Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Dena Rod

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Dena Rod My Shadow

Dena Rod

is currently the assistant creative nonfiction editor for Homology Lit and the author of the chapbook swallow a beginning. Dena works to illuminate their diasporic experiences of Iranian-American heritage and queer identity, combating negative stereotypes of their intersections in the mainstream media. Their poetry and creative nonfiction essays have appeared in the recently published anthology My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora, Endangered Species, Enduring Values, Forum Literary Magazine, Beyond Bloodlines (funded in part by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), and Imagoes: A Queer Anthology. Catch them on Twitter @alightningrod and denarod.com

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I took my first writing workshop back in 2016, which was in an Iranian identity writing workshop. Initially, I planned on writing about myself in creative nonfiction essays and maybe even a YA fantasy idea I had! However, within a few writing prompts poems kept appearing. I ended up taking advantage of San Francisco County’s new “Free City” program, where enrolling in SF City College was free for SF residents and signed up for poetry classes in order to refine my technique. Poetry has taken over my brain ever since and I’m still trying to get back to that darn YA idea!

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My father. My father bought me my first book of poetry from Shakespeare & Co on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley. He would always read Hafez late at night. He sat in our living room next to his bookshelf after we had all gone to bed and I would watch him from the crack in my bedroom doorway. I was fascinated by these thick tomes with cracked spines and metallic bookplates, they were akin to magic to me, heightened by the fact that they were written in Persian so I couldn’t decipher the words within.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Growing up as a child, the poetry I was exposed to was written by men rather than women. As an English Literature major, I was very much aware of the Western Literary canon that formed the primary curriculum with writers like Shakespeare, Milton, and T.S. Eliot holding court over the syllabus. I definitely felt like we were indoctrinated with what was considered True Literature and the canon didn’t seem like it had room for writers like me. My knowledge of contemporary poets was vastly limited since there was very little cross-pollination from the Creative Writing department that housed the Poetry Center.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m still working on developing one! I tend to do some form of writing daily, be it journaling, a timed free write, but the poems come when they come. I’m constantly inspired by the world around me and like to collage phrases together to describe what I see in new ways. I also just recently just finished writing thirty poems in thirty days for National Poetry Month, a goal I didn’t think I could achieve so I’m really proud of these poems.

5. What motivates you to write?

I strive to write the type of poetry that I needed when I was a literature undergrad. I feel indebted to Audre Lorde who wrote of her intersections staunchly. But I also feel called to document beauty as well. Certain sequences of words will get stuck in my head on a loop and I need to get them out of my head by painting with words .

6. What is your work ethic?

I have a very strong work ethic when it comes to other literary endeavors, such as editing submissions for Argot Magazine and Homology Lit but ultimately tend to put mine on the backburner. I’m trying to be better about that!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

It’s hard to make a definitive list of my influences since there are so many. I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, JK Rowling, and Philip Pullman like most kids of my generation. I was attached to stories of extraordinary children who are thrust into a destiny they don’t quite want but still forged ahead.

I discovered poets like Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich, Mariam Rukeyser in my undergraduate classes. It was such a breath of fresh air to see that this was poetry too; something that came into being catalyzed by the need to take action. I ended up writing my MA thesis on Audre Lorde’s biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and Homi Bhabha’s theory of the “Third Space of Enunciation.” Post-colonial theory was my first foray in disrupting Western narratives that are commonly prevalent in the English literary canon and this has molded my artistic perspective immensely in ways that I’m still discovering as a creative writer (rather than an academic one).

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I love what Adib Khorram is doing in YA literature, creating queer Iranian narratives and complexly delving into the rich interior lives of teenagers in the diaspora. I admire Michelle Tea and her career, how she is able to write seamlessly across memoir, YA novels, poetry, and journalism. A lot of writers in the community around me inspire me daily, those who organize tirelessly to bring the work of others to public readings like Shizue Siegal, Cassandra Dallett, MK Chavez, and Sharon Coleman. I also really appreciate what Gabby Rivera is doing with her work in comics, creating the representation for her community with work like bb.free!

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing has always found its way to me, rather than the other way around. I have tried to ignore this urge for most of my life. Yet it comes in waves and bubbles forth in a way that I cannot deny my true nature that really enjoys writing!
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You need to unflinchingly look at your work without ego and sentimentality. Write what you want to write and nothing else. Do not write what you think other people want to read because being conscious of your audience will get in the way of your creative process (especially if you are frozen by performance anxiety!)

10. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Currently, I finished my first poetry manuscript and submitting it to presses and publishers. I released my first chapbook, swallow a beginning, which had a limited print run of 100 copies that all sold out! I’m also working (slowly but surely) a YA Urban Fantasy novel with a queer Iranian American girl who finds out she can walk through fire unscathed and travel inter-dimensionally.

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