ABP– Thank you for taking this interview, Donny. I want to start things off by talking about Carbon Footprint, which is Alien Buddha Press’ best-selling book ever. What can you tell us about the process that went into writing this collection? How do you feel about it now, 3 months after its release?
DW- Honestly, I’m still trying to process the book’s success. I’ve been working on Carbon Footprint for over five years, so knowing that it’s been well-received by many fills me with joy. Some seeds leading up to this collection began in 2009 during my undergraduate study at Central Michigan University. After creating a body of LGBTQ+ themed poems, I started organizing a collection back in 2011 and titled it “An American Crucifix” after my Matthew Shepard themed poem. Unfortunately, I ended up shelving it because I was really insecure as a writer. I never believed I was good enough and that lasted until about 2016 when mentors during my graduate program at University of Central Missouri encouraged me to keep going. Between then and 2019, I ended up shelving the book two more times in light of countless publisher rejections on individual poems and at that point, I told myself I’d give up writing to focus on teaching. Well, apparently that didn’t last long. My experiences teaching poetry students motivated me to finish it. In fact, the final half of the book was written in the past year, and oddly, the pandemic closures gave me the time to polish this collection’s themes and three-section structure. I’m grateful it turned out the way it did because it acts as an archaeological dig into my difficult past as a gay man growing up in rural Michigan. Now that it’s out, I feel considerable catharsis and relief as it’s been a sort of healing process for me.
ABP- What do you have planned creatively for 2021?
DW- I have a lot planned creatively for 2021! Currently, I have the honor of working with Alien Buddha Press on the upcoming anthology titled Alien Buddha Skips the Party, which will be a collection of poems, stories, and art themed around the power of introversion. Much to my excitement, I’ll likely be done with my second collection of poems by Summer 2021. I currently have about 1/3 of the manuscript finished. I think it’ll be a good follow-up to Carbon Footprint! Beyond that, I plan to continue submitting my individual pieces to magazines and journals.
ABP- Who are your biggest influences as a writer?
DW- When it comes to poetry, my biggest influences are Meg Day, Deborah Miranda, Mary Lambert, Sylvia Plath, and Theodore Roethke. Each of them writes about identity, mental health, or nature in diverse ways, which is what I strive to do. Of course, I’m also inspired by the work of my mentors: Rose Gubele, Jenny Molberg, Kathryn Nuernberger, and Robert Fanning. Last but not least, I’m very much inspired by music as well… after all, music is poetry, right? Whether it’s the goth rock of Evanescence, the meditative nuance of Enya, or the electro-pop of Lady Gaga – I’m inspired by a lot of their lyrics, theatricality, and sonic qualities. I always believe collections of poems have a soundtrack of sorts to them and these are but a few musicians comprising Carbon Footprint’s soundtrack.
ABP- What is the poetry scene like in Saginaw, MI?
DW- I’m pretty new to Saginaw, actually, but from what I’ve seen so far, the poetry scene here is thriving. The iconic poet, Theodore Roethke, was born here and the community continues to make strides in preserving his memory. What I love most about Saginaw are the many powerful, creative voices who aren’t afraid to speak out against social injustice. During these difficult times, poetry, fiction, art, and music all serve to create commentary about such things.
ABP- You have a YouTube channel where you do a bit of vlogging. I have seen some cool stuff on that channel. What can you tell our wordpress readers about that, and how can they find you on there?
DW- Oh, yes! YouTube vlogging is something I’ve loved to do since 2008. I do a lot of video discussions about mental health, my experiences surviving bullying, pop cultural commentary, and LGBTQ+ issues. I attribute a lot of my confidence as an activist to my experience on YouTube as it’s allowed me to speak to a wider audience with the goal of having very vulnerable conversations about things that impact marginalized communities. Though, sometimes, I make some light-hearted videos geeking out about things like Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, or Godzilla. On YouTube, if you search “Donny Winter” you’ll find my primary channel. If you search “DonnySpeaks,” you’ll find my poetry channel, which I also regularly use.
ABP- Is there anybody that you would like to make a shoutout to here?
DW- My partner, Britton Clarke, for always believing in and encouraging me, especially when I’m at my most vulnerable. My dear friend, Tiffany Schmieder-Kups, for seeing my vision and creating the phenomenal art piece that is my book’s cover. My family, friends, and YouTube subscribers for always reminding me to never give up. Last but not least, Alien Buddha Press for giving this collection a home. The rest of my shout outs are in the acknowledgements section of my book – there are quite a few!
ABP- Can you share a poem with us?
DW- I’d like to share the poem “Abrasion,” which is the final section of my book:
It’s a wonder we’re still here–
our warranties expired in high school
after years of gradual wear.
Now, war-hardened bodies
sit in offices, classrooms, and gyms
with hope that the daily grind
will alleviate us of every slur–
distract ourselves from the adult bullies
who still throw around “queer.”
We strive to stride with hands held,
yet sometimes, we stand in supermarkets
like anxious deer with ears held back only
to wonder if we’ll hear someone say “f*ggot.”
Children point at us, ask parents for
explanations at all the inopportune times
but get no response – the historic perpetuation
of misinterpretation we all still find.
Our partnered-palms sweat when we think of Matthew,
our skin crawls when we remember Pulse,
our families worry when we’re out,
but we know our closet doors fell off long ago.
Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, we’re happy the way we are,
so we’ll fly our flag as high as we possibly can
and be the foundation on which the new can stand.
The years of painful abrasion won’t destroy us
because now we’re smoothed fields of granite.
ABP- Thanks again for taking this interview, Donny. The floor is all yours. If there is anything that we have not covered already that you would like to share or announce, please do.
DW- Thank you for allowing me this honor, ABP. I’d like to share words of encouragement for marginalized writers and/or writers who may feel like their work isn’t worth being put out there in the world. I’m here to tell you that your work matters. The world needs our poems, stories, songs, and art because they all build connections within this big nebulous thing that is human experience. We’re all in this together – and your work may be the thing that helps a person express themselves, be the thing that keeps them holding on, or acts as the catalyst motivating them to keep striving for their dreams. That is powerful. That is what putting your work out there can do.