Alyssa Cruz’s electrifying poem “Bedhog” appears in the current edition of LPR. (She/Her) is a Filipina-American poet, born and raised in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in Bricolage Journal, The Atlanta Review, and Beyond Words, among others. In 2018, Alyssa was awarded the Dan Veach Prize for Younger Poets. She currently lives in Seattle with her puppy Berkeley. Alyssa was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions.
Q. I really loved your poem “Bedhog”, particularly the line “she controls my gravity. I tilt to her.” There’s something quite interesting about this separation between the physical head and the mind. Can you talk about that?
A. Yeah absolutely. Something I think about a lot is how my brain and body are meant to work together, but in reality, they hold two distinct sets of information. My brain knows there’s nothing inherently wrong with being bald, especially since I’m otherwise in perfect health. But my body, even though I can rationalize it, still feels a longing (or grief) that is separate from my brain’s logic. When that feeling seeps in, it’s out of my control– I just have to allow myself to feel it.
Q. You know, I actually didn’t realize you were bald from reading “Bedhog”, or I should say, I didn’t realize that it was necessarily autobiographical. Are you willing to you talk about that? What is the health issue that has caused your baldness?
A. I have Alopecia, and I’ve had it since I was thirteen. Essentially, it’s just hair loss. That’s about all I’m comfortable sharing on that front.
Q. I completely understand. Still, it’s a lovely notion, this idea of having to reconcile with a head that feels foreign. That comes through beautifully in your prose.
“Something I think about a lot is how my brain and body are meant to work together, but in reality, they hold two distinct sets of information.”
Q. I see that you studied at The University of Washington. Did you study poetry there?
A. Yes and no. I completed my BS in Molecular/Cellular Biology at UW, but in 2017, I spent a quarter in Rome on a program led by Kevin Craft and Katharine Ogle. I was a terrible student the first week. I didn’t know it was a poetry program (which I would have figured out had I done the textbook readings, which were poetry books…) so I wasn’t even writing poems and had no idea where to start. One day, our field trip was to Palazzo Massimo, the museum near the train station. My professor caught me in the halls, and was just like “hey, let’s learn how to write a poem.” So we sat in front of The Boxer, you know, the sculpture where he’s seated with his elbows on his knees hunched over, and his hands are wrapped in tape. She said we wouldn’t leave until I wrote ten details about the statue. I won’t comment on how long we had to sit there, but that time with her was the catalyst for any and all poetry that followed. That was probably the most important writing lesson I ever had, and we barely spoke to each other.
Q. Talk to me about some of your favorite poets. What is it about their work that speaks to you?
A. Other than my two incredible professors, I’d say Michelle Penaloza and Chen Chen are my current favorites. I actually met Michelle in Rome during the program, she was a guest speaker, and read a poem from her book which hadn’t been released yet. She’s Filipina, had some Tagalog sprinkled in her work, and I was uncontrollably sobbing by the end. I’d never met anyone who looked like me, like, really looked like me, that was so successful in the field. And it kind of forced me to see that this was a “viable” thing for me to pursue, no matter what ideas about poetry I had previously internalized. When I read through Chen Chen’s “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List Of Further Possibilities” I cycled through every emotion on the spectrum. Crying at how honest, familiar, and painful his poems are navigating his relationship with his mother. Laughing and full of love reading poems written for Jeffrey. When I read their work, I feel like I’m being directly spoken to.
Q. Are there any poets you’re looking forward to reading or you feel are pushing new boundaries in the craft of it?
A.I’m looking forward to reading Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It’s a novel, but he’s a poet I really admire.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m currently making a zine in a workshop with several brilliant folks, hosted by the Asian American Feminist Collective/Kundiman. It’ll be found here when it’s completed, and the reading to launch it will be happening in May.
Q. What is the last book you read that truly moved you, poetry, novel, or otherwise.
A. Gosh, it’s hard to choose. But I’d have to say The Bled by Frances McCue– reading it moved me to tears. In “My Disaster” she says:
lost your life. People removed
you from their lists. I hovered over
your terrible absence, the fluke
swept into a mysterious, red world
where donkeys worked without water….
The loss masters me.”
It’s just that idea that you again have to relinquish control to the “thing” and just let it happen.