For Christian Weissmann, poetry has always been a lifeblood - even when he wasn’t yet known for writing it. As an actor, you might recognise him from shows such as Saved by the Bell and Dear White People, but during his performance work there was always a poetic undercurrent burbling through his life - and now, we get to enjoy his poetry in published form.
Having written moving, lyrical essays on the bisexual experience, and other deeply personal stories, for publications such as the Los Angeles Times and Huffington Post, Weissmann was already impressive as a writer, one that could express the intimate and the emotional with a crafted universality. Here, in his first collection of poetry, Her, Him & I, we get to experience Weissmann at his most soul-baring. Her, Him & I takes the queer experience and tears it up before putting it back together again, uncovering the joyous, the uncomfortable, and the reflective simultaneously. METAL were lucky enough to catch up with Christian ahead of publication, to talk Frank O’Hara, shattering boundaries, and discovering your most authentic self.
Thanks so much for taking the time to catch up with us Christian, and congratulations on your accomplished debut collection of poetry, Her, Him & I. Share a little of what prompted you to start writing the poems collected here, if you can — they’re centred on queerness, desire, and its ensuing internal conflicts?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me! You absolutely nailed it — this collection of poems delves deep into queer desire and the agonising internal conflicts that accompany it. I began writing at a very young age, but it wasn't until my late teens that I turned to poetry as a meaningful outlet of expressing emotion. Struggling with my sexuality and self-understanding, I found solace in allegory and metaphor, which allowed me to express my feelings safely and in a less jarring manner. Poetry became an escape from the reality of living as a closeted man. The true me existed within these poems long before I felt comfortable enough to speak about it. As I got older and started exploring my sexuality, my poems evolved to reflect this newfound transparency as well. Writing has been, and continues to be, a lifeline for me.
Can you share a little about your writing process? So many poets have so many differing approaches, it's a fascinating insight into the craft — are you a notes app poet or a classic journal and pen? Do you realise your poems impulsively, or do they grow slowly over time and reflection?
A controversial question! I've always been accustomed to a good ol' journal and a Bic pen. I have a favourite type of notebook I get from a store in LA that has a recycled record on the front cover and lined pages on the inside. I make a day out of it every time I fill up one of them and go treat myself to a coffee and buy a new one. Although, I don't always have it on me. So, when I'm on the go and inspiration strikes, the notes app will be getting used! Then I immediately email it to myself — because I'm deeply fearful of losing anything I write if it’s just on my phone.
It's hard to say how many poems come to me spontaneously and how many take time to develop. Sometimes, ideas spill onto the page effortlessly — some of these turn out lacklustre, while others turn out well. I've also experienced poems of mine that undergo a metamorphosis over many months, transforming into something I never could have imagined at first, like The Divine Sacrament. Writing poems like Sacrament felt like pushing a boulder uphill, but reaching the peak was incredibly rewarding.
With poems in this collection such as The Divine Sacrament and Liquid Courage in mind, have you found writing these poems a therapeutic, or cathartic, experience?
Can I say both? Catharsis through writing is inherently therapeutic for me. One scroll through my bylines makes that very clear — it's almost an addiction. I love speaking about my pain and expressing vulnerability through a creative outlet, especially on taboo topics. Don't get me wrong, it's terrifying, but also incredibly liberating. Writing poetry helps me process challenging emotions more quickly and romanticise the parts of myself I once felt ashamed of. I spent many years of my adolescence and young adulthood hiding a very real part of myself. Now, being able to share so much about my life feels like I'm repaying that younger version of me.
You’ve mentioned Richard Siken and Frank O’Hara as influences in your own writing. What about their work, or their lives, draws you to them in particular? How did they influence the poems in Her, Him & I?
Siken and O’Hara, my boys! (Though, admittedly, I have an entirely parasocial relationship with one and the other is no longer with us.) Richard Siken is a voice of a queer generation. Look him up on TikTok or Twitter, and you'll see how many people he has touched with his words. I remember discovering the poem You Are Jeff in my teenage years on Tumblr. I sat staring at my computer, mouth agape, for ten minutes. Until I read Richard's work, I didn't know how to verbalise my homosexuality and my exploration of it. He's a genius — brutally honest and incredibly impactful.
Frank O'Hara's work makes me feel like I'm dancing on rain clouds. If you're any sort of hopeless romantic, you will find solace in his art. As a twenty-something who struggles to build physical connections without emotional depth, I look at Frank's work and feel more empowered to lead with my heart. My goal in life is boundless love — because his work showed me I am worthy of it.
There’s also an inherently performative, dramatic aspect to poetry — has your career as an actor inspired or informed any of your work as a writer? Or, perhaps vice versa, has writing poetry changed your perspective on your acting work?
Melodrama is my middle name, and that definitely translates from my acting craft into my poetry. To be honest with you though, writing became a sort of escape from acting for me. Working on and off as an actor often makes you feel powerless, deeply dependent on the validation of others to get to perform your craft. While writing also has its aspects of validation, it offers much more autonomy. Writing poetry and essays felt like taking back my power. It helped me detach from the outcomes of auditions and the intermittent work schedule of an actor. It felt like I no longer had all my eggs in one basket.
Queerness is the centrality of Her, Him & I, around which all the poems constellate. For Queer folks, what might the benefits of poetry as a form be, as readers and writers? Do you think it offers a different way of expressing the Queer experience that prose or nonfiction, for example, might not capture as deftly?
Absolutely. Poetry shatters boundaries and compels the reader to step outside of any preconceived boxes or notions they hold. It also challenges the writer to question so much about themselves and what they believe to be true or untrue about structure. Poetry is intrinsically queer — it's the ultimate form of otherness in the world of writing. It takes the ideals of conventional literature and transforms them into something entirely new and exciting. For both readers and writers, poetry becomes a space where identity can be explored and expressed in the most unrestrained ways.
In the preface to the collection, you write, “I’m attempting to rewire my psyche, in hopes of giving myself the answers I need”. To what extent do you feel you’ve found those answers, or moved towards them, in the writing of this collection? What questions did you feel your poems might be able to answer for you?
It's hard to quantify, but I know I have made solid progress in my pursuit of individuality through writing this book. (Both my therapist and I agree.) There have been insecurities I've struggled with since childhood, which I felt I could finally put to rest by writing about them in the form of poetry. Writing about self-doubt, sexual anxiety, and the immense weight of masculinity helped me understand where I was lacking in self-love. It pushed me to work harder and heal those parts of me that needed mending.
While this collection is ostensibly incredibly personal, how do you hope readers will respond to your poems? They feel very universal, in their specificity.
Thank you! That's the goal. I'm hopeful that regardless of a reader's sexuality or the state of their heart, they'll find stories to relate to in this book. At the end of the day, I just want to encourage vulnerability. I hope readers will pick up this book and feel more inclined to share their pain and their joy, and to celebrate both.
Do you have a favourite poem from the collection, either from the process of writing or, retrospectively, in reading? If so, what about it stands out to you?
That's like picking a favourite child! You can't make me do this! Just kidding. But don't hold me to it — it changes often! Right now, my favourite poem is To the Wind. I had so much fun writing it and love performing it. It's sharp-tongued and leaves a sting. Writing it was a sort of revenge. I remember calling one of my best friends, Alyssa, after many weeks of being very sad about a boy and reading her the poem as a sort of closure. She said, "That's my favourite poem you've written. Put it in the book." So, it's in the book.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re writing presently, now Her, Him & I is out in the world? Can we expect more poetry, and, if so, where will it lead us?
I'm currently polishing some new essays about queerness and dating in Los Angeles, and I hope to share them soon! My next goal is to take some of the experiences I've written about in Her, Him & I and turn them into a novel. As for poetry, I'm always writing it. While none of it has turned into a second collection of poems yet, we'll see. Stay tuned!