Interview with Oakland Poet Laureate: Alison Luterman

In preparation for "Embodying Spaces," Liminal's 2nd annual soiree & fundraiser, I've interviewed one of our featured performers, Oakland Poet Laureate Alison Luterman. 

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GG: What are your first thoughts and feelings, as an artist and bay area resident, to the theme of “Embodying Spaces”?

AL: I’m a literal person, so for me it’s about the spaces my body lives and moves and works in, and the spaces my body enjoys and thrives in. I love communal spaces where dance and movement are encouraged like yoga studios and dance spaces, and I’m grateful to have a home in the Bay Area, even while I’m upset that that opportunity is proving so difficult and dangerous for the next generation of artists and activists.


GG: LIMINAL’s pre-opening event in February 2015 introduced the tagline “theory made actual” as a presentation of an actual space in which women and gender nonconforming folks could come to write. At our first Soiree in 2016, the tagline was “Support Deviance: Inhabit the LIMINAL.” We went from theory to actuality to inhabiting. Now, in 2017, we are setting forth the notion of “Embodying Spaces.” What differences do you see between inhabiting and embodying? What, in your own creative work or in the work of others that you admire, can you point to that demonstrates this difference?

AL: I guess (again being literal) that inhabiting is like living in a house, whereas embodying is becoming that house—or temple if you prefer—for the spirit. It’s about saying that the body is our ultimate home.

GG: What are you currently working on and what is it informed by or inspired by? Does the notion of “embodiment” interact with your work any way?

 AL: Body is always a theme in my work. I’m currently (always!) writing new poems, revising an essay about dancing, trying to learn more of my poems by heart, and sending out the musical which I co-wrote with my friend Loren who died in December. I’m also continuing to practice yoga, dance and do Interplay, as well as walk in the woods, because these practices keep me sane.


GG: How long have you lived in the Bay Area? What are your thoughts on the writing/arts scene of the Bay Area now and in the past? How have things changed? What are your hopes and your worries?

AL: I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 27 years—in Oakland the whole time. I worked as a Poet in the schools for many of those years, and I’ve given readings around town; at the old Cody’s bookstore, at Moe’s, at Laurel Books, and at Diesel. I also gave a reading recently at the Freight & Salvage and spoke and read at Spirit Rock. I think there are a lot of little poetry scenes going on, and I’m not sure if I felt I fully belonged to any of them, but this is a good place for poetry. People are thoughtful, and open-minded, and love th arts. I’m really inspired by the spoken word work many younger artists are doing. I’ve been to Youth Speaks competitions in San Francisco and I’ve been blown away by the fierce talent there.

AL: My worries and hopes for the Bay Area arts scene are wrapped up in my worries and hopes for the whole country. Specific to the bay Area, I hope that the crazy price of rents doesn’t drive away all the artists. In the wake of the Ghost Ship fire it’s become even harder for artists to find live-work spaces that are safe and affordable. More broadly, I’m writing this at the beginning of the second week of the Trump Fascist takeover of our government, so like everyone else, I’m worried and concerned for our country—and at the same time I feel like there’s a vital role for artists to play in the resistance movement.

 

GG:In our society, whose mainstream looks at gender as a binary system, what does it mean to embody a space in your genuine expression of gender? What would you ask for in all arts spaces of the Bay, in order to make your expression of gender welcome? Alternately, where are spaces in the Bay Area that are welcoming of art and artists of all gender expressions and what do you credit this welcoming to?

AL: I identify as cis-gender female (although of the rumpled kind), so my own embodiment of space in my gender expression has been unremarkable. I hang out at Interplayce, Anasa Yoga Studo, various public schools, and the Writing Salon, and all forms of gender expression seem to be welcome in those spaces as far as I can tell. I’m grateful to non-gender-conforming people for opening up space in which we all can be our fuller, wilder and more authentic selves.

GG: What, would you say to other writers, especially women in the Bay Area, about the importance of “Embodying Spaces” going into 2017?

AL: The most important thing we all have to do right now is to fight the Fascist takeover of our national government by right-wing, racist and ultra-conservative Christian theocrats. I confess I had felt a little bit “over” the gender discussion; not that it wasn’t important, but that I had already sat in som many of those groups and participated in those conversations back in the ‘90s. But the current political situation has shown me that indeed all that ground needs to be fought for and won all over again.

 

Alison Luterman write poems and personal essays and plays and has co-written a musical. She also perform improvised spoken word, dance and song with an Interplay troupe called Wing It! She has published three books of poetry: The Largest Possible Life (Cleveland State University Press); See How We Almost Fly (Pearl; Editions), and Desire Zoo (Tia Chucha Press.). Her poems have appeared in The Sun, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, on BART as part of the Poetry in Motion program, and in the Library of Congress. She had personal essays published in The SUN, MORE Magazine, The New York Times, The L.A. Review and Salon.

Her website is www.alisonluterman.net . You can sign up for her monthly e-newsletter there.