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They admit that the title can be misleading for the potential reader. Does this writer hold a negative view of San Francisco? Do the poems in this book read as complaints and focus on the typically noted cons about the “city by the bay” — some standouts being the housing market, the cost of living, potential earthquakes, the traffic and the occasionally unreliable public transportation?
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Says Calamia, “It’s not at all an insult to San Francisco. It’s actually kind of an ode to San Francisco in some ways. Many of these conversations and these stories that are happening in these pages just would not be possible if I did not encounter San Francisco and fall in love with the city and have the space to be who I am.”
For Calamia, their poetry collection, published in 2021 by Oakland-based Nomadic Press, is a conveyance of personal experiences — ones that factored into their move from Illinois to San Francisco as well as the many that transpired during their initial years in a city they have come to cherish.
In an interview, they explain, “I was really young and fresh out of college when I was writing it. I was kind of in a breakup and finding out I was trans, and then there’s family dynamics, the state of the world and violence, questions about identity … and also teaching and running.”
They add, “In some ways, the publication of this book felt like coming out about not just my transness and my queerness but also some of the other parts of who I am.”
In the Bay Area, and specifically San Francisco, the name Cal Calamia is likely familiar because of their efforts to get local running races, such as Bay to Breakers, to expand their categories beyond binary-centric “man” and “woman” registration options — specifically, to include “nonbinary” as well. The aim behind this inclusivity-driven endeavor is for those whose gender identities do not neatly fit into the binary to feel more comfortable participating in races and recognized for their performances in the same way runners in the “women” and “men” categories are.
This particular sports advocacy, in addition to placing “first overall nonbinary” in Bay to Breakers, San Francisco FrontRunners’ Pride Run 5K and, most recently, in late July’s San Francisco Marathon, have resulted in news articles, appearances on local news broadcasts and supportive social media posts from a variety of organizations — as well as a “Field Team” member position with Janji, a running apparel company.
Calamia has other identities as well though — one being an educator in a San Francisco high school; another, as this book demonstrates, as a writer. The poems in “San Franshitshow” read as journal-entry-esque narratives, with Calamia, who is bilingual, using Spanish for some of the poems’ titles and contents and English for others.
They note, “My poetry is really confessional most of the time. And so it allows me this vehicle to be lyrical but also to tell stories.”
Calamia, who is currently enrolled in University of San Francisco’s M.F.A. program, says their relationship with the poems in “San Franshitshow” fluctuates, with their connection to each dependent upon the moment and circumstance.
As they remark, “Sometimes I feel really attached to a specific poem, and then sometimes I forget about it for months, especially because this book has been out for about a year and a half, but I really wrote most of the content in it four or five years ago.”
Thematically, one poem in the collection that continually resonates with Calamia is “Pronoun Antecedent Disagreement.” Calamia wrote it in response to their high school English teacher’s insistence that “they” didn’t work as a gender-neutral pronoun because of the need for the pronoun and antecedent to “agree.”
“Call me they
because it’s me and The City …
San Francisco says I’m plenty
just the way I am”From Cal Calamia’s poem “Pronoun Antecedent Disagreement”
They comment, “This poem in particular is important to me because the theyness and the multiplicity and the nonbinary nature of identity were really important to me when I wrote this book. It was a poem about coming to terms with the multiplicity of myself.”
In the poem are lines such as “Call me ‘they’ because I am plurality” and “Call me ‘they’ because I am neither man nor woman” — explicit adversity to their English teacher’s perspective that also read as proud announcements of who they are, both then and now.
In relation to their recent running experiences, Calamia says, “I’ve realized I’ve kind of come back to this poem, and I’m in a place again of just being really steadfast about not wanting to prioritize other people’s comfort and instead prioritizing my own authenticity by being loud about my identity.”
Now a few years removed from the crafting of those lines and stanzas in “San Franshitshow,” which they call a coming-of-age collection, they say they consider their personal growth an ongoing process.
As they say, “I feel like I’m always coming of age, and I kind of always want to be coming of age.”
And, as Calamia has seemingly recognized, what better place to do so than San Francisco, a city where one can be — and become — themself.
They have plans to publish more work in the future. They share, “Definitely something is coming. I don’t have specifics right now, but I’m really, really excited to share more with the world.”
About their intentions as a writer, Calamia comments, “One of my goals with what I write in general is just to build compassion and build this sense of common humanity. And so I really hope that what I write will help young people, or anyone coming to terms with queerness or [their] gender. I hope that it will give those people more courage to be themselves.”
Cal Calamia’s “San Franshitshow” can be found at https://www.nomadicpress.org/store/p/sanfranshitshow.