with Ona Woods:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Ona: I’ve always been interested in writing, but I started writing poetry seriously around the time I was 18, at the end of high school and beginning of college. The first book of poetry that really grabbed me and pulled me deeper into writing was The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel, and from there I spent a while being completely obsessed with more performance-focused poets, particularly those who were being published by Write Bloody, like Derrick Brown and Anis Mojgani. I’m not so focused on performance poetry now, especially as I’m struggling with voice dysphoria since starting my transition, but I think those influences still keep me focused on the idea of poetry as something that can be loud, quiet, fast, slow, and contain all the elements of music.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Ona: My fiancée, Inès Pujos! I fell in love with them while we were both working towards our MFAs and for eight years we’ve grown together side by side both as writers and as people. Their poems are ferocious and gut wrenching and gorgeous, and their first book, Something Dark to Shine In, is coming out from Sundress Publications later this year!
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?
Ona: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I would say my writing is more influenced by the time I spent in Chicago while in undergrad. Those years were the years where I first found a community of writers, where I learned how to use my writing not just to express myself but to actually become myself, and where I learned that poetry is first and foremost an art of empathy (also that kind of winter just changes you after living in California).
Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Ona: The most meaningful work to me is actually not a poem, but an essay that I wrote at the very beginning of my transition, before I’d come out to anyone, and the act of writing it really helped me come to terms with my gender identity after decades of repressing it. It’s the first thing I ever published under my new name. It’s called “An Honest-to-God Step Towards Something” and it came out in Entropy in May of 2020: https://entropymag.org/an-honest-to-god-step-towards-something/.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Ona: Unfortunately, my memory of that time isn’t so great, so I can’t say. I can only really remember those years as phases and feelings, not specific moments.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Ona: I’m a big ol’ nerd. Video games have been a great (maybe too great) escape during COVID times, and in particular Final Fantasy XIV should be prescribed as a palliative treatment for gender dysphoria. I really want to learn to cook/bake but I’m too tightly wound and whenever I do anything in the kitchen it just turns into a whole lot of panicky yelling.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?
I have a poem coming out in the July issue of perhappened that I’m very excited about! (https://www.perhappened.com/) It’s called “Nothing Is the Night” and it’s a long-ish piece from several years ago. Writing the piece was an experience that showed me that something buried inside me was screaming to be let out, though it took another five years to figure out what that something was.
Also, I’m working to get an online literary magazine off the ground. We’re called Ciphertext, we’re taking submissions in all genres now, and you can find out more at http://ciphertext.pub/submissions!
Q8: What is one of your favorite lines from one of your poems/writings or from others?
Ona: The chorus of the song “December” by We Are the Union has been stuck in blood ever since their new album, Ordinary Life, came out last month: “You’ll be dead in December. / There can’t be two of us forever.” My whole life I’d given myself over to a constructed persona bent on keeping the real me hidden and safe, and coming out meant taking control back from, and ultimately destroying, that artificial self. So hearing those lines sung by a woman who had herself just come out as trans has really resonated with me.
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Again, I have to say my fiancée. They’re the only one who’s never been afraid to tell me what needs to be cut, whether it’s a single line or an entire poem.