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John-Francis Quiñonez

Keep Your Little Lights Alive

Q&A with John-Francis Quiñonez

If a complete stranger asked you to explain your experiences and how they shaped your book, what would you say to them?


More than a book that is reflecting an album or, more specifically, Kate's voice - the responses are looking through the windows of what those tracks opened. Some of them are tied to specific memories, or lines of thought inspired by the folklore within the songs themselves and some start independently but grow towards and with those narratives. This project started in a space of healing. In leaving Arizona (the home of my family and youth) and finding my footing in a new environment I had to really figure out what I wanted to grow with me. 


All of that to say - I could not have anticipated what this project grew into. What started as a Silly Prompt turned into the lens and labor of which I was able to meditate on my experience of Queerness, Gender, Family, and Memory all as I managed distance with those very things - losing my own story through personal bouts of memory loss and mental illness and my families story through my Grandmother's experience with Alzheimers. 


Woof. Sorry for a mouthful but goodness - the scale is goofy when I really start to unpack it. 


What is the best flavor of ice cream you’ve ever made? 


I am grateful for the practice of making ice cream because it is thankfully removed from my own artistic ego. Like - I'll torture myself about the validity of my Art at any scale, but when the ice cream is a hit there is no denying it. I'm proud to say that with Big Feeling (the business I work with) the quality is just breathtaking in both our dairy and vegan options. There's a lot of audible "WOO"ing in the kitchen.


That being said - we shredded really hard with a Goat Cheese and Pepper-Fig-Jam recently. I also ran with a Blood Orange Sorbet with Creamy Merengue chunks. *Chef's Kiss*.


What inspired you about Kate Bush’s music to create a collection of poems?


Initially - it was based on the mishearing of a Lyric. I thought in Running Up That Hill that Kate was saying "I'll make a Deal with God & Get them to Swallow Places" and just…...that very wrong take also deeply gets me? I'm very interested in the truth behind Folklore and Absurdity. 


From there - it's been a Top 10 album for me since my teens and thus a lot of those tracks have their own associations that have grown and then packaged together. A lot of the response poems are lateral in time in this way. When I sit with Hounds of Love - I am 16 and then 21 and then 25 and then 30 all at once in pain and celebration. 


Once it got to Three responses I thought to just take it all the way home. Through that, I dove deeper into Kate's voice and what she was exploring in the Lyrics and also her process into making that album - retreating from the world and learning about oneself through engaging with Play and Healing.


 I hope I have honored her in this way.


Which poem in this upcoming book is your favorite and why? 


I don't see myself reading a set without Re: The Big Sky. The poem centers the feeling of breaking out of numbness and that specific memory is such a turning point for me. It was a very track-grounded experience. After a pretty desperate period of depression I was on a little walk, grabbed a pizza, The Big Sky came on in my headphones, saw some Birds fly out of a Tree, and I wept. Boom.  Who knows why the keys to our survival come to us the way they do, but  Re: Big Sky is a celebration of those small moments that break us back open and together. 

Many of your poems discuss looking or wanting to look a certain way and being discouraged due to discomfort or ridicule. How do you feel your own aesthetics and identity play into how you create both your life and your poetry?


My experience of Gender, Sexuality and as a Latinx, Mixed Race personal with inherited privileges is an all encompassing balance in my body and spirit. I don't know that it is even helpful or healthy for me to think of Aesthetic in an isolated way because in everything I do - the power and responsibility of all these things are inherently all in the room and inseparable. 


That being said - there are a million ways that the power structures that be will try to make us feel ugly and then try to profit off of selling a solution or way out. 


A lot of the work here gives y'all snapshots into that process of healing and resistance. Certain places along the road are purely exhausting - others, celebratory. Everyday the destination is Loving Myself. 


What would you say to Kate Bush if given the chance? 


Simply - Thank You. I am so indebted to the joy your art brings me. 


If someone had never heard a Kate Bush song, what would you say to them? And is this book only for Kate Bush fans?


"Hey - you might like this album by Kate Bush. I sure do. Play it Loud."


At the end of the day, you don't need to walk in with any knowledge of the Album. This book is about where things take us. You may catch the occasional Easter Egg, but this is mostly a fan response in that I am a fan. It was with specific intention that her words, aside from their inclusion as titles, remain untouched. Her words and her experience remain hers, and Keep Your Little Lights Alive is only really where they guided me. Hounds of Love is the soundtrack and vehicle, but I am for better and for worse at the wheel.


I hope so deeply that I have honored the written and emotional worlds she gave us access to in the album. It's so powerful to be seen by a work of art and I hope that reflecting some of that back feels joyous. I hope you will share that with me in your own way. 

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