My Time in LA — an Interview with 2019 Antioch-Frontier Fellow Cass Garison
Winner of the 2019 Antioch-Frontier Fellowship, Cass Garison is a joyful and incredibly talented poet. As winner, we had the privilege of sending them to Los Angeles for Antioch University’s MFA Summer Residency this June: a ten-day, all-day poetic romp through workshops, lectures, meetings, readings and parties with other literary warriors. Cass received a stipend of $1000, as well as full coverage of boarding and travel costs. We are so excited to meet our 2020 Fellow next year!
First, how did the traveling and accommodations work out? Everything go smoothly there?
Cass Garison: Accommodations were great, the hotel that was booked for me had a kitchen which I really liked. I was able to cook meals if I wanted, opposed to having to go out for every meal, which also bought me a lot more time to read and write. The hotel also had a constant stream of coffee, and coffee is by far the easiest way to win me over.
What were your top three moments of the residency?
Hm ok ok, the first was definitely getting to hang out with the “buddy” I was assigned, Erica Charris-Molling. We really hit it off and I also loved getting to listen to and read her work a bit. She read a poem during dinner that she just recently finished about religion and queerness and it was absolutely incredible. Would so recommend checking out her work.
Second favorite was the MFA night out. It was really great to get to meet a lot of other writers while also looking out over the water/eating good appetizers. After, a bunch of people went out for karaoke and I played pool with a bud I made, and we were both actually pretty terrible pool players but it was still a lot of fun.
Last moment–and I think this moment spans over the whole time–it was just really great to not have to worry about my day job and to just have time set aside to focus on reading and writing. I got a ton of work done, and I also got to catch up on my reading. While I was there I read Exile and Pride (Eli Clare), Antigone’s Claim (Judith Butler), a few Edna St. Millay Vincent books, a few Inger Christensen books, and a few of Carson McCuller’s short stories. Moral is that the library at Antioch had a ton of incredible stuff, and I got to read while lying on a hammock.
What was the workshop experience like?
I absolutely loved the workshop and felt so lucky to have been able to work with Victoria Chang. For those who are unfamiliar, take this as a shameless plug of her work and also of her as a person. She was incredibly kind and generous with her time, and just a really cool person with a great sense of humor. Also, we talked about pets for a minute and I think she said she has a dog named Mustard? Is that right?
So yes the workshop was great, and it was frequent enough that we were able to build on each workshop, but spread out enough that there was time in between to create new work and edit other work.
How were you treated at Antioch? How were the students and faculty?
Everyone was really friendly and kind. I met a bunch of great people while I was there who I’ll definitely keep in touch with to some capacity. Everyone was really easy-going and easy to talk to, and super welcoming. It was also just really great to get the opportunity to spend time with so many different writers and readers and thinkers. That’s definitely something I’ve missed a lot since I graduated college–being surrounded by talented thinkers and writers and people who have parallel paths to myself. I don’t really have that at my job–I work at a tech start-up–and people there are really focused on SEO and marketing and website building and technical writing and that kind of thing. There are a couple other artists’ there, but for the most part I don’t have a ton in common with anyone.
How did the experience affect your own writing?
Again to mention Victoria, but a comment she made about my work was that she would like my pieces to go a bit longer and be more philosophical, which has stuck with me for these last few weeks and that I’m trying to work more into my writing. For a long time I resisted having clear narratives in my work because I felt like I was giving in to being too prosaic for the piece I wanted (there’s definitely no such thing. Or maybe there is). So I guess something I’m working on now is learning how to negotiate narrative and lyric better. How to elevate but still stay connected.
What’s the best thing you learned at the residency?
To be redundant, when Victoria said that she wanted my work to be more philosophical I think I interpreted as having more revelations. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit actually, and have been since the residency–the idea of forcing a reader to transcend a poem by giving them a revelation instead of presenting the revelation as yourself or using it as a turn. Like, instead of saying to a reader that a moment or thing is revelatory, how can I get a reader to experience the poem as revelatory themself.
What would you tell the 2020 Antioch-Frontier Fellow?
First, although common knowledge suggests differently, May is not a good time to swim in LA. I thought it was going to be really warm and great swimming weather, but every uber driver or person who noticed I was wearing shorts every day informed me that I was actually experiencing, “June Gloom,” which follows “Gray May.” Apparently September and October are better times for swimming. Second, they have a lot of cool skate shops on the Venice beach boardwalk. Don’t impulse buy a longboard because you will have to wrap it in a garbage bag and sit with it on your lap the entire flight home.