Full disclosure. I like Megan. A lot. I always have. Like so many people I’ve asked questions of this month, even though it’s getting repetitive, this is a good person. This would be a good person if they never wrote anything as long as they were alive. But, wow. I’m glad they choose to create. Because so much of my work revolves around the movements of popular culture, and how that mixes in with how I consider social issues, I have a sharp ear for writers who are capable of doing the same thing. What draws me in about Megan, and I don’t know if she gets enough credit for it, is that she really gives you these fantastic bits of things that she truly enjoys as a person, and works them into her poems. Invites you in. Makes you curious. I had no idea who the Long Island Medium was at this point last year. After hearing Megan’s poem (of the same name) just one time, I felt like I had watched every episode of the show, and isn’t that what references to the things we take in are supposed to do to an audience? I read Megan’s first book, After The Witch Hunt, in 2012. I recently re-read it, in preparation for her newest release, Redhead And The Slaughter King, coming out this fall. In between her two books, we’ve heard our poems in each other’s cities, and I’ve followed the work she’s been getting published at a pretty high rate lately. It occurs to me, now, that Megan is still turning corners with her work at a pretty high rate. It’s alarming, in the best kind of way, to watch a writer you have a deep respect for, still growing at that rate. Still urging everyone to catch up.
Your mere existence kind of holds me accountable, when it comes to writing. I am sure you don’t know that, but I often think to myself, “has Megan written today?” And the answer is usually, “Yeah. Probably, dude.” And then I think, “Well, why haven’t you?” I find a lot of joy in the discipline you have. You’re a volume writer, but (it seems) not in the sense where you’re writing a sentence or two a day and kicking back. You’re writing high volumes of good shit. What pushes that commitment to the craft?
You know that scene in 500 Days of Summer where the screen splits and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character acts in two side-by-side scenes, one titled “Expectations” and the other “Reality”? This interview feels remarkably similar to that, except it’s “Self-Perception” and “Community’s Perception”.
Anyway, the volume writing (in my self-perception screen) really only started this year. I read Stephen King’s On Writing and then thought—for a full-time writer—I hardly write. So one of my (many) resolutions for this year was to participate in a 365|365. To complete a new poem every day of the year. As of April 16th, 2014 – I’ve written 105 poems, and haven’t skipped a day. (I still haven’t filed my taxes.)
Before that, my process was more like this: write when inspired (boo), submit to a book contest I was not ready for, find out I am a finalist, write half a book in three weeks with detonating pressure as I shut out the entire world to birth this wild thing. Then, whether I lost (2010) or won the contest (2011 and 2013), I’d take an accidental five month break from writing anything at all. I’m talking about the Write Bloody Competition, of course, published After the Witch Hunt and is putting out my second book in the Fall.
Even though my process yielded favorable results—I don’t think it’s a healthy one, so now I am committed to making writing (and reading!) part of my daily life. There were years when I’d only write poems during April & November’s 30/30 challenges. So I guess I’d say outside forces, like deadlines/contests/and challenges really push my commitment to the craft. And when there’s no outside force, I’m the type of writer who will invent my own.
Following that up, the evidence of you writing high volumes of good shit shows up in the fact that you are on your second book, Redhead and the Slaughter King, coming out this fall. Like a lot of people, I loved After The Witch Hunt and really found myself (pleasantly) surprised that you had something ready to go as a follow up so quickly. What kind of growth was there in between the two manuscripts, and what can people who enjoyed your first go-round expect this time out?
Again, I’m having that split screen moment. Let me explain — in the “self-perception” screen, it’s 2012, I just had my book release party for After the Witch Hunt and I’m a little disappointed in myself for not having a second book to submit to another contest that same week. In another shot, I’m reading this interview question and thinking my books will be published over two years apart. Thats how long people wait between babies—why not books? I’m not saying the self-perception scene isn’t crazy. The people who know me very well know that I am incredibly hard on myself—I never think I am doing enough. That’s probably fueled both awful and incredible things.
That being said, Redhead and the Slaughter King is something I am really excited about. It’s darker than After the Witch Hunt, if you can imagine that. I think it’s abundantly clear I’ve grown as a writer and a person when comparing the texts side by side. It’s almost a prequel to the first book—the poems in it navigate the landscape that created the woman in, for example, poems like The First Time I Met His Mother and even Fat Girl.
Redhead and the Slaughter King feels like an alarmingly honest piece of literature. I am afraid of the repercussions of some of the pieces, to be honest. That’s how I know it has power. The book disrupts some long-held family myths. The poems in the book are unafraid to be ugly. I didn’t feel the need to play the victim or the survivor in this new book as much. I just play me—who can be ugly, and mean, and morbid, and so so brave.
Those who liked After the Witch Hunt will be happy to see more feminist themes, a dissection of rape culture, personal narrative surrounding relationships and family. I think many people will pick up Redhead and say did she really just say that? and send me their jaw in the mail.
I don’t know how else to frame this other than by stating an obvious truth. You work extremely hard. I think you set an interesting bar for what could be possible on your first tour. You covered a lot of dates, in not a lot of time, all over the country. In a car, by yourself. I toured for like 2.5 weeks and I got an unapologetic speeding ticket on my way home because I missed it so bad. I was extremely impressed by your run. What did you gain from that whirlwind, and also, what kind of message do you think that sent? To yourself, and others?
Man, I really want to write a novel about that tour. This is me acknowledging that this interview is not the place for that, but he’s an abridged version:
When I started planning my first book tour, I thought I could do it in 4-6 weeks. I remember sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown, my huge atlas before me, starring cities I wanted to visit and dragging my hot pink highlighter from state to state as it foreshadowed the routes my car would soon take. I knew I wanted to make it to the other coast and back. I started e-mailing, calling, facebooking, and networking like an overcaffeinated engine—reaching out to everyone I had even a thread of connection to—and trying to book shows. I think something about the title “Write Bloody Author Touring Near You” in my subject line helped, plus some rad videos from my book release party. As I kept getting affirmative responses, the tour stretched longer and longer. Sorry, I’ll be in Portland for Halloween. Sorry, darling, I’m going to have to miss your birthday. I could come back, but I really want to see New Orleans! Mom, is it okay if I’m not home for Thanksgiving? The tour ended up being exactly 100 days (the evenness of that number was not an accident. If you haven’t noticed, Type A All Day.)
I’d been working for Trader Joe’s at the time. It’s a nice enough company to work for—cool people, health insurance benefits, good food—but God, the monotony is kind of obliterating for a creative person. When I left they promised I could have my old job back upon return, and that was kind of the thought, until somewhere along an empty road when I’d already touched the other ocean and had sold more books that I thought I ever would and found I was actually making money doing this, I called my mom and said I can’t go back to Trader Joe’s. And my mom, who had always been a pretty big proponent of but you have to have a back up plan! Said no, you can’t. Hasn’t this proved you can do anything? So I was pretty unaware that this set a bar for anyone else in the world except myself. But the bar is just that: I can do anything. And if I can do anything, so can you.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, for writing a broad question in here. But I feel like if we were having a one on one conversation, I would want to ask this and listen to your answer, so I’m going to ask it here and hope that everyone can experience the answer with me. What I like about you as a person, more than just as a writer, is that you are intensely clear on where you stand, and are unafraid to make that clarity known in often difficult spaces. The focus you have on overcoming. I enjoy how that bleeds into your work. How you sometimes give the women in your poems difficulty and then triumph. I enjoy the overwhelming feeling that you write for survivors, for those often dismissed and/or not given a voice. How important is that voice of survival in your work?
I wouldn’t say that survival is something I actively think about in my work, but it is ever present because I did survive a lot of things. I think the voice of survival comes through less in my poems, and more so in my presence. Having books published and being able to tour with them and say my poems on stages all over the country—that’s testament. That’s proof.
You have to remember — after I came forth about being abused by a fellow community member—people wanted to silence me. People wanted me to leave the community because it was more comfortable to ignore the truth. But I stayed. My story is unique. Many women in the slam community have been shamed, silenced, or abused out of it. My hope is that when I tell my story, when I achieve things — it encourages other women to speak out, to stay, to push against the forces that oppress them until they score and shine and winwinwin.
I want to talk about two of your poems specifically. Both of them reference reality shows. And I love them both. “Bridalplasty” and “Long Island Medium” take two different approaches to kind of freezing moments in pop culture, and analyzing them from two entirely different angles. Whenever we all, as artists, dip into the well of popular culture, there are always fun things we get in return from the audience. Is there something that draws you to write about reality television? And I’m curious to know what different reactions, if any, you’ve gotten to those pieces?
I love pop culture. I sort of think of pop culture as a little keyhole. The whole universe is behind it, but this is one frame through which to see it. I am not really writing about reality television, but about reality through the vessel of a current phenomenon. Does that make sense?
“Bridalplasty” is an abomination of a show, and while I wrote it “to the competitors” — the poem was for me. Every time I read the poem out loud I am not imagining the women on the show, but myself. It’s ME who dreamed of “taking [my] tummy to the butcher shop so he could carve [me] clean with a deli slicer.” It’s me who needs to be reminded of my own beauty within a society that tries so hard to negate it.
As for the Long Island Medium, I did grow up on Long Island, and I actually love that show. Like, ugly-cry-on-an-airplane that show. I’ve never been sure where I stand on the God & Afterlife Scale, but I started losing people in my life very young—a friend died of cancer in the sixth grade. I learned death was real early, and that it didn’t discriminate. The heaviest of death’s blows was my first cousin Ana, who After the Witch Hunt is dedicated to. The Long Island Medium poem certainly leads in with the humor—I mimic her accent, etc—but that poem is about grieving Ana. It’s about forcing myself to believe in Theresa Caputo and mediums because it means that Ana is not so far away. The line about the slot machine lever flashing $10,000 and a “lost one’s hand on the lever” — that happened. That’s real.
So essentially, reality television doesn’t move me at all, really. But I am always aware of the connections in things and the nerves that lead back to my own heart. I sometimes teach these pieces in High Schools just to be like—you can write about ANYTHING. You can make anything relevant. I try to take the snobbery out. While I appreciate people being well-read, not everyone is or has access to that, and there is inspiration outside of academia and institutions. Young people need to know that inspiration is possible even in something as insipid as Bridalplasty.
One of my favorite stories, in my short time in slam, involves you. My very first slam, ever (Rustbelt 2012), I was preparing to go on stage for the first time in that type of setting, running my poem, and etc. And I just happened to have to go up after you. You did “The First Time I Met His Mother”, and I remember looking at someone beside me and freaking out like, “What is this?? This is what slam is like??? I can’t do this. I can’t follow that, no. no. no.” I say that to say, what an introduction to your work. I enjoy the way you perform, because I feel like it really honors the poem as I see it on the page. How do you connect your poems with your performance?
There is nothing off-limits for me in slam. I will bring any poem I’ve ever written into a poetry slam. I also don’t have any ‘slam’ poems that I’d never try to publish. I cringe when people say ‘this is a page poem.’ To me that means ‘this is hard to decipher an understand to anyone outside of my own brain and really I’m just masturbating right now.’ I think never making that distinction is what keeps my work feeling fresh in both arenas.
You’ve really done some big things with teaching. You have a reading, writing, and performance course, Poems That Don’t Suck. I’ve heard such incredible things from poets who have taken it. How did the idea for this come about, and when you initially got into writing poetry, did you see yourself teaching?
The idea came about because I needed to survive as an artist during the months where the shows were slow and I couldn’t dream about bagging groceries or stocking shelves. So that was the main motivator — but then I fell in love with it. I really dig teaching and watching students come to the class afraid of their pens, and leave the class blooming with an intimidating roster of publications. When writers get better for having taken the class, I feel like the world is a little bit better—or at least local open mics across the country are.
On the back of that, I’ve asked almost every teaching artist this question. How has teaching changed or informed your work? I imagine working that intimately with the word, and giving that gift to so many others has to have had some impact on you?
I honestly can compartmentalize that very well. If teaching informed my work (I do a lot of teaching in stuffy High Schools), I probably would curse less and talk about more on-the-surface things. A small fraction of my stuff is High School friendly (or really, administration friendly) and that’s the work I do, unless there’s a really rad teacher (looking at you, Jeff Kass.)
Mostly I’d say opening myself up to learn from my students in near equal parts to what I teach has been the best part of teaching. Allowing myself to be surprised. And I always am.
You are really in control of all things that go on with your career. Can you talk about the importance of taking control there, kind of being your own PR/Agent/Etc?
I mean, I’d love to have an agent who does my booking and makes sure I don’t say dumb stuff on twitter, but I don’t. Im not trying to be Alicia Keys about it, I’d love someone else to do it. But I don’t think this is the age of that, so working hard as a writer doesn’t just mean writing and reading. It’s a business. I’m my own boss. And some days I cry because my boss is the meanest bitch on the planet and I’m afraid of what she’ll do if I slack off.
Finally, I really pride myself on changing my mind on pop culture figures. Most lately, I’ve turned over a new leaf regarding Lena Dunham (in part, because of that Donald Glover clip you showed me way back). You are passionate about Lana Del Rey. I’m on the fence but I’m willing to be sold. Sell me on the glory of Lana Del Rey.
I don’t know why people clown her, to be honest. Listen to all of the album “Born to Die”, straight through, on good speakers. Watch the videos for ‘National Anthem’, ‘Ride’, and her ‘Chelsea Hotel 2’ Leonard Cohen cover. Listen to her cover the Disney song “Once Upon a Dream” for the upcoming Maleficent movie and let it ruin your childhood. If you don’t say “Lady Gaga WHO?” after all that, don’t talk to me.
First of all, her voice. Her voice sounds like a haunted jukebox oozing honey. Her voice is a better ad campaign for cigarettes than death. Her voice has all the nostalgia of my parent’s generation—but she’s not wholesome—she’s dark and dirty, glamorous and grungy. Her aesthetic is flawless but never campy. Her image changes from Jackie O to Trailer Park but I always want to be her. Her lyrics are evocative and steeped with so much filthy Americana. She’s melancholy and blinged out in the same song. She refers to her genre of music as “Hollywood SadCore.” Even that is everything. She sounds like Neil Young with a pussy. Her pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola. That’s an actual lyric.
Mostly, singing along to Lana Del Rey makes me feel like a sex kitten, no matter what I’m wearing or what weird thing my hair is doing, and for a person whose struggled with self-image and confidence since she was eight—that’s monumental.
I’m also curious as to why female artists are so picked apart and debated in a way that dude artist’s aren’t. Actually, I’m not curious. The answer is sexism. This came full-circle, didn’t it?
Thanks so much, Megan. As you know, I think you’re one of the best, and I hope to see you soon.
MEGAN FALLEY is a full-time writer, performer, and a two-time winner of the Write Bloody Open Book Competition. Her first full-length collection of poetry After the Witch Hunt was published in 2012. Her forthcoming collection Redhead and the Slaughter King is slated for publication in Fall 2014. Falley was featured on TV One’s Verses & Flow, a television show dedicated to showcasing the best in spoken word. In 2012, she represented NYC at the National Poetry Slam as part of the LouderArts Team. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rattling Wall, TheUncommon Core, and a party of online journals. Falley teaches an online poetry course called “Poems That Don’t Suck,” dedicated to improving the craft of aspiring writers. In 2012, she toured the US and Canada for 100 days in her car, reading poems. She lives in Brooklyn with a dog named Taco. Visit her online at www.meganfalley.com.