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The Dance Interview Series | Desireé Dallagiacomo

Desireé Dallagiacomo is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, teaching artist, and radical feminist. In 2014, she ranked 3rd overall at the National Poetry Slam (as a member of Slam New Orleans) 3rd overall at the Individual World Poetry Slam, and 3rd overall at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam. Her work has been featured on EverydayFeminism.com, Upworthy, The Huffington Post, and the San Francisco Globe. For more of her work visit poemsbydes.tumblr.com, and for booking inquiries email d.dallagiacomo@gmail.com.

DMR : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

DD : I would ask myself why in the hell I thought I could do an interview this badass in the same week that I have final exams.

DMR : Do you have any writing habits or rituals? Any particular routine you follow when crafting a piece?

DD : Gah. For years I never even thought to identify my process. I just kind of wrote and ended up with something, and it always seemed like a bit of a miracle with no rhyme or reason.

My process is pretty sporadic, but it’s absolutely identifiable. I usually vomit a whole bunch of stuff on paper, thousands of words, and then I go through my notebook, highlight what’s working, type that up, print it out, and start dissecting it and treating it like an erasure or a found poem. Whenever people come across drafts of my poems, they’re always a little shocked by how colorful they are. I highlight, circle, underline, cross out, rewrite, draw arrows, blocks, etc.  I tend to write in very busy places, and I try to write as much as possible before I even look back through it. I am of the mind that one should always work to cut and not add; so I try to get it all out on the front end.

From there, I work through many, many drafts. I try to pay attention to language economy, word choice, consistency of metaphor. Lately, I’ve been trying to treat poems as individuals, and I have been trying to give every poem exactly what it needs and nothing more.

DMR : Do you find you write more so when “inspiration strikes” or do you force yourself to write whether it’s there or not? Which do you advise to fellow poets?

DD : I think that I used to tell myself that writer’s block was a thing, but I don’t really think it’s a thing. I think, for me, I’ve got to go after it. If I don’t go after it, I’ll watch Netflix all day instead. I definitely have things that I know I can do to help me find inspiration, and sometimes it comes to me. I do believe it is for me to force myself to write, because 9 times out of 10 that’s what it’s going to take to crank out some work I’m proud of.

DMR : Do you believe in finished pieces or do you believe all pieces are open to later editing when revisited?

DD : I think it’s weird to pick a piece back up that has already lived a life. I don’t feel like I can come back and edit a piece, and it remain the same piece. It’s like sewing a blanket with 2 separate fabrics. My writing style and my content move around so much, that it’s very difficult for me to pick a poem back up after I’ve memorized it, or submitted it. I work on most of my poems for months, and then I just have to tell myself it’s done, because if I didn’t I would never stop working on it. So for me, a poem is done when I convince myself it is. That being said, there are many poems that I’ve been working on for years, and they have never seen the light of day.

DMR : Do you keep an audience in mind whilst writing?

DD : It depends. I mean, I’m always aware that someone will read or hear a poem that I write, as that is what I do for a living. I know that my work will live outside of my computer or my notebook. I’ve never had much of an issue with sharing my work with folks. So, I guess I am thinking of an audience. That audience may be folks attending a poetry slam, the audience may be my mother, the audience may be folks that read my poems in print. For me, audience doesn’t affect my writing all that intensely- it definitely used to! I am so grateful to have moved past the point in which audience dictates my writing, but it definitely did at one point. I guess now I just always am aware that I always have an audience, so I’ve tried to tune them out.

DMR : I think there is always a risk when sharing work on a writing platform that eventually you begin writing what you believe will get a reaction rather than writing what is important to you personally. Have you ever fallen prey to this? Do you have any advice on how to separate the public’s value of a piece from your own?

DD : That’s a tricky question. If we believe that art exists to create social change, then of course we want a reaction! I believe art is a political act, and I think it always should be. This doesn’t mean that one must write all their poems about rape culture or white supremacy, but I think we have to see our art as revolutionary. When I write about my brother, I am writing about the prison industrial complex. When I write about my mother, I am writing about womanism, LGBTQIA issues, class issues. I would hope that one can find the sweet spot, what works for you AND works for your audience. Obviously, what works for the writer is the most important thing, but I think it can coexist with getting a “reaction”. I hope all my work gets reactions! When people are not reacting to my work, then my work has no business being in the public sphere.

DMR : You mentioned in our first exchange that the process of writing your poem One Side of an Ongoing Dialogue with Sharon, My Therapist was specifically challenging. Can you elaborate on that? What about that poem provoked you?

DD : Oh, boy. When I wrote that poem, I was 22 and almost literally going crazy. I was in an awful relationship, and I felt incredibly isolated. I was spending a lot of time alone and removed from people and things that I loved. It originally started as an apology letter to the person I was dating at the time, and then one of my close friends/colleagues was like “Hey I like that line about your therapist. Have you ever tried to write a letter to her?” and it was like a light bulb went off. I wrote about 4,000 words, and then I just kept cutting away at it. I had the poem printed and taped to the walls of my apartment. I cut the poem up, I highlighted, blacked out, rearranged. The process was invigorating and very, very active (I am a real lover of processes more than products). I sat with that poem for weeks. The video of that from 2012 (also) is when I had just memorized it. I had not performed it in a slam memorized, and when I watch it or hear the audio I have some serious envy of that performance. When I hear that specific performance, it sounds like I want to jump out of my skin- and I did. So overall, that process was one long, angsty edit after another. It was one of the most rewarding to write, and it was the first time I really wrote something that had a fire under it on stage. It was the first poem that really moved folks, and it really made me believe that art can be transformative.

That poem is a snapshot of me in one of my darkest places. Reliving that is a privilege, and a great task to do again and again.

DMR : Richard Siken recently mentioned that what helped him find his voice was recording himself reading his poems aloud and revising toward how the poetry sounded verbally rather than revising toward the page. As a spoken word poet, do you have any similar techniques? How do you create a rhythm in written words that translates to a spoken performance?

DD : Hmm. That’s interesting. I don’t know. I am a harsh writer, and I use harsh letters and syllables in my writing. That’s something that really plays a role in my performance, honestly. I usually try to cut as many words as possible, which makes sentences jumpy and jagged. I don’t change poems from the stage to the page, and I write many poems that I don’t read aloud. I believe that poems can exist exactly the same in all the spaces that an author wants them to.

I don’t have any techniques, really. When workshopping performance, I try to move from my natural tendencies to other parts of voice. I whisper, recite poems in an accent, stare at myself in a mirror while I read a poem monotone. I want to find the valleys in the poem, find the syllables that want breath and the ones that don’t. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and read the same way again and again. It’s important to me to work to be intentional and aware of my voice. This same thing translates to the page- but for me, I play around with punctuation and line breaks and such. Again, I like sharp looking poems. I like poems to have a lot of enjambment or a lot of odd punctuation. It’s also important to me to guide the reader to read the poem how I would, and this comes with finding the voice of a poem.

Long story long, I’m not sure that I do write for the stage or come up with a technique to make the transition seamless. I really try to pay honor to a poem’s voice, and sometimes it takes me a while to learn it. My goal is to always give the poem what it needs, not what I want it to have.

DMR : On the topic of your spoken word poems, do you have any tricks/tips for performing? Eg: memorisation, confidence, portraying emotion without allowing it to overwhelm you.

DD : Oy. Get the poem in you. That’s when it comes to life. Memorize. Live the poem. Let it be inside of you, and recite it everywhere. In the car, to your garden, on the treadmill, whatever. Let the poem live everywhere. It will tell you what it needs if you let it.

Audiences want to be a part of a genuine moment, give them that moment. Don’t fake it. DON’T. FAKE. IT. The audience will know, and your poem will be pissed. Do what you have to do to give the audience an authentic moment. That is when the magic happens. Don’t be scared to lose it on stage- Lord knows I have. If it overwhelms you? Great. My motto, you have to cross the line to know where it is. Break down in rehearsals, break down in your home venue. Let it out, and then dial it back.

DMR : Your poem Real Sex Tips, with Kaycee Filson, is fierce as lion roar. What does the process of collaborating with another poet look like for you? How do you accommodate including another person into your process?

DD : Collaboration always looks different for me, depending on the other folk/s in the equation. I am someone that does a bulk of writing, and then I whittle it down to its most potent parts. For me, the process looks like lots of notes, lots of reworking, lots of conversation, many many drafts. Working with Kaycee was interesting, because we are close friends. We have a chemistry and shared understanding already, so it was just a matter of focusing that energy. It really took us months to write that poem, and it started from a very different place than it ended up. We also memorized that poem like 2 days before Nationals, haha. So those videos floating around the internet are actually some of the first times we performed that poem memorized, so it still had a lot of its urgency and nervous energy- which I think is really important for a poem.

DMR : To finish, this question isn’t about your writing process, but it’s one I always like asking fellow poets. My favourite quote by you is, “nobody wants to develop my negatives in their dark room.” Which quotes/excerpts of your own work do you take most pride in?

DD : Haha, what a question. All of my poems mean a lot to me. The line that means the most to me in this moment today is probably “And is that not living?/ Being so close to death you paint it on your skin?” That is from my poem SINK. That poem took me my whole life to write, and now it’s living.

Check out more of Desireé’s work on her blog, including this list of videos & the merch on her sidebar that includes two chapbooks & a broadside of her legendary poem “Thighs Say”! :

You can also find her work in Words Dance 13 : 2013 Summer Issue!

Thank you, Desireé!

Contributing Editor /

Donna-Marie Riley currently resides in the South West of England. She is author of the poetry collection Love and Other Small Wars, published by Words Dance, and also featured in Between Sentiment and Sensation: Vol I, published by Red Paint Hill. She romanticizes cold coffee and bitten nails and she likes her poetry shaken, not stirred.

Indie Press Interview Series | Dancing Girl Press

Connect w/ DGP :: Website :: Facebook :: Shop :: Tumblr :: Blog ::

Raised among the corn fields and twisty back roads of northern Illinois, Kristy Bowen has been writing something or other pretty much ever since her dad taught her the alphabet at 3 years old by bribing her with chocolate. Thus, she spent much of her youth making up stories on swingsets, day dreaming in class, and decadently reading bad horror novels and trashy romances while sprawled across her bed. After an ill-fated career path in marine biology as a freshman in North Carolina (tragically ended by her phenomenal badness at even the most basic math), she moved on to Rockford College, where studied English by day and lurked/toiled behind the scenes of campus theatre productions at night. While there, she developed a love of Sylvia Plath, gothic novels, girls with guitars, the cozy labyrinth of library stacks, and brilliant but troubled men (aka the Heathcliff Complex).

Because she is also a sucker for clean white notebooks and the smell of newly sharpened pencils, she moved to Chicago and followed it up with an MA in English Lit from DePaul University, reading, writing and entertaining the notion of teaching her vast knowledge of last minute essay writing and creative distraction to a new generation (the idea of which was quickly dispensed.) She later earned an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College. Along the way, she wrote a lot of poems, started the online lit zine wicked alice, nurtured a passion for book and paper arts, and founded dancing girl press & studio.

She is the author several longer and shorter written (and occasionally visual) endeavors, including the full-length projects major characters in minor films, (Sundress Publications, 2015), girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013), in the bird museum (Dusie Press, 2008) and the fever almanac (Ghost Road Press, 2006). Her sixth book, salvage is due out from Black Lawrence Press in 2016.

Since poetry & art are highly rewarding but terrible paying endeavors, she splits her days between the studio and moonlighting in the library of an arts college surrounded by way more books than she will ever be able to read. The rest of the time, she lives in a big old drafty art deco building near Lake Michigan with a pack of mongrel cats, even more books, and all sorts of thrifted lovelies. She is obsessed Joseph Cornell, victoriana, carnivals/sideshows, horror films, diagramatic things, vintage housewares, old scientific & botanical illustrations, architectural drawings, postcards, drive-in movie theatres, roadside motels, and all things paper.

WD : When & how did Dancing Girl Press come about? What was the spark to start it & what did its infancy look like?

DGP : In 2001, I had started an online lit zine, wicked alice, devoted to women’s writing and based on the success of that, I thought it might be cool to launch an entity that produced something a little more tangible than the internet allows. I was just starting to work in book and paper mediums after years of only focusing on writing, and was seeing so many micro presses doing interesting things, that I decided to go for it in early 2004. I remember standing in the aisle at Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago and poring over all the chapbooks and zines and thinking, hey, I can do that! I started by just issuing a chap of my own to get the logistics down—cost, supplies, shipping, marketing. By that fall, we had our first official title from Adrianne Marcus and call out for submissions for the next year. It was a little slow going in the beginning, getting the word out and getting the submissions we were looking for. But it sort of snowballed from there. We steadily built our catalog for the next couple of years, and were moving a bit slower while I finished my MFA, but in late 2007, we moved the whole operation, which had previously been happening in my dining room, into a studio space and tripled the number of books we’d publish the next year. It sort of just snowballed from there.

WD : What does a typical work day look like for you?

DGP : I work a full-time job in a college library from 2-10pm most days, so my studio time happens earlier in the day. I usually get there in the morning and spend some time printing and assembling and shipping books, working on layouts and cover designs, and answering e-mails, depending on which needs more attention at any given moment. I might have some downtime later in the day at the library, where I will read new manuscripts or work on marketing/ promotional stuff, go over proofs.

WD : What’s your favorite part of the job?

DGP : Outside of just getting to read and choose new work, I LOVE working on covers and indulging my visual side. We approach covers in many different ways..sometimes the author will work with a designer or artist friend and just deliver something readymade. Sometimes I’ll work with them to find art or come up with a concept and then hammer out something after some back and forth. Sometimes, the author will just set me loose on my own, with or without some general ideas. Since I tend to work on projects that are both visual and written more and more, I love working similarly with other people’s writing—finding that perfect visual that makes the book complete.

WD : What other indie presses do you adore?

DGP : One of our authors, Eireann Lorsung launched Miel Books, which makes some beautiful titles. Also many of the presses that were pre-cursors to dgp are still putting out lovely books—Bloof, Horseless, Maverick Duck Press, New Michigan, Black Ocean, Octopus, Greying Ghost. And I am of coursed biased toward the presses that have published me—Dusie, Sundress, Noctuary, Black Lawrence.

WD : Tell us an anecdote involving the press!

DGP : My favorite story was how we landed our studio space. I had just finished my degree and had a little extra set aside leftover from my student loans. I was toying rather idly with the idea of getting a studio space where we could also maybe host readings and events. Meanwhile, I had been in love with the Fine Arts Building for years and passed it everyday on my way to and from work, and had frequented a coffeeshop/bookstore housed there at one point. So imagine my surprise at finding a listing for a studio in the building on Craigslist one afternoon. I called immediately on a total whim (even though I wasn’t sure if doing this was even a possibility) and was told that particular studio was taken, but another artist had let them know he was moving out that very morning and would I be interested in seeing his (which was smaller, but more affordable). Of course I said yes, and while the manager hinted that there was actually a waiting list, I offered to write a check right then and there for first months and the deposit. I’m not usually one for swift or rash decision making (Taurus that I am, ) but something felt completely inevitable and right about it and I dove head first. I can’t say I’ve ever moved that impetuously on anything and it worked out beautifully and allowed for us to grow so much in the last 8 years (which we probably couldn’t have done in my dining room..lol..)

Click here to check out all of the chapbooks by Dancing Girl Press here!

Thank you so much, Kristy!


Amanda Oaks is the founding editor of Words Dance Publishing. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous online & print publications, including decomP, Stirring, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Glamour, Elle, Parenting & Artful Blogging. She is the author of two poetry collections, Hurricane Mouth (NightBallet Press 2014) & her co-authored split book, I Eat Crow (Words Dance 2014). She likes poems that bloody her mouth just to kiss it clean.