Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Rota: I think I wrote my first poem in maybe second grade. It was called “There’s a Monster in My Basement.” It was about a kid being terrified of a monster in the basement, but then he meets the monster at the end and the monster turns out to be nice. I’m sure my biggest influences at the time were Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Rota: Probably Hanif Abdurraqib. Hanif uses language and mixes the conversational with the more outwardly poetic in such an amazing way.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influenced work/describe?
Rota: I’m from Evanston, Illinois, a suburb just north of Chicago. I only got really into writing after graduating from law school and moving back to Chicago. I was really active in the Chicago slam scene which influenced my writing a ton. Chicago has a scene which really values taking risks and constantly putting forward new work, which was really formative for me. In terms of trips, I’ve gone to a few National Poetry Slams. My first was in 2012 to Charlotte, North Carolina. Being that immersed in poetry for a week, and preparing for the tournament for a full summer beforehand, really helped me grow exponentially.
Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Rota: I’m an attorney who focuses on ensuring that everyone has equitable access to housing. I’ve been doing public interest-oriented housing law pretty much since graduating from law school in 2009. I’ve written a lot of poems about housing issues and housing law; a few were recently put on Button Poetry and I’m shopping around a chapbook of poems about housing policy. As a lawyer-poet, I think I have a unique vantage point on the issue in some ways.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Rota: The first time I went to a poetry slam – Baltimore, 2005 at Xando’s I think. I love competition, performing, and writing, so I was immediately hooked. I performed at my first hip hop show while in law school in Champaign-Urbana around 2009 and then performed in Chicago in maybe 2011 and there was no turning back.
Q6: Favoite activities to relax?
Rota: Favorite activities when not writing to relax? Probably playing pickup basketball and watching true-crime.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Rota: Wild Pressed Books published my book Giveth & Taketh last summer, which explores American liberal Jewish identity, especially in the context of the more overt rightist resurgence spurned by the Trump years. That’s available here: http://www.wildpressedbooks.com/giveth-and-taketh.html. I also pretty frequently post my poetry and my own neurotic brand of hip hop on my Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6GBmL2qyl63kQxFyUKeAKb?si=k7A_OlvhSoKPBiLouYTKmw&dl_branch=1. Also feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Instagram at @themcrota
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from one of your writings?
Rota: I’m pretty proud of the line “every funeral is a good hair day for the dead,” from a poem in Giveth & Taketh called “Ronald Reagan was an Idiot.” I really like dark humor. My internal monologue speaks in dark humor. It’s a problem. One of my favorite rappers, Aesop Rock, has the line “make it rain frogs” which I love because it manages to be satirical but not mocking, and I think the Bible is a great device to highlight absurdity.
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Rota: My very good friends Adrienne Nadeau, Jason Crawford, and Lannie Stabile who are all tremendous writers. Jason’s awesome new chapbook, Twerkable Moments, can be found here: https://readpapernautilus.wordpress.com/2021/06/01/announcing-jason-b-crawfords-twerkable-moments/. And Lannie’s phenomenal full length debut, Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus is available here http://www.cephalopress.com/good-morning-to-everyone/