Deep Love, Deep Sorrow in the Same Body: An Interview with Gala Mukomolova

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Gala Mukomolova is the author of One Above One Below: Positions and Lamentations, her first chapbook of poems, which won the Vinyl 45 Chapbook Prize and was published by YesYes Books in 2018. She earned an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, and her work has appeared in PEN, Poetry, PANK, Vinyl, and elsewhere. Her first full-length poetry collection, Without Protection, is forthcoming in spring 2019 from Coffee House Press. This interview was conducted over email.

Congratulations on the publication of your book, One Above One Below: Positions and Lamentations! What was your experience like publishing this chapbook with YesYes Books? Were you involved with the cover design, the marketing, or other parts of the process beyond writing?

Thanks so much! Working with YesYes Books was great. KMA is such a generous editor and true poetry champion. She really listened to all my concerns regarding the making and marketing of the chapbook. Really, the whole team is great. Amie was so lovely in planning events, and Amber makes the most beautiful instagram book ads. Plus I get to be part of a group of amazing writers who have all published with them. YesYes group readings are often spiritually rewarding.

The idea of acceptance in your poem “When the dog, which is not your dog” feels courageous in its bluntness, daring in its truths, punctuated with sound and rhythm: “Accept the wheel that / governs the boat, which is nothing, which is why you sail out until the sky // and water become one color and it is dark where you are.” These days, what do you choose to accept and what do you actively resist?

I been doing a lot of EMDR therapy around childhood trauma and thinking about what it means that the ones we actively seek love and protection from are often the ones who have made us feel the most unloved and unsafe. I guess I’m working on accepting that you can hold deep love and deep sorrow in the same body, in response to someone else, and both of those feelings are true. Neither of them negates the other. I’m resisting extremes in this way, or taking the easy way out.

In the poem “By water,” you write, “I love this part, the sun sets yolk-orange // on the Atlantic, O lover, clouds dramatic and without shape. // Last week I packed my life and you lifted me out from one town / to another. Baltimore burned with grief.” With references to American culture, consumerism, and terrible world news, this poem hits hard with truth: “The whole world is on fire // and it’s not new.” Is this fire all sin and collective fear, or does it hold the bad as well as the good, ugliness and beauty both?

I don’t really truck with any notion of sin, and if I did then it would be the kind of fire we spend our lives trying to burn in. When I say this world is on fire, I mean that it’s burning with anger and pain and grief. Like when you feel acute betrayal and your throat begins to burn down to your stomach and you can’t speak because uttering a sound would bring tears to your eyes from the pain of it. We’ve betrayed this Earth and the beings on it. So, it’s burning. It’s burning all the time.

It’s so exciting your first full-length collection, Without Protection, is forthcoming next spring from Coffee House Press. How is that process going thus far? What advice would you give emerging writers hopeful to publish their first book?

The process has been a long and hard one, actually. Coffee House Press is super supportive, and I’m grateful to the whole team for how they’ve tended to my work. I feel really lucky in that respect. But, that book was a long time coming, made of many iterations, and mining a great deal of grief. I would tell an emerging writer to be sure that the book they’re sending out is the book they want to be known for. I would tell them that the first time is special and shouldn’t be rushed, no matter how old they are or how much pressure the lit world generates. Our books are our art, not our product.

Do you write every day? Could you reflect a bit on your writing routine (if you have one)? And do you have a favorite place to write?

I definitely don’t write every day! I write like one poem every couple of months, if that. I’ll work on an essay for year! Sometimes I’ll write three poems in an ecstatic condition and then not again for a long, long time. Maybe it’s because I write articles for a living, about two a week, so I spend all my writing energy on paid work. When it flows from me, I like to write while traveling. On a bus or on the subway. In a remote town in a shitty coffee shop. The shittier the better.

Gala Mukomolova

What was your experience like studying, teaching, and writing poetry in the MFA program at the University of Michigan? Did you enjoy living in Ann Arbor, and do you feel like place influences your writing in any way?

I really loved getting my MFA at Michigan. I mean, I’ll say this, there were not enough queer instructors. Not enough people dealing with queerness in their work, and actually not enough people writing into queerness in my cohort. Which is to say, sometimes it was alienating. BUT! I found my people anyway. I found people who felt like home to me, like a kind of family. A lot of those people, I’d still give them an organ, you know? They influence my work because my work is all about kinship systems.

What are some experiences in your life or artistic influences that you feel have most strongly impacted you and your work as a poet?

In my life? Being a “new American” or what I like to call the “zero generation,” which is to say not from there and not from here, either. My work, at its core, is all about belonging, about identification and dis-identification. The writers I loved when I was young were Adrienne Rich, Lucille Clifton, Sandra Cisneros, and Jeannette Winterson. I still love them now.

You also write horoscopes — “astrolo-inspired love letters” — for Nylon under the name Galactic Rabbit. How did you get started writing horoscopes, and what do you enjoy most about it? Does horoscope-writing ever inspire your poetry, or vice versa?

I think all my poetry gets lost in my horoscopes and astrology articles it’s where I channel a lot of my creative energy these days. I’ve always worked with astrology, but the person who got me started writing astrology articles was Jia Tolentino when she worked for the Hairpin. She’s good friends with my dear friend Maya. They were in the same fiction cohort at Michigan and had heard about my star-knowledge. I was intimidated at first, but after some encouragement I took a stab. The rest is history, as they say.

Have you ever collaborated on creative projects with other writers or artists? If so, what has that experience been like for you, and how do you feel it changes your perspective as an individual creator?

I’m sure I’ve collaborated a great deal, although I’m blanking on the majority of those projects. I collaborated with lovers! There was a pianist who set my poems to music, another poet who thought we should write a screenplay together, and a future illustrated book project I’ve pitched to my artist best friend. I love creating with other people. I love being surprised by what organically comes up between divergent energies.

Are there more cool projects coming up on the horizon for you? What excites you most about writing poetry in 2018 and about the future?

Well, in terms of my creative work, I’ve been writing this long essay about blue herons, heartache, queer texts about suicide, and the rites of Osiris. It’s taking me over a year to write it, but I think it’ll be worth it. I’m excited by the nature of genre, like gender, to eschew formula and boundaries. I think since the world is on fire, our words are getting hotter, more urgent, more unrepentant. More interested in this “sin” you spoke of, not as a shame, but as a sacred return.

Follow Gala Mukomolova on Twitter @Galactic_Rabbit.