DOGBYTES Interview: Christopher Rose

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Christopher Rose is originally from Seattle, Washington. His poems have appeared in Crabfat, Chelsea Station, Fjords Review, The Pariahs Anthology, Yellow Chair Review, TAYO Literary Magazine, The Hawaii Review, Drunk in a Midnight Choice, Cha Literary Journal and elsewhere. He is a Cave Canem fellow and VONA alum, who teaches creative writing, composition, African American Literature and Science Fiction at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. Hear Christopher Rose read alongside Quenton Baker, Ashaki M. Jackson, Bettina Judd, Anastacia-Renee and more at the Cave Canem Fellows Off-Site Reading, March 27, 2019, 7pm at Literary Arts!

As a professor and poet, how do your academic research and interests both support and pose challenges for your writing process?

I’m more administrator than professor these days, but I learned a long time ago to let my writing fuel my scholarship. My tendency is to separate scholarship from poetry, but I was able to attend an National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on African American poetry that had both poets and scholars in the room, and it was clear that something that has been lost over time is the poet-scholar. Poets are some of the best people to write scholarship on poetry and to help revive and bring attention to poets that have been lost overtime.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?

I recently finished An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and that has made me reflect on the indirect ways to deal with difficult subject matter.

As far as poetry, Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here was one of my favorites.

How does your writing on both Filipino and Black Diasporas help to challenge or complicate popular discourse on mixed raced experiences?

Mixed race is such a loaded term today. “Mixed” defaults to referring to someone with a parent of color and a white parent, and it’s dominated by a discourse that hasn’t changed in over a century. I prefer to say I’m Black Filipinx because that’s more accurate.

I find it interesting how my experiences deconstruct the narrative of race in America. In the Philippines, I pass as Filipinx and it highlights the lack of discussion around Filipinx and Blackness. Colorism manifests in very blatant ways in Filpinx communities, and my own background makes it that much more egregious. At the same time, we overlook how the Black Diaspora encompasses Asia and the Pacific Islands, and at some point I would hope we can come to a place where we really begin to discuss that.

Writing allows us to complicate a narrative. I recently did a reading with F. Douglas Brown, and despite both being Black-Filipinx writers, our work is also very different and that’s the beauty of it all.

Name one of your influences outside of literature or art.

I’m very fascinated by different communities: Black communities, Fililipinx communities, subcultures, churches, small towns, islands, etc. I’ve moved through so many different communities in my life that I’m fascinated by how humans function in collective spaces.

When you’re not reading, writing, or teaching, how do you spend your time, energy, and money?

I was into comic books before they were mainstream and hip, and I feel very at home in a comic book store or a comic convention. I’ll be trying cosplay for the first time at the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. 

What is the importance of poetry to social justice activism?

I’ve always hated the “all poetry is political” answer because that tends to dismiss poetry with overtly political agendas or any work that focuses on social justice. With that said, poetry offers a lot of different modes to explore an issue, and I’m a fan of indirectly examining a subject.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to emerging Black poets?

First, everyone’s path is different. Second, don’t quit. Third, sometimes what we think we should be writing isn’t what we should be writing.

What is the strongest influence your child-self contributes to your poetry?

At times, I still have that sense of excitement that comes from writing poetry. I began writing stories when I was eight, and I didn’t care about things like process or schema or intention. I wrote because I enjoyed it and it’s easy to lose sense of that in the poetry world.

Is there a life experience you may share that has significantly shaped you as a writer?

I grew up on military bases moving around every three years. There was a cyclical period of losing and making new friends that made it always feel like I was on the outside looking in, and that would later make it easier to write since I was used to long periods of isolation and examining things.

What year(s) were you at the Cave Canem retreat? What are a few of your favorite memories from those times?

I loved hanging out with Saida Agostini. She was my mentor during my first retreat, and we bonded over sharing stories of our exes with bad rap videos on Instagram. She’s my favorite Scorpio. For my second year, I really adored my workshop group and I didn’t know the process could be so much fun until I was with those folks.