1. You have a bfa in photography and book arts. Why did you want to study those mediums?
“honestly? i’m not exactly sure where it started, but it felt like a very natural transition at that stage of my life. i’ve always leaned very creative—i’ve told a story on multiple occasions about this time i yelled at some kid in my kindergarten class for saying art class wasn’t as important as science. i was an only child with few friends, and my family moved to a fairly isolated suburb of the city i was born in when i was about seven. i spent a ton of time on my first computer and quickly abandoned computer games for playing around in wordpad or ms paint. that, along with the culture of the time (think shows like project runway, zoey 101, and victorious), led to an interest in fashion design and songwriting, and was also when i learned how to use a printer and made some of my first ‘zines’ ever.
i floated around creatively until i was in sixth grade art class and someone looked at my self portrait and said ‘you know you get a grade on this, right?’ at which point i more or less decided i was bad at visual art and started to focus more on music. that summer, i still took two visual art classes at the college i ended up getting my bfa from, and i got my first real digital art software. i was absolutely certain of one thing, though: i was not, nor would i ever be, a photographer. i was not that girl who got a nikon coolpix for her birthday and posted a bunch of 'artsy' photos of the contents of their fridge in a facebook album. but yeah, it was very much in me, even though my contrarian 13-year-old self didn’t want to admit it. i took photos of everything, and eventually i discovered flickr and said, ‘hey, wait, i take good pictures!’ and the rest is basically history as far as photography is concerned.
as for book arts, i’m 100% certain i picked it up as a ‘minor of convenience’ at the time. i’d been debating switching my major to printmaking and had been talked out of it by the chair of the department based on my individual practice, but someone reminded me that my college offered a very open-ended book arts ‘studio concentration’ (minor) that would essentially allow me to sculpt my fairly restrictive degree plan into something more multidisciplinary. i ended up taking classes in printmaking, photography, art history, and graphic design to fulfill the minor, and i fell head over heels in love with the book form.
i struggled early in undergrad to make the kind of work that i felt was expected of me. following a series of traumatic events, my process dove deep into exploring the experiences and how they had shaped me. the photography trends at the time were wildly different than what i was making, and as someone who tended to think serially, with text, and about an intimate (and often physically small) viewing experience, books made total sense to me in ways a giant print on the wall just did not. it was also somewhat of a rejection of this belief that individual photographs needed to stand alone without context or explanation. sometimes words and pictures just go together. there is not a 1000-word reciprocal exchange rate, in my eyes.”
2. What drew you to write poetry?
“i kind of think poetry was one of the first things i really wrote, actually? at least in terms of my overall creative development, that is. but my return to poetry as i’ve included it in my practice over the last five years or so has been spurred by a few different things over the years.
first, it’s worth noting that a lot of people did not want me to go to an art college because i also showed a lot of linguistic talent in school. i was historically a strong writer and had gotten involved in all three publication-related activities my high school offered, including leading the literary and art magazine my senior year. i feel like i just ended up telling people to have some faith, because i knew that words would find their way back to me.
there was a consistent thread of text through my work when i still considered myself primarily a visual artist, but the experience of reading my peers’ work in writing classes and working more with text in my later undergrad years that made me realize all of the things i could do by absorbing poetry as almost another medium within my practice. this continued as i worked with appropriated text for my undergraduate thesis and made three heavily text-based projects in the time between graduating and going back to school, ranging from text-to-speech hybrid work, photography based on the state of mind of a poem, and a diary-like prose and photo zine exploring ptsd.
i also wrote my first microchapbook around this time period. my work heavily hinged on constantly carrying around a journal at that point, so i spent a lot of time tapping into raw, stream-of-consciousness writing. i was fully on fire creatively and stuck behind a bar on the slowest night of the week listening to ambient music and scribbling in a journal between drink orders. i hadn’t walked away from visual work, but my poetry process really started to live with me in almost every part of my life because of how much more accessible it was than my photography process had ever been. i’d already comfortably blurred the lines of a singular medium when it came to defining myself as an artist, so i leaned into it hard.
i think i said on my first day of my mfa poetry workshop that i like poetry because my practice is centered around the alchemical idea of transforming waste energy into something usable. i like poetry because i can take ugly experiences and redefine them on my own terms.”
3. You are currently an mfa candidate in creative writing & publishing arts at the university of baltimore. What brought that about?
“my therapist reminds me all the time that feeling stagnant is often a sign i need to take action. i decided to apply for an mfa about a week after my 25th birthday sitting at my desk at a job i truly hated and desperately wanted to get out of, but had no real ‘experience’ in the field i was eying—the professional jump to copywriting or editing from digital marketing isn’t 100% natural despite the surprising amount of overlap in the two fields. my partner at the time had just finished his masters of arts in english fully remotely, and it got me thinking about taking that step myself. i’d convinced myself i needed my masters in studio art, or that i just wasn’t ready to go back to school yet. i’m pretty lucky that ubalt is basically in my backyard, because it all fell into place more or less perfectly. the program is very well suited to my process and life and i’m really enjoying my experience so far.”
4. How did preparatory school for the end of the world come about? When did you realize you had material for a poetry book?
“i wrote the first poem for prep school the day before i was discharged from the intensive psychiatric outpatient hospital program i did this past summer. up until then, i had been at a complete creative standstill; i had been extremely dissociative and not nearly lucid enough to make anything for months. i’d lost my grandmother earlier in the year and felt myself constantly drawn back to my other experiences of loss, including the unexpected death of a friend of mine in a fire when i was in sixth grade that i cite as the primary reason i’m an atheist. i thought about the way trauma was breaking down my body and making me want to run far away from the self that had seen all of this tragedy. one night, that first poem (‘odd fellows cemetery’) started to spill out of me and it felt beyond right. i wrote a few more in the same style over the next week or so, at that point just grouped together in a ‘summer 2021 poetry’ folder destined to become whatever it wanted. after finishing the fourth poem (‘the exorcism of nat raum’), i went back into the folder and just kind of whispered 'holy shit' as i realized what these poems had in common.
maybe a year or so prior when i had first started to quietly transition socially into my nonbinary identity, i wrote a note on my phone that said ‘funeral ceremony for my past identity’ and left it alone for a while until it came together more. finishing that poem was the moment it came together, and i quickly dove into a wikipedia hole surrounding death ritual. in the alchemical tradition, i created the ceremony to bury my past self (and in turn, trauma) and make room for the aspects of my identity i wanted to embrace. the collection grew mostly from the combination of increased awareness of my values and strengths from iop and the presence of a partner who made me believe without question that i did not deserve my past abuse and it wasn’t destined to become a pattern. it felt like the time to move forward.
additionally, although my private school was not religious and neither was my overall upbringing, the puritanical undertones of the culture i was surrounded by were not lost on me. because i was so conditioned to the norm of cisgender heteronormativity, i came out as queer relatively late in life—i didn’t even start to explore my sexuality until i was 21, and i came out as agender around this time last year, just before i turned 25. i try not to get too wrapped up in the ways my life might be different if i’d had even the space to explore this before adulthood, let alone the language, but looking at my identity through that lens has also helped me question why this environment is the thing i attribute to being a late bloomer when it came to being queer.
i went to an all-girls private high school surrounded by pick-me white feminism, toxic frat culture at our neighboring brother schools, and sums of old money that would probably make my jaw drop. in high school, sexuality, masculinity, and femininity were all something to prove or protest. it was a high-pressure, competitive environment with so little empathy, and it left me with really scattered ideas of gender performance. i vehemently insisted i was a woman for so long because the masculinity i knew was absolutely terrifying to me and i wanted nothing to do with it, but there was also nothing about the idea of being a woman that resonated with me. i’ve always experienced gender as somewhat of a void, and i’m thankful i’ve been able to finally start to understand this about myself and stop judging myself based on binary standards.”
5. What do you hope people take away from your work?
“i feel like my answer to this question always differs, but at the end of the day, my work is about healing. it’s about trauma and cynicism and queerness and everything else that it’s about, but it’s all rooted in this core of the creative process as a process of alchemical healing, as well. my ultimate hope is that someone sees or reads my work and feels less alone, and like they could start to undergo the same journey of healing as well.”
6. You’re the founder and eic of fifth wheel press. What is the origin story of your press?
“the direct origin story is that i got one too many rejections when i was sending out photobook queries and decided to count how many cis white men everywhere that had rejected me published. that made me pretty sad, to say the least, and i decided to create a space for photographers of marginalized genders to publish their work. my personal creative shift to poetry and gender transition has led to where we are now: an indie queer literature and art publishing space.”
7. What is your vision for the future of fifth wheel press?
“big picture, i want us to be a hub for queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming creatives. in 2022, we’re planning to expand our team, open submissions for blog features and pitches, and publish at least 12 absolutely amazing queer books, zines, and other printed matter. i’ve also got a ton of ideas on the backburner for once (frankly) we have more staff and more money.”
8. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday? Are there hints of these in the process tab of your author page?
“in a way, i suppose there are hints there in the way that most of my work comes from either things i see online or my journal directly. i don’t have any explicit plans with anything from that page right now, but i am looking forward to expanding it, and you never know!
i’m currently in the very early stages of writing a hybrid chapbook exploring femininity, mental health, and sexuality through the lens of my experience dating in my early 20s. other than that, my projects list is getting pretty long, but some others i’m hoping to get to soon include an ekphrastic poetry collection critiquing capitalist nihilism as an art form, a tête-bêche chapbook exploring nostalgia through media from my past, and some vaguer ideas related to astrology, gratitude, and object permanence.”
9. What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve been told or happened to overhear? Or what writing advice would you offer?
“the best creative advice i can give from my own perspective: sit with it. i can’t tell you how many times i’ve been able to come up with things i never would have before by just letting myself spend time with my work. in an educational environment like a bfa or mfa program, you’re usually churning out work constantly and there’s a lot of pressure for it to be polished and perfectly thought out. that can lead to a lot of pressure later when things ‘aren’t working’ and you get frustrated. take your time, and trust your process. we are leaving the idea of making work to please other people behind in 2022.”
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
“i feel like there are a lot of more interesting activities i could name, but i’m going to be boring and talk about spending time with myself because it also relates back to my work in a lot of ways. i spent a lot of my adolescence and early adulthood feeling disconnected from myself, and throughout the process of healing from the trauma that caused this disconnect, i’ve become so appreciative of the opportunity to get genuine undisturbed headspace. i’ve always been more of a night owl, and i absolutely live for the way it feels to be alone late at night when everyone else is asleep. it activates some level of introspection in me that’s shaped a lot of my work in the last few years, but it’s also such a basic act of self care for me. the closest i’ve ever come to this outside of this setting was writing my first microchap behind the bar.
ultimately, a lot of my comfort-based coping mechanisms are born from things i actually did when i was under duress all the time, and that’s probably why my favorite place on earth (after oaxaca de juarez, of course) is playing witcher 3 on my parents’ giant television at two in the morning with my noise-cancelling headphones on and all the lights off. a close second would probably be the same scenario except i have some poorly composited asmr video onscreen and i’m writing, either in my journal or on my laptop. the soundtrack varies, but it’s usually this nine-hour ambient playlist i made with some favorite songs from my old bar-writing days and have been expanding since then. other featured musical guests include glass animals, fall out boy, and anything that gets me nostalgic. for me, part of genuinely enjoying solitude is enjoying your own company, and that’s something i haven’t been able to do until recently. it’s made me realize how much my internal headspace contributes to my practice, which is something i’ve always known but never embraced until now.”
Hear nat read their poem "sunrise beach."
bio: nat raum (they/them, b.1996) is a queer disabled artist and writer currently working towards their mfa at the university of baltimore. their work is based primarily on their lived experience with c-ptsd, chronic illness, and queerness, and often takes the form of small-edition image/text publications. recent projects have explored queer escapism, healing, and gender transition. nat's work has appeared in publications including sledgehammer lit, warning lines magazine, delicate friend, and gutslut press. they are also the founder and editor-in-chief of fifth wheel press, a queer lit/art publishing space. nat is an avid fan of glass animals, noise-cancelling headphones, indica-dominant hybrids, and bisexual lighting, preferably all at once.
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