“I want to spend time writing for girls looking for reflections of themselves.”
rude girl is lonely girl! (Pizza Pi Press, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Anything Jess Rizz puts together. Also, this zine called MALCRIADA by Suzy X about growing up punk in Miami.
What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
These chapbooks shamelessly explore identity & girlhood & give me freedom to do the same.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook is inspired by the Netflix adaptation of Marvel’s Alias, a comic series about Jessica Jones. I wrote it while binge-watching the series & also feeling sad about old, new, never-there loves. While watching Jessica Jones, I fell in love & identified the most with her bad bitchery. Or at least, aspired to be such a bad bitch. But I was also like, “Hey, here’s another White Feminist Icon in the Media, why are there so many of these? Why are women like me always erased? Why do I have to settle for this angry white girl?” Additionally, I was trying to dissect my feelings about all of these dumb boys I had been seeing. Basically, the chapbook isn’t about Jessica Jones specifically, but about everything she made me feel & all of the feels I was having at the time. I sum up what my chapbook is about with the three L’s: love, loneliness & Latinx identity.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
My last chapbook was called Plastic Pajaros. It doesn’t have as much of a hard, specific theme as rude girl is lonely girl! But it’s basically more stuff about my relationship with Spanish, my childhood, & the women in my family.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I wrote “AKA WWJJD?” & “AKA Crush Syndrome” simultaneously. One is about superimposing my Latina identity onto Jessica Jones & one is about wanting someone to text me back as the world ends. What I remember is feeling like a Lovesick Latinx.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
What is it? I wish I had a significant revision strategy. Mostly I just have a lot of google docs going at once & send things to my friends in the middle of the night with a lot of exclamation points in the subject line.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
In a particular episode, a man shouts at Jessica Jones: “Rude girl is lonely girl!” and she shouts back, “Counting on it!” I watch everything with captions because I like reading TV or like to trick myself into thinking that watching TV is just like reading—so anyway, seeing those words pop up on the screen while Jessica Jones–in her leather jacket & jeans–walks away, really struck me. What does it mean to be actively rude & thus, actively lonely? I also loved the titles of the episodes: “aka I’ve got the blues,” “aka crush syndrome,” etc. Each title of the poem is named after a title of an episode. It’s kind of like me saying, “But what I really mean is this.”
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I sent my friend Naomi Lawrence the first manuscript & was like, “Lol want to collab?” I think I used that word, “collab.” I was pretty vague with what I wanted, basically just told her I wanted the art to match the mood of the poems. Anyway, Naomi is amazing & did this whole photo shoot with random objects & then manipulated everything in photoshop. My favorite one is from “aka take a bloody number”–a woman’s hand is about to hit a man’s mouth with a spatula & his head is split open to let go all of these butterflies. The cover is a stencil of Jessica Jones’s silhouette, with the letters J O N E Ssplattered around her. Tiffany Mallery did the lettering. The author photo I included is also done by Naomi. All of it is messy & emotional & I love it.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a manuscript about my mother being an aesthetician. Trying to explore white beauty standards & what hard work means when you’re making other people feel beautiful.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
You could always be a better reader & you could always be a better listener.
What music do you listen to as you work and write?
I listened to Palehound & Waxahatchee on a loop, basically.
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
Well, A Little Life really fucked me up to the point where I had to stop reading because I was crying so hard. Does that count?
If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?
Probably my sophomore year of high school because I was failing math class and especially awkward with my hispanic kid mustache & my lovesick notebooks.
Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?
I would think so! The way I’ve been doing chapbooks with Pizza Pi, at least. The editors at Pizza Pi know how to make my work look like the best it can be without policing what I have to say.
There’s a very D-I-Y quality to the chapbook in that way. Like, the poems are hella emotional & rude & come from me being a bit of a mess. The chapbook lets me be emotional & rude while still being a beautiful product. It’s like, I’m rude with a purpose & so is the chapbook.
We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?
Well, I worked in a bookstore for about a year so that sort of dictated what I would read. I’d always be overwhelmed by all the ish there was to read. One of my managers, Brad, told me that life’s too short so you should only read what you want to read. Right now, I only want to read things written by women, preferably women of color. I know that can be problematic but I spent so much time reading things that didn’t even have my shape in them. In a similar light, I want to spend time writing for girls looking for reflections of themselves.
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?
Ada Limon, Sandra Cisneros, Aimee Bender, Porsha O., J. Johnson, Olivia Gatwood, Dorothy Parker, Rachel Ronquillo-Grey, Vanessa Diaz, Jess Rizz.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I would try to sing sad songs in a sad band & have the exact same haircut.
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
I don’t write where I sleep.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
“AKA I’ve Got the Blues” came from a story my friend told me at a bar. We were talking about crying about boys. The story she told me is pretty much in the poem itself, but I just remember her telling me and feeling such a strong love for her and all of my friends who have been sad about boys. People look down on crying so much, especially girls crying, especially girls crying about boys. Yeah, it’s a waste of time. Yeah, we are better than the men who do not love us. But the world is sad and boys are a product of it. The world feeds us happy endings and we rarely get them. My friend gave this explanation: “Of course I cried. I cried because it was so disappointing.”
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
I guess “AKA top-shelf perverts” just because whenever I think about it I blush because it’s pretty explicitly about fucking. Like, I do not want my mom to read that.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The last poem I wrote is the last poem of the book: “Sonnet for Letting You Go AKA the Sandwich Saved Me.” It’s the one that has the most to do with Jessica Jones, with direct references to things that happen in the show, but it’s also one that speaks the most to my oldest feelings. I had edited it many times, always keeping the line, “You were never really a Kilgrave.” Finally, I adopted Sherman Alexie’s love of sonnets, or rather, a poem made up of a list that is 14 lines long. It’s about letting a love that you didn’t want anymore, about not regretting anything, about pretending to be a different person, about finally turning into the person you’re (maybe) supposed to be.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
Tortuga Con Muletas
Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?
Oh, I have to read everything I write out loud. I feel like I can’t understand it otherwise.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
I mostly read a lot of fiction or emotional-as-hell essays by women. Also, Netflix Captioning can get real deep sometimes.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
Megan Falley’s Bad Girls, Honey: Poems About Lana del Rey really inspired/ encouraged me to do something like this, as in, something so immediate & contemporary & feminine it could be waved away as forgettable but you want to make it unforgettable & also, plot twist, actually all about you.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I always hope some other lovesick Latinx will read this–just because whenever I was reading something by someone who remotely had my experience, it would mean the world to me. But really: to any self-identifying bad bitch out there & anyone trying to make their loneliness groovy.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?
It’s okay to write about the same thing again & again.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Stories my friends tell me. Random animals crossing the street. Selfies.
Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a nationally recognized & touring spoken word poet. She has been featured on Button Poetry, Bustle, The Guardian, Huffington Post, & Glamour Magazine. She is a 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, a Brenda Moosey Video Slam winner & the author of the chapbooks Plastic Pájaros & rude girl is lonely girl!. She lives in Boston.
order Melissa’s chapbook here
sonnet for letting you go aka the sandwich saved me
1. I’m not a real superhero; I just chose the right costume.
2. I can’t really fly; I’m just really good at jumping.
3. I’m not a real detective; I just learned how to spy.
4. You said you would never find anyone like me but I am not the only gifted one in this city.
5. You could binge-watch me over & over & try to feel different every time the same ending came around.
6. You were never a Kilgrave, as in, you never made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
7. Still, when you would hold me I’d think of the girl who could never leave her bed, the boy standing by a fence forever, all the ways to wipe a body off the face of the earth.
8. I wish you a love that feels like the greatest hyperbole.
9. You said I didn’t need an alias that people recognize a hero when they see one.
10. Now, it’s the alias that spoons me to sleep .
11. Green men will come back to the city & some buildings will burn down & more cars will crash & trees will definitely get set on fire & I will still check my phone & wonder where you are.
12. Here’s something: You were every street name I recited when I was afraid.
13. Here’s something else: That really was me that saved you.
14. Here’s one last thing: That isn’t me anymore.