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Text/Book: The Stately Pleasure Dome
An interview with Natalie Zina Walschots about her new poetry collection, Doom: Love Poems For Supervillains

 

Evan Munday’s illustration of sexy Galactus, inspired by but not actually featured in Natalie Zina Walschots’ Doom

Text/Book, the Toronto Standard‘s books column, is written by Emily M. Keeler and Chris Randle, plus occasional guests.

I met with Natalie Zina Walschotts in a cafe in Kensington on a surprisingly sunny Tuesday. She was only five minutes late, but I was worried that my directions had not been clear enough, and that she was wandering around, lost somewhere in the busy street. We both have spent a significant amount of time in Calgary, so we talked about that, but only a little. We discussed also her first book of poetry, Thumbscrews, and her experiences with metal (heavy and of other subgenres). Her new collection, Doom: Love Poems for Supervillains, which is about imagined sexual encounters with various evil-doers and features steamy illustrations by Evan Munday, will be released by Insomniac Press later this month. She ordered a coffee and a butter tart. Later, we shared some dumplings in Chinatown.

Though there is some crossover between Thumbscrews and Doom – they both explore sadomasochistic themes, they both involve complex and sometimes abstracted language – they seem very, very different.

Natalie Zina Walschots: Totally. At the time Thumbscrews came out, 2007, I felt very…I was terrified and cowed by the whole process. It was my first time! Now I have a much better grip on things. In the first book there wasn’t necessarily a body, per se, and language was definitely a character. If anything was being acted on, it was language itself.

Right. Whereas in Doom it feels like there is definitely a body outside of the poems, that these supervillains are doing things, dirty things, to someone in particular.

NZW: There’s definitely a shifting voice. It depends on who, or what, the poem is about. In some cases I was actually writing from perspective from another character in the comic. In the suite of poems for Two-Face, for example, I was thinking about his girlfriend, Grace. Before he becomes Two-Face, Harvey Dent has this girlfriend, and he just assumes that after his disfigurement she won’t want to be with him. It’s like it’s his choice to have him reject her; she’s not really involved in the decision. So I thought it would be nice to give her some air time. But when there isn’t a specific story based love interest for the villain, I just sort of put me in there. Well, a character like me but not me. A semi-objective feminine voice.

That’s interesting about how you used the stories from the original comic books. When I was reading Doom I kept thinking about the actual form of comics, about how you’re toying with language in just such a particular way. Like how in comics each unit of narrative is literally framed, in a panel, with the gutters running between them. It was like some of the poems had that feeling to them, the omitted space between the panels, a very fractured feeling.

NZW: The formal element of comics definitely impacted how I approached this project. I actually was thinking of each poem mostly in terms of panels rather than stanzas, which was pretty confusing for my editor. Each stanza confines a single idea. Some of them are like splash pages, set by themselves, like an action.

How did you decide to write about these characters? And for the ones written in that you-but-not-you voice, how could you tell if the particular character was a top or a bottom?

NZW: I imagined asking each one of them: What are you like in bed? In a lot of cases, the supervillain’s sexual preferences are an extrapolation in the direction of dominance, others are like the classic CEO, all business on the job but going to worship a domme on the weekend. They can be more on and off. I tried to adjust the narrative voice to fit the character. She’s the voice of accommodation, a response to the intimate persona of each supervillain.

I liked how you called the Blob a “mono-gravitational hellion.” The Kingpin poem, too. So good.

NZW: Thanks! There’s this one comic with Bullseye, and it seems like he’s killed Daredevil, and he goes to tell Kingpin that he’s done it, that Daredevil is dead. But for some reason there was a complication and they didn’t have his corpse. There’s a really great sequence, where Kingpin is working out, and it just gets tighter and tighter on him as he says the same thing over and over to himself. He just keeps lifting this weight and saying: “There is no body.” The uncertainty he felt, and the anxiety, were really compelling.

That’s pretty hot.

NWZ: In a weird way it kind of demonstrates the loneliness that the characters feel. Supervillains are positioned as lonely; ambition is positioned as a lonely thing. You so rarely see supervillains involved in anything romantic. Like, what if they had a bossy girlfriend or something? A lot of writers seem to try and develop villains through loneliness, to put them beyond the pale of romance. But I want to go there. Why don’t they have lovers? I mean, they’d probably still be evil. And the origin stories! I mean, lots of people that have been spurned by ladies don’t try to blow up the world.

Speaking of origin stories…I know that in other press things you’ve done, and on your twitter profile, you describe yourself as a supervillain. So how did you become villainous?

NWZ: Part of the reason that I wrote this book is that I got divorced. Right after Thumbscrews. In the spring of that year I started doing promotional stuff for the book, and by the following July I was fully separated and living in a different province. Part of what came out of that was that I found it really easy to play the villain. Because I had moved away, it was easy to let our mutual friends just fall onto his side, to accept his narrative of what had happened and retreat to my stronghold elsewhere. It was easy, felt right, and wasn’t necessarily bad to be the villain. It was empowering! The thing is that villains have more choices, they don’t have the same weird ass moral codes–which are usually arbitrary–as heroes do. So I started thinking of myself as a villain around then.

There is a launch party for Doom, along with Insomniac Press’ other spring titles, on May 15 at the Dora Keogh.

_____

Emily Keeler lives in Toronto, Tumblrs for The Millions, and edits book stuff at The New Inquiry. Follow her on Twitter at @emilymkeeler if you please.

For more, follow us on Twitter at @torontostandard, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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