How Heartbreak Can Become a Character: A Conversation with D. A. Angelo ✺

D. A. Angelo & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

How Heartbreak Can Become a Character: A Conversation with D. A. Angelo ✺

Ruoyu: D, I'm awed by the gentle whimsy of this piece and am so glad to have received it. Reading it, I felt soothed into its almost waltz-like mystique. With images of “curious fox cubs making a den out of a dumped washing machine” and “buses heavy like loaded oxen,” the warmth of the creatures’ weight is lulled to the piece’s surface, spreading across the night. How do you texturize and embody this sense of nighttime, a space that is so formless?


D: Excellent question! I love the idea of texturizing the night. It immediately adds to the complexity of the time—creating layers, like archaeology, for the reader to explore and ponder upon. Having said that, writing about the night is often fraught with difficulty. Like visual art, there is a temptation to go to extremes. Do you go to the gritty realism expressed by Edward Hopper or embrace the surrealism of artists like Magritte? (He was especially fond of the night, with quite provocative pieces such as The Empire of Lights and The Banquet, drawing in the viewer with arresting, oppositional artworks.) I find it useful to tether yourself to your own experiences. My writing is heavily rooted in where I've lived, what I've seen and felt. With a piece like “Bat," I've lived in a suburban environment where I've seen foxes outside my house, been on night buses that have felt heavy as loaded oxen and wandered through lonely, dreamlike landscapes.




Ruoyu: The subtle movements of “Bat” occur against a backdrop of loneliness, with “the glass eye of a full moon,” and “the night’s monologue” following the bat, as if “stalking it.” I’m wondering how this pointed obsession, the continuous thoughts and observations centered outwards, can even facilitate the feeling of heartbreak in your imagery?


D: That's a great observation. I appreciate your insightful take on the imagery in the piece.

Any writing—whether it's fiction or poetry—will inevitably draw on the writer’s experiences. The reader is free to draw their own conclusions, based on what they pick up from the text. With “Bat”, I deliberately decided to include these dreamlike, emotive images that can be interpreted on other levels. The “unpeopled streets dizzy from listening to the night's monologue”, for example, is a reference to the loneliness of heartbreak and how easy it is to get caught in the chatter of the background noise of the night, while, at the same time, wanting to lose yourself elsewhere. These images are balancing each other (the loneliness of unpeopled streets versus “buses heavy like loaded oxen from their passenger's dreams”, for example), but it doesn't always work out as the metaphorical weight of heartbreak will inevitably dominate the landscape, even becoming louder than the frequencies bats communicate on. I wanted to create an obsessiveness and almost alien-like texture to the images to show that heartbreak can become another character in the piece—an observer to the strange dream world unfolding in front of the reader's eyes.




Ruoyu: What are 1-3 pieces of bodies of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts,—that have been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what way are they in conversation with each other (if at all)? 


D: There are so many to choose from, I think I would be hard pressed to pick a small number! Here are my picks:

  1. Star Trek. I have been obsessed with science fiction since I was a child. While there is an awe-inspiring body of work from authors across the world, the TV and movie franchise Star Trek hooked me with its take on exploration, conflicts and how the concept of a human can exist in a galaxy so far removed from our own. I particularly enjoyed Star Trek: Voyager and its unique stories of survival in a hostile quadrant of space, testing the limits of the crew in their attempts to get home. Star Trek showed me the potential for creating rich worlds teeming with alien concepts but still retaining their humanity. I think this can be a good source of inspiration, especially if you want to create surreal pieces that are grounded in humanity.


  2. Salvador Dalí. I am a huge admirer of visual art and appreciate artists who can bring a canvas to life with their skill, talent and vision. Timeless fine art that can survive the scrutiny of the ages is a rarity among artists. Like writers, not everyone will make it. Surrealism, in particular, requires a lot of vision to perfectly execute what the artist had in mind. While I love Magritte, there is a place in my mind for Salvador Dalí. His work strikes me as humorous, expansive, symbolic and dreamlike. While there is comedy with works such as The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the painting can be read as a treatise on the effects of aging on the mind. Time is the one constant you can never escape from. I think Dalí is an excellent expression of what it mean to be human and I have tried doing the same with my writing—grounding the more “out there” imagery with human feeling and thought. We are not walking switchboards of impulses—it is important to show connections can exist, flickering like fireflies in the greenhouse of the brain. I think these two influences speak to each other (and the wider work) on a more subconscious level. The surrealist aspect often pops up when I'm thinking of ideas. There is a Star Trek vibe when I'm shaping it—as if the starship of my mind is approaching an alien world and I'm just an interpreter, translating it for the reader. 




Ruoyu: If you could craft your dream undergraduate or graduate-level course in writing, what would it be centered on? What intersections, emotions, impulses, desires drive you to discover new revelations each time? Whose voices would you include in the curriculum? 


D: Great question. I'm not sure if I would be a good academic as my mind is a squawking rainforest a lot of the time! Taking the academic route in the Humanities requires a lot of time, patience, and understanding, as well as an incisive take on your chosen area of specialities. I feel like I would be immediately daunted by the challenge [laughs]. However, if given the opportunity, I would create a graduate-level course aimed at students who might not necessarily think of themselves as writers, using poetry as the primary means to help develop their creativity. Perhaps those who have come from a more vocational background or have been in a traditional career for a lot of their lives. I would want to tap into their experiences and see what emerges on the page. I would encourage them to entertain their emotions freely in engaging ways (perhaps as prose poems, imagining themselves as specific birds, etc.) The emotions of past experiences have driven me to discover new ideas and images and I would use class exercises to help them do the same.  

In terms of curriculum, I would try and avoid a very broad syllabus so as not to overwhelm students. Voices included would range from Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich and Marianne Moore to James Tate, John Ashbery and Octavio Paz. I would certainly include contemporary poets such as Louise Glück, Ocean Vuong, Natalie Diaz, Claudia Rankine, Maggie Smith etc., to create a palette of images to develop their techniques and foster their creative skills. ✺

Read the piece here.


D. A. Angelo

Shortlisted for the 2023 Manchester Poetry Prize, D. A. Angelo is a UK-based poet with work in Eclectica Magazine, Free the Verse, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Sage Cigarettes, Flights of the Dragonfly and Petrichor Mag. 


Instagram: d_a_angelo


Ruoyu Wang | Interviewer

Ruoyu Wang (王若雨) is based in Washington state, where they enjoy cold walks. An Adroit Prizes commended winner in poetry, their work appears in The Shore, Sine Theta, COUNTERCLOCK, and elsewhere. Find them at their website.

Published

Feb 19, 2024

How Heartbreak Can Become a Character: A Conversation with D. A. Angelo ✺

D. A. Angelo & Ruoyu Wang

Interviews

Ruoyu: D, I'm awed by the gentle whimsy of this piece and am so glad to have received it. Reading it, I felt soothed into its almost waltz-like mystique. With images of “curious fox cubs making a den out of a dumped washing machine” and “buses heavy like loaded oxen,” the warmth of the creatures’ weight is lulled to the piece’s surface, spreading across the night. How do you texturize and embody this sense of nighttime, a space that is so formless?


D: Excellent question! I love the idea of texturizing the night. It immediately adds to the complexity of the time—creating layers, like archaeology, for the reader to explore and ponder upon. Having said that, writing about the night is often fraught with difficulty. Like visual art, there is a temptation to go to extremes. Do you go to the gritty realism expressed by Edward Hopper or embrace the surrealism of artists like Magritte? (He was especially fond of the night, with quite provocative pieces such as The Empire of Lights and The Banquet, drawing in the viewer with arresting, oppositional artworks.) I find it useful to tether yourself to your own experiences. My writing is heavily rooted in where I've lived, what I've seen and felt. With a piece like “Bat," I've lived in a suburban environment where I've seen foxes outside my house, been on night buses that have felt heavy as loaded oxen and wandered through lonely, dreamlike landscapes.




Ruoyu: The subtle movements of “Bat” occur against a backdrop of loneliness, with “the glass eye of a full moon,” and “the night’s monologue” following the bat, as if “stalking it.” I’m wondering how this pointed obsession, the continuous thoughts and observations centered outwards, can even facilitate the feeling of heartbreak in your imagery?


D: That's a great observation. I appreciate your insightful take on the imagery in the piece.

Any writing—whether it's fiction or poetry—will inevitably draw on the writer’s experiences. The reader is free to draw their own conclusions, based on what they pick up from the text. With “Bat”, I deliberately decided to include these dreamlike, emotive images that can be interpreted on other levels. The “unpeopled streets dizzy from listening to the night's monologue”, for example, is a reference to the loneliness of heartbreak and how easy it is to get caught in the chatter of the background noise of the night, while, at the same time, wanting to lose yourself elsewhere. These images are balancing each other (the loneliness of unpeopled streets versus “buses heavy like loaded oxen from their passenger's dreams”, for example), but it doesn't always work out as the metaphorical weight of heartbreak will inevitably dominate the landscape, even becoming louder than the frequencies bats communicate on. I wanted to create an obsessiveness and almost alien-like texture to the images to show that heartbreak can become another character in the piece—an observer to the strange dream world unfolding in front of the reader's eyes.




Ruoyu: What are 1-3 pieces of bodies of art—this could be anything from other poems to TV show scripts,—that have been deeply formative in creating the spaces your work exists in? In what way are they in conversation with each other (if at all)? 


D: There are so many to choose from, I think I would be hard pressed to pick a small number! Here are my picks:

  1. Star Trek. I have been obsessed with science fiction since I was a child. While there is an awe-inspiring body of work from authors across the world, the TV and movie franchise Star Trek hooked me with its take on exploration, conflicts and how the concept of a human can exist in a galaxy so far removed from our own. I particularly enjoyed Star Trek: Voyager and its unique stories of survival in a hostile quadrant of space, testing the limits of the crew in their attempts to get home. Star Trek showed me the potential for creating rich worlds teeming with alien concepts but still retaining their humanity. I think this can be a good source of inspiration, especially if you want to create surreal pieces that are grounded in humanity.


  2. Salvador Dalí. I am a huge admirer of visual art and appreciate artists who can bring a canvas to life with their skill, talent and vision. Timeless fine art that can survive the scrutiny of the ages is a rarity among artists. Like writers, not everyone will make it. Surrealism, in particular, requires a lot of vision to perfectly execute what the artist had in mind. While I love Magritte, there is a place in my mind for Salvador Dalí. His work strikes me as humorous, expansive, symbolic and dreamlike. While there is comedy with works such as The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the painting can be read as a treatise on the effects of aging on the mind. Time is the one constant you can never escape from. I think Dalí is an excellent expression of what it mean to be human and I have tried doing the same with my writing—grounding the more “out there” imagery with human feeling and thought. We are not walking switchboards of impulses—it is important to show connections can exist, flickering like fireflies in the greenhouse of the brain. I think these two influences speak to each other (and the wider work) on a more subconscious level. The surrealist aspect often pops up when I'm thinking of ideas. There is a Star Trek vibe when I'm shaping it—as if the starship of my mind is approaching an alien world and I'm just an interpreter, translating it for the reader. 




Ruoyu: If you could craft your dream undergraduate or graduate-level course in writing, what would it be centered on? What intersections, emotions, impulses, desires drive you to discover new revelations each time? Whose voices would you include in the curriculum? 


D: Great question. I'm not sure if I would be a good academic as my mind is a squawking rainforest a lot of the time! Taking the academic route in the Humanities requires a lot of time, patience, and understanding, as well as an incisive take on your chosen area of specialities. I feel like I would be immediately daunted by the challenge [laughs]. However, if given the opportunity, I would create a graduate-level course aimed at students who might not necessarily think of themselves as writers, using poetry as the primary means to help develop their creativity. Perhaps those who have come from a more vocational background or have been in a traditional career for a lot of their lives. I would want to tap into their experiences and see what emerges on the page. I would encourage them to entertain their emotions freely in engaging ways (perhaps as prose poems, imagining themselves as specific birds, etc.) The emotions of past experiences have driven me to discover new ideas and images and I would use class exercises to help them do the same.  

In terms of curriculum, I would try and avoid a very broad syllabus so as not to overwhelm students. Voices included would range from Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich and Marianne Moore to James Tate, John Ashbery and Octavio Paz. I would certainly include contemporary poets such as Louise Glück, Ocean Vuong, Natalie Diaz, Claudia Rankine, Maggie Smith etc., to create a palette of images to develop their techniques and foster their creative skills. ✺