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Meet Cori Bratby-Rudd of Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Reading Series in East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cori Bratby-Rudd.

Cori, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My writing uses queer theory and is a combination of confessional poetry, hybrid writing, and surrealism; which, for my own amusement, I have termed queerealism. I received my BA in Gender Studies from UCLA. This department primarily focuses on themes of intersectionality of race, class, and gender. Thus, what is most notably continuous through my pieces is the content, I am consistently traveling into my coatlique state – or the center of what hurts, and trying to dissect and understand that pain. I seem to always be writing about myself and as such, about social justice and familial issues. I am working on a manuscript about queer families and queer parenting. I myself have lesbian moms and grew up feeling isolated and unable to connect with most literature unless it was based in addressing oppression. As an adult, I still am on the lookout for books that relate to the queer family, particularly from the perspective of the kids, and yet I can count on one hand the amount I have found after 24 years of searching.

I just finished my MFA in creative writing at CalArts and my first manuscript delves into the topic of isolation, love, trauma, and the dichotomy and comical realities of having a family that does not fit into the norm. For instance, one piece recognizes the oddity of my Birth Certificate which states that my “Father’s Name” is Deborah Ann Bratby. Another reflects on the process of coming out for your parents at elementary school and having to explain artificial insemination as a seven-year-old. I oscillate between prose poems, free verse, and formal constraint poetry. I have tentatively titled my manuscript, “Dis/owned: Confessions of a Frankengaybe” and it is my memoir collection of hybrid writing attempts to destabilize the concept of and assumptions around family. Particularly, by using the backdrop of my childhood (and adulthood) experiences with having a non-normative queer family (lesbian moms), these moments in my life are working to unpack and unsubverted what many of us take to be “expected.” From the family bathroom signs that show a mom, a dad, and a child all holding hands, to my computer’s refusal to accept “my moms” as grammatically correct, to donor siblings and grappling with questions about biological bonds and sperm donors, this piece operates as a documentary of a queer family from my vantage point. Particularly through the lens of trying to deconstruct these harmful assumptions about families. By taking terms like “Blood relatives,” or “Half-siblings” and really trying to deconstruct what we mean by such problematic and harmful language especially in the context of chosen families, this piece is an exploration of my own grappling and difficulty with navigating a world in which my home does not easily fit in such categories. At first, I thought this collection was about my experience with having queer moms. It has now turned into, what I find much more interesting than my moms making me turkey sandwiches and coaching my soccer teams, this story is about my experience with the world through the lens of my deconstructing what most of us take as stable from a queer child’s eyes. As of a few weeks ago, this collection has been nominated as a semi-finalist for the Pamet River Prize from YesYesBooks.

I am currently involved with various other projects as well. My short play titled UHAUL was selected to be in the ALAP Pride Reading Festival and was performed this June 16th. I am also a performer with the Q Story Stream live storytelling events. I will be performing a live story titled, “Shotgun Weddings” at the next Q Story Stream event on June 20th. I also am currently teaching a Queering Poetry workshop through Influx Collectiv and the Q Youth Foundation. This summer I will be attending Lambda Literary’s Writing Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Writers and working directly with Danez Smith.

What else should we know?
The only thing I like more than poetry is queer poetry. This is a complicated love because queer gatherings alone, let alone queer poetry gatherings are few and far between. In fact, queer poetry itself can at times be difficult to define—is a queer poet writing anything queer poetry? Does the poetry have to be overtly queer for it to be defined as queer poetry? Is queer poetry the same as lesbian poetry? Gay poetry? Trans poetry? I am sure that at certain readings or events I have witnessed and heard “queer poetry” and never realized it was queer. What is queer can thus sometimes be trickily hidden while also in very public places. The ideal of queer poetry was thus a space wherein I envisioned all the letters in our acronym could gather and find solidarity in our love for this specific craft—a space where we would thus know and be cued into the queerness in the work.

As such, on the last night of the 2018 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat, I was both energized from my first full immersion in a queer writer space, but I was also devastated to see it end. This was a space that was overtly queer and writerly, where I, along with hundreds of other LGBTQIA+ writers, had just spent a week reading, writing, and having “camp” style late night sleepovers with about 100 queers from across the world. This experience was thus a sort of surreal dream wherein we met in the mornings, went moon gazing, and workshopped each others’ poems. It was a week surrounded by 24 hours of queer. There was never a fear of work being misheard or misunderstood, we were in community, we were in the community we were in fact creating work for to begin with. On that last night, almost all of us gathered into a sort of drunk queer group hug and both rejoiced for the experience but also mourned the end of our queer writer home. All of us seemed to have the same love for queer writing, but also all of us had difficulty finding such spaces back home. I have never felt so supported in my craft. We took risks. We trusted each other. And, while I was there group hugging my new favorite people on our last day, I realized a lot of these people live in LA, or know queer writers in this city.

LA, as in where I currently lived. A lot of my new queer friends, I was sure had extended queer poet friends in the city as well (just like me). I wondered, what would happen if we had access to this community all the time as opposed to once a year? How many queer poets are here in this city and just don’t know they have community waiting for them who might be desperately needing something like this gathering?

And thus, Influx Collectiv(e) was born! As an LA queer poetry reading series, Influx Collectiv(e) set out with the intent to build community, and foster queer creation and poems. Catherine Chen (also a Lambda poet) and I began discussing starting a series that brought our community together and after they moved to New York, I took over the main operations and think tank behind the reading series with the help of my better half, Diana Gutierrez.

We hosted our first event in November 2018 at BookShowLA. We had four readers and an intimate audience. For our launch we had four poets read, Catherine and I all reached out to our known queer writer contacts and we quickly found our first lineup with readers: Hannah Rubin, SA Smythe, Evan Kleekamp, and myself.

Since then, we have been rotating through the city as we try to find our forever home and each event attracts a larger and larger audience.

At first, we applied for a small diversity grant through California Institute of the Arts and were thus able to establish a website and a mailing list. We had about 20 followers on Instagram (mostly our own friends), when I figured I would try to do some Instagram marketing without paying for ads—the idea was, I would follow all the queer poets I knew, look at the folks they were friends with who might be interested in queer poetry and followed all of them. Whenever someone followed me back and seemed enthusiastic about Influx, I looked at their contacts and continued the chain of following friends of friends of friends trying to find my queers and my community.

It worked.

Two months later, we try to host a reading once a month and advertise exclusively on social media. Within just a few months, we had already accrued about 2K followers on Instagram and at this point, we only need to post a call for readers and the readers come to us. Our series blends new writers with little reading experience through established folks in the literary community who have multiple books published. Writers were coming to us instead of us reaching out to them. Queer poet friends of queer poet friends were emailing us and wanting to read, wanting to host workshops, wanting to be involved. Our lineup is so far booked through July and we are excited to see what the future holds for us. We have a queer poetry workshop in the works with a local organization called the EastSide Queer Stories, and we have found that contacting and staying in touch with queer organizations in the city has been extremely beneficial in terms of both creating community and supporting other organizers through our channels.

We value making flyers that showcase queer art as background images and because we are primarily organizing online, our flyers have become a necessary medium of communication. My wife, Diana Gutierrez is in charge of making and designing the flyers themselves and they are talented at making the poster draw in the eyes of scrollers. The first flyer Diana made, using the artwork of LA non-binary queer writer Féi Hernandez, felt as though it were a sort of artwork in itself. Féi’s original digital series of portraits depict various Latinx folks in vibrant, unorthodox colors. With blue skin, pink hair the pieces offer commentary on both gender dysphoria and the marginalization and alienation of various Latinx communities. Diana thus, with the consent and permission of Féi, added text around the image in order to construct a visually stunning design that both informed people of the next event. Diana specifically tries to pick compelling artworks by queer artists of color to use for the flyers and we make sure to cite their work in order to hopefully help with each artist’s creative practice.

“Because I get to represent queer writers like myself through making the flyers for Influx I feel like I’m helping to make queer history in a small way.” explained Diana.

The flyer worked. For our second event, we had a long line out the door of the local Holy Grounds Coffee Shop. We had accrued about a thousand followers on Instagram at this point, and it was only our second event. Word was starting to spread about our series. Féi also performed their original poetry for this event as well and it was such a gift to have them in our presence. They were the first up on stage and their completely memorized piece was striking and musical in its commentary on gender, immigration, and violence. I think the whole audience was in tears by the end of Féi’s performance.

Since our conception, we have been mainly focused on generating and connecting community. As such, we continue to attempt to honor and do justice by our community of queer LA poets. We run a weekly “Queer LA Poet Spotlight” where we post an image of a queer poet, and promote their book/bio, and make sure that the queer community knows who is creating alongside them. We are not alone. In fact, there are quite a lot of us. Thus far, we have highlighted poets such as: Ryka Aoki, Tommy Pico, Jos Charles, Muriel Leung, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Yosimar Reyes, among others. We also run a weekly, “Favorite queer book of the week” series wherein we honor the work of folks whose writing deserves all the exposure it can get. So far, we have highlighted Virginia Grise’s Your Healing is Killing Me, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s Rocket Fantastic, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, CA Conrad’s A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon, among other texts. We also try to share any calls for submissions that might relate to our audience/community and have gotten feedback that this is helpful for our audience.

In terms of the reading series itself, some of my favorite moments thus far were when Bekah Fly kneeled to the ground and broke out in a melodic song mid-performance, and another favorite moment was seeing Edwin Bodney, a talented black queer poet in LA and the author of A Study of Hands (Not A Cult Press), read his work was also truly inspiring as an artist, creator, and fan myself. Another of my favorite moments is whenever someone reads for the first time. For instance, when a good friend of mine Kelsey Jones felt comfortable performing for us for her first ever reading, I was extremely excited to witness and provide the opportunity for a new poet to be welcomed into the world of sharing their work. At Influx, our goal is to create an environment where folks feel comfortable performing for the first time and feel encouraged to read again moving forward.

One of the first things we noticed about the quick accrual of interest was that people were desperately seeking such an event and resource. As such, we posted a Queer Publishing Guide on our website which lists all the queer publications we know about, and we continue to add more as we learn about the incredible ways our community members are engaging with one another. Diana and I negotiate race and class differences by specifically trying to reach out to poets of color who we feel deserves a spotlight for their excellent creative works. Our logo, which depicts a multi-colored (green/orange/red) woman with her head pointed downward and her hand held near her mouth, was designed by Octavia Saenz, is a friend, a talented visual and literary artist, and is a trans woman of color who was also a part of the Lambda Literary cohort. Unfortunately, at this specific time, we do not have the ability to pay our readers for their performances (we do hope to do so in the future grant permitting!). We also make an active effort to ensure queer women of color are represented on stage. Diana, who is Afro-Peruvian, usually hosts/M.C’s our events as an active effort to put queer women of color in positions of power and visibility.

Our past two events were held at Avenue 50 Studios in LA and we introduced wine to the scene (which was widely successful) and created an atmosphere where folks felt comfortable talking and socializing. I served wine in the back and we held a brief intermission in which folks actually socialized and met one another. We saw many handshakes and book sales and it was exciting to see folks collaborating and creating community for themselves.

By far, the most meaningful aspect of the series has been finding and creating a queer poetry community for myself in LA, some of our readers (myself included) have made lifelong friends, and all have gotten further opportunities and support for their work. From selling out of books to possible book deals, the series has been a welcoming place for first-time readers and a community building space for established ones. Our motto is: once you are in the Influx family, you are always in the Influx family—If our readers inform us of any books, events, or readings upcoming we make sure to help them promote and do whatever we can to build up our queer LA poetry community.

Our next event will be held at Beyond Baroque at 8pm on July 27th.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the queer community in LA!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Amy Zapata

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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