By Octavia Findley
Laurin DeChae is a poet that has been published in Rigorous, Rust + Moth, Really System, and Lines + Stars. She is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the English Department at the University at Albany in New York.
OF: Can you describe your craft for me?
LD: “Well, you’re starting with a loaded one, right? A lot of things that I do revolve around experimental writing and so, anytime I can smush genres together, and different kinds of methodologies in writing, that’s really rewarding for me. So, often times I’ll do long form lyric poems, I like shifting pronouns, which is fun. I haven’t talked about my craft in such a long time. But I think one of the things that I focus on a lot is hybridity. On a literal level and a craft level. On the literal level, I’m thinking about race, gender, class, and their intersections, because I think that we don’t think about it a lot, or enough, especially in the English field, which is weird.
Being someone who is mixed, I sort of take my own identity and my own experience to be able to say: there are other ways to write. And I think it’s not just me. I think it’s becoming more popular over the past couple of years. A lot of people are mixing genre, writing fiction with poetry inside of it or, vice versa, however you want to think about it. So that’s one of the things that I am really strongly thinking about.
The other thing is afrofuturism. I’m teaching a science fiction class and afrofuturism in general has been something that really made sense for me and my writing. When I found a particular writer, Douglass Kearney to be exact, who we published over at Fencewhen they used to be here. When I found that, I understood that it wasn’t me that was not making sense in my workshops, when I was in my M.F.A., it was my class that just didn’t get what I was trying to do. So that really helped me out a lot. Having an afrofuturist lens on my work helped me to translate that to other people, centering African and African American narrative, imagining past traumas and violences, dealing with ideas of dystopia, utopia and technology, and things like that.”
OF: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
LD: “It’s probably the generating. I love being able to exist and experience, and take note on that and make that into a poem. Once I get beyond that, having to revise, not that I don’t like revision, I actually do, but it gets tedious at a certain point. Because, of course, like many other writers, at a certain point it needs to be done, you can’t keep revising. Really, when I get to be in that more playful space, that’s my favorite.”
OF: Who’s your greatest influence in your field?
LD: “Well, like I mentioned, Douglass Kearney was my main dude, he’s still my main dude, we’re best friends forever now, or at least that’s what I’m going to say. We’ll eventually be best friends forever; we’re doing a panel at AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs] in the spring. We’re doing a panel on occult poetics, which is going to be so fun. But more than that, and what my research has led me to more recently is just all the traditions of black women that I’ve gotten to encounter. I just found out, at the beginning of this week, about Lucille Clifton. This woman did a talk, she was like ‘Lucille Clifton was a legit witch! She had séances with her children.’ She has this unpublished manuscript at Emory College that I’m trying to get my hands on called Soul Signs. This is a lot of what my project is focusing on, magic and surrealism, fantasy and speculative fiction and poetry.
So Lucille Clifton, obviously Toni Morrison, this woman that we’re reading for my science fiction class now, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, which is where I learned of the manuscript from Lucille Clifton. She’s just phenomenal as a black feminist queer writer who is very much trying to pave the way for other students. I just love her so much, her poetry, her work. It’s so beautiful. I think she works in a mixed genre as well because she writes prose poems; they don’t look like traditional poems. It throws people off.”
OF: What’s your favorite genre for leisure reading?
LD: “It’s still poetry, if I could be reading poetry all the time. Ever since I did the MFA, I really took a step away from fiction, but now that I’m doing my dissertation, I’m back in it. But I just love reading poetry. It’s usually African American contemporary poetry, and I’m always going to conferences, or going places. I’m encountering new people who are doing phenomenal work.”
OF: Would you like your work to be made into a film?
LD: “No. No. Especially not the first one that I’m working on at the moment, which is really, truly, almost done. It is really is. But no, I don’t think I would, I don’t think that makes sense for the work that I do, especially because it’s so focused on fragmentation and restructuring the first person and thinking about dystopia in a different way, it just wouldn’t translate. No, I wouldn’t want it to be a film.”
OF: Do you have any advice for beginning poets?
LD: “I think I’ll do two different versions. The cliché version is write and read, that’s the thing that none of us want to hear, because obviously it takes a lot of time but it is super important in honing your craft. And the third is making sure you’re trying different forms. If you’re someone that does always writes as a prose poet, go and try other forms out there. Try the sestina, try the villanelle, try the pantoum and see what comes of it. I didn’t think I was a form writer either, and then I did it, and I was super successful in doing it, so do those things.
But more than that, I think what’s also important is finding your community, which can be really difficult. But once you find your community and the people who are equipped to read your work, I think that’s really when you start to soar. That’s part of what the M.F.A. can sometimes lack, if you are somebody who is marginalized in one way or another. You are gonna enter a sphere where it’s probably mostly white dudes. I went the whole way down to the south hoping I would be mostly with people of color and I just was not. There was four or five of us in my three years there. Finding your community is super important, and that means putting yourself out there, and your poetry out there, so that other people can find you as well. Publish, publish, publish. Submit, submit, submit. As much as you can.”