“Slang for doing the nasty” — an Interview with Matty Layne Glasgow
Winner of the 2018 Benjamin Saltman Award and recently released, Matty Layne Glagow’s deciduous qween (Red Hen Press) qweens its way onto the stage: the reader thinks they may drown in sequins. The poem entitling the fourth section of the book, deciduous qween IV, was a winner for our 2017 Award for New Poets. Eduardo C Corral calls it “a dazzling queer catalog of loss and gain,” and Maggie Smith says that Glasgow’s book “queers nature itself, revealing the possibilities in the landscape to be as complex and limitless as those of the self.” We’re honored to have a had a chance to pick his brain about the book and about grief, about the erotic climb for a queer-made world.
Frontier Poetry: Hope you’re doing well! Your collection was a joy to read, so very good. Devoured it.
Matty Layne Glasgow: Thanks so much for your kind words and for starting us here, Josh; my mother would revel in this time in the spotlight. In the collection, I try to think about these images of life and matter falling away through different deciduous processes—like the teeth you mention, as well as antlers or leaves or the body. My mother’s death, how quickly it came after her diagnosis, certainly shook the lens through which I viewed the world and our most haunting deciduousness, for me at least—our ephemerality. Those images of falling—the girdled willow, feathers in the shadows, my baby teeth—all render me weightless as they linger mid-air in my memory, and that anxious lightness arises whenever I think of my mother, of our mortality.
Now that my mother is gone, those memories are the only place she continues to move in my life. In “Silly Goose” where “every- / thing fell in the shadows,” I’m also returning to that moment on the shore where the goose bit her, but with a shaken lens. Shaken by her death. Shaken by revisiting the scene considering my queerness. Shaken by the hunger of the goose, my hunger, and now, in this moment, how horrifyingly Oedipal that all sounds. Whoops! In any case, in the poem I think the feathers shine and move in a more brilliantly gay flutter than they perhaps did on that evening. But I don’t think a leaved branch ever rustles quite the same for a new gust of wind, and our memories tend to sashay and sparkle in new ways, especially when they’re the final refuge for our lost beloveds.
In “deciduous qween, iii,” I delve into that strange vertigo-like feeling and anxiety when looking up into the galaxy on a clear night. That poem and the section that follows deals primarily with death, with some personal details about caring for my mother during her hospice care and final day. In that instance, I feel the sense of motion and falling and my mother are bound by a sense of fear—fear of death, fear of moving towards it. The deciduous qween has many apparitions throughout the collection, and my mother is certainly one of them—an ephemeral queen.
Because it was difficult to write authentically about these fears and depression, I also wanted to think about joy and queerness in deciduous processes and memories from my life, like doing some very tragic, amateur drag. In that way, I began to think of drag as a deciduous process in itself, how we adorn, shed, and reveal whatever the qween inside us desires.
FP: This is really lovely, thank you Matty—and it does help. In this answer, as in your book, everything connects so gently, in sequined layers. Settles in the aftermath of reading. Your mother is qween, trees are qween, the goose is qween, death is qween—even our memories, as you say, become qween, in the aftermath of loss. This amatuer drag being performed, everything finding its qween inside: there’s something very compassionate about it.
Which I guess is what leads to the erotic work in the latter half of the book. There is a lot of climbing there, figuratively speaking, wrapping the work in that dual movement: falling, climbing. If the falling is the tender lightness of mortal feelings, how do you see the erotic climb? A fight against death, against loss? Or maybe that and something more. I think maybe something more—more complicated, more ambivalent, more messy. What do you think?
MLG: The erotic climb—I like that and the alluring possibilities that accompany that rising, as though some of the poems could be thought of as queer mountaineering, both figuratively and literally. I suppose we all navigate some sort of uphill journey towards and through our desires and love. Death and loss can arise both as forces against which we yearn as well as an unveiling of our desires, awakening in us feelings we’ve long pushed aside for whatever reason. When I think about queer love and the queer erotic climb, that ascent endures the aggressive pull of so many additional forces, namely the cis-gendered hetero-patriarchy. That power actively suppresses identities different from those who wield it, and it’s not such an abstract force: epithets shouted from a stranger’s pick-up truck, legislation that encourages discrimination, family members telling their child their love is not right, violence, sexual violence. And so the erotic climb in the book not only reflects more personal moments of desire realized at last, but in its unabashed away, in its at times explicit description, I hope to limit the influence of those more debilitating and oppressive forces. I’m not sure we can ever truly escape them and the impact they’ve had on our lives, but as artists we can confront them in our work, with hopes of dismantling those truly violent systems.
For me, part of that confrontation in my work comes through queer world-making—both revealing the queer world around us in this moment and imagining one where we can seek refuge on the page. Chen Chen is a poet I admire and to whom I return often for his ability to reveal this queer beauty; his poem “Winter” in Poetry Magazine changed my life, how it subverts this moment of shame with love. Shame is certainly a force the poems in my collection try to rise out of as well, and some of these more explicitly erotic poems attempt to shrug off that ingrained feeling of inadequacy that many queer people experience. Perhaps this erotic climb is a path out of shame and a refusal to veil want or desire. While the superhero sex poems for Captain Planet and Superman imagine the closeted childhood and adolescent desires of a gay boy, poems like “Pando” and “deciduous qween, iv” grapple with a more enduring love. As you said, I suppose it is a bit ambivalent and messy, which can be my aesthetic both in life and in a poem.
Matty Layne Glasgow is the author of the poetry collection deciduous qween, selected by Richard Blanco as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2019. He was runner-up for the Missouri Review’s 2017 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize and finalist for Nimrod’s 2018 Pablo Neruda Prize. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthologies and appear in the Missouri Review, Crazyhorse, Collagist, BOAAT, Muzzle, and elsewhere. He lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches with Writers in the Schools and adjuncts his life away.