C: Ashley, you work primarily as both a visual (photography and performace art) and written artist. Personally, I used to wonder from time to time if those corporately-sponsored public speaking classes and seminars you see would help me as an author. But I've also come to understand that reading in public is just a matter of practice for me. For you, it's an art. What are some of the things that are not interchangeable between these worlds, that just don't translate for you between having written or made a piece of art and performing it? What are some of the challenges you've had, the good and the bad?
A: Thank you for asking such a beautiful question. My first thought—a corporately-sponsored public speaking class can never teach you what you need to know to perform a poem, and that’s the magic of it, the gift of it. All of the knowledge you need is already inside of you. Through writing, and through performance, you uncover it.
In terms of what’s not interchangeable, I would say the weight of the props I use. Poetry holds weight, prose holds weight, but the tangible weight of each object I use in performances is uniquely marvelous. Like weight, poetry and prose have texture, and so do these tangible objects. I love that, too. And their temperature. But the temperature of a mirror that has been held by a suitcase feels different than the temperature of a poem.
Some of the biggest challenges I’ve had is letting a world go after building it. On the stage, Sarah (Morrison, violinist) and I will build these worlds with sound, fire, glass, and language. We aren’t the sole builders, but I haven’t met the rest, as they’re invisible. That is another challenge – who builds with us? Why can’t they stay a little longer?
C: I recently read your new work, a third collection of poetry called Bomb, from Ampersand. Goodreads descibes the work as “with two humans, and they both love each other deeply: One is attaching a bomb to the other, and they both experience this building/creation as intimacy, as care. Later, we find out what the bomb is made of. These lovers, their world explodes.”
As someone who is so fiercely creative, how do you acknowledge or accept destruction or deconstruction in our world? Is it something you find yourself mostly neglecting or simply building yourself, your art, and your emotions from, even the ground-up?
A: When Sarah and I destroyed a piece of glass, we opened up a world. The glass had to be broken – we needed to know what happened after the glass. We were stuck, and the world that opened was beautiful. I gave away the glass pieces, and they became birds.
When a relationship ends, I like to think of a new world forming, almost like the glass. Pieces of that love will become animals, and if we are lucky we will be able to see ourselves inside of them and grow.
C: There's also quite a lot of previously published poetry embedded into the book. Was it difficult to piece together these frames or fragments? Did you feel they belonged together all along, or that because of you, the author, made them that way they fit together?
A: It was not difficult to piece together these fragments, but it was hard to understand how to open certain poems individually, how to uncover their cores. I ended up learning an important lesson – to always listen to a poem. It knows more than I do.
C: A lot of people might not realize how active you are. You practice and teach yoga, as well? You've said too, somewhere, that it is restorative and healing for yourself and others. How do you feel this influences your art?
A: I teach restorative yoga, a very gentle form of yoga that activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you come out of “fight or flight” mode and find deep rest. Teaching yoga has helped me get out of harmful patterns that were keeping me from creating art, from listening to bodies of poetry and prose.
C: I recently self-published a short book that I ironically found had the same physical dimensions as yours. The book, however like with most writers, was written as much for myself as maybe the person who emotionally needed to read it. If you could teach someone, anyone, something and it could be anything in the realm of art or yoga or simply a lesson from your own life experience, what would be the most compelling lesson or the most enduring? Who would be your ideal student?
A: Oh, wow. If this question were a shovel, it would weigh 100 pounds. I don’t think I have been able to dig with such weight and clarity in a way that I can translate—yet. The most compelling lesson or the most enduring—let’s choose the most enduring. If you have ever experienced Earth-shattering love, and you lose it, know that you can find it in secret crevices every single day. All you need to do is listen, take time. My ideal student would be one who longs to take this time. I know there are many people out there who long for this. When I sit quietly, I can feel them.
A: When you wrote your beautiful book, perhaps you could feel it connecting with those people, the ones who needed to read it. Did you?
C: Oh, thanks for asking, Ashley. In hindsight, I saw the younger me who maybe needed it....those people who do connect or appreciate the book have come out of the woodwork since I've published it. I can only attest that it is like the proverb, the good you give out will return to you ten-fold. And I suppose, those people—those human beings that need the work—may just be waiting in the wings somewhere someday, even at the end of my lifetime.
C: Ben's been a great friend over the years and has enabled a lot of good, even just from this blog. If there were one person in your life, past or present, that you wouldn't necessarily want to change, but enable, who would it be and how?
A: I would choose Sarah Morrison, no questions asked. Sarah gave me the gift of music, of rhythm. She plays her violin and uses a loop machine to create weight, story. I hope she never stops exploring the strange and wonderful. As for how—I want to take her to perform near the Marfa lights with me. Marfa is a small Texas desert town that rests not too far above Big Bend. The artist Donald Judd created a shift in this town with his art. He employed many local people, and I admire the way he saw art, the land that surrounds it (and in turn, affects it), and permanence/longevity of a piece. In a way, the Marfa lights embody these qualities -- no one really knows what causes them to appear (even though there are theories), and they have been appearing since the 19th century. We have both seen them, Sarah and I, but at separate times. I think performing near them together would change so much. Those invisible energies I mentioned in the fist question? I think the Marfa lights are part of them.
C: Lastly, through conversations ourselves, you've brought up the neccessity of the outdoors in your life. As much as I'm a person who loves it, what do you feel in the age of climate change is the future of our natural world? Is there an environmental aspect that will ever be developed through your art?
A: Our natural world is in pain. There is no question about that. My life changed when I visited Marfa last year, and I had the chance to sit and be and breathe and listen to Donald Judd’s work. 15 Untitled Works in Concrete made me feel transported into a place where the land was seen, heard, and safe. Judd “owned” 40,000 acres (62-square miles) and let it be. One day I would be honored to follow in his footsteps.
Ashley Inguanta is the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books 2016). Her work has most recently appeared in The Rumpus, The Florida Review, Artborne Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, and Paper Nautilus. Last year she received an Orlando Weekly"Best Of" award for her poetry. When she's not writing, you can find her teaching at Valencia College, Writer's Atelier, and Sunlight Yoga.
Christopher Bowen is a Midwestern chef and the author of the books We Were Giants and When I Return To You, I Will Be Unfed. He travels often and blogs from Burning River.
Headshot by Sarah N. Rogers.