The author, who recently released The Messiah's Customary Diner Booth, reflects on his travels, lyrical and poetry work, and the influence of Roger Waters on younger generations.
Ed Lopez-Reyes: Marion, you “chase emergent things and poetic beasts from Nepali monasteries to Jim Morrison’s grave.” Have you literally endeavoured in sojourns to Nepal and to Paris and what have you discovered in between?
Marion Apollo Deal: Yes, I have! I've been fortunate enough to receive grants and scholarships that allow me to travel for research and writing; I lived in Paris while writing a poetry book and a novel for three months, and spent the summer of 2019 in Kathmandu at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, an academic institution housed in a monastery. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche founded the Institute to create an opportunity for scholar-practitioners of Buddhism to study, a bit like a divinity school.
I consider the world to be a complex negotiation between the dead and the living; the process of balancing historical pattern analysis plus how the weight of death affects the present, and acting clearly to influence a future.
Paris, especially the idea of an American in Paris, has been overly romanticized. I don't want to allow my love of the city to cloud my assessment of the position it's occupied/occupies as the capital of an imperial empire, and as the beneficiary of the slave trade. But some of the creators, philosophers, and revolutionaries who I have been most influenced by -- not just in how I think, but in why I want to live -- created and died in Paris: Arthur Rimbaud, Louise Michel, De Sade, Marat. Living in a place where the weight of history is perceptible in the buildings and streets is a privilege. Yet it's not just that. Living in Paris is also living in a place where I can see the grave of someone who's written words that have saved my life, quite literally. It's living in a place where I can speak the language in which some of the texts that have most informed why I want to keep existing and fighting, the texts that concretize these abstract ideas like truth and justice and community in incredible terms, were written. And Paris is also the sort of place that attracts people like me: I've made many dear friends when performing poetry in Paris.
It's much the same with Kathmandu. The people I met were extraordinary. I'm inclined to dive into books and words and thought things to find myself and my understanding of the world. And that's very well and good, but that's also limited. The teachers and scholars who I was able to work with, and the fellow student-practitioners who I met, were truly extraordinary beings from whom I learned a lot about feeling and experiencing. I'm still in contact with a mentor from the institute, and made one of my closest friends there, a truly luminous woman whose faith in humanity and in her practice never cease to inspire me to engage with the world fearlessly and faithfully.
All that's to say, the most elusive of those poetic beasts, I think, are death and faith: faith in the comfort that death and the dead can provide, faith in one's own ability to work against the will to death in oneself, in one's community, and in the institutions that are working to perpetuate hegemony and suffering. Faith in the work and working from the dead.
ELR: What lyricists do you feel fit your pursuit of poetic beasts – and what are the differences, in your view, between a lyricist and a poet?
MAD: Some lyricists that immediately come to mind: John Darnielle, of The Mountain Goats, David Le'aupepe, of Gang of Youths, and Ezra Furman. I'm specifically citing lyricists who have made work that makes me want to keep on living. Because that's it, isn't it? To pursue something, you have to stay alive to do it? That seems pretty obvious, but I've struggled with severe suicidality, and frequently have pushed myself to unhealthy extremes in order to do the work I feel I need to do. And in doing so, I forget sometimes that me dying is going to be a detriment to the things I'm working towards. So though there are many, many lyricists to whom I am indebted for inspiration and sustenance, for helping create a bestiary of poeticisms, the thing that I consider most imperative to the pursuit of poetic beasts is the will to live. David Le'aupepe, in particular, write some of the most life-affirming work I've heard. Gang of Youths' 2017 album, Go Farther In Lightness, is a masterclass in the embrace of the unknown in the face of grief and pain, learning again to run at life with all the tools of an artist clutched in your hands: a reminder to those caught up in the work that sometimes the most important thing you can do to reach for a utopia is to cultivate human compassion, humility, and community. "You wanted to fight for a cause/Then go out and fall in love" hits hard. John Darnielle and Ezra Furman make being lost into a noble act and create a lineage of outsiders to find comfort in, especially when you don't know where home is.
I think the only difference between a lyricist and a poet is that lyricists have more tools to work with. Some lyrics make very good poetry, but others use their interactions with pitch, tone, tempo, melody, in such a way that when they are removed from those things, the words don't work because it's like their arms have been torn off. Poetry doesn't have anything like music to help realize itself, and, unless you're doing slam or performance poetry, doesn't have voice or bodily position to use either. So you have the words, the sonics of the words, imagery, enjambment, syntax, line... all of these tools that are present in lyrics, but the lyricist also has the choice of a few tools that poets don't, which makes for a different sort of art - not better, not worse, just different.
ELR: You have a penchant for Roger Waters’ work: how do you feel an artist of his generation resonates with an artist from yours?
MAD: As is apparent to anyone with a finger on the pulse of Gen Z and Millennial attitudes, the generation gap has become a shorthand for critiquing (white, upper-middle-class) people whose financial insulation and mental rigidity prevent them from understanding some of the realities of race, class, climate change, and burgeoning decay of financial institutions and the job market that are making it difficult for most younger people to imagine a stable future in which everyone gets out alive - especially people of color, queer people, and intersections thereof. This age-based tool of understanding "safe" vs. "unsafe" people in the recent wave of revolutionary consciousness is broadly useful, especially when someone is trying to make a quick decision about who to rely on for support. But I think that because of this tool, fewer people in my generation are going to engage with Roger Waters.
It doesn't help that he's a cis white man -- there's a prevailing view, and a right one, that we need more voices in the creative world, especially voices that have been historically erased. People in my generation are disinclined to engage with someone who's cishet, white, and male, and doubly disinclined because of his age. Again, I think that's a broadly valuable tool. But it also means that someone like Roger Waters is going to get passed over. I know some of my friends might not think that's a wholly bad thing. Many people are simply... tired of hearing voices that match, demographically, types of experience that have been dominant on the Western artistic scene, and I understand and respect that even though I, personally, find much value in Waters' work.
I think Waters is actually tapping into a lot of values Gen Z, broadly, shares: he's doing many things with his privilege that a liberation movement prioritizes - he's using his platform to draw attention to the Palestinian independence initiative, he's taken substantive action by cancelling shows in Israel and critiquing other artists for not following suit, he's also lost an amount of money because of choices he's made. His anti-imperialist and anti-fascist stances in work ranging from The Final Cut to his latest solo album, Is This the Life We Really Want, are (in my opinion) powerful artistic representations of sentiments that a liberation movement-associated generation like mine manifest. And his commentary on mental health - as well as his lyrical openness about topics like suicidality and drug use - is incredibly important for my generation, which prioritizes mental health dialogue and openness. I understand why he's not as popular as he might be in my generation, but I do think that many aspects of his canon could hypothetically be interesting to people my age.
ELR: What is it about Roger Waters’ work that has influenced you, personally?
MAD: Roger Waters was one of the first people who I felt safe with. I spent a lot of time isolated as a kid; home wasn't a safe place for me. Social things were incredibly difficult; I'm on the autism spectrum, and I skipped enough grades that I was a perennial outsider in my social group, younger than everyone else at an age where a few years mean a lot. I spent a lot of time on my own, and I fell in with some cruel people in their early 20s who were looking for a lonely kid like me to manipulate into some pretty fucked-up stuff. I wanted a friend, or someone to feel safe with, more than anything else. So all this was happening when I first met Roger Waters' music, when I was 11 or 12. I was consistently suicidal, then, and out of control; I didn't know I was trans yet, but my anorexia was so bad that I was on the verge of having to go to the hospital to have an IV put in. When I heard Brain Damage, and The Final Cut, Paranoid Eyes, and The Happiest Days of Our Lives, I heard someone who felt the same way that I did - the first person I knew would really listen to me when I said that something was wrong. He was saying things that I felt, that I hadn't been able to put words around before: "You lock the door/And throw away the key/There's someone in my head, but it's not me." With these compulsions to harm myself, or these compulsions to death, that were constantly rattling around, it felt - and still feels - like there was another thing in my head trying to kill me. There have been nights when I want to kill myself - and I know that this is what suicide hotlines are for, and those are important resources for a lot of people, but they've never helped me much - and I didn't have anyone who I trusted to tell what was happening. That's a really lonely thing, to be up at three in the morning and you've locked up whatever sharp things you have and you're waiting for however many pills you took to kick in and kill you, but it isn't working, and to feel so alone while this is all happening. So on those nights, more often than not, I put on Roger Waters - either his solo stuff, or the 70s Pink Floyd albums that are indelibly marked by his influence. And even though his music is far from happy, when I heard something like "I held the blade in trembling hands / Prepared to make it hurt" or "You stretch the frozen moments with your fear" accompanied by that piercing scream and his trademark hoarse wailing, I didn't feel so alone, because I knew that Roger Waters knew at least a little bit how I felt. I knew that someone out there understood. I knew that he had survived, and so that meant that I might too. And I also knew that, even though he doesn't know me personally and never will, the fact that he's written about this means that he cares at least a little bit about people like me, that he might be rooting for me to live through the night.
Like I said above, there were some people who took advantage of how young and how lonely I was, and Roger Waters' music was with me all through that. He's been my friend at times when not a lot of people have, and he was proof that someone could listen even when no one was. I can honestly say that I don't think I'd be alive today if it weren't for Roger Waters.
ELR: How do you perceive The Final Cut – particularly in relation to the albums that preceded it?
I perceive The Final Cut as largely underrated - not only as a piece of Pink Floyd canon, but as a piece of poetry. We see a lot of the initial groundwork being laid for his 2016 solo album Is This The Life We Really Want, which I consider to be one of the most iconic expressions of his artistic vision. The sparser sound of the instrumentation, the increased preponderance of his trademark howl (The Post-War Dream, The Gunner's Dream... I can go on) are all being elegantly developed, and I think that's incredible. But The Final Cut also fits into a continuity with Animals and The Wall, mostly because of this immense sense that pervades Roger Waters' work: the world is wrong, and the world being wrong is inextricable from one's own, personal, will to death. He's able to capture this loathing for the world, for institutions that fuck you up, for people who treat you like dirt because you're different and are constantly trying to lop off parts of you to make themselves feel more comfortable - and especially a hatred for those who are more "normative," whatever that means in a given situation, and who have a degree of stability, or material comfort, or social insulation, whatever, that you lack. He's compassionate to that. He's compassionate to people who feel so alienated and lonely they want to kill themselves.
But then, in albums like The Wall, he turns the same scrutiny that he poses to "The Man" onto himself. That album, as you know, is tied to the instant when he spat on the fan in Montreal: a process of scrutinizing what cocktail of fear and loathing and chemical issues prompted him to treat another human being like that. To me, The Wall is a process of excoriating those feelings of wrath to the powerful, the imperialists, the fascists, the educational institutions, and the people who benefit from those institutions; those feelings of utter alienation. But it's also an examination of those emotions: noting how if you occupy some position of privilege and allow that anger to control you in that position at the expense of a community, you're working towards enforcing the same cycles of trauma, exploitation, and greed that created your alienation in the first place. And it's also the start of Waters' process of examining his own privilege -- and thus encouraging his listeners to examine theirs. The Wall seems to be a transition for Waters from a solely individual-focused perspective to some of the activism he's pursued in his solo career: the beginning of him turning his gaze of anger from "people" to "systems," recognizing that compassion towards humans and wrath for institutions is more effective practice.
The Final Cut seems to me to be an alchemization of whatever conclusions he's derived from the process of creating The Wall: it's a combination of that compassion, and that scrutiny. It emphasizes the same sort of institutional critique as The Wall -- the imperial-military complex rather than fascism and its link to the rock publicity machine via crowd control and hero worship -- combined with aspects of Waters' own experience, but turns less of a critical eye towards "the common man." The Final Cut creates some very compelling individual characters in much the same way as The Wall, but instead of being damnable fiends - the Schoolmaster, the Judge, Pink's wife - they're complex people dealing with trauma: the narrator of Paranoid Eyes, the Gunner['s Dream], the Hero['s Return]. He combines his wicked assessment of wicked systems in some truly vicious ways (the end of The Fletcher Memorial Home is a particularly delicious example) with his personal experience (When The Tigers Broke Free) with these impressions of characters, woven and bleeding together in intro and exit tracks like The Post-War Dream and Two Suns in the Sunset. I think that The Final Cut is a culmination of many techniques he'd been developing from Dark Side [of the Moon] onward, in some truly eloquent and compassionate ways that not only display his growth as an artist, but his growth as a human.
ELR: On your website, one of the most interesting things is your description of a specific set of influences: ghosts – those who “when one wants assurance of commitment to the pursuit of craft and filament of thought, sit through the long dark nights with a single lamp to hold the work.” You state that “dead things are convenient like that, latent material in page and pen waiting to become activated by the needs of the fierce and driven.” Your concern is “the living are all too often foolish and capricious, and will cast aside a better for experience in this one.” Do you feel that has always been the case across generations – is that just human nature? Or is there something about the society we live in that makes that worse than ever?
MD: There's this idea of "The Work." Part of the thing about being autistic is that I don't have a lot of interest in doing many things other than this very prescribed set of activities that I can directly connect to a given fixation, in my case "improving the world:" writing, creating, analyzing, reading, researching. The desire to do these things is rooted in the necessity of existing as a queer person with some debilitating forms of neurodivergency that make it really difficult for me to function: seeing the way society is, and seeing not only how it poses a threat to my life and ability to exist as I am, but how I as a white person benefit from systems that threaten the lives of comrades of color. But it's also tied to my mental illness: something that my brain gets stuck on, this thrumming, obsessive compulsion to do. When I can't work, whether that's because there's another activity that needs to be done or I need to eat or sleep, these very physical manifestations of that strain come out: scratching, cutting, suicidality, attempts. And frequently I can't rest, because my brain won't stop, and so my work ends up suffering. If I can't live in the worlds that I read about - Star Trek, Middle Earth - I can devote everything I have to creating it. I'm learning, much like Roger Waters, that part of this work is also about developing compassion and community.
In many ways, that's an ideal for me: to be remembered in a way that your effect on shaping The Great Conversation is in a perpetual forward inertia.
It's hard to engage with people who don't get that, which is most people. But the dead, at least the dead that we remember, are in a perpetual state of affecting the world around them. They don't rest, because their memory is always informing the way someone is acting, the way someone is creating, the way someone is writing history. In many ways, that's an ideal for me: to be remembered in a way that your effect on shaping The Great Conversation is in a perpetual forward inertia. We're all going to be forgotten, but to be remembered long enough that you can affect change even after you're dead is a beautiful thing. There's a kinship there, in that I'm striving for that perpetual motion. The dead don't rest, and so they're up with me when I'm obsessing, much in the way that the idea of Roger Waters is up with me when I'm creating. I don't know whether my preoccupation with the companionship of the dead is a necessary reflection of a fault in the social attitude of people around me - there is a disgusting apathy, especially on the part of the white liberal, that hasn't changed: people who occupy a position of power and benefit aren't likely to challenge the system that's providing that position, even if a majority are suffering. It's an artist's role - or rather, one of many possible roles - to perceive and stir people to action who might otherwise aggressively blind themselves to a situation. Roger Waters does that. That's what I want to do too. The enfant terrible. But the ghosts are also a reflection of my own compulsions, my own obsessions and failings, and that's important to recognize too.
ELR: When you mention examples of the “ghosts” that are with you when you need that assurance through “long dark nights”, one of them is T.E. Lawrence. In your description of what you find compelling about his journey, you mention liminal space: “Sometimes in service of a greater dream, a liminal occupation, one is taught to play a game of potential: will I and my work be great if this card is played? If this rule is observed? If this dinner is eaten or that word is written? To be consumed by the will to greatness is a cruel thing; it is a malaise which thrives on isolation. Lawrence knows what it is to exist in-between for the sake of a dream; he also knows the sting of potential unrealized, and is able to be good company in the long nights spent consumed by the will to become myth.” Do you see the service of a greater dream as the liminal occupation, or have I misunderstood you?
MAD: Yes, I do. There's a quote by T.E. Lawrence: "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." I'm not in the business of defining what makes a dreamer of the day, because dreams are dependent on the communities they exist for and my ignorance and limited experience means that I'm not qualified to state all dreams, at all times, but I know that being able to exist in the in-between is a vital component to the sort of dreaming I care about. Liminality is a process of dismantling systems of normativity and expectation for me. The state of the in-between means that the burden of performing to normative social perception is lifted. It's easier to be oneself fully, in all the contradictions and snarls that entails, when you're liminal. One cannot be contained if you're in-between enough that boundaries lose their power. And that's what I am trying to strive for, that greater dream: the creation of communities, or spaces, that are liminal in their ability to encourage possession and occupation of oneself beyond the violences of imperial, colonial, structures. That means land back for indigenous peoples, that means racial equity, that means access to unbiased health care. Liminality, for me, is a space of self-possession because of the freedom it grants. I have faith that when given freedom and the platform on which to share a voice, the majority of people - the majority of people who have been historically silenced - will strive towards justice and compassion instead of corruption.
ELR: What role do you feel liminal space can play on being present – being in the moment – and is that a place where you can reach a creative potential or important epiphanies, or do you feel it is too transitional a state?
MAD: I never feel more alive than when I'm in-between. There's a feeling of vulnerability that comes with not belonging, not fitting in. I know that there are some experiences of alienation that I can't speak to - I am consistently benefitted by the fact that I am white, and have a responsibility to use that privilege to dismantle the systems that provide that benefit. But I do know that there's an energy tax on being different from the assumed norm - which is white, straight, cis, neurotypical, male - and so any divergence from that assumed norm takes energy, and differences accumulate upon differences, that's why we talk about intersecting oppressions. When the world seems like it's playing by rules that I don't understand, I have to spend energy trying to understand those rules, trying to mimic them, trying to pretend that I understand them. Part of systemic change is pushing against those rules, so that means that it's important to engage in deviant behavior when I am able, but that takes energy too. And those little things add up - not having people apprised as to trans medical care and who want to ascribe every issue I'm having to the fact that I'm taking testosterone supplements (and thus "my fault" because of "the choice" I made), worrying that I'm not going to have the money for my testosterone, gauging whether it's safe to engage in actions that indicate my gender or sexuality, dealing with hostile, sometimes physically violent people when I've misjudged, performing and practicing emotionality/eye contact/empathy, functioning after having been up on a suicide night... Home continues to not be a place for me, and so figuring out that housing instability, too, especially in the pandemic, has been tough.
Many of these struggles are not unique to my divergencies from "the norm," which is one of the reasons why activism is most important to me; trans liberation, for example, doesn't occur unless the systems of oppression that uphold white supremacy are obliterated. Trying to navigate systems that aren't designed for me is exhausting, but I'm benefitted immensely by the fact that I'm white, and there are a lot of systems that are designed for me because of that. But I like liminality because I don't have to perform belonging. I like liminal spaces, the in-between, the monstrous and the perverted, because I can see creatures like me: amalgams, chimeras, monstrosities, occupying a social framework twisted by the pressures of not fitting. Being in an airport, in a dark parking lot at 3 in the morning, at the 24-hour-Walmart just before dawn... these are places where it feels like anything is allowed. Anything can happen: fantasy and horror, adventure and carnage. The energy spent navigating normativity is returned to me, and I can occupy space as myself, without having to perform perception or the lack thereof. All that energy can go towards creating, thinking, exploring, reaching those sorts of creative potentials and epiphanies. Nothing is expected of me and so I can create things that defy expectations.
ELR: What do you feel is the importance of liminal space in art – do you feel poetry and songs exist in a liminal space or do you feel they create that space? Is it specific types of poetry and song that deliver that?
MAD: Yes, art creates liminal space. Even when a poem I'm reading or a song I'm listening to connects me intimately to the state of the present moment, it's through liminality. I love poetry and music not because they give me tools to more precisely describe and assess what's happening around me and inside of me. It's because they obliterate the boundaries to my perception that are conditioning my experience, and give me the opportunity to engage with an emotion, a person, a sensation as though there's nothing in the world but that object. Of course, the point of that intimate engagement -- for me at least -- is then to take that knowledge of a thing without conditioning and bring it into a world where that conditioning exists to try to change it.
ELR: Do you feel art has become too politicized and does that have a detrimental impact on its ability to transport people into a place where they can feel more ‘present’? Or do you feel that politicization is an important part of art?
MAD: This is a complex question, because it calls into nature the definition of "the political." Yes, there's overtly political art. Roger Waters makes overtly political art. But there are also groups of people for whom identities are a matter of politics: people of color, queer folks, to a certain extent neurodivergent people or disabled people. A queer artist creating art about their experience is frequently going to be branded as "political," or sucked into political discourse - especially when marginalized identities intersect. Lil Nas X is a great example of that, I think - with Montero, he's created what's ostensibly a personal art piece about his experience as a Black, queer man, but because of his prominence on the public stage, and because of racism and homophobia given a platform, organizations like Fox News are now commenting on his work and making it into a political issue. Because so much of what we perceive to be the politicization of art is tied to the expression of personal experience that has been rendered political by toxic systems, and also because I consider it one of the duties of the artist to be a voice of agitation, I don't think there's such a thing as art becoming too politicized.
I do think, though, that there's a social pressure to make any art, all art politically relevant. I can speak to my experience as a queer person: I've been encouraged to make art that agitates, expresses, and aligns with that specific facet of experience and identity. That's well and good; I've found creating art about my queerness empowering. But because of a growing perception, especially in online communities like Tumblr and Instagram, that art = identity = politics, it's hard to get enthusiastic responses about art that isn't about any of those things. Many poetry workshops that I've attended emphasize digging into "painful" or "traumatic" experiences, and then value that art at a higher premium, emotionally, than art about other aspects of experience. Are there a lot of shitty poems written about, say, flowers, that don't contribute very much to the net human ability to understand each other and the world? Yeah. Are there a lot of shitty poems written about trauma that don't contribute to The Great Conversation that much, either? Also yes. Any poem is an experience worth it in and of itself for the journey that the poet goes on in making it: I've written shitty poems about flowers, and I've written shitty poems about surviving rape, and both of those sorts of pieces, even if I'm never going to share those poems with anyone, have helped me as a human and as an artist understand myself and my experience better. Everyone deserves the experience of writing something that speaks to them.
But I don't think that a topic of a poem automatically gives it emotional/artistic/social capital. Robert Pinsky's Dying - "As the nerveless moths, that live their night or two --/ Though like a moth a bright soul keeps on beating,/bored and impatient in the monster's mouth" - or Michael Palmer's H - "Saint Something, Saint Gesture, Saint Entirely the Same/as if nothing or no one had been nameless in the interim/or as if still could be placed beside storm"... these poems have informed my revolutionary consciousness just as much as Amanda Gorman. My understanding of revolutionary change is that it's a matter of creating new ways of perceiving that are more sustainable, encompassing, just, responsible. That's what poetry is, too: perceiving everything - not just the intersecting identities of ourselves and others, though that's important too - with a sustainable, just, and responsible eye. We are revolutionaries when we interrogate the way we perceive and fiercely elevate that interrogation to a systemic level. We are poets when we interrogate the way we perceive, and fiercely apply that interrogation to the level of the train passing by, the cat in the sink, the smell of the medicine on the patch we put on every night. Revolutionary change occurs via the systemic application of interrogated perception, but "systemic" necessitates application to the little things - including one's personal complicity in systems of oppression - in tandem with the institutional.
ELR: Do you feel Pink Floyd’s and Roger Waters’ work is sometimes difficult to relate to for those who want a space away from political debate? There have been periods when the band or members of the band as solo artists have been more politically vociferous through their work. It certainly has not hurt sales or their popularity or critical acclaim over the years.
Roger Waters, in particular, seems to be alienating and/or divisive. I remember being in a record shop in Boston a few years ago and hearing these two older guys talking about how much they hated The Final Cut, with a true burning passion, and how much of a self-indulgent idiot they thought Roger Waters was. But I think that Pink Floyd slips past a lot of older people's "this is overly politicized" radars because, frankly, many people who agitate publicly about the over-politicization of media are older and white (typically men), and Roger Waters is an older white man, like the rest of Pink Floyd. It's a lot easier to be accepted, even when you're subversive, when you match the demographics of people in power. Roger Waters can be perceived as "one of the boys," at least by some - yes, he's been extensively criticized, especially with his pro-Palestinian activism. But I don't think that someone who was a woman, and/or a person of color, and/or queer would have "gotten away" with creating such politically engaged work without seeing more extensive critique. That gets back to the idea of politicizing identities: I think that when someone's identity is situated in a political field of discourse, much of the work that one creates ends up getting examined as though it were a political statement, even when it isn't (and when it is a political statement, it's doubly judged). I think of Johnny Cash, who was able to garner both acceptability both in far-right Evangelical circles, even though he's very publicly struggled with drug addiction, and with star producers like Rick Rubin. He was "allowed" to create by many Evangelicals because some of the music he created matched their experience, and his faith was professed in a way that group understood: it seems to me akin to the idea expressed by many homophobes that "gay people are disgusting, but not my cousin; she's one of the 'good' ones." A degree of personal relation can go a long way in making work deemed objectionable, for whatever reason, instead acceptable, accessible, or ignorable.
ELR: How does being a psycholinguist impact your artistic expression through poetry… does it make you think about what you write differently?
MAD: Being an artist and being an academic are inextricably intertwined for me. I use language as a tool to interrogate the world in both disciplines, and I interrogate language in both disciplines. The fact that language is my most frequent tool for interrogation of itself has a certain circularity that pleases me immensely. One of the ways that these interactions with words come together for me is the process of "conlanging," or creating constructed languages. (Think Tolkien's languages, or Klingon, or Dothraki.) I design phonemic inventories, morphologies, syntax guidelines, non-Latin scripts: all these elements of language that occur "naturally," but that I manipulate to create languages of my own. In the conlanging community, there's a spectrum of languages: your languages can strive to be natlangs, i.e. languages that could conceivably have emerged without any more deliberate shaping or construction than is typical. But your languages can also become complete art-nouveau philosophical manifestos: for the most part, I create languages to examine philosophical ideals and to put conceptual stress on the idea of communication. One of my favorite languages I've made consists of 14 glyphs, and 14 glyphs alone. The glyphs occupy conceptual clouds of meaning and operate according to an associative, spatial grammar. The meanings that the glyphs have are to be added to by every person who learns the language and uses it to translate, and a given word or concept might look completely different depending on the writer because of their own individual associations. The language is a living thing that makes very clear the effect a speaker has on communication -- to the extent, often, that communication entirely in the language becomes difficult, but that's the point. It's a very literal speech-act, a performance art piece that you occupy by learning and speaking. I'm working on a slightly more functional language with a friend right now, that's combining a radical (character-based) mode of writing with a latinate alphabet.
All this is to say: I love poking at language, dismembering it, asking what unwritten and written rules govern it and then attempting to use words as their own trojan horse to inject unprecedented viruses into the act of speech, and illustrate our complicity in forming and performing our reality through adjusting the parameters in which our speech occurs.
I wrote most of the poems for the chapbook when I was 14 or 15, and all of them when I was still in high school, a few years after I'd first discovered Roger Waters, in fact, and as his work was getting me through a lot. They're a celebration of liminality, and all that's associated with it, and an exploration into the monstrous, unseen, and sick.
ELR: You just released The Messiah's Customary Diner Booth last month. Can you describe the project for us?
Messiah is a foray into liminality, a celebration of the in-between. I wrote most of the poems for the chapbook when I was 14 or 15, and all of them when I was still in high school, a few years after I'd first discovered Roger Waters, in fact, and as his work was getting me through a lot. They're a celebration of liminality, and all that's associated with it, and an exploration into the monstrous, unseen, and sick. The chapbook -- a chapbook is a nifty poetic form; since poetry doesn't make a lot of money, releasing 15-50 pages of poems in a shorter form is frequently wise; the tradition goes back to broadsides in the English Middle Ages -- is structured in four parts. Each part is a character, of sorts, a denizen of the eponymous diner who's come to this interdimensional space to sit, and talk, and share stories. The diner is a place where Sumer collides with Soviet Russia, where monstrous liminality broods and breeds. And so these four characters, The Prophet, The Spinster, The Soviet, and The Professor, gather and share their stories. Each poem is an individual story, but they connect, and agglutinate, and can serve as a sort of darkened reflection for whatever an individual themselves is experiencing or perceiving, because that's the nature of liminality. You look in, and whatever looks back is going to learn to reflect you, at least a little bit. Each of these characters are loyal in their own way to something that exists beyond that liminality, but the poems test and measure their experiences and how that loyalty has conditioned them.
ELR: What are you doing to promote your work?
MAD: Promotion, especially as a poet, is fucking rough; I'll say it outright. Were we not in the middle of a plague, I'd be out at open mics and at performances that I'd been invited to play at, reading, performing, and such. As it is, I'm using my social media accounts - Marion Apollo Deal on Facebook, @m.apollo.deal on Instagram - I'm reading at virtual open mics, and I'm doing online, live-streamed readings on my socials. I also rely, as many indie artists do, on word-of-mouth: my friends talk to their friends talk to their friends, and my work seeps into other communities. Interviews like this are also a big help, as are book reviews. If anyone wants to review Messiah or another chapbook that came out April 2020, Cool Talks, Dead I Guess (that one interfaces heavily with Jim Morrison, invocation, ritual, and the idea of being haunted) and send it either to existing lit mags or on their own blog/website, let me know! I can hook you up with an author's copy. Collaborations with existing artists are also a way of promotion just as much as they are an artistic privilege. I'm especially looking to collaborate with some visual artists and musicians, so if anyone out there is reading this and wants to connect, reach out! And if anyone reading this has a podcast or blog on which they want to chat about art, linguistics, music, performance, whatever, hit me up too!
ELR: Do you have additional, forthcoming projects on the horizon?
MAD: O, do I ever. Right now, I'm working on a poem saga examining violation of boundaries, bodies, and borders via both rape and imperialism, using World War One as a focus point. I'm also working on a novel whose origins lie in the desire to give two exceedingly queer, exceedingly neurodivergent characters a happy ending. It weaves together their stories and narratives involving the fey to create a love story that elides both platonic and romantic love. Additionally, I'm in the process of looking for a home for that novel I wrote in Paris - if you know anyone who's interested in a surreal celebration of legacy centring twisted versions of historical figures fighting a menace on the other shore of Death, let me know - and am working on a translation of French anarchist Louise Michel's memoirs.
You can read about and order The Messiah's Customary Diner Booth at Unsolicited Press and Amazon. You can follow Marion Apollo Deal at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as mariondeal.com. #MarionDeal #MarionApolloDeal #RogerWaters #TheFinalCut #Animals #TheWall #IsThisTheLifeWeReallyWant #ThePostWarDream #TheGunnersDream #BrainDamage #ParanoidEyes #TheHappiestDaysofOurLives #HerosReturn #TheFletcherMemorialHome #WhenTheTigersBrokeFree #TwoSunsintheSunset #DarkSideoftheMoon #TELawrence #TheMessiahsCustomaryDinerBooth #JimMorrison #ChokyiNyimaRinpoche #Kathmandu #RangjungYesheInstitute #Buddhism #ArthurRimbaud #LouiseMichel #DeSade #Marat #JohnDarnielle #TheMountainGoats #DavidLeaupepe #GangofYouths #EzraFurman #Youths #GoFartherInLightness #GenZ #Millenials #RobertPinsky #MichaelPalmer #AmandaGorman #Liminality #LiminalSpace #StarTrek #MiddlEarth #LilNasX #Montero #JohnnyCash