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Treat Me Like You Treat the Earth

A Chat with Eliza Beth Whittington

Queer and feminist issues and environmental protection are often conflaited because of the harsh way queer and femme-identifying people and the earth are treated. In fact, the terminology “the rape of earth” is a common way to talk about the planet’s destruction.

Local poet Eliza Beth Whittington is using their experience with living as a queer, nonbinary person in the world and their love for the earth as a way to tell their story. Their first poetry book, Treat Me Like You Treat the Earth, recently released by Suspect Press, deals with all these themes. We chatted with Whittington to learn more about their process and how their identity intersects with their writing.

What made you want to write this book?

Well, it’s a collection of poetry. I’ve been sitting on so many poems, and so many have gotten lost over the years in journals and things like that. I kind of took a break from going out to events and stuff for a few years, because my kid was small, and then when I went back into it, I was getting reception that I’ve never gotten before. And people would ask me, ‘Do you have a book, or do you have anything online to read?’ It felt increasingly important to share what I’ve done. My friend Brice Maiurro was running Punch Drunk Press at the time and wanted to publish the book, but that ended up falling through. I had the manuscript ready, and I submitted to Suspect Press, because they had published a couple of my poems, and they said yes!

What are some of the big themes in the book and in your poems?

Some overarching themes are definitely love for nature; there are odes in there comparing a hike to a religious experience. And there’s definitely a lot of sexual trauma, kind of like confessional poems. I got the title for the book based on how those things kind of overlap, like rape culture and like how we treat the planet. I worked with a crisis center for several years, and I worked with Clean Water Action for several years.

Do you think you’ll keep writing and publishing after this?

I’d like to; I’d like to take classes or keep learning more. Poetry has always come fairly natural to me, and lately I’ve been writing short stories and other things I haven’t really shared, some creative nonfiction and things of that nature, and I realized I don’t really know how to write prose. I’m doing it, but I’d like to learn it a little better. I’m also doing this book tour in the Southwest and on the West Coast. I’m really excited to see other literary scenes and get a feel for what they’re doing and see what inspiration is there. For the past six months, a lot of energy has gone into making this book and less has gone into my own like creative pursuits. I’m really excited to have this book now and be open to new projects and ideas.

How did your experience of coming out and being part of the LGBTQ community coincide with your journey as a writer?

When I moved to Denver, that was when I could no longer be in denial about my queerness. Before that, I could always defend my eyes lingering on someone or something like that to myself, but I couldn’t any longer. I also learned a lot about terms like ‘nonbinary’ and ‘gender-fluid’ and learned how I fit in there. Since acknowledging the fluidity of myself, I’ve been able to take on things I never had the confidence to do before.

Photo provided by Eliza Beth Whittington