During AWP this last March I had the pleasure of meeting Anna while hanging out with Leza from CLASH Books, we walked around downtown smoking and looking at the metro ruins before the rain rolled in. I discovered she was due to release a poetry collection soon with Clash, and felt an immediate connection with Anna and her work and asked if she wanted an interview. She said yes, that’s why this is here. And what follows in the aftermath of two weeks worth of intimate, vulnerable, and soul suturing conversation as we both agreed to be open about our own pasts.
No holds barred. All tooth, nail, and flesh here folks. Because of this, I would like to add a trigger warning as what follows are traded experiences dealing with sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and manipulation.
That being said, you owe it to yourself to read her first collection, out now from CLASH Books, and see for yourself how possible it is to come back from the pain we all likely experienced for ourselves at one point or another.
Andrew Byrds: I believe there’s this falsehood which exists with works that are sexually charged or amorously reflective where anything that even remotely discusses sex is considered erotica. The exact definition of erotica itself is “literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire.” Reading through your collection, you don’t shy away from anything. It’s concrete where a foundation needs placing, abstract in the contemplation one feels within, through, and even outside the flesh. What do you think the difference is between erotica and works centered around the idea of sex? Do you think the term erotica itself acts as a detriment to writers wanting to explore sex in their art?
Anna Suarez: I believe sex and love is deeply abstract, they don’t always intersect but for me they are intertwined. Erotica speaks to how I interact with the world, it doesn’t always revolve around a sexual experience. Eroticism is a sensuous engagement with the world, finding romance in aspects of the natural world, and acts of self love. My book does touch themes about my two years of experimentation with casual sex and hookups, which did not bring me happiness. I realized that I am demisexual, which was one of my most important realizations, especially how it shifted my art. I prefer erotica over purely sex centered works. I want my work to be an engagement with sex, caressing, but how environments and perhaps ecology plays with sexual experience. Touching flowers or fruit is erotic. Watching someone eat fruit is erotic and arousing. I think that we need to be careful about our definitions of erotica and pornography. Clashing bodies with no deep emotions does not excite me. I encourage all artists who make works about sex to utilize eroticism. Sex is so much better when you feel love, deep infatuation, and awe.
AB: My foray into other bodies started off kinda late, perhaps later than others. There was a brief stint in the earlier part of being 18 where I hooked up, sprawled mindlessly, clutched onto anything I could get, which usually wasn’t much. It got cordoned off awhile following my first relationship with one of those bodies, lasted a couple years. Purely raw and stripped of any meaning, nothing mindful about it. The first time I truly had sex it wasn’t consensual, the entire time I felt like gristle being chewed on like a nightmare. Working through all that trauma later on, I realized I was demisexual as well–I can’t have sex unless there’s emotion to it, good emotions. Though sometimes we turn a blind eye to the clear red flags people hoist just to physically be with someone for awhile, we can trick ourselves into thinking those emotions are good. The body as a conduit to the spirit, melding it all into something that can be beautiful. I think about that sometimes, the idea that sex can be a beautiful thing. We are in the age of hookup culture where that idea could be lost with some, and anyone I’ve been with after my first relationship has been a maundering to see if that beauty can be captured again. Does any of that make sense?
AS: Yes, of course. I definitely relate to that. Between sexual trauma and hookup culture, we latch onto a lot of ideas about sexual desires that doesn’t necessarily come from our hearts. As much as physical sensation matters, there is a lot to explore underneath our skin. I am so happy you discovered your demisexuality. That is a beautiful and powerful realization, especially being a man in our culture. We need to build safer spaces for men to heal from sexual traumas because it happens all the time. In my experience, more people than we know experience sexual traumas. I was eighteen when I was sexually assaulted by a boy in my friend group. At the time, I didn’t know I was raped. Because that’s what you do when you’re eighteen, right? You drink cheap booze and then hook up? I knew something was taken from me at the time, it was a sensation that I couldn’t grasp until I told my friend years later. She explained to me that it was rape. Healing from that trauma started with having lots of sex with strangers to reclaim my sexual power, but finally accepting that, I don’t want to just have sex. That doesn’t do it for me. I want eroticism, magic, sensuality, and passion. I’m not shaming folks who aren’t demisexual, I understand desire is complex, but I do believe with hookup culture, there isn’t a lot of space for demisexuality as a discussion.
AB: Were there other writers/artists who helped inspire you when it came to writing this collection?
AS: I listened to a lot of Lana del Rey when I was writing. I love how open she is about the pain of loving someone and that inspired my vulnerability. As always, Anne Sexton has been one of my idols, which is representative of my raw confessionalism. Another hero is Anais Nin. She helped me come into my sexuality, especially as a woman. Though my book is very sad, it also captures desire and lust. I wanted the cover of my book to be sexy. Most of my idols aren’t afraid to express honest sadness and I love how open they are about sexual desire.
AB: You do extol on the wonders of sex in your book, though. Which is great because a lot of people think those who went through any kinda trauma, they demean never want anything to do with it. At least that’s how it seems around here, I think some fail to realize just how much trauma survivors want to remove the label of being a victim and regaining their own bodies, the warmth they may gain from others, mending that suffering so they can actually feel safe enough to thrive through that connection with another person. You have these poems that range from the seemingly mundane aspects of sexuality–eg, the post-sex routine–to the soul vivisecting maundering of it all– the post-orgasm clarity of what exactly happened. What exactly were you wanting to do with this collection once you set out to get it down?
AS: I think my response to sexual trauma is the desire of experiencing sex in a safe, loving, and warm space.This may sound silly, but sex is so much. In my experience, even the mundane is magical. I want to write honestly about my experiences with love and sex. More importantly, I wanted to tell my story. I’ve read a lot of stories about relationships that are centered around Empowerment. Papi Doesn’t Love Me No More doesn’t seek to be anything other than what it is. I fell in love again and again then I was betrayed, but my favorite aspect of my book is that the story isn’t over. I didn’t want to end it like how a movie would usually end: okay, she left this person who betrayed her and now she’s empowered. She realized she doesn’t need him. When I would see endings in films like that, I would ask myself, “okay, well what happens next? Does she sometimes miss the one who broke her heart? Does she make the same mistake again? Is the rest of her whole life empowering?” I didn’t end my book with a solid concept. I got this book down and I’m ready to start a new chapter in my life with the knowledge I gained. I’m sure sometimes I will feel empowered for leaving my past lovers, but I can still feel disempowered. This book is a symbol for an end of an era. I’m not sure what will happen next, but there will be lots of empowerment and disempowerment too, like there always is. I’ll probably always love the papi that broke my heart and I thank him for the beauty he gave me, but also the poems in my collection.
AB: Sex dreams are the worst. And I say this because I have a trail of exes and no one currently in my life to engage my thoughts emotionally, certainly physically, who can amend these traumas ephemerally. There’s one person in particular that keeps coming up, arguably the person who hurt me the most. And you know it’s the person who really allowed for my own sexual awakening. You have someone who seemingly healed some of those gashes of the past, then you find out through a veil of reality they hurt you even more than before. You argue, you cut them out, you learn, and you move forward. But those dreams, man. They can really dig into you. Maybe it’s the nostalgia for one’s flesh, weaved with the good times because your mind wants to redact the fucked up aspects of the relationship. I bring this up because I’m reading this book, THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Frenando Pessoa. And there’s this idea throughout about how we should never trust reality because it could mean so many things, but in our dreams we find the true meaning of what we see, feel, taste, etc. He also says to learn to enjoy everything, not for what they truly are, but for the ideas and dreams they inspire. I know you have a philosophy background, so what would you make outta that? Especially when it comes to your missing exes sometimes, and my dreaming of one often.
AS: In every breakup I’ve had, I experience the same thing. For the first few months, my ex is in every dream I have. It may not be a sex dream or being directly with them, sometimes they are in the background. They are always present when I dream, even if its not about them. As the months go by, they are more often in the background than the main focus of the dream. It seems like a metaphor or perhaps my brain slowly letting go of them. Its the strangest thing to be so deeply entangled with someone and they are a stranger. They hold your hair while you get sick and wipe away your tears, but eventually, all you do is wave to them if you run into them again. Even in dreams, they start to be a stranger to me. You have to let go at a certain point even if they’re in your heart forever.
I always believed dreams are the gateway to understanding your psyche. I love nightmares for that reason, they are the rawest expression of my fears.
AB: When did you start working on your collection, and how did it change and take form during the time you worked on it?
AS: I started working on it in 2014, when I was twenty. I didn’t plan on writing a book, I just kept writing poems and performing. Clash reached out to me about writing a collection and I was surprised because I imagined my first book to be a novel, but I am beyond excited and grateful for this collection. It all worked out perfectly because when I was choosing poems for the manuscript, they all told a story and the story didn’t end so I wrote more poems. I knew I had one more chapter, which I thought would surpass this book and stay open, but “art imitates life,” and I let Papi go.
AB: if you could attribute a color, a flavor, and a sound to your collection, what would they be?
AS: I would say amber, rose and saffron, windchimes with some deep synth.
AB: What has been your main takeaway with this project?
AS: That I can make magic out of every experience.
Anna Suarez is a queer Cuban American poet and storyteller. She started her writing career by doing open mics at local Portland bars. Her publications include stories in Exotic Magazine, poetry in Unchaste Volume 2, and scholarly research in Comparative Woman. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and French from Portland State University.