Lisa Marie Basile is the author of Apocryphal, along with two chapbooks, Andalucia (Poetry Society of NY) and War/lock (Hyacinth Girl Press, February, 2015). She is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and her poetry and other work can be seen in PANK, the Tin House blog, Coldfront, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, Dusie, and the Ampersand Review, among others. She’s been nominated for the Best Small Fiction 2015 and Best American Experimental Writing 2015 anthologies.
TCJWW: What made you choose the word “apocryphal” for your collection?
Basile: The Apocrypha is the collection of holy texts that are not considered authentic. But what is authentic? What is real? And what of my story is real? Are my memories real? Are my desires real? I tried to get Apocryphal to answer these questions because the reality is: I’m scared to say “this is me.” There are parts of me I don’t understand and desires I don’t understand. The best way for me to catalog my life is to say, “here’s this thing I find holy, but it might or might not be true.” Then, I don’t owe anyone but me my truth.
TCJWW: Women are not the empowered sex in most religions, but your speaker is a believer and a sexual being. What made you include religion in your poetry?
Basile: As an atheist poet, I was able to set up my world in this highly divine sort of way. I wanted to make it grandiose and lush and horrible, like religion at its best and worst. I have always been interested in religious texts and the conviction with which people talk about them. My grandparents were very religious and so I’ve not only aestheticized that Roman Catholic darkness [and light], but I’ve felt compelled to question it. I love the colors and shapes and the textures of Catholicism’s surface—its rituals and veils and the smells of incense. It’s all very bizarre and gorgeous to me.
On another level, the way women are treated is appalling. I see or read about it daily—from the woman stoned to death for accusing her rapist of rape, to the way religious friends and family strive for purity and value in the eyes of men. I wanted to sully all of that and give the woman the power to define and determine her own ideas of self, life, and death.
TCJWW: You begin Apocryphal with a quote from Anaïs Nin. How did Nin’s erotica collection influence you in your own writing?
Basile: It was Anaïs Nin’s whole body of work that really inspired me, her erotic work included. Her ability to showcase female desire is so sensual to me. I took from her the permission to objectify myself in my writing as a way of subverting, and as a way of giving myself power. But also, I love how she can take the erotic and build this gorgeous world from it. I guess Apocryphal is fairly sentimental in that it revolves around love, but I wanted to dirty it up and make it more real. Anaïs is always so good at making language sing.
TCJWW: The speaker claims she was “born bad” because her mother was “born for pain.” Why did you feel that it was important to make your poetry into a story of systematic abuse rather than just one isolated event?
Basile: I’ve actually never thought of the book that way, but it makes sense. To me, the lineage of pain and sorrow and control and fear (that of our parents and our blood and ethnicity) is its own character. I wanted to sort of point out how silly it is to think of Eve as the mother of sin.
TCJWW: In your poetry, it is not just the speaker who is judging herself. She is being judged by her father, her mother, her boyfriend, society, and even God. All of these forces conspire to tell her that she is not worthy of love and that she deserves punishment. How was it different for you to write about the personal experience of being a woman versus this universal experience, and why did you feel that it was important to include both?
Basile: To be honest, I just prefer to write beautiful things. If the work makes a social statement, I’m okay with that too. But I don’t start there.
I don’t know if the poet is a singular entity. I mean, don’t we work to reflect the world, or the inner world created by it? Women, no matter what they experience, are conjoined by a universal reality: the odds are against us in many ways, but we can change that. We can speak up for ourselves and others. I don’t think of myself as a representation, because I am only me. But I do think that I can use writing to observe the world, to say “no” to these ideas—that we put men on pedestals, that beauty is everything, that we’re objects of sin! And purity!
On another craft level, I wanted to aestheticize those feelings in order to uproot them. Surely, this can’t be my story alone.
TCJWW: What made you start Luna Luna Magazine and what are your plans for it in the future?
Basile: Luna Luna will be 2 years old this summer. I love Luna Luna so, so much and the plan, for me, is to triple the content and take it to the next level, speaking in terms of business. Right now, it’s a site for women that focuses on art and culture and lifestyle, and I want to continue growing that friendly relationship we have with our readers but also to include more edge and power in our opinions. I want Luna Luna to be seen as the friend who says all the uncomfortable but real things you need to hear. That’s hard to cultivate. That’s probably why I started it! I like a challenge. I was also really, really struggling to find a place that was slightly magical and weird and wasn’t obsessed by fashion and pop culture. We’re still young, so we have to solidify our branding and niche, but the reality is, our readers and supporters are seriously amazing, so it’s sort of easier knowing we’ve got them. But I’m a poet, so it’s going to take a while.