Q&A: Poet and UI alum Craig Moreau


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University of Iowa alum Craig Moreau will return to Iowa City after almost three years this weekend. And with him he’s bringing more than 50 poems — “Love Letter Never Written,” “Trinidad and Tobago,” “Facebook Psalms,” and “Chelsea Girls” among others. Moreau’s unconventional readings won’t be shared with bookstore junkies sipping hot coffee. The author of Chelsea Boy, a book of poems released on June 1, strives to show Iowa City that poetry can be appreciated with a beer in hand.

DI: What is poetry to you?

Moreau: An art form that uses what’s around us to connect with humanity. You shouldn’t need an M.F.A. to read poetry; I’ve gotten so much from it, and I think that people should have a favorite poet just as they have a favorite musician.

DI: Who is your favorite poet?

Moreau: Walt Whitman. He did so many things that I value in my own work; I consistently turn to him for inspiration. He wrote for the everyday American and about life’s complexities and simplicities. He was gay also and had a large ego. I’d say I have a big ego too.

DI: It takes a lot to admit you have an ego — do you think this has helped you succeed in what you do?

Moreau: There is a big taboo to say you have a big ego, but if you have dream to chase, you’re going to have to get an ego at some point. I guess you could say it’s a good thing to have a compassionate ego. I quote Shakespeare in one of my poems, Whitman quoted this line as well, ‘Self-love is not so vile as self-neglect.’ If those are your only options, then why not pick self-love?

DI: What is a Chelsea Boy?

Moreau: I won’t answer what a Chelsea Boy is because it’s a stereotype that’s not exactly complimentary. Space and time change the definition.

DI: Then it’s pretty bold of you to go by the pseudonym and title your book “Chelsea Boy,” isn’t it?

Moreau: In one world, we say don’t call us fags, but then in another, we call each other a Chelsea Boy. I want to bring that to the forefront. The goal would be to have people examine labels within and without their own community. That’s the big picture; the smaller picture would be to bring to light that definitions have different meanings to different people.

DI: Your book was released on June 1. What has been the response so far?

Moreau: Before the book even came out, I got bad press, and people couldn’t even read it yet. People were literally judging a book by its cover, and that’s exactly what you do when you stereotype, and ironically, that’s what my book is about. After it was released, I had a couple of good reviews and support from people I’ve read to. What excites me is when people who would never buy a book of poetry want to read it.

DI: What about your book tour — how’s that going?

Moreau: I’m trying not to go to bookstores because I’m trying to reach people who don’t spend their time there. Those people are at the bars. My release party was at a private club in New York City, in D.C., it was at a private house party, Chicago was at a bar/club. At my reading in San Francisco, I’m going to have drag queen interpret my work. You can drink a beer and laugh — poetry doesn’t have to be treated like a sacred object.

DI: What’s your plan for the book reading at the Mill?

Moreau: I think I’ll read about eight to 10 poems and, hopefully, have a Q and A afterwards. I’ve been trying to incorporate charities during my tour, so a quarter of the proceeds will be going to No Hate, which is trying to repeal Prop. Eight in California.

DI: What comes next?

Moreau: I want to write another book — nonfiction. But before I can do that, I need a source of income. I’ve been a student all my life, so I’ve been able to live off of nothing. I do love teaching so maybe creative writing or lit, even history.

DI: Where do you get your inspiration?

Moreau: I guess I react to people in a place that makes me feel happy. In Iowa, that was few and far between; New York was humbling. It wasn’t necessarily the acceptance but the quantity of people, I wasn’t so desperate. Here, I have to be “gay Craig”; there, I can just be “Craig.”

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