Digital Book Tour: New Books by Gigi Bella, Amy Shimshon-Santo
Fam, times are weird—so many of us have to figure out new ways of doing old things. Book launches, an established feature of our wonderful community of writers, have been particularly hard hit, and we’d love to make room for authors to share their work with the world. Our limited Digital Book Tour series will serve that end! Today, we’re sharing excerpts and interviews from Gigi Bella’s Big Feelings and Amy Shimshon-Santo’s Even the Milky Way is Undocumented.
An Excerpt from Gigi Bella’s Big Feelings
burn it all
after ada limón
say i can’t pay rent
or electricity or water or phone bill
say i never stop getting fired
say i never find the exact right place at the exact right time
say they won’t neuter my cat because i make a dollar too much
say i eat a lot of tuna
say i’ve been burned out for the last four years how
can i still be burning?
say they turn my high school home into a very important gas station
say when will they gentrify the mountains?
say i do not know how to do my taxes
say i am still sad tomorrow
say i cannot hold it down with iced coffee
say i eat gummy bears for dinner
say you leave, say i leave to see if it’ll make me feel less alone
say all i do is leave or at least that’s what it feels like
say i do not know how to person
say alone is not on my resume
say i always get fired from it too
say i don’t make it after all
say i am not all the things i thought i’d be
say somehow it will all be ok
say fuck it
say we roll around in the grass
say we stare down everything that will kill us
say we post it on instagram & make out
take a very sexy bath in all the bills we didn’t pay
recreate that scene from pretty woman
say we run & run & run
say we stop
watch it all burning, the prettiest sunset
say we have a picnic watch the sky go down
watch it all
On What the Reader Will Walk Away With
Gigi Bella: Your big feelings are allowed. All the times you fell in love with a tsa agent you met for five minutes or moved across the country on a whim or cried on the bathroom floor; all of it is what makes you the most yourself. In connection with that, the biggest feeling has to be for yourself. You have to hold your own hand at the most romantic part of the movie. Play a game of MASH with only your name written down. Return to the altar of you and recognize all of its sanctuary.
On What the Writer Walked Away With
Gigi Bella: The creation of this book took place over the course of 3 years in which I found myself displaced due to class inequality, domestic violence & sexual assault. i found myself in love with people who did not know how to love me back. Let a country and a bank account question my worth. I was homeless and submitting the manuscript from a dunkin donuts and I am, now, releasing the book during a pandemic. Growing up poor and Mexican and queer, the world only wants you to know how unlovable you are. The world is always ending. This work is my apocalypse hymn. The prayer of undoing. It is a map of my survival. I, also, never thought I would put out a book with so much formal poetry in it! I just remember my friend, Gabriel Ramirez, telling me “forms are for everyone. language is for everyone,” and the feeling of completing a crown of sonnets. Maybe I didn’t finish school or even go there for poetry in the first place but my words are powerful and I am brilliant and I am so grateful that I finally learned how to command the galaxy I’ve been queen of all along.
On The Book’s Biography
Gigi Bella: In the musical Be More Chill, the character Christine Canigula sings, “i have mad gigantic feelings, rad & frantic feelings about most everything, like gun control like spring.” I started sort of condensing that down to big feelings. my big feelings are what pushed me to move to New York, to fall in love with someone who was undocumented, to leave an alcoholic, to buy a vibrator, to say, “it’s ok that you don’t love me because I will always love me.” I remember a conversation I had with my friend Noel Quiñones about how our big feelings are not really an absence of fear, pero like you look your fear in the face and you follow your big stupid heart anyway. Even though it might really hurt. I ended up back in my hometown after moving across the country for someone I caught on Bumble. Submitted these poems when I barely wanted to be on the planet. I am releasing this book in a moment defined by fear. The greatest gift I have to share is a roadmap to resilience. a messy mirror. This book started with my fear of overwhelming others with these big feelings and all comes back to my big feelings as my superpower. Not a thing that makes me weak but, instead, the thing that arms me.
On The Book’s Family of Support
Gigi Bella: This work could not have been made without my Project X familia in the Bronx. My cat, Ducky, and the sweet bodega from whence he came! New York City. Ariana Grande’s Sweetener. Reading Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things on the train. going to Broadway shows by myself. Joe Iconis. Birthday Cake Truffles from Milk Bar. The time Gabe read Natalie Diaz out loud at the kitchen table. the man who dumped me while I was at the National Poetry Slam. The gown I wore the next day. The man I got a matching tattoo with. My little sister and the halloween we spent in Brooklyn. My mother & her mother & her mother’s 100 year old mother. The family who taught me what survival looks like. Selena. My super hot hilarious radio dj collaborator boyfriend who believes in me (wild concept). my ancestors. & me. I am so grateful I stuck around.
gigi bella is the tenth ranked woman poet in the world, the Project X Bronx Poetry Champion, a Pink Door Fellow & a National Poetry Slam Champion. She has been featured alongside Andrea Gibson, Joy Harjo, Sabrina Benaim, Olivia Gatwood and many others. Her chapbook, weird things, was featured on the instagram of pop singer/songwriter, Sara Bareilles. Her other work is featured on Button Poetry, Slamfind and in What Are Birds?, Maps for Teeth and Knight’s Library.
An Excerpt from Amy Shimshon-Santo’s Even the Milky Way is Undocumented
my body is pulled by the heavens
infinite space without nationality
borderless sky of darkness, living and dead light
moon recognizes every mother on earth
her cycle, her blood,
her ability to reproduce stars
the border patrol doesn’t care. it has orders
from the White House
to separate children from their constellations
nature means nothing
a river / a plain / a family / nothing
even the milky way is undocumented
(“borderless” was first published by Lady Liberty Lit and was nominated for Best of the Net)
On What the Reader Will Walk Away With
Amy Shimshon-Santo:I hope readers come away with a deeper sense of the humility, and power, of resiliency.
On What the Writer Walked Away With
Amy Shimshon-Santo: Poetry is medicinal. I wrote to become visible to myself, to give voice to my life as a human.
I chose a non-traditional path, leaving home at 16 to pursue a career in dance, living between three or four different countries, and starting a family in my twenties with someone from a different faith, culture, and nationality. I dedicated myself to service of my family and communities, but became a silver shadow in an expansive forest. I lost myself in the blur of it all. Later, I became the primary caregiver to our children. Translate: single mom. That period of life was filled with grace, but it was undeniably challenging. Single mothers are not afforded the dignity they deserve. Single moms save lives. They deserve to save their own. That’s what I set out to do. Raise my kids and grant myself the grace and reverence of renewal.
Beneath the stories of a mother, and a family, is the deeper journey of a woman. Part of my healing process was external. Call it adaptive self leadership while living under machismo, racism, xenophobia, and limited income. The other part was internal. I had mechanized my own invisibility, and supposed lack of possibility or value.
The journey of the book brought me to a new place. Everyone deserves a relationship to self that is stronger than their burdens, or fears. Poetry is designed for the subtle work of liberation. The book lead me to the obvious: if we don’t love ourselves perfectly its hard to get anything else quite right.
I also got to witness my children grow and flourish. While my sense of self worth was lacking, it was impossible to deny that I had done something right. They were, and are, stelar.
On The Book’s Biography
Amy Shimshon-Santo: Writing found me. It followed me around, and loved me first before I realized what was up. When my father died, we sat shiva. From the pain of loss, I realized I didn’t want to live without writing. It just wouldn’t be worth it. A mentor named Paul Robinson said, “I want you to write as if there were no obstacles.” I enrolled in creative writing classes and applied to MFA programs. At this time, my kids were completing high school. They had worked hard to get to pursue a higher education. It was their turn, not mine. I’d lost my job during the recession, and we were living like lizards, low to the ground. Tea. Music. Library books. When my father died it brought the temporarily of life front and center. It turns out there is enough to go around. My kids got to go to college, and I got to write. I wrote many of these poems in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Antioch University, and the rest followed shortly after.
The poems were written over four years, and speak to twenty plus years of living. The book roughly begins with my firstborn arriving, and concludes with my two children grounded and grown.
I submitted individual poems for publication first, and they were gobbled up by feminist and queer lit mags. The poems had a readership. People felt them. Women would slide up and whisper, “I read your poem.” They’d grin. “Which one?” I have written more than one. They had favorites like the “Good Fuck Poem: A Definition,” or “No (No.10).” I had a body, and a politics. Women readers told me they appreciated that.
On The Book’s Family of Support
Amy Shimshon-Santo: Poetry is my bullet proof vest.
Having a creative practice has saved my life. The poems wouldn’t have come without the mystery of the creative process, and I am lucky and grateful for it.
This book is set in a family. It wouldn’t have be possible without my children, Avila and Reva Santo. Many poems arrived in my daughter’s apartment in Puerto Rico, and my son graciously recorded the audio book.
I am grateful for the editorial support of Dan Bellm and Gayle Brandeis. Studying translation and poetry with Dan was elemental. Studying across genres with Gayle was catalytic. She published my first poem, and pushed me into the ring. Some of the poems landed in my Auntie Deena Metzger’s living room. My poetry buddy Adrian Cepeda has been my all-dues-paid poetry compadre. He encouraged me to submit work and recommended the publisher that eventually chose the book — Summer at Unsolicited Press. There would be no collection without all the feminist and queer lit mags that sparked this possibility by publishing my work. Kio Griffith read the manuscript and invented the magical cover art — an intergalactic vessel for traversing the stratosphere by canoe and compass. For the launch, we’d planned a 6D installation of his cover art that rendered it habitable. The book tour was cancelled due to COVID19, and then I became sick and was diagnosed as “presumed COVID19.” But, here I am on the other side of the worst of it. I am breathing and imagining future. I am writing these lines. I appreciate everyone who ever felt a poem I have written down or spoken.
Amy Shimshon-Santo is a writer and educator from Dogtown, a place that no longer exists. Her interdisciplinary work connects the arts, education, and urbanism. She has worked across genres including poetry, creative non-fiction, choreography, and social science. Amy has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for creative non-fiction (2017), Best of the Net for poetry (2018), and was recognized on the National Honor Roll for Service Learning. Her writing has been published by Yes Poetry, Zócalo Public Square, Lady Liberty Lit, Full Blede, Rose Quartz Journal, Awkward Mermaid Press, Inscape, Rag Queen Periodicals, Anti-Heroin Chic, Lady Liberty Lit, Entropy, SAGE Publications, UC Press, SUNY Press, Public, Teaching Artist Journal, Critical Planning Journal, and the Tiferet Journal. She has performed throughout the world from Salvador, Brazil to Point Barrow, Alaska. Amy currently teaches at Claremont Graduate University where she directs the MA Program in Arts Management. Web: www.amyshimshon.com, Twitter: @amyshimshon, IG: @shimshona, SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/shimshona