with CM Taylor
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
CM: I’ve been hyper creative forever: apparently I woke up singing every day and usually sang myself to sleep as a little kid. As far as writing, I started doing way, way more than was asked of me on assignments by the first grade. My teacher told my parents I’d grow up to be a writer. I was read to constantly as a child, so of course I was inspired by those early novels. My first real influences that I can see evidence of in my work today were all lyricists. We listened to a pretty eclectic range, but the Indigo Girls stand out. Emily Saliers’ songs in particular haunt me in the best way every time I come to the blank page.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
CM: In terms of writing, Richard Siken, Mary Ruefle, Chen Chen, Eula Biss, and Joan Didion, though there’s some love-hate to the latter. I’m astonished newly and overwhelmingly and daily by my friends on Twitter, especially Meg Pillow, Christopher Gonzalez, Khalisa Rae, and Taylor Byas, to name the tiniest handful of geniuses.
As a bit of a jack of all trades, one of my strengths is pulling influences between forms. I’m influenced as a songwriter by all the poets I just named above, but I’m also influenced by Danny Elfman (his Oingo Boingo days) as a vocalist and by Matty Healy of The 1975 as a performer. When I paint, I often think about Richard Siken’s poems on painting but I’m also usually blaring pop music and dancing while I work. I try to let myself be moved wherever by whatever, and allow myself to switch mediums if an idea isn’t working in the one I’m trying to use.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
CM: There have been a bunch, but one that really stands out was in August 2019. I was perched on the edge of one of the cabana porches at Barrelhouse’s Writer Camp, the smoke was still clearing from the fireworks they do at the end of the weekend. I had quit a fully funded MFA fellowship in Creative Nonfiction in June and even though I was certain it was the correct choice, the gaping “what now” of it all had been catching up to me throughout Camp. I refreshed my email to an acceptance from Memoir Mixtapes of an essay I’d written in undergrad. It was like the whole universe grinning at me. I’d known for years and had reaffirmed over and over that I wanted to be a writer and an artist, but what was pivotal was receiving that little nod right as I was departing the “path” toward one version of myself in those identities and embracing a totally different one.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
CM: Jane Felknor, who taught at my high school and was the only English teacher ever to give me a “B” on an assignment: a world without her is a world in which I am half the writer I am today, and she laid the groundwork for my entire editorial practice. Cyn Fitch, who teaches at Knox College and who is as wise a writer and human being as I have known. Her sense of grace, her grit, her flexibility are invaluable to my work and my worldview. And Findlay McCarthy, whom I met at Knox, is the best second set of eyes I’ve ever had. She works in publishing now but even at nineteen could tell me what four words my twenty page essay was missing to make it sing.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
CM: I was born in Placerville, California and raised in and around Boulder, Colorado with frequent trips back to California. As much as those places, California especially, show up in my work, I feel most geographically influenced by my time in Galesburg, Illinois. I used to just walk. For hours. Stand up close to a train, find myself in the cemetery again, wonder the backstories of old railroad money houses. Sit at the bar of the brewery where I worked and people watch alone. Look up at the statue of Carl Sandburg at dusk with his guitar slung over his back. That town taught me to sit still and keep seeing.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
CM: Weirdly, a song I wrote in 2016 called “Porch Band.” It’s about and for this group of kids who used to serendipitously gather on a front porch in college some nights. I’d get a guitar, as would a couple others, and we almost always had at least one fiddle and usually some other instrument–once an oboe, which was wild–and a bunch of people singing and we’d falter our way through cover songs. The bridge borrows lyrics from a song my friend who died that year wrote. It’s meant to be bellowed by a bunch of half-drunk people over out of tune instruments and whenever I’ve gotten to play it that way is when I feel the most like my art matters. It’s a goodbye song and an ode to sacred community and I still cry almost every time I play it.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
CM: Improvisational dancing while I do other stuff, especially laundry.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
CM: My first-ever poetry tattoo and my favorite ending of any poem, from “Visible World” by Richard Siken: “The light is no mystery,/the mystery is that there is something to keep the light/from passing through.”
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
CM: I’m heck-of proud of my recent writing on gender and sexuality in Salty and Honeyfire Lit, and I have an incredibly vulnerable essay about my gender and my legal name change still forthcoming from Honeyfire in their Milk Teeth issue. Juked Magazine will also be publishing my poem “Nonbinary Love Story” in the coming months. I am taking time off from traditional work at the moment and am itching to take on new collaborative and paid editorial projects: say hi to me on Twitter and let’s find out how we can work together!!
Links & Promos
There Is Nothing to Spin at Honeyfire Lit
Kissing Dynamite’s Featured Poet
Instagram: @fine_carma & for art, @capricorn.chill