CAMERON CONAWAY: MALARIA KILLS 627,000 OF US EACH YEAR
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Cameron Conaway is a very unique combination of poetry author and MMA fighter. His book Malaria, Poems was dedicated to the global problem. Let’s learn something more about Cameron and his works!
– What are your last two books — Until You Make the Shore and Malaria, Poems — about?
– Until You Make the Shore grew from my experiences teaching creative writing in the Pima County Juvenile Detention in Tucson, Arizona. I studied criminal justice at Penn State Altoona and knew fairly well the absurdities of our system, so when I went to graduate school to study poetry I felt the need to help our youth by using whatever tools I had. Writing had been transformative in my life so I tried to extract those lessons and share them. The book, told through the voices of four fictionalized female juveniles, seeks to expose some of the madness while layering it with hope.
Malaria, Poems was a result of working with the Wellcome Trust in London and with the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok. Again, it was a matter of recognizing a global problem and seeing if I was in an environment or had any tools to try to help in some regard. After much pondering around the question, Can Poetry Help End Malaria?, I decided to go for it. The result is the first contemporary book of poetry about malaria’s impact on the world.
– How did you decide to write the Malaria book?
– I certainly felt a civic duty, but that wasn’t enough to make me feel like the whole project was worth it—seven months of research, the grant writing, the travel, etc. It wasn’t until I recognized my own place as a poet in the world that I was able to reflect on what some of my favorite poets would have done. Allen Ginsberg called it “bare-knuckle warrior poetics.” He spoke of how we are here to observe and capture those observations… and what better way to push the world forward? Poetry of old has often relied on introspection; but I think for poetry of the 21st century to create the social changes we need it must take seriously the importance of outrospection.
– What was the biggest challenge during the writing process?
– The weight of the dead and the dying. Malaria now “only” kills 627,000 of us each year, but for years prior that figure has been in the millions. How to creatively write of a subject that has caused so much human struggle? How to be authentic and pay homage to those we’ve lost? That was my biggest hurdle.
– How much time did you need to finish the book and then get it published?
– Start to finish it took me seven months to write. It took another year or more when factoring in publication through the brilliant team at Michigan State University Press.
– To date it seems your most popular book is Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet. How did that come together?
– When I said writing had been transformative for me, what I really meant was that it allowed and still allows me to see things from different perspectives. I was a professional MMA fighter and the more I wrote about it the more I realized that I was fighting not because I loved it (I certainly did love parts of it) but because I was carrying anger and insecurities based on the past abuse I endured. Caged is a collection of essays that follow this thread to its minute resolutions.
– What are your writing habits?
– I write poetry when there’s an itch in my mind that can’t be resolved until the collision of ideas align in ways that matter. At this point my only habit is the continued attempt to find one. I write when I can.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of Caged?
– I am. Tuttle Publishing was originally going to publish Caged. But as we were nearing publication they began to receive lawsuit threats about the book. As such, and because of the nature of the book industry, they couldn’t take on the risk and had to drop the book. Meanwhile, there I was new in Bangkok and expecting to have a successful launch and BOOM! the publisher I had been working with for a year suddenly drops everything and hands me back a book that no longer felt entirely “mine” because of countless edits (errors) that were made to the text. Considering the story behind the story… I’m thrilled! I still receive “thank you” emails from readers who tell me how it helped them get through tough times.
– What are you doing to promote your books?
– I’m all over Twitter. My first two poetry books both have Twitter accounts: @JuvDetenPoems and @MalariaPoems.
– How did you find your love to poetry?
– Bruce Lee and Rickson Gracie, two martial artists I greatly admire, always thought and spoke on levels that I perceived as “deep.” So when, as a student working to become a professional fighter, I looked at the course electives at Penn State Altoona and saw “Intro to Poetry” with Lee Peterson I knew I had to take it. Maybe poetry would make me a better fighter, I thought. It did. In unexpectedly beautiful ways.
– You’ve been an MMA fighter. Which is tougher to handle—the strikes in the cage or life’s strikes?
– Life’s strikes, no doubt! Our bodies can absorb the strikes in the cage—they regenerate and heal. But much of life, for me, is the practice of training my mind to do the same: to understand my emotions, to feel my feelings, to enter into experiences or the memory of experiences with an open heart, to practice ways of positively accepting and handling all I encounter. What fires together, wires together.