VI KHI NAO: How long did it take you to write You You You?
DIA FELIX: Hmm, I think most of it was pretty fast, in a romantic whirlwind. Then in the editing process I think I cast around a bit and tried to make a manuscript.
VKN: What inspired you to write it?
DF: It’s an artifact of a romance.
VKN: What kind of romance is it?
DF: I think it’s the usual kind, which is to say, totally singular-feeling.
VKN: One of my favorite lines from your chapbook comes from page 21, “anyway I am a lesbian now/ I found out last night” – are you a lesbian?
DF: I’m not not a lesbian. I think I’m “gay plus”. I like to mix things up. I think I’m what they used to call bisexual.
VKN: What does “gay plus” mean?
DF: It means I think I’m clever, I guess.
VKN: Indeed you are. Your chapbook has provocative, titillating titles such as “Eclipse Everyday” and “Flaca Gazette” and “Queen of the Sliding Scale” – are you clever in that way too? Why did you settle on the title: YOU YOU YOU and not “Flaca Gazette” for instance.
DF: Thank you. I think highly of you and your opinion is important to me. I’m pretty happy with the title. I think it sounds like an utterance where an utterance is not possible. Like when you love someone so much you want to eat them. Also it has that generic/singular paradox. You is one person. I am obsessed with YOU. The singular you who pulses in my heart. But the bus driver is also you. Haha it sounds so dumb when I try to spell it out. Good thing I’m a poet.
VKN: I think your chapbook is amazing and incredible and I feel very lucky to read it, Dia. To segue.
What is your ideal “gay plus” romance? Have you experienced it?
DF: Lol I try not to walk around with canned ideas of romance. I like to be surprised or at least act surprised. I mean I really will be surprised. If romance happens. But, to honor the question a bit more. Sex and romance is a special sphere. Transmutations can occur. This is everyday magic.
VKN: Speaking of romance, one of my favorite poems from your chapbook has this stanza, “We spent all day in bed giving each other awards” also from “Flaca Gazette” – when I think of awards I think of stickers and popularity contests. What could one do in a “gay plus” romance that may suggest my contextualization of popularity? Is popularity a form of a kiss? Or a sexual dismissal? Or something else entirely? What do you mean by awards here?
DF: Well it’s a poem so who knows what’s happening really. I think I am talking about the only-ness and thus the best-ness of the beloved. Also, I think it’s interesting how we want to be told “I love you” not once but over and over. Popularity is irrelevant in this romance because there are only two people there and they’re both the very best. A kiss is an expression of favoritism. Popularity in real life can be a compelling distraction.
VKN: We are conducting this interview, ironically, at The Rainbow Book Fair at John Jay 524 west 59th St. Before meeting you for this interview, I saw so many gay romance book. Instead of buying romance books, we end up conversing about romance. How do you feel about being interviewed in this context?
DF: Well I feel a little blue about your tepid receiving of me, but in terms of the content of the interview, I feel fine and like it makes sense given that I just produced a book which has a bloody valentine kind of quality. I like this fair. I read here a couple of times and enjoyed it, as part of their all-day reading. If they asked me to read again I would. It feels outside of the typical literary spheres that I haunt and that is fun. This year there are a lot of young people around, maybe because it’s at a college this time? My friend Geoffrey has a table here and invited me to add to the table. I am out of my own books but I brought some copies of a booklette by Jennifer Blowdryer which I published a few years ago through my small press, Personality Press. And I thought it would also be a convenient place for us to meet.
VKN: To reference your poem “Urgent” – I always feel my interviews with women carry some weight of “nao” or “urgency” with urgency. What is the best way to make someone shy? I have every intentions of converting your blueness into pink or white or lavender or a combination of all of those colors.
DF: Thank you in advance. You do so much for me. Sometimes I feel dapper. My pal Ariana says I have a bit of the Baron Samedi in me. This is too flattering, and I would like her to say it again and again. I don’t think I can make anyone shy except in the lover context where maybe I could be handsome and in control and make someone shy. But that’s private. In real life I’m just a rat looking for my next Frappuccino. There is some urgency in typing alone. I mean, inherent to the act of typing. Also, digital life. Am I a cloud? Will I pop? Will I disappear? Am I only steam? Did my parents ever even actually meet?
VKN: So if a neophyte or baby dyke who looks like a rat looking for her next Frappuccino asked you for an advice on love, what would you say?
DF: Good luck, baby.
VKN: As you say” Somewhere/ a baby’s thumbnail/ generates the moon” and “And a baby’s influence/ Music vibrates the dishes.” Please me about the woman you wrote this book for. What is she like?
DF: Oh, she’s really great. Just the other night I was dancing and she was laughing at me dancing and when I think of the way she was laughing at me I smile. I like to dance like an idiot and make her laugh. She’s very talented and committed and kind. And she’s a great artist. Tall.
I like that line, about the baby’s thumbnail.
VKN: What is the best way to make you shy?
DF: I don’t think I’m shy. I think I can be reticent but actually, not often. In general I err toward abundance. I think I was a shy little kid, little little. I remember meeting my very huge family and just being so quiet and slow and freaked out by their gaze. Maybe I can be shy sexually sometimes, but I think that’s some kind of horror which lands as something more tender. Yeah, like I would not want to take off my clothes right now.
VKN: I wouldn’t ask you to. At least not yet. Since the birth of YOU YOU YOU, I imagine a flock of “flacas” and others are consuming your text with excitement and delirium. If you had the ability to control how one woman consumes your text, what would that look like? From a performance based context?
DF: Thanks? Lolzville. A few friends have described their experience with the book as somewhat exciting and delirious, and I have liked that feedback. A friend, Marissa, said the end was devastating, that she felt devastated on the subway, and I was sorry, but I think it feels like an ending, which I thought was important. Right? Isn’t that the thing about a book? It should end? I have always considered my core art-goal to make girls cry, so if that’s happening, I’m doing it right. But seriously, if it makes people feel, then cool. If it makes people more crazy in love, then cool. If it lights anything up, then cool. I’d like girls to consume the text then go outside and pick oranges with their hearts on fire then make out with the hot gardener. Then make out with their doctor.
VKN: You say on page 7 of your book “Some girls become lawyers but go back to being sluts” – have you met girls that become sluts but go back to being lawyers?
DF: I’ve met girls. Who dream of blue pools and total relaxation.
VKN: What it is like to love a woman? Obviously I am not asking this in context to a table or taking a chair as a reference point?
DF: Where is gender in love? A man’s asshole rarely interests me. A woman I can swallow whole. I’m sorry if that’s gross. Sometimes my gender norms are just that—and maybe kind of disappointing, or maybe fun. Sometimes I like to be a woman. Sometimes I am a monster and I need a woman to unzip me. I’m always part monster. I’m a rat, I already said. What is it like to love a woman? Messy.
VKN: Messy and complicated. Your poems here are so badass! So removed from cheesiness. There is an originalness to the way you write about love. I think this is hard to execute – when I read poetry about love I feel both amused and disgusted. Where did you acquire this badassness? Was it born from heartaches? From inspiration of other writers? From films? From dirt? From the evolution of sex toys? What experiences form your writing?
DF: Badass! Really, not cheesy? I think there’s melted-ass cheese all over ‘em. I love cheese SO much even though it’s disgusting. Do we see a pattern? Haha badassness! Don’t you know a rat is always a badass? Rats have bad asses. I have hardly any ass myself, it’s a minor tragedy. The creator really cut some corners there. I think if I have any bravado this (poetry) is where it comes out. I have been very pathetic in love, very fearful and also petty. But now I think I’m better. I think I learned some things. I’m terrified, but I’m betting my life. Because what else are we supposed to do.
VKN: Perhaps the experiment nature of your poetry de-augments the nature of cheese in love. I don’t know if I would confine you to a rat, unless you are truly a rat in the Chinese Zodiac. Who needs an ass anyway. An ass always gets in the way of enjoying good thunderstorms. Big asses, especially, cushion the sound, insulate it. At any rate, would you be a badass and break down a poem for the reader line by line? The poem on page 5 titled, “I’ve Known You For A Little While Now.” Could you talk about some of your word choices? Your process of writing it? Where were you or what you had been doing that led you down the poetry writing road of that particular poem. Nuance or subtle or blatant references I would miss because I had my head deep in Orpheus’s body.
DF: Brahahahahaha who needs as ass! Ahahahaha. You know, I recently had to dispose of a dead mouse from my house, it had been caught in a very old trap, and I remember its sorry ass. It was a whole terrible thing, the disposal, the contact, and at first I thought about finding someone from the street who would deal with it for me. And then I thought maybe I’d fall in love with that person and that would be a very meet-cute story. Then I thought, I just have to leave the house, I can’t be here with this mouse corpse. And I almost did. Then I decided to just face the reality that I’m not in this world alone and pick the bugger up. Which reminds me of one time that a giant roach was in my house and you disposed of it very matter-of-factly. Now I sound like I have a house full of pests. I don’t usually, but this is New York, and it’s not for the faint.
Okay, as for your question, let me see. I want to be a badass for you but this feels weird…
I mean, it’s pretty literal for a while. I’m thinking of a girl I’ve sort of meshed with, like a double exposure photograph of a chain link fence. I want to remember who we each are, but there is a joy in the meld also.
Then, I describe how the real world offers only fake escape–you can’t buy a dream vacation, you can’t buy love. You can’t order it. I guess I’m thinking of the Croatian beach (where I’ve never been), or the dusty Greenpoint travel agency that is not for girls like me.
Love can only be free, and that’s why it’s magical and revolutionary.
The story about the frog is from a book of Irish folk tales that we read from. It came from the small west village bedsit of an exceedingly charming Irish man who was the upstairs neighbor and dear friend of two friends of mine. We’d been friendly. When he died a couple years ago, my friends were responsible taking care of his belongings. They offered me my pick of his books and I chose that book of folktales. There’s a great story in there about this bottom-dwelling alcoholic trickster. But you don’t have to know the story. You can just think it’s funny that someone who lives in the sea has to worry about washing the dishes.
And then, the underside of the love-miracle is the love-shadow, the lacuna. How you can not un-know the love even if you wanted too. The love lacuna. Which is the lagoon too. Which is the bummer of romantic fixation. But in this case, in this particular love affair, it’s fine, because everything is sunny and ecstatic, confetti time. And the last part describes this ecstatic state.
VKN: How glad I am that I asked you to be so badass. I love how “bad” is just leaning into “ass” and “ass” is so stalwart and so unmoved. Unlike the frigid “ass” next to the italicized “bad” – I am quite moved by you poetry writing process and your narration of it. I think you can pre-order love – I just think it’s harder to order an exceptional bánh mì ba lẹ in Dobbs Ferry, New York. I sympathize with your mouse-trap story, but instead of feeling that way about a mouse I feel that way more with existence. Speaking of existence, you operate in so many artistic realms: you have written a novel (NOCHITA), you also a filmmaker, and professionally you are the video editor for the MET, and you do photography and poetry (obviously), what artistic realm do you feel most at home in? Are you an astral snowflake? And, what is the best way to love you?
DF: Oh wow I’d love a banh mi right now. I drank a frappuccino during a break from this interview. Extra shot of espresso. It cost over six dollars. Only a hummingbird needs a liquid that sweet. It’s hard to work when you have mousetraps on your nipples. I don’t think I am an astral snowflake although I’m pretty pale compared to most people. I don’t think I’m astral except that everything is. The best way to love me is to listen to me complain. I complain so damn much. Sometimes I feel bad after. Because my life is really perfect. I’m caffeinated, full of fat and dairy, and I have no pain in my body at all.
VKN: Re: mousetraps on nipples. My imagination went wild trying to figure out what those might be. I think you are an astral snowflake: a woman with many versions of herself, poised to be sparkling like a wineglass and designed to tilt to be able to spillover. But, you don’t spill over. You keep going like an energized rabbit. I grant you permission to complain about a poem from YOU YOU YOU. Which one is your least favorite? And, if you could alter it, how would you do it?
DF: I definitely have many versions of myself. I definitely spill. I spill then spill some more. I do keep going. People say life is short but it doesn’t feel that short. I don’t mean to sound whatsoever ungrateful. I just think it’s amazing all the things that can happen in an afternoon, weekend, week. I feel like in New York you could literally reinvent yourself in a few days. Oh, I don’t want to complain about my own work. That’s too lifelike. But thank you. And thank you for your interest. Truly.
VKN: The chapbook is so beautiful; I had a feeling, a dark, quiet, brooding feeling as I compose that question that it would be very hard to find anything about it to complain. Regardless, tell me about the expensive European vibrator. How did it know you? Is it very different than the American? What could a vibrator do, but stop time.
DF: Oh god, that stupid thing. It’s Swedish and it just won’t die. It’s so damn happy about itself. It really keeps itself up over the years. I think I’ll throw it out someday. It’s cute. It wastes time, it wastes my life. It’s okay. And that’s very nice, what you say about the chapbook. I’m glad you find it so. Thank you for caring about me and my work.
Dia Felix is a writer and filmmaker living in New York. She is the author of the Lambda-nominated experimental novel Nochita, published by City Lights/Sister Spit in 2014, and the poetry chapbook YOU YOU YOU, published by Projective Industries in 2017, and she curates the literary reading series GUTS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In this conversation, she discusses gay plus, European vibrator, and being romantically badass.
VI KHI NAO is the author of a novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books, 2016), a poetry collection. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the winner of 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.