn't involve clocking in at an office. It allows me to travel and read whenever I'd like. It is an incredible privilege. My partner has a similar situation, so they travel with me. If you're at one of my readings and see a tall Russian with a buzz-cut and pretty eyes, that's them. Space to write and to venture into the creative world is a struggle, like I think it is for most people who work to pay the bills. I'm on the road, but I'm still working 40-50 hours a week, and I like to be alone when I write, so it takes planning and effort. Sometimes that effort comes to fruition, and sometimes I spend that carefully plotted hour staring at a blinking vertical line on a white screen.
What do you want the readers to know about you? That I very much appreciate anyone reading anything I've ever written. Thank you.
What change would you like to see within the writing community and why? Fewer expensive contests that only people with MFAs seem to win. More non-binary inclusion in editorial staff. More reading events in the fly-over states. Get out there and start an open mic. More reading events in general that have pizza.
Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years? Hopefully, I'll be in a garden with a bottle of Nikka Coffey whiskey or a giant mug of coffee, writing lots of books that maybe a few weirdos will read. I hope to be spending more time writing and with more people reading my nonsense. I have a couple chapbooks that I'd like to see out there in the world, I have one or two “dream pubs” I'd like to work with, and I have a few events I'd love to read at.
Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about? I'm currently on what we've been jocularly calling a bar-crawl mini-tour. It started in Georgia, and will take me through Canada and then into New England. My first collection, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls, was released one year ago this month, so I'm taking it back out on the road to read at open mics, cafes, and wherever else anyone will have me. Impromptu reading in an alley behind your favorite bagel shop? I'm in. I'm wrapping it up with a featured-poet spot in Burlington, Vermont on October 28th. All of my dates can be found at robinsinclairbooks.com/events. In November, I'm retreating back to the creative world.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.