Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most now and currently?
Charles: When I first started writing poetry regularly, I was in middle school and was into morbid stuff like that of Edgar Allan Poe. I grew into loving Sylvia Plath too. I was an emo kid at heart so their rough edges and larger-than-life personas spoke to me as did the drama and theatrics in films like The Crow and the goth-rock stylings of Ville Valo in the band HIM.
Today, as I have studied poetry a great deal formally and not so formally, as I continue to read a bunch of different poets, and as I continue to develop and evolve my own voice as a poet, I have discovered many influences. I am drawn to poets who have meditative qualities to their work such as Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, Ada Limon, Dorianne Laux, and Megan Merchant. I am also inspired by amazing queer poets such as Saeed Jones, Bryan Borland, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Theresa Davis, Luther Hughes, Jake Skeets, and more.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Charles: I’m not sure there has been one pivotal moment. I think there’s something deep within me that has always had the desire to share my perspective, ideas, and learnings. This probably comes from growing up both as a kid from an abusive home where I wasn’t allowed to feel and as a queer kid in a community that wasn’t so queer-friendly. After having my voice silenced for so long, I began to crave creative outlets. Writing poems and stories was always something I was into. I have experimented with visual mediums and theatre as well. Poetry just seems to work the best for me at this time in my life to work through my trauma and to attempt to understand the meaning of life and all those other big crazy human questions.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Charles: I know this isn’t everyone’s thing and everyone hasn’t had great experiences in education and education systems are far from perfect but getting my MA and MFA back-to-back allowed me permission in my day-to-day life to focus attention on my writing. While in these graduate programs, I was exposed to new ideas, I was exposed to new artists, and I was given deadlines and opportunities to explore. This really jump-started a more intense focus and, again, helped me allow myself permission to use some of my time to focus on my craft. There are many individuals who have shown me great love and support. My husband, Brandon, is always a great cheerleader and sounding board. Over the past year or so, I have been workshopping pretty consistently with a poet friend, Aurora Bones, who helps me level-up my work on a regular basis. Remember her name. She’s brilliant and she’s going to be big someday.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Charles: I grew up in rural northwestern Iowa. This definitely shaped my perspective of the world, particularly as a queer person. I grew up constantly hearing that queer people didn’t belong, that they should be put to death, that they were diseased, that they were not welcomed. This came from family members, acquaintances, substitute teachers, religious leaders, and even random customers while I worked fast food in high school. The landscape is small towns, gravel roads, corn and bean fields, and the unappealing smell of swine farms. I think living in a queer-oppressive part of the country and in a place where not much happens, always has driven a desire for more, a need for escape and I think that shows up in my wrtiting. As I am responding to these interview questions, I have recently relocated to Oregon. I am curious to see how this shift in culture and landscape may shape my work and perspective over time.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
Charles: I’m not sure I’ve hit that marker yet. I am proud of the work I have created and I am constantly experimenting and networking and workshopping and trying to explore the different facets of my voice and artform. I think my work is getting better. I think I am becoming a stronger writer. I guess part of publishing, of putting your work out into the world, is the desire to connect, to know you’re not alone, that other people feel these feelings or that other people see and hear you. I’m not sure I’ve reached a point where I’ve truly felt that I’ve done that with my work…yet. I encourage people to always reach out to artists who move them, let them know in a Tweet or a DM or whatever that their poem, song, painting, etc. means something to them. Ratings and reviews on Good Reads, Amazon, etc. are good too. I know these things should be secondary, and it is to a certain extent; I write for myself first and then I put pieces out into the world if I choose to, but there is a desire to connect with others through our art. Or at least it feels that way for me. Writing itself can be so isolated and lonely. Submitting isn’t super fun but it’s worth it if I know my work is being read and it would put me on Cloud 9 if I know it was being appreciated or valued by readers.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Charles: Outside of reading and writing, I enjoy live music the most. I don’t typically enjoy large crowds, particularly intoxicated large crowds, but somehow that collective experience and the energy of a live performance just feels like church to me. It refreshes me and renews me. I also like to veg out, to watch movies and TV with some vegan junk food. I like to go for walks and do yoga.
Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writings?
This is a really tough one but I’m going to just go with a current favorite. This is the final stanza from “Zombie,” recently published in Unstamatic’s awesome unconditional acceptance experiment.
“I now lay in a grave
of matching pillowcases
stuffed with mismatched pillows
waiting for someone who loved me
to show me love in the present tense,
waiting for someone to resurrect this dead thing.”
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
Charles: Music is my jam. I love all different types. It really depends on my mood which can vary so greatly. Anyone who knows me knows that my very favorite is Melissa Etheridge. She’s shown up in many of my poems. I’ve seen her live many times, met her on several occasions. I’m on a first-name basis with her and her wife. She’s such a down-to-earth person with an optimistic persona and seeing her perform live is an out-of-this-world experience in passion. Other favorites include Sheryl Crow, Jay Brannan, Jewel, and Alanis Morrissette. I love some good ol’ rock and roll like The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. I love Joni Mitchell. Bob Dylan is great. In my angsty years, my favorites were HIM, The Used, My Chemical Romance, and Evanescence. I’m learning to embrace my poppy guilty pleasures too like Jennifer Lopez and Cher. I am learning to not be so stuffy and pretentious. It’s okay to enjoy anything that makes you happy. It’s okay to love the lyrical genius of Joni but want to drop it like it’s hot every now and then to a J.Lo banger. We contain multitudes.
Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books or events that you’d like to promote?
Charles: Yes! My first full-length collection of poetry, Read My Lips, was just published! This is a collection of poems that focuses on how one’s ideas of love shifts as one grows and goes through different experiences and stages of life. It is full of queer love and heartbreak poems. It’s mostly free verse but there are a couple ghazals, a couple prose poems, and some other forms scattered throughout. It can be ordered from your favorite local bookstore, on Amazon, or if you’re really into supporting the artist, you can order a signed copy directly from me here.