BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Robin Sinclair is a poet whose work is brave and bold in a way that will creep up on you hours after you’ve read it, and stay inside your spine forever. Sinclair’s debut book of poetry, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls, was published in late 2018 by Cosmographia Books. Tanya Singh said it “reveals, in careful construction, the movement in grief. This is Robin’s homage to the human body. They are ruminant, reflective, hauntingly tender when they speak, “I wonder what all of this will look like when completely healed.” Here is gentle longing, they shape it as both touch and desire. I believe Robin when they write, “There are bones in dirt they’re sure of if they just knew where to dig.” The body is alive, “viciously creating a future.” Here, we lean in to listen to the music of all that we don’t remember happening.”
In another poem, “Barcode Girl Is Dead,” Sinclair’s speaker explores trauma through the body:
I can feel through the sky and walls and into my breast
how your pain turned to rage.
But did it turn to revenge?
I spoke with Sinclair below about identity, favorite things, fears, and happiness:
Describe your favorite meal.
A glass of Nikka Coffey malt whisky (no ice), a cup of coffee (hot, light, and sweet), and a bacon egg and cheese on an everything bagel. Preferably enjoyed somewhere outside with lots of trees and no people.
What have you been listening to lately?
I've been on the road doing readings to share my new book, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls (cheap plug alert!), so I've been able to get back to spending a lot of time listening to music again, which I sort of got away from for a while just due to life circumstances. I listen to a lot of The Smiths, The Cure, and The Faint, because I'm a black-clad cliché and apparently love bands that start with The. I like to listen to Gogol Bordello while I'm driving, and I recently came full circle and went back into my riot-goth youth by breaking out my Jack Off Jill records.
For podcasts, I've been listening to Dead Air (Lydia Peever, one of my favorite horror authors, co-hosts). Write to Survive is excellent, as is Beyond the Margin, which is the podcast by Across The Margin, a fantastic lit mag and one of my dream publications that I finally got into in 2018. I've also been listening to Mythunderstood, and I'm looking forward to more episodes of Dear BFF!
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
Diana Goetsch's poetry collection, Nobody's Hell.
Lois Marie Harrod's poetry collection, Crazy Alice.
Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
I don't really have a painting, but there's a chiaroscuro woodcut that I first saw at the Art Institute of Chicago called Lovers Surprised by Death that speaks to me in a special way. It is a piece by Hans Burgkmair, the Elder, and its main theme stems from the Danse Macabre, an allegory about the sort of indiscriminate nature of Death. It is more frequently referenced when talking about social or economic class, but it spoke to me on a personal level after I'd gotten sick for about a year.
Before getting sick, I'd wasted a lot of finite moments living in conflict with my identity, my gender, my sexuality, my mental illness... so much of what made me who I was. Reflecting on Danse Macabre and Burgkmair's piece helped me while processing all of that. It helped me to stop trying to force the meat of meaning onto a skeleton that just can't carry it. Whatever any of this is, however much of it is real, it's all going to be over at some point, and once the last person forgets you, the pain you forced on yourself will be completely pointless. Living truthfully to yourself is imperative if we're going to find any joy in this before it inevitably ends.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
...Because every night is a horrible night to have a curse.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
It will probably be far less interesting and more gradual than the stories we've come up with for it. I imagine that, eventually, the horrendous damage we've done to our planet will overcome our adaptability. We've got this strange ability to accept “new normals,” but we've fucked our home up in a way that I don't think there's any coming back from. We'll slowly thin out, catastrophe after catastrophe, coming up with excuses to continue to do nothing to save our home, until our home saves itself by getting rid of us.
As far as how I'd like to die, I don't want it to be anything sudden. I'll probably get to a certain point that I don't really want to do this anymore. When that happens, I'll pick a day, maybe have that perfect meal I described when answering your earlier question, enjoy a pack of cigarettes for the first time in years, make a couple of phone calls to say I love you, and then do what I need to do to drift off. I'd like to see it coming and really involve myself in it. Like a good joke.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
House on Haunted Hill (the 1959 version with Vincent Price)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 or 3. Don't judge me.
Scrooged (on Christmas... rump bump bump!).
What’s your favorite animal?
My cat! He's the cutest most handsomest little man ever! Aren't you, little handsome man? Yes, you are!
What's something that surprised you recently?
The lack of the lit-friendly open mic or poetry/spoken word night across the US. Traveling to read and talk about my book has slapped me square in the author privilege. There are so many opportunities to read in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, that I was honestly surprised by the lack of platform in other areas.
Also, Savannah. I'm brown, queer, genderqueer, and from the northern United States. Liking any part of Georgia never seemed like it would be something that happened for me. That was my own prejudice. Savannah is beautiful, diverse, and perpetually drunk. It won me over.
What do you carry with you at all times?
My friend cut a piece of her finger off and somehow had the foresight to immediately put it into a vial with a solution that would preserve it. She gave it to me as a gift, and now a little piece of her is traveling around the United States to talk about poetry.
What are you afraid of?
Being bored, being boring, and not making the most of my moments. Also, rich e-commerce bros... Truly the stuff of nightmares.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
Every day I try to read one poem or learn one new thing about literature or history. Also, I take a break from work to do something healthy for myself, even if it is just something small like stretch and drink some water.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
In my writing life, I have two. The first would be writing a piece called How It Happened, which I wrote after having an inspiring experience at the New York City Poetry Festival a couple years ago. It was later published in Yes Poetry's #MeToo series. It was one of the hardest poems I've ever written, but sitting on that hill, sobbing into a notebook was transformative for how I approach trauma. The second would be having my first book published. Holding your first book in your hands is one of those moments that I think we all start off feeling like will never happen. But it did, and I'm so grateful.
Define happiness for you.
It's fleeting, like most things, I guess. It's a moment spent doing something I'm passionate about, or with someone I'm passionate about. When they happen, I cling to them with hungry fingernails and try to feel them as fully as I can.
What makes me happy when it comes to writing is having something I've written connect on a personal level with someone. You know the feeling of hearing a song or reading a poem for the first time and thinking to yourself, Fuck - this person gets me in a way I thought was intangible - that one? I've had that moment, finding out that someone feels a feeling I couldn't articulate, and even if everything falls apart, I know someone is out there that sees the world through the same veil that I do. That feeling is everything to me. I want someone, somewhere, some day to read something I've written and feel that connection. That would make me happy.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
I'd love to read in stranger places and continue to meet interesting writers and artists. More of that, for sure. I'd love to read with some other writers who've been in Yes Poetry and Pidgeonholes. I'd like to release a new chapbook. I'd like to learn how to be better at being around people, but... I'm already forgiving myself for failing. Become a better sleeper. Spend less time thinking of everything there is to be sad about and more time getting wine drunk and making out.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente
Robin Sinclair is a queer, genderqueer writer of mixed heritage and mixed emotions, currently on the road, reading from their debut book of poetry, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls. Robin's work has been published in various magazines and journals, including Gatewood Journal, Across the Margin, Shot Glass Journal, Black Heart Magazine, Red Bird Chapbooks, The Cerurove, Yes Poetry, and Pidgeonholes.