Interview: There’s No One Way to be a Human (A conversation with Poet Ari Lohr)
A Thin Slice of Anxiety recently had the pleasure of reading Gravity, a stunning collection of poetry by Ari Lohr.
From the very first poem, we were struck by Lohr's powerful and evocative writing. They have a way of capturing the nuances of emotion and experience in a way that is both raw and beautiful. Whether exploring love, heartbreak, or the complexities of identity, Lohr writes with honesty and vulnerability, inviting the reader on a journey of self-discovery and understanding.
And we were very fortunate to be able to sit down with them today for a short interview to discuss their book and the inspiration behind it, their writing process, and how they view the role of poetry in today's society.
We really enjoyed your collection, Gravity. How did you go about getting the collection together?
Gravity came together from a patchwork of independent experiences, ideas, and challenges that I faced as an adolescent. Having grown up queer in an increasingly hyper-connected, yet hyper-atomized culture, I would often write poems expressing the sheer sense of isolation that I felt as a consequence of my usage of apps such as grindr, etc; in my desperate search for community and romantic connection, I only felt more and more withdrawn from others. Hence, as I wrote Gravity, I conflated a variety of traumatic queer experiences together: from the intimate exchange of breath between young lovers to the profound violence of mass shootings such as Pulse, our community shares collective anguish from which we weave together narratives and stories, seeking to reflect the challenges — large and small — that we confront as an aggregate and as individuals. Inasmuch as Gravity is my attempt to make sense of my own trauma — namely, my severe abandonment issues, as expressed through the lover Adam — it is a treatise of our fractured community, having been either abandoned or targeted by the institutions that are supposed to protect us. Ultimately, Gravity is both a memoir of my adolescence and a love letter/warning to the queer community; in both a spiritual and political sense, Gravity is, if anything, a manifesto.
Now that your book is being received and written about, is there anything around the narrative of the book that you feel is not being said? What do you wish people knew that perhaps they don’t?
I’m really grateful for this question. Being an indie author — especially at such a young age — can be difficult, namely due to the fact that simply getting your book out there is quite the challenge. I’m honestly overwhelmed with the positive response to my book and I could not be more thankful for how it’s been received. But also (!) I want more people to talk about god. I use the word god — not in the christian sense, perhaps not in any particular sense — in so many poems in this book; even the lover’s name is Adam. As much as the personal and impersonal become one and the same in Gravity, so too do the spiritual and the political, the sublime and the mundane (at least if, as I hope, my art is accomplishing what it, and all art, is meant to). I don’t want people to assume that Gravity is some sort of prescriptive spiritual doctrine (it’s not) but I do want this book to raise questions that run deeper than the surface of the traumatic experiences that it depicts. It is true that our community is atomized, and isolated, and yet we nonetheless maintain a unique kind of alchemy which each of us, as queer individuals, as individuals, undeniably experiences. There is something mystical about it all — how we fluctuate between profound highs and devastating lows, how our scattered experiences converge into narratives which are inexplicably coherent and impossibly whole, how our timelines intersect, co-opt, and co-constitute one another, how we use poetry and film and music and all other forms of art to weave this all together into an unspoken, beautiful tapestry. I guess all this wiseacreing is really just to say that I want more people to see Gravity, and other poetry books, less like books and more like tarot cards, like bibles.
When did you start writing poetry, and what moved you to start and how has your relationship to it changed and served you as a writer throughout your career?
I started writing poetry in sophomore year of high school just because I liked attention: my district held an annual poetry slam called Verselandia which took place in an enormous concert hall, and I was so desperate to qualify and participate that I taught myself how to write. I performed well in Verselandia and had the opportunity to participate in other slams — Brave New Voices, Slamlandia, the Portland Poetry Slam, etc. — and so I sort of accidentally became ‘good’ at poetry simply because I was compelled to keep coming up with new material. It was only around my senior year of high school (when I experienced the most abandonment and trauma) that I transitioned into other forms and registers. I’m a junior in college now, and I still don’t understand how Gravity came together; it’s like I just wrote, and kept writing, and eventually realized that I had a book. It’s an uncomfortable, yet lovely feeling. Some people use poetry as a coping mechanism, or a means of expression, but for me it’s moreso been an old friend that frustrates me often, and yet that I paradoxically always return to. The less I make myself write, the happier I am and the better work I produce. That’s probably a bad model to follow but it works for me!
What is the role of poetry today? Why do you keep writing poetry?
Is it problematic for me to say that there’s too much poetry out there? Damn, I love poetry, but some of y’all completely absorb yourself in this art form and I question how you’re capable of doing that without destroying your mental health. In all seriousness, I’m not sure I can comment on the state of the poetry community today, even as the Editor-in-Chief of a lit mag (shoutout to the Jupiter Review!). Every assumption I have about poetry, or its ‘community’, is always proven wrong, which I think is due to the fact that poetry is everywhere. Some say that poetry is ‘dead’, and in a sense that’s true — you’d be hard-pressed to come up with modern equivalents to Wordsworth or Donne or the like — and yet it’s also true that poetry is more alive than ever, with more and more people finding interest — and even comfort, somehow — in this art form. And I don’t know why I keep writing. I don’t think anyone knows why they keep writing. We can say that it’s ‘comforting’ to us or even, somehow, that we find it ‘fun’, but I think we all know that those answers are kind of bullshit. In truth, I don’t think any of us knows why we write. We just do. And that’s why we love it.
End of Interview
Ari Lohr is a queer poet and English Education major at Boston University. Xe is a Brave New Voices semifinalist, Slamlandia finalist, Portland Poetry Slam champion, and a 2021 Best of the Net nominee. Focusing on the mystical intersections between power, sexuality, and identity, Ari’s poetry appears in the Northern Otter Press, Opia Lit, and more. They are the author of EJAY., a confessional love letter / poetry chapbook, and Gravity, their debut full-length with Gutslut Press. They are also the managing editor of the Bitter Fruit Review and the editor-in-chief of the Jupiter Review. Xe believes truth is malleable, professionalism is violence, and arrogance is sexy.
A Thin Slice of Anxiety wishes to thank Ari Lohr for joining us. We look forward to reading more of their work in the future.