Q&A with Emmy Cherry

A photograph of Emmy Cherry set against a close-up section of the TSR #33: HYPE cover, with art by Renee Melia. Renee's art features a dark green backdrop with abstract curvy shapes in shades of blue and red. Emmy is photographed in warm light from a close-up low angle, with her gaze directed towards the camera. She has long dark hair, and her face is partly covered by a gentle shadow. Next to her photo, text reads "#33 HYPE interview with Emmy Cherry”.

Emmy Cherry is a Greek–Egyptian poet currently writing and living on unceded Wurundjeri land. She spends her free time thinking extensively about Elvis, decadence, the philosophy of ‘good-feeling’, and how poetry can function as a pillar of health and wellbeing. You can find her on Twitch, streaming most evenings under the name Emmycherry4.

TSR is so excited to have your poem in our HYPE issue. I want to start by acknowledging the poem’s unique backstory—you originally entered it into the Parkes Elvis Festival Poetry Competition, which was co-judged by our Editor in Chief Claire Albrecht. ‘whatever he did in those leather pants’ explores the erotic intensity of fandom—the poem’s present-day speaker longs to witness an Elvis concert among a ‘Greek chorus of shrieking pubescence’. This line got me thinking about the link between writing poetry and expressing fandom—for example, whether poets and superfans share a tendency to view the objects of their interest through an obstinately romantic and/or selectively observant lens. I was also reminded of the Ania Walwicz poem ‘Great Elvis’, which features a speaker whose full-hearted devotion to Elvis leads her to become Elvis. Do you have any thoughts on the connection between being a fan and being a poet? And, if you were to write a fandom-focused poetry collection, which other celebrities would feature in it?

I can’t think of a more fitting theme than HYPE for a poem like this, and, of course, Elvis Presley himself! Thank you, thank you very much!

I think there is an inextricable link between being a fan and being a poet. There’s a lot of obsessive overlap between the two. To be a poet in the first place, you basically have to be a fan of life and living—in all of its exquisite wonders and terrors—to stomach participating in a such a meticulous, reverent, observation-based practice. I’ve often said—possibly at the risk of falling into melodrama, but with a fierce earnestness—that I would rather die than be unable to write. If that’s not worshipful, I don’t know what is.

If I were to write a poetry collection featuring celebrities other than Elvis, I might include figures like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. I am fascinated by the implications of transcending mere mortal status and entering into the realm of legend and mythology. What does that do to a person? How does that change one’s psyche and footing in the world, one’s ability to connect with others? Is it possible to still feel human at all when—for better or worse—one finds oneself deified, all relatability wallpapered over with celebrity?

In my opinion, Elvis was among the first to truly reach that mind-boggling, super-celebrity, borderline-demigod status, though I do think there have been others since. To quote John Lennon, ‘before Elvis, there was nothing’. Attending the Parkes festival, you’d believe him. And the hype is infectious. It’s hard not to want to join in.

As a cultural figure, Elvis never really ‘left the building’—the Parkes Elvis Festival has been going strong since 1993, and I remember belting out ‘Suspicious Minds’ during many a childhood road trip. The hype surrounding Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 film Elvis and Sophia Coppola’s 2023 film Priscilla, however, has kindled a new generation of fans, revived discourse about method acting (see: Austin Butler’s questionable post-Elvis accent), and drawn attention to criticisms of Elvis and his legacy. Were you ensnared by this resurgence of Elvis-themed content, or did you somehow manage to avoid it?

Definitely ensnared. Believe it or not, I didn’t really know much about Elvis at all before I went to see the 2022 movie, which sparked my current fixation, and is to be blamed or thanked, depending on who you ask. I agree that Elvis has never really ‘left the building’, and to be honest, I don’t think he ever will. His lightning-in-a-bottle concoction of talent, emotional complexity, and raw sex appeal—not to mention the many scandals surrounding his personal life and untimely passing—make for an interesting ‘what if?’ tale to endlessly pore over from new angles and perspectives.

There were certainly more questionable or controversial parts of his life that have been rightfully criticised by modern sensibilities, but in general, I believe there’s a lot of good to take from his legacy. What stands out to me most was Elvis’s steadfast dedication to gratitude and tenderness. Those are things I’ve tried to incorporate more into my own life because of him, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

I should also mention that my poem was inspired by the—rather credible—claim that Elvis, while filming the 1968 comeback special, got rather excited on stage, and, um…well, had some kind of happy accident in those leather pants of his! And isn’t that kind of poetic, in a way? He loved performing so much—and loved his craft and his audiences so much—that he was too excited to control himself. It parallels the same frenetic, libidinous whirlwind of hype from his fanbase. I think it went both ways.

I don’t know if the rumour about whatever happened in his leather pants is true. But I hope it is! And I think about it often. Haha.

While your poem has a breathless, carnal quality, it is also impressively taut—no word feels unnecessary or out of place. Could you tell me a bit about your writing and editing process? How do you know when a poem is finished?

If left unchecked, I am prone to rambling, so having my work described as ‘taut’ is the kind of compliment that I very indulgently cherish, thank you. Unfortunately—since I’ve been writing for about a decade now—a lot of my own practices have sublimated from the more easily explainable conscious mind to the nebulous and invisible intuitive mind. Meaning that my response here to your questions is a frustratingly opaque set of answers!

There’s this metaphor from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof where the male lead, Brick, describes feeling compelled each night to drink and drink until he finally hears a ‘click’ in his head that allows him to stop. Perhaps worryingly, I can relate to the experience of an internal ‘click’ that tells me when a poem is done. It’s like a tonic of pure relief and seems to loosen me from the clutches of whatever piece I’m obsessively working on.

The click happens when that urgent feeling of needing to deliver a message has melted, and the message itself feels like it has been crystalised into the shape of the poem. The entire poem needs to justify its own existence. It’s maybe a bit delicate, then, like a snowflake. You reach a point where you feel like any further tinkering with the poem could shatter the whole thing entirely.

There is a constant negotiation happening between your own writerly ego and your editorial scrutiny. It’s not typically as crazy-making as it sounds, though it can be. And ultimately, you need to find some middle ground between the two impulses. It’s possible to strip too much away while editing in the prideful pursuit of leanness.

Sometimes, a poem or line will spring forth basically finished, as if it had been waiting eagerly to pop into existence. Annie Dillard, in her essay ‘A Writer in the World’, quotes an unnamed writer who says, ‘one line of a sonnet…only one line of fourteen, but thank God for that one line—drops from the ceiling’. I think about that quote a lot, and it continues to prove itself true to me. In this poem, the line that fell from the ceiling was the one about the ‘Greek chorus of shrieking pubescence’. Phew!