Chariot Wish and I sat down and discussed their new book O Fantasma (Amygdala Press, 2023). We discussed outlines and holes, phantoms, poetry in translation, social gatherings and why transexuals possess the ultimate bravery.
Ben Fama: I’m here with Chariot Wish, the author of O Fantasma, which is out now on Amygdala Press. I guess we could just jump into it. Let’s start with the title. What is “O Fantasma?”
Chariot Wish: It’s named after a Portuguese film called “O Fantasma,” which was the jumping off point for the main narrative in the book. It means “the ghost” or “the phantom.” I was playing off of that idea.
BF: So you see this book as having a narrative to it?
CW: Yes. There’s not a traditional narrative, but I consider how I build the ‘thesis’ of the book to be a narrative.
BF: And the matte black cover and it has a very delicately positioned angel in outline on it. Did you draw that?
CW: I did draw it, yes.
BF: From your tattoo?
CW: Yes, it’s from a tattoo flash sheet I made. On the inside there’s another illustration of a ribbon half untied. That was my idea for the book cover before I found a publisher for it. The image of the unraveling ribbon feels central to the theme of the book. But yeah, my publisher picked the angel.
BF: So [O Fantasma] is in a second person POV. “You” do this, “you” do this, “you’re surprised his clothes look exactly like yours. “you got nudged around by a sort of frightening wind.” Why didn’t you use “I?” What activated the “you” for you?
CW: A thing I do while I’m editing my work is I try to write or edit out the “I” in the poem. It so easily could have been, “I did this”, “I did this”, “I did this” right? The sound of the “you,” it felt like more rhythmic. I also wanted to take the self and build it into a phantom, where it’s a Phantom watching these scenes play out. I hope too, that it makes the work more relatable. Or that the “you” could be anybody. Even putting the reader into the position of the speaker.
BF: It has a hypnotic allure. It’s underused, I’d say.
I can only think of like a couple books that have it, it like “Suicide,” right? Edouard Leve, where he’s writing to a friend who’s killed himself. “You” did this, “you” did this. And then Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City, which is like his “running around Tribeca in the eighties,” coke novel.
CW: When I was in high school, I read this collection of Ray Bradbury stories, and there’s an entire short story where he writes in second person and that really stuck with me. To write something in second person, it seemed like a feat of writing to me at that time.
BF:You said there’s like a narrative to the book.
CW: Like I mentioned, it’s a more conceptual narrative. So the front end of the book are these colloquial scenes, they’re scenes of people together and there’s dialogue and then it funnels into more lyrical scenes. It gets more and more abstract as the poem goes on. And it ends with like, tumbling down a well. So I think the narrative takes the shape of somebody going down a well and you’re starting off in the world, and then you’re going into the self, but also back out into the world simultaneously.
BF:There’s so much of that play of like where things are situated and how they’re not situated, where they are situated. Things go in and outta holes throughout the whole book. Yes.
BF:“The source of the mystery of Saint Sebastian is not the arrows that pierce him, but the wounds they create.” So it’s almost like the absence is, is what, where the richness is the wound, the gash beneath the nipple of Christ. Um, there’s a notable fisting scene. We have some nice rose imagery about an anus. There’s “tumbling down the well,” I mean that could be a kind of, well you know, it’s a bigger hole, but also pulling the rabbit out of the hat is like, I mean, there’s a lot of jokes about like animals and anus, but this is a much different thing.
CW: Yeah. And it’s a magic trick too, the rabbit in the hat. It’s an illusion.
BF:It’s pulling the rabbit out of Saint Sebastian’s wounds.
CW: Or how God pulled man’s salvation out of Jesus’s side wound.
BF: Okay, wow. Wait, I loved this line too: “Three butterflies made of ice melt into the atmosphere.” I felt like I was waist deep in a pool, just like relaxing and my phone is over on a table and I don’t know what time it is. And I’m just like right there in the universe with this image. “Three butterflies made of ice melt into the atmosphere.” What else you need to know.
CW:And it’s full of holes.
So many holes in the ozone. That’s right. Something that’s very central to your work that we haven’t really talked about much outside of this interview, but I thought maybe you could talk to people about it. “Transsexuals possess an ultimate bravery.” This is a quote, “around 3:00 AM you say transsexuals possess ultimate bravery. ”Want to talk about that a little in the most broad strokes too?
CW: Oh yeah. Well, I mean, I think in the context of the work so much of it is about, not only the phantom of arrows, which I mention later on in this stanza. But the uncertainty of like going through, for lack of better words, a sex change. And the phantom of that too. In certain social groups, there’s this catchphrase ‘gender isn’t real, gender’s fake’ so you can play with it. There is a certain sense of liberation to think of gender in that way. Going into writing this poem, and a lot of my experience that went into this work, was from the perspective that gender is actually very real. It’s a material reality. You know, you go to the store and people see you as a man or a woman, and they relate to you based on how they perceive you in that gender. It’s a really strange thing to change that. There’s a space in transitioning when you’re existing within this in-between. People don’t know how to place you on the gender spectrum. And it’s pretty hard. Sociality is on that crux of how people perceive you. If and when you disrupt that point of relation things get, I mean, that’s where things get violent or you get microaggressions and we—
BF:—Throw people off their scripts. It breaks their brains and they react violently.
BF:Unless they really, I don’t know. I don’t know what makes people react that way.
CW: And it’s something that happens inside the self too. It’s hard even on the level of the self to completely disrupt how you see yourself and watch your body change. I think that’s where the bravery that I’m talking about in that passage, or part of it lies. From an American perspective, everything is so controlled. And that’s something I talk about in the poem too. It’s wanting control and wanting freedom and it’s taking control of the self and the body in such a way that happens through transsexuality, it is really brave. I wanted to point towards and celebrate this bravery and taking control of one’s body and of the self and breaking, breaking apart the signifiers.
BF:That plays with the slipperiness of the imagery in the book. The outline of the self is dissolved by touching the light of what it longs for.
CW: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
BF:The person you encounter at the store, they have their codes and their outlines of the world and there’s an order of things, right? You break the order of things. People lose their mind.
CW:Yeah. I was also reading a lot of Guattari while making this work.
BF: Tell me about some of the influences that made it into here.
CW:Yeah, so definitely Guattari. I read Anti–Oedipus a year before working on this and it shattered a lot of my conceptions about…. everything. It’s a little hard to talk conversationally about what exactly it did to my mind, which is why I’m a poet.
BF:It broke the outlines.
CW: Yeah. Broke the outlines. I mean, so much of their work is talking about these outlines and what is Madness and how it’s like a ghost in the shell of capitalism. It’s breaking, it breaks the outlines and creates all of these possibilities. It doubles the “flows” that can happen.
BF: What poetry are you reading these days?
CW: From the Heights of Machu Picchu by Neruda. and I’m still on it. The “Screwball Asses” which is credited to Guy Hocquenghem, but I don’t think it’s actually written by him as much as it is by an anonymous source. Though, it’s very similar to his work. It talks about anal sex and holes as these sites of liberation, conceptually and literally, that a lot of that went into this book as well.
BF: What’s it called? The Screwball Asses?
BF: Why is it called that?
CW: It’s wing-Nut.
CW:…French. Guattari had a magazine, ‘Research” and they did an edition of the magazine in collaboration with FHAR (Front Homosexuel D’action Révolutionnaire) which was this radical gay group in France in the early 1970’s. The Screwball Asses was published anonymously in this, then all copies of this edition got destroyed by the government. It was called 3 Billion Perverts.
BF: Do you read a lot of translated poetry or works in translation?
CW: I do, yes. The majority of what I’ve been reading the past three years is works in translation.
BF: You’re also into Vallejo…
CW: Yeah. Vallejo, and John Giorno, Roberto Bolaño When I first started O Fantasma, I was reading “Orlando Furioso.”
BF: There’s a whimsy, a Bolaño whimsy. I think I know the kind. The young poetic consciousness pinballing around between love and sadness in the city.
CW: Yeah. All the scenes in O Fantasma are at parties, these social gatherings.
BF: Around occasions in the city, Fourth of July, Coney Island in the morning. That’s cool. What speaks to you about works in translation? CW: A lot of my political interests and learning right now is centered around South American leftist movements, then also the French May ‘68 happenings, the Autonomia movement in Italy and that history. At a certain point I realized that Americans have such a limited view of the political. America is the heart of the Imperial core, which is actually a line in the book that I edited out. It felt too navel gazing or something. But I’m always trying to build out my understanding of historical events, world events and politics from non-American views. That perspective is really important to me, especially in art. The perspective of art created outside of America throughout the years feels untouched by the violence inherent in the American psyche. Though it is often touched by American violence in a different way that I think is important for me as a reader and thinker to engage with, meditate on, and consider as an American author.
chariot wish is a poet living in new york. they are the chapbook editor at wonder press and online editor for amygdala press.