An Interview with Maryan Nagy Captan

copy/body by Maryan Nagy Captan is a poetry collection that explores identity, place, home, gender, and family dynamics. It was originally published by Empty Set Press in 2017. With the close of Empty Set earlier this, we have partnered up with ESP and are offering the chapbook as a free ebook. You can read an interview with the Captan below (and poems from the collection are forthcoming on our site on Monday, October 14), and can download the collection here and below.

Did you write this collection to any kind of music?

This collection spans about 9 years worth of work. The oldest poem in the collection, "Housewife", was written in 2009 while "Blood Pact" was completed in 2017.  There are so many albums that are my tried and true and have been for the past decade which deeply influenced the bulk of the work: The Lemon of Pink by The Books,  Shake Shugaree by Elizabeth Cotton, Veneer by Jose Gonzalez, Noah’s Ark by CocoRosie, Aquimini by Outkast, Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, Plaisirs D'Amour by Rene Aubry, anything by Bessie Smith, anything by Kendrick Lamar, anything by John Cage, In Rainbows by Radiohead, the list goes on and on. 

Describe your favorite meal.   

I'm not sure if it qualifies as a meal but a minimum of 20 pieces of my mama's waraq ineb drenched in lemon juice (preferably eaten on the couch next to my dad while we switch between watching Wimbleton and Lebanese soap operas on DISH Network).

Choose three books that you've always identified with?  

I have such a hard time answering questions about identifying with books or characters. I think partially because I don’t read narratives where I identify with the characters. I read to escape into form and language. However, I do have books that I love and have read many, many times over the last several years. Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein is a bible, as is Recyclopedia by Harryette Mullen, and Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip come to mind. 

However, I find myself identifying much, much more strongly with visual art. I feel most connected to the work of Masao Yamamoto, Louis Bourgeois, Joan Miro, Paula Rego, and Ren Hang. 

Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?  

Julie Speed

Julie Speed

For the past few years, I’ve been enamored with the work of Julie Speed, an oil painter and collage artist based in Marfa, TX. My current favorite piece is titled “Eyes to See.” How does it describe me? I like to think that I am both figures in this painting. As a writer and performance poet, I get self conscious about overwriting or being too insistent in the work. As a reader and citizen of the world, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and insight that we’re expected to consume regularly. It can be suffocating. 

However, behind all the chaos of humanity is a bird and a tree and an open window.  I think this aspect speaks strongly to my desire to always find a sliver of hope in everything: an escape, a reminder, a moment of joy.

What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?  

Even though it’s a terrible movie, I always loved the premise of The Happening. In it, plant life develops an airborne toxin that causes humans to commit suicide. 

In this version of the apocalypse, instead of an airborne toxin, all plants and trees develop a taste for human blood and devour all of humanity in a few days. I wouldn’t want it to last too long because it sounds horrific. 

In this scenario, I’d prefer to be gently leaning onto and then very suddenly be absorbed into Bald Cypress. Though, I hope I’m the first to go because I’m way too soft to actually witness any of this.

If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?  

This one’s too hard but okay: Beetlejuice, Cairo Station, and Chungking Express.

Cover Art: William Lukas

Cover Art: William Lukas

Where do you find inspiration lately?

Lately, I’ve been screenwriting and studying storytelling. It’s been really energizing and it’s changing the way I think about poetry. I’ve always been inspired by what I feel most challenged by so right now, I’m learning to tell stories through narrative and the three act structure rather than through emotion and musicality.  It’s really hard but the creative payoff is huge.

Where did you write most of your book? 

The majority of the book was written in Philadelphia, and three of the poems were written in Keene Valley, NY during a residency with Paul Smith College of the Adirondacks.

What was something surprised you recently?

I recently learned that a placebo can still have a positive effect on someone even if they know it’s a placebo which I thought was so fascinating.

What do you carry with you at all times?   

A piece of mica from Clark Park in West Philly.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. What works and what doesn't? What doesn't, but you keep trying it anyway?

I’ve always been self conscious about how little I produce but I’ve slowly come to understand over the years that I don’t write unless I feel compelled to.  

I can meditate on a poem for days before actually writing it. I’m obsessed with subjectivity (as a concept and with my own) and I feel most compelled to write when I’m in a state of deep introspection. I’ll meditate on an idea for days and when a poem finally comes, I’ll spend eight months editing it to death. I have some poems that have gone through 30-40 different drafts. The biggest challenge for me is to write a poem, edit once, then twice, and be done with it. The poem is done after the second edit. It has to be. 

One of my favorite mantras comes from the teachings of J. Krishnamurti: Observe your confusion. Study it. 

For me, what works is writing about something that scares me about myself.  At the present moment, I’m most interested in examining how I’m complicit in, even though I protest against, the deconstruction of the natural world. I’m attracted to hypocrisy as a theme and find it really difficult to write without relying on tropes. 

What doesn’t work for me is sitting down and saying “I’m going to write a poem.” The compulsion to write is an integral part of the process. Without it, ideas just don’t come. 

What are some of your daily rituals or routines?  

Birdwatching and drinking coffee is my favorite daily ritual because I like to pretend I’m retired even though I’ll probably be working for the rest of my life. (: 

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Honestly, when Angelo invited me to publish with Empty Set, I already had these poems ready. They span the length of nearly a decade and I had already performed them dozens of times. These are the poems of my 20s. 

Now, that I’m in my 30s and working on a new collection, one that is intentionally thematically linked and far more narrative, I think the obstacle I keep coming up against is the question of whether or not each of the poems is building on the last or if the poems are merely reiterating the same ideas. 

copy/body is as a book is a collage: the poems are linked by their musicality, language play, and loose themes of domesticity. The current book I’m working on is much more intentionally themed and though there are individual pieces, the book is designed to be read as one long poem.

Ultimately, the hardest part of writing copy/body was finding the time to write and the hardest part about having time to write is actually writing. But maybe that’s the case for everything.

Define happiness for you. 

The silence of a desert.

Maryan Nagy Captan is an experimental writer, educator, and performance poet based in Austin, Texas. She is a Fellow at The Michener Center for Writers and serves as the Marketing Director for Bat City Review. Maryan is the author of copy/body (Empty Set Press, 2017) and an alumna of the Disquiet International Literary Program. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Egyptian Writers Folio (Anomaly Press), Foundry, AJAR, Apiary Magazine, Mantra Review, Boneless/Skinless, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere.

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body), #Survivor, (forthcoming, The Operating System), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente