Facing The Uncomfortable: an interview with Charlotte Laurasia Raymond

Meet Charlotte, short-statured, pocket rocket, dancer, poet, goat enthusiast, adventurer, exhibitionist, theatrical can-can dancer and perpetually hungry makeup enthusiast. We met on the balcony of the equally fiery and petite Cabinet Bar and Gallery where Charlotte firmly declared that “Gin is Food.”

So who are you?
I’m Charlotte Laurasia Raymond. I like to say I’m a goat enthusiast. I guess I could also say social worker, Filipino Sri Lankan, queer, all those things are true, but fall short of really telling you who I am. I identify strongly with being short (I’m 5 foot high). And I’m passionate, I think passionate is just a good word to describe me.

Why short?
Cause it’s endearing! Also, because connects me with my mum who is also short. Much of my identity comes from my mum’s connection with the Philippines, with her status as an outsider. Growing up, at extended family gatherings, my mother used to sit with the children and it wasn’t till I grew older that I understood it was because she felt like an outsider. I think one of the common themes of my identity is being mixed race, being queer but not overtly queer and having a physically small structure. I think by always focusing on my height I get to identify with these parts of me without having to be explicit.

Some of your most compelling pieces are about your mother. Has she ever seen your poetry?
She’s seen it on YouTube, my brother showed her a video and said she liked it, but she’s never spoken to me about it. Writing poetry about my mother has felt like a healing process in rebuilding for what was a long time a very estranged relationship.

Never invited her to a live show?
I do a lot of poetry about being queer and my parents don’t know that about me.

But so much of your poetry on the internet references your queerness.
We just don’t talk about these things. I’ve always been the initiator of change and the one bringing conflict in my family and I’m stepping back from that. It’s not a conversation we’ve had. When I first started performing poetry it was like: emotions are not always safe so let’s put it on a stage and make it safer. But I’ve also realised that putting it out there is not the same as having the conversation. Sometimes it feels like it is, but it isn’t.

But it’s out there though, and they can seek it out. I suppose you have had your side of the conversation and if they want to seek it out the can.
That’s right.

Who’s your poetry for?
For me, to understand my experiences, to do what I need to express a feeling that is manifesting, to understand my experiences and myself through poetry. My poetry seeks to validate parts of identity that are neglected. Usually there’s an archetype presented about certain aspects of identity that I may identify with in some way but I feel that there’s always another story to tell that gives a stronger light to other truths also.

When did you start writing poetry?
I always liked to write but I started writing slam poetry when I was an exchange student in Spain in 2014. I started going to and performing at open mics. I was also introduced to videos of Rudi Francisco by a friend, and this really caught my attention and attracted me to the art.

So your first poetry performances were in Spanish?
Yes, I first started performing spoken word in Spanish. It was liberating to say things in a new way. Although I did write poetry when I was in year 8, in a pretty red notebook with red dragonflies on the covers I wrote over 100 poems. I have no idea where that is anymore.

How did your family engage in art when you were growing up?
Music. My grandparents both played piano accordion. My family have always been big into music, everyone sang and played musical instruments beautifully, it wasn’t till I went to friends’ birthday parties that I realised people couldn’t sing and it was possible to sing Happy Birthday imperfectly. I myself used to play the sax, the harmonica, sing…

How did spoken word become your expression of art?
I did debating and public speaking in school, then all sorts of trippy theatre later and this is my way of combining the two. Poetry and dance were the two things that helped me to survive my Masters of Social Work.

I’ve seen a lot of your work in the past year and witnessed it maturing. How is your spoken word evolving?
It feels more like me. In the beginning I was more guarded. I am now performing with the audience rather than performing to the audience, now it’s about sharing experiences.

Whats your process like when you write poetry?
It’s a really logical process. I start with an idea, draft, collect notes then write the poem. It’s an extension of when I used to tutor English, I would tell my students that people can’t necessarily see the journey that you’ve been on, so you need to translate the journey and show them.

You have an upcoming book, “The Melanin Monologues” that is being launched 9th Feb, how has that process been?
*laugh* A lot less process. A lot more “everything is fine”. It started with the realisation a few months ago that I had enough material in the same theme to produce a book. This book is about trying to understand identity, it’s a compilation of different parts of myself, the more fixed parts of my identity.

What are you writing now?
More about the more fluid parts of my identity, about relationships and other experiences. In the Spanish language, there’s a difference between the words for “I am” fixed and “I am” that is temporary. For example “I am Charlotte” is different from “I am tired.” I am considering how I feel about relationships or events in a temporary contexts where it is relevant right now.

I like to stress being a goat enthusiast, because the fixed parts: the ethnicity and queerness is important, but there’s more to me than that. Like I’d say it is important you understand that I once ate a pizza where each slice was the size of my head.

Right. Noted. What surprised you about spoken word?
That I don’t feel nervous. It helps me to face uncomfortable feelings, helps me get comfortable with vulnerability. I’ve always been that way, facing the uncomfortable. Like when I was little till recently I’ve been scared of the dark. And my response to that was to expose myself to the dark until I got comfortable with it.

You can purchase Charlotte’s new book “The Melanin Monologues” on the Melbourne Spoken Word online shop.

Photo by Brendan Bonsack.

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