Under Pressure: Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody, author of Borderland Apocrypha

Borderland Apocrypha, Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody is the author of Borderland Apocrypha (Omnidawn, April 2020), winner of the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Contest selected by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. He is a CantoMundo fellow from Fresno, California with lineage in both the Bracero Program and the Dust Bowl. His poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, The Boiler, ctrl+v journal, among other journals. Anthony is a member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle where he co-edited How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, August 2011). In 2018, he received the Galway Kinnell Scholarship to attend the Community of Writers, and nominations for a Best of the Net and a Best New Poets 2018 via The Boiler. He is a 2020 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Fellow at Arizona State University. Most recently, Anthony won the inaugural 2020 CantoMundo Guzmán Mendoza / Paredez Fellowship for his work-in-progress poetry manuscript, The Rendering, selected by Aracelis Girmay. A recent MFA-Creative Writing graduate at Fresno State, he serves as a fellow in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio created by Juan Felipe Herrera, communications manager for CantoMundo, as well as an associate poetry editor for Noemi Press.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Borderland Apocrypha from conception to publication?

Anthony Cody: The more I reflect upon the origins of Borderland Apocrypha, the less certain of a single, specific origin of where the book first started. The first poem I wrote that would fit within the framework of the book was an ekphrastic poem after seeing Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Riding with Death” in 2013. Titled, “Juan Doe Rides with Death”, the poem never made it into the final manuscript, as perhaps it was attempting to do too much within the scope of the manuscript. In many ways, it was retracing disembodied histories and re-examining the self in the unnamed and unclaimed bodies crossing the border. This could be one origin. Another origin would be the archival research work on the lynchings in the southwest following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which began for me at the beginning of 2015, and steadily increased through the summer of 2018. The other beginning would be the experimental style within the collection, this began in December of 2016, when I began using a comic strip writing pad that was 5” long by 17” wide. This new, wider form opened possibilities for what these poems wanted to be, and helped reset my vision to see a new shape that would manifest into a book.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

AC: Deadlines help me focus. My brain is often a very jumbled and over-extended space that makes things very murky and abstract. Without a deadline, days turn into weeks, and weeks to seasons. Now, with the shelter-in-place order, this can happen to me at an exponential rate. I am exceedingly aware of this time issue, so I often have an email to-do list plug-in, as well as a stickie note app opened to help me stay organized and not lose sight of the work and deadlines. 

By nature, I am relatively laid back, so the increased pressure of the deadline helps me find a balance.

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

AC: For the last few months, I have been doing deep dives with the writing, hybridity, and public performances of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the mixed media art around climate and topographies of Vero Glezqui, as well as the Dust Bowl photographs of Dorothea Lange.

However, with the recent passing of my dear friend, Pos Moua, I have been revisiting his work. A person of firsts in Hmong poetry in America, I have been revisiting his chapbook “Where the Torches are Burning”, the first Hmong American poetry publication in America by a poet in 2001, as well as his debut collection “Karst Mountains Will Bloom”, published in early 2019. In his pages, I once again hear his tender lyricism and deep mystic inquiry of nature and the self. The wisdom and deep knowing in his writing and his musings allows me to remember to look deep into the beyond of a “burbling brook” to not only see yourself, but every ancestor that came before you. Read Pos Moua’s work. Remember Pos Moua’s name.

SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

AC: I am in the process of shifting many of the daily rituals that I have grown accustomed to over the last several years while serving as a fellow in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State. The studio space allowed me to explore and make in a variety of mediums, and more importantly, collaborate with others to make art and lead generative, creative workshops. These three elements help me continue to ask more from myself, and my writing.

SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

AC: I have been blessed to work closely with Juan Felipe Herrera in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State over the last four years. In 2016, he provided two very distinct pieces of advice that were so profound to my own path at the time. I recall them both very clearly, and both times, I walked up to the whiteboard in our studio and wrote them down.

The first, “Abandon the left margin in your poems.” The second, “write beyond the publisher.” In both instances, he was clear to note the risk in making and being left in obscurity. Yet, for the first time in my life, I felt that I should make poems that spoke to my own internal wildness that I do not outwardly express. In tandem, the advice served as a foundation on which I carried forward in Borderland Apocrypha, and all subsequent writing.

SHP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

AC: Definitely anything I can find. This is definitely related to my use of a 5” x 17” comic strip pad to draft poems and the new paths found using that form for my collection. I would say that I am continually using different mediums to write on. Looking at my small pile of things in my bag at the moment this includes: envelopes, card catalog cards, a recycled envelope, several pieces of newspaper which I have taped together to form a larger piece of paper, and a small phonebook that was delivered on my door last year.

SHP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

AC: Both titles scare me. I would say I consider myself a spacemaker. When I am writing a poem, I try and stay out of the way. In the editing process, I find myself asking the question, how can I make space in this poem to get it to where it wants to exist in the world. I would extend this thinking to my work as an assistant editor for Noemi Press, where I often ask myself, how can I help this collection find a space to exist where it can be most true to the spirit of its making?

SHP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

AC: I find inspiration in sifting through noise. The sifting is a focusing. I feel most inspired when I have some combination of ten internet browser tabs open, sketching on a piece of paper, music playing, am reading a book or two, drinking coffee, and revising a single line or poems in my head. The accumulation of the noise often results in my most productive time happening toward the late hours of the night and I have had the chance to steadily quiet some of the noise and dive more deeply into the project I have been indirectly working on throughout the day. I am cognizant of the over-stimuli the older I get, and have been attempting to find ways to work in the quiet and discern enabling my own bad habits versus seeking inspiration. 

Today, I sat for 10 minutes with the window opened, and listened. I was not hoping for inspiration, but simply seeking an awareness of the moving.

I think this is still a work in progress.

SHP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer?

AC: I really love this question. The intriguing part is that just prior to the shelter-in-place orders in California, I was in the process of developing an art installation for my current work-in-progress, “The Rendering”, which examines the Dust Bowl and Climate Collapse. Which is all to say, the idea concept has been on my mind.

Ultimately, I would choose sound art to create and give life to the space. More than this, I would want the exhibit to be interactive for visitors, of all ages, to be able to participate, add to, and make it their own. Some of the most meaningful work and experiences I have had in my life have been when given a chance to create alongside artists and other community members, and providing that experience to others would be one of the primary focuses in a 24 hour pop-up museum show.

SHP: If you could describe Borderland Apocrypha in three words, what would they be?

AC: Restorative. Manual. Memory.

Order Borderland Apocrypha here!