Q&A with Elena Gomez

The grey background is superimposed with the cover of The Suburban Review #20 on the right. On the left is a close-up photo of Elena looking at the camera. She has shoulder-length dark hair. She wears a blue top and large pale-rimmed glasses.

ELENA GOMEZ is a poet and editor living in Melbourne. She is the author of Body of Work (Cordite Books, 2018) and a number of chapbooks. Her next book, Admit the Joyous Passion of Revolt, is forthcoming from Puncher & Wattmann.

In your suite ‘Wilder’, published in #20: HANDBAG, you engage with materiality and ideology in such a dynamic and affecting way. What is so appealing about the handbag as an object?

Thank you! The handbag is so many things, and this is probably the crux of its appeal to me. It is both a site of concealment and expression, of fashion statement and insurrectionary weapon. I think it’s an object that we can trace alongside history, even going back to the early human societies, such as those described by Ursula Le Guin in her essay ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, which is a text I draw upon in my poems for this issue and which I recommend everyone read. I found myself thinking of a handbag as a sort of carrier bag. In the essay, Le Guin has this sentence: ‘If you haven’t got something to put it in, food will escape you’. I’m interested in the base-level practicality of the handbag. My relationship to handbags in my personal life has not occupied my mind (I actually rarely buy handbags, and mainly use a quite worn-out tote bag from the Sydney record store Repressed Records, which was a leaving gift from some good friends when I moved away). The absence of a personal connection to the handbag object opened it up to other aspects in my poems, and led me down some interesting visions of the handbag, e.g., from a revolutionary weapon in French-occupied Algeria to peak French fashion statement. I am always thinking about the relationship between materiality and politics, or perhaps even ideology to a degree, as you say, and the handbag feels like such a potent object to open up questions about gender, culture and history.

In your essay ‘Looming poetics’, published earlier this year in Issue 238 of Overland, you argue for a Marxist-Feminist poetics that can effectively address the threat of the present-future (the temporal denotation of looming) and the overlooked experiences of gendered labour (looming as women’s work). This is a really compelling framework. Has your thinking about this framework developed in significant ways, been challenged or affirmed by certain encounters or events since the essay’s publication?

To be honest, I’ve sort of been pulled in a different direction lately, though not unrelated. I was thinking a lot about domesticity and gendered labour, and now I’m also thinking more about social reproduction, the work of hands, the questions of subsistence in our current world and thinking about how this will look in the ideal future (one which has abolished capitalism). And as a sort of lynchpin here, I’ve been thinking about humans and ecology. The ideas that I explored in that essay were sort of lingering on from a master’s thesis I wrote over four years on gender, labour and intergenerationality in Marxist-feminist poetics, and I haven’t been able to go back there since the Overland essay. I’m still interested in these questions, but I suppose I’ve been getting distracted a lot with new ideas and problems around my political and poetic interests, so it’s sort of waiting there for me to return to it soon (hopefully). That’s not to say my thinking hasn’t developed: I’m certain it has. But I’m finding myself occupied with different questions lately.

I was hoping you could talk about what you have on the horizon, any forthcoming publications or project? What’s your focus at the moment?

My most recent collection was just published last month by Puncher and Wattman, called Admit the Joyous Passion of Revolt, which was in part a response to, or poetic working through, of the life of Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai, who was a political figure but who also wrote short stories and novels about women in the Bolshevik movement. More recently I’ve been a little bit obsessed with the art and life of Hannah Ryggen, an anti-fascist tapestry artist who lived in Norway on a small self-sufficient farm, so I’m writing, with the help of an Australia Council grant, poems and thinking about her politics and art practice, and also animals and the natural world. Mainly trying to pull together a manuscript of sorts for that. So it’s an entirely new project, but also a continuation of my interest in historical women of the left, and the relationship between art and political practice. I’ve also been continuing my very beginner attempts at mixed media analogue collage, which I’m trying to blend in with my poetry, but I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I have also just had a really busy past few months, so I would really like to focus on reading more poetry!