My Chemical Romance, Survival, & God: An Interview with Author Adrienne Novy

Adrienne Novy’s Crowd Surfing with God (Half Mystic Press) has been described as “a coming of age journey through poems: a story of self-acceptance that discusses growing up with a rare genetic disorder & mental illness, family & being in a multifaith household, pop culture, & the acts of playing & listening to music bringing you closer to yourself and healing.”

It is a truly brilliant and captivating collection with diverse poetic stylings that are sure to please any crowd (& surely inspire some crowd surfing). Rag Queen co-founder, Kailey Tedesco, talked with Novy about some of the collection’s major themes such as survival, death, god, childhood, and music.

Kailey Tedesco: A common theme of Crowd Surfing with God is survival — through music, through media, through self-awareness. Can you tell us about your writing process and how, if at all, it connects to this theme of survival?

Adrienne Novy: I always freeze up when asked about my writing process or how to describe it, and to be honest it’s because I really don’t know how. I joke a lot that I just have a lot of feelings and then sometimes poems happen. Approaching writing from an ekphrastic perspective helps, but really my process comes from reading and listening. I go to workshops all the time. I like to try new styles of poems and formatting using poems that inspire me as a framework. I honestly wouldn’t be growing as an artist if it weren’t for workshops, and being able to have those spaces to practice. Going to workshops is so important, and it’s especially crucial for young writers and those trying to perfect their craft.

For me, writing and creating art is an act of survival. It’s what motivates me and has let me set attainable goals and to challenge myself. It’s given me a community and amazing friends. It’s been healing and has healed me.

There’s this exercise in the workbook my therapist recommended to help me with my anxiety and depression that’s basically to write your epitaph to show what you are capable of accomplishing in life. With my history, writing my epitaph or eulogy is dangerous for me. If I were to approach that exercise, it’d be from the perspective of writing my future author bio. It is an act of survival for me to be able to remind myself that I am capable and can keep continuing to be.

KT: This book is described as “a coming of age journey.” How did your own childhood experiences and coming of age narrative play a role in the creation of these poems?

AN: Since Crowd Surfing With God has poems about my younger years as well as my adolescent ones, I wanted there to be some kind of arc in regards to a timeline and in regards to growth. I also felt that it made most sense for me to have these poems about my experiences with Cat Eye Syndrome be published somewhere while I’m still young so I don’t grow too distant from what I experienced and what it was like to be in and out of the hospital as a kid.

This coming of age arc also comes up through some of the music that I reference in this book. While writing this book, I thought a lot about the music that my parents raised me on and the music I discovered through friends and on my own. Like I can remember how old I was when I first got introduced to My Chemical Romance and which friend introduced me to MCR in high school. I still love all those songs now, but I often view them from a nostalgic lens and think about how much I’ve grown and accomplished since then.

KT: I was thrilled to see your MCR poems (I’m a forever MCR fan myself)! In “the pop punk bible” you write: & so god plucked a comic book artist from New Jersey & handed him notebooks & microphones & electric guitars.” I love that you suggest a sort of divine intervention here — Gerard Way was “plucked” and placed onto this path of music. Would you say the divine plays a role in the life of all artists? Did you feel the divine had a role in your creation of these poems?

AN: I don’t think that the divine plays a role in the life of all artists at all. I think it can be a presence, but it doesn’t have complete control over the path we take. We as artists hold that control, and oftentimes with a divine presence the path we are on is our destined one. I think the end of My Chemical Romance and how things became toxic for the band members really shows that. The members of My Chemical Romance did struggle and suffer through a lot emotionally during their time as a band. No one is destined to suffer, and artists should never be destined to have to approach their art from a place of suffering.

I wanted to mirror the Creation Story for this poem and so the divine intervention felt right for the piece. I’ve never really considered myself to be a very religious or spiritual person. Even though I do identify as Jewish and go to synagogue, it’s really been from more of a cultural experience for me and a place for me to find community, song, and poetry through religious text.

(I also hope there will be an MCR reunion tour in the future since missed the chance to see them live in high school, but I understand if it never happened. Frank, Mikey, Gerard, and Ray all have families and are doing things that they’re passionate about and that are healthy for them and that’s honestly all I care about.)

KT: In this same poem, you write “in the beginning, god was a fifteen year old girl”. Is this the image of god that informed this whole collection, or does this idea god evolve throughout? How are youth and pop culture intertwined with the concept of faith in this collection?

AN: I actually really never thought about that actually, but I like to think that that image of god informs the project and I guess like a god, that presence is there even when we don’t realize it or think about it.

I think youth and pop culture are so intertwined because we’re immersed in it every day. Pop culture is our world. I have put a lot of faith in the people that have created art that have helped me and healed me, and it’s really hard not to.

I can’t separate my favorite art from the artists that have made it. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. If there’s an artist that I like that I learn is hurtful and problematic, their art leaves a bitter taste in my mouth instead of making me feel seen and held gently. I think the same thing goes with faith and religion: when we have very negative experiences attached to it, it’s really difficult to see in a warmer light and sometimes reclaiming that faith for our own can be so, so hard.

KT: References to celebrities who are dead or who tend to celebrate death are prevalent in this book. Did the death positive movement play a role in the structuring of this collection? And, if so, do you believe that there’s an intersectionality between death positivity (or the acceptance of death as inevitable) and the speaker’s deliberate choice to survive?

AN: !!! This is another thing that I never really thought of before! Or at least I didn’t when I was creating the poems for the book. I think if there’s any positivity, it’s the comfort that many people find in the concept of an afterlife. I really wanted to these poems as a way to treasure both celebrities and people that I love who have passed, and to have a way I can honor them. Whenever I’ve lost someone (and lost them too soon), keeping them and their memories alive is a motivator to keep surviving. Poems can be a way for me to hold the people I miss with me.

KT: Each of your poems is diverse in its form. Some are prosaic while others utilize blankness and spacing. How do you decide what form a poem will take?

AN: Since a lot of the poems were based on specific songs, I wanted to attempt to encapsulate the feel of the song through those poems. I also took several writing classes in college where we talked a lot about spacing and format, that spacing and utilizing blank space is powerful and needs to be used with intent. I also wanted to be able to give the book variety and didn’t want every poem to be formatted exactly the same.

KT: What music would you recommend to those who are currently coping with trauma / fighting to survive? In your opinion, what power does music have over us? And, does poetry contain a similar power?

AN: If there’s any song that gives you hope and makes you feel good, hold on to that. Cherish that. I remember when I was at my worst and how I clung to songs that had lyrics that made me feel less afraid and that I could get through what I was going through. I think with the songs that help me feel better or songs that I know I can cry to if I need to cry, I don’t have a memory attached to them but really more of an emotion. Sometimes when friends share with me songs that help them feel better, I think of that friend and how they keep working to survive. We all have those songs that we can’t bring ourselves to listen to anymore. If I do have a memory attached to a song that I want to listen to and I’m in a bad mental place, I try to listen to a song that reminds me of a positive experience I had and who shared that experience with me.

I also have an open Spotify playlist for friends to add songs that help them feel better, which you can listen to and add a song to if you’d like to here:

KT: Our Creative Director, Mauve Perle, likes to ask how we show love. How do you show love to others?

AN: I’m a big fan of giving and receiving hugs, and asking first is very important to me for both of those things. I’m also a giver and so gift-giving and caregiving are also some of my love languages. One of my other ways of letting people I love know I love them is sending them videos of baby animals or videos and pictures of my dog. I also show love through sending friends things on the internet that made me think of them, and I do that through sharing poems too. I really want to be able to be there for my friends in the ways that they need me when they’re having a bad day. Topaz Winters really got me interested in the idea of creating mixtapes as an act of showing love, and I’ve been trying to find ways to approach love in that way.

KT: What are you reading / watching / consuming right now? How is it informing your writing?

AN: As of right now, I’m reading If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar, The Good Bones by Maggie Smith, and Tweak by Nic Sheff. I also really love graphic novels, and I’ve been enjoying Spinning by tillie walden and the Shade the Changing Girl series by Cecil Castellucci.

For shows, I’m watching the British/French crime drama The Tunnel with my dad and have become the type of person where I enjoy watching shows with someone else than I do by myself. I’m also watching The Flash and trying to savor every last bit of Deception that I can since it was cancelled after one season. Watching The Tunnel has made me want to get back into watching French movies since I really miss studying the language and immersing myself in it. I also love John Mulaney’s standup specials! I can probably quote New in Town and The Comeback Kid from memory and I’m only a little sorry about it.

As with music and consuming other media, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mitski, The Mountain Goats, a little bit of Regina Spektor, and have been playing the song From the Outside by Real Friends on repeat a lot. That song has just really stuck out to me since it came out while I’ve been in mental health recovery. I’ve been listening to much more gentle and soft pop music since the music I listened to during the creation of my book was so intense and chaotic. I think if anything that has informed my writing, it’s been music and lyrics from songs. I have several drafts on my phone that are lyrics from songs that really stood out to me that I want to italicize in a poem. Those lyric fragments are usually what I end up forming a poem around, while also taking in the feel of the song, the artist’s musical style and genre, as well as the story that the cover art of the album the song is from is trying to tell.

About the Author: Adrienne Novy is a teaching artist, Bettering American Poetry nominee, and musician currently living in Saint Paul, MN.

You can pre-order Crowd Surfing with God here.

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