FAT: It is not a word that needs to be Whispered an Interview with Rachel Wiley by Jamie Cole
Fat Girl walks onto the stage...and MAGIC happens. Rachel Wiley has a presence that is undeniable. The poetic truth that rolls off her tongue stopped me in my tracks years ago when I first came across her poem, "10 Honest thoughts on being loved by a skinny boy", when shared by Button Poetry. It was the first time I had heard so many things that I thought to myself- but this time said out loud.
Rachel is a poet, fat-positive activist, and published author of two books, Fat Girl Finishing School and Nothing is Okay. We were fortunate enough to snag a few minutes of Rachel's time to take a peek behind the curtain.
Tell us about the first time you shared a poem that you were hesitant to share because of the realness.
I initially wrote a poem called Gorgon out of frustration with some things happening in the news (a Lane Bryant ad pulled bc the model had too much cleavage, Kevin Smith being kicked off an airplane for not buying 2 seats, etc) but I was really conflicted about sharing it because when I first started sharing my poetry aloud I had this idea that I would never talk about my body. My ambition was to be such a good poet and great performer that everyone would overlook my fatness in favor of my talent, but that thinking also left me feeling vulnerable in that I was always sort of waiting for someone to stand up and point it out or weaponize my fatness against me in some way. I was scared to read the poem aloud but I also really needed to. At that time I was still getting comfortable with the word fat and the fact that it is not a word that needs to be whispered.
When I read/listen to your poetry I find that I go through a range of emotions. What kind of feelings rush through you as your share your words?
It’s tricky because my writing is often my primary method for processing my feelings, so my first drafts are usually pretty raw, some of that rawness gets smoothed out in editing so that helps create a little bit of distance from the initial feeling but it's still the foundation of the poem. It isn’t sustainable to access those same emotions over and over again in performance- like, that’s a quick path to burn out so my performances tend to be a bit of a balancing act. My original background is in theater -as an actress- and I am thankfully trained in accessing just enough of the original emotion so as not to re-trigger myself while still being true to the foundation of the piece. There are occasions when I slip past my own boundaries and cry my way thru the rest of a poem on stage.
Have you received fan mail from someone that made an impact on you? If so, care to share your story?
It was fairly early on so I could still read and respond and spend time with the fan mail I received- I got an email from a 16-year-old girl who didn’t want to leave her house anymore due to being bullied for being fat. It was almost like getting an email from my past self. I eventually wrote a poem for her/me that ended up in my first book- but at the time I wasn’t sure I was on the right path in writing about my body so much- and sometimes even now I see the occasional comment complaining about how so much of my poetry is about fatness and I second guess myself but then I think of that girl and I think of 16-year-old me and I think of how confining silence is and I keep writing about experiencing this world in this fat body because there is still so much to say.
Your poem, “For Fat girls who consider starvation when Bulimia isn’t enough”, is so powerful. Eating disorders often times go un-discussed as people live in a body they despise. How did the feedback from your audience influence you to continue to share your words?
I honestly don’t base whether or not to share a poem on feedback from the audience- the initial desire to share a poem is very selfish and is about freeing myself with the hope that someone else might get free along with me. It really is a lot about unbinding my current self from the wounds of my younger self.
"The Elephant is very fucking aware that she’s an Elephant…the room would never allow her to forget this so she may as well dance." This message is one of my favorites. Do you recall when you first lived by this message?
It was a process of slowly shedding the niceties I’d offer in hopes that I’d be treated like a person- like maybe one day I wore something outside of the realm of what fat bodies are “allowed” and I felt great and then maybe the next step was deciding to stop going on dates with awful people just because they called me pretty, and then another layer came off in saying the word fat with a little less shame than the time before and so on…every tiny victory bringing me to a place where I take my life back from the expectation of others.
- Quote above from Rachel's Poem, "For Nicolas Who Is So 'Concerned"
What song best describes your life at the moment?
Hold Up by Beyonce
Which of your poems is your favorite?