Gaia Rajan is the cofounder of the WOC Speak Reading Series, the Junior Journal Editor for Half Mystic, the Web Manager for Honey Literary, and the Poetry Editor of Saffron Literary. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Tinderbox Poetry, Muzzle Magazine, DIALOGIST, Split Lip Magazine, diode, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Moth Funerals, is out now from Glass Poetry Press, and she is a two-time National Student Poet semifinalist. You can find her online at gaiarajanwrites.com, or at @gaia_writes on Twitter.
The world of literary magazine submissions can often feel overwhelming to emerging writers; there’s a dizzying amount of wonderful opportunities to explore. What advice would you have for those trying to orient themselves within the publishing world?
The art has to come before the business, always. And once a manuscript or poem feels ready (my personal bar is that every word in the piece has to feel inevitable), I usually head to Entropy Mag‘s Where To Submit list, or to Twitter to find venues that have aesthetics and values I resonate with. Also, I wish I’d known when I first started how important it is to find writer friends! My writer friends are some of the most interesting and passionate people I know, and they remind me that writing is an art before it’s ever an “industry.”
The best writers are often the best readers. If you had to make one piece of writing “required reading” for every writer, what would it be and why?
I love this question so much! If we’re talking books, I’d probably say Soft Science by Franny Choi. I’m really in love with the idea of language as a technology, or a means of seeing and manipulating the world, and her book explores this concept. I’m also interested in the relationship between people and surveillance, both racialized surveillance and tech-driven surveillance, and what this constant surveillance means for our choices, what it means for the way we move through the world.
If you meant just a single piece, I’d say Sorrow Is Not My Name, by Ross Gay! This poem has so much to show us, especially in the frame of a lit world that seems to increasingly commodify trauma. I also love its callback to Gwendolyn Brooks— this poem taught me so much about literary lineage, and I’m a better person for it.
What images or concepts do you find yourself constantly veering back to as a writer?
For my first chapbook, I was definitely very interested by the image and limits of wings. Now, I think I keep returning to the framing of apocalypse as something that already happened, or is happening— we keep waiting for a dramatic end, but what if this is the end? What if all the violence we accept as mundane is the apocalypse? I want to build an origin myth for the end of the world that doesn’t rely on cultural signifiers of fire, or martyrs, or masculine “heroes.” If the apocalypse is already here(in capitalism, in racism, in misogyny) who have we each become in order to survive? A friend introduced me to the idea of hauntology (the idea that the present is haunted by lost futures); a lot of my recent work is also about that, my town as haunted or my emotional space as haunted by all the people I almost was.
One thing that fascinates me about your work is your artful intersecting of technology and literature. As poetry develops in an increasingly technological world, how do you think the language of digitization has or will affect literature?
I hope that magazines and writers will embrace technology! I think there’s a lot of really cool projects in that vein happening right now— Midst journal is doing digital timelapses of poems from blank page to final draft, and I’m seeing very cool advances in interactive poetry. I hope that, rather than just being digitized versions of print journals, online litmags begin to embrace the digital as a frontier to mix media, explore cool things with form and interactivity, and more.
I also think that living in an increasingly online world affects what we choose to write about. One of my favorite writers, Kate Durbin, just had an interview in Bomb Magazine where she talked about her new collection, Hoarders, which is based on the TV show of the same name. I love Marlin Jenkins’ chapbook, Capable Monsters, which uses the Pokedex as an overall framing. The internet also makes many of us feel more surveilled than ever before (I joke with my friends that Twitter is the new panopticon) and this definitely has implications in my work.
For many, one of the hardest parts about writing is fitting it into their already busy schedules. How do you juggle your outside obligations with making space to sit down and write?
Writing has always felt essential to my emotional life, so when I’m really busy I’ll go as far to schedule it in like a meeting in my calendar. And this usually works— when I’m aching to write, even a half hour can feel like enough. But sometimes, there just isn’t enough time to get to it, and I’ll read a poem or two and then go to sleep. Sometimes that counts as writing; above all, it’s important to be kind to yourself. The machine that tells us we’re not real writers if we don’t write every day is the same machine that commodifies trauma, that overworks everyone on every step of the publishing circuit, that protects high-ranked but unethical magazines. We, and our work, deserve more.
Any projects or work that you’re excited about?
In April and May, I guest edited for five litmags, and I’m super excited for those issues to come out! I’m also deep into work on my third chapbook manuscript! I was talking with Allison Adair for A Mighty Blaze the other day and I said that I think in units of collections, rather than poems, so a new manuscript always means a new era and approach to my work. I’m finding so many new ways to think about the internet and girlhood and apocalypse, which is really fun. And in terms of my personal life, I’m thrilled to be moving to Pittsburgh for college (I’m a computer science and creative writing major at Carnegie Mellon) in the fall.
Anything else you’d like to share or discuss?
Thank you for a wonderful interview!
Christian Butterfield is an 18-year-old poet/essayist/totebag-enthusiast from Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 2019, he served as the National Student Poet of the Southeast, and his work has since been published/recognized by Best Teen Writing, the YoungArts Foundation and The Adroit Journal. He reads for EX/POST Magazine and was a 2020 Adroit Mentee in Creative Nonfiction.