31 Jul “Where better than a dinosaur graveyard to read poems about exes?”: Q&A with poet Rachelle Toarmino
Photo Credit: Sam Tilkins
Poet, founding editor-in-chief of Peach Mag, and Just Buffalo teaching artist Rachelle Toarmino is author of the poetry collection That Ex, recently published by Big Lucks Books. Rachelle took the time to chat with us about That Ex, the experience of releasing a book during a pandemic, and the creative ways she’s connecting with readers despite it all—like hosting Buffalo’s first-ever drive-in poetry reading to launch That Ex on Friday, Aug. 7.
First off, congratulations on That Ex! Can you tell us a little about the book—themes, questions it asks, but also: what songs would it play on repeat? What would its favorite color be? Its astrological sign?
Thank you so much! That Ex is a book of poems in which the speaker calls on members of what I consider “ex canon”—pop stars, fictional characters, heartsick and lovestruck poets and artists—to teach her how to exist in her world post-breakup. She plays with and within a lineage of rage—especially women’s rage—to reclaim her individuality and renew her faith in love. The book follows her as she tries on reactions like outfits to figure out which fit and which feel like costumes. To borrow from Frank O’Hara, the book is interested in “love’s life-giving vulgarity” and asks who we become when we hurt.
That Ex is a Libra sun in that it’s a hopeless romantic, a Libra rising in that it’s a hopeful romantic, and an Aries moon in that the emotional core of the book is bratty, impulsive, and full of heart and heat. It loves Rihanna, Britney, Lana, Sinéad, Ariana, Beyoncé, Björk, and Lorde. It loves pink because, like Kimmy Walters—one of my favorite poets who, in her advance praise of That Ex, wrote that the book had the spirit of a women’s bar bathroom (“dizzy, real, and there for you, baby girl”)—it “spent a lot of time hating pink because I wanted to be seen as tough and low-maintenance. I don’t really care about being seen that way anymore, so I came back for pink and I’m making up for lost time.”
It’s such a challenging time to be releasing a book, when a book tour & in-person readings aren’t possible. What has the experience been like?
An honest-to-god bummer. Every writer looks forward to the milestone of launching their debut book, but for me, touring also meant seeing my long-distance community of readers, writers, and friends—each tour-stop a family reunion and party waiting to be thrown. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning to curate readings that are unique and fun, and I was really psyched to bring that knowledge and energy to planning a That Ex tour. I’m still planning one, but it’ll have to wait.
That being said, my community has been tremendously supportive in helping me find creative ways to toast the release. I’ve done a few virtual readings, Q&As, and other events, including a That Ex trivia night presented by the editors of ~Profound Experience. I’m more grateful than ever to be surrounded by the best and most solid group of people who are making sure this special moment doesn’t go unnoticed.
Speaking of creative ways to toast the release, tell us about this Friday’s drive-in reading at Penn Dixie Fossil Park! How did the event come to be? What can attendees expect?
Hell yeah! On Friday, Aug. 7, I’ll be launching the book in the parking lot of Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Preserve at the That Ex Drive-In Book Launch, Buffalo’s first-ever drive-in poetry reading and drive-thru book signing. I’ll be broadcasting from a platform at the front of the lot, and guests can tune in from the comfort of their cars. It’ll be quick, fun, and safe.
I’m really indebted to Penn Dixie for greenlighting this weird idea. In response to COVID-19’s substantial impact on Western New York’s arts and cultural community, they stepped up to offer their space to artists and organizations to use for alternative programs and events. I reached out to see if I could borrow their large parking lot for a launch and the rest is history. Plus: Where better than a dinosaur graveyard to read poems about exes?
Ha! That’s amazing. How else can readers best support authors with new books right now?
Recommend the book to a friend, post your favorite parts on social media, rate or review it on Goodreads—in my experience, word of mouth is everything. One other free and easy way to support authors, especially small press authors, is by requesting the book through the local branch of your library, where future readers might discover it. Similarly, requesting books through your local independent bookstore rather than ordering them online helps put small press books on the radar of booksellers who might order extra copies for their store.
That Ex Drive-In Book Launch is Friday, Aug. 7, 7:00-8:00 PM, at Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Preserve. More info & RSVP here.