Of Montana Ray’s debut book of poems, (guns & butter), Cathy Park Hong says, “Each magnetic phrase is locked and loaded as Ray burns holes into subjects ranging from interracial love, single motherhood, to America’s unrelenting addiction to gun violence.” Ray’s debut collection consists of 32 concrete poems in the shape of guns juxtaposed with ten delicious recipes (try the mango soup!), which, Ray points out, look like upside-down guns.
Ray is a feminist poet, translator, and scholar working on her PhD in Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She’s also mom to budding zoologist Amadeus and author of five chapbooks and artist books. I had the pleasure of talking with Montana over an order of Pão de Queijo about the process and thinking behind (guns & butter).
Emily Brandt: I love this book so much, Montana. I’m curious about the first time you made a concrete poem in the shape of a gun, and I’m curious about whether these poems were written in lines and then transformed into guns, or written in the gun shape.
Montana Ray: A lot of the language is sourced, so in the first poem I wrote for the book, the lines just cohered together in the shape of the gun. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the first poem I wrote in that shape is the first poem in the book. I’d received a text from my babysitter that said, “I might be late. A gun war is on.” Or a slightly less poetic version of that sentence. And I walked out to do my laundry with Ami; and some guy on the street was like, “You can touch it,” and then when I came home—I used to live in front of a tattoo parlor, I still live in the same place but the tattoo parlor has moved, and it’s now a fancy restaurant—one of the tattoo guys there, who I had a little crush on, he’d just gotten a new tattoo on his leg that was Billy the Kid’s gun. I was like, “Do you like guns?” And he said, “I like Billy the Kid.” So basically half of the language in the poem is sourced from one day’s interactions. I was also thinking about art, how you see guns on necklaces and on bags. The appropriation of that shape is done by designers of all sorts, and I wanted to do that for poetry.