This poetry collection is not mature or thoughtful. It is for the angry & petty emo teen in all of us. TRASH PANDA is a dialogue with social media, pop culture & past selves. It is performance art. Obsession with the past, with petty interactions, with conflicting & ever changing ideas of the self — taking center stage. TRASH PANDA is up for preorder now & will begin shipping in May.
Andrew Byrds: At first glance, the pieces in TRASH PANDA read like instagram poetry and facebook statuses, structurally and linguistically. Yet they touch upon personal subjects in an honest way, which defines how this modern age approaches vulnerability. How do you think internet culture has shaped writing, both creatively and thematically?
Leza Cantoral: For me it def affected me & this collection. I kinda feel like I started to find myself when I went on FB. I never did MySpace. I was not really on the internet till I left college. And I fell in love with how Twitter forces ppl to abbreviate & kinda get to the point. The artifice of language drops off in lieu of utility & there’s something beautiful about that to me. The poems in this collection are supposed to have that emo Instagram poetry vibe. But they’re real & heartfelt too. I think the short poetry format gave me a sense of freedom to be real & the absurdism made me feel free to talk seriously about pop culture, bad boyfriends, depression, sex, things I care about & that affect me intensely. I write on my phone a lot now too & that changes how I select my words. I have a relationship with my iPhone I never had in my teens before that was a thing.
AB: The English Occultist Austin Osman Spare said, “the time of exhaustion is the time of fulfillment”. Contemporary poetry, especially within the last few years, seems to get to the point faster and forgoes most maundering passages of romanticism. How has personal exhaustion in your life led to a more fulfilling creative output? Or do you believe there is any truth to that quote?
LC: I know that when I’m exhausted I don’t do shit. This collection had a weird vibe, a certain headspace I had to be in, midway between mania & rage. I had to be in that state of weird glee & annoyance/anger. In general I only write if consumed by love, passion, rage, despair, or frustration. Writing is how I let the steam out. It’s a result of emotional tension whether good or bad. If I’m not in discomfort I don’t write poetry.
AB: How has the recent interest in the occult/witchcraft across social media influenced the writing of this collection, if at all? I ask because a few of these poems, especially SAINT JACKIE act as spiritual possession/incantations, seemingly to better process certain aspects of personal reflection that otherwise might be traumatic to process more overtly.
LC: The occult aspect entered my life in my early 20’s though I don’t think reading The Satanic Bible when I was 18 had a profound impact on me. In my early 20s I began searching & my spiritual journey has been a massively circuitous affair full of visionary dreams, encounters with spirits, ritual Magick, working with crystals, herbs, moon Magick, sex Magick. I practice chaos Magick. It has nothing much to do with current internet culture though it pleases me a great deal that witchyness is in style. I gravitate towards the unexplainable & mysterious.
AB: Would it be fair to assume that some of these pieces in TRASH PANDA would be sigils?
LC: I’d say more like incantations. I think art is alchemy & I use it to transform myself & my emotions & hope it can do the same for others too. We dream selves & then become them.
AB: Your previous collection (short stories), CARTOONS IN THE SUICIDE FOREST, was rife with nightmarish bizarro fiction. TRASH PANDA, to parallel it, though with moments of abstraction, contains your most naked writing to date (if that makes sense). Did your methods of approaching writing differ at all between these collections, what sort of challenges did you face writing your first poetry collection?
LC: Writing those stories was like going into a trance. Some were very spontaneous, others more plot driven. Those stories were like exorcisms. Some were chakra meditations. I was exploring fairy tales & body trauma through a surrealist lense. The path to poetry went full circle. I began with poetry as a teen. It’s all I wrote for years, along with streams of consciousness & some screenplays. The transition to fiction from poetry was hard. It was hard to build plots & develop characters. Poetry relies on language & imagery. You can be vague. It deals in non specifics. I’m still struggling to write my first full novella, Tragedy Town, which is a tragicomic magical realist love story.
Going from fiction to poetry was a relief. It was a release of all the things one must be specific about. I could be delightfully vague again & focus on language. But these poems are different than the ones I used to write. There was a sense of fun with these that I never had before. Poetry had always been about true expression, lyricism & sincerity before. These new ones were tongue in cheek, purposely shallow, intentionally vague, passive aggressively bitter. I let myself be immature. I let myself be petty. I let myself talk like I really talk sometimes.
If you read the collection I have my top 5 emo poems from high school at the end. You can see stuff I wrote at 15 & 17 & see what’s the same & what’s different. Main thing I noticed looking back is they lacked a sense of humor & as a dour Capricorn with an only very bitter & dark sense of humor, that’s been a long time coming & probably the biggest sign of personal growth I see in myself now vs then. I don’t take things as seriously anymore but also I take my feelings deadly serious because that’s all I have. They’re the raw matter from which I create.
AB: Do you think the vernacular in contemporary poetry distances the reader from what the writer is trying to say? Some writers, me included, may worry that making pop culture references or allusions to social media could date their work and cause it to be forgotten, yet TRASH PANDA and your tongue-in-cheek approach in dealing with modern shallowness stands out more prominently than the works of self-proclaimed, corporately published, instagram poets. Is there a sense of ephemera with poetry that makes fiction last longer?
LC: This collection is a commentary on the relationship we have with tumblr, YouTube, Instagram & social media in general. I don’t know if my collection will maintain its relevance. I don’t really care if it does. I care if ppl relate to it now. Now is the only thing that’s real. This collection is about the fleshy reality of now. The now needs. But who knows, maybe in the future it will be a fun little time capsule of the absurdity of this age. I’m fascinated with the time I’m in. Culture in general interests me & i am here now so I’m just documenting my experience with this type of living where I basically live on the internet.
AB: You mention that this collection acts as a throwback of sorts to emo poetry, especially since you included some poems you literally wrote during your teens (photos included). How do you think nostalgia can act as a buffer rather than a deterrent when it comes to creative self-reflection
LC: There really is no nostalgia here except I guess for the sort of alt lit aesthetic which I discovered as the movement was kinda dying. That seems to happen to me a lot. I get into something once it’s over. The simplicity of the style in these poems made it easier to be honest. There was no artifice. But these poems are very much in the moment. I think the style helped me conjure that emo teen within that’s always lurking & hating on things & feeling rly sorry for herself.
AB: so when did you start working on this collection? Was it when the alt-lit movement started burning out? And if so, were any of these pieces in response to the works of certain authors?
LC: I started working on it about a year ago. I was def inspired by alt lit. And yeah it was already I guess over by the time I discovered it. It began as a sort of inside joke with B. Diehl who I was telling he should write a whole collection called Justin about Justin Bieber, who we were both having fun talking shit about. With this hypothetical collection in mind I wrote a reply poem dissing Justin Bieber called ‘Selena was 2 good 4 u’ which is basically about how he’s a shit boyfriend even tho he fronts like he is a prince in his music videos. I showed it to B. Diehl & he thought it was hilarious & posted it to Philosophical Idiot. That gave me a lot of encouragement to continue with this sort of tongue in cheek self aware emo Instagram/tumblr poetry kinda vibe.
AB: so inevitably comes the question about titles, which I try to avoid because it can ruin the mystique a bit, but in this case TRASH PANDA has me curious. Is there more to it than just a title? You’re known to wear a panda head on social media, so is Leza the alter ego, or vice versa?
LC: I got the idea from a trash panda meme. I did not know that trash panda was a thing but apparently it’s slang for raccoon. I liked it & it resonated. On FB only the panda emoji (vs raccoon face) was available & I started using it as a kind of signature in my posts. Then I saw the panda head in the furry animal head bin at Walmart & I liked the idea of doing videos with the head on. It seemed like a good title for the collection.
It did inspire an alter ego which kinda had this manic depressive vibe. Playful but vicious. Petty, nasty & self pitying. It felt very honest & cathartic & fun.
AB: If you could pitch TRASH PANDA to a reader in one sentence, what would it be?
LC: Poems for the emo teen in all of us.