Necessary Vulnerability: An Exploration of "Good Morning America I Am Hungry and On Fire"
There is an inherent beauty in the way that Jamie Mortara writes. The air of vulnerability that permeates their work is genuine and palpable, and it welcomes the open-minded reader. In their second collection with YesYes Books, Good Morning America I am Hungry and On Fire, Mortara guides their audience through the briar patch of recovery, sobriety, love, death, and learning to live again.
I was lucky enough to sit and speak with Mortara, whose career I have been championing since the early days of Tumblr. You might know them from Button Poetry, VoiceMail Poems, or various open mics across the country. At one point in time, Mortara was even offering a Pen Pal Tarot service that would send you individualized tarot readings and a letter detailing your cards.
It is safe to say that Mortara has a knack for creating unforgettable work. As I read their second collection, I recall finishing the poem “ADVICE: FOR DATING A GAY MAN WHILE TRANSGENDER (after Toaster),” running around my apartment, and immediately showing the piece to both of my roommates. Mortara’s exploration of dating and their necessary criticisms of alarming behaviors in the LGBT+ community utterly floored me. Their words serve as a testament to the vitality of people in the literary community who create space for marginalized voices, which is something that Mortara and I had the chance to discuss.
“I think, as an artist, it’s important to stop and listen to other people,” they said. “I wish some people would have less of an ego and know when to sit down and listen to other people. It’s important to sometimes be the loudest person in the room, but it depends on privilege. Some people are fine and don’t need a large audience and should help people who have a harder time being heard.”
That privilege is something Mortara covers in “Hungry Poem,” where they write, “here’s the truth as distilled as i can make it: a few of us do the eating/but most of us/do the dishes.” The latter of those conceits is exactly why space must be created for those whose voices fall on deaf ears.
One of those subjects that is often harder to hear is the discussion of recovery: recovery from trauma, recovery from addiction, recovery from grief, or recovery from yourself. Mortara, proudly going on four years of sobriety, explained.
“Recovery has been easier for me than other people, and I don’t want to make it seem like it’s not a battle every day. It’s not easy, and I have the hugest empathy and love for anyone struggling with addiction or recovering from trauma.”
Lines like the ones found in “I Don’t Know What It’s Like to Eat a Man Alive” resonate with the idea of fighting an imperceptible war: “but i keep throwing myself to the water/just to prove that i can swim/i keep letting the current/beat me from both sides/for so long/that it’s no wonder/i look like/some kind of bridge/to everyone.”
When asked about the use of themes like addiction and trauma in their work, Mortara said, “hopefully any of this can make people feel less alone.”
The idea of continuously fighting oneself is peppered into their book, a familiar concept to anyone who has struggled with mental illness or personal trauma. It is easy to become trapped in that mindset, as seen in “Maybe I Am a Museum,” where Mortara writes, “you will try and dig your fingernails into me/but i am a cold and stone room/i won’t feel anything/but vast.” The concept is echoed further into the collection with “Back When I Tried to Learn”: “it is so like my body’s want/to become such callus/to hammer out an armor/of my own brittle self.”
There is something deeply important about Mortara’s work. While there is no shortage of poetry in this world, the work that they create is vital to the growth of poetry as a whole. Vulnerability, openness, and tenderness should be lauded and triumphed. This is the kind of work that reaches into your heart and doesn’t let go—it stays with you, reminding you that you aren’t alone in how you feel, what you’re going through, and how you’re managing to survive. Jamie Mortara’s poetry is a balm for the emotionally wounded.
You can purchase a copy of Good Morning America I Am Hungry and On Firehere and find Jamie Mortara on Twitter and Instagram @jamiemortara.