Giana Angelillo lives in pink.
When asked what significance the color holds she spoke cataclysmically, saying “Pink is in everything & pupil & place & person — everywhere. It’s more part of my memories than I am. I remember a cherished-thing based on how pink it was, if it was pink at all. I see pink as dual. It’s tender & poison. It’s health & death. Heart stickers, poison-dart frogs, pink lemonade, frostbite, a flush to a fever.”
And yes, her phone case is pink. Of course it is.
Giana is the author of six poetry books, including the most recently published Psychopink, which was released by Dancing Girl Press last January. Her books range in focus from rehab stays, the red spring of childhood and even Lorde’s album Melodrama. Her credentials hang from her belt with ease — from appearances in acclaimed magazines such as Winter Tangerine and the Apogee Journal to a Best of Net nomination from the Lavender Review. None of these accomplishments come without serious reason.
Her work is apocalyptic, gallant and as lively as an angry dog on a leash. It follows you home. She holds nothing back, writing in great detail about topics such as drug addiction, abuse and girlhood. Reading her poems is similar to the experience of a sudden, striking toothache, where all of your awareness is centered on that pulsing ache. In a landscape where opaque galaxy focused metaphors and bite sized, easily repostable poems reign supreme, Giana’s violent swarm of authenticity is more vital and more welcome than ever.
I had the pleasure of being able to speak with her about poetic influences, processes and burning.
How are you doing?
I’m doing better. I got my lil smiley-face jug in the mail from Pey Chi — a ceramic and textile genius based in Melbourne, Australia. Look at how fucking smiley!
When did you start writing poetry?
I started late. I wanted to find another way to survive so I ran to this form, which I thought could help me deal with myself. I was bad at first. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t have a language for what I felt, what happened to me, or how I happened to others.
What was that development like for you?
I wrote a lot and often about New York, pigeons, coffee, ice cream, tennis shoes, garbage. I walked around and looked at things and sat in the park and sometimes that’s all I wrote about, too. I knew what I wanted to do — that I wanted to be helpful to women and addicts — once I started using. Addiction was a revealing and lonely state-of-being, but in the beginning, it was fun and wild. I knew by the start of my use that I had come into my own as a poet.
Do you have a writing process?
I love how a “writing process” sounds. I’m sure if I had one I’d feel very, very authentic and cool. Still the “experience” or “process” of a poem has little to compare to. I’m not at the altar receiving a message.
Alice Notley had a chat with Poetry Society of America where she says, “all of the existence of the poem is going on at the same time.” It’s like that. I go anywhere and do anything when I hear a poem start running in my head. It is quick but it’s organized, too. Like cartoon bricks falling into place one-by-one. If I don’t type it on my phone then and there, I lose it, it moves too fast in my head.
Lately, I’ve had to write on-purpose more. It’s new for me. I like to write in open spaces where I can breathe. And nighttime — I like the dead flat blue of it.
Why do you write?
I write the street, syringe, and sex the way it happened for me. I hope I can make one good thing come out of it. I want it to be real because when I needed what was real it wasn’t there. I want to tell the truth about what I’ve been through to help others feel less alone, and maybe be better than I am.
Giana’s debut chapbook Psychopink is her masterpiece. It cements all of her individual nuances and motifs into one place. It is her magnum opus, the biggest gem in her crown. Of this book Giana said, “I saw it at the time as a way I could cocoon a timeframe, spray it with formaldehyde, make it last forever. It’s an ugly little scrapbook.”
Psychopink is introduced with the Italian proverb that roughly translates to “When the dog is scalded, even the cold water scares him.” What does this quote mean to you?
Its lesson is that even a person who has been hurt just once will still form distrust. The loose translation I love most, however, is: “A burnt child dreads the fire.”
I cried when I read it.
Who are your influences? I know you’ve said Frank O’ Hara is a big one.
I love Frank. He’s my president and my pet. He’s the man I wish I was. I’ve brought his book, “Lunch Poems,” with me to every detox. When I’m puking my guts out, he’s the only one that makes me smile. T.S Eliot killed all my poetry-related people-pleasing. Sharon Olds had me immediately with her poem “Six-Year-Old-Boy.” Brenda Shaughnessy packs a mean left-hook. & right-hook. If I were a zombie I’d want her brains first. Cynthia Cruz is a genius. I want to scream her name from the rooftops. I bought her title book of poetry, “Ruin,” three times because I couldn’t bear to be without it in all three places I was. Cruz is my biggest influence of them all.
This is loaded but what do you think makes for good poetry?
Good poetry tells the truth. Good poetry has a message. Good poetry elevates the mundane. Good poetry acknowledges what’s real even when it’s painful.
I can’t stand poetry that is desperate for views or likes. I can’t stand poetry that lies, fakes, tries to be like someone else. There were a dozen Rupi Kaur copycat books at Barnes & Noble whenever I went. There is no respect for poetry as a craft, as an art form that requires — baseline — individuality. I also believe that good poetry comes from connection with other poets. A lot of poets get famous and sniff their way home and isolate from new talent. We have such an influx of bad poetry because we have no community. I really believe in honesty. Be honest with yourself as a poet.
Is that line necessary? Are you preaching or recounting?
After a year of not writing, Giana is looking to publish a small e-book very soon. Keep an eye out. You can read her past work here in the meantime.
Thank you Giana. Big love to you.