7 Thoughtful Questions with Maya Williams: Love, Legacy, and 'Refused a Second Date'
Maya Williams (ey/em, they/them, and she/her), a religious Black multiracial nonbinary suicide survivor and the seventh Poet Laureate of Portland, Maine, recently sat down with the Loft’s Storytelling and Community Engagement Coordinator to discuss eir newly published poetry collection. The highly-anticipated collection, Refused a Second Date, explores first date impressions, intergenerational partner abuse, mental health, the role of religion in sexuality, and queerness.
1. Repetition is a key element in your collection. Can you discuss how this technique aids in examining the complexities and recurring themes in dating experiences?
This technique helped me examine the complexities and recurring themes of these experiences by making space for not only how I felt walking away from the experience, but how the other person did as well. Using the haibun (a poem that has prose and closes with a haiku) and making pairs of them helped me capture each single first date moment from two very different people.
2. Refused a Second Date addresses both the awkward and sincere aspects of dating. How do you maintain a balance between humor and vulnerability to offer a comprehensive view of modern relationships?
I think the reminder to keep myself honest helps me maintain that balance of humor and vulnerability. I'm especially inspired by writers who navigate that same balance like Allison Raskin, Shay Alexi, Chen Chen, Khadijah Queen, and more.
3. Your work often highlights intergenerational patterns. What legacy do you aim to establish with your collections?
I hope to create a legacy that lets readers know that healing is non-linear and imperfect. But I also hope to create a legacy that lets readers know that healing is very much possible. I hope to create a legacy that is a container of the generations that make up different iterations of who I was, who I am, and who I will be.
4. How does your mother's legacy influence your writing style? Are there specific techniques you use to encapsulate the essence of that significant relationship?
This is a really good question; I was hesitant to answer it at first because of how important she is to me. I need to answer it. Being raised by a single mom has made me value independence, straightforwardness, and the need to try new things and be in new environments while doing so. The specific writing techniques I use to capture the essence of that significant relationship include exploring her duality in processing her relationship with me and other people in the "Contradictions of My Mother" poems in the collection.
5. Your poems tackle the emotional ups and downs of dating, something relatable for many. What advice can you offer emerging writers about drawing from personal experiences without becoming consumed by them?
I'm grateful for writing spaces that advise "write from the scar, not the wound." I hope emerging writers give themselves more time to process their personal experiences in order to give them the acknowledgment they deserve. That way, poems about these experiences come from a more grounded place.
6. You mention technology like Bumble as a component of modern dating. How does including these current elements influence your writing approach or the structure of your poetry?
Incorporating that contemporary element impacts my writing approach in addressing first impressions through the haibuns as well as the ongoing relationships I have with people outside of the dating experience. My goal while writing the poems about first dates is to make room for different perspectives of the same experience. These experiences don't just happen in person; they happen online too. It was necessary for me to include things like Bumble and group texts and their respective nuances in the collection.
7. Refused a Second Date examines first dates and what follows. How do you see first dates as a smaller representation of broader relationship dynamics?
Dating gives us insight into aspects of who we are and who we want to be. How much we're willing to share about ourselves on a first date varies, and it reflects how we have been raised or taught to share about ourselves in broader types of relationships in our lives.
After engaging with the many layers of Refused a Second Date, it's clear that Maya Williams is not just a poet, but a true translator of the human condition. Eir work invites us to question, to empathize, and most importantly, to understand that the journey of relationships and self-discovery is a continuous and multifaceted one.