An Interview With Maura Modeya by Aubrey King

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You recently told me you were haunted by Sappho after performing a ritual as prescribed by CA Conrad. Is the spirit of Anne Carson in the room with us now? In all seriousness, how do you work with an ancient text full of silence and elisions? 

If I said yes, would you believe me? Anne Carson’s translation If Not, Winter is on my desk— right now, showing the papyrus paper of Sappho’s fragments, taunting me. Inside is a note from someone dear to me who gifted me the book, and who also fueled my dive into this ancient text with the prompt to use my projector to interact with it in a way that charged my senses differently. Undoubtedly, it has taken a group of poets to help me work with my poetic lineages. I performed the ritual from CA Conrad not expecting much to “happen,” more so to shake myself out of stale thinking, or routine language, and build my practice around somatic ritual and writing. The ritual took place in my apartment, in a clawfoot tub, calling in Sappho with elements mentioned in her lyrics. I’ve had trouble with sleep most of my life, but soon after I performed this act, I started waking up at 3am, specifically, over and over again. It was always the same time. Delirium took hold of me, each day my mind became slippery—like the exhaustion wouldn’t let me hold onto a thought for very long. I had also been reading Eros, the Bittersweet at this time so much of my writing turned into fragments around desire, echoing themes and essences that I picked up on from repeatedly spending time with Sappho’s work. 

I didn’t set out to work with ancient texts, but it found me, then possessed me. I’ve been at this for over a year now—projecting If Not, Winter on the walls of my apartment, moving through the light of the projector and the black type so that they contour across my hands, neck, back, chest. Sleeplessness has taught me about writing in a way nothing else could. The inner editor in my mind turned liquid, letting a new voice solidify in its place. Perhaps the nighttime sleep-disrupted hours I write in—and the destroyed material represented in the text with brackets, mirror each other. Destroying hours of sleep, for the sake of creation of poetry and a new understanding of desire, prompted me to learn through embodiment of experience no text alone could teach. (During this time, I’ve been in a constant state of aching—in desire for something/someone—the desire for sleep is all encompassing ache.) The space when I am awake—(3am, 4am, 5am)—and when I am “supposed” to be asleep, is the somatic manifestation of the elisions in the text I am working with. That is a kind of thing I could never plan or predict, but without knowing, asked for deliberately. I wanted to learn of desire, of my own embodiment of it, and was able to learn more about it in this process from where my identity and my poetic fascinations come from—SAPPHO. Basically, I’m a haunted dyke poet in the throes of delirium for the w o r k. 

It is not lost on me that I have been cultivating the poetics of disruption thinking it would mainly manifest in my life through my own action of wheatpasting and stickering, when in actuality, disruption comes in many forms. The basis of my poetics of disruption is anti-capitalist andanti-establishment, using materials and words to indicate this, but the somatic aspect of this has come through the disruption of my sleep as well. Who can be productive when they haven’t slept? What kind of schedule does this disrupt? Lol I think it disrupts straight people time and capitalist time (the drive to be productive, the centering of reproduction). 

It seems to me that guerilla poetry is fundamentally anti-establishment and anti-capitalist. Do you teach your students to be gay and do crimes? 

I’ll just leave this quote from Temporary Autonomous Zones that I’d pass along to my students, or really anyone, here: 

“Dress up. Leave a false name. Be legendary. The best PT is against the law, but don’t get caught. Art as crime; crime as art.” (Hakim Bey, 3) (PT=Poetic Terrorism) 

The best part about guerrilla poetry and why I think it is a necessary act [to feel right in myself] is because it has the power to disrupt typical thought patterns that living in a capitalist society programs people with. This disruption is powerful. It can derail one’s day by adding in a new thought. It elicits critical thinking. What is vital to me is to feel like I have autonomy of my mind, so breaking out of the routine and leaving a sticker or pasting that says “TIME TO SEIZE THE POWER OF DYKE LOVE”* is a rejection of the heteronormative inundation that is put upon people everyday, and a move towards queer expansion. (*from the Dyke Manifesto 1992) 

When the shooting at Club Q happened in November of 2022 in Colorado Springs, I was gutted and instinctually wanted to do some sort of action to convey the grief and longing for connection that took over. Alongside those feelings, so much fear welled up that I didn’t know where to place. 

At that time, papers with “REST IN POWER,’” followed by the names of the victims were pasted near where the vigil was held, along with quotes from ACT UP 1990, and other lines of my poetry such as, “WHEN I BECOME GOD EVERYONE WILL BE GAY.” I was even more motivated because I, as well as many others, felt very let down by the vigil because it felt like a performative state sponsored event that didn’t leave room for queer grief or queer voices—making the act of acknowledgment outside the internet and inside the public arena feel increasingly significant. I am always interested in how wheat pasting can create a conversation within my community in Denver.

There’s a sense of lifting—by leaving traces of oneself, of stepping out of straight time’s linearity—to greet someone in another time. Silent and continuous conversations with the people who read the pastings even months after they are posted. Guerilla poetry, or leaving these word traces, nodding to visibility and invisibility at the same time. To me, there is always this blending of visibility and concealment as a queer person, this act reflects the feeling in that. The establishment uses language against us [queer people] and I find these spurts of heartening ways to relate to language for myself and those I love by leaving poetry in the streets. 

“The stickers themselves then become forums for public debate, where people work through pressing social issues in a space away from the corrupt mediated majoritarian public sphere.” (Cruising Utopia, Muñoz) 

While reading Cruising Utopia by Jose Esteban Muñoz, there was a section about a stickering campaign in NYC in the 90’s that made me feel like there’s nothing stopping me from expressing myself in that way, by disrupting visual field of public space in that way. This section mentioned one sticker that read, “It’s a beautiful day… ‘Crime is down.’ Police brutality is up…What are you doing outside?” 

I’m left with questions about disruption, about the poetics of disruption—how can poetry/guerilla poetry act as a disruption of violence be it external (i.e. state/systemic) or internal (i.e. personal)? How does guerrilla poetry behave in context of the poetics of disruption? How does guerilla poetry disrupt violence with the intimacy of language? With the intimacy of leaving a trace of yourself that is irrefutable to another person? [Stickers don’t adhere by accident or happenstance.] In my work on and off the page or “book”, inside or outside publication, I am developing a relationship to how intimacy and violence are inextricably linked—I use the poetics of disruption as a guide. The context in which I write is within this cloudy aftermath of fear of gun violence within Colorado (b/c that is where I live) and the compulsion to connect to desire/intimacy/eros. 

I’m curious about reactions to your guerilla poetry, like “HERE LIES MY INDULGENCE.” Do you ever catch anyone interacting with the work? Do folks reach out to you? Or do you like the anonymity of street art?

I get my thrills by giving poetry away to the street. The anonymity does offer something of a mythopoetic mask, and a feeling of collectivity in the sense that someone we walk past on the sidewalk could have put up that poem, that painting, that sticker—it could have been you, it could have been me. It’s a reclamation of public space, and the anonymity prompts that poetic voice to be bold. So often, queer people are told where and how to occupy public space—or of course, not to occupy it at all. It was not designed with us in mind, but in large part around patriarchal fantasies of money abled heteronormative men (lol say that seven times fast in a row). “HERE LIES MY INDULGENCE” and other wheatpastings are gestures of occupying public space, where anonymity means I can spread a message with less personal risk. 

In order to reclaim public space, one has to risk being present—guerilla poetry is my form of presence. 

The anonymity of leaving traces of myself I liken to what Hakim Bey might call Poetic Terrorism—or what my lover and I call SAPPHO TERROR—meaning that through wheat pasting poems I’m all at once invisible and visible, concealed and present, disrupting with a deliberate beautiful act outside of conventional structures. I’m having a silent continuous conversation with those who read the wheat pastings months after they’ve been posted. When preparing for this interview I jotted down, “Why aren’t the wheat pastes as important as the monuments some council decided on? Who has the money or the influence? Well, I have influence too—see you’re reading my words right in front of your face right now and I disrupted your linear thought that we’ve been trained into. I find myself getting lost in the routine of the grind and this is a way to jolt myself out of it.” This is part of that continuous conversation. I practice disrupting even myself. 

I also think about anonymity in the context of the frequent gun violence in Colorado. It is an omnipresent fog of fear that fills the contours of our lives—I mean I went to a gay variety show this week and we all had to be wand-ed over by security who checked everyone on entrance. I know that’s probably common practice for concerts or like-events, but after Club Q, I can’t shake that hyperawareness. 

For reference, “HERE LIES MY INDULGENCE” is a wheatpaste guerilla poetry installation put on the side of a building that the punk bookshop Mutiny Information Cafe owns. I got permission from the owner to put up my work, since he was the one who painted the mural that I then pasted my poems on top of. To answer your question about reactions, well, I don’t really stick around to find out what those reactions are. My poems/pastings get painted over, other posters cover them, and then the weather also deteriorates them which is a part of the aliveness of the poem(s). The process of fragmentation and deterioration of the pasted work reflects the fragmentation and deterioration of Sappho’s work, how there are different translations, and how other elements evolved the original poems into something else. 

The only reactions I know of is from people who know me and know I put up a pasting and tag me in an Instagram story. What I’m most interested in this form of street publication, aside from anonymity, is that it opens the audience up beyond the internet, that it depicts poetry outside of vaguely accessible bookstores or books. I love the thought of pointing out that alive poets walk among us. Not all poets are from the past. Guerrilla poetry puts that in the way for people to recognize. 

Do you have any projects on the horizon? What’s upcoming for Maura? 

Projects of revenge always. Projects of SAPPHO TERROR always. Projects of living fantasies always. 

But I digress— 

Recently, I have been drafting my forthcoming manuscript with the working title, 3am 4am 5am: performances in delirium. It is a freaky combination of somatic writing rituals that I’m refining into a book length manuscript—well, the main writing ritual really was/is being awoken at 3am so many times that I started to write within it. Delirium is its own slippery practice, especially when one writes in that exhausted state. I’m practicing holding the overwhelm of senses—interested in what pushes me into another self. My past work works with more narrative and strings of thought, less fragmented lines, whereas writing in delirium makes my lines stop—I can only hold a thought for so long before I must start over again. I am continually intrigued by mirroring the meaning of the bracket in Anne Carson’s translation; she notes missing or deteriorated language. This is how it feels for me to write in the sleepless hours—I cannot hold what came before or after, so fragments of thoughts are all I can grasp. Language is so loose and my barriers so porous. The brackets for me also indicate ongoingness, ongoingness of language and thought well after I’ve written a glimpse of the force that has moved through. 

I’m continuing my durational somatic rituals for my writing practice, and I’m imagining they will evolve in form. I’m eager to continue developing a relationship with the works of Valerie Hsiung, CA Conrad, Gabrielle Civil, and Madeline Gins as they offer me guidance in how to relate to somatic ritual and performance. It is occurring to me now that another reason wheat pasting and stickering is a somatic ritual is because of the involvement of my hands on the sticky paste, that it happens at a similar time (night), there is a recipe or steps to follow to make the paste, there’s a feeling of invocation, and ultimately, one engages multiple senses. Lastly, I’ll say, hypothetically, how great would it be if someone organized a wheat pasting or stickering campaign and covered a city in guerilla poetry? I can envision conversations with images and words all over the city, and responding to people one would never meet, but still share in the public space we both inhabit—leave traces of ourselves for others to find. How would more SAPPHO TERROR prompt necessary disruption? How can we disrupt ourselves into more of what we desire?

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