Jessica Walsh talks with T.A. Noonan about their wrenching memoir Fall (Agape Editions, 2017); the function of narrative, memory, and identity in their work; and the book’s place in the larger cultural conversation surrounding #MeToo.
JW: Fall is a memoir but often reads like a series of prose poems, charged with careful and poetic language. What do you see as the literary and aesthetic influences on Fall?
TAN: Of course, the influence of contemporary flash and prose poetry is all over Fall. I hesitate to name any specific practitioners because there are dozens who have, at one point or another, placed their invisible hands on my work. (I think I’d be remiss in not giving a shout-out to Brevity and Rose Metal Press, though!). That said, Fall owes its largest debt to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee. When my first draft came out as one long, ugly chronicle of events—this happened, then this, then this—I found myself thinking I should go back and break it all up again. After all, it had been fragments until the moment it rushed back. Surely that’s how it needed to be on the page.
During the process, I found myself rereading Dictee, losing myself in its explorations of memory, identity, language, and genre. And this one quotation kept coming back to me again and again: “The memory is the entire. The longing in the face of the lost. Maintains the missing. Fixed between the wax and wane the indifferent not a sign of progress.” I thought of my subject, Cha’s history. Her words seemed oracular. The memory needed to be the entire. So, I decided Fall had to be, as one of my readers would later put it, “relentlessly narrative.” That wouldn’t have happened without Dictee.
JW: Fall is absolutely visceral in its exploration of rape and rape culture. Tell me about the history of writing the book. When did it become clear to you that you were going to write Fall, no matter how hard it would be to work on? What made it possible for you to share this story now?
TAN: There were three moments that made me realize I needed to write about this. The first was, of course, that moment I describe at the end of Fall, where I discovered that my ex had taken my rapist to Disney World with his family. At the time, the two of us were still friends on social media. I don’t even know why. But when I saw those pictures, something broke inside me. I was inconsolable because those pictures confirmed what I’d suspected for years—even though he had been right there when my rapist admitted what he’d done, my ex had always blamed me. The second was telling the story, in the wake of that discovery, to my husband. He’d known I had been raped in college and that certain things were incredibly triggering to me, but he’s never heard the whole story because I’d never actually told it to anyone. The third was talking to Erin Elizabeth Smith some days later, describing the two things above, and her question: “Have you ever tried writing this all down?”
I think what made it possible to actually write was the recognition that I’d already been trying to do so in the telling. It took me a long time to feel like I could send it out, even after my inner circle said I should, that Fall was ready. I guess I had this worry, and it’s still there more often than not, that my story wasn’t anything “special” or “important.” That there were plenty of people with “worse” experiences. And so on. But in my less self-conscious (more idealistic?) moments, I truly believe that every person who comes forward about rape, abuse, trauma, etc. makes it easier for others to come forward. Because they know they’re not alone. Because they know that at least one person knows what they’ve gone through and will believe and support them.
JW: As we see every day, we’re at a moment of intense conversation about rape and assault. Does your sense of Fall’s significance to readers change because of this moment in the larger culture?
TAN: Anyone who knows anything about book production knows that books don’t materialize overnight, but the timing of Fall’s release was scarily coincidental. I remember going to bed, staring at the ceiling for hours and thinking, People are going to think I’m trying to capitalize on this. People are going to think I am a horrible person. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. This was basically every night from the week before its release to the week after. That said, there is a part of me that’s glad for the timing—for this huge surge in conversation—precisely for the reasons mentioned earlier. I don’t know that its general significance changes because of the timing, but I like to think that maybe the visibility of these conversations and narratives will help the right people discover and read what I’ve written.
JW: What projects are you working on now?
TAN: Goodness, I’m always juggling multiple projects—in part because I am an incredibly slow writer. Right now, I’m picking at a novel about manatees, though that stalled a little when my “muse,” Snooty the manatee, died accidentally last year. I also have a multi-genre collection I’m working on about witchcraft and identity, as well as a poetry collection about astrophysics, fashion, and the body. Somewhere in there, I also started a sequence of weirdly kinky anti-capitalism poems that don’t really fit with anything else. Writing them is fun, though, so we will see if they turn into anything.
T.A. Noonan is a queer writer, artist, geek, and witch whose full-length books include The Bone Folders, Petticoat Government, four sparks fall: a novella, and a forthcoming collection of radical translations, The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace. They are also the author of the chapbooks Balm, Darjeeling, Dress the Stars, The Midway Iterations, and Fall. Individual works have appeared in Whiskey Island, LIT, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, Open Letters Monthly, and more. Currently nesting in Florida, they serve as an Associate Editor of Sundress Publications, the Development Director of the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the Founding Editor of Flaming Giblet Press. Noonan walks like Godzilla on a mission, and their current obsessions include brush pens, magical alphabets, cleromancy, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Jessica Walsh is the author of the poetry collection How to Break My Neck, as well as two chapbooks; she is in the process of seeking a home for her second book. She teaches English at Harper, a community college in the Chicago suburbs. Her poetry has appeared in RHINO, Tinderbox, Whale Road Review, and many other journals. She writes and shoots arrows at targets, mostly missing the mark in both but enjoying the effort. She is the Blog Manager for Agape Editions.