Talking Paper Interview Series: Lisa Marie Basile and Joanna C. Valente

Photo courtesy of the artists

Photo courtesy of the artists

Lisa Marie Basile and Joanna C. Valente are the founding editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, of Luna Luna Magazine, which is described on its website as "a conversation, dreamer's diary, lit magazine, & confessional" with content generally divided between dark and light sections. Basile (who also serves as Luna Luna's creative director) is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press, University of Buffalo) as well as chapbooks that include Andalucia (Poetry Society of New York). Valente is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press), and a forthcoming full-length collection, Marys of the Sea (ELJ Publications). She founded Yes, Poetry in 2010 and has a forthcoming chapbook, Xenos (Agape Editions).

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Both have read at past Nomadic Press live showcases in Brooklyn with Basile taking part in Suave Vintage Glamour at Risk Gallery & Boutique in April of 2016 and Valente reading as part of Cobra Club Poetry in November of 2015. I recently interviewed them about Luna Luna, their favorite topics to write about, and their approach to live readings.

On the Evolution of Luna Luna

"I just wanted to give a voice to the sort of weird in-between areas in women's conversations. So not just fashion and beauty, and not just sex, but also art, and literature, and personal growth, and a touch of magic."

Lisa: I was working for a college and they had me making a million phone calls per hour. I had just gotten out of my Masters program and I was feeling exploited and restless. So I dabbled in running a press a few times. I created one called Patasola Press many years ago, and I closed that. I worked on a few journals, so I knew the ins and outs of creating a magazine, at least online. So I started Luna Luna with 10 friends, and I asked everyone to contribute a few articles per month. We had a pretty janky website on WordPress. But it was amazing, and our community grew so quickly. We had so many writers, and so many readers, and so many people that were willing to help. And I just wanted to give a voice to the sort of weird in-between areas in women's conversations. So not just fashion and beauty, and not just sex, but also art, and literature, and personal growth, and a touch of magic. That's sort of been the main thread. So we call ourselves a lifestyles magazine, a dreamer's diary, an art magazine, and a lit journal all in one. So I wanted to create something that encompassed all of those areas. The name Luna Luna came about because I am Italian, and I really liked the idea of it having a name that somewhat recognizes Mediterranean heritage. Also, I really liked that the moon is associated with darkness. So I thought naming it Luna, and then Luna again would just be catchy. That was a very aesthetic decision. Over time, now that we've done so much occult content, it's really become a staple of who we are.  

Joanna: I got involved within six months of Lisa starting the publication because I had seen a call for submissions on Facebook via another writer that we're mutual friends with. At the time, I had written an article on my sexual assault. It had happened a few years prior. I had written a lot of poems, and decided I wanted to start writing essays. It was kind of at the perfect moment, so I emailed Lisa with an essay. After that, she said that I could publish it, and then from there I began to work on staff more and more. So I would start to write maybe two times a month, and then very quickly ended up writing once a week, and then from there I very quickly started editing pieces. Over time, I also became best friends with Lisa. So it's kind of an interesting thing for Lisa and I because we started working together not knowing each other. Then we started working together very closely to the point where we were basically co-running this magazine and we're also best friends. So it was kind of an interesting mix of magic, love, and professional work as well.   

Lisa: The relaunch was sort of a ballsy move, I think, because it technically wasn't necessary. We were experiencing a million Wordpress hiccups, and the site was just being flooded with malware and plugins that were going haywire. So from a technical standpoint, I was really just done with our backend. So I started exploring ways of building Luna Luna up again from scratch. It dawned on me that I wanted to have a little bit more of a focus on arts and the occult because we had such a tremendous amount of content about women's experiences and social issues, largely in part due to Joanna coming on board. We had so much of this amazing content, and I thought to myself, "That's awesome. Let's also try to explore the art side of things a little bit more," which we've done such a great job with. So many amazing literary articles. I wanted to just make something more dynamic, and I built it on Squarespace and tinkered with that for literally two weeks. I mean, half-centimeter stuff, insane staying up until 4AM font choices. We talked a lot about what we wanted. We experimented with a lot of art. Then we launched it on October 31st — Halloween last year  and it was really successful. So now what we're basically doing is trying to get some of the traffic back from our old site because we actually dropped the URL as well. So we took a really, really ballsy turn by getting rid of our URL and kind of starting over again. But our audience stayed with us, and I think now we have really diverse content and a really beautiful site that allows people to click through and engage in a much more fun way. 

On Recurring Topics They Write About

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"I try to promote writers that are published on small presses and have maybe never been reviewed before. I also particularly try to focus on writers that are women, or people of color, or transgender or queer-identifying."

Joanna: I write a lot about sexual assault, and abortion, because I was assaulted when I was in college and had an abortion as a result of it. So I write a lot from my own perspective, and I also just write a lot about current events that are happening, in terms of women's rights. So on one hand, I do a lot of super serious stuff, that I wouldn't say I enjoy doing, per se. In the sense that one does not enjoy writing about assault. But it is also very cathartic for me, and I know that a lot of women find it useful, and inspiring, and it gives them a voice, and it makes them feel connected to other people. So that is enjoyable and really heartwarming in a lot of ways, just because I've had a lot of women write to me and say things like that. The second thing that I do is review a lot of books, particularly poetry books. I really enjoy doing that. I get to promote writers that I really like, and I think that's something that doesn't happen as often. We do have sites like Publisher's Weekly, and Lit Hub, and all of these places do publish reviews. But I feel like they publish reviews on popular books, or books that are already getting a lot of traction. Whereas I try to promote writers that are published on small presses and have maybe never been reviewed before. I also particularly try to focus on writers that are women, or people of color, or transgender or queer-identifying. Just because, again, I feel like a lot of the major sites don't focus on those. The third thing I focus on is occult, because I do read tarot as well. So I will write about tarot and what it means, or Mercury in retrograde, and all these wonderful horoscope astrology type things, which also is enjoyable for me. Just because I feel like a lot of times you'll see Elle or Allure posting horoscopes. But they all seem kind of done in the same clichéd upbeat way, whereas I try to just be real about it and not focus always on the positive. Not that I want to be a Debbie Downer, but I think it's important for people to feel like you're being real. Especially if you are talking about occult stuff, and not making everything seem like it's magical and wonderful, and just because you light a candle on the solstice that life is gonna be great. Because I think that is a big misconception. 

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Lisa: Both of us are really focused on also accepting a lot of content, so we're reading a lot of submissions, and we have a couple other editors that help us with that as well: Alaina and Nadia. So aside from just accepting things, and trying to balance out what we're putting up, I write all over the place. I am much more of a creative director, and more social media and promotion. That's not to say I don't write. I certainly do a lot. I kind of focus on the grander picture, and just make sure things are working, make sure things are done, make sure things go live. But when I write, I write a lot about breaking news. So I do a lot of response pieces. I try to hop on hot topics pretty quickly. I love to write really long service-oriented articles. One of the big things I've been focusing on right now is just republishing content from our old site to our new site. So it feels like a lot of creative direction—admin and writing. But when I do write, I write a lot about women, I write a lot about the occult, and I write a lot about literature. I'm a crazy melting pot. I'm all over the place. My number one goal every day is just to make sure something new and beautiful is going live, and that people see it, and that we're engaging with our audience.  

On the Relation of Women and the Occult

Joanna: I think women and their bodies are a big theme right now. So I think a lot of times women are focusing on how to be more fulfilled and to be happier and to use their bodies to do that. I think there is a stigma right now that women who are into the occult must be super radical feminists with armpit hair, or super hippy girls who are weird and whom people don't ever talk to. But I think there is a very interesting movement going on, too, where people are reclaiming that. Because there are festivals, like Slutist, and movements like that. I think now it's becoming edgy and queer-centric, too. A lot of occult witchy culture is kind of focusing on this sort of witchy, intelligent, edgy woman. I think you can see that, not only reading Luna, but Broadly at Vice, which is an imprint at Vice Magazine. It's just kind of all about that. I sort of fit that mold to some extent, and I try to do that myself in that I try to listen to my body in a way where I'm like, "Well, why do I feel tired?" If I feel tired, then I read my tarot. Usually, at that point, it's because I'm ignoring myself, because I'm at work and I'm over-stressing myself, or I'm never saying no to social engagements because I feel like my friends are going to hate me if I say no. So I often feel like, when I do read tarot, it's me kind of realigning myself about what I want. Is my career going the way I want? Or I'm bothered by a problem that I'm having with a friend. I feel like that gives me focus, and I think that's where most women are at at this point. Because I think so often we ignore ourselves. Whether you're a mom because you're taking care of other kids, or you're at a job where you're working until 8 o'clock at night, or whatever the issue is, I feel like women have always been relegated to ignoring their problems. I think now, because of the Internet, women don't as much because we're writing articles about how we're tired of being tired, or tired of being fat-shamed, or whatever the issue is. I think a lot of women also see the occult as a way to be spiritual without having to say, like, "I'm Catholic," or "I'm Buddhist," or "I'm Jewish" because people are perhaps less traditional than they used to be.

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"In my opinion, being a woman means being intuitive, and giving life, and tapping into the source in a different way. That's not to say that men don't, but I think our way of doing it is really aligned with nature."

Lisa: I think women have been reduced for so long to sexual objects, or maternal beings, or wives, or underling workers, that I think our inherent power has been ignored or even punished. In my opinion, being a woman means being intuitive, and giving life, and tapping into the source in a different way. That's not to say that men don't, but I think our way of doing it is really aligned with nature. So I think the occult today is giving us an opportunity for us to talk about our inherent power, whether that be through sexuality or through healing. I also think, like Joanna said, there's not so much of a focus on being religious, per se. So a lot of us are turning away from how we were raised, and the occult gives us a sense of knowing how to tap into a greater universal power, or truth, or information source. That doesn't need to be God, and it doesn't need to be anything besides your subconscious or your self. So I think it's a great time to turn to speaking to your inner self, just to grow as a person, and certainly to grow as a woman because we've just been so ignored and so repressed for so long. So why not use our magic and light everything on fire? 

On Live Readings

Joanna: In terms of where, I feel like I don't actually choose in the sense that I'm often solicited by different presses or people who are just putting on readings. If I like who they are and what they're doing, I'll say yes, which is honestly most of the time. There are very few times where I am asked to read by someone who I think is skeevy. So for me, choosing where to read is not so hard.

"I think there needs to be more of a sense of the fact that it's OK not to always be perfectly polished, or that it's OK to be emotional."

I have hosted readings for Yes, Poetry, which is the poetry press that I also run, and in the past I have chosen to host it at Mellow Pages Library. I think I chose that venue in particular just because I felt like it stood for a lot of things that I believe in. It's a free venue. You don't have to pay to get in. And it's a library, so you literally can trade a book that you bring in and take another book out, which is really cool because it's showing the work of a lot of people who are New York City poets and writers, or writers across the country who are indie press writers. As the founder of an indie press, that's important for me to have a place that encourages smaller presses and smaller authors. The people who ran it were just really lovely and inclusive, and they were always friendly and very easy to work with. In general, that's what I look for when I look to work with people who aren't doing things just because it sounds good. They believe in what they're doing. In terms of choosing what I actually read, I often do exactly what everyone else doesn't do. I read what I just wrote. For me, I find that really cathartic and magical in a certain way because I feel like I'm in the moment. Whereas I feel like if I'm just reading my ten hits that everyone's heard me read a million times, it just seems old and contrived. If I'm reading a poem that I wrote last night, it feels emotional and raw to me. I'd rather be honest and upfront. I don't want people to just look at me as being a really good poet. I want them to feel like they had an emotional experience when I'm reading a poem.

Granted, I say this all with the caveat that I would never read a poem that I didn't feel was finished. But I feel like I do often write pieces, and then two weeks later I'll read them at a reading because I've edited them a little bit since. So it's not like I'll necessarily write something and then immediately read it. But I think there needs to be more of a sense of the fact that it's OK not to always be perfectly polished, or that it's OK to be emotional. Because at readings, at least in New York City, everyone wants to put on a show all the time. I definitely want to put on a show, and put my best foot first, but I also think it's important to be honest emotionally, because it's what poets are supposed to be, and I think we should not forget that as poets, because otherwise we're just Donald Trumps with better vocabulary and an edgier vibe, and that's upsetting.  

Lisa: I read a lot live for the past six or so years, and especially two years ago. But for the past two years, I've taken a hiatus. I've probably read a couple dozen times, but not nearly at the pace that I used to, for specific reasons. I felt like a lot of reading series had similar problems, which is that I felt they weren't at the time diverse, that a lot of the more popular writers were kind of just getting together and reading, that it became sort of cliquey and a who's who of the literary scene. That makes me very uncomfortable. I really love to just be myself and not feel like I have to put on a show, kind of like Joanna said.

"I really try to be as personal and as broken and as real as possible."

With a friend, I co-curate something called Diorama, and we're going to be doing some stuff this year that focuses on vulnerability and intimacy in reading. So we're the hosts, but I do try to carry that belief system with me whenever I read. I really try to give it my all. I tend to just kind of flip through my books and pick a page and read. I never would want to read the best hits over and over again. I used to perform with a show called The Poetry Brothel for a few years, and a large part of that was courting the audience through reading these stunner poems that would then get them to approach you for a private reading that they would pay for. While at the time I loved that, it's not something I do anymore, and kind of repeating the same poem over and over again to elicit a similar response has really bored me. So in short, I really try to be as personal and as broken and as real as possible. I often break out into a red rash and I get shaky, but I'm connecting with people and that's what really matters. So I'm working on my second full-length this year, and I think at the end of the year and next year I'll have a lot more readings. I'm really looking forward to killing off any semblance of poet voice, and looking forward to just speaking my poetry like I'm actually having a conversation with somebody. That has always struck me as very powerful, and I'm going to try and do that going forward. I'm also going to try and read with the series that I love, and people I love, which is pretty much everyone. There is so much good happening here right now. I am very lucky to be part of this scene, and to be a writer, and to be alive.