Roberto Montes, as the Huffington Post pointed out, is a 25 year old poet whose first book drops on us right soon. Roberto is one part nervous joy, one part frustrated pulse, one part buoyant imagination. I was lucky enough to blabber back and forth with him over the last few weeks about the book. Hope you’re happy.
Here it comes, this first book of yours, I DON’T KNOW DO YOU, out from Ampersand real soon. A big hunk of these poems are of the prose-poem type titled “One way to be a person is…” and then smattering some quick tip like “…to fall for the environment” or “…to take matters into your own hands” or “…to orchestrate what should be orchestrated.” The poem power, for me, comes in the dismantling of expectations of what can help, what can be done, what can be reflected/refracted to “be a person.” Another thing like this you’ve done is that e-chap of yours HOW TO BE SINCERE IN YOUR POETRY WORKSHOP, as seen as NAP UNIVERSITY ONLINE.
You like giving advice, huh? Ha, but for real, this advice-giving style seems more of a self-searching than about helping others, or at least equally so, an artifice for working through your own shit in a less obvious light (maybe that’s most poetry’s purpose). Anyhow, as the title suggests, the speaker in these poems still isn’t sure, is still looking for some help. How did these poems function to help you “be a person?” What can contemporary poems (and poem writing) teach us about being a person?
I thought of many of the “One way to be a person” titles while walking around Manhattan waiting for class to start. I find going alone to public places that demand you to sit still for an extended period of time (computer labs/cafés/etc.) to be terrifying so I’ll often pace around outside listening to music instead. I had been fantasizing about teaching a poetry class that focused primarily on preparing young people for the psychological, spiritual, and ethical damage entering poetry inevitably causes. I actually take Jack Spicer’s warning – “[…] the closer you get to it the worse off you get, and the more it eats into you” – very seriously. Probably comically so. But it was during this fantasizing that the titles began to pop into my head in rapid succession and so I wrote them down. After that I was writing maybe 4 or 5 of these poems a week for a few months. Mostly I believe that poetry serves to teach us about being a person by moving us beyond our person-hood. If you run screaming down the street the first thing people do is look for what you’re running from; a kind of drawing-attention by drawing-away I think poetry is uniquely suited for.
Daily, I wait for your internet presence–the statuses, especially. Scooping back just now, I saw a pic of a I DON’T KNOW DO YOU bracelet. Are these gonna be promotional things, or is that just a lucky charm? What other promotional things are you doing? Any readings?
Thanks! The biggest compliment I’ve ever received was someone telling me that they thought I was the “best person on Facebook.” For some reason – probably the connotation of inanity FB statuses drag with them – that compliment felt more genuine than anything anyone’s ever said about my poetry. Who knows. “This is how touching a Fields medal in an empty auditorium must feel” is a thought I might have had in response.
The bracelet is something impromptu my boyfriend Justin Sherwood made with his niece’s beads. I don’t think I’ll be entering Etsy anytime soon. I hate the idea of promotion so I’ll probably be doing a lot of it and obnoxiously so. The question I’m wrestling with now is how can I maximize obnoxiousness while maintaining my alienation from the larger world. I’m passive about readings but there are things in the works. I’ll be reading at AWP when the book’s launching so I’ll get to say “I have books in the back afterwards for anyone who’s interested” and then immediately lower my eyes before anyone gets the chance to lower them for me.
What are some AWP events, releases, and such you’re stoked for?
I’ll be reading at a reading with incredible readers from Sixth Finch and Yes Yes Books on Saturday. I have incredible love for 6F and Yes Yes so I’m really excited. Also pumped for The New Megaphone + H_NGM_N Reading and The Wave Books & Friends reading. I’ve only been to AWP once before but I plan on focusing all my time there checking out the press booths and going to off-site events again. Really stoked to make a fool of myself to Zachary Schomburg again by awkwardly mumbling how I sincerely think Octopus Books is one of the greatest presses of all time. Stoked to make a fool of us all.
Today the status was this: “I forgot how hard it is to write poetry while being beaten to death with wonder.” Will you say more?
I haven’t been able to write much at all since finishing the manuscript. It’s taking a real toll on my well-being. It’s like this: I’ve had temporal lobe seizures in the past that have helped emptied my mind of itself. But wonder is what comes after, when you barge back in and knock over the rearranged furniture, loudly inquiring who put it there in the first place. Wonder’s a symptom of what we got but it’s loud and sometimes confuses us into believing it’s all there is.
What is a poem you’ve read lately that you know is awesome? What is a song you’ve heard lately that you know is awesome? Who is a person you met/hung out with lately that you know is awesome?
I’m currently reading Christie Ann Reynolds’s Revenge for Revenge which is wonderful. In addition to that I’ve been orbiting Jenny Zhang’s Dear Jenny We Are All Find and Amy Lawless’s My Dead a great deal. Both take explicit risks against their audience in a way I find very refreshing and necessary. A lot of contemporary poetry is just being the tree but not shaking it. Both books were very significant to me while I wrote I DON’T KNOW DO YOU (and still are.)
When I write I tend to listen to the same song over and over again. I think for this book one of the songs I listened to most was “Aminals” by Baths.
I’m blanketly antisocial but Brooke Ellsworth is awesome.
So here, you mention being “antisocial,” though online and the time we met in Boston you have always been rather friendly and pulsing outward. But that label on yourself, that feeling inside you, makes me think back to your first answer about poetry being “a kind of drawing-attention by drawing-away.” Does poetry’s ability to throw its voice, and thus the attention, away from You provide the recognizable space for an “anti-social person” to be a social person, to interact with others in a less direct manner, perhaps similar to the way the internet allows that, with its artifice and theoretical walls and physical distance (Snapchat, too?)?
Yes I remember seeing you at the Yes Yes Books/Sixth Finch reading. I believe I was a huge nerd.
As far as poetry goes, I’m a Spicer acolyte and actively attempt to remove myself from the poem so I don’t interfere with it. I’m not interested in expressionist or conceptualist poetry, both of which originate from the inside and seek to communicate something the author is already aware of. But it’s the shreds of you that cling to the poem regardless of your evasive efforts, like a chain link fence ripping your jeans as you vault it, that speak to me the loudest of personhood. That which you can’t shake off.
The love poems in the book are a kind of prototype of this. I only wrote them when I wasn’t in love, believing that that would somehow purify their intent, or at least complicate their existence.
What’s your favorite Spicer poem?
You’d think it would all be
This tree will never grow. This bush
Has no branches. No
I love you. Yet.
I wonder how our mouths will look in twenty five years
When we say yet.
Easily one of my favorite poems in the collection, “One way to be a person is to reach an understanding” immediately declares “History necessarily weds a political love. For example, ‘Last night you threw a vase at me.’ ‘No I did not.’ Already we have two parties and a desire to vote.” Already, I have been challenged to pick a side–in the scenario, in the poem, in the definition dungeon of love.
As it continues, I was astounded by how it developed, both poetically and politically, more importantly those simultaneously. Poetics. Romance. Politics. What’s what and what isn’t–
Recent studies have suggested that I love you is the most repeated phrase at the site of any artillery space. There are two conclusions one could draw from this: 1) Love exists. 2) Love is a sound one makes. If (1) is to be accepted, then you buy a new vase. If (2), then we return to the beginning to prove ourselves wrong.
Even if we tried, could we prove ourselves wrong about love? Even when we’re pitted against another, we’re still on the same team, right? Loving and being loved, throwing and being thrown. What sound did you want love to make in/out of these poems?
In the final circle it’s just you and the person you love throwing stones or not. I have a strange association between missile weaponry (i.e. the ability to affect from far away) and the way love can embody and complicate a space of any size. The message and the medium and how the medium can shiver when the message is let go. Peter Jay Shippy introduced me to the idea of love as a conspiracy theory – the couple vs. the world. That seems diagram things right. When love is just a sound I think it mimics the first pulse of breathing underwater, hence the ending of that poem, which terrified me when it marauded into my head out of nowhere.
Here I won’t speculate or request a confession of whether or not you’re in love, but having a boyfriend that makes you a I DON’T KNOW DO YOU bracelet seems pretty serious. But seriously, in a relationship and such, how do the love poems written outside of love (well, I guess one is rarely if ever if possible outside of love, but you know what I mean, outside of a relationship that would “typically” induce love poem making) sit with you now? Are they more pure, or are they more complicated now?
I’m looking at (SPOILER ALERT) the last poem “Love Poem In The Shape Of Another Poem Climbing Out,” which admits “What I did just now was a trick/to get people to love each other/and eventually me.” Did it work? Could it ever? Does the reveal intensify the intent, and perhaps the result?
Oh wow yeah I should point out that the love poems were some of the earliest written poems in the book. I wrote them before I met my boo now. (Side note: after meeting Justin I found I could no longer write love poems because they’d be about him and I felt I’d enter the poem too often to gab about how happy I am.) The poems seem a lot sadder to me now but I’m unsure if that’s the result of looking at them now from the perspective of love or the general reorientation a few years bring. A lot of them seem lonelier. Even the more jokey parts feel like they’re being spoken by a lowered head to an absent audience.
I wrote the final poem directly after reading Vortexts by Ben Mirov. I still don’t understand it but it’s insistence on appearing obvious in its desires seemed like a faulty defense mechanism, which intrigued me while I wrote it. It was one of those rare and lucky times I felt completely un-authorial in the work. I wish I could answer your question but then, if I could, I probably wouldn’t have been able to write the poem down.
When I happened upon “I Mean Botany And Then What?” My ears perked as I started to feel the kinship between this ditty and Nick Sturm’s Lettuce poem (at Sink Review).
from “I Mean Botany And Then What?”
Traffic signal flora. Physical confrontation
of flora. Teenage flora that look away
as they call you names. Flora that refuse
help like discontinued hydrants. Empathic
nod of flora. Barbarity flora. Flora circling
the pond but not because they are afraid.
Misguided disobedience of flora. Mischievous
flora mocking toddlers. Vocabulary of flora
in widening arcs of turned-away light.
Their stranglehold on plant life. Their repetitious jiving. It’s a nice thing now to read them side-by-side, elementary-style compare and contrast Venn Diagram wassup, to see how they both so well go GO and spatter along. Do you know that poem? You obviously dig repetition—in poems, in series, etc. What does repetition allow you?
Yeah I really like that poem! I was kind of scared by how closely they crossed streams when I first read it. I’d be interested to know the impetus for the Lettuce Poem. I Mean Botany came about when I was walking home one afternoon and passed two boys who were probably in junior high school and one of them turned to his friend and called me a faggot. I was taken aback not only for the obvious reasons but also the way he seemed to wear a guilty expression when he said it, like he was testing out being a bad person, or cursing in church. The line “Teenage flora that look away/ as they call you names” immediately entered my head as I continued walking and then more and more flora lines entered my head, and didn’t stop. I went to sleep and woke up with more flora lines. I worked on it for around a total of 12 hours I think, trimming excesses and trying to find a place for all flora. It was a very intense experience and it was all because of that child who didn’t have to say what he felt he had to.
Repetition in poetry, I think, is one of the few incantatory things we have left. When done correctly it brings with it certain powers that people try to forget about. The only way to know if you’re doing it correctly is to desperately want to stop but finding yourself unable.
If instead of Rock, Paper, Scissors they were Hands, Heart, Mouth, who would beat what?
Hands would beat heart. Heart would beat heart. Mouth would beat heart. But no one would ever know because by the time you start it’s already over.