Parker Phillips: Survival and Creation Outside Academia

E. Parker Philipps is a teacher, writer and performer who works across the genres of writing, kink, and performance. Parker received their BA in Chinese from Yale and an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, teaching at FIU and Broward College before opening a BDSM and fetish studio in Miami in 2014 where Parker has produced over 150 events ranging from fetish theater to educational classes on the technical and mental aspects of BDSM. Parker’s poems have appeared in Hinchas de Poesia and Togertail’s Miami Poetry Collective. Parker has also performed at the Miami Book Fair and BFI’s Weird Miami Bus Tour.

Parker was interviewed by Yaddyra Peralta for Sliver of Stone Magazine.

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Yaddyra Peralta: Let’s start with a general discussion about self-publication. It’s something that’s been looked down upon in the mainstream poetry world. Why this route, and what is the significance to you of the actual zine form you used–especially for this project and your work in general?

Parker Phillips: I actually did not initially see creating the zine as self-publishing. I saw it more as a temporary, performative “stage” or space for my poems on their way to a book published by someone else. I made the zine because I was actually going to AWP in LA to get a better sense of the publishing ecosystem and the options I had for publishing my first poetry book. I wanted to meet possible publishers and give them something more than a business card. ( “I will give them a zine!”) I also felt vulnerable going to AWP as an outsider to academia – I finished my MFA in poetry three years ago, and have been making a living working as a Pro Dominatrix. I am queer, and one of my queer inheritances is zine culture. I couldn’t not make the zine given my need for self-promotion, my feelings of vulnerability, and checking off “make a queer zine” from my bucket list.

I also like the ideas of un-housing my poems in different performative forms as they long for a more legitimate “home” that may never take concrete form. In this way, my lived experience as a gender nonconforming person does inform my choices about how the poems are presented. The poems metaphorize a queer body existing between socially accepted, binary notions of gender identity and expression. I can’t emphasize enough that the zine arose out of necessity. I wanted something to give publishers at AWP that I felt represented me, my thinking, even my queer body. So survival, creativity, writing, vulnerability and queerness are all interacting with each other at the site of the zine. The portrait on the front was even taken by an ex-girlfriend who is now one of my best friends!

The title of the zine came from a performance I did in an FIU/South Beach gallery in 2013. I had worked with a sculptor friend and we created a giant book – about four feet by eight feet when open. I called it my “bed book,” and I revised many of the poems for my first poetry manuscript while lying on the floor on/in that book. During the performance “Cheers to me,” I laid the bed book out on a gallery floor, made a dirty martini, and read the audience excerpts from the book while drinking the dirty martini. I repeated the phrase “cheers to me” between poems. (Many of the poems in the bed book are in the zine Cheers to Me.) So poems informed by my experience trying to figure out how to live in my queer body are housed in these morphing, hybrid, theatrical-literary spaces that take the form of “books,” but performative queer books that certainly exist outside of the sanctioned spaces of the publishing industry.

The success of the zine certainly makes me feel optimistically about self-publishing. But I am not outright opposed to the independent or mainstream publishing industries, and feel that literary performance, zine culture and more mainstream types of publishing can co-exist. The fear, I suppose, is primarily appropriation (of queer performance and zine culture) because mainstream publishing has so much more social and financial capital than the other two modalities. But if appropriation is the downside, then visibility and credibility – and readers! – are the upsides of getting a book published by someone else. Actually, I sold three copies of the zine after an educational talk I did recently at a local art house cinema in Miami on BDSM and the Psyche (following a screening of the movie Secretary). So because I am somewhat marginal relative to the poetry establishment, readers picked up the work who may not have bought a poetry book otherwise.

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YP: So a question about the structure of the book and process before we talk about poems.  Some of Cheers to Me arose out of the thesis creation process, some of the work was then informed by the Cheers to Me performance and “bed book revision.” Are there aspects of the zine that are newer? If I am not mistaken, there are short statements or interjections in italics interspersed throughout the book, such as on page 12:

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Did these arise out of more recent performances? And could you talk about how performance currently shapes your writing?

 PP: When I created this giant bed book, I made my way – start to finish – through my thesis manuscript over the course of a month, revising the poems and drafting new ones, making drawings on the pages. The poems in Cheers to Me come from this revision process. Once I was finished, I did an improvised reading through the bed book. I was thinking about creating another layer to the manuscript through voice and improvisation. I really just wanted to be in my body and speak. That felt as important as writing. From the improvised reading, I created the fragments and then recombined some of them into poems. Many poems from the original manuscript were dropped or totally transformed. Another reading of the “bed book” would result in a completely different set of fragments, and new poems. A different book.

The voice-driven fragments enact rupture, “the unspeakable” re-framing the more formal lyric and/or catalogue poems.  I am trying to achieve wholeness through fragmentation while even glamorizing fragmentation. Laura Kasischke calls lyric poetry a “radical apartness.” I guess I am also trying to reconcile this “apartness” with acting in and as a part of the world.  Are the poems talking about writing? About genderqueerness? The subjects remain almost mysterious and on some level I just wanted to fly through language “and make it fly” (Cixous) while trying to unthink what I have learned (from dominant cultures) about gender, the body, the self, history and even social norms. I wanted to render a world where the shadows of bodies are as “real” as bodies themselves. I even envision a future reading – performance – of the bed book solely comprised of fragments because a “subjectivity” is simply too shattered even for the conventions of lyric poetry.

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YP: Can you talk about the river and water imagery in the poems or other natural references, such as bird imagery?

 PP: I think the voice in the fragments very much tries to embody this notion of a self that exists outside of not only the gender binary, but binaries set up between living and dead, fake or fantastic and real, artificial and natural, fragmented and whole. The wish of the river, and therefore the wish of these poems, is a wish for an epic, almost geologic sexuality rooted in pleasure and sensation instead of a desire attached to a fixed (and gendered) identity and expression. The river is always on the edge of the subject—in excess of the subject—and the subject wants or goes “within in.” I guess I’m talking about an attraction here between the human body and the earth, though the line between the two isn’t so clear. There’s an ecological yearning on the part of the earth for body and sexuality to come into being, to fulfill itself. I tried to create an ecological consciousness rather than one rooted in the “fantasy” of a unified individual.

Rivers have an incredible affect on me –  the river symbolizes a space of the possibility of change. So in that sense perhaps the river metaphorizes language and writing, too. I spent a lot of time between 2006 and 2011 traveling on the train between Albany and New York City along the Hudson River. The Hudson also cuts through downtown Glens Falls, where I grew up. I always tell people the Hudson River was my first queer lover (I also worked as a whitewater rafting guide in high school and college).  So I was very interested in existing in that space of the river – a space of transformation and pleasure – while writing many of these poems. I wanted to convey that feeling to readers, too.

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Email Parker at e.parkerphillips@gmail.com

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