Featured Poet Series: Q&A with Valerie Wallace

Valerie Wallace's suite of poems instantly won us over. Full of rich imagery and clever word play, each poem resurrects, then buries, Alexander McQueen in unexpected ways. We were enamored with the tension, but also the tenderness, that depicts "...a romantic, really - " who likes "exploring the sinister side of life." The following back and forth is meant as a complement to the poet's work.

KBR

What draws you to Alexander McQueen?

Valerie Wallace

Alexander McQueen was unknown to me until the day after he died, so the first things I learned about him were in his obituary. I was drawn to the deep respect people had for his work, the loyalty he inspired from those who worked with him, that he saw fashion as a kind of armor for women, and that he came into fashion from working class roots. When I saw photos of his work, I knew I wanted to try to capture his vision in poems.

 

I’d been on the lookout for someone very different from me to write about, so I was also drawn to the challenge of finding his voice in the poetic line. Even though he was very clear in his vision for his work, he was a deeply private person in many ways. That attracted me.

KBR

How does shared context, like in this case a cursory knowledge of Alexander McQueen, shape these poems?

Valerie Wallace

I felt that going after an understanding of McQueen was an essential part of the writing of these poems. I’m not sure I achieved that understanding in that obviously I didn’t know him and also, how well can you ever understand someone? But I did read a lot of interviews, watched videos of his work and of him speaking about his work, and because his death inspired them, had access to biographies and photography books about him and his designs. Oh! and I was fortunate to be able to travel to the UK when the manuscript was mostly finished, which helped me see the culture first-hand; and in particular experience the neighborhoods, tailoring shops, and a stunning retrospective of his work.

I also read as much as I could about the people he surrounded himself with – colleagues, employers, friends, family, models, etc. I decided I would write the poems for them, the people who had such obvious affection for him (even when frustrated by him). I thought that would be a way to stay true to him. But I have tried to keep in mind a reader who might be as new to McQueen as I had been.

KBR

What, if any, is the intersection of fashion and poetry?

Valerie Wallace

One intersection for sure is in the craft. Somewhat the performative aspect as well, but the creative spark and detail work within a larger form to realize the idea seems to me to be a place where fashion and poetry could speak with each other.

KBR

What was the hardest poem you have ever written?​

Valerie Wallace:

Always the one I’m writing – I think I won’t make it through.