An Interview with Lucy Wainger
NYC native Lucy Wainger writes with violent honesty, easily peeling the thick layers that hide people from themselves. The gritty high school scene- sharp grins, sexual frustration and hazy drug use- are all expertly weaved together with stunning imagery and precise structure and form, creating pieces that pull the dusty memories of our teenage years out of the tightly locked boxes we put them in. She manipulates her readers, allowing them to believe they understand what’s going on- then slapping them in the face with lines that truly show us the thin layer of deception and grime that covers everything we do.
Yasmin Belkhyr: If you had to interview someone with just one question what would it be?
Lucy Wainger: What piece of punctuation defines you? I’m an ampersand.
You stole my next question! I was going to ask you to answer it, haha.
I’m just ahead of the game, man.
Haha, I’m sure. Okay, next question: Since you write both, what do you think is the difference between poetry and prose?
There are two differences. One, you can get away with anything in poetry— you can break any convention or grammatical rule as long as you have a good enough reason. The rules are a bit stricter with prose, I think. Two, prose is easier to hide inside of. You can bury the shame inside the plot of the story, inside those blocks of text. But if you bury your shame inside of long lines or thick stanzas in a poem, you’re not being a poet. You’re being a coward.
What do you mean by coward? Isn’t poetry itself extraordinarily revealing? How can one hide in something that is meant to expose?
I say some terrible things in my poems. Not the ones in WTR. Other ones. But because of the way I write it, people wrongfully forgive me the awfulness. It’s cowardly— I’m not owning up to those terrible things, I’m burying them in nice words or an ironic tone or in the mouth of a sympathetic speaker.
I totally understand, and that leads into my next question: Do you find yourself writing about people you know often? How much of your life bleeds into your work?
I do, and it’s kind of a problem for me, because a lot of the friends I write about end up reading about themselves on my blog, which leads to the occasional awkward situation. I’m alright with it, though, because I’m not very secretive. The vast majority of my writing is autobiographical. It’s terrible, but I write about how I feel, so I’m not interested in what I don’t.
What themes does your work aim to explore? Or does it not aim to explore anything?
I don’t write with any specific themes in mind, but looking back on it: anxiety. Social anxiety. Anxiety about the future. Anxiety about mattering.
And would you say those are themes that are prevalent in your work?
Definitely. It was more prominent when my anxiety was worse. I guess my writing just reflects my state of being.
So do you think there’ll be a time when you stop writing? A mindset when you won’t need to write?
I don’t think so. And if there was, I’d probably do something stupid to make me need to write again. I’m terrified of not writing. Sometimes I go through periods when I just can’t do it, and I freak out, and get really unmotivated and self-destructive.
What’s a piece of writing advice that you hate?
"If you want to write, read." I hate that. There are few things in the world that make me feel as bad and as far away from writing as reading books does. It’s probably just because I suck at reading and don’t “get" it the way other people do, which makes me feel like my brain doesn’t work right, like I’m isolated from communicating with everyone else. And, honestly, it’s boring. There is a very, very small number of books that I would save if my house were on fire.
Have any pieces of art/literature strongly inspired your work, or influenced your creative style?
Yeah. Richard Siken’s poem “Little Beast," Daphne Gottlieb’s poem “Fifteen Ways to Stay Alive," Fight Club (admit it, the movie was better than the book), and everything ever written by Alana Solin.
Who is your least favorite character you’ve created?
Probably Mr. Louis, who I based off this totally cute stoner I had/have an unrealistic crush on. Mr. Louis isn’t even a character, he’s just a… thing. A way for me to say, “Hey, I’m lonely" in yet another way. It’s bad, the way I do that to people. Turn them into objects of my wanting-and-not-having.
What was wrong with him?
He didn’t do anything. He just existed so I could talk about how much I wanted him. Lame.
Describe your writing in 5 words.
Letters to two white men.
How important do you think community is in shaping your art?
I didn’t have one, therefore I was lonely, therefore I wrote. That’s all, I think.
And finally: What is a question we should ask the next interviewee.
Ask them if they write for feeling or for meaning.