The Poetry Project

Interview with Amanda Monti

Lillian Paige Walton

“I wanted to become a mushroom. I put an ad on Craigslist.” So opens Amanda Monti’s Mycelial Person (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), a swirling meditation on exchange, desire, and identity. Like an actively fermenting substance, the poet’s debut collection transforms before the eye, moving between prose, verse, and photo. Written in Italian, German, and English (Monti speaks all three), the book is peppered with overheard language, in-person, and online encounters. In these moments of virtual and corporeal overlap, Monti’s expert story-telling and wit shine through. “Someone at WWF stops me and tells me about the Koalas,” Monti writes, “I say thank you for being out on the street. He says that ‘our planet is dying.’ I know, I say, I know. He asks me where my accent is from and, ‘do I like it here?’ If he means the planet, yes, there is beauty here.” Curious, observant, and warm, Mycelial Person speaks its wisdom to the reader long after its last breath.

Lillian Paige Walton: I remember talking with you about a passage from Shiv Kotecha’s The Switch and how we love poetry that is full of information––historical, scientific, or otherwise. Mycelial Person feels very much in that tradition. It’s not a single story or collection of poems, but a network of information or parts that touch.

Amanda Monti: I’m so glad you picked up on the word “network.” The idea of weaving a network felt very important to the kind of attention I wanted to cultivate within the book. I love Shiv’s book so much because it shape-shifts, form-switches, which feels closer to my experience of reading and writing... I took cues from that for my book. Formally, I move between three different modalities. There’s story, body, and lyric. But I was using all of these forms to experiment with attention… paying attention to the lines between inside/outside, the shared and the distinct bodies that make up organic life, participating while also paying attention… but this network is by no means all encompassing. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. It’s full of holes and incoherence. I am interested in holes, though, because those are the moments in which we can better see how a fabric is made and how it can be…undone? Patched up? I was using all three modalities to sit with those holes, to make sense of incoherence, or to just allow it to be.

LPW: I’m curious to hear about the timeline and your process for writing the book. Can you locate the writing to specific places?

AM: As for writing process: much of the writing happened in transit (until the pandemic hit) and very much in response to learning that I was doing at the time. I always write in order to digest knowledges. And so I wrote Spore Radical, while crafting a mushroom with all of these different strangers from craigslist, while also trying to teach myself about mycelium and the world of fungi. The narrative was unfolding while I was writing.

The second part of the book, “Florae filling W/holes,” grew out of a ritual I did for, well, more than two months, but I only documented a week of it. In this ritual I spent an hour each day drawing around weeds with colorful street chalk, placing my body into the street, and taking notes on site. I was interacting with people, eavesdropping on conversations, allowing myself to wander into association and dreamworld. The final part of the book is a collection of poems, probably the most composed because I wrote it at home, after the pandemic hit.

LPW: Your hands and palm-reading appear to be recurrent themes in your work. Your hands are the central subjects of your gorgeously written and highly-seductive letter that appeared in McSweeney’s Issue 62. In Mycelial Person, one of the things you offer in the craigslist ad for the mushroom hat is a palm reading in exchange. Can you tell me more about this interest?

AM: I’m so happy you asked me about that! Palm reading has been a big part of my growing up and the first instance through which I encountered storytelling. I learned palm reading when I was a teenager from one of my mum’s many divination friends one summer in Rome, an exuberant tall lady, who was highly sensitive and theatrical and kind-hearted. After that I looked into so many peoples’ palms, spinning stories from the cues that were given to me by the wrinkles in their skin, touching their hands and translating it into words. I think that this was a very important exercise in storytelling and I also paid witness to the profound healing effect that stories and meaning-making can have on people. To make sense of time through stories satisfies such an innate human desire and palm reading does that in very literal ways. It’s been a beautiful way for me to connect with people, strangers, friends, lovers because it’s so intimate but also playful, which is the kind of writing I want to produce. Palm reading as a poetic practice reminds me that I am writing stories with/through/because of bodies.

Funnily enough, I have also been obsessed with hands and fingers from a very young age—how did it take me so long to understand that I was a dyke????—I drew hands on all of my notebooks, coffee cups, tables. I think it was me coming out to myself over and over again, until I finally did to other people, too. Gay surfaces that can produce so much pleasure, that are a direct extension from the heart… what a beautiful site to write into/out of…

LPW: You write: “I had a heightened sensitivity for the effect of stories on hands and faces.” This is such a beautiful passage which immediately calls to mind the pleasure of performance, sharing poetry, and perhaps even activism. Can you speak a bit about the relationship between these practices for you?

AM: Magic and poetry share so much. A good poetry reading is the same as binding spells. Whether it’s someone reading your palm or a line of poetry, both pull your inside out into the open, put the word into the collective, make it real. It’s transformative. There is something alchemical in this movement from in to out—stories do that, too. They pull the inside to the outside and back again, albeit slightly changed, like a membrane. Magic and poetry also create temporary community… I am thinking about storytelling with Donna Haraway: a story as an ability to respond, stories as a practice of response-ability. I think that when people gather for poetry there is the potential for a “we” and that’s always transformative. It’s also FUN. Let’s not forget that poems can be fun and that transformation can be pleasurable. I like to enjoy my stories and my magic with a pinch of light and tenderness. Before I was a poet I was a theatre/performance maker and the potential for embodiment and the magic of “we” is still hugely important for my writing.

LPW: You’ve mentioned Shiv Kotecha’s book and Donna Haraway. Who are other poets and writers that resonate with you? Do you have any favorite books, poetry or otherwise, as of late?

AM: I’m thinking of Samuel Ace’s Meet Me There: Normal Sex & Home in Three Days as a collection I will return to for the rest of my days. I am thinking of so much writing in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel) that makes me grateful to be a poet today... I’ve also come to think that living adjacently to a book constitutes for a kind of reading. Here are some books I haven't read yet, but already love: I dipped into Anatomy of The Spirit by Caroline Myss as I was waiting for its owner, a beautiful dancer, a poem themselves, to pick up laundry... The Translator of Desires by Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi has been on my bedside table for months… Someone recently read me a line from Rosie Stockton’s Permanent Volta and it pulled my heart out.

LPW: As much as writing can be a solitary endeavor, the actual process of publishing a book often involves so many people. You credit many individuals with helping with this process, including poets Mirene Arsanios and LA Warman. How would you describe your experience of working with them? What do you feel they brought to the book?

AM: Publishing is a truly ecological process—this book is part of a whole ecosystem of strangers, acquaintances, friends, and mentors, whom I am all deeply grateful for. Both Mirene and LA are writers I’ve admired for a long time and have had the chance to study with. When I decided to commit to poetry I began actively seeking out writers I was obsessed with and would see if they did any teaching. Lucky for me, LA had just started teaching online classes of poetry. I took a class on Writing The Erotic Body—it maybe was the first online class I had ever taken and it was so wonderful. We read queer erotica together and touched and peeled eggs and responded in poetry. LA is a very generous teacher and her pedagogy and poetic work has expanded my ideas of what could be possible. We’ve stayed in touch ever since. She read some drafts of my manuscripts that later became Mycelial Person. Similar with Mirene. I was in awe of everything that Mirene produced and followed her work around for a couple of years until she eventually became one of my teachers at my grad program. She’s a fellow multilingual writer operating in an anglophone context and has really challenged me to think about the choice of writing in a language that is learned and non-intuitive.

LPW: I also published a book on an independent press during the pandemic and found the process to be extremely intimate. I became very close with my publishers during that time. I’m curious to hear about what it was like to work with Vegetarian Alcoholic Press during this time and if any of this rings similar to your experience.

AM: My publisher was so kind and gentle. The shift in tonality at the onset of the pandemic was immediate. All gestures of formality became grotesque. It gave way to an immediate kind of closeness, for sure. We learned to be so much more patient with each other. The idea of “projected timelines” was quite frankly hilarious, making the publishing process less jarring for me personally. We would just write each other emails, checking in on how we were doing. I’ve made so many internet friends these past two years, my publisher is one of them.

LPW: Now that Mycelial Person is complete, what other projects are on your horizon?

AM: This summer I had the utmost delight of being commissioned to work on a sound-poetry piece with the wonderful composer Alice Tolan-Mee. I adore working with radio and recorded speech, especially collaboratively. So at the moment I am working on a radio play Love it did Love and some smutty poems set in the Polish Delis of my area. Hopefully, they can turn into sounds some day.

LPW: You write: “I colour the curb and hear someone/they are gone before I can explain that I am writing a love letter.” Would you say Mycelial Person is a love letter of sorts?

AM: It’s a love letter without a recipient. The whole book is haunted by a Chris Isaac song, “Wicked Game,” in which he sings ever so softly “Nobody loves no one…” Mycelial Person finds solace and tenderness in this. While there is no distinct recipient to this quest, it’s a love confession for missed connections, unrequited desire, unlikely kinships, holes, the sticky stuff that makes up “togetherness.” Whether that be soil or craigslist, romantic or platonic, weeds or concrete. While writing I secretly wondered whether learning about fungi might also teach me something about love. And so far I am finding that mycelium instructs me on the many forms that relationality can take and honestly, I am still finding out what this can mean for human kinships. Nobody loves no one…

LPW: How does one become a mycelial person? Asking for a friend.

AM: Oh, but you already are!

Mycelial Person is available for purchase here.

#269 – Summer 2022