An Interview With Maryan Nagy Captan, by Caitlin Tschanz
At times witty, brazen, and colorful, Maryan Captan's most recent publication copy/body is sure to provoke thought and take the reader through a gamut of emotional narratives.
Subjects range from familial migrations (blood pact) to the perilous joys of copulation (i'll never know a sunday in this weekday room), with space given to appreciate the simplicity of humanness in a very complicated world. Captan has mastered the intangible through profound verse and powerful stanzas that seem to capture the writer's heart and soul on the page, while still encroaching upon the collective experience of being vulnerable at a time when self-deprecation and coldness runs rampant.
First and foremost, what is your relationship to writing and how did you get started?
We moved from Egypt to America when I was 5 years old and I didn’t know a single word in English. In order to quickly adapt, I took ESL classes from 1st to 3rd grade and remember, very distinctly, feeling like the English language was a treasure to be discovered. I was immediately fixated on it and wanted to learn as much as I could. My parents worked nights and days and we were always struggling to make ends meet so buying notebooks and pencils was a solid alternative to putting my sister and I in sports or getting music lessons. I used to stay up late and tell my sister stories as she drifted off.
In high school, I took poetry and theatre classes. My first two years of college were dedicated to learning everything I could about playwriting and screenwriting. I was fixated on developing a voice and was really interested in dramatic monologues and writing voice-overs. I moved to Philadelphia in 2008 with the intention to start an art collective which eventually grew into the Philadelphia Poetry Collective. The classes I took at Temple, mostly focused on Modernist and Conceptual writing reignited my love of language which led me down the rabbit hole of experimental writing.
Would you say that traveling/visiting America as an Egyptian woman has shaped your writing style, or did you already have a developed voice before coming here? Has living in Philadelphia made a lasting impact on you and your subject matter?
I think living in Philadelphia has given me a huge advantage as a writer. I identify with visual artists and musicians as much as I do other writers when it comes to creative process and there is definitely no shortage of inspiration in this city. I’m constantly inspired by the people around me and Philadelphia is full of people who love to talk about craft and process. Because of the openness and eagerness of so many Philadelphia creatives,I’ve been able to find success in nearly every venture.
I learned how to use my voice watching the spoken word community flourish in the last 10 years. There are so many poets in this city and so many of them put in the work it takes to stand out of the crowd. It’s not like that in a lot of places. This is a city full of passionate writers and creatives. It’s pretty remarkable.
In regards to the actual content of my writing, I credit my professors at Temple for exposing me to experimental and conceptual poetry and The Head & The Hand Press and Fleisher Art Memorial for allowing me to explore that realm further through the opportunity to teach. I am endlessly curious when it comes to finding new writers, artists, musicians, or filmmakers and there is never a shortage of excellent recommendations. What can I say, Philly has great taste.
When drafting poems that would eventually become a part of copy/body, were you planning for these works to be read together or did you start to notice a trend in your writing that organically evolved into a chapbook?
Pairing the two collections made sense to me because they are linked by themes of intimacy, escapism, kinship, gender roles, sexuality and the human body.
I am wildly passionate to just about everything related to craft and process. The poems in body were all written between 2012-2015 during a period of time where I was studying linguistics, conceptual poetry and experimental voice work. I spent up to 2 years on some of these pieces: perfecting the rhythm, balancing sound, and finding ways to capture very specific moods and build intimacy. I studied playwriting from 2008 to 2010 and I think these pieces reflect my interest in character and conflict. Many of these pieces were inspired by other works of literature. You can find echoes of Eliot, Stein, Chopin, Plath, Ondaatje, Faulkner, and Stevens in this collection. I read as much as I write and the work I’m most enamored by always finds a way into my writing.
In regards to the pieces in copy, all of those pieces were written between 2015-2017. “blood pact,” “boom of logs”, and “side stroke” were all written during the autumn and winter of 2016 during a 4 month stint in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. They are intrinsically linked by location and mood. I am always heavily influenced by my environment and I think these pieces are an ode to that. I read a lot of Robert Hass and Claudia Rankine while working on these pieces and I love how connected I feel to their work when I read these poems.
As a fellow writer, I really appreciate the allusiveness of some of your poems, particularly the latter half of blood pact as well as the entirety of earworm. As these moments unfold, do you consider the weight of them in the moment, or does the impact come later on? How has poetry become the best iteration for them to be recounted for you?
The first draft holds all the magic. The second, third, or final draft is where the craftsmanship lies. I personally love the editing process, it’s my favorite part. I love carving a piece and I’m quite meticulous and intentional when it comes to capturing moods and tapping into an authentic sense of intimacy. Most of the poems I write are combed over dozens and dozens of times.
“earworm” came out in one go: a break up poem that practically wrote itself and only went through one round of edits. It was entirely inspired by raw emotion. “blood pact”, on the other hand, took 5 months to complete. There were so many moving parts and I reveled in each challenge this project presented: writing prose, experimenting with page space, writing in second person, creating an insidious and dark atmosphere within a very common setting (a field, a backyard, a lake, etc) all while (hopefully) successfully maintaining a fluidity in voice.
When it comes to poetry -- it’s always made sense to me. There’s nothing more to it. It’s my natural mode of expression and I love the fact that language will always fail to capture an exact moment or memory, but there is a freedom and exhilaration in the attempt. I also love photography and I’m working on finding ways to marry the two passions.
Several themes appear to keep coming up again and again- sex/sexuality, trauma, memory, existentialism (to a certain extent)- how does poetry help you come to terms with some of the complexities of these feelings, or is it a way for you to further digest them?
There is a lot of fiction in my work. I don’t always write from my own experiences or my own feelings and although copy does have some personal work, writing from my own experiences is actually very new to me.
I am deeply empathic and I’ve learned to tap into that empathy to imagine what it would be like to live in someone else’s shoes. body is just that, a study in psyches not my own. I am not a mother who wishes she could run away from her responsibilities, I don’t have an older brother who tortures me, and I’ve never suffered from hysteria, agoraphobia or ARFID. I do, however, have a wild and unruly imagination.
What is a typical day in the studio like for you? Do you have any warm-up exercises?
A big part of my practice is to read more than I write. I try to always be engaged with some text or excerpt or book or poem. I love using borrowed text to jumpstart my creative brain, erasure exercises are a big help for me as well. I recently completed an ekphrastic collaboration with artist William Lukas (who also did the covers for copy/body) and I’ve officially fallen in love with the pairing of visual art and poetry as a way of finding inspiration.
Who or what are some of your biggest influences at the moment?
Currently and not surprisingly I’m influenced by the music of Grouper, Tom Waits, John Cage, and Moondog; the conceptual and experimental work of Marianne Holm Hansen, Vito Acconci, David Markson, Jen Bervin, Harryette Mullen and Suzanne Heyd; the artwork of Joan Miro, Masao Yamamoto, Louise Bourgeois, and Ren Hang; The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa and anything and everything by Claudia Rankine.
Caitlin Tschanz is a Philly native whose studio and writing practices are inspired by exploring urban environments and meeting diverse people through chance encounters. When not uploading her adventures to social media, she can be found painting, writing poetry and traveling the globe. Utilizing a multidisciplinary art practice, she collects, documents, and analyzes people, places, and relationships to reflect upon the the collective human experience: she is nostalgic for a time that has not yet come and longs for a time that has already been.
Find out more about Caitlin and her work at caitlintschanz.com.