Nicole Santalucia is the author of "Because I Did Not Die," and teaches poetry at both Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and Cumberland County Prison. Poetry quite literally saved the lesbian writer's life after experiencing a fourth stint in rehab for drugs and alcohol. "In a little cloth bound journal, somewhere in my attic, there are pages and pages of poems I wrote when I was institutionalized," Santalucia told OUT. "Those poems saved my life."
Related | OUTspoken: Patrick Cash's 'Gay Sex' Poem
In celebration of National Poetry Month this April, OUT premieres today Santalucia's original poem, "Gay Crickets & Three Legged Dogs," along with a brief conversation about what she believes is the future of poetry and why queer writers must be heard.
OUT: What is your main focus when writing poetry?
Nicole Santalucia: Nothing. Everything. Nothing. Words. A cricket. Cows. New York. Pennsylvania. A single focal point always changes. There is an inherent force of energy that seems to help shape what I write. A mentor and great poet, Paul Violi, told me many years ago that I was writing to my mother. I think there is some truth to this as I look to the women in my family for meaning and strength, for ways to understand the world I come from. I also write in response to external pressures as a gay woman. A woman. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I write about place, about sobriety, about politics. I am constantly asking, "What is the next right action for me to take?" Sometimes the answer is to write a poem, or to bring poetry workshops into prison, or to bring poetry to at-risk teens, or to read poets that I don't know. All of this is what happens when I am writing poetry.
Why is it important for queer poets to be heard?
Queer people need to be heard. Period. Queer poets, well, we are taking our queerness, one queer breath at a time, and speaking up and out about pain, possibility, courage, struggle, fear, hope. Under-represented groups/voices that have been quieted all need to be heard. Every single voice needs to be represented and if one isn't then it is silenced. Invisible. It is important for me to be visible as a queer poet. My wife and I have experienced too much discrimination. Many of my poems are like prayers in response to a lack of acceptance.
What do you think is the future of queer poetry?
Dislodged from the margins and center stage. Center page. The future of queer poetry needs more visibility. Sometimes it seems like queer poetry is just a page on a website during National Poetry Month or LGBTQ Pride Month. Let's change this.
"Gay Crickets & Three Legged Dogs" by Nicole Santalucia
There's a cricket trapped on the opposite side of the house
where I hung shame on a metal hanger
next to all my father's wool coats.
Where I used to pickpocket emptiness,
search for spare change. The back of the coat closet
is where dogs die and gay teenagers never settle.
The cricket crunches like a can opener
and scraping metal reminds me
of teeth grinding--teeth my teen-age self
swallowed when I tried to outrun the police;
the teeth I spit like rocks into a lake when I regurgitated
all the L's in Lesbian. I mean, I used to skip rocks
across water with my father.
Small flat stones bounced like prayers
before they sank. In the background,
an orchestra minus the violins and cellos.
Behind the orchestra barbed wire wraps
around a warehouse full of recalled patio furniture.
Millions of swivel patio chairs posed as a fall hazard
all across the country. Entire families and neighborhoods
of betrayal fell out of their chairs onto the dirt
next to charred steaks on the grill. Backyards full of picnics
and dogs choking on their leashes. Some of these dogs
curled up in a corner of shade and chewed off a leg.
Eventually, they ran, three legged, into the warehouses
filled with piles of aluminum chairs--I confused
clanking metal for crickets.
Throughout National Poetry Month this April, OUT will be spotlighting our favorite OUTspoken queer poets and premiering exclusive new works.