Poetry News

Rickey Laurentiis Interviewed Before Headlining New Orleans New Writers Literary Festival

By Harriet Staff


New Orleans's own Rickey Laurentiis is interviewed by Sara Slaughter for Room 220, the online arm of NOLA's literary and arts collective, Press Street. The poet is returning to the city this week to headline this year’s New Orleans New Writers Literary Festival (he'll be reading and teaching a workshop at NOCCA). "Can you speak to your relationship with the city and the South now?" asks Slaughter.

RL: Distance, I like to say, adds clarity. Distance, it also seems to me, can also lead to distortion–that is, of the details, of memory. So, there’s a paradox there: leaving New Orleans, leaving the South, granted me the clarity with which I could better understand and certainly appreciate what it is I left. But, having left, I’m also prey to forgetting the specifics or, worse, exaggerating, inventing details in the gaps, dealing with fiction. So it was my attempt to stay true to both these facts, which is what brought me (in one sense) to the Southern Gothic. I think of that form as precisely dealing with the truth, with “reality,” as much as it plays with (and is transparent about such) the fantastic, with “dreams.” Especially in a place like New Orleans–a city that continuously is and historically has been overwhelmed with various “fictions” about it, and a city that was more recently revised following Katrina–it seems important to me to regard both these impulses: to tell the truth and to lie, two things I think the South, in particular, and the U.S., in general, does very–if also dangerously–well.

Rm220: There are a number of motifs in the book, most notably water, shadows/darkness, and trees. What’s clear is how these images are so prevalent in your examination of the ways in which the black body in pain has been depicted over the course of history. These images are constructed, deconstructed, and refigured throughout the text. I’m wondering if you could speak about the repeated intersection of desire, pleasure, and violence in your work and what you find vital about exploring that territory.

RL: It’s just that desire, pleasure and violence seem connected in my mind–for better, and especially for worse. Better said, the discourses and epistemologies that we use to understand desire, pleasure and violence–these seem connected, gnarled in a kind of knot, almost as if each depends somehow on the other. I don’t think we can really begin to understand the specific horror that was Jim Crow and the lynchings that characterize that period, for instance, until we understand the need for that display of violence (for photographing it) involved some sort of psycho-sexual gaze. Baldwin really gets to this in his story, “Going to Meet the Man.” Less extremely, I think it’s important to recognize–not necessarily justify or celebrate–the daily violences we either conjure up in our heads or, simply, deal with in pursuit of our desire or pleasure. It may not lead to anything we care to admit about ourselves, just as looking honestly at history often admits something we’d rather not be spoken, but it’s really the only possibility for substantive change. “Substantive” meaning not just superficial change, but something deeper: discursive change, a change in the way we think, create metaphor, understand ourselves and each other, hopefully toward some future that is less violent but no less pleasurable.

Read it all at Room 220.