On April 8th, a little after 2 p.m., Dani Putney sits on my couch, drinks some coffee from one of my too-many-mugs, and tells me all about their debut collection Salamat Sa Intersectionality (Okay Donkey Press, 2021).
Dani and I are in the Ph.D. program together at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and have been taking classes together for a year now. However, because of COVID-19 and online classes, this is the first time we have actually met each other in person—beyond the confines of a Zoom square. Dani’s book is a celebration and affirmation of life, of the messiness and joy of identity(s). Sitting in my living room together, recently vaccinated and beginning to come out of the fog of isolation that was 2020, it feels more important than ever that this book exists. That we are still here, making art and being human. Talking shit and drinking coffee.
The following is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Roseanna: As I was reading Salamat Sa Intersectionality, I was struck by the book’s three sections, how they act as narrative markers so by the time I got to the end of the collection I sort of had this coming-of-age feeling—you know what I mean?—like I got to see the speaker become more and more sure of themselves and more and more certain of their desires.
So I was wondering if you could speak a bit about how you conceptualized the structure of this book. How did you decide to organize it? Were you thinking of it as a cohesive narrative or more in terms of thematic arcs within?
Dani: Yeah, I’ll start with the beginning of the collection. It may not seem apparent reading it, but the majority of the first section I actually wrote was the second section. I think that those experiences were probably the most important to me when I was a younger twenty-something, and as I started to age and sort of grow into my poetics more, I realized that there were some other things I hadn’t really questioned from growing up. I started to explore my memories more and that’s where the first section kind of comes from... A lot of memories from childhood. These poems explicate those experiences where there was some kind of latent queerness or latent gender queerness and me trying to make a narrative out of it. So when I was writing the book I had the second section but I was like I can’t just have a book full of sex, I need to have other things. Then of course all these other things naturally started to come up and I wrote a lot of the first section and the third section in my MFA program. And it’s funny because I feel the third section is the strongest, which makes a lot of sense, too, because it’s also the last section I wrote and I think it reflects my most recent sense of poetics.
Regarding the triptych structure, that was something I was a little bit hesitant about because I got a lot of advice that I shouldn’t have a three-part poetry book because that’s the common structure, right? But, actually, this is perfect because I envision it as a triptych—a triptych—fuck—a triptych—like you might imagine in a Renaissance painting like three panels. I imagine it kind of like Hieronymus Bosch’s—what is it?—it’s not “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” It’s basically that bacchanal triptych—do you know what I’m talking about? Like they’re all partying, but there’s also like a Hell scene, too. So that’s kind of how I envisioned it visually in my mind and I wanted to have three distinct sections. The second section, which probably most thematically relates to the quote-unquote Hell section (not that that’s bad or anything) is what holds the most physicality and sexuality of the speaker’s coming out. And so I kind of saw that as more of a hellscape. Whereas the first section, you know, is probably more pre-paradise and the last section is a full-blown celebration of myself. But also there are apocalyptic elements in that, too. There is a lot of bleeding in and out, and the way that I wanted the collection to go was that I wanted to have a lot of echoes to previous sections, so when you get to the final section it’s really built up into everything that’s been discussed. I mean you know that everything is going to happen there for a reason—or at least I think you should know that there’s stuff happening there for a reason—you’re not like taken aback or stricken with anything that’s random, and that’s something that really pleased me when the press accepted my book. They were like, yeah, it may actually start off slowly in the first couple of poems, but by the time you get to the end, you actually realize how much work the author has done in setting up this story and being able to conclude it. I hope that answers your question.
R: Yeah, it totally does, and that makes so much sense hearing you talk about it, and having read it, I can really see that structure happening because it does feel like we get all this momentum and it’s almost like we get to remember things with the speaker because we’re getting more and more information filled in. So I love that.
I thought it was so interesting, too, that you were talking about hellscapes, and paradise-scapes, and these different things because landscapes—physical landscapes—are so important to this collection, too. We have mountains, we have the speaker driving on highways, we have all these different kinds of things happening. Can you talk about the influence of place on this collection?
D: Mhm. It’s kind of funny because now it’s so clear to me that I’m a place poet, especially after reading lots of my blurbs and them saying that I actually write about place. And I’m like, I do? But—it’s so funny saying this now—of course, I’ve always been a place poet. I’ve always written poems about the environments that have influenced me and that have allowed me ultimately to grow into myself and my various identities because I always see myself as a poet of Nevada, a poet of California, of that particular section of the West, and I even feel like my lungs are filled with desert sand. And as the frontispiece poem shows, there’s a speaker being born out of the mountains and I kind of feel like that fits me. I mean, I was born on a mountainside in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so I feel like that kind of maybe cheesy metaphor reflects, a little bit, who I am as a person and as a poet. So I really wanted this collection to be as western as possible. I mean, given the cover—I mean that cover is kind of my wet dream—that’s kind of how I see myself and how I see myself in my surroundings, especially because the speaker on that cover is turning into a snake, which is the final poem in the collection.
But yeah, I feel that with landscape. I couldn’t have written the collection without that as the general backdrop. It’s funny because I got a lot of feedback in my MFA—I mean not untoward feedback or bad feedback—but just people from other parts of the country who didn’t necessarily understand the West that much, and they’re like, why is this still present? Why is it taking up so much space? And then I felt guilty about having all these western poems, maybe even exoticizing the West. But then I realized, I need to do what I need to do, I need to have these western-themed poems and not just have western-themed poems but have the West as the entire kind of center motif of this collection to bring it all together. It’s funny that I ever thought that maybe I would take out the West. I actually have a version, an abridged version, where I took out a lot of the western poems and I never submitted that to presses because when I did that, like a week later, I got accepted at Okay Donkey Press. So I’m glad I never had to do that. But I really internalized that kind of doubt. Like, should I even have the West? But I needed the West because that’s who—that’s part of who I am. My body is part of the West, and I hope to die in the West, too, like I feel that it’s almost kind of like Brokeback Mountain. I want to have my ashes scattered all over Brokeback Mountain or whatever mountain range I’m actually close to.
R: I one hundred percent get that. I can’t even imagine this book without the West in it. It would feel so anchorless in all these ways because it is so important and you can really see when you’re reading that landscape is mapped onto the body of the speaker, that these things are happening in conjunction with each other, which is awesome. That’s one of the weird things about workshop, right? So often [in workshop] we bring something in and people don’t understand it or misinterpret it, and it’s like, what do you do with that? How do you navigate that as a poet? Maybe that’s another question for another time.
There are so many voices and influences in this collection that we get to see and speak to or speak with. So we have Judith Butler, we have ABBA, we have Sylvia Plath, we have Virginia Woolf, we have friends and family members of the speaker, as well as Matthew Shepard. What was it like putting all of these voices and figures into conversation with each other in this collection?
D: I think for me the easiest answer is that I was trying to create my own queer archive. These are all people in my life that have heavily impacted me and they are all—I would say—at least adjacent to queerness. I mean, I say that mostly in regard to Sylvia Plath, who wasn’t explicitly queer herself. But a lot of the other people were explicitly queer. But these are all people who have really helped me become the queer person I am, the genderqueer person I am in relation to Judith Butler, specifically. And I feel that I couldn’t have written the collection without these voices. I mean, particularly Matthew Shepard because that history has always been something that I’ve been uncomfortable with. Like somebody who celebrates the west and loves the outdoors and is kind of like an outdoor gay in general. I love hiking, I love camping, love doing these things. And often that takes place in kind of remote areas like Wyoming, where he was murdered. And so it’s kind of me reconciling this love of this environment, but this environment isn’t always…you know… taking care of people in the way that it should, people like me, and people like Matthew Shepard. I wanted to have his voice there because it was almost like letting people remember that this is still a thing that happens in the West. I mean, I know that there’s some debate over whether you should include somebody’s voice who has been tragically murdered; I know this conversation happens a lot in relation to the Black community. But I felt like, well, I’m a queer person who is still surviving in the West, and when I’m back home in Nevada, I live in a community that is not very particularly queer-friendly. I mean, obviously there’s strides and Nevada is generally a blue state, but when you get out in the more desert cowboy area, it’s definitely conservative. And so me living with that, you know, very visceral reality, I know Matthew Shepard’s history is still present with us, more than 20 years later. People are still getting tortured, beaten, and then, unfortunately, some people do get murdered. That’s why we’ve had the Orlando shooting, which was specifically against Latinx and Black people, right? So I think that I wanted people to remember that, especially going into that last section, which is why I put it as the very very first poem in that section ‘cause I’m like, hey, this is the really problematic history of the West, and we need to remember it. And also I have dealt with this for so, so long, and I need to personally deal with it, too. I don’t mean to belabor Matthew Shepard, but he was probably the most important voice in that collection, for me, personally.
I do want to talk about Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, because I don’t know if you know, but I have tattoos of them on my body. And they’re actually talking to each other. So when I wrote that poem, I envisioned them actually kind of talking to each other, maybe kissing each other. And I kind of just imagined this—you know—whole narrative in my head of whoever reassured me in my Cebuano identity from the Philippines, my genderqueer identity, like you don’t have to be anything other than yourself. And it’s funny even, too, because a lot of that poem is about celebrating my body hair. So you can see them speaking on my thighs, which have, you know, leg hair, which I actually enjoy, so it’s kind of like an ultimate celebration of my body, which is also why I wanted to put it in the last section because that’s where a lot of these things were being synthesized. But yeah, I can’t imagine what this collection would look like without those voices.
I mean, there were some voices that I did cut. I won’t really get into any detail about that, but there were some people where I was like, okay, I don’t need to include this. I mean, especially with all the other voices that I felt were more important. But yeah, there were some voices that I definitely had to kill my darlings with. But I think in the end, it’s all good.
Now I’m going to cover my thighs.
R: Okay, I love your tattoos, though. Thank you for showing me. Well, that leads really perfectly into this question, which is about the title. When I was reading your collection, I looked up the meaning on Google Translate (which is probably sketchy, so please correct me if I am way off) but the meaning I found was, “thank you for intersectionality.” Is that correct? Okay, Google did me right. Good. And that really struck me as this just really beautiful sentiment. Maybe especially because this collection really doesn’t shy away from looking at violence. We’re thinking about Matthew Shepard, we’re thinking about the history of violence against queer people in the West. I wanted to know if you could tell me a little bit about this title, what it means to you, and since it’s also the title of one of your poems, maybe talk about the relationship between the poem and the collection as a whole.
D: First I’ll say that that poem and that title came first. And it was through kind of some soul-searching that I realized that that was the most perfect title, which is another one of those moments where it was like, aha! of course! I’ve already written the title for my book but I didn’t know that it was the title, right? But when I wrote that poem first, it was about synthesizing the intersections of my identity. In that poem, specifically, I engage a lot of monster imagery, specifically being a swamp monster, being kind of Kafkaesque, being insect-like. In that part of the collection, there are some insect-like poems that surround it. There is a parasite poem that’s…I think…right afterward or right before. I should probably know that by heart, but I don’t. And throughout the collection, too. The poem…the poetry collection begins with potato bugs. So that was kind of me celebrating what I would say, in a kind of general sense, are the nonhuman aspects of me, or at least what I feel make me alien. But in a good way, right? These are these alien parts of me. Being queer, being nonbinary, being mixed-race Filipinx, being neurodivergent, but I’m going to celebrate it, I’m going to kind of reclaim the monster in me that has always been there. Kind of like I’m reclaiming the queer villain of Scar earlier in the collection. Looking at the ways queer people have been portrayed, how they’re perceived, but then saying no, that’s actually totally who I am, anyway, and I’m going to own it, one hundred percent.
But regarding moving that to the title of the collection, I was trying to think of something that really captured all of the intersections of what I was writing about. And then of course I have a poem title that literally has “intersection” in it, so this has to be it. And then I thought, well I don’t know if I want a foreign language title because I don’t want to “other” anybody. Then again, this is actually perfect because it’s another way I can reclaim my Cebuano identity, especially because I have a complicated relationship with the Philippines and my mother’s history as a picture bride and then all of the white colonialism that was enacted by my father and his military forebears. So it was a way for me to express my reclamation of my Philippines history but also say I feel complicated about it because I am a product of colonialism and violence and militarism—all of that jazz.
And also I really feel happy about having this title in the end, too, because it’s really bastardized Tagalog. It’s what you would probably call “Taglish,” so Tagaloglike English. You wouldn’t ever hear somebody say this in Tagalog, for example, in Pampanga or whatever, because you would usually reserve “salamat sa,” for some kind of exchange, like “thank you for the dinner” or something like that. I’ve talked to people who are more fluent in the language who are like, yeah, this doesn’t really make sense. But that kind of explains my history as, you know, somebody born in the U.S., in California, Asian American, who doesn’t speak Tagalog or my mom’s Cebuano fluently, but understands bits and pieces, and wants to reclaim those pieces, which is why there’s also Tagalog words and Spanish words throughout the collection, too. I felt like this is the perfect way to represent the bastardized version that is myself. So I like that it isn’t perfect Tagalog, it’s Taglish. And it’s interesting, too, because the…“thank you/thanks” can be kind of a duality, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “thank you,” it can be “thanks for intersectionality,” so it doesn’t even necessarily have to be addressed to any particular person, and I like that kind of lack of an address, too, in the title. Like just proclaiming to the void, “thanks for allowing me to be who I am.” ‘Cause it can be thank you, God, thank you, whatever deity or cosmic energy you believe in, for making me intersectional, but I feel like it’s almost an apostrophe into the void. Thanks for allowing me to be this intersectional swamp monster self, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.
R: I love that, and I love that then it gets to be this address to no one and everyone, right? It’s the address to the West and it’s also not. I love that.
All right, so this one, you do not have to answer if you don’t want to, but the way you’ve been talking about this collection, I wanted to ask if you conceive of yourself as a confessional poet...If so, do you think of this as sort of a confessional project, and…if yes, how do you navigate this kind of necessary vulnerability when you’re working on promoting the book? This is something that I think about a lot as a confessional poet, like when we’re doing all of this work, how do we still have enough left over for our off-the-page life? How do we navigate that? If you want to speak to that.
D: No, for sure, I definitely want to. And you’re right in probably saying that I am a confessional poet. Because I am, very, very much, one hundred percent—Sylvia Plath was actually the very first poet that got me into poetry. Which you know that’s really a cliché, too, but at that time I was dealing with some really intense teenage depression, which I still have. She was the first person that I read who really got the deepest, darkest emotions that I felt was my depression at the time. So I wanted to kind of write in that honor. It’s not like I actually intentionally tried to be Sylvia Plath or anything. Maybe I did some Plath-esque poems in the early days, like trying to emulate her “Mad Girl’s Love Song” or whatever; I definitely have done a villanelle to try to do that. I feel like that was the perfect segue into my naturally confessional voice because to me, it’s just…poetry is just a way to express truths about myself, experimentation about myself, a dialogue with myself to the world in a way that makes the most sense to me. CNF allows me some room to do that, but poetry—specifically confessional poetry—was the way for me to express that part of myself, in a cathartic way, too.
With the second part of that question, navigating it is a little bit tough, because I do have lots of living family members and friends who are present in this collection. And I talk about things that maybe I’ve done wrong or things that people have done wrong to me. And if they ever read it, then we have to kind of deal with this awkwardness, like, “Oh, you wrote about this?” I specifically talk about this in relation to the middle section of the book where there are some poems around me doubting my relationship with my current partner and then kind of having a sexual exploration around that. And it’s tough because I’m still with this person and I love him very much and we’ve talked about it. But I also know that were he to, you know, re-read these poems—because he’s read them before and has expressed his discomfort with them then—I don’t know how he would react. I mean, I’m sure we would navigate it like we have before, but it’s something that I think about. I’m still with you and I love you very, very much, but I’m writing about you for the sake of this coming-of-age narrative. I’m writing—I’m putting you into a narrative and how I’ve grown. And obviously that part of it is in the past. I do have a poem at the end, “Convergent Boundary,” that is dedicated to the same partner, and so the book ends on him. But what does it mean if I’m airing our dirty laundry from the past, but I don’t feel that way anymore? And so I guess this is a larger discussion about dealing with memory and expressing memory even if the memories aren’t actually reflecting how you feel now.
As a confessional poet, I’m just like hell yes, I’m going to put everything here, I’m going to show my whole truth, the whole trajectory, but now as a finished project. I’m like, man, it is going to be tough for some people to read this, especially Cody. But also I think about my mom; I’ve shown her the “My Mom Was a Picture Bride” poem, which is very, very related to her. Like me taking on the perspective of her being a picture bride, coming to the United States, wearing the dress that she gave me, and I was really nervous when she first read it because I was saying, “This is a truthful poem, and I don’t want you to feel like I’m using you as an object or anything.” But then she actually really liked it. Her main comment at the end was about how she appreciates jade, too, like jade earrings. And that made me feel better. But I always feel a kind of anticipatory anxiety.
That’s kind of where I’m at. I can’t really prevent anybody from reading anything, but also I do dread the possible moment where somebody may actually confront me. I mean, of course, I’d probably stick to my guns and be like, “This is my story to tell.” And I would be okay with that. But I know that some people specifically don’t write about their friends and their loved ones because they know that it’s awkward or causes tension.
But I’ve never actually had anything bad happen. Even the “truth-iest” poems have not led to anything bad...? Nobody has ever read my work in this big of a project before, so they get to see the whole narrative and maybe that will change their minds. I mean, I am particularly concerned about my older siblings who maybe aren’t as critical of my late father, and if they were to see that, I can imagine them saying, “Why are you shitting on our dad?” And then I’d have to explain, “Well, he wasn’t as kind to me as he was to you, blah blah blah,” you know? So I would have to kind of go into that with the mindset of defending myself. But yeah, I think being an Aries, I’m going to shoot first and then deal with it later. And I feel like that leads to the better poems, anyway, because I don’t want to shy away, especially because I want people read my stuff. I do write for myself first and foremost, but also I love having an audience, having people relate to my work.
R: Yeah. Like I said, I’m a confessional poet, too, as you know, and my partner is also a poet. So when we were first together, we were like, “Oh yeah, it’s fine, just write what you need to write.” But I always feel this need to check in with him, too, because we’ve been together longer now, and more shit has happened. I like what you said about how you shoot first and then worry later. That feels like the constant confessional poet struggle.
Do you have a favorite poem in your collection? Was there one that was particularly difficult or satisfying to write, and why?
D: Yeah, I feel like it wouldn’t appear to be my favorite poem, but my favorite poem is probably “Repping in the Borderlands,” in the third section. One, because I’m an avid gamer, and I was super happy that I was actually able to write a decent poem about a video game franchise that I’ve loved my whole life. And that was really satisfying because I know that it’s really hard for certain pop cultural icons to come into poetry because those references definitely date the work. I was proud that the poem got a really good reception. The editors at the journal Camas, which is at the University of Montana, they love this poem, and they featured it in their resilience issue, and, yeah, it is a poem of resilience, too, specifically of resilience in the West. It’s funny that I had all these doubts about writing a video game poem but then it was well received. That’s partly why I love it so much. And also because it’s the first time I actually was able to play a video game character who I felt represented a big part of my identity being nonbinary. A nonbinary character who openly uses they/them pronouns. I do use both “they” and “he,” but they/them is what I often say is 75 to 80 percent what my pronouns are and then the other 20 to 25 percent can be he/him if, you know, I’m looking particularly dapper or if you see me as particularly masculine or if you don’t know me, you’re defaulting, and then afterward in a private conversation, you can learn that I prefer they/them. Anyway, that’s just kind of a whole aside.
Seeing FL4K—that’s the character’s name—use nonbinary pronouns—or they/them pronouns which are often used by nonbinary people, I should say—was really, really liberating for me. And I always think about how I want to replay this game with that same character even though I’ve done a lot of after-credits, post-game stuff. I’ve already done a lot, but this story and this character resonate with me so much that I just wanna play it again and again. But of course, you know, being a Ph.D. student, do we have time until the summer? I love that I can take on the character of FL4K in this poem like I did in the video game, and then be as badass as they are in the game. I get to be this robot Beastmaster who’s pistol-whipping alien desperadoes and people are going to, you know, respect me not necessarily just because of my being a robot or my being nonbinary but because I’m this badass kind of vault-hunter traipsing across the galaxy, and they fear me for that, you know? So it’s another aspect of representation, too, in that the queerness is a central part of it, but also the queerness isn’t necessarily the thing people are remembering FL4K for. It’s more…it’s part of their identity, but it’s not necessarily the first and foremost thing that people learn. I know that this is a big discussion of queer media representation, right, having a queer character who isn’t just a gay character, you know? And I think that’s really important for me. Obviously their gender is important; they have moments, like dialogue in the game where they talk about not being a man or a woman, that sort of thing. But for the most part you’re just looting across the galaxy, killing…I mean, I will say “killing” very intentionally because it is a first-person shooter game, it’s rated M, you are killing aliens [laughs], but you’re killing these bad—bad aliens, I’d say—across the galaxy and being part of that badass narrative. In playing, allowing myself to see myself in that narrative has been very, very empowering, and that’s why that’s my favorite poem. And it’s funny because saying it now is like, “Of course I can claim this as my favorite poem.” It’s probably not the deepest or the most insightful poem, but it feels the most…inspirational for me and how I see myself in the future.
R: I love that answer—I love that poem, too. I had read it before because we’ve been in workshop together. When I got to it in the collection, I was like, “yes, this poem!”
I was wondering if you could speak to how the shape of this collection has changed in the editorial process. When you started writing the earliest poems, did you know it was going to be a book? Did you know it was going to be this book? And I know that you mentioned before that you wrote the second two sections first and then added on the first section later. If you wanted to talk about how it came together, how it seems to you in retrospect.
D: Yeah, I’m really grateful for my editors at Okay Donkey Press, specifically Genevieve Kersten and Matt Broaddus because they really shaped it into this really polished, final product. I would say for the most part that it is the same; it still has the three main sections, but the ordering of those poems changed quite a bit, specifically the second section. It got pretty much reversed. And I feel like that actually speaks to the narrative of the speaker’s life a lot better in the revised form. The biggest change is that the poem “Dissonance” opens that section, whereas before it came way later in that section. Opening this section with this lust, this really strong, almost violent desire in the West with cowboys is a really good way to foreground what happens through the collection. The first part of that section is very much like tender love, you know, coming into the romantic side of queer love, but then it deteriorates into more violent affairs, sexual encounters. But Genevieve was like, “Actually, I feel like ‘Dissonance’ is a really great way to foreground all of this.” At first I was unsure, but then I was like, “No, this is perfect.” Even though this is more of a sex poem, I feel like it totally thematically captures what happens in the section. The latter part of that section—it’s a sequence of sex and affair poems—got really switched around, too. The way that they are now I think better captures just where the speaker ends up by the end of that section than it did in the past. So I’m really grateful for those edits.
And I added a few poems to this collection after it was accepted. I added the “Borderlands” poem, which would make sense because I wrote it after it was accepted in our workshop, I added “Convergent Boundary,” which is the penultimate poem about Cody, and I added another poem, “Texas Tango." There’s probably another poem that I can’t remember that I added, but I know we added three or four poems, and they were all well received by my editors. I’m really glad because I think not only does it make the book a little bit beefier—and I like having a thick book—but those experiences are all very important to the collection and to the speaker. And of course, you know, the speaker is the speaker, but the speaker is me, come on. But I mean I say that with the caveat that it’s the speaker being me but in very different states of their life, different perspectives, their interactions with different voices. So it’s me, but in a kaleidoscopic way, kind of like the cover. There’s this kind of stained-glass mirror, and then there are different pieces of the speaker there. And it’s not like the cover actually is a stained glass, it just reminds me of what you might see in a church, right? So I feel like there are these kaleidoscopic elements shining at different points, and that’s kind of what the speaker is doing in the book. Kind of like me: I mean, I am all of these things at once, but also I’m going to think about one particular thing at a certain time over another particular thing at a different time.
Does that answer your question?
R: It does! Yes, perfectly. All right, my next question—and this also ties into what we were talking about earlier—you were saying: these poems are personal, but you do want people to read them, that we want to think about audience. In your ideal dream world, who is reading this book? What are they taking away from it, and what would you want them to be holding close to themselves as they read?
D: Yeah, for me my ideal audience is anybody who reads Foglifter—I don’t know if you’re familiar with that journal, but it’s a queer lit mag based in San Francisco. Very ground…what’s the word again? Grassroots! On the ground—the word “ground” had a purpose there. They’re very community-oriented. I met them at AWP, lovely faces, lovely people. And just their vibe, their aesthetic, and the audience they have—it’s totally the people that I want to be in dialogue with. Any of those queer folks, I love to read my stuff. And also it’s a specifically queer mag, so that’s very important to me, too, having queer people read a queer voice like mine. Also it’s based in the West. So it’s a lot of these different elements of my intersectional identity coalescing. Growing up in the first part of my life in Sacramento—which isn’t in San Francisco proper, or even really the Bay Area, it’s like two, two-and-a-half hours away—I feel like I grew up kind of proximal to that, so I really know the San Francisco scene pretty well. I’d really love for people in that neck of the woods, like Nor Cal specifically, to be familiar with what I’m writing with, to enjoy what I’m writing. I’m talking about maybe environments that people…take for granted or they grew up around or they see on vacation, but they don’t really think about. I certainly felt that way as a kid, you know, like, “Oh, Lake Tahoe is just right here.” It’s the biggest Alpine lake in North America. Everyone goes there to ski and snowboard, but I was like, “Oh, it’s just some lake.” The same thing with the Sierra Nevada Mountains or then even the Nevada Desert. Or even—I hadn’t really written about this—but Death Valley in the southern part of Nevada, that is a really big part of my life, too. These are just things that have always been around me. It would be cool to maybe give a kind of artistic slant to these environments for people who don’t see them in such a way.
So my answer boils down to two things: the Foglifter crew and then people in Nor Cal and Nevada who would be familiar with these environments but would be able to see them in a different light. And I would want them at the end to take away that this is a very diverse part of the world. I mean, obviously, the West is pretty diverse, especially, you know, Southern California. There is a lot of culture-meshing, like queerness but with cowboy culture, which happens in this collection. There’s all of this stuff coalescing. I just want people to be able to have a bigger picture and understanding of this complicated, contested West. Even just the difference between California and Nevada is super, super big. There’s also this weird California-Nevada divide. So part of me wants to straddle that divide and kind of represent how I’m on both sides of it.
R: Excellent. Thank you so much for answering all of my questions and sharing about your amazing book. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you really wanted to talk about that we…didn’t talk about?
D: Yeah, I guess one thing that I really like about my book and that I’m proud about is that I also see it, besides being a triptych, as a kind of musical composition because it starts with a coda, and then it ends on a coda. This is something that confused some readers when I first was showing it to them. But actually, you know, a coda is just a part in a musical composition that leads back to the beginning, and then when you play through the coda, you play the second part. I don’t know if you’re familiar with sheet music or anything like that, but there’ll be this one section pre-coda, then you’ll go through the whole song again and then play the coda section. I feel like that musical metaphor captures the cyclical nature of my identity because, like the snitch in Harry Potter, “I open at the close,” right? All of these parts of my identity are connected to each other like an uroboros, which also leads back to the cover art, right? It’s a snake in a kind of uroboros, because I am constantly destroying myself and remaking myself and the cycle continues and I just imagine myself like that as a human being, as a poet for the rest of my life. I don’t ever want to forget my roots, but also I know that those roots are deeply related to my present and my future. So it’s kind of like another meditation on just...fuckery with time, as well, just queer temporality, which is something I always think about, especially as a scholar. That’s something I always want to bring up in conversation maybe over a beer, like, actually, I have this cool metaphor in my book with music, and I wondered if you noticed it.
DANI PUTNEY is a queer, non-binary, mixed-race Filipinx, & neurodivergent writer originally from Sacramento, California. Their poems appear in outlets such as Empty Mirror, Ghost City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Juke Joint Magazine, & trampset, among others, while their personal essays can be found in journals such as Cold Mountain Review & Glassworks Magazine, among others. They received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mississippi University for Women & are presently an English Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University. While not always (physically) there, they permanently reside in the middle of the Nevada desert.
ROSEANNA ALICE BOSWELL is a queer poet from Upstate New York. She holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is currently a Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University. In her spare time, she serves as a poetry editor at Arcturus Magazine. Her work has appeared or will soon appear in: Driftwood Press, RHINO Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. Her first collection, Hiding in a Thimble, was published with Haverthorn Press in 2021. Roseanna lives in Oklahoma with her husband.