Following the release of their chapbook, Space Baby, author Nicole Oquendo sat down with Sundress Publications‘ editorial intern, Jacquelyn Scott. They talked about form, desire, violence and forgiveness.
Jacquelyn Scott: Can you talk about the three different sections? How do they speak to each other?
Nicole Oquendo: I imagine the speaker transitioning in different ways as the narrative shifts between sections. They begin infatuated in this rapturous love with our “villain,” only to reveal their true nature as the poems progress. I see the middle section as a realization that they aren’t satisfied with experiencing love in all the ways they have up until this point; nothing is enough. In that third section, desire for more burns everything.
JS: What do you hope your work says about the violence we do to each other as human beings or as partners?
NO: This is a complicated question, as many people, me included, experience love as a violent thing, much like our protagonist. But there’s a fine line between consensual violent play and what seeps into our speaker’s destructive behavior. This is up for interpretation too, though, as their lover meets an end no more violent than the deaths we know he inflicted upon others.
JS: How does our speaker interpret or give forgiveness? How far are they willing to go to forgive?
NO: I think the love present at the start was more important, more necessary, than any previous wrongdoing. And the nature of the wrongdoing is important, too. Sometimes we do things we feel we have to and find ourselves trapped within the constraints we’ve placed around ourselves. I believe this is the case for the speaker’s partner, but also for the speaker as well at first. Even that great love became a constraint that the speaker eventually burned free of. Forgiving ourselves is important, too, and perhaps that final burning is the truest act of forgiveness present in the book.
JS: What do you hope readers will take away from this act (or lack) of forgiveness?
NO: This book is in no way a guide on how to behave when you’re in love, but at the core, these are love poems, and I’m of the mind that loving freely requires a lack of constraint. We want to be bound, but we want the bindings to be the ones we choose.
JS: How does desire play a role in your work?
NO: Desire is a huge driving force behind most of my work, and in many ways, like a lot of writers, I end up creating art that validates my own worldview. My neurodivergent lens (and the fact that my “emotional regulator” is frequently broken), chronic pain, and disability, in general, make both experiencing the feeling of desire and acting on desire arduous at best, but in a narrative world of my own making, I can experience it in whatever way I want.
JS: How did the written word limit or liberate that experience?
NO: Writing is beyond liberating, and the painting, as well. It doesn’t all have to be about pain, though pain plays a role here. What I was able to focus on was a strange joy that unfolds as the narrative does, and while some of this might be toxic, to me it’s beautiful as well. And I hope I’ve crafted an experience someone else can find beautiful.
JS: What characteristics of otherworldliness or space are essential in this chapbook?
NO: This love story is magical to me, and I wanted to set it against an appropriate backdrop. We talk about the desire to see the world, going from our default sheltered state to wide open, but raising the stakes, giving this protagonist the ability to have entire galaxies a short trip away, made things even more romantic in my eyes. The book might have started as Star Wars fanfiction, but the settings in these poems were all deliberate.
JS: What do you hope readers take away from your work?
NO: My hope is that readers will feel the mood each poem is infused with and be able to follow this narrative arc to a satisfying conclusion. Most of all, though, I want the work to be fun. I’ve been writing a long time, and these poems are some of my favorites. I don’t think I’ll ever connect to a project that is unwaveringly happy on the surface, but I really think this protagonist finds a happy ending in their own way.
JS: What projects are you working on right now?
NO: I wrote two fun books in a row, so, of course, now I’m back to chewing on more difficult content. I don’t have any poems from my book-in-progress published yet to share, but I can say that each poem is about different fathers growing in unusual ways and eventually meeting unusual ends. I’ll spend a few months at a time working on the projects that allow me to explore joy so I have the armor I need to tackle the work that’s more deeply rooted in trauma, or the more difficult stuff to deal with in general. This way, I never forget that writing is something I love.
Nicole Oquendo is especially interested in nontraditional, multimodal compositions and translations in all genres. Their work can be found in numerous literary journals, as well as in the chapbooks some prophets, self is wolf, wringing gendered we, and Space Baby, and the hybrid memoir Telomeres. Nicole has also been serving the community since 2000, giving time as an editor to several literary journals and presses, and has been working as a writing educator since 2008.
Jacquelyn Scott is a student at The University of Tennessee where she is a candidate for her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Mountain Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Write Launch. Find her on a hiking trail or on Twitter @jacquelynlscott.