SPIT, POET! Profile: Muggs Fogarty

This month, I want to do something a little different —

use this outlet to honor a poet that I respect, admire, and have learned a lot from — artistically, sure, but mostly how to hold my heart to a higher standard. I’m talking about Muggs Fogarty. I truly met Muggs outside of a bout at the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam. We had both, independent of each other, stepped out to take a breath after being witness to a particularly emotionally difficult poem. With no introduction, they asked if I wanted to take a walk. We did. We walked for 10 minutes. In silence. But, really, just in the sound of each other’s’ presence. When we got back to the venue, I told them that we had actually gone to college together. I remembered them sitting in the front row of a classroom on the first day it met and them correcting the professor on their name. I remember thinking, “Muggs? What a badass name.”

Anyway, here are the indisputably dope facts about Muggs and their accomplishments:

Muggs is a current co-director of Providence Poetry Slam and the Director of ProvSlam Youth. A former Brave New Voices finalist, Muggs has represented Providence seven times respectively at National Poetry Slam, Women of The World Poetry Slam, and Individual World Poetry Slam. In 2015, Muggs became Providence’s GrandSlam Champion and was awarded full funding from the Rhode Island Council of the Arts Individual Project Grant. After graduating from The New School in 2013, Muggs has been working as a teaching artist with New Urban Arts, ¡CityArts!, and has coached multiple youth and collegiate slam teams. Their published work can be found in FreezeRay, Wicked Banshee, Bluestockings Magazine, and was recently anthologized in Glitter & Grit. (www.muggsfogarty.com)

Firstly, is it Muggs or Muggz?

I love the Z style but it’s just plain ol’ Muggs for now. The Z is too tough and cool for me.

So, you’re not only one of the best writers and performers I’ve ever had the honor to read and witness, you’re also one of the premier advocates and writers on gender and queerness. Does that responsibility ever feel too heavy?

It’s good to have poems for all occasions. Writers should write whatever they’re moved to write, but that work doesn’t always call for sharing or to be brought out into a public space. It became a part of my praxis that if I get an opportunity to share my work with a lot of people or in certain spaces, I try to use those platforms to do something radical — shift the paradigm. If I’m at a queer open mic I’m probably not going to read a love poem. For me, that’s not a proper activation of that space. Selfishly, that’s not what I need the space for. If there are a bunch of queers afoot I’m going to need to be heard — in all my rage and sorrow, because that space can hold it and be somewhat affirmed by it. I also find myself in a lot of queer spaces, especially on college campuses, that are very white and not engaging outside of their own oppression, and so I’m going to try to challenge that and will probably leave the funny poem about cats out of the set. How do you want your work to impact the space? Is it a time to heal, is it a a time to rip something apart? What’s needed? How do you stay in your respective this-is-what-I’m-being-paid-to-do lane whilst caring about liberation? What void or static can your poem jostle? I’m just always trying to work with what I have in front of me. If I start thinking too big or abstract it becomes harder and harder to actually write.

I know that as a Black writer, I feel like I have to constantly speak on oppression and injustices and death, and that when I write about literally anything else, my brain is like, well how does this poem about a boy lend to protest?

I know that we need to hear and write funny poems and love poems if only for our own joy and sense of connection, too. Burnout is very real! We need cute poems! I’m all about bringing the urgent, critical work to the public and then kicking back in someone’s living room to read the poems about cats. For me, it always comes down to what resources you have, and that determines what you can lend and offer to really any space you enter. I also hold that it’s a radical act as a silenced/marginalized person to take up any kind of public space — so none of this is to say that a love poem can’t be a catalyst or nutrients for a movement.

Word! Speaking of lending resources, do you ever get asked to do free gigs, or gigs that “pay” in “exposure?” There’s already so much labor marginalized peoples have to put in for other people’s consumption and education, that getting asked to do free gigs sometimes feels insulting. But, sometimes, because of who’s asking and what communities might benefit from your presence, you want to say yes. How do you balance those?

Yes, sometimes it feels like everyone wants poetry at the party but no one wants to pay for it. I understand though that a lot of communities just don’t have access to funding like that. My thoughts are if you’re an organizer and you don’t have funding to pay performers, it’s best to just be upfront about it. Acknowledge that the artist is fly and that you would pay them if you could. Let them know how their presence would positively impact whatever space you’re inviting them into, and be clear about your expectations if they agree to come. If you can barter or offer other resources, let the artist know! The only time it’s insulting is when organizers act like “exposure” is an actual currency, or even something I need. The internet exposes me plenty and doesn’t drain my gas tank. Just say you can’t pay me, but let me know I’m still valued! It’s also important to remember that most organizers of slams and local poetry shows aren’t being paid for their labor either, so we all have to stand up for each other and try to get people paid as best we can.

So true. I’m a slam organizer as well. It’s interesting, living life on both sides of that coin; being both an artist that wants to make money to pay my phone bill and being an organizer who knows my budget can only allow me to pay my feature $100. Meanwhile, my organizing committee and I make no money doing what we do.

If you’re doing something for free, you’re volunteering your time, energy, and resources. So, if I don’t have the time, energy, and resources to do something, I say no. So, in that mindset, it’s hard to feel guilty for not volunteering resources I don’t have. That being said, I’m someone who has benefited from artists volunteering their time and knowledge to mentor me as a youth writer, which totally changed my life for the better, so I’m much more likely to show up for free for some youth poets over anything else. I think artists are somewhat conditioned to feel like they’re greedy if they don’t do things for free all the time, especially marginalized artists, but it’s important to value your own work and your own time. It took me many years to start asking for what I thought my work deserved.

When would you say you became a slam organizer? Did it feel like an active choice or a role you just slid into? Maybe both?

I was voted in this past fall by my fellow staff members at the Providence Poetry Slam, which was entirely humbling and still makes me teary to think about. In that moment, it was this really beautiful validation of the work I had been doing with the scene — that my community believed in me and trusted me. I have a lot of anxiety about letting people down, and there are days where even hours and hours of work just isn’t enough to make something happen the way you want it too. It’s emotionally challenging — sometimes self doubt is the hardest part of the role. At the end of the day, the work is beautiful and I’m working alongside some of the flyest artists of my generation. I’m coming into the role following the ever-brilliant Franny Choi and Laura Brown-Lavoi.

Ugh, swoon city.

They both worked for years to revive the writing community here in Providence, especially for the youth scene, and have been tireless in helping myself and my fellow co-directors, Charlotte Abotsi and Vatic Kuumba (both incredible artists and organizers in and out of the slam world), take the helm and dream the unending dream, so to speak. Charlotte and I grew up at ProvSlam, so it’s extra magical that the community here supports our directorship of the slam and the youth program so passionately. We’re all very excited to go into Year Two with our feet wet so we can start dreaming bigger rather than just trying to keep everything afloat during the transition. 2017 is going to be wild.

How would you define intersectionality?

I think of intersectionality as a school of thought created by black women scholars that I work to align myself with. Similarly with the word “queer”, I think of it more as a lens with which to understand the world — a set of questions to use as a foundation for action. Queer and intersectional ideas aim to move our critiques towards complexity and nuance, rather than binary or reactionist thinking — to better understand how the hierarchies and oppressive systems we live under were built, how to work towards dismantling them, and how to begin dreaming of possible futures.

Spoken word and slam are sometimes heralded as being a medium where everyone’s story gets to be told and heard, that it’s a place where poets can find freedom. Do you ever feel like you and what you stand for still go unheard or unseen?

Slam is just a bar game, but poets have used it as a very effective community building tool. I praise it for its ability to showcase many different writers in one night, and as a platform to literally take up space and speak into silences. It’s funny to be a writer who has been successful in slam without feeling very competitive about it, but it’s a community that raised me and for all the shit I talk it’s honestly my favorite place in the world to be. Even after ten years it’s never really lost its magic, even if it’s broken my heart a few times. The past year I’ve been doing more coaching and organizing, taking more of a behind-the-scenes role. It’s equally gratifying and anxiety-producing to try and shape the spaces I’m in to be as wonderful for the artists and audience as possible. In general I’m less focused on my own poems, traveling less, but still trying to impact the spaces I’m in a similarly meaningful way. The learning curve going from performing to organizing has significant for me, and sometimes the weight of that responsibility is debilitating. I get disillusioned and depressed. I drop the ball sometimes. Even now, my inbox is like zoo-filled with a million little monsters that I don’t have the energy to tame. I’ve had to remember time and time again that it is actually a community, not just the idea of one — that it’s okay and totally necessary to ask for help when you’re in a leadership(ish) position.

Let’s get serious for a second, though…

What are the last three songs you listened to and why?

I’m one of those weirdos who listens to whole albums so it’s like:

Mal Devisa, Kiid (http://maldevisa.bandcamp.com/)

^ancient, brand new, a little scary, a mirror.

Jamila Woods, HEAVN (https://soundcloud.com/jamilawoods)

^protest music you can sway in the kitchen to.

James Blake, The Colour in Anything (Universal 2016)

^a little rain cloud you can hide in.

Dope. I’ve never heard of Mal Devisa, but I like when “scary” and “mirror” are used in the same sentence.

Next question: Can you write a haiku about your favorite ice cream flavor?

oh, pistachio

pressed against my mouth

sweet mustach…io

Last but, of course, not least, do you have any new work you’d like to share with us?

The poems I’m working on are so brand new that I don’t think they’re ready to be out in the world yet — but they’re cooking! I do have some new/old/silly af songs on my soundcloud though!

Check out Muggs’ poetry here, their music here, and book them for a feature here.