Orion Carloto's first memory of poetry is a common one: Shel Silverstein. But it wasn't until several years later that her love for the medium truly took off. "I really didn't take it seriously until I was in high school," the writer and content creator says. "It's something you're forced to do as an assignment, and everyone in the class just groaned and rolled their eyes at [it]. I found myself enjoying it and I'm like, 'Wait a minute, this doesn't feel like schoolwork. This feels like an outlet that I can actually put my feelings towards.'"
Now 24, Carloto already has one published book of poetry, 2017's Flux, under her belt, with a second one coming out November 17. Titled Film For Her, Carloto's sophomore offering shows off the poet at her most personal, mixing photographs, poetry, and prose to compile some of her most sacred and special moments. Here, Carloto talks about her process for the book, misconceptions of poets, and shares an exclusive except from Film For Her.
How did you first get started writing poetry specifically?
Poetry has always been something that I've been fond of. My earliest memory of it is reading Shel Silverstein, and it's always been something that I've loved, but I really didn't take it seriously until I was in high school. It's something you're forced to do as an assignment, and everyone in the class just groaned and rolled their eyes at the assignment. I found myself enjoying it and I'm like, "Wait a minute, this doesn't feel like schoolwork. This feels like an outlet that I can actually put my feelings towards."
When I was a late teenager is when I found my love for it, and I began taking it more seriously when I was posting it online. I'm surprised how chill with posting my poetry online [I was] at the time. Especially as a teenager, because I feel like now it would be like, "Absolutely not, I am not doing that."
Do you remember the first poem you posted?
I don't remember the name of it, but I remember the last line, and it was so corny: "I am bliss." Or something like that. And I was like, "No, this is it. This is poetry right here. You better watch out, Sylvia Plath."
We tend to cast aside a lot of hobbies we have as teenagers. How did writing stay with you?
It's easy for me to look at a lot of instances in my life and romanticize them. I know there's negative ways to romanticize things that you shouldn't do, but I think it just naturally became easy for me to find poetry in everything that I did, even if I didn't feel like I was trying. Whether that was going on a first date, or having a really good afternoon with my friends, or visiting my parents. Those are moments where I would think to myself, "There's a poem in this somewhere."
When you have that moment, do you start writing on your iPhone, or do you have to sit down and focus fully?
I have a handful of notes on my phone that are just one or two words, and now I'm like, "What does this mean? When did I write this?" But that's just my brain telling me, "Here's a line, use it somehow in the future."
When you're writing a poem, how do you know that it's done?
I always go back. I'll finish something, and I'll go back and I'm like, "This just doesn't feel perfect yet." I feel like it's done when I reach the very last line. With my style of writing, I always like to make sure the very last line either completely ties it together, or just turns the whole point into a 180. So when I feel like I've hit that point and the last line hits more than any other line.
Tell me about writing your first book, Flux. How did that come to be, and how did the narrative of that all shape up?
Easy, I got dumped. I knew I'd always wanted to write a book, but It's one of those things where you say you're writing a book, but you're not actually writing a book, you're just saying that. The turning point was getting my heart broken. It was my first real taste of romance and then of heartbreak. When you're young and you're heartbroken, you feel everything all at once. I just remember being really, really sad when I wrote that. But it was a sadness that hovered above anger, which, of course, feels very immature for the time, but I don't think I would go back and change it. Because though I wouldn't handle my emotions the way I did then, they were very much real, and earnest, and I was able to share that and also see my growth in it.
What was different in writing Film For Her?
I wanted to write a second book of poetry, but with Flux, there was a theme surrounding it. And though it had been a few years since I had written Flux, I didn't really feel like there was a specific emotion that I felt the need to write about. I had started an account on Instagram called "Film for Her" a couple years back, where I had just started shooting film photography. It wasn't anything serious, just a little hobby of mine on the side. I made this account to post those photos and really just attach a memory to them. Film is very special in a way, because it's a one time thing. It's not like an iPhone. You can't go back and [immediately] see the photo, you just take it and hope for the best. Those are memories that you really want to preserve because you're like, "I feel like this is special enough to have it on film." It became this space where I was putting instances of my life where it wasn't curated, it was just a moment that I felt was special and I wanted to share with people. I realized it could play hand in hand with a book and become something more tangible. Over the years I've grown my own book collection in terms of photography books, and art books, and they're always just so much fun to look at. So I took two of the things that I loved the most and tried to make something out of it.
Do you get scared about releasing something like this that feels like very much a part of your most intimate moments?
I want to say yes, naturally, because there are so many moments that I experience in private while I'm online posting about, "Here are my cats" or, "I'm having coffee." There are so many moments that I experienced in private that nobody really understood or got the chance to know. I feel like I'm still scratching at the surface with my own emotions in my own writing. Not to say that I didn't feel it deeply and I didn't write about it deeply enough. But I feel like there are so many more things to know about my life, and my experiences that I've gone through, that it helps me gauge how much deeper I can go.
Do you think there is a misconception about so-called “Insta-poets,” or poets who share their work primarily on social media?
Oh yeah, absolutely. For some reason, I think modern poetry leaves a bad taste in some people's mouths, which I can understand in the sense that poetry is a sacred thing. And it's something that's been around for centuries, and people really, really respect it. But just like with everything else, things have to evolve. Though we can sit here and love and respect so many other things — think of music, for example — we can respect that and we can also admire its growth.
Why can't we do the same with poetry? I'm very grateful for every modern poet that has chosen to post online because there is a pathway for it now. It's right in front of your face. There is a crowd that enjoys it and that does love it. I know a lot of modern poets that are incredibly talented, and I think it's just about giving them a chance.
What about the biggest misconceptions of what it means to be a “poet”?
A lot of it has to do with my personality. It's very easy to assume that poets have to be quiet, sad, reserved, and mysterious beings. For so long, I tried to fit myself in that box, to be something that I'm not, just to be taken seriously. But the truth of the matter is that we're all multi-dimensional people and I have a side of me that people wouldn't actually see on YouTube with my friends, or even in person. That doesn't stop me from also being reserved into myself, and really feeling out my emotions, and trying to bring that to life as well.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite things that you've read in quarantine?
The Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I loved My Year of Rest and Relaxation, that one I read in an entire day. I couldn't put that one down. I just wrapped up reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, which is beautiful, and heavily relatable in the sense that he is both queer and talks about having immigrant parents. And lastly, I've just been reading a lot of Eve Babitz as well.