An Interview with Megan Falley
Over the summer I had the delight of interviewing Megan Falley via email; her correspondence and her poetry are equally enchanting. Megan Falley is the author of After the Witch Hunt (Write Bloody, 2012). After publishing her first book, Megan toured for 100 days, giving electrifying poetic performances for hungry audiences all over the United States and Canada. Her work has been published in many wonderful literary journals. When she is not writing poems and touring the country, Megan occupies herself by turning her ex-lovers into pies.
The title After the Witch Hunt evokes both the image of female persecution and of survival; what made you choose this title?
The title is meant to be a hologram of sorts. Look at it one way and it’s about the modern day persecution of women, look at it another way and it’s a battle cry—the witches are hunting those who’ve wronged them and they are very, very mad.
Much of your work in After the Witch Hunt deals with difficult, feminist themes (abuse, body image, relationships). One of my favorite poems, “The Honest House,” deals with the aftermath of a negative, if not abusive relationship; it has an especially intense stanza: “On our first date, I bought a dress from a woman / in Brooklyn so I could stay with you one more day. / Yesterday I threw your clothes from our roof / knowing they would have fallen faster / had there been a body in them.” which juxtaposes the lovely, desperate feeling of new love with the spiteful morbidity of a breakup. What interests you about these themes? Are you trying to send a message, exorcise demons, or something else entirely?
A lot of my work deals with intimate partner violence of the non-physical variety. The kind that doesn’t leave a scar someone can run their finger over and call “proof.” It’s important to me to give stage to that brand of abuse, dress it up like a prom queen, then pour pig’s blood over its head.
So many women have experienced relationships with passionate beginnings and terrible ends, but fewer, I think, are able to express it so gracefully, viscerally. How do you think being a poet affects the way you examine life and love, human and romantic relationships?
I suppose I could say that I can woo someone with an e-mail or a text, or cut them down in equal measure—but that’s any decent enough writer. I could say that being a writer gives me a high need to emotionally process things and find their meaning. I could say that every rotten thing that happens to a writer is still, in its own way, a gift. An inspiration. But I won’t. What I will say is this: being a writer makes me a healthier person. The poison leaves through the pen. I don’t walk around carrying it all day. Whenever I read my work to a room, I give it away.
Your work, written mostly in first person, reveals the speaker in a very powerful way, leaving her raw and exposed; since poetry readers often associate a poem’s speaker with the poet herself, do you worry about the reactions of family or friends over some of these pieces?
A majority of my work is about me, and from my own perspective [save 5 poems in After the Witch Hunt from my mother’s perspective, a “fictional” character in “The Runaways,” Penelope Pussycat (Victim of Pepe Le Pew), and a nameless husband who writes about alternate-universe me.] I think I can answer this question best with a quote I read recently: “if people wanted you to write warmly of them, they should have behaved better.”
You have published both on your own and through a publishing house, recently went on a successful 100-day tour, and seem extremely well-versed in the ways of self-promotion. How do you manage to be your own PR person and focus on your writing? Do you find it difficult to engage in social media and build your audience, or does it come easily? Any advice for other writers attempting to be heard in the vast swell of the internet?
Long gone are the days of the literary agent. I follow Cheryl Strayed, Sherman Alexie and Joyce (Freakin’) Carol Oates on Twitter. As of September 10th 2013, I’ve been living as a full-time writer for a year. I wish that just meant that I wake up every morning at nine, make a French press, and smoke cigarettes at a typewriter all day until something brilliant happens. But really, tour-planning, promotion, submitting to publishers, press-kits, booking shows, making videos, maintaining an online presence and finding ways to pay the rent is absolutely half of the work. My advice for writers is don’t romanticize it. It’s an amazing, rewarding, blessed and beautiful job. But still, a job.
How does being a slam poet affect your published work? Do you have any strategies for adapting spoken word to the page, or vice versa?
So I don’t really consider myself a “slam poet” so much as a poet/writer who likes to read her work in an engaging way, and sometimes I go to a poetry slam and read a poem, because that’s where my friends are hanging out, and it’s fun and goofy. I never write a poem that I think will “slam well” or “score well” because I think that’s the root of a lot of weak poetry. Slam has opened a lot of doors for me and I am grateful, but the only thing I really take away from it when I am writing is to sometimes test things aloud as I write them. And to not bore anyone to death when I read. But I hope every writer does that.
Do you have a specific process or ritual when writing, or can you produce work any time in any place?
Ideally, I sit down for an hour a day and write in my notebook without censoring myself, as Natalie Goldberg would have me do. Then I transfer any good word nuggets or idea sprouts into a computer document, and write something that dazzles even myself. That’s my dream-discipline, and I earnestly strive for that, but sometimes I binge-watch old episodes of Ally McBeal on Netflix or get involved in heated Facebook discussions on race, rape culture, and allyship, or lose hours to Candy Crush—and the poems come instead while I am driving, and I have to ask Siri to launch the voice memo recorder (which I nickname a dozen different things before I get it right ((“Would you like me to search the web for Voice Taper Thingy?”))) and I foam at the mouth with poem and into the butterfly net of technology. Or, you know, whatever.
Your second book of poetry is being published by Write Bloody in 2014. How do you think your work has changed since your first book? Do you find yourself focusing on different themes or using new forms? Will your second book have both poetry and poetic prose as After the Witch Hunt did?
Redhead and the Slaughter King is a lot different than After the Witch Hunt. In my first book, I think I wanted to portray myself as strong, as a survivor, but also reveal the stories and persecutions of what I had to survive. In Redhead I give myself a lot more permission to be flawed, to not be the hero, to make mistakes, trip up—most of the book is told from the perspective of a distinctly unreliable narrator, and riddled with retractions and addendums which ask the reader to examine the nature of truth itself, especially when told by a writer. Some themes are similar (there’s a lot about family, addiction, relationships, and feminism) but in all its lies, it feels like a more honest collection. I’m really excited to keep working on it. I hope you’ll like it.
What poets (or writers) have knocked you down, lifted you up, made you delirious with joy or sorrow, through their use of language?
This answer changes often, and I usually list some of my close friends. But this time I’m going to answer with someone I’ve never met before. Dorianne Laux. She floors me. And also Jan Beatty, who I just met briefly. And Richard Siken.
Ted Kooser once wrote an excellent poem called “Selecting a Reader,” which I assume you’re familiar with; could you describe your ideal reader?
I have a poem titled “Cinnamon and Sand” that’s been published by Muzzle Magazine and will be in my upcoming book, Redhead and the Slaughter King. It is one of my most difficult poems for me, and it is essentially about the nuances of sexual assault. I’ll link to it here.
Anyhow, an audience member who I am acquainted with later told me that he showed up to the venue with a woman he was friends with that night. After she heard the poem, she turned to him and said “Damn. That poem made me realized I’ve been abused.” He took a moment or two, and with a gulp replied “That poem makes me realize I’ve been an abuser.”
My hope is that afterwards that woman never tolerated that particular flavor of abuse again. And that the man had language and context around it to change. Those are my ideal readers. Those two, in that crowded poetry bar.
What are some of your favorite words?