By Shahnaz Radjy
Reconnecting with Ryan Artes
Have you ever met someone who was poetry? I met Ryan Artes serendipitously when I was in my last year at university, and we realized with a start that we shared two very close friends, even though we had somehow never crossed paths – until we did. Fifteen years later, when he told me he published a book of poetry, it made perfect sense.
His first collection of poetry, “After Midnight,” came out in Spring 2021.
A Refreshing Take on Poetry
When I read “After Midnight,” one of the things that stood out to me was how much I enjoyed it. That may seem like an obvious conclusion if you love poetry, but my relationship with poetry has always been more challenging. When I brought this up, Ryan confided that he also found poetry too inaccessible at times, requiring a lot of thought and full of obscure, niche references that leave most readers feeling like confused outsiders.
This complexity doesn’t exist in Ryan’s writing, which is fascinating to me given that he tackles such complex concepts as identity, belonging, and love. To him, that’s one of the beauties of poetry: it can look like a traditional narrative, but it doesn’t have to, and it can accommodate multiple languages and words in a way other mediums cannot.
“I have been trying to have conversations about my identity with my (white) family for 20 years, but it has always been on their terms. “After Midnight” is my way of starting this conversation on my terms.”
When I commented on how seamless it was to read through his poems, Ryan laughed. Just as it takes longer to write less – Mark Twain had it right when he said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – it took a lot of work for his first poetry collection to come across as effortless.
The Concept of After Midnight
This first poetry collection features poems written between midnight and 6 am when Ryan couldn’t sleep due to insomnia. In fact, the whole design was inspired by the digital alarm clock in his childhood bedroom that had red letters and numbers. Back then, he shared his bedroom with siblings, so his only source of light to write to was that alarm clock.
The order of the poems is very intentional. Ryan first tried a chronological approach, but that didn’t fit. Then, he realized that he could present them by month and day – a seasonal format. He believes that this is the secret to the collection coming across as effortless, as the content follows what our subconscious identifies as a natural cycle.
It was important to him to get this right, as his poems tackle many complex issues and can be overwhelming. Finding an optimal “flow” was part of his way to make the theme of identity seem easy, seamless, and cool.
Behind the Scenes
The first printing of After Midnight was 400 copies. This is a strategic number because if you print more, the manuscript becomes ineligible for several awards. That’s why so many authors do a second printing.
Speaking of awards, it is a constant process to look for and apply to them (I didn’t even know you could apply; I assumed you’d be nominated by some feat of magic and as a sign of your work being disseminated far and wide).
Ironically, a typical response Ryan has received is that his content is “too complex.” If it were about being adopted OR queer OR brown, it would stand a better chance of receiving an award, but having all these themes together is “too much” – which is in many ways a perfect reflection of Ryan’s experience and why he wanted to write about all these intersecting elements.
Identity: Messy, Glorious, and Disrupted
When it comes to identity, Ryan wants to affirm, challenge, and disrupt our notions of the term.
He went through an identity crisis in his early 20s. He was changing fast regarding his physical appearance, understanding of identity, and even clothing style. As someone with Indian origins, his skin colour fluctuates depending on the time of the year and his exposure to the sun. With changing skin tones, people assume and project races onto him.
Then, there’s the question of his identity in the context of his family’s identity. But, would that be his birth family, back in India? Or his adopted family in the US?
Ryan’s Morphing Identity
Over the years, he has felt his identity morph and shift and often downright defy definition. One of the reasons he considers himself so multi-ethnic and multi-racial is the interplay between his perception of self, his layered identities based on his life journey, and the identities presumed of him throughout a lifetime.
Does that sound confusing? That’s because it is.
Ryan doesn’t offer a wrapped-up narrative. He wants what you read to sit with you – even if it’s uncomfortable and feels unfinished. This is so that you have to take what you read forward, rather than just putting it away mentally and physically when finished reading.
Other Key Themes: Love & Friendship
Taught about the ways boys should and were allowed to love based on violence, Ryan’s poems speak to dramatic friendships, the relationships that shaped him. He wants to hold space where space was never held for him, for young queer kids to have something to turn to when they are struggling with so many unanswered questions.
Ryan intends to create a community and pass on the positive energy he never got. As a supportive adult who can be a model for what adult life might look like, beyond traditional heterosexual models, Ryan always encourages people to reach out if they need to (and if you want to reach out to him, his email is at the end of this interview).
Another Take on the Writing Process
Ryan’s writing process is ever developing and ever-changing, though one habit stays with him; he always records when he starts and stops writing.
In the lead-up to “After Midnight”, he stopped smoking and drinking. “This has brought up memories I haven’t had in a long time, all because my senses aren’t dulled by substances anymore,” he shares.
There are a lot of steps that go into writing, and Ryan admits that when he first reads his poetry out loud, it always feels a bit like he is falling apart – but then he realizes it wasn’t that bad. That’s empowering.
No Longer Writing Just at Midnight
Now, Ryan no longer writes at night. He has brought his words and writing process into the daytime because he feels he no longer needs to hide it.
It also reflects an evolution of his mindset, as he acknowledges the importance of rest – giving his brain and body a chance to relax and heal from daily use – even if sleep may remain elusive. The only exception he makes is if his mind is spinning, and writing is the only way to slow it down. He can do this because “The words are mine. I won’t lose them! And if I do, I’ll always find new ones to tell my story.”
As he performs and shares pieces, parts that people relate to and the types of people that his words resonate with sometimes change his perception of his work. The identity and adoption elements, in particular, bring out the commonalities and universality of themes.
Ryan is also a staunch believer that writing is a way to start manifesting the things you ask of the universe. A way to put dreams into motion. And journaling? Everyone can do that.
Advice to Writers
There are many free author and writing events available in today’s day and age – both with the growth of the virtual space and the pandemic. That was Ryan’s turning point in his author journey: he started going to artist talks by friends and signing up to online events. He always asked questions about where creatives found inspiration. Two answers stuck with him.
The first came from Regie Cabico, who said, “You just have to write your truths of the day, and do what you can to start writing. A list of 50 things that make you angry, a letter, whatever works. Find any prompt you can to get the words flowing.”
Then, as if to reinforce that message, Rajiv Mohabir said that “You have to get out of your own way and start writing your truths.”
Thinking back, Ryan agrees but adds a caveat: “You will be hiding your own true story from even yourself until you figure out your direction. It’s that simple.”
He also believes that long-lasting friendships that you invest in will propel you. Circumstances of connection may be random, but choosing to stay connected makes all the difference. This is true of all friendships but echoes advice from other writers around the importance of finding your writing community.
Not Just an Author, Publisher, Too
Ryan didn’t plan to start his own publishing company and actively tried not to go down that path “to avoid the Marc Jacobs effect of Marc Jacobs by Marc Jacobs for Marc Jacobs,” as he put it.
But in the end, he wanted to have complete control over how he presented himself when it came to his poetry, and he realized he also wanted to empower others to take control of their own voices and words. To this end, he is establishing a publishing company as a landing place for his creative projects, named after the street he grew up on in Baltimore.
So, What’s Next?
Ryan has projects in the pipeline two, three, and five years out, including additional editions of “Friendship Zine,” a magazine celebrating friendship and creativity that Ryan produces and publishes when he needs a break from his other creative work.
There’s also a second collection of poems in the works. “Unfinished (All the Poems I Never Wrote)” is a compilation of what he describes as “A burst after ten years of writer’s block that finally came through and are about me speaking my truth.”
He also plans to start an adoption-themed publication, “Bought Magazine,” to explore adoptee identity through the lens of the exploration of his adoption file. His vision is to build a community of Indian adoptees to provide mutual support to each other in a way where complex identity is in many ways the baseline and not the exception.
This is his way of addressing how big an issue suicide is in adoption communities and calling out the system for blurring the lines because, to him, “adoptees are immigrants and the false notion of borders personified.”
Follow and Connect with Ryan Artes
He hosts “Let’s Thrive Together,” an adoptee-focused generative writing workshop on the first Thursday of every month at 8 pm Eastern Time.
In addition, there is the Adoptee Open Mic, a monthly virtual open mic on the third Thursday of every month hosted by The Universal Asian (TUA).
Bio: Shahnaz Radjy
Shahnaz is an adventurer, foodie, bookworm, and horse-lover. She is a freelance writer based in Portugal as well as the co-founder of an eco-tourism project. Alumni of the World Economic Forum and the University of Pennsylvania. Shahnaz has lived in Geneva/Switzerland, Philadelphia/USA, La Paz/Bolivia, and New York/USA.
http://casabeatrix.pt/ shows the adventurous spirit of Shahnaz and her husband, François. First, they traveled the world working on farms to hone their skills, and since 2017 have been in Portugal. They bought an old farm in 2018, and are turning their biggest dream into an unforgettable farm / nature / disconnect-to-reconnect experience we’d love to share with you.
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