Fitz Fitzpatrick Is Your Father Now
Origin of Starboy
I spend more time than I should worshiping galaxies.
Sometimes I close my eyes so I can learn to drift like stardust,
like whatever small part breaks off a big asteroid when it crashes into a planet.
I think that’s where I came from.
It’s not so different than the alternative, people crash
into each other amidst a soft blackness, a small piece breaks
off and sometimes a universe is born. A small hope finds a big space
to cling to and despite impossible chaos starts to grow,
a tiny point of infinite potential.
I mean didn’t we all just start out as a big bang?
I imagine my parents with bodies more celestial, like wayward stars
that found an accident in each other. And this is why they named me
Surprise, unexpected baby star,
who fought the chaos in my mother’s womb and almost didn’t make it
out to this new world. I think all of our souls just crashed here.
Which is why from day one you or I may have felt like we are stumbling.
Aren’t we all still mimicking our first celestial parents?
Why else would we write, “made in god’s image”?
And this is why a child of divorce sees a black hole
where their family used to be. This is why a broken heart feels
like a crater. A missing piece. Like I still remember when Moon left Earth.
And what some have named a monthly bleeding, I have called grieving,
because I too know what it’s like to leave a bad place just to be caught
in her orbit, repeating the same cycle ‘till the end of a time, a wound
One cosmic flashback.
Trauma starts to make sense when you write
chaos into genesis. When you replace “let there be light”
with “let there be comets.” And God looks more like a billion loaded
“And everything crashed into everything else
and we saw that it was good.”
Or we saw that it was bad.
And the only consolation I have for the ugly
I’ve crawled out of is the beauty that keeps tumbling after.
The nebula left after my explosion. The planet I can build from scraps
of catastrophic failure. All this is why the Solstice in winter looks holy.
That amidst a cold nothing, a blizzard chaos,
the warmth comes back.
New things will grow.
To Whiskey, or to That Lover, or The Self That Got Lost in Both
At least you taught me
that when I want
of a thunderbolt
cracking my head
could get me to
Where were you born?
I was born in Spokane, Washington.
What is your family life like?
My parents divorced when I was seven or eight and I have a half brother who is twelve years older than me who lives in Thailand who is the greatest person. I have had two sets of three step siblings and one of my stepbrothers passed away when I was 19. Growing up has been a really complex journey of both massive exposure to art and opportunity since I grew up fairly middle class but also peppered with a lot of alcoholism and trauma. Which I think makes sense because art has been my main way of processing the most difficult times in my life (such as my first out of four experiences with someone committing suicide, or when I realized I had a drinking problem). My relationship with my parents is complex however they are both hella supportive of me going after my artlife and generally trying to find happiness versus trying to attain status and I deeply appreciate both of them for that. They both heavily inundated me with a spirit of social justice. My mom grew up during segregation and was a Vietnam war protestor. My dad is one of those folks that always seems to have a stray lost kid on his couch. I have inherited both of their bleeding hearts for sure.
When did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was around eight years old. I have been making up songs and stories for as long as I can remember. Writing and performing have always gone hand in hand for me. Like I have all these friggin feelings and needed my whole body but also words to express them.
Are you self-taught - if so, what is your method?
I am mostly self taught but had some key mentors along the way. I took one creative writing class in college and went to a two week creative writing camp at Gonzaga University when I was sixteen. One of the instructors was Tom Caraway who later became poet laureate of Spokane. But in terms of slam I just watched people and took what I knew from my background in theatre and choir and just tried to take my feelings and find ways to make them resonate. For a while my only benchmark to measure myself by was whether or not I cried writing a poem and whether or not I could give myself shivers when I rehearsed. If I won a slam I thought “okay I guess maybe that was good?” Now I actively seek out the advice of local folks I admire and being a part of the National Poetry Slam team in Spokane was especially helpful. Competition helped drive me to improve because I grew up with it but now I’ve fallen in love with an art form and want to do justice to it. I go to any workshop I can go to and I try and read a lot of at least contemporary poetry and ask myself what I want and don’t want to take from those folks.
If you had teachers or coaches, how did they teach you?
Isaac Grambo is one of my literal poetry coaches and probably the most influential over me specifically although Mark Anderson also became one of those people in a much more sneaky and quiet way. When I qualified to be on Spokane’s NPS team in 2015 we had literal rehearsals and practice every week where he and the other team mates would critique each other on writing and performance. The big things I took from him were accessibility, authenticity and specificity of language (does that metaphor actually mean what you think it means or does it just sound cool Fitz? Are you feeling the feelings when you perform or are you faking it? How is your audience hearing what you’re saying are you just yelling at them?) From Mark I learned that toning down the volume on my performances could actually bring an audience in closer and listening to his poems and how he would critique poems helped me expand my range beyond what’s expected at a slam. He really had similar things to say about poetry and performance but from a different perspective. He also helped me realize that why I’m writing something is important. Like maybe it’s more interesting for me to actively struggle with an idea in the poem instead of just railing to an audience that already agrees with me about why I’m right about something. He would have said that in a much more gentle manner but that’s one thing I think about now.
Who are your major poetic influences?
I’m thankful to say I didn’t spend hours watching Button Poetry although that didn’t stop me from developing a pretty recognizable “slam cadence” for a while (and still if I’m being brutally honest with myself). And don’t get me wrong I totally watch people’s videos. But my biggest influences were my peers locally. I can look at my poems now and go “oh that one is Isaac’s fault, oh that’s Mark, oh that one is Chadwick.” If I become friends with a poet their work is likely to influence whatever work I make directly after meeting them. I have similar relationships to work of established poets. Mary Oliver was the first page poet I really read and loved and there is six months worth of poems in notebooks and on my phone that are really homages to her. Currently I find myself thinking a lot about Sabrina Benaim’s poems because she came to Spokane recently and I met her and talked to her. Andrea Gibson helped me write at least one gender identity poem (and by helped I mean inspired, though I did get to open for them once which still is a weird thing to say.) What’s really exciting is that I’m starting to understand my own style (that I even have one) and realize what my natural strengths are and play to those as oppose to assuming everything I instinctually want to do is wrong and I should instead exclusively try to adopt other people’s styles.
When on stage, how do you keep from getting nervous?
I actually don’t keep myself from being nervous. I get nervous every goddamn time I perform. I even still get a little nervous right before I host Broken Mic which is a thing I host every single week. Before my first poem in a slam I almost wanna be dead. Like I have to pee and throw up at the same time, I am obsessively rehearsing my poem in my head, my palms sweat and I cannot sit still. I just give into it now as part of the experience and part of what fuels me to be authentic on stage and be present. At first when I’m on stage I’ll be so nervous I can’t look at the audience and I’ll say my poem to the back wall. Usually after 30 seconds or so I’ll get comfortable and then I try and make intentional eye contact because honestly for me connection is the point. It’s terrifying but so rewarding. It’s as close as I’ll get to skydiving every time.
How does your identity impact your work?
I have written my share of identity based poems about being queer and being trans. Overall I think occupying the grey areas of sexuality and gender have given me a unique perspective on interpersonal interactions, and the systems of gender and heterosexuality. Like these systems are so bizarre when you get your brain outside of them. I try now to write fewer issue based poems and more personal poems that just happen to include the fact that I’m queer and trans because I actually think those go further in creating understanding among folks who may otherwise be closed minded or phobic. And creating understanding is specifically a goal of my poetry ideally, especially living in a mixed political environment like Spokane.
How do you avoid cliches?
If I think I have used a cliche I’ll ask myself what I actually meant and then ask myself if there is a more specific-to-me and authentic way I can say whatever I meant. I also pay attention to tropes at national slam competitions. Like sometimes people not from Brooklyn will speak with a vague Brooklyn accent and I am guilty of having accidentally done that because someone got famous and that became “Slam” (that particular trope is an Andrea Gibson remnant partially), or currently folks will say the phrase “This Body” over and over in a poem with like a wide mouthed punctuated accent. I cannot for the life of me ever talk about a rib cage ever again in a poem without feeling like a fraud. And I think stuff like that will trend because it sounds so cool the first time you hear it but then after twenty times it’s impossible to do that thing without it being distracting. “Ghosts” are a really popular metaphor and its making me sad because I can feel punch of that metaphor deadening and it is one of my FAVORITE METAPHORS. But ultimately it always comes back to the question of authenticity for me.
What images, flavors, or senses do you find yourself returning to over and over, and why?
Ghosts are an old fave like I mentioned. Gravestones. I have a quite a few flower focused poems. Also fuckin space poems man. I can’t get away from space. Like the world does not need more poems about the moon and galaxies and stars but holy shit I sure as fuck do. I have yet to exhaust all the ways I can use a comet or gravity to express a feeling. Both positive and negative feelings. I have talked about the stars as comforting little lights and as sneaky little lying bastards. I have space tattoos on my actual head. I am unapologetically going to keep doing this also. Like someone’s gonna read this interview and hear my next iteration of the space poem and make fun of me and I’m gonna just be like “FUCK YEAH SPACE MAN”.
How has poetry changed your life?
Poetry and the local poetry community literally saved my actual life. There were moments where I could have so easily disappeared off the planet and I shit you not I would think “okay but you really wanted to go to the next slam, you have that poem you wanna share.” I went through a really bad breakup right after my first National Poetry Slam and right after was when I came out as trans. I had lost a relationship that had come to define me and an entire friend group that went with it. But I was writing like it actually paid my bills and I would count down the days between broken mic or between slam and those places caught me in mid air. The people saw potential in me and made sure to tell me that and that made all the difference. Poetry has offered me the chance to express the enormous feelings that threaten to topple me. I have found at least an approximate way to give life to things that had no name and maybe sometimes help other people do that by performing and now also organizing and sometimes teaching. I get to create moments of healing for myself by opening myself up and being vulnerable and instead of being rejected, I get to be held. What’s cool is that a random audience of strangers never has an obligation to do that but I have found a way to establish trust and poetry is just consistently showing me the incredible capacity of humans to be kind.
Fitz is a performance poet based out of Spokane Washington where they have made it their mission to fall in love with strangers through the written and spoken word. They were a member of the 2015 and 2016 Spokane National Poetry Slam teams and represented Spokane in the 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam. They are also the current host of the weekly cult classic local poetry open mic, "Broken Mic". Their work is passionate and authentic and often deals with queer existence, mental illness, pastries, and romantic love.
Their work has appeared in numerous local publications such as Riverlit, Heavyedit, Love and Outrage, the local anthology "I Am a Town" and most recently the online journal Beech Street Review. They have featured as a poet in Spokane LGBT Pride, numerous social justice events, Spokane Arts Awards, opened for traveling punk bands and also opened for queer poet legend Andrea Gibson.