In October 2018 I had the pleasure of attending and reviewing a small poetry event known amongst the San Diego literary community as ‘Now That’s What I Call Poetry’. At this event I had the opportunity to hear Laurie Piña, a poet, lint magnet and a cartoonist, read some of her work. After hearing her poetry, brimming with curiosity, I endeavoured to find more about the inspirations, influences and goals of a writer and illustrator, who makes comics informed by myth, memory, and the cruelties of childhood.
Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What are your interests and hobbies?
I never know what about myself is pertinent, but the essentials are— I was born and raised in San Diego. I studied Film & Media and English at UC Santa Barbara. I recently made a pit stop at my alma mater on a road trip up the coast with my partner, Aaron, this summer and, seven years after graduating, I still can’t believe I studied there; I feel so estranged from the experience of it all. I’m currently employed at an old single screen movie theater in addition to working as an instructional assistant for special needs students from grades 7-12. I’m also a cartoonist and hop around the country exhibiting my work at comic arts festivals.
My interests are film, music—I collect records and DJ in my spare time — literature, and comics.
When did you begin writing and when did you realise it was something that you were passionate about?
I think I’ve always been preoccupied with storytelling and documenting my life. My older sister gifted me a Spottie Dottie stationery set from Sanrio one Christmas—you can probably find out what year by researching when Spottie Dottie was a relevant member of the Sanrio cast—and I can remember feeling really satisfied with journaling in the cute notebooks included in the set. I can’t say for sure that it sparked my tendency to log observations or moments in my life, but I bet it helped.
Aside from sporadic visits with my younger cousins or being toted along on outings with my older siblings, I spent much of my time alone entertaining myself as a young child. The television babysat me as I sat in the family room playing with legos, dolls and Beanie Babies, modeling clay figures, drawing, and building narratives out of all of my materials like most children do; except I was one of the cursed ones that still felt compelled to write those narratives down after the toys were put away. It’s not a unique situation, it’s clear to me that writing was something that was borne out of loneliness and took shape as a form of escapism.
From a young age I loved words and writing seemed to come naturally to me. I used to type stories on the family computer in the now defunct Mac word processor, AppleWorks, and draw accompanying illustrations in its art program. Image and text have pretty much always been inseparable to me.
I should also note that my parents have always been super encouraging, even if they had no idea what I was on about, and that hasn’t changed to this day.
What forms of writing do you enjoy? Do you write fiction, or any forms other than poetry?
I haven’t written any pure prose fiction in a while but I think about it often and would love to write a novel, but I’m waiting until an idea presents itself to me urgently or the nebulous thoughts in my head finally gestate into something worth expanding upon. Sometimes I toss around the idea of authoring a YA novel under a pseudonym in effort to raise funds for my labors of love, the way film directors will direct a Hollywood cash cow in order to finance the slow-paced artwank film they’re actually passionate about. Actually, I originally wanted to pursue screenwriting after college, but, as we all know, it’s extremely competitive and I recognized my limits. For me, even though it’s definitely its own unique medium, comics feels like another version of film. The accessibility of the comics medium allows me to function as both writer and director, in a sense, without having to risk as much monetarily.
So, yeah, right now I’m more focused on working on comics. My earlier comics followed a more conventional narrative form, like short stories; as a teenager I was inspired by the more “literary” cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine. But my work has evolved into a more poetic and metaphoric form. However, my most recent comic, The Maiden and the Mole, follows the folk and fairy tale tradition.
How do you combine your love for comics and illustration with your writing?
It’s a symbiotic relationship for me. I worry a lot about one discipline not being able to stand on its own without the other and what that says about my strengths as an artist and my strengths as a writer. In recent years, I’ve slowly been identifying more as a writer first and an artist just nearly second. Rationally, I realize I shouldn’t view it that way, the absence of one shouldn’t signify the weakness of the other, but I do think about it often. They really just go hand in hand for me. They enhance each other. And it’s an exciting process being able to synthesize my experiences, emotions, media I’ve enjoyed, etc into an idiosyncratic piece of art.
Where do you find the inspiration for your poetry?
I can write a poem about anything that produces a strong feeling in me. That’s not meant to sound like a humble brag.
Much of my poetry is the product of frustration, love, or processing thoughts and emotions but using the oblique language of poetics to feel more confident sharing it. If others are able to understand it, then that’s great, it’s satisfying to have a mind recognize your mind. Conversely, if it sounds like nonsense to others, that’s also fine. I’m not particularly writing with an audience in mind. I’m doing it because I have to do it, for myself. I’m interested in the everyday, observation, memory, capturing a moment. Call it millennial impressionism, maybe.
I also see poetry as an outlet for humor. Poetry provides me with a space to work out certain ideas that don’t quite fit in any of the other spheres most of my projects exist in. Also, poetry readings are a lot like stand-up comedy routines to me. They’re structured very similarly and appear the same from an audience’s standpoint. They both require a certain vulnerability from the performer and both can be embarrassing to watch. I think I approach some of my writing from that perspective sometimes, even if I’m not conscious of it. I don’t feel comfortable in my ability to perform as a comic, but composing poems tinged with my particular brand of humor is probably as close as I’ll get to the experience.
Most of the poems I’ve written in the past two years were written not long before I knew I had a reading soon. I have a lot of phone notes with little wisps of intention that I fashion into longer works and I carry a little MUJI notebook with me everywhere to jot notes down in whenever something captures my interest or I don’t want to forget something days later.
How did you create your chapbook? Do you have any advice for poets trying to create a chapbook and get their work out to the public?
My very good friends, Nick and Amanda, own a risograph print studio out of Verbatim Books in North Park called Burn All Books. I just put together a file of my work and sent it to them to print for me. My first bit of advice is to not be afraid to look like an idiot. Once you jump over that hurdle, you’re pretty much in the clear. Assemble your work and find the resources to publish yourself (print at home, use your office’s printers, or go to Kinkos) and then find the venues to carry your work. Connect with others online, initiate trading chapbooks with other writers, table your work at book fairs.
What has been your biggest challenge when trying to get your writing heard/read?
To be honest, I haven’t quite experienced many challenges beyond any personal hang-ups—for instance, jitters, stumbling over words, dry-mouth at the mic. I’ve been fortunate enough to know people who organize local poetry events, like Now! That’s What I Call Poetry, who have invited me to read my work. If you took me out of San Diego, however, I’m sure I’d experience my share of rejection.
What are your goals for the future with your writing? Do you have plans to publish more work?
At present, much of my energy and headspace is dedicated to comics. I’ve been making them seriously and exhibiting at comic art festivals across the country since 2013. I’ve got a forthcoming book with the comics publishing house 2D Cloud, which is based in Chicago. The project has been written for a little over a year now, but I’m finally going to start the actual work (i.e., drawing) of it soon. I intend to write more poems and put out a larger collection of those in the future. Hopefully someday I’ll write a novel and a 33 1/3 on a favorite album.