CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT:
INTERVIEW WITH ANGELICA WHITEHORNE

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We sensed a compelling, exasperated sense of anger and frustration in the tone of “Terms and Conditions.” Are there any particular cultural shifts or modern trends that fueled its creation?

Angelica Whitehorne: The poem was created in response to beauty / wellness influencers mainly. Those who have become a human-brand, exploiting their lives, and travels, and their twelve-step morning routines—and making “normal folks” feel insecure. All to feed the hungry capitalist machine and inspire purchases of fleece-lined, sponsored work-out leggings. It’s both funny and frustrating to me.  

The poem is also rooted in the obsession of audiences. I think we’ve all seen violent, obsessive comments under posts. These comments often have a sense of entitlement over the influencer’s time or personhood. The one-sided connections that strangers can build with influencers, (loving, hating, and consuming them daily) and talking to them as if they closely know (or own) them, definitely fueled the tone of the piece.

RR: It almost felt as though the speaker was removing the mask from the consumers of influencer culture, making them simultaneously easy to hate and pitiable at the same time. Can you expand on how you managed to balance the tone when writing this?

AW: Poetry is such a fun way to explore the different sides to any situation. The more you stare at a thing, the more you see how ridiculous and ironic the entire world is. For every head of a coin, there is a tale. The poem is a satirical and accusatory way of exploring the idea that even influencers suffer. The unspoken background of the poem is that the influencer is publicly announcing some grief in their life, and the audience member is replying without empathy because they have dehumanized the influencer as a living marketing tactic. I tried to show why the audience member is angry: the influencer is constantly promoting envy to sell products—while also touching on the emptiness of it all, the suffering that accompanies displaying yourself and making yourself vulnerable for the world’s criticism and rage. There’s a lot to pity there, even if the influencer can afford bungalows in Bali, etc.

RR: Your poem prompted a debate among our editors on whether social responsibility lies within the community or in the individual. Could you share your thoughts?

AW: It’s a complicated question with no clear answer. In one sense, no one is responsible for any of it. The influencer and the audience member choose their actions. One chooses exploitation, another chooses to feed into it. In another sense, we’re responsible for the world we create. We choose what we consume, how we interact with each other. In its most basic argument, I think that the responsibility lies more in the audience member’s hands here because the influencer is allowed to share what they’d like and that person doesn’t have to watch it. But it’s never that simple, it’s difficult to turn away from the false perfection spewed out by these apps.

RR: You describe yourself as a “devastated poet” in your bio. Can you tell us what you mean by that?

AW: This makes me laugh. I’ve gotten a few comments about this part of my bio. A bit of concern too. But I think poetry is for the devastated. I think devastation can almost have a positive connotation as well: the sunset was so vibrant it devastated me. You have to reach some level of devastation to find solace in writing poetry. It’s also poking fun at the stereotypical image of “sad poets,” the vulnerability of our craft, the possible pretension within it—while embracing the high emotional intensity that comes with creative writing.

RR: Is there anything you would like to say to people like the speaker in your poem?

AW: Go outside. Learn to worship nature again instead of the false Gods of beauty and algorithm. (I often need to take my own advice.)

 


Read “Terms and Conditions” by Angelica Whitehorne, in Issue 11.1.