By: Quinn Jones
The crowd at Moon Milk, MilkLab’s most recent open mic poetry night at Casino Artspace was there for one thing: the poetry of featured reader Autumn Getty.
Getty is a trans woman, activist in the LGBTQ community and accomplished poet.
Her moving poetry touched on her life and the complex experiences she has had, delivered with a note of dark humour that offsets her work nicely.
The first topic discussed at the event was the interrelation of Getty’s poetry and transness. She explained that although trans issues were less prominent and discussed less frequently in her time, she was aware from a very young age of feeling female and was surprised to find out at eight years old that there was a difference between boys and girls.
Getty discovered poetry a few years ago and turned to creating her own material after reading extensively. Getty believes that there is a strong relationship between her trans identity and the writing she did based on her experiences living in women’s shelters as a child.
“Looking back now, it seems to me that much of my writing was to try to explain the sense of alienation that I felt from women, sometimes through poems about being in the shelter, sometimes through poems that conceived the feminine as a universal being.”
Getty began to find her voice in university. Initially she studied anthropology and religious studies as a way to connect the body and mind, the human and divine and wrote more formal religious poetry.
But a writing class taught by the poet A.F. Moritz was to change that. Moritz asked her about her work previous to academia and it was through his encouragement to write about the general labour work she was doing during university, and to knit descriptions of said labour to larger spiritual themes.
During this time, Getty had to return home to Hamilton to raise her nephew and niece, forced to choose between helping her family and continuing her education. This had a profound impact on her poetry and activism.
Getty hoped she could break the pattern of children in her family being raised by relatives other than her parents by raising her niece and nephews until the parents could reclaim custody, but in the end they ended up being raised by her other sibling and her mother.
“In much of my writing there is a separation between the speaker and an object of desire, usually portrayed as female, which I used to think of as the feminine divine, or as wisdom, or as a thing to achieve unity with.”
Poet, Trans Woman, Activist
“I saw this was one of the ways poor people are kept poor. I would say that in terms of activism, this has led me to recognize that chances are good that I don’t really understand the factors that are inhibiting others’ successes, and to be very wary of making assumptions,” she said. “In my poetry, I think that this situation contributed to something that I really wanted to think about: how was what I had learned at university related to the life I was forced to live now? I worked very hard to try to bring the two types of experiences together.
However, this state of flux between Hamilton and Toronto created a sense of displacement and disenfranchisement, which continues to reflect in her poetry, and is at the core of her writing.
“Speaking plainly, in much of my writing there is a separation between the speaker and an object of desire, usually portrayed as female, which I used to think of as the feminine divine, or as wisdom, or as a thing to achieve unity with.”
Since then, Getty has worked throughout the community with organizations like the Coalition for Humanitarianism and New Global Empowerment, and has made appearances at Hamilton Youth Poets’ Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival For aspiring poets searching for their voice, Getty encourages experimentation and self-reflection.
“I think people sometimes worry a little too much about rules and the way they should write. To begin with people should just write whatever is their passion whatever they’re really interested in. I got that advice in university and my writing got a lot better after that.”
Getty’s active role in her local community, and her continued involvement in local poetry events like Moon Milk assures that the next generation of local writers and activists can have their own source of living, artistic inspiration.