I first encountered Ollie Schminkey’s work about two months into my first serious relationship when a friend sent me the link to Schminkey’s “Two Twin Beds.” In that poem I found an articulation of so much of what I had felt completely incapable of communicating. It became a sort of first step for me towards communicating and eventually writing my own poems about my experience as a survivor.
Ollie’s work explores gender, bodies, trauma, and sex and they do so with humor, earnestness, and incredible titles.
So you have a forthcoming book, You Are Sad and That Sucks a Lot (which is an amazing title, by the way). What was the inspiration behind this collection?
Thanks so much! I would say this whole project came out of a need for me to explore the ways in which depression, abuse, trauma, kink, transphobia, mental illness, etc, all come together in my life and interact with each other. Although the title is about being sad and that sucking (which it totally does), this is also a book about vitality and the ways in which I’ve been able to survive, whether it be rape or disordered eating or transphobia.
At the start, I set out to write a book about my depression– what I ended up doing was figuring out that my depression was holding hands with so many other things in my life.
That’s really interesting. While I think there’s a lot of amazing work out there on any given one of the things you listed, it’s rare to see them explored in relation to each other. It sounds like a really important project, both for you and the people who will read it.
What, for you, is the relationship between art and healing?
I agree– I see a lot of amazing work that attempts to tackle different things in isolation, but all of these things are so connected for me that I just have to write about them all at once.
As for the relationship between art and healing– I’ve always struggled with this, and I’ve struggled with “healing” in particular. In my life, a lot of conversations around “healing” (especially from sexual trauma) equated healing with being able to engage in normative heterosexual sexual practices (i.e. having sex the “right” way again). But I’m queer and kinky, and never want to have sex with a man ever again probably. In conversations about healing from disordered eating (which I’ve had in the past and still do sometimes), healing is equated with feeling good about your body and accepting your body. But I’m trans, and there are many things I would like to change about my body that aren’t related to my disordered eating (or are, but in different ways than you’d think). All of my experiences inform each other, and there’s no way for me to adhere to any mainstream definition of healing.
Instead of healing, which to me implies some kind of goal or endpoint (rather than an ongoing, arduous, life-long process), I talk a lot about coping with, living with, or surviving with different things. And art helps me survive everything.
Don’t get me wrong– I don’t think art is a substitute for activism. If we want to stop bad shit from happening to people, a poem on its own is not going to do that. Only organizing and fighting can do that.
And although art is here to challenge us and make us uncomfortable in so many good and important ways, I think art’s role particularly in this context of surviving is the same one as the bed we crawl into at night– to hold us when we need to be held. Art has always been here to hold me in my anger, my sadness, my doubt, and my happiness. Art isn’t here to make my problems go away; art is here to remind me that my problems are real and that’s okay and I’m not the only one with them. Art isn’t here to tell me I’m not crazy; it’s here to tell me I am crazy, but really, truly, all the best people are.
I hear that. As a survivor as well, I’m still trying to figure out what healing means to me. A good friend once defined it as “whatever it needs to be today.” I think that can apply to art too.
Speaking of, I know you make music and visual art as well. Do you find you express yourself differently (or express different things) through other mediums? How do you feel that they are related?
I totally feel like I express myself differently through other mediums– my visual art is a mix of intense self-portraits and these scary/cute little animals. My music is something else entirely– a Kimya Dawson-esque kind of good time, mostly 4 chords, mostly songs I haven’t edited and don’t plan to. Music is the place where I just kind of get to have fun, and visual art is the place where I get to have fun and also get to be my true dramatic emo form.
Poetry is the place I go when I have something to say I can’t fit into those two other places, and when I want to say that thing well and clearly. A lot of people think about poetry as abstract, but for me, it’s actually the most concrete and easily interpreted art form that I do (I mean, other than, like, knitting. When I knit a hat, it’s a hat, and only a hat, and most people can tell it’s a hat. Nothing too deep there).
Poetry is the place my trauma can live in a nuanced way, where I can make images to describe something without having to spend hours actually drawing that image out. Music is the place I make jokes and laugh. Visual art is the place I give birth to unicorns and tear off my chest and run with dead cats. I mean, all of my art deals with the same subjects because I believe that ethical art making most often requires focusing on yourself, telling your own stories, and so all of my art is deeply personal. The different mediums all just show a different side.
I think it can be so easy to place artists into boxes, it’s really cool that you have those different mediums to explore (and share) your experience differently.
You mentioned ethical art making, which artists do you feel have shaped you the most?
Well, I have a ton of poet friends that have really shaped me, from Rachel Rostad to Danez Smith to Hieu Nguyen, the list goes on. Basically, anyone who has ever been on a team with me or coached a team I was on has helped me develop my work and hold myself to a higher standard. From afar, pretty much every trans writer I’ve ever seen has helped shape me. I’ve read almost everything Topside Press has ever published, and I think watching trans people speak truth and power is really what helped me to be able to speak at all in the first place.
I mean, I haven’t met anyone who never makes mistakes or accidentally harms someone– but I really don’t think the goal is perfection. I think the goal is just to hold ourselves accountable and to try to hurt people less.
Final question: what things are you excited about right now?
Oh wow! This is such a refreshing question because everything feels like the world is ending. Right now, I’m really excited that I just had my first solo art show exhibit, that I coupled with my book release. Visual art has always been a huge part of my life, and it was so nice to be able to share it with all of the people who typically know me for my poetry.
I’m also excited to see the ways in which the people and communities I love are working to resist this fascist regime– whether it’s through protesting, punching Nazis, or loving themselves radically. A lot of my friends have made the commitment to stay alive and fight suicidal thoughts/behaviours as an act of resistance, and being in this network has really helped me make a lot of choices that are good for my mental health. Although there’s a *ton* of scary and real stuff happening out there, my friends remind me that there’s a lot we can do to resist and thrive.
OLLIE SCHMINKEY is a white, non-binary transgender poet/activist/musician/artist. They facilitate, direct, and host many organizations, including Well-Placed Commas (a weekly poetry workshop with Word Sprout, Inc.), and OUTspoken! (a queer open mic). They have also represented the Twin Cities in numerous national poetry competitions, and they are the author of one chapbook,The Taste of Iron. Publications that feature their work include Write Bloody and Andrea Gibson’s anthology, We Will Be Shelter, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and 20% Theatre Co’s The Naked I. They have guest curated two shows, Rage, and STARE BACK, at the Fox Egg Gallery. You can find more of their work on UpWorthy or Button Poetry.
KATIE CLARK is newly 20, a student at Mount Holyoke College, and in love with the world. Katie interviews for Vagabond City Lit. You can find their most recent work nestled kindly in Nostrovia!. Maudlin House, and Tinderbox.