the dictionary project author interview: tc tolbert

Today, I’m delighted to share an author interview with tc tolbert. TC is a brilliant poet and essayist whose work asks important questions about space, about the body, about how we interact with one another in regard to space and the body and about how we might do that better, about both the tenacious and the tender aspects of the human heart. In addition to his own writing, he is committed to seeking out, sharing, and providing spaces for the work of others. He has two chapbooks, spirare and territories of folding, and his first book Gephyromania comes out in 2014.  Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, an anthology he co-edited, just came out in March of this year. He also co-curates Trickhouse Live, a reading series affiliated with the online journal Trickhouse, which features artists working in different media sharing their work. Please enjoy his words below!

 

Photo by Sam Ace

Photo by Sam Ace

 

1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

 

I found the title of my first book, Gephyromania, in this thing called an “Illustrated Reverse Dictionary.” I bought it at a garage sale, strictly for the title. I don’t totally understand it but it’s got lots of random lists – kinds of boats, -ologies and –ographies, types of garden predators, etc – and from those lists you can either find the word you were looking for or find the word you didn’t know you were looking for but the word you clearly need. That’s what happened to me. I was just picking through it and I came across the list of phobias and manias and there was “gephyromania” – “an addiction to, or an obsession with, bridges.” And I had been working in a notebook I titled “bridge” – both for the idea that it was to carry me over some daunting (emotional) terrain and as a nod to the musical bridge that signals a contrast or a tangent. I desperately needed both and thus, the writing, the poems.

Also, I’m truly obsessed with what it takes, how it happens that two bodies (of any kind) come to connect. And what, then, is passed or carried over, along, or between them.

 

 

2. What is your current favorite word?

 

My favorite words have always been swear words. I grew up Pentecostal in Tennessee and there was a very real belief that how one used language could determine not just one’s experience of the current moment but all of eternity. Of course that’s dramatic but look at it this way. All you had to do was say, “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and boom, you were golden. My Papaw had cancer in his lymph nodes and people in the church laid hands on him and said, “you are healed” and, yep, he was. It was the words that made identity and body real. The flip side of that sort of literal relationship to language was with swear words – where certain words were off-limits and could cause eternal damnation (as opposed to salvation). So, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” was imbued with such a level of sacrilege and terror that I genuinely believed if I ever uttered the word “goddamn” I would be sealing my fate right then and there.

But I’ve never been one for just following the rule without testing it. So, as a kid I would wander into the woods near my house and sit in a little ditch and practice smoking cigarettes and saying “fuck” with different inflections. I tried to imagine every context possible in which I could toss around the f-bomb with clarity and grace. Then I would do the same with “goddamn.” Each day I was a little bit surprised and emboldened to find that I could swear and not be killed on the spot. But then again, I spent thousands of hours with major stomach aches and the shits thinking god was getting me back for all of the swearing (and masturbating) I’d done. As it turns out, I just have a gluten sensitivity and I ate too many Little Debbies. The god of my upbringing was not only severe but fantastically so.

 

 

3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

 

Judge. I don’t like it b/c I think it’s too often wielded as an attempt to shame folks for being discerning or having boundaries. I don’t like the way judgment has taken on a sort of blanket negative connotation. To say, “I like that” or to have a clear sense that “I don’t want that in my life” or “I do want this in my life” that seems like a good and healthy way to move through the world. We make positive judgments all the time. That’s how we determine everything from what to wear in the morning to life partner to favorite ice cream!

When I worked at the queer youth center and I worked closely with the anti-violence project, I saw too many instances of people being abused and trying to get out of it but experiencing a kind of public shaming for “judging” the abuser and for “not being compassionate enough.” The words judgment and compassion became these linguistic vortexes to keep people in very damaging situations so I’m wary anytime I hear someone speak or act as if judgment is a universally negative thing.

That said, I also understand that judgment can easily turn into a sort of rigidity that is then used as a measuring stick for what others should like or believe and that is obviously counterproductive.

I’d like to see the word judge used in a less “judgy” way, I suppose. I mean, it’s a complex word and idea and I think that’s what people are pointing at when they use the word judge in a negative way (do we ever complain when someone judges us positively? I don’t think I do) – that lack of context and complexity.

 

 

4. What word has been your recent or past muse?

 

Troubled and troubling. I like these words especially for the bl sounds – how silly they make our mouths – how you can’t actually be that serious when you say trouble – it’s so buoyant and playful. I like the contrast between their vocalization and meaning. I also think it’s hilarious – this idea of “being in trouble.” I mean, it’s something I worry about so much (see above – Pentecostal) and yet I recognize the absurdity. It’s an adolescent kind of word, I think, with grown-up aspirations.

Also, both words reference Judith Butler and the Bible, simultaneously. I love how they conflate danger/threat and healing/freedom. These themes and references all went into the title Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, a book I just co-edited with Tim Trace Peterson. (link to purchase book: http://www.upne.com/1937658106.html) I think trans and genderqueer poets and poetries are dangerous/threatening to our gendered cultural confines and we (trans and genderqueer poets and poetries) offer multiple avenues of freedom and healing from those confines.

Also, fricative. I love that word. How it makes your mouth do what it means. I want all of my poems to be that embodied.

 

 

6. I bibliomanced a word from the anthology and that word was “splendor.” What would be your personal definition of “splendor”?

 

I think of splendor as an undetermined space – the space of the question – Rilke imploring that we “love the questions themselves.” I’m picturing the component parts of a computer caught on film in midair – are they falling or flying? I have no idea.

The space of unknowing. Pause. A kind of holy attention.

That moment in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, this:

“What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying “Life stand still here”; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent)–this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs Ramsay said.”

I feel myself moving into that space of splendor right now, actually. As Troubling Tucson: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry Symposium is only 2 days away and my life has been so completely consumed with logistics for the symposium and yet here I am – on the cusp of seeing it realized – in that liminal space right where the thing moves from an idea into a being. It’s thrilling, a little bit terrifying, and a way of focusing my attention so clearly on exactly where I am. There is a beautiful and open calm right now – it feels like a gift to me.

 

 

7. Where do words reside in the body?

 

Well, my words reside in my right trapezoid. I know that because for quite some time now I’ve had an overuse injury there and I literally feel the words start there when I write.

 

 

8. Please respond to the following words* and definitions, picked exclusively at random for you:

 

ca·ba·na  (kəˈbanə; Sp. kəˈbanyə),  n.  [Sp. cabaña; LL. capanna, hut], 1.  a cabin, cottage, or hut.  2.  a small shelter used as a bathhouse. Also cabaña

 

“Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking. And I need you today, oh, Mandy. When you kissed me, you stopped me from shaking. And I need. You.”

 The next person to sing this to me (which would also be the first person to sing this to me) will have my ever-lasting devotion. I’m just saying. I fucking love Barry Manilow. Now you know the way to my heart.

 

 

dis·place·ment  (disˈplāsmənt),  n.  1. a displacing or being displaced.  2.  the weight or volume of air, water, or other fluid displaced by a floating object, as a balloon or a ship.  3.  the difference between a later position of a thing and its original position; hence, 4. in geology, a fault.  5.  in psychiatry, the transference of an emotion to a logically inappropriate object.

 

I used to hate my body. I thought it betrayed me. Then John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.

 

 

di·e·sis  (ˈdī-ə-səs),  n. [pl. DIESES (-sez’], [L.;Gr. diesis  <  diienai, to send through  <  dia-, through + hienai, to send], a reference mark ( ‡ ) used in printing: also called double dagger.

 

The first woman I fell in love with was the 3rd base woman on my softball team. We were in 6th or 7th grade. I suppose you could say we were girls.

 

 

keep  (kēp),  v.t.  [KEPT (kept), KEEPING], [ME. kepen; AS. cepan, to behold, watch out for, lay hold of; ? akin, via *kopjan, to ON. kopa, to stiffen, gape, MLG. Kapen, to gape, stare at, AS. capian up, to look up at; ? IE. base *gab-, to look at or for],  1.  to observe or pay regard to; specifically, a) to observe with due or prescribed acts, ceremonies, etc.; celebrate or solemnize; as, they kept the Sabbath. b) to fulfill (a promise, etc.). c) [Archaic], to show observance by regularly attending (church, etc.).  2.  to take care of, or have and take care of; specifically, a) to protect; guard; defend. b) to look after; watch over; tend. c) to raise (livestock). d) to maintain in good order or condition; preserve. e) to supply with food or lodging for pay: as, she keeps boarders. g) to have or maintain in one’s service or for one’s use: as, they keep servants. h) to set down regularly in writing; maintain (a continuous written report or record): as, he keeps an account of sales in the store. i)  to make regular entries in; maintain a continuous record of transactions, accounts, or happenings in: as, businessmen keep books, she keeps a diary. j) to carry on; conduct; manage.  3.  to maintain, or cause to stay or continue, in a specified condition, position, etc.: as, keep your engine running. 4.  to have or hold for future use or for a long time. b) to have usually in stock for sale.  5.  to have or hold and not let go; specifically a) to hold in custody; prevent from escaping. b) to prevent from leaving; detain. c) to hold back; restrain: as, the rain kept us from going out. d) to withhold. e) to conceal; not tell (a secret, etc.)  f) to continue to have or hold; not lose or give up. G) to stay in or at; not leave (a path, coruse, or place).

 

Three women were found alive in a Cleveland home last night. One of them has a 6-year-old daughter. All of them have been missing for over 10 years.

 

 

medium bomber  (B-25 Mitchell, 1940 from image: Types of Airplane)

 

It’s in me. That’s the thing. It arrived in me, too.

 

 

 

TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, instructor at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (forthcoming, Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Tim Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes monthly lyric essays on the trans body, intimacy, architecture, and public space for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta. TC is a regular curator for Trickhouse, an online cross-genre arts journal and s/he is the creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project that utilizes creative writing and kite building to commemorate murdered transgender people and to dismantle homophobia and transphobia. Thanks to Movement Salon and the Architects, TC keeps showing up and paying attention. John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.

 

*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955

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