Like a Brick Wall: An Interview with John W. Snyder

I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand contributor John W. Snyder chats with Thomas Fucaloro

John W. Snyder is first and foremost a figment of your imagination—but when he isn't busy keeping you up at night, or having you question your sanity, he is writing poetry. He comes from the imaginary land of Staten Island where all the buildings are made out of candy and the inhabitants barter for goods with hair gel and empty promises. His work can be found in the great weather for MEDIA anthology I Let Go Of the Stars In My HandFlushed magazine from NYSAI Press, and scribbled on the walls of your nightmares.

TF: I'd like to talk to you about the poem and video for "Strange Surrogate." How did this come into being?
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JWS: Because of choices I made in my past, I can't help but be defined by my scars—they are almost impossible to miss. Everyone can see them and everyone can make judgments about them. Whether I like it or not, self-mutilation is a large part of my identity. This poem was about taking a macabre, often misunderstood, facet of my being and making it more tangible and relatable. And what's more relatable than a fast food burger? A video seemed like the next logical step for this piece. The concept for the video was a stroke of genius on the part of Kristopher Johnson, the man behind the camera. I love the end result because it's more conversational than cinematic. It has a grounding effect that would otherwise be hard to achieve with the subject matter.

TF: You also have another poem vid called "On Hunting Vampires." It is so beautiful. Can you talk about this as well? 

JWS: The poem is about the slaying of a peacock that occurred in Tottenville, on Staten Island, years ago. I spent a long time trying to write a poem that simply honored the peacock (peahen, technically.) Something pretty and elegiac. But after learning more about the young man who committed the horrendous crime I found myself writing from his perspective. It became important to me to try and better understand this individual. He was mentally ill and because he didn't receive adequate care this horrible thing occurred. The poem became a kind of statement about society's treatment of mental health issues and how they often slip into the background until something tragic happens. The video features Lys Riganti, a great dancer and friend of mine who's performed with me for this piece when I've done it live. It was important that she was the focal point for the video because she represents the beautiful peacock that existed in reality and the demonic entity that the speaker obsessed over. 
TF: You have a poem in the new great weather anthology called "To the Girl Who Called Me a Faggot." What is the history of this poem?  How did it came to be?
JWS: This poem was partly inspired by an article I read in Rolling Stone that I'll never forget. It was about a string of suicides that occurred in conservative Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's home district. All the victims were teens who were bullied either for being gay or being perceived as gay. I could never read through it without sobbing. As a member of the LGBTQ community I couldn't help but be furious and appalled at the hateful environment that evangelicals and conservative activists created for these young people. It made me think back to a time when I felt I was wrongfully attacked just for being who I was. The incident I refer to in my poem, being called a faggot by some person I didn't know in a public place, ended right there. I just ignored the girl and walked away. But in the poem I get to say all the things I probably should have said. In a way poetry becomes a form of righteous revenge.
TF: In this poem you ask, "Why is my human love invalid?" Why is any sort of love now viewed as heresy? Is love a good or bad thing? How can we change things?
JWS: I think love scares people. Love by itself is inherently good but it can be responsible for a lot of hurt and a lot of craziness. Love is powerful and has the ability to transform and alter things. People are afraid of newness, afraid of what they don't immediately understand. The only way things change is to love like a brick wall. We must be immovable, constant, and unwavering in the face of ignorance and fear. 
TF: What's next for John W. Snyder?
JWS: I loved making videos for my poetry. The process was incredibly fun and added a new layer to my work. I really want to continue making videos and possibly exploring other forms of media for poetry. The great thing about poetry is its amazing versatility. 

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Read John W. Snyder’s work in our anthologies I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand  and The Understanding between Foxes and Light.

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