Interview with Mallory Smart
August 3, 2017
The cover of I Want to Feel is artfully appropriated from the SCUM Manifesto. What inspired it?
i picked the design more for its aesthetic than for its message, though i do see minor echoes of it in i want to feel happy. the cover first caught my eye at a feminist/communist bookstore in Minneapolis. I took my ex-boyfriend there because I wanted to show him a Roxane Gay book. he works at a bookstore down here in chicago and claimed that he had never heard of her. Solanas’ book was on the shelf next to Gay’s.
Do you see yourself more in Roxane Gay’s work? Talk to me about growth/transitioning with regard to your writing process, and the future of Maudlin House, which you founded.
its not something i really think about. Roxane Gay is an amazing writer and essayist and I envy her twitter game but i’m not sure how much I see myself in her work. i might have some thoughts or themes that can echo some of her work but the majority of my writing is more selfish and sad and rips the reader apart or does nothing at which point i failed. I play with her book title “Bad Feminist” in the last poem of the book that’s called “Sad Feminist.” the difference is subtle but big when you look at the content of the poem. Gay is strong and defiant and i am passive and depressed. the whole book is my attempt to break out of soft muteness and become more aware. i am definitely affected by Roxane Gay’s work along with Solanas and many others but i don’t place myself into their words because that just feels strange and reductive to me.
as for Maudlin House, i would say our goal to affect lit is going well but we aren’t alone. There are so many other cool presses out there that are constantly pushing the lit and art and make it more fun and accessible. life is lit.
What documentary were you just enthralled in?
oliver stone’s untold history of the United States. ive seen it before like 5 years ago maybe. its on netflix now though and i felt in the mood to be both angry and validated. have you seen it?
I haven’t. Tell me about it.
i’m trying to remember how many parts there are to it exactly, but i think its like a 10 part documentary that goes through the history of the US in the last century. it focuses on the things that aren’t typically taught in school.
Tragic history of the left kinda thing?
yeah you can definitely say that. the part i was just watching was focusing on Henry A Wallace. i kept getting riled up thinking about what the political and environmental landscape might look like today had he been elected VP to Roosevelt. the nomination was stolen from him when he was clearly the people’s choice.
He was ahead of his time.
ahead of his time and both reflective of his time. we forget just how left leaning the common man was in that era. i use the term common man mainly because his famous speech about the 21st century being the century of the common man. personally i always hated that the word “man” became a blanket term for the collected interests of all people. some days the usage of man annoys me and others not so much.
Do you see economic issues ever coming to a crisis point again? What is your take on top down redistribution like base incomes, venture capital for the people? Especially with the slow down of labor…it seems inevitable these conversations will have to happen.
With capitalism we will always come to a crisis point. Its just the nature of it. I adore the idea of basic income. It sucks because we are so close to it actually being possible on a wide scale kind of way but itll probably never actually happen. people are too shitty or just too oblivious to allow it to happen. they cant stand the fact that other people would get money for no real reason than their just being alive. not sure if that makes sense or not. i guess im just bummed that something so beneficial to society will probably just be passed over because of petty bullshit. i hate how people just go against their best interests a lot but i guess i cant complain too much about it because i do it about myself all the time when it comes to mental health and relationships.
What’s the Churchill quote? I’m paraphrasing and it might be apocrypha…”Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.” Think that’s pretty apropos.
i think that’s pretty optimistic. id like to see myself as more of a pessimistic optimist. i dont expect the best in people but im happy when things work out.
I got asked this recently and I’m wondering what your response would be. Do you tend to assume people like you or dislike you? All else equal…I answered the latter. Just the way I’m wired.
i always wonder if people like me but its hard for me to reach a conclusion. people do suprise me when they like me though.
Do you think we go against our best interests because we’re destructive? Or why?
id say we go against our best interests because we’re naive.
Hm. Do you think we’ll grow older or younger?
Well, sure. People. Do you think we’ll get wiser by doing the dumb rash things of our youth again? Like is there something to be unpacked from that? Or will our hearts grow cold and is that wisdom?
we definitely grow more cynical with age but i miss being idealistic and dumb. we take more chances then. and we trust in others more which i think can be a really good thing.
What about the phrase “pessimistic optimist?”
i got the phrase pessimistic optimist from my friend nate. we say it all the time to each other mainly because we’re both so depressed and weary. we keep being faced with the possibility of good things but we dont want to get too excited in case it falls apart.
You gotta let yourself hurt I think. Or you die in a way. So, IWTF is your first full length, and I definitely get a feature sense from it. I feel like all the pieces are threaded together episodically in a narrative arc with the speaker in the center? Was there a more deliberate effort this time in terms of telling a story? I definitely especially with the epilogue get the sense of one being told to me.
there was a huge chunk of it that was written at one time in february 2016 i think? the years have become jumbled together and confusing to me now. in the prior october i had a pretty bad panic episode that spanned like 3 days which ended me having to end a cross country trip and go back home. i talked with a friend a lot about getting help but i didnt and then the month after writing the first big chunk i descended into a full-scale breakdown. so i wrote more poems as an outlet and because my therapist told me to. i wanted to finish the theme and narrative that i started with back in therapy. i do like to think of narrative when writing. in my last book i did that in a scattered way.
One of the things that’s always attracted me to your work is its candor. You sum it up with “lit is life.” And then there’s the wry sense of humor. Is straddling those tones tantamount to being a pessimistic optimist?
It feels both self aware and unblinkingly personal.
a lot of people describe my personality that way: frank and funny. the interesting aspect about me irl though is i dont get intimate. im really intrigued to see what people who know me irl will think of it.
You mean you get intimate in your poems, but not irl?
yeah. the majority of my friends dont know i suffer from depression. only a select few do. but i have found myself being a bit more open since the breakdown. still most dont know the extent of it.
Is that what taking the mask off is about? I.e. “Deleting Facebook.” Is your art and maybe by extension social media a way of being honest while wearing a mask?
yes and no. i think i wear many faces and i still havent found a succesful way of fusing them all together. maybe this book will be a step towards that but its hard to really know.
There’s also a musicality to these poems. And musical references abound. Some of the poems like “love and solidarity are not mutually exclusive things. edibles and paranoia are not mutually exclusive things.” and “sad girl,” feel like songs in a rhythmic meter. Do you think of music when you write? How about when you read?
i listen to music while writing and i just plain love music. ive created my own writing playlist that was originally pretty fluid but now its just become something thats really scattered. so a lot of poems i write will come off as really rhythmic and others jut random as hell.
Your poems exemplify a tender nostalgia for romance while also looking to the future in your signature humanistic way, bleakly and imaginatively. At the same time, the themes of technology, smartphones, social media, and other facets of modernity are never far from your work. Tell me about how you reconcile print literature with the web, both as editor-in-chief at Maudlin House and as a writer. Do you think about the things we’re gonna live to see? (Talk about Stargate if you want)
yeah my mind is stuck between two feelings when it comes to lit today like “poetry is lame and pointless and publishing things on a dying platform is also lame and pointless” and the other part of me is like “whatever when you find a thing like lit and it makes life suck less for you you have to just go dog even if its lame and pointless. life is lame and pointless.” i want to see lit not feel as lame and pointless to other people. thats what I’m trying to do with maudlin and my own writing. i want to be both cool and relevant but also different. discussing tech is an important part of that. to not talk about it wouldnt be real or honest. its our main platform and voice these days. and by our, i mean people in general. its why my writing tries to fuse them together and with maudlin i do too. and I would LOVE to talk SG1. have i mentioned it to you before or is something i wrote in the book? i cant remember.
We’ve talked about it. I’ve got the perfect question for that.
The trite but quintessential one: What inspires you right now, in literature/film/any medium? (Talk about Stargate.)
haha i wouldn’t exactly say SG1 inspires me as much as it comforts me. i started watching it when i was going through my manic breakdown. i couldnt sleep and i found the movie on HBO i think. watched it and really dug it. then I found the show on either netflix or hulu. it took me 5 nights to finish the first episode because i was having rolling panic attacks and i would bar myself out pretty heavily. i found that reading and watching tv was something that would really interrupt the panic attacks but anyhow, ive always loved dorky scifi and it eventually just became a kind of safety blanket for me. it became a part of my coping routine. which is cool because i could access it everywhere no matter what situation i was in so id watch anytime i felt a panic coming on. im not exactly sure most people understand what i mean when i say panic attacks. like for three straight months i went through hardcore debilitating panic attacks every day. sometimes several times a day. i thought i was losing my mind. if i didnt find a way to distract myself or cope id just slip into one.
Tell me, what does a panic attack feel like? People do throw that word around a lot.
i get soooo frustrated with how loosely people throw around the word panic attack. its become so watered down. it makes me feel so skeptical when people say they had one but i try not to dismiss their feelings. i think every panic attack is different. people panic in different ways. my panic attacks were a complete and total breakdown of my ability to function. some people describe it as a triggered fight or flight instinct. mine would be a mix of shellshock and flight. i learned i suffer from generalized anxiety disorder which is pretty interesting because i was searching for a root cause to eliminate it or do a kind of exposure therapy. mine has no trigger.
Pivoting from Stargate, do you think of TV as something like a modern day fireplace? More warmth than confrontation, but ultimately lonelier? Is the internet a place where people can be themselves but how do you feel about the dehumanizing desocializing flip of it? Do we lose or gain?
TV has become a kind of warmth for people. thats why we binge. its soothing and fun. as for social media/internet, i think we gain more than we lose. i had a pretty heated argument over that exact question with my ex-boyfriend who i went to Minnesota with a couple months ago. that whole trip was mistake but hes the really righteous type who thinks we need to regress and throw away our mobile phones and get offline. the internet allows us to connect with others in a way we never have before. and yeah i can talk for hours about every little thing that made that trip horrible haha. but i wont get into it.
You can keep anything off the record.
i have no issues keeping the ex boyfriend thing on the record. im totally passive aggressive. im slightly hoping he sees the interview and sees how much of an ass he was.
Are you working on any new writing?
totally. i just finished another poetry book which will be published via Bottlecap Press. i think its my last poetry book for a while. gonna jump more into narrative fiction. i always saw myself as a novelist more than a poet.
i hate to preemptively announce a title because im not sure how much i love the one i picked right now. everyone else loves the title but ill have to see how i feel about it later on. its “an electrical outlet looks like a friendly face and i could use a friend tonite.” its about relationships ive been in.
And the novel you’re working on?
i can say the book is about a girl who loses her job and becomes an uber driver.
Anything else you’d like to add?
nothing i can think of. we’ve covered so much mainly because my brain has been so random and pointless tonite. but im emotionally spent haha.