MY BETTER NATURE: So what drew you to discuss your teen age masturbation practice at such length?

ME:  Well, when you put it like that, I sound like a perv, but that is how I thought of myself at that age. I thought I was just this overly horny person and what I was doing was completely abnormal. No one ever explained what masturbation was or that is might be a healthy part of adolescent development. I always felt very dirty and shameful about it and I figure, I’m probably not the only one. So I write about it in the hopes that I can be a little less ashamed or at least find some other people like me, and then we can all be shamed together.


Where do you think this shame comes from? Isn’t sex ubiquitous?

Sex is, but its taboo to discuss it. Especially with young people. We’ve decided that sex is the purview of adults and to imply that young people try these things out for themselves give young people agency and action as adults, even if we don’t trust them to use that agency responsibly. Its all very fraught, but the culture of silence around it doesn’t help.


Were there things that helped you at that time? Other than sick days and Red Shoe Diaries?

Finding other writers, both of fiction and songwriters, who talked about their own experiences really helped. Its one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer. I also sought refuge amongst a group of guy friends all of whom talked about masturbation and stupid sex stuff WAY too much, as teenage boys are apt to do. I related to them, but cultivated a healthy air of misogyny in the process.


How did you get past that?

College. It took going to college and meeting other cool, smart women for me to believe they existed. Not that there weren’t smart women in my high school, there just wasn’t a whole lot of openness. I went to Berkeley for my undergrad, so open sexual exploration was the name of the game.


What’s the most valuable thing you learned there?

How to pee just about anywhere. It was very liberating. Also, biochemistry.


What attracts you to poetry?

I love the economy of it. It’s a whole world that you can carry around in your pocket, especially if you take the time to memorize a poem you particularly love. Its writing in concentrate form.


What themes or topics do you see recurring regularly in your work?

I was counting and I now have 5 or more poems about sex, porn or masturbation, so I suppose that’s a theme. I write a lot about death, not in the morose, gloom-cookie kind of way that romanticizes it, but rather I find myself writing about people who have died and to what extent they shaped their own end. I feel like I write about love with the same kind of approach, sort of this disbelieving “why me?” awe for the whole subject, grounding in perhaps an unhealthy degree pf pragmatism.


What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The pay. No, wait… the respect? No… Maybe its that its just an easy mode of expression to engage in any time and at any age. I can’t imagine being a dancer and knowing that at some point my body would no longer be able to move the way it once did, or being a musician and finding myself on a train or bus, longing to play my upright bass or piano and having no recourse. I think writing is also a pretty easy art form to share with others, especially in the digital age.


How do you think living in the digital age has affected your writing?

It’s a little hard to say, since it’s the only “age” in which I find myself developing as a writer, so I don’t have a lot to compare to.  I think the ease with which writing can be published and shared has certainly made it easier for folks like me to pursue publication without devoting an entire career to it. It’s easy to send out several submissions on your lunch break over email. I can’t imaging I’d manage the same volume of effort if I needed to print, stamp and address each one. I think that having an online community of writers is also pretty cool in that you aren’t as likely to get locked into whatever artistic sensibility pervades your local scene. You can get feedback from folks in Chicago, Seattle and LA with the same or greater ease than you can by attending a workshop in person.


Have there been any negative affects?

The Facebook and Twitter culture of posting on every banality of you existence I find incredibly lame and self indulgent.  Subsequently, I get hyper-conscious that I’m duplicating that behavior in my own writing. That’s certainly a hang-up that keeps me from chasing after some ideas as a writer that might be really worthwhile. But I just have this shitty little voice in the back of my head that says, “No one cares about your little life.”


How do you deal with that?

Xanax and booze. But now that I’m pregnant, I’m substituting with misanthropy and gnashing of teeth.



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EMILY KAGAN TRENCHARD’s work fuses poetry and science, the personal and the political, the magical and the natural. Her poems critique and reconfigure traditional notions of femininity, history, religion and the body, drawing on images and stories from both her own life and the media. Her writing synthesizes the experimental nature of her native California, the discipline and knowledge gained while earning her Master’s of Science in Science Writing from MIT, and the attitude nurtured by her adopted home, New York City.

Emily began writing poetry while at the University of California, Berkeley, where her work was commissioned for an address to the graduating class of 2004. Her work has appeared in publications such as Word Riot, Get Underground, The Shiny Gun and several anthologies of poetry. She also received honorable mention in Rattle’s 2009 Poetry Prize. Emily has been a featured writer and performer at numerous reading series and universities across the country, and was a part of Def Poetry Jam’s seasons 3 and 4.

Though poetry is a large part of her creative life, she makes her living in multi-media science communications, helping the public become fascinated by everything from cholesterol to cosmology. She strongly believes that good ideas shouldn’t suffer because of bad design. Most recently, Emily worked with the filmmaker Paul Devlin on his high-flying astrophysics-adventure documentary, BLAST!

Emily lives in Brooklyn where she is slam master and a co-curator of the renowned louderARTS Project Reading Series. She has potty mouth and a thing for red lipstick. She’s expecting her first child this December.

One response to “Emily Kagan Trenchard: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. […] loss of virginity, and the mediated nature of, well, pretty much everything. Emily is this week’s featured poet here at TNB, and you can read another of her poems (also concerned with pornography) by clicking […]

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