OUT OF EARSHOT: INTERVIEW #4 – VIOLET DRAKE

As part of the media coverage for Out of Earshot’s inaugural festival on the weekend of August 23-25, 2018, not your boys club will be showcasing some of the truly wonderful people organizing, playing, and performing at the festival in the weeks leading up to it.

For the fourth installment of this interview series, Samantha Fitzpatrick spoke with Violet Drake (she/her) who is a poet, graphic designer, speaker, and activist based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Her work explores queer and trans intimacies, embodied trauma, and place-based poetics. She has engaged with academic, activist, and artistic audiences through conferences, workshops, speeches, and performances; most notably and recently as a cast member of the critically-acclaimed production ‘transVersing‘ (produced by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland & For the Love of Learning). Her debut chapbook ‘estrogenesis‘ is forthcoming (2019).

violet drake

Photo by herself

What inspired you to apply for the Out of Earshot inaugural festival?

I think OoE’s pledge to represent emerging, DIY, and otherwise marginalized art forms is fantastic. I have an ever-growing desire to share creative pieces of my experience as a trans Newfoundlander with the world, and to meet and build connections with other artists across differences of experience and/or discipline. One very fulfilling aspect of my artistic practice is the ability to find – and to some degree begin to know – those who connect with my work, on- or offline, whether or not they are artists themselves. It helps me continue to touch and be touched by others, and moves me to keep making art, both independently and in collaboration with friends or colleagues.

You identify as an author, an artist, and an activist. How do these identities intersect in your work?

All of my creative work is informed by my entangled experiences as a writer, graphic designer, and activist. I have been writing poetry and designing digital media for over ten years, and have been visible as a local trans feminist activist for six. Both my ongoing activist labour, and the creative process that I cultivated throughout my adolescence, have led me to do things and meet people I never would have imagined as a young trans girl in rural Newfoundland. I am continuously inspired by the various forms of art with which I am engaged, the places I find myself in, as well as both the stories told and methodologies used by other artists.

Several questions consistently guide my artistic process: Why do I tell specific stories? How did I arrive within a particular moment? Who does or doesn’t have access to my work? Who is present? In this sense, both my thinking and creating are always political. In another way, I feel like I am just following the dreams of a weird 13-year-old kid that spent most of their time inside on a computer doing whatever they could with photos and words to pass the time, to make sense of their life, to dream a world of their own.

Your poem “Bookworm” presents books as safe spaces, avenues of escape but also realms of endless possibility—from Narnia to Hogwarts. It also suggests that literature can help us understand each other’s realities. How has your own writing allowed you to better understand yourself?

I wrote “Bookworm” for all of us who have used literature to cope with, and imagine futures beyond, the varied trauma of our social and political worlds. I also wrote it as a love poem to the kid who sat out during gym class with a novel in hand, and the teen who found the strength within the pages of their introductory sociology textbook to finally come out as trans to their parents. For me, there is no greater method through which I have learned more about myself than the tangled joy of reading and writing. I have loved books since I was old enough to read, and I am forever grateful to my childhood and teen self for never ceasing to consume as many stories as their heart desired. I have always been, and am now more than ever, moved by the power of storytelling to create possibilities for both readers and writers.

I think that regardless of age, gender, class, and other markers of difference, books can be a beacon of hope for people who are struggling. Stories and theories offer us multiplicities and possibilities. They can encourage us to enter a world beyond the chaos and violence of our lives. We can also find ourselves in the stories we read, and recognize our strength and courage to face our world beyond paper with a willingness to make it better – to imagine, think, and desire otherwise.

In a previous interview (Rogers TV), you talk about poetry being a way to “facilitate connection” (4:13).  How does your work help connect people?

When I write and perform, I think about the vulnerability and intimacy I share with an audience – whether that includes those who engage with my work on the written page, or those who hear my voice shift and see my body move during a reading or performance. Poetry is an art form I use to both create and sustain an emotional bridge between my life history and an audience with whom I bear witness. I can only hope that new thoughts, feelings, and/or experiences arise in our convergence. In this vein, I see my work as a tool to foster connection between not only an audience and me, but also those present in the lives of anyone my work touches.            

Daze Jefferies referenced your work in a recent article, “Crossing Lost Ends: Writing Trans Women’s Histories in Newfoundland and Labrador” (WORD 29.2 Spring 2018), suggesting that it was helping contribute to the beginnings of the documentation of “trans [Newfoundland and Labrador] women’s lives” (p. 10). What are your own thoughts on trans representation within our province’s cultural spaces, literary or otherwise?

I think that trans representation in Newfoundland and Labrador is never simple. It is complicated by the long-gendered politics of archival documentation that re-member only a handful of (patriarchal) lives. Subsequently, the stories of many people in our province – including cis women, as well as Indigenous, working class, and queer and trans communities – have been lost over time. The creative work that Daze and I produce is absolutely informed by Viviane Namaste’s extensive research on trans archival invisibility (see her 2000 book Invisible Lives).

There is an enormous and irreparable erasure of trans people, especially trans women, from the historical record of this province. Do I think our invisibility is intentional? Not outright, but our archival absences speak to the power and reach of cisnormativity across both space and time. The erasure of NL trans history must be understood as a particular kind of trauma that has consequences for generations of trans people with and beyond us right now. This is why, as Daze argues in “Crossing Lost Ends”, that it is so important for trans women in our province to make our lives visible when we feel emotionally prepared and resilient enough to do so. As we inscribe our histories in our own words and on our own creative terms, we can begin to remediate archival anxieties and trauma.                

Acknowledging how we are ruptured in place and time is just one way for us to meet this hurt and answer to it. When Daze says that trans women in NL are “situated within torn cartographies” (10), she means that all of us are trying to find just where and how we belong in a province with very little visible trans history. If our historical lives were ever written here, they are on a missing page torn from a precious book. That is why trans art, writing, and performance matter. Ultimately, I share my art because I want to make it easier for young trans people here to understand that they are not alone. I want others to find solace in my work. Beginning to stitch together a comforting quilt of trans histories and temporalities is a crucial part of our communal healing, no matter how torn the edges of its patchwork appear. I must stress that this is a deeply personal and political project for both trans communities and the people who love and live alongside us.

You’ve been involved in lots of exciting projects lately, including performing in and, soon, being published with transVersing. Would you care to talk a bit more about that and any other arts-based projects you may be working?

I am certainly ecstatic to find myself working in different artistic spaces throughout the province, my favourite of course being the opportunity to work with my transVersing family. I am honoured and privileged to be a part of the ground-breaking force that is transVersing – a project that further pushes theatrical boundaries in NL by showcasing the talents of trans youth.

Outside of the transVersing world, I am sharing some of my poetry on Aug 14 at Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda, an open mic night organized by local feminist company Persistence Theatre. You can also look for my poetry display at the local feminist art show Feminisms {Re}Framed taking place between Aug 24-6 at St. Michael’s Printshop.

Further, I am currently completing my debut chapbook, estrogenesis, with a publication date sometime in the near future. It is the brainchild of my past four years of living-growing-being, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

What can an audience expect of your performance at Out of Earshot?

Expect an invitation to learn more about what it means to live, love, grow, and exist as trans in this province through poetry. My poetry can be emotionally challenging, but it showcases my absolute truth. I want the audience to connect with me, unfold with me, and gain insight about my life and work. I hope to conjure questions, sate curiosities, and create possibilities for all of us to begin to imagine and design a world that is more uplifting for trans and gender non- conforming communities.


GUEST CONTRIBUTION: Samantha Fitzpatrick (she/her) is an arts administrator, writer, and avid volunteer. Her poetry has been published nation-wide in magazines, journals, and anthologies.

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