LAUREN ZUNIGA BIO: Zuniga is a three-time international slam finalist and one of the top five ranked female slam poets in the world. She has been featured on Button Poetry, Upworthy, MoveOn.org, Autostraddle and Everyday Feminism. Her book, The Smell of Good Mud, from Write Bloody, was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. She lives with her two kids and partner in Oklahoma City.
Blue whale babies weigh about 6,000 lbs. when they’re born.
“Damn,” I muttered, absorbing the heavyweight factoid.
OKC Pets was not supposed to be such an entertaining read, but a few pages in, I’d already learned about handholding sea otters, deer-riding monkeys, and vagina-shredding whale babies.
With newfound reverence, I set the magazine on the table and stared at The Red Cup’s counter. A small woman loitered near it. Scanned the room. Fished a chunky phone out of her back pocket and thumbed the screen.
I recognized that face. I could have sketched it on a napkin from memory even though I’d never actually seen it in person. For the last week, I’d been obsessing over its every contour, color, and release of consonant clusters, looping YouTube videos and inhaling poems until the line blurred between fan and stalker.
“Lauren!” I yelled, swiveling the caffeinated heads of customers.
Ms. Zuniga looked up and smiled. She walked with outstretched arms. “Heyyyyy, so nice to meet you!”
We embraced in the rare bear hug of complete strangers.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” I said. “I can’t tell you what an honor it is. My admiration takes up five blocks.”
“Ahhhh, that’s very kind of you. Thank you.”
We sank into a table for two. The set up reminded me of Grandma’s house—no doubt an intentional and nostalgic touch of the eclectic cafe. I fidgeted. Sucked in a nervous breath.
“Did you know blue whale babies gain 200 lbs. per day during the first year of their life?” I asked, tapping a fingernail on the cover of OKC Pets.
“No,” Lauren said, widening her green eyes and cradling her steaming coffee, “but that makes me feel a lot better about stepping on a scale during the holidays.”
I laughed too loud. Out of all the things I could have said out of the gate, the blue whale shit stumbled out first. This woman was paralyzing my intelligence, probably because I infrequently meet someone I want to emulate. Lauren Zuniga is an internationally touring poet, feminist, and word weapon. She is my hope. I am her hungry, and apparently brain damaged, protégé.
“Um . . .” I paused, trying to pull myself together. “Do you mind if I record our talk? I want to catch everything.”
“Not at all. Do whatever you need.”
I pulled out my phone and searched with sweaty fingers for the microphone button. This interview was important, part of my quest to collect different female opinions about the societal acceptability of sex talk—specifically the effects of discussing sex openly in Oklahoma. I hoped it would help prepare me for the release of my new book, We’re All Bad in Bed (out in February). I needed the support. Turns out sharing embarrassing sex stories with the world is a tad bit scary.
I hoped Lauren Zuniga would tame my nerves. It was actually Laura Massenat who recommended I interview Ms. Zuniga. It was funny that Lauren’s name was dropped, because I’d studied and discussed her while at OU. And for the past couple of years, I’d wondered about her.
Is she here in Oklahoma? What is it like spitting on stage in NYC? Does a modern poet write with a feather?
I had to hunt her down. I found an email address. Sent a rambling message I figured would fall flat, but one week later to my fuck-yeah eye flutter, we were scheduled to meet. I guess our collision was meant to be—fate traveling at a speed that would vaporize any innocent deer wandering onto its path.
And when date day finally arrived, I just knew something great was getting ready to happen. I could feel it. But I was wrong.
Next-level magic was steamin’ in the beaker.
Lauren started our conversation by explaining her relationship with poetry. She said it spawned from her love for rap—gangsta rap. OH MY GOD. We speak the same language. So we let the Alpine play.
LAUREN ZUNIGA INTERVIEW:
“I wrote in my journal when I was really young, but it wasn’t until I was eighteen or nineteen that I found poetry slam,” Lauren says, cuddling up to the table. Her voice is nice—warm. “I used to rap. That’s how I got started. My first CD was NWA, and it was my life. I had to have a long talk with my mom when she discovered I was listening to gagster rap. We had to talk about how degrading it was.”
I slap the table. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. My dad never had ‘the talk’ with me, but he asked me to shut my door and turn down ‘my filth.’”
“Yeah,” Lauren grins. “I had to tell my mom, ‘It’s not about what they’re saying, it’s about how it feels.’”
“Right—the creepy, crazy, outrageous, fun way they put it all together!”
“Uh-huh. But later I got into conscious hip-hop: Mos Def, Tribe Called Quest. I was involved in whatever rap scene we had back then in OKC. I was also partying a lot, doing a lot of drugs, numbing out as much as possible—the way you do at nineteen when you don’t want to feel any feelings.”
Lauren bites her bottom lip. “So, one day I was literally right here.” She looks around through memory lenses. “I’d been robbed at gun point a few days earlier. I had no money. I was visibly NOT OKAY, slumped over, writing in my journal when my friend came up and tried to make me feel better. She was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to the poetry reading Wednesday? It’s open mic.’”
Lauren explains that, luckily, she’d unknowingly spent the bulk of her days preparing for that exact moment. She’d been prepping—as in spending seven hours a day in Red Cup scribbling, digging, and creating what she now calls, “stupid shit.” Ridiculous or not, it primed her for that exact second. She was ready to step onto the springboard that would launch her career, even though she didn’t have a clue at the time what a poetry slam even was.
But she strapped on a pair and went to the slam anyway. Competed. Won.
“Whattttttt?” I say, covering my mouth. “What a bad ass! What was the poem?”
“It was basically about douchebag guys that just want to have sex and don’t want to be real dudes . . . or whatever.” She laughs then revisits the exact poem. Apparently it’s been glued to the walls of her cranium since the 90’s, even though she’s created and memorized thousands since. The poem: super pissed-off-teenager, young sex, spiked bangs rhyming. She recites just the tip of it to me.
WORDS FLY, AND WE INTERSECT.
YOU THINK BECAUSE YOU’RE HORNY WE CAN CONNECT?
YOU BETTER BET I DEMAND RESPECT.
We both crack up.
“Yeah . . . ” Lauren sighs. “I was really interested in seeing how many bars I could take with one syllable. It was bad, but it won, and it got me started.”
She goes on describing her early days of poetry. Her tales include a quickie about meeting Phife Dawg during a rap battle. I want to lean across the table and hug her again, but I refrain. Instead I recline in the opposite direction.
“I’m absolutely floored. You obviously write about a lot of different topics, but I’m especially interested in your sex talk. How has it affected your career: your published, documented, worldwide, college circuit, noteworthy career? Do you have any sex-chatter wisdom for me?”
Lauren pauses. “Back then sooooo many of my poems were about my sex life and about everything that my family did not want me talking about. When I got published, my whole family came to watch me perform at Borders as the feature speaker. They were so proud of me, but they DID NOT TALK TO ME for a month after.”
I gasp so loud it sounds like an emergency. “No! Even your liberal mom?”
“I mean, she probably talked to me, but she was like, ‘The family is very upset. You should NOT have been saying all of those things.’”
Lauren waves off her own story. “But they totally have a different perspective now. For one, I’m currently a much better writer. I share my thoughts in a more tactful, classier way. Also I write a lot about my mom since she was key in my development, and she’s so glad I have a way to express myself. She’s proud.”
I listen closely. I hear Lauren, but there’s one little problem.
“My sex writing is kinda raunchy. It’s juvenile and NWA-ish,” I admit through a nose crinkle and burning cheeks. “I don’t plan on graduating to a more refined version, even though I’m forty years old. Is that bad?”
“No,” Lauren says without hesitation.
“Just do it. Don’t apologize about it.” Then she takes a second. She must have been polishing this gem-of-a-memory in her head.
“So . . . the first time I ever read my poem To the Oklahoma Lawmakers: The Passing of Bill 1878 Requiring a Transvaginal Ultrasound Prior to an Abortion (as a full title), I was so scared. Afterwards, someone actually handed me a Bible track, and that was in the Paseo of all places. Another time I read that poem, a woman was so disgusted, she dragged her friend out of the room by her purse.”
Lauren continues the gentle rampage in a silky tone—AND THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART OF THE INTERVIEW. “People get really mad if they don’t like what you’re talking about. One of my favorite comments on YouTube is from a woman in response to one of my more sexual poems. She commented, ‘If you would just close your clown-car vagina, that wouldn’t have happened to you.’”
I laugh like a donkey. “SHUT UP! That’s amazing! Oh my God . . . you have to do a response poem. Something about squirting flowers, big shoes equaling big dicks, and that you don’t like ‘em circumcised, you like ‘em circus-sized.”
“Totally!” Lauren laughs, then settles. She looks inside me. “What I figured out from all those negative comments and actions was this; if I wasn’t ready to be uncomfortable, I wasn’t ready to be an artist.”
END OF INTERVIEW
PREACH IT, GIRL. I thought about it, and yes, I’m ready to be uncomfortable. I was born uncomfortable. It suits me, and this is totally working. My little mission to interview strong women is emboldening me. I no longer care what people are going to say about my crude, old, inappropriate mouth spurting nasty phrases. I care about not freeing the stories I want to tell. I have to make sure I never self-censor out of fear. This sex book is part of me, because sex is part of me—same as it is for most people. No shame. It’s just for a laugh. That’s all. This is a portion of who I am, not the whole, but some.
Thank you, Lauren. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I admire you. I gain energy from you. Let’s rap this shit up, shall we?
SIDE NOTE: All interviewees will be asked the same, staple questions at the end of the interview. The questions are listed below, and in this case, along with Lauren’s answers.
- What is the weirdest place to have sex in Oklahoma?
Lauren: “My favorite place to have sex used to be the Myriad Botanical Garden. But let me tell you why it is NOT anymore. First of all, this is before the remodel. When I was in high school, I used to take my boyfriends there. One time, my boyfriend and I were making out, and I felt a hand on my ass. I realized both of my boyfriend’s hands were on my tits. So I turn around, and there’s a bum getting some play. He took off running. My boyfriend chased him. Buzz kill. So I don’t do that anymore.”
“Currently, my partner and I’s favorite place is in the back of his truck, usually in cemeteries. But if we wouldn’t get caught, I’d say the best and weirdest place to have sex here is in the shark tunnel in Oklahoma Aquarium.”
- If Oklahoma had its own, unique sexual position, what would it be called?
Lauren: “I have three:
- The Fracking – This is when you have to wait for the ground to shake to get off because your partner is too busy jacking off in a wad of toilet paper and hiding it in the bathroom.
- The Falin – This is when you ignore your own body parts and just do whatever it takes to get your bank roll off.
- The Thunder – This is where you’re fucking your significant other, and you pretend you’re really into it, but you’re actually watching Russell Westbrook on TV.
- What Oklahoman do you think is the biggest freak between the sheets?
Lauren: “I went with Megan Mullally on this one. She’s gotta role play. I follow her and Nick Offerman on Instagram, and they do the best costumed poses ever, so I think they have to be into it.”
- If outsiders were wondering what kind of sounds an Oklahoman makes during sex, what would you tell them?
Lauren: “This one was hard for me, but then I decided it was best to go poetry on it, ya know, make it a holler. And if it is a holler, IT IS A HOLLER that rounds up the cattle, makes the kids’ lunches, mends the panties, and harvests the plains before the last orgasm paints the sky.”