I’m going to kick off the Manifestos Series with an editorial. Eventually all three Cotton Xenomorph editors will contribute to this series, but since this is sort of my brainchild, I’m going first. I’ve already seen lots of wonderful submissions for this series from readers and contributors and I can’t wait to share them with you. So to start, here’s my 6 rules:
1. Total empathy and compassion for the self and others.
Because I write poetry from a mostly autobiographical perspective and from a place of trauma, I come up against a lot of difficult subjects. I have to confront myself and my abusers with understanding. That doesn’t mean forgiveness or excusing poor behavior. Rather, I seek confession and (self-)implication. My life doesn’t exist objectively. I am always biased, but I can turn that bias toward understanding.
2. Radical honesty with the self.
Don’t hide. Don’t lie. Don’t try to trick me into thinking you’re a perfect character. My greatest abuser is my sister, and yet, during dark times, I was cruel to her in my own ways. I have to own that cruelty in the same way that I confess her abuse. When you create fictional characters, there has to be flaws. Perfection is boring, unrealistic, cliché.
3. Answer every question; ask every question.
Interrogate everything. Interrogate assumptions, old beliefs, traditions, and habits. Ask yourself why you think something. This also applies to writing questions into poems. Is the question necessary or is the answer more important, urgent, interesting than the question itself? If so, state it, don’t ask it. Explore a world of questioning and uncertainty.
4. Reinvent everything.
Make everything new. I don’t care if you write about birds and trees and flowers and the moon, but I want to see it anew. I need to see it exist in some radical formation. It’s true – there’s a large and ancient canon of nature poetry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reinvent it.
5. Exhaust yourself in every sense, in every place, before you move on.
You might be surprised to hear, but a lot of writing doesn’t explore the five senses, let alone the approximately 21 senses the human body actually experiences. When was the last time you wrote about scent? sound? balance? temperature? pressure? muscle tension? direction? Even if it doesn’t make it into the final edit, think about how the full range of the body interprets the world.
6. Unearth all terrors and all joys. Live in them.
One of the most difficult things for me is to confront my pain, but even more difficult can be expressing the joys of my life. Like I said, I write from a place of trauma and that comes from a place of darkness, but the well of my life is also filled with happiness. We look at love and happiness as sentimental, and sure, it can fall to saccharinity, but it can also be poignant. Don’t give up on expressing the good things in life just because it’s easier to dwell on the bad. Pain makes joy stronger; joy makes pain more meaningful.
Those are my 6 rules, my manifesto. I’m so excited for this series and I hope beyond hope that each of us can learn a little from each other and widen our perspectives. We’re all out here writing and exploring what that means, and this is an opportunity for us to expand the conversation.
Teo Mungaray is a co-EIC and co-founder of Cotton Xenomorph. His bio can be found at the masthead here.