Contributor Spotlight: DJ Savarese

Author Photo: DJ Savarese standing in front of a tan wall with two vertical lines

Photo by Ali Lapetina for the Open Society Foundations

DJ Savarese’s poems Autism” and “Nothing But Nostrils are featured in Issue 77 of the Bellingham Review

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

“Autism”: This poem was written early in my time at Oberlin College, when the gawking strangers (who saw me as unusual) far outnumbered my fresh-thinking allies. I was inspired by Dawn Prince’s Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism to take the academy’s privileging of humans over animals and turn it on its head. The form—poetry masquerading as prose—reminded me of my poetic self messily ascending the ladder of scholarly writing.

“Nothing but Nostrils”: This poem grew out of my readings in an Eco-Poetics course taught by the writer Marco Wilkinson, a poem by Lorine Niedecker, a 7thgrade science fieldtrip, a course on Synesthesia… so many origins it’s hard to choose any one over the others. Clearly the poem dramatizes sensory strengths in autism.

Tell us about your writing life.

My father tells the story that my first typed language on a computer—I am nonspeaking—came in response to Dylan Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill.” I typed, “Very great sound, very great sound.” I’ve been a writer since that moment, I think. Poetry to me is pattern making. I love intricate patterns. It’s also politics, lyrical politics.

Which non-writing aspects of your life most influence your writing? 

For me, music—its patterns—is a tremendous influence.

Emotion needs a stage in which it can show off and discover itself. I want to say that I love how writing allows me to explore difficult things while feeling safe.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Write every day; make it a practice.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writers?

Essays: Jonathan Skinner, “Thoughts on Things: Poetics of the Third Landscape

Poetry: Agha Shahid Ali, Sohrab Seperhri’s The Oasis of Now  

What are you reading right now?

See It Feelingly: Classical Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor by Ralph Savarese

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Ghost-Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology edited by Melissa Tuckey & Camille T Dungey

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau edited by Bill McKibben

The Gift: Creativity & the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

I’m working on both a book of poems and a book of essays about my lived experience as an alternatively communicating autist.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

Deej, the PBS film that I star in, wrote, and co-produced, won a Peabody Award last year.

Where can our readers connect with you online?

DJ SAVARESE has written a chapbook entitled A Doorknob for the Eye. Other poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, such as The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Prospect, Stone Canoe, and Nine Mile Magazine. “Passive Plants,” a lyric essay published in The Iowa Review, was awarded the ASAN Harriet McBryde Johnson Award for Nonfiction and named a notable essay in the 2018 Best American Essays. The co-producer of the Peabody award-winning, Emmy-nominated documentary film Deej: Inclusion shouldn’t be a lottery, he currently works full-time as an Open Society Foundations/Human Rights Initiative Youth Fellow, working to make literacy-based education, communication, and inclusive lives a reality for all nonspeaking people through artful advocacy, teaching, and community organizing. Before moving to Iowa City, he graduated from Oberlin College in May 2017 with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing.

Featured Image: “Musical Notes” by Michael Coghlan