Staff reader Nico Amador talks with poet TR Brady about activating desire, constraint, queerness as hopefulness, and their “T Daydream” series from NER 43.3.
Nico Amador: Both poems you have out in the most recent issue of NER are titled “T Daydream.” It’s not lost on me that there’s a real significance to the wakeful dreaming happening in these pieces and the role that plays in the self-determination of the speaker . . . but before we go there, I wanted to ask how daydreaming factors into your writing process? Is distraction or the state of being distracted something you value as a poet?
TR Brady: Daydreaming, to me, is where desire lives. In writing both of these “T Daydream” poems, I was saying I’m going to activate my desires. However much I’m writing about lack, I’m writing just as much about want. I’ve written a lot about desire without naming the thing. For a while, especially when I was in grad school, daydreaming was a way to go pick up a feeling and carry it around for a while and write what I was feeling without really writing about it. So many of my daydreams seem like a diversion and sometimes we need that. Sometimes it’s so pleasurable to have that sort of hairpin turn in your imagination, when you’re desiring something or someone, and an image forces you to turn and encounter everything you’ve just seen from a different vantage. I used to utilize daydreaming as a way to have what I never thought I’d have, and recently I feel that I’ve been able to use it more to get lost and take pleasure in that.
NA: Could you also say more about how the titles of these poems correspond to the form they take?
TRB: I’m in a place with my writing right now where I don’t stray with the form so much. A lot of these poems are coming out as charged little squares on the page. These poems are an exercise in appreciating constraint and trying to figure out how much of my hand I want to show. When I sit down to write a poem it’s often because I have a phrase I can’t get out of my head, so I start with writing down whatever that is, which often ends up being the title. I had been on T for about five months when I wrote these. “T Daydream . . . At the house party” is about a house party I went to a few years prior. I don’t remember much else about the party other than what’s in the poem, which is probably why it has more of a narrative bend to it and appears as a sort of prose poem. “T Daydream . . . I was so lonely” is much more about what I was experiencing when I wrote it. I’ve realized that the narrower my poems get on the page, the more I’m trying to figure something out—in that way “T Daydream . . . I was so lonely” is more like a list of notes.
NA: In one poem you write, “Outside, I stood beyond the square of light coming from inside the house,” and that struck me as a possible artist statement or metaphor for your poetics, at least from what I can observe in this series. Is that fair?
TRB: I think that is fair. I feel that it is difficult to explain occupying this outsideness outside of poetry. In a poem I feel confident about pointing toward or poking at this alienation. As a queer person, there’s a point where you realize and grow accustomed to and grow tired of how you’re made to occupy space and how there’s not a lot of choice in it. I think that the hyperawareness one can feel surrounding their queer presentation has implications on capacities for closeness. And I mean in meatspace—keeping physical distance and barriers. My internal life is very vital because of this. And poems are where I’m able to address that distance, by proclamation.
NA: I think of that posture as very queer: one resists conformity or the deficits of their current reality by reaching for the potential beyond it.
TRB: Absolutely. For me, poetry is the act of stretching toward. It activates whatever I’m most desperate for.
NA: The mainstream discourse on trans experience has largely been shaped by a focus on medical transition and a voyeuristic obsession with trans bodies. I love that these poems sidestep those expectations in order to offer something more textured and true to the interior life of the poet. What have you learned from other writers about writing against or around a dominant narrative?
TRB: Two books that I constantly find myself returning to are Some Animal by Ely Shipley and Crush by Richard Siken. I first encountered Crush when I was about 20 and I just fell in love. The opening of “Dirty Valentine”: “There are so many things I’m not allowed to tell you. / I touch myself, I dream” are lines that I’ve carried with me for a decade to put to a feeling I’d been carrying for much longer. Crush gave me a certain measure of assurance when I was first writing. It’s one of the first memories I have of a queer person saying, here’s what I’m not supposed to say, here’s what I’m saying.
Ely Shipley’s book Some Animal is such an interesting experiment. It combines trans history and lyric essay in such remarkable and surprising ways. I’m really interested in how Some Animal uses frame narratives to broadly explain some of the issues that trans men face, while honing in on an internal experience of transition. The book is composed of four sections, rather than individually titled poems, which allows you to experience the histories, the essays, and the poems as indistinguishable. There are moments where the narrative scope widens just a bit and really invites the reader to bear witness. A question I always have after rereading this book is how to balance vulnerability and lyricism and narrative. And I’m not sure I want an answer as much I like to consider it.
NA: What other examples or experiments from contemporary trans and non-binary writers are you interested in right now?
TRB: I love Ari Banias. I’m always interested in what K. Iver is doing and I’m very excited about their forthcoming book Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco. I’m also interested in Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Samuel Ace, Anaïs Duplan, and S. Yarberry.
NA: What are your plans for this series? Are these part of a manuscript you’re working on?
TRB: I don’t believe that I’ve ever written a poem with the intent of working it into a series, but it seems to happen often! I think, in part, it has something to do with the need to reside in whatever I’m hung-up on. Currently, there are six poems in this series and there could very well be more. They are part of the manuscript that I’m currently sending out! I feel that they’ve really filled out what I’ve been working on for the last few years.
Nico Amador’s writing has been published in Bettering American Poetry, Vol. 3, Poem-a-Day, PANK, Pleiades, The Cortland Review, Hypertext Review, The Visible Poetry Project and featured on the Poetry Unbound podcast. His chapbook, Flower Wars, won the Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and was published by Newfound Press. He holds an MFA from Bennington College, is a grant recipient of the Vermont Arts Council and an alumni of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat.