Chicago poet/artist H. Melt, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, is releasing their new collection, The Plural, The Blurring at Women and Children First at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3.
It chronicles H. Melt's experience as a trans artist in spaces both deemed queer and straight. They talk about being misgendered at a queer art exhibit, threatened in gay bars and rendered powerless on SAIC campus; they find homes in Quimby's bookstore, in friends, shaving a pink triangle into the back of their head and attending informal dance parties. The December event will features poets Britteney Black Rose Kapri and Bea Sullivan-Knoff ( who is in the book ) performing alongside H. Melt, who will read and sign copies of the collection.
The following interview is condensed and lightly edited from email.
Windy City Times: What resonance do you think there is between your trans and poet identities?
H. Melt: Those two identities are not separate for me. It was actually through poetry and writing that I first started exploring my trans identity. I think it's important to write about being trans, especially from a non-binary and queer perspective. So much of the information about trans people out there is focused on medical transition. I'm interested in reading and writing trans stories that explore the wholeness and complexity of our lives.
WCT: You write, "If we want to free ourselves and others, we must speak to as broad an audience as possible." How do you aim to achieve this?
H. Melt: I do that by writing in a style that I hope is accessible to readers from a range of backgrounds. I try to perform and publish in spaces with audiences that do not all look like me or share the same beliefs. I make my work available in a variety of formats and try to keep it at an affordable price. It's hard though, as a queer and trans writer, to reach outside of our own communities because a lot of times, people who are organizing events, editing journals, writing reviews or publishing books don't always want to include us.
WCT: Talk a little about your arrangement of the collection.
H. Melt: The collection is arranged roughly by theme, with poems and essays mixed in with each other. Some of those themes include queer parties, trans activism, family and education ( though they are not explicitly labeled this way ). I wanted to group pieces based on their relationships to one another, but also leave room for readers to make their own connections.
WCT: The collection includes poetry and prose: Which medium seems appropriate when?
H. Melt: I think that the poems and essays serve similar functions in the book of documenting Chicago's queer and trans culture. I found it easier to get essays published as opposed to poems. A lot of the essays were also easier to write because I had more of a general idea of what I was trying to say while I was writing them. When I'm writing poems, I tend to not know how they're going to end up or what idea I'm trying to express. While most of the essays have some personal element in them, I find that the poems tend to be a bit more personal and emotional. There's something really freeing about writing poetry, even though it's harder for me to write.
WCT: A lot of pieces discuss safe queer space ( and unsafe queer space ). What feels like the safest space for you in Chicago right now and why?
H. Melt: Honestly, the inside of my apartment is the place where I feel most safe. Pat Parker has a great and heartbreaking stanza in the poem "My Brother" that reads, "What world is this we have? / Is my house the only safe place / for us?" One of the ideas in my book is that the feeling of safety can change at any moment. Even places and people that I wrote about in the book as being safe have now changed. We need to admit that no space will be space for everyone, and focus on accountability.
WCT: Have you shared the poems about certain subjects with the subjects themselves? Why or why not?
H. Melt: I have made a substantial effort to share my writing with the people and places that I mention in the book. I have a deep personal connection to many of them and I hope the work doesn't feel exploitative in any way. It's my way of celebrating them, of showing that I love and care about them. These are the people and places who have helped shape me into who I am. Overall, I'd say the reactions have been pretty positive. Some of the more critical pieces have shifted people's behaviors and institutional policies. It's hard to know what people really think of the writing, though.
WCT: In a previous interview you mention Chicago writers being a muse, and this collection has you finding inspiration in Langston Hughes and Patricia Smith. What do writers of color say to you?
H. Melt: Patricia Smith's "What It's Like to Be a Black Girl ( For Those of You Who Aren't ) and Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B" inspired two of the poems in my book. I was taught those poems in workshops and these are my responses to them. What I found inspiring in both of these works was not only their poetic skill on the page, but how they talk about their identities on their own terms, in a way that is painful, empowering, and critical all at once. Both are very much poems about coming of age and recognizing that you are different from the people around you.
WCT: I find your poetic language throughout refreshingly direct. Why does this style appeal to you?
H. Melt: I'm not trying to hide anything behind the writing. I want people to read and understand my work. I want to communicate with people and this is the best way that I know how to do that. It goes back to your question about accessibility. It's important that the way that I'm writing is accessible for people. It's intentional, but it's also just the way that I know how to write.
The Plural, The Blurring was published by Red Beard Press, and is available for purchase here and at select independent bookstores around the country.
Note: The article's writer volunteers with and runs an event at Women and Children First Bookstore. H. Melt is also an employee of the bookstore.