The Charlie Petch Interview

“Many of us know (and perhaps are) that nimble farceur who uses humour as a coping mechanism. If we were to seek out this connection between comedy and survival in verse, we must look to Charlie Petch. Packed with nostalgia and ironic allusion, Why I Was Late acts like the life of the poetry party, yet behind every CP30, Nosferatu, and Big League Chew lies a deeper vulnerability and stark social critique. Petch offers us a playfully complex debut collection.” — Canadian author Amber Dawn, whose work includes, among others, My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems.

In their review of Why I Was Late, ​​Stella Cali gives excellent insight into Petch’s poetical work as it relates to corporeal acceptance and violence, a sort of out of body, self-negotiation. Quoting the review online:   

“The body itself can be an antagonist, something which resists alteration and is at odds with the self. “I used to starve to be gender neutral svelte,” the speaker says in “One Year Gender Queer”—“I ran from my body / physiologically.” The speaker’s posture is altered by their relationship to gender—their neck and shoulders, once rolled forward and inward, are now pulled back. After puberty, breasts rob the speaker of their ability to be truly seen—to be perceived as they are. They change the shape of their body as a result, re-forming it through binding in a way that mirrors but opposes a moment in “In The Distance”—a poem exploring violence enacted against, and by, young boys. In the poem, three boys place a penny, a quarter, and a ring on the train tracks and wait for the train to flatten them, to “forc[e]” them into “shapes.” Freed by the noise of the train, one boy is “able to shriek / finally.”” (Prism International)

Another review highlights the crossover appeal for casual poetry readers, who might find Petch’s work a refreshing take, one usually reserved to op-eds in the fancy pages of Americana’s fantasy writer’s camps that lowly small press poets could only dream to cry themselves to sleep on – our tears blurring the photoshopped faces of celebrities and their bestselling unpoetic memoirs. Oh right, the review:

“Ultimately, Petch’s debut book is like none other. It is one that interrogates the main narrative of masculinity through all of its facets and gives a rich image to many tales of this life experience. Through Petch’s intersectional approach, we gain a deeper understanding of why exactly Petch “was late.” (Canthius: feminism & literary arts)

Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist who resides in Tkaronto/Toronto. A poet, playwright, librettist, musician, lighting designer, and host, Petch was the 2017 Poet of Honour for SpeakNorth national festival, winner of the Golden Beret lifetime achievement in spoken word with The League of Canadian Poets (2020), and founder of Hot Damn it’s a Queer Slam. Petch is a touring performer, as well as a mentor and workshop facilitator. Why I Was Late, their debut poetry collection, was published by Brick Books, which got a “Best of 2021” from The Walrus, and won the ReLit Award for Poetry. In addition to filming their libretto “Medusa’s Children” with Opera QTO, they have been featured on CBC’s q, the Toronto International Festival of Authors, and were shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize.

” Winning the ReLit just further strengthens my practice.  I feel very supported in thinking that there need be no binary restrictions on how we write, express or perform poetry.”

NGM: When did you feel like, ok, there is a whole collection here now. When did it come together?

CP: The collection really took shape when I really started assembling the manuscript when a friend went through some of my old posted poems and was asking when he could get a full book. I thought, well geez, that’s what writers are supposed to do. I think once that was done I approached publishers and that was a few more years. So really parts of this manuscript are over 10 years old.

NGM: Your poem ‘My Body is a Vessel?’ is like a person doing a great Seinfeld impression but using ne’er a line from the show, instead, they insert incredibly funny lines about their own sadcore frustrations at ‘social norms’ – wow, there’s a dated term. Social norms. Can we also do away with ‘mainstream media’ while we’re at it? You expose the idiocy of ham and egger language with the focus on ‘vessel’, like who the hell ever uses that word in everyday ways? It’s very much like pregnant women who get their bellies touched by strangers. As if we’re all living in the same beautiful home and everything is just nice. What is it like to perform this poem – if you have? And also, I’m sorry for people being the way that they are. I wish we could control them with poetry. Wait a minute….

CP: Yes nothing like performing this poem about people wanting me to have a baby when I have no interest outside of being the best gay uncle. I love the physicality of the poem too, like making the sound of the Eraserhead baby. A few edits ago I would have a line saying “and when I think about breast feeding I think about it like this – (I pretend to hold a baby and be horrified, then I drop the baby and midway through the next line, I look at it on the ground like I dropped it and didn’t even notice), it’s a total sight gag that I love.

People with uteruses will often come talk to me about the poem after. About how it made them feel better about not wanting children.

NGM: Congrats again Charlie. Your debut collection won the 2022 ReLit Award for Poetry. What does this mean to your career?

CP: Winning the ReLit just further strengthens my practice.  I feel very supported in thinking that there need be no binary restrictions on how we write, express or perform poetry. I hope it will inspire writers that don’t come from formal practice to feel like they can be poets, that their authentic expression and envisioning of performance are necessary to moving arts forward. I think it’s a huge win for the slam community as well, we often don’t think outside of live performance. Our manuscripts tend to be on youtube, on stages, on social media, so believing they can maintain their tone on a page, and be rewarded, is pretty huge. I love an underdog, that’s always where my attention goes, because if they’ve failed at fitting in, they’re kin.

NGM: Can you tell us a story about the book’s title?

CP: Since I’m almost always late, and am sometimes asked why, I thought I’d title the collection “Why I Was Late”, so now, I can just answer – “Find this answer and more when you buy my new book , Why I Was Late.

Nathaniel G. Moore is a writer, artist and publishing consultant grateful to be living on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi'kmaq peoples.