Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Leah Horlick

Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Leah Horlick

In her book ‘The Queer Art of Failure’ Judith Halberstam offers alternative ways of knowing and becoming. Instead of valuing the conventional paths of belonging, achievement and completion, she thinks about and champions the ways of “failure”: losing your way, giving in, being excluded, forgetting, awkwardness, coming apart. Not just rejecting the “normal,” Halberstam shows alternatives to success as paths that have always been there, moving away from mastery and coherence. In this series of Q&A’s with contributors to our upcoming Queer issue, we play with these ideas. When we aren’t trying to finish first (or finish anything) where do we end up?

Think back to when you started writing. What’s an earlier influence you outgrew, abandoned, or turned against?

I love speculative fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi. I probably read more of it than anything else. And I figured out early on that I will likely only ever be a passionate reader and enthusiast — I don't have the dedication to world-building and allegory that has created my favourite speculative works, at least at this point. I'm still a fledgling fiction writer and would much prefer to read or watch sci-fi than create it. My average Friday night involves a jar of Nutella, a spoon, and Battlestar Galactica. I'm very okay with this.

Lately I've also been moving away from my earlier confessional slam poetry influences, and towards the work of exciting women poets who are experimenting with loops and sound — Moe Clark and Alessandra Nacaratto come to mind. Because of the competitive structure of slam (and its popularity), I feel like there are not as many venues for experimental spoken word and sound work, and I think there are particular barriers to female-bodied folks who would like to get involved.  I'd love to see more workshops and opportunities to encourage the kind of tech skills and safe spaces necessary to create this kind of work!

When a piece of writing doesn’t work out, what do you do with it? Discard? Fold it into another project? Salvage parts?

I'm all about the folding and salvaging. I recently made a chapbook out of all the poems I cut from my last manuscript for Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, fall 2012) and called it Little Riots. I said that it was everything too scandalous to print in my first collection, and sold all fourteen copies. Who knew?

What do you do with your rejection letters?

Let them fade into obscurity in my ever-towering mound of email.

Have you ever not sent a piece of writing somewhere because it seemed “too gay/queer” for that publication?

Absolutely. I like to think of it as saving my superqueer content for the publications that will really appreciate it.

What do you do to procrastinate?

Every day is a struggle in my love-hate relationship with the Internet. You start watching those kitten videos on YouTube, and all of a sudden an hour's gone by. Sigh. 

Has anyone ever said something completely discouraging to you as an artist? Did it take the wind out of your sails or did it drive you forward? Or both?

 Well, there was this one time:           

Can a piece of writing fail, or is that a bullshit notion?

I think there are lots of ways that a piece of writing can fail. Oppressive writing is failure. My creative and political processes are fairly inseparable, and I experience particular frustrations with feminist and queer writing that perpetuates oppression. This is something I'm addressing as I work on my MFA thesis on domestic and sexual violence between queer women; we have this amazing body of revolutionary work by lesbian feminists, and I can't find a single poet talking about abuse or relationship violence. There are very particular reasons for this, for sure — I don't want to frame historical silencing as failure —but I do think creative work that needlessly voice-appropriates, or employs, for example racist or trans/misogynist tropes, is a failure. Writing  — especially poetry— with a saviour complex, that purports to "save" anyone (I'm thinking of sex workers and trauma survivors in particular) is a failure. We've heard those songs before. It's been done. There are a multitude of other structures in the world that are sending those messages. Let's not reify them in our work. That's failure, for me.

With that said, I also love Halberstam's definition of failure. Let the writer who is without awkwardness cast the first chewed-up eraser. I think that an important way to ensure accountability and nurture creativity in communities of writers and activists is to create a safe space for our omissions and our oppressive behaviors (or metaphors!) to be called out and rewritten. I can see that happening in my writing and political communities right now in Vancouver and at home in Saskatoon, and I'm so excited and grateful to be a part of it.


Leah Horlick is a writer, poet, and spoken word artist from Saskatoon, SK. Her work has earned her a 2008 Short Grain Award, and a place in the Lambda Literary Foundation's Emerging LGBTQ Writers Retreat in Los Angeles in 2012. An MFA student in Creative Writing at UBC, Leah is the Poetry Editor for PRISM international. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in So To Speak, Canadian Dimension, GRAIN, Poetry is Dead, and On Nights Like This: An Anthology of Comics by Survivors. Leah's first collection of poetry, Riot Lung, will be released by Thistledown Press in fall 2012.