Conversations in the Author's Corner: Sean Felix
About the Book (via Sarah Herrin, author of The Oceanography of Her): Sean Felix writes with the fervor of every writer who has fallen in love with the seductive muse of Paris. His work is fueled by a gritty determination to keep crawling forward—through insomniac nights and midnight possessions. This collection beckons like a wisp of smoke through a series of lucid dreams and haunting memories, drawn on blood-rusted images of long ago ward and the bittersweet longing of modern day lovers.
About the Author: Sean Felix has been a writer, artist, musician and teacher in the DMV for 20 years. Since the age of 5, he has dreamed and searched for beauty. He studied poetry and comparative religion at Georgetown University, and studied biblical language at the Graduate Theological Union. He’s glad to be back on his artistic journey. His poetry runs the gamut of emotion, adventure, love, rage, and race. He’s far more poetic when he speaks to others than when he is trapped inside his own head, which is why he needs to write. While this is the first collection of poems he has ever published, he has read several times with the Inner Loop Writer’s Collective and published the poem Please Don’t Hit Me in Bloodroot Lit vol. 11. He has several poems in the first Sunday Mornings At The River poetry anthology, and is currently a digital editor with Sunday Mornings At The River, where you can read some of his blog posts. He is currently writing a four-volume haiku series called Antonyms of Gravity. More at sean-felix.com.
Kiera Wolfe: In the Forward to the book, you share that the collection was “written, edited, and arranged… over three sleepless nights” to chronicle your love for Paris. I am so interested in the full story there! What was your relationship to Paris, France, and French before the city inspired the poems?
Sean Felix: My love for Paris has been with me since high school. Mind you, I wasn’t the best French student, but taking French made me fall in love with the language. Through the language I fell in love with French culture, French philosophy, and French poetry. It grew and blossomed over the course of years, and as an adult I found my way to French New Wave Films, French cinema, and French literature. That love was always from afar, until December of 2019 when I got the opportunity to go to Paris. I don’t know if it was the excitement of finally arriving or the espressos I couldn’t help but have after dinner, but I developed insomnia while I was there. I spent the days out being inundated with the city and nights in my hotel room just laying there. I started transcribing and transposing everything that I was experiencing and how I was taking it in, and that’s where the collection came from. I was just writing all night long.
KW: How did that stream of consciousness take shape as a collection of poetry?
SF: The collection is broken up by the feeling of being in the space. “Arrivée” is the impression of initially arriving. At the beginning, there’s a sense of arrival but also leaving things behind, being able to see myself in a different way, always becoming, always arriving. “Insomnie” is having arrived, the other foot hitting the ground. It’s a question of, what am I becoming? It’s a feeling of being overwhelmed.
KW: I first encountered your poetry on Instagram where you post haiku - I know that’s a form that particularly draws you, and in my head you’re a poet who is interested in form, concision, and syllable counting. It was so interesting to see you playing around with all different kinds of form in the collection. What’s your relationship to form as a poet and how did that help shape the book?
SF: The art of poetry has always been an act of expression while focusing on the economy of language. In that way, there are two things that can happen. One, you can focus on the line and delivering the image with as much power and impact as you can. When you do that you can lose your reader, if you’re [only] trying to get at images and fascinate. I love the economic value of getting an image in but also [the second option of] making sure it sings. Even though it’s free verse, I want the lines to sing and be musical. The form that I focus on is not necessarily in the way that someone would speak, but in the way that someone experiences music. As I write the lines, I make sure that if I use a single word it has a reason to be there. There are some much longer lines in the collection, and because of their length they create a sing-song structure as you move through. I wonder, how much of the music of the space shaped the way the lines came out? I imagine there’s something there to it.
KW: There are particular landmarks, and particularly statues, that the poems speak to directly. The reader also gets a taste of this physicality in the photographs featured in the middle of the collection. How would you say your poetry is influenced by these very physical parts of the city?
SF: One of the things that struck me almost immediately was the yellow vest strike in Paris in December 2019. The metro was closed and you could only go to certain stops. For the most part, I was on foot. It was one of the first places I’d been where art was so publicly displayed. And the buildings - it was the first place I saw where remnants of the monarchy and reminders of revolution in the Republic existed in the same space. You go to the Louvre, and you’re walking through a palace that’s an art museum, with art that are the remnants of colonialism, but it’s public! Or you go to the Pantheon and it’s filled with images, statues, and reminders of revolution, the creation of the Republic. The idea that these things are sitting next to one another and that people like myself are existing in the space, watching a city grapple with its own history in real time, it’s incredible.
Our country, for lack of a better world, is young. That country is old. They’ve gone through their kings and their reign of terror. At the same time, they have a river running through the middle of the city. It’s a constant living and breathing that’s happening there, and you almost can’t get away from it when you’re in Paris. With the people, it’s happening on the street. The colonialism is reflected in the people - you know the people selling tchotchkes at the foot of the Eiffel Tower are from Senegal? They’re selling these things to tourists, and they’re there because of the history of France and Africa. It’s incredible to see that happening. I wanted to grasp some of that in the writing.
KW: I love the line, towards the end of the collection in the numbered section, “Traveling to Paris was as much a search for an artistic home, as it was a way to find a place where I could not be me for a change. But I am too old to not be me where I go, and so I watched…” I just love that. How do you see yourself, as observer, watcher, speaker, manifest in this collection? I’m interested in this feeling of needing to be separate from oneself to find an “artistic home.”
SF: I’ve been an observer for most of my life. Watching the world go, and trying to understand myself and my relation to it. The idea of traveling to Paris is special because it’s the place where my literary idol, James Baldwin, went when this country was too much. And mind you, I knew I was coming back. It was leaving part of myself behind so I could go somewhere else. I knew I could be new for a week - it felt like something special. Even though you leave something behind the eyes that you travel with, they carry all of that memory. As an observer, you’re taking it into an unknown person you’ve always wanted the opportunity to be. You pull it together and become someone new. I’m not the same person here that I was before I went - and that’s good. To see the world and see the reflection of the world in you was very powerful. I think it’s why any of us travel, to be able to have that experience. You surprise yourself with what you see in a place and what you see of yourself in that place. It’s a beautiful thing.
KW: For our Author’s Corner project, we’re promoting authors who have published with small, indie presses. You have taken it as indie as they come, and self-published your book! Can you talk us through your path to publication?
SF: I started with this collection. I brought it home, wrote it, and showed it to a very good friend of mine. She told me, you realize you have to publish this now? So I went through the process of putting it together and packaging it. If I’m being honest, I’m very impatient. I wanted to get it out to people in the fastest way that I could. I have another good friend who is a comic writer in the Netherlands. He self-published his own comic book and did a Kickstarter, which worked out for him. He told me, publish yourself and find a way to get it out to people and they’ll respond. I took his advice and went to Politics & Prose. I had the book, but needed a way to print it. They have a thing called Opus [Self] Publishing, and it was really helpful to have a local printing press. To get it out, I gave it to friends, colleagues, family. Once they read it and told me it has legs, I thought, I should keep going with this. So I found another printer, and now it has a life of its own.
There’s a lot of work that goes into it, a lot of hustle, but now I feel comfortable enough to start sending it out to manuscript contests. At the end of the day, this is something that the book and I had to do together. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Marketing is quite a thing, the hustle is quite a thing, getting it on shelves is quite a thing, but it really brings you closer to the work.
Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel!
About The Inner Loop: The Inner Loop is a literary reading series and network for creative writers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. We aim to create a space for both emerging and established writers to connect with their community, and to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud. This interview is part of our Author’s Corner campaign, promoting local authors publishing with indie presses.