Archive by Author

Awful Interview: Roberto Montes

13 Feb

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 ONLINEidkdoyou

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.

idkdoyoubraceletOh I’m also still Snapchatting lines from my book to anyone who adds me. My username is “otrebor53”.

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?

For Russ

Christ,
You’d think it would all be
Pretty simple
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.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: A Review Of The First Four Books Of Sampson Starkweather by Kelin Loe and Caroline Cabrera

3 Jan

So, here’s a new year confession: I’ve never read The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather as a million of my friends and co-internet poetry travelers have. I have no doubt it’s wonderful–have seen Sampson read a time or two, have read his work on these interwebs, have been enthralled by the talk of others regarding this here book. And that right there is the hold-up I think; removed and ignorant from the book’s total glory, I’m chomping like a hog at the slop at the goodness others offer up about the book.starkweather

Then along comes that stellar combo of Kelin Loe and Caroline Cabrera in the new Octopus Magazine. There they go through the books of the book and inch their fingers at what makes these poems tickle. I don’t think I’ve ever presented a review here. But in the process, they capture what I love about reading, what I believe a good book does: the experience of living with a book inside your life, how it butts against your memories and feelings, your moments and your forests. In their letters, Kelin and Caroline exhume what makes these poems important to them–as Caroline says, “The one-line-to-the-next-ness and how I am always with them and always nodding my head yes yes. But not because they are obvious. Just intimately of our generation. Or our type of brainspeak, too.” But that “to them,” that bleed into the personal, the real, the pulsing “real-time,” is what makes this review vouchable–as Kelin says, “I bought this book for Michael as his AWP present. I’m not in love with Sampson. He’s letting me get more in love with Michael.”

A little bit of Kelin:

I got up early to start The Waters, and I think that’s where the day got off wrong. I was expecting childhood, romance and dark underbelly ha-ha’s, poems that spun magic while I sat on my porch and held the book. Poems that made me feel healthy. Like sessions when you tell your therapist about something brave you did. Instead, like you said, weighty and somber. Like when your therapist points out that most of your thoughts are rooted in anxiety and not in actual thinking and you thought you were just detail-oriented. I feel humbled by these poems. Not the kind of humble like getting a compliment, the kind of humbling that you get losing a rap battle. “RUN, SAM, RUN.” I’ll try to keep up. (I also marked a perfect poem, XXXIX).

A little bit of Caroline:

But now, after reading Self Help Poems, I don’t think it’s a gimmick. I think I’m convinced that this is one book. They certainly benefit by the closeness. If this whole book was CAMP SAMPSON, Self Help Poems was the fire circle on the last night where we tell each other that we know its okay to be who we want to be because our camp friends are all also being that way. (This actually happened to me at the end of a camp. It was a writing camp. We were all eighteen and everyone cried.

P.S. I think it’s time I finally read this damn book, am I right? No chatter about it is gonna be better than this.

Impossible List of Favorite Indie Press Stuff of 2013

20 Dec

Journals: Sixth Finch, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, Heavy Feather Review, Forklift, Ohio, Sink Review, ILK

Presses: H_NGM_N, Black Ocean, Canarium, Octopus

Poetry (not necessarily published this year): Madame X by Darcie Dennigan, hider roser by Ben Mirov, A Mouth in California by Graham Foust, Maneater by Danielle Pafunda, How We Light by Nick Sturm, The Devotional Poems by Joe Hall, TINA by Peter Davis, You Are Not Dead by Wendy Xu, Flood Bloom by Caroline Cabrera,  Ethical Consciousness by Paul Killebrew, Song For His Disappeared Love by Raúl Zurita, translated by Daniel Borzutzky.

Prose Poetry (not necessarily published this year): Bob, Or Man on Boat by Peter Markus, Collected Alex by A.T. Grant, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them by Jenny Boully, The Skin Team by Jordaan Mason, I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina

Chapbooks (not necessarily published this year): NODS. by Carrie Lorig, You Are The Meat by Layne Ransom, Imaginary Portraits by Joshua Ware, No Good by Alexis Pope, 22nd Century Man by Ryan Ridge, From The Fjords by Zachary Schomburg, NAP University by Roberto Montes, Family Album by Danniel Schoonebeek, Patriot by Laurie Saurborn Young, Sins of Omission by DJ Berndt

Various Things From Around The Wacky World (some not published this year): Russell Jaffe at Digital Roots, “Party Time” by Lina ramona Vitkauskas at Matter Monthly, Sister, Thank You” by M.G. Martin as Greying Ghost Pamphlet, “She Says” by Brandon Amico at Sixth Finch, Ashley Farmer at Everyday Genius, from Dear Disappearing” by Tamiko Beyer at Octopus Magazine, “the recorded world was set on fire” by Curt Miller, “In first grade” by Andrew J. Khaled Madigan at Hobart, “If He Hollers Let Him Go” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah at The Believer, Hoa Nguyen at Pinwheel, “Hand-Picked In The Dead Of Night” by W.M. Lobko at Phantom Limb

Social Media: Nick Sturm, Cassandra Gillig, Sal Pane

Bookstore: Malvern Books (Austin, TX), IndyReads (Indianapolis, IN)

Reading Series: Vouched ATL, Big Big Mess (Akron, OH), Bat City Review (Austin, TX)

Readers: Matt Hart, Abraham Smith, Heather Christle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Danniel Schoonebeek

Indie Press Cheerleaders: Joshua Ware, Mark Cugini, Laura Relyea

Best Things I’ve Read This Week: Three New Issues of Rad Magazines

9 Dec

Got all unsituated for a sec but here, I am back. Missed this Vouching raft. A few good mags popped open their newest caps for us recently. ENJOY:

The real as hell Vinyl displayed this big huff thing “Aaahhh” by Steven D. Schroeder, like it too “exhaled jet fuel and ozone holes.” With bottom gut oomph like this issue in general does, this poem brings the noise with the knob turned up two or three spots. And that end squishes the breath outta me.

Here starts the burn:

No, not smell that honeysuckle!
or what a refreshing Coke!
or you solved the equation for oxygen!
As the only plants that manufactured
air outsourced to Singapore,
our breath burst, swarmed, burned,
turned every vowel plosive,
laughed a feral mongrel’s cough.
When it vented verbs skyward,
we exhaled jet fuel and ozone holes.
When it ran low at grocery stores,
the choice was paper or plastic bags
for our faces.

“My Own Dead American” by Matthew Harrison in the new issue of Sixth Finch is its own sort of devil, swaying between truths, singing your name (well, Diana), eating and fucking and losing. I’m awed by this poem’s allure. I am the I and Diana and “the Jacuzzi at the spa where you left/the final body of your message.” I’m broken at the end as we find out America is what we feared all along: “long and lonesome.”

And then there was Laurel Hunt with her own brand of splattering in the 2nd anniversary issue of Smoking Glue Gun. These speakers press a thumb out and down, remain wildly optimistic and charitable. Addicting is what they are, beginning to end.

laurel_hunt

Awful Interview: Joe Hall

4 Nov

Goodness gracious, Joe Hall’s second book, The Devotional Poems, is one rip-roaring collection of ditties that grasp/gasp out from the cloudy parts into/for the light. I read this book after moving out of Indiana for the first time and interviewed Joe in the few weeks leading up to shoulder surgery. Read on and you’ll find out why that’s important to know. Read these poems and you’ll learn something about trying to be whole.

Here we go, your second book, The Devotional Poems, has been unleashed, again from that Black Ocean press. I love what that wild/wise man, Blake Butler, said in that blurb of his, he said your book is “[d]evoted, yes, to terror, but true too to the gorgeous black underbelly of how we’re all at once somehow together possessed.” Consistency and trustworthiness are the misconstructed pieces of poetry that often ail me with boredom, assuming wholeness and “real world” logic as their backbones, but no, no, no, the beauty comes in what happens when the spirit that speaks is broken, other, downright wild. And that’s what I loved so much about these poems: they seem apologetically ferocious because they don’t know how to say sorry for being so brutal and fucked up, they just are. Where does this voice rumble from? How did Joe Hall’s poetry get their legs?devotional_poems_web_cover

I’m with you, Tyler. Poets that do the same thing book over the course of several books lose my interest. They don’t change? The world doesn’t change? Can I live in that bunker? Can I eat that canned food? Some people, on the other hand, perfect what they’re doing. Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse is that, I think. She commits to the narrative structures that had been lurking in Hounds of No & Maximum Gaga and just utterly kills it.

But I do want my poetry, book to book, poem to poem, to betray you–and me. To falter and rise. And to ride whatever I have access to as fiercely as possible. In my first book I was in love with Cheryl, high modernism, and a New York school that included Frank O’Hara and Amiri Baraka. Because I was writing it in school, there was the intensity of being in love but also cool seas of libraries, post-colonial theory, and uncluttered days. And that’s what you got, sort of. In The Devotional Poems, I had just turned down a great job with benefits to move to Indiana to be with Cheryl and at the exact same time found out I’d ruined my neck and back as signaled by excruciating nerve pain. I wasn’t sleeping. I was taking pain pills. I was walking around the woods a lot, with its moldering and hatching, working it out. Later, I ended up in a trailer park in a place with no insulation. The heat was at 45 during the winter to keep from going broke. Everything was fucked.

But this is not a story all about my pain. It was in this phase that I became infested with voices that were not mine but had been orbiting around me for a long time. For years I’d written sucky poems about the people I’d worked with in shipping plants, plant nurseries, and industrial printing presses. I never got them right. Having to grind away when everything was fucked, when you’d blown your chances, when you were considered waste, human trash–their voices started pounding away through me. We speaking together and against each other. And with Herbert and Hopkins and Edward Taylor and all the other dead prayers for change in poetry. It’s unstable. That was the moment of those poems.

Now I am a brain again, an intellect in school, writing things I’m studying. Which include incest and beheading. But I am not committing incest or beheading anything. My personal life is running away from these poems, so who knows what will happen.

That right there, the “ride whatever I have access to as fiercely as possible,” should be (is?) the new “write what you know,” the treacherous lull. And working through things, for you these broken times and staggering voices, is exactly why these poems achieve something, their unrelenting battling forth.

Yeah, “write what you know” is a little too simple because it doesn’t ask you to reevaluate what you know and how you know it, which alertness to the present might help you do. Heriberto Yépez says “Wisdom forgets,” so, you know….

One section is called “Two Exorcisms,” though it’s made of three poems, and the final section calls out to the book’s title, as “These Are Devotional Poems.” An exorcism is a way, that old-timey way, of getting rid of the demons, real and imagined, understood and baffling. But so, too, might we say prayers and devotions and even poems are ways to get rid of the demons, or at the very least get them to back off. How do you view these parts in the book–the exorcisms, the devotional poems, the poem poems–as mechanisms to having gotten rid of those voices? Did it work? 

It doesn’t work at all, getting rid of voices, totally, to find your voice—insert Derrida. But you can talk them to their limit, I think, as a way to open up by way of exhaustion room for other voices or ways of speaking. This may seem like I’m contradicting myself when I say, “Wisdom forgets.” Perhaps this is as close to forgetting as I can get.

For instance, the poem “I Was Living…” engages with at least two voices. One of pathetic complaint and submission, the child in pain, who needs relief and mastery, who needs to submit. The other of the man who is sorry, who claims to be suffering in that sorry-ness, who wants the other to understand “where he is coming from.”

I’ve hurt some people, that’s for sure, trying
a terrifying love though never mugged, fucked, or called out for it
crying between the rows of my leased garden, my good
arm broken, weeds choking the mustard
Tell me what’s right—the horn in the leaves
the first wildflower of the season
pushing aside party streamers like fingers and tongues, waterfalls
of newspapers, and these words decay too
placed on your stone like a lettuce wreath
asking forgiveness for being stupid and weak
Forgive me for being stupid and weak
I will offer what is healed O Christ! O Beast!
Forgive me for asking to heal

Sarah Fox puts it brilliantly–the limits of the masculine need for forgiveness in her poem–“Transitional Object”:

…It was as if
he could not stop dragging me around, he simply
could not let me out of the cage made of the bones
of my mother, until I had accepted his apology
for hauling me everywhere inside the cage
made of the bones of my mother.

The first poem, “Trailer Park,” comes from the fuck everything anger I’d heard from my father and also from the most down and out people I met working at an industrial printing press and similar places, contending also with an impulse to combine with everything by any means, sexually, violently, etc. & an end of days AM radio far right republican mentality. Basically, I cannot write “cool” poems or poems that calculate among the things they know. I do not possess that kind of firmness and lucidity. But I am also not interested in writing a systems poem that tries to account for everything. There are limits to what one can or should encompass:

You cannot
All enter me, my little body tells me

It cannot take that you are many
And changing (from “Locating”)

I am instead interested in what happens when the familiar is stretched and distorted, in the moment of its metamorphosis, and when speaking itself points to that which is below speaking, animating it.

That first one you plopped is my favorite poem in the book (whatever that means/is worth), that hefty (both in pow and in title) beast that starts the section “2 Exorcisms,” that “I Was Living in a Boarded-Up House Without Heat. I Was Still Sick and had Unpaid Medical Bills. The Record He Gave Me Was GOOD OLD COUNTRY GOSPEL.” It’s like a hapless journal entry found in a lonely, winter-beaten Midwestern woods, taken home, unfolded, typed back out—the words, but also somehow the musty stench and the hisses and the blistering wind it has brought back too—and here unleashed (and a particularly apt representation of the book as a whole). This poems transacts in that meditative way, talking beyond oneself, beyond the dangerous rubble and treacherous lulls of life and bring forth a new meaning to staggering and a new breath, somehow, to the broken self.

And this, like many other dimensions and parts of this book, borrows (or maybe it is pure adhering to) religious symbols and mechanisms for this exorcism. Even when it’s not religious, these poems use religion as a guide, spiritual symbolism and structure as a brace. How do you see spirituality and religion being needed and played here? Is it the secular sipping the holy?  Or is it a broken secularism that’s unable to escape the religious roots?

O boy. This is the music and I’m facing it. A dear friend asked me a version of this question and my answer disappointed her. Echoing back this funny refrain which contains a paradox: “This book is crazy and intense but its actually religious” (wonk wonk).

I am not writing for America because America doesn’t care about poetry. But I am writing from one American place (not the American place) of many, and in it is a half evacuated Christian religiosity, its material rituals–kneel, stand, speak, sing, drink, taste–and its impossible symbols–the sacrifice, the suffering for. Obviously there is something troubled and fundamentally wrong with these structures. But so, also, there is something wrong with a totally free floating and adaptable (and assimilating) secular skepticism that is better at using the most readily available fancy talk to justify DECLAIMING SO & SO STRAWMAN in the name of a particular formation of social justice after the fact than letting an ethical stance guide one (and one’s we) through the weather, to guide one’s (and one’s we) symbolic AND material practices (not that I do much better).

Without structures of ritual (material, symbolic)–however flexible and broad–to go crazy in, we risk being boringly sane or professional confessors of a limited insanity. This book is about the play of casting off, playing in, and surrendering to half rotten structures–one of them being my received Roman Catholicism–as that surrenders to the book, pumping each others’ tissues with mercury and lavender, becoming but not being, becoming but not being amphibian, slime electrified. It’s a first step, a hard first step.

If we find traces of Radical Alterity in the compass of the material world we loop through:

If ritual is defined not as the reproduction of meaning or catechism but a meaning making process which has the capacity to be shaped by each participant (as opposed to being monological):

If our altars are built every time we visit them from what we each carry to them on the way:

Then religion can be progressive and these are sincere poems searching towards the grounds for a vernacular spiritual practice by surrendering one’s claim to know and desire for information i.e. I am stupid and weak; I do not want to be stupid and weak; I should not want to not be stupid and weak. I need to simply attend to the being I am able to and the outward care that can sustain. I need to forget everything except the ritual which creates the space for being and new subjects to announce their coming into being to enter into relationships of care. We give ourselves away too much to stupid, abusive institutions and structures. Why not remystify those habits, relationships, communities, and counter institutions that sustain us and allow for right action? That’s the vector along which this book tries to travel. Obviously it starts in a fucked up place. I’ve been characterizing that place as a trailer park. That’s true.

Oh boy, that answer sure satisfies me! Thank you.

The album mentioned in the title, “Good Old Country Gospel,” is that a real album? What is on it?good old gospel

“GOOD OLD COUNTRY GOSPEL” is the name of the record and it’s a real record (1975 MCA Records, Inc).

Country as in the country that is honky-tonk. When I lived in that house that was half boarded up in a trailer park in Southern Maryland, I’d play this and James Brown. Memphis and somewhere in the sea is probably where we’ll all meet.

You mention Indiana. What part of Indiana? I grew up in central Indiana, a little hiccup called Elwood, 45 minutes north of Indianapolis, and until five weeks ago, I lived on the edge of my grandpa’s cornfield for most of that time. Indiana, for all its goodness, especially for a new (and debilitated) citizen, can get mundane and too open-ended with the fields and the flatness. Can you talk more about how the physical landscape affected these poems (and in turn, your ridding yourself of these demons/voices)?

Man, well, you can probably speak with more authority to what kind of screw that topos turns in the brain.

As for me, I was fifteen minutes west of West Lafayette, Indiana. We were on a twenty acre property that had a small stream, woods, and a tiny swatch of maybe what prairie looks like. Beyond that it was all corn and soy. On one hand, that property felt miraculous among what you’re describing–fields and fields of feed plants. The woods were a point of fascination that I’d circle around and deeper, more carefully, into. I found mushrooms, burdock, and walnuts and ate them. The bugs ate me. Things were circulating.

It also felt extremely precarious and artificial, as in the woods had been carved into a box called “the property.” Going to its edges at those cornfields was almost like stepping out of the house in Beetlejuice: all you can see is desert, death in the same, a negative vision of eternity. That edge is the place of these poems perhaps. Or the gap between the long, loud, outward poems and the short, quiet, introspective ones.

If there was nowhere to go but a border, there was also no getting rid of these voices, just a sitting down at the table with them.

So here you are, “an intellect in school,” again, life on the upswing, getting better it seems. Where are you going to school now? How has academia affected your recent poems? Has O’Hara and Baraka and high modernism returned?

I’m at SUNY Buffalo. It has an enormous archive of American poetry. Mostly all of it. O’Hara and Baraka and high modernism are still there. So is all this other junk, and I’m compiling more. This past semester I wrote a long paper on representations of waste flows into, through, and among Palestinian settlements. It was basically a paper about shit, excess, and choked circulations. Doing this made me want to make sure the way I made poems wasn’t one in which I was hording fragments, voices, or whatever you want to call them. My big goal right now is to figure out how to make relationships and how I make relationships with others find their way into how poems are made and what those poems deal with. Part of this has been trying to read without accumulating in my book destroying project. It’s been recording interviews with members of my family. It’s been trashing hundreds of pages of material. It’s been looking at how communities work in studying literary and historic Utopias. It’s also been doing things for people not on an exchange but a gift basis (because I love it)–editing journal issues, commenting on manuscripts. And it’s been trying to make my scholarly practice one of talking to people, having conversations. I’m not exactly succeeding, but these are my goals and academia has made these my goals because all it wants you to do is to sit in a room by yourself taking notes while taking breaks to type clever things into social media platforms. I do a lot of that too.

This past summer you went on a big hunk of a reading tour. What did those experiences–seeing those literary communities, having exchanges with new folks, building relationships on the road–teach you about real world relationship building and conversation having?

When I told people I was going on this road trip–20+ readings over 5 weeks, sleeping on couches mostly–people had one of two reactions: “Sounds FUN” or “That sounds horrible. Don’t die.” It was fun and horrible and fun. If I were careful, I would say it was just great all around, everyone was awesome, blah blah blah. The fact is, there were communities that I clicked with immediately, people who, within minutes, I knew I wanted to stay in touch with, to learn with, and do art in correspondence with. There were a lot of points where it broke my heart to leave a city, because what was going on there was good. There were other points where I was exhausted and the pace I’d set pre-empted me from having interesting exchanges with people. There were still other points where I found a scene boring, and, I’m sure, they in turn were bored by me. That just happens. I had a guy walk out of my reading at UC Irvine TWICE. My work isn’t for everyone or every community. That’s fine. To think that it should be is gross. Now I have a better sense of who I want to stay in touch with and where I want to come back to. I guess what I’m saying is, I learned that there’s no point in trying to be “friends” or “liked” by everyone, and no sense in pretending. Anyway, by trying to win everyone over, you’re spreading yourself too thin and missing the opportunity to have deeper relationships, more challenging ones. That’s what I learned. The whole experience left me feeling a little naked and nervy. I’m holing up in Buffalo right now. Slowing down, contracting. Working on picking up just a few of the many loose ends the tour created and figuring out how I can be a responsible, generous member of the local and online communities I’m a part of.

In an old interview with the Paris Review, Anne Carson’s describing her more personal poetry as failing, especially to amend or mend anything in herself, though it might work for others, reminded me of this talk about your voices. If (attempted) exorcising demons impacts readers, but leaves the poet in the same (or worse) spot, is that okay? Necessary? Even, good?

This is a question of who poems can be for. Carson, I think, is avoiding the stink of poems as catharsis or self therapy. This is a false dichotomy. Carson isn’t making it necessarily–she goes on the say her thinking is never settled and that writing doesn’t bring her to closure or solutions. Either way, I think writing a poem can and should be for the writer and that denying this is a product of a puritanical fear of self indulgence in favor of a larger, more universal utility.

What are some of C.A. Conrad’s somatic experiments (sticking something in your butt, jerking off in a museum) other than an effort at widening one’s sensory thresholds to a verge where pleasure and something else–panic? fear? a sense of the absurd?–meet at the thresholds of art in order to revise the ground from which art is produced and received–the grounds on which artistic community resides. This doesn’t necessarily speak to how I wrote TDP, but I think that through attention to the social and material practices of art making, art can be decisively for oneself and one’s readership, community, etc in legible, beyond symbolic ways.

I wrote Pigafetta to both understand the context of love, love, an ethical grounds for it. And for my fiance–a proof of my love she could hold. It was for us. I wrote TDP to think about keeping faith, masculinity, violence, sexuality, and I’ve heard back from people that the book has helped them think about what it can mean to be considered a “man,” to make that condition visible to themselves (and not just an invisible or silent and so immutable given)–to understand desires, as a man, to be mastered and penetrated. Anyway, I’m not as elegant and intentional as I’d like to be in the processes of writing and the relationship of writing processes with community. Here are some people that are: Kaia Sand, Mark Nowak, Laura Elrick, Brandon Shimoda, James Yeary.

So, like Carson, I don’t write to solve or settle, but I think saying that one doesn’t write to “improve” (as loaded and awful as that term is—maybe, simply, “change”?) one’s self in relation to others either denies any link between writing and the pressure it places on the self (how its processes re-inscribe a version of being).

The other day that big-time big thinker Junot Diaz came to Austin to speak and read and the line wrapped around the building an hour before the gig. He said something like WOW and then stood on a bench in the courtyard reading some words and then doing a Q&A for all the folks that couldn’t squeeze into the fancier box. (I applauded extra for this gracious move.)

Anyhow, I’m not particularly in-tune with Diaz’s work and aesthetic and such (of course, the stories in the important anthologies and occasional passing), but he struck me with some brain thumper thoughts that are still following me (not to mention the somehow calming fact he said “motherfucker” often.).

Where is this going? This is going back to your book, no worries. He said this thing that keeps coming up when I approach your book and this interview. He said, loosely retelling it here, that of course feminist writing and writing by/about people of color and other marginalized groups and folks is super necessary, but also, writers of masculinity, writing out of masculinity, is necessary, too, as it’s just how I can’t write from a feminine place or as a racial minority, it’s a mechanism for giving others a particular experience and perspective.

Gracious, I hope I said that right. For some reason, the quote from the fragmented sections that start your book part called The Abyss Has Nine Names And I Have Shown You Three, “building a ghost from/a body.” In that previous answer up there, you mention masculinity, and this section of the book triggers that for me—sports and violence, how to touch another and what to make of the elements, from a masculine perspective.

Like:

I want to touch you with the rough tombs of your fathers
with the wild flowering blood and wire
or a pear, rotting fish, almonds, the dock breeze
blown pixilation, thickets the eye eats

Or like later:

I believe in the Cowboys, the Yankees, and the Holy Ghost
I belong to the father, the son
Through this logo I deny the devil in Christ, God
Behind a heavy door, I etch myself in the image
of you on a promontory, a recluse collecting records
of the shape of the world, where we walk hand in hand
in a field of heather, letters scrolling up out
of theater darkness, taking turns on a one hitter
getting loose, kind of stupid

 The dealing here, with those voices and the environment, rings of a particular masculine pressure and escape mechanism, to rise out of certain influences, indulge others, and ultimately, walk on “getting loose, kind of stupid” with what one’s let the world feed you. And it ends, this little run of untitled, “How it is the stone dies.”

How do you view the poems in The Devotional Poems as “masculine poems?” What makes a masculine poem? And what’s even the point?

That’s great and gracious, what Junot Diaz did. Anyway.

Genitality.

I’m taken with Erin Moure’s idear or representation of Grosz’ idea that “lability of meaning means sexual organs might be invested in or migrate to any region of the body.” These are ideals—mights—as they propose a situational fluidity and relationality of being, a self that becomes the ideal self to participate in the erotic pleasure of the moment, to be sensitive and organized toward it. Gender, sexuality, momentary conditions in which they multiply.

Yet, yet.

When someone swings a wrench at my head, this proposes that I am a man. When I am punched in the face it is proposed that I am a man (and punchable in the face). When I was first looking for jobs as a teenager and starting on the string of idiotic working situations—industrial printing presses, portable sawmills, plant nursery hand—that would wreck my neck and back, my mother proposed that I work at a place called The Dutch Plant Farm and they started me not watering flowers but slinging heavy bags of mulch and shit and rocks into cars. A whole series of assumptions and sortings. There was and is a part of me complicit in these arrangements, that desired them, that habitually played and plays with pleasure the role of man-dude.

So that is part of what TDP does—it sets out from a marginal-prophetic-trailer-park-y-fuck-fuck-fuck masculine place: “in the motherfucking sound and mother fucking light / the iterations of thunder, the bass so high / it hurls you into the grass, Beast!”. It’s the inherited grounds of my relationships with others and self—“I want to touch you with the rough tombs of your fathers”—from which the book moves. The book wants blood. It also wants to be tender as a lamb. It wants to care, tenderly, for the lamb. It wants to inhabit wants gently.

“What Makes a Masculine Poem”

I think the ideal ‘masculine’ poem is one which is self-aware of its own masculine position so that it can swim away from and back to this position, infecting it—so it’s not working from a monological place—“I belong to the father, the son.” If a poem is of this social world, it has to see, at points, its own gender or the multiple framework by which gender is seen.

As much as I loved Phil Levine in my dumb jobs phase, his poems represent a kind of witless “masculine” poem. They try to recreate a world of oppressed and exhausted male laborers and find lyricism in those places but can’t bring them into relationship with anything else. It’s tidy and nostalgic. It lets us identify with the condition of “dad,” as if that is the most authentic position.

“Write what you know” is horseshit if you don’t use what you know to drive into your blindness.

“What’s even the Point?”

Right? I don’t write poems to make conclusive statements about gender or masculinity. I engage explicitly with masculine tropes and referents and baggage and anger as a way to open up questions of how we relate to ourselves and others and what the relationship between these two kinds of relating can become. I admire poetry that unsettles categories. I admire poetry that recognizes the in process nature of being and its own being as in progress. This doesn’t mean I don’t like procedural poetry (or conceptual poetry), because procedures and concepts certainly do structure our world and will live like saints forever in things like styrofoam. But they’re still like everything else—still caught up in the weather.

So, we’ve chatted a lot about being broken, about the attempted exorcisms and reconciliations that your poems tussle on. To end this, let’s think a bit more on how these poems got here, these particular ones.

I read your book at the same time I was reading Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon. That hefty chunk of words is preoccupied with the whys and the hows of religion permeating our modern world. Why we fucking care about our god. Why the particular stories trickled down. How we deal with the “truth” we’re told (and in essence have created). How we force our religious will on ourselves and others.

Yet we all fail, break, die, perish. “How it was the stone died” is how the little fragments mentioned before from “The Abyss Has Nine Names And I Have Shown You Three” begins. “How it is the stone dies” is the last of these. The pieces of the world that are supposed to last, be eternal—the wind, the stones, the god, our souls—sometimes they do fail, or do die, or do disappear, are somehow gone.

However, in this absence, still the stories trickle down, the poems run their course. How did these particular stories, these fragments and pieces of your particular gospel, make it here? How do you know when a poem (and further, a book) is done? What does that feel like?

Now that we’re at the end, I should say you’ve given me a lot to think about, Tyler, in these questions, because I share them. So thank you. What do we do about dying? What’s the point of holding onto anything if we’ve received most everything through happenstance? I don’t know. The threads for the book I picked up from enough different places to make listing them not interesting. But here’s one: In 2005 I was in a used bookstore in Wheaton, Maryland getting a bunch of books rung up. I didn’t know what anything was then. I just bought stacks of used poetry. In my stack was copy of Daniel Berrigan’s The World for Wedding Ring. The guy at the register asked me if I knew Daniel. I didn’t. He said he used to hang out with him. He asked me if I’d heard of the Catonsville Nine. I hadn’t. I got Vallejo there, before they closed, and Hernadez, Cha, Edward Taylor, Borges, Auster. It was some kind of book store.

I have a hard time finishing poems. I like to play in them, find different orders, rearrange. I enjoy it, so when should I stop? It’s like when you are drinking and you realize you’ve had enough and you better stop. You are that drunk. You better be careful already.

Finishing a book is altogether different. It’s a process of exhaustion. I think of Chuang Tzu lecturing a skull on the side of the road: “When he finished speaking he dragged the skull over and, using it for a pillow, lay down to sleep.” He sleeps until the skull starts speaking back to him.

New Love: Natalie Eilbert

18 Oct

I got embarrassed a recent morning, waking up to a small flood, waking up to this new love Natalie Eilbert. I read two of her poems in this fabulous new issue of Sink Review (below below!) and got twelve (or more!) kinds of shocked as I dug deeper into her work. How had I not perked to this stuff, canvassed in my favorite journals? How does this gal shine so darkly?  “Assembled the ashes like they were a thing/in need of assembly.” That’s one way to put it. In Guernica, she hints at her way of reckoning, carrying the machine, hoisting the flag, creating this new etymology (and further, the new country), with pained story and images of the so cruel is so beautiful variety (i.e. “I carried my machine still//to a bog. Dumped it there the way a bullet/enters say an elephant’s heart.//When the elephant’s heart won’t quit/and we fail again at mercy//this means my country, the sinking/of its metal a new form of prayer.”) In Smoking Glue Gun comes her honest reminder to love the trash of this world, the piles we’d rather not see again, as “like it you didn’t ask to be made.” Or what about in Diagram, did you see that? How she made the anguished ugly blotch roll off your tongue into another portion of the lit world so charismatically, rhythmically, somehow calm.

As if there is need for an alibi,
Say home, mean house. As if neither could burn.
Say fallen, as if it were a branch already
Mulched and turned. (You’re boasted, detached)

Man, I’m pumped at this new love. Natalie Eilbert, I do declare, rocks the poetic boat right with her snapping of plastic forks, daring you to dig into this muck with her, so dangerously enchanting, until like her poem at Sixth Finch begins, “I keep thinking about the sorceress.”

Until I’m back where it started, in the mystifying mist of her poems in Sink Review:

And did it occur to you in all these years that I could speak for myself. You’re a good girl, N, you stick to your books. Let us say I’ve moved on, I’ve rented the city for one year’s time and will not stop fucking these scared little boys. There is a fog over the towers, they hover and putrefy in Ozymandian disgrace. Pastries clog the gutters and I’ve never had such a fat ass fat breasts fat hands, this fat my beautiful beautiful. I’ve gone dizzy with drink, The Philadelphia Story won’t stop playing and I won’t ever get over the bored portrait of godhood in Katharine Hepburn’s waistline. There will never be enough milkshakes so far as I’m concerned.

Awful Interview: Hannah Stephenson

14 Oct

Rad gal Hannah Stephenson hosts Paging Columbus, this beautiful little reading series in that latter word, and after meeting her bubbly self there, I had to check out her poems. Her first book In the Kettle, The Shriek plopped into our gorgeous world recently from Gold Wake Press. It’s something, a real something, somehow heartbreaking and heartmending. That last bit is even a made up word. Point is, the poems do something stellar and I’m super stoked that Hannah chattered with me a bit over email about her first release. Here you go, friend.hannah

So, here it is, your first book of poems, In The Kettle, The Shriek, is out now from Gold Wake Press–a beautifully covered collection of tensed and focused poems exploring our cities, our spaces, our lives. How does it feel, to have this there in your hands, to have it unwrapping itself into readers’ hands in the world? How did it come into being–the writing of it, the home-finding with Gold Wake, etc.?

It feels joyous. I love sharing work on my site (The Storialist), but it makes me so happy to imagine folks handling this book–tossing it into a bag, jamming it into a shelf, handing it to a friend.

Before this book, I had a previous manuscript (as do many of us–hi, first manuscripts dozing on hard drives/in drawers all over the world, I’m waving at you!). Nothing really happened with it, and I can see now that it wasn’t very cohesive (some of the poems were very old, too). I decided to let that one go, and start fresh, with more current work. All of these poems were written in about a year and a half….so I had the material, and then played and organized and whittled. I admire poets who write toward projects, but I do the opposite….I try to find the project after looking at what I’ve written.

Most of these appeared as drafts on The Storialist. Because I write almost every weekday, it can be a challenge for me to separate the poems from their chronology. But once I saw the title poem as the center poem, and thought of it as a hinge, the organizing process made more sense. It took me from February-May of 2012 to organize it.

It’s a fun story about Gold Wake Press! So, I was contacted by Nick Courtright, who is an Austin-based poet (and is awesome). I run a reading series called Paging Columbus here in Ohio, and he was coming through Ohio on a book tour. He read as part of Paging Columbus last summer, and I loved his book, Punchline (published by Gold Wake Press). I saw a lot of overlap in our aesthetic/interests, and as I looked through the Gold Wake authors, I found that I identified with many of them, and already really enjoyed their work. I submitted the manuscript to Jared Michael Wahlgren, who runs Gold Wake (so very well!), and he got back to me pretty quickly saying that he’d like to publish it.

Reading this book after meeting you in Columbus, your persona in these poems and your self as a person in the world vibrate out of a similar attention to the world, a curiosity in how the world works, how it fits together. Yet, there’s a steam that wafts off these poems, a variation of skepticism and worry, that seems removed from the pep in your step.

And of course, that’s a common, good thing. But as we scuttle into the discussion of this book I want to see how you view these poems intersecting you and your life. In that very first poem, you say, “Structures answer/the needs of the people there.” How did writing this book, building these poems from the ground up, help you answer the needs of the people inside you?

What a truly fascinating question.

Recently, a prose writer friend of mine commented that he found it funny that he is quiet in conversation, yet effusive on the page. I am the opposite. I am so chatty in person, and love talking to people, and learning about them, and am not very restrained or slow to speak. And yet I write rather short poems, with short lines, and a weird, almost flattened calmness (in terms of tone).

My writing voice is not completely unlike my speaking voice….as you’ve mentioned, both come from me, but they definitely have differences.

One quality I notice in my writing is that I’m always bringing everything together. Remember that Lauryn Hill song, “Everything is Everything”? What I keep saying in my poems is “everything is everything, and everything is also something else, but that something else is part of the everything.” The kettle (something very domestic, and sweet, and nostalgic) is the shriek (a very disturbing noise, right?). And that is ok.

A lot of my writing comes from wonder and longing. As a person, I’m not afraid to reveal when I love something or when I’m having fun…I am earnest, and quick to admit giddiness. I’m not very cool. But the voice in my poems is more cool. A strange trait of mine is that I almost never end questions in poems with question marks. I’ve tried to psychoanalyze this, as many readers/friends have asked me about it. I always feel that the question mark disturbs the mood. A question with no question mark….what does that become? It’s a phrase of not-knowing disguised as a pronouncement (a phrase of knowing).

Even though some of these poems sound certain, there is often a very neurotic line of thinking just under the surface (sometimes peeking out, as in “The Outside In,” or “Alarm,” or “Telepathy,” or any number of others). I am very empathetic and sensitive to others….maybe anxiety is the flip side of this. You mention that worry is sometimes audible in the poems….I definitely worry about others (all of the animals who walk on screen in a movie….I am almost obnoxiously concerned: “Is Artax going to be ok? He’s fine, right? In real life he’s like, living in a meadow? And he didn’t really sink in the Swamp of Sadness?”).

In real life, I don’t always share anxieties. Those usually come out to play before I fall asleep (like so many of us). My poems definitely allow me to perform anxieties, and to try to get them to unravel.

I’m pleased with your comment about “steam” coming from the poems. When I drive to work in the morning, I’m always looking at the little copses of trees and ponds off of the freeway….one of my favorite ten things in life is seeing a morning fog hanging over trees/water….just hovering there, giving shape to the air. It’s easy to imagine that these are little, isolated, magical spaces–there is a layer of blurriness and mystery over something that we often overlook. I want to sustain that floaty, drifting feeling in my writing.

These brows of mine perked up when I noticed that habit of yours, the lack of question marks. In a poem like “We Will Judge You Based on Your Wedding,” this trait somehow seems to trigger a bluntness, one that’s foreshadowed by that there edged title.

We will judge you based on your wedding,
on what you have designed. How many guests
were you expecting, and how many are present.
What did you do to the ceremony. How did
you renovate it, what did you rip out and what
did you add. What century does your wedding
take place in. Is it full of thines and beloveds,
did you invite any God. Who cries. Do you
engender jealousy. What colors did you swath
your bridesmaids in, what necklines. How
symmetrical is your wedding party. Where are
the tall people…

And this particular poem works two ways, right, seen here as either antagonistic questions or breathy list of statements marking points of judgements. There’s an unsteady tension here created by that structure–the list of non-question questions about “your” wedding–and it seems to both explode and simmer down with the final line: “What kind of woman are you. This is your day.” That last sentence seems to be the only legitimate question posed, the blurry-ness of whose day it actually is.

Let’s chat a bit about that, this idea of marriage pressure on the gals. How did you come to write about this? It’s certainly an issue that’s skirted around a lot. How did these non-question marked questions function for you as you scribbled your way through it?

I’m a happily married lady. My husband and I were young when we married (just out of college), and I feel like this let us skip some of the pressure of wedding planning. Weddings have become more and more a fully-designed experience, created directly by the couple getting married. We got married in 2004, before many of our friends, and before wedding sites, iPhones, Pinterest, choreographed Youtube wedding dances, and wedding reality shows. It was a beautiful wedding, but we didn’t know what we were doing in putting together the wedding—our family and friends were very helpful, and truthfully, we didn’t feel very much stress (just so much sentimentality and emotion!).

When I wrote that poem, I was thinking of the media’s obnoxious Bridezilla fixation. It’s an odd pressure that we put on women planning their weddings—we expect that a bride should feel that everything just has to be “perfect,” has to exemplify the couple in every way. I’d say that most women, in my experience, do not have this feeling internally….but there is a lot of support (in pop culture) for the image of a woman who knows exactly what she wants her wedding to be like. And yet, we are trained to anticipate and scold that hyper-controlling instinct in a bride (at the same time that everyone is chirping merrily, “It’s your day, sweetie!”). What does this say about femininity? What does this say about masculinity? It’s interesting and creepy. There is a lot of focus on the bride at a wedding, but ideally, it should be a day celebrating the couple, right?

I can think of a few reality TV shows focusing on weddings. In writing this poem, I was thinking about Four Weddings, where brides attend each other’s weddings in order to score them (this is a real show). I saw about ten minutes of that show, and was a bit aghast at the concept and what it suggests…women are being positioned against one another, and are held accountable for how enjoyable the day is from an outsider’s perspective (and are also policing one another and themselves).

“You better obsess over the minutia of your ceremony and reception, ladies,” we hiss out of one side of our mouths, while saying out of the other, “But this is your day, you are a special beautiful flower who is entitled to feeling attention and love.”

I so appreciated that horrifying scene in Bridesmaids (the food poisoning one!), where the women in the bridal party unintentionally but systematically defile the white gowns and decor of a snooty wedding dress shop.

Yes, weddings are fun, and dresses are fun, and love is fun, and receptions should be a celebration. But what worries me is how shallow and oddly competitive weddings (especially those advertised on TV) can become, how very focused on spectacle and performance. Last summer, at a close friend’s wedding, the bride’s sister (a divorce lawyer) gave a terrific and memorable toast (shout out to Avery and Tyler, and Angela!). She said to the couple, “I hope that today is the day you love each other the least.” It took everyone by surprise, but truly, that’s a beautiful wish for any partnership. The wedding is so much less than the marriage, but we don’t always like to see it that way.

I also want to say YAY for marriage equality, for couples of any orientation (and am wincingly waiting for a reality wedding show called Say Woot to the Suit).

Place seems particularly important to you–position next to someone like a spouse, one’s town/city, even the physical box you sleep/eat/attempt to live inside. In these particular poems, you battle with how people fit (or don’t) in their space, how they settle into their place, how they give in to pressures there. Thinking here of “The Apartment,” where you declare, “A home is our own because/we decide to pour our possessions into/its pockets,” taking over for the people previously occupying that space, often avoiding that history and trying to make our own. How important do you see place in your writing? What do you see as the major tensions, for you, in inhabiting a space?

Yes, place really is so important to me. I come back to it again and again in writing (even beyond this collection).

Two images/thoughts come to mind in response to how place fits into my writing. First–have you seen Moonrise Kingdom? There’s a scene toward the end, after a large storm/flood (no spoilers, I promise!). The narrator faces the camera and recounts how very serious the storm was (while the background shifts to show us vignettes of the storm’s aftermath–high waters with a basketball hoop just peeking out, bumper cars and fragments of a boardwalk along the shore). The sequence ends with the narrator looking into the future. He says something like, “However, the crops the following year were the most abundant and high quality that the region had ever produced.”

The other is an idea in this old book that I love (I bought it for a quarter at a book sale!) from 1883 called Old Violins and Their Makers. I don’t know anything about violins, but I love the book. In particular, there is one section discussing the wood in Stradivarius violins. The author, J.M. Fleming, says, “Stradivari…selected his pine from the Tyrol. I have no doubt there was…and still is, some quality in the timber grown there which recommended it to their attention. The density, elasticity, and durability of the wood depends so much upon the soil in which it has been grown.”

These two scenes/images are so striking and fascinating to me. Both are about how place transcends time, and shapes the reality that we know and become attached to. Place is what remains when we are no longer around to see it. But it is so precious to us–important enough that we easily become homesick, or miss cities, or look to a move to a new apartment/home to bring something new to our lives.

What’s the worst place you’ve ever lived (worst neighbors, worst physical space, worst roommate, etc.)?

It’s all relative. The first apartment that my husband and I shared during college had some quirks–a tiny kitchen, very odd neighbors (one who once drove by with a duck in the backseat of his car, telling me he was on his way to the wildlife sanctuary–here’s hoping!), and flimsy construction (the closet door just fell off the hinges during one party).

But we loved that place at the time, and had been living in the dorms—so we were thrilled to have our very own private bathroom! And we got our first cat, Quincy, there….she is an insane/adorable black cat with extra toes (she has oven mitts for hands, pretty much). We had a mosquito net over our bed in that place (because we thought we were so cool), and once woke up to a tiny Quincy dangling from the top of it by one claw….it then crashed down all over us.

Actually, I love that place.

That last bit you wrote right there, the “actually” as a switch to the positive reminds me of one of my favorite poems in the collection, “You Can Do This.” About halfway through the book, this poem sprints with spirited optimism, a cheery demeanor that you yourself show, but as I’ve said, gets downplayed in a more subtle manner in your poems often.

You have parallel parked in a space
just five inches bigger than your car,
smoothly. You know Queen Anne’s lace
from poison hemlock. You are
adept in remembering names,
and people’s small quirks, you know
who has cats or dogs, who trains
them…

But here, we see, you just can’t contain it anymore, listing all these reasons to be confident, to press forward with a smile, marked at the end by the new skill where the you has realized “to call to what you love, to see it returning.” That ending is less punchline and more closing the door on the moment, the what you love coming in form and aiding in the confidence. How do you know a poem is over? How do you recognize your ending? Or, perhaps, what do you need an ending in a poem to do?

For me, the goal is always to not strangle the poem into an ending. I am always working to be less heavy-handed, less aiming for a “perfect” or “heavy” or “big” ending. A poem in the book, “Structurally Sound,” talks about this a little. One of my biggest pet peeves in pop music is when a song ends with a gospel choir and key change–the epiphany of an ending feels so forced there. The poem ends by describing a song ending as “a whole house scuttl[ing] away,/ dragging the block behind it/ like a billowing, sparkling nebula.” The end of a poem recedes, like a car driving off, as we stand and watch. The thing that is still in the ending is the reader, perhaps. Some poets use their endings as a whip, surprising the reader with sharpness. I don’t think that’s what I do (although I very much admire it in other writers). I am listening for a quietness, a calmness in the last line. A songwriter I love and deeply admire is Damien Jurado (I listened to his Saint Bartlett and Maraqopa albums often while working on poems in this book). He never overdoes it, but there is such urgency in what he has to say. The production of these albums resonates with me, too. A song that reminds me of my poems is “Working Titles.” I love the echoing, plaintive construction of this song (and those back-up singer harmonies—perfect!). The ending just kind of rattles away, fading, drifting….that’s what I’d like my poems to do.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Feng Sun Chen in Similar:Peaks

4 Oct

The first of the three begins “I want someone to watch me pick the dirt under my fingernails.” Which came first the scratching or this view? Feng Sun Chen’s poems here in Similar:Peaks burst each one of themselves from the grave of the moment, the untidy corner where “the garbage of dirty ghosts/courses enthusiastically through my fatty tissue.” Maybe it was just my groggy eyes, but probably not, but did the lights just flicker? The reaction to an exposed world where questions are not questions, where statements are questioned by their maker. As in “without scale? her exotic trauma? precede my own? but it is always a lie?” As in “is porn the opposite of solipsism or is it tautology.” [period there is mine okay] It is rare to open a (bunch of) poem(s) like a nut you’ve eaten before and find in it a weird diamond that reflects and refracts your terminal illness (life) so unbullshittedly, super soaked in fantastic ruin. The day has been battered, but we are continued and better yet, Feng Sun Chen gave us these marks.

Feng Sun Chen

Best Thing I’ve Heard Today: Russell Jaffe at DigitalRoots

16 Sep

Or should I say Seen Today? Russell Jaffe shirtless reading Sexton and his own poems in front of an American flag–

Digital Roots as another of them rad places I stumbled into later. Already with a good pile of good folks like Sturm and Xu and Thompson. The internet needs more digital reading series, but I’m stoked we have this one.

Indie Lit Classics: Svalina, Xu, Killebrew

12 Sep

MathiasI Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur

Mathias Svalina

Mud Luscious Press, 2011

Add this book to the list of reasons it’s a shame good ol’ Mud Luscious Press shut the doors, blinds, chimney. I’ve read a major portionhunk of their fine books–go ahead and checkmark them all reasons it’s a shame–and this was the last of the bunch that I scurried inside of (so far; got that newish Kimball collection on my to-read list). That’s a shame, too, that I waited so long. Svalina here talks as this fella who has created many lifetimes worth of businesses—intrusive and surreal, heart-wrenching and ingenious. Fancy stereos installed in people’s heads. Wardrobe swap company where you get the rags and robes of someone who recently kicked the bucket. A tour company that shows Americans around their own neighborhoods. But beyond a list of clever constructions what makes this book a small press classic is how it develops each business, not as a professional entity alone, but as a pulsing, dynamic piece of this fella’s life —a block of the self that can fail and can grow and can loop and can puncture. There’s a flurry of these list/series type books in the small press world, many of them super cool!, but here Svalina has captured the fascinating world of creation, of meaning-making, of not letting failure keep one from failing again. “Productive” has many connotations, and Svalina’s telling of the story over and over captures the momentum as it shifts from creating a useful business to creating a large quantity of businesses, the heap as its own kind of product. And beyond, what is most impressive (and sure to be long-lasting) about this work and the world(s) he’s captured is the book’s ability to elude monotony and crippling disappointment; each one subtly shake us further into the throes of this book’s capitalism and unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit. And I hope the people who want to read this book in the future are successful entrepreneurs because apparently a print copy on Amazon is gonna cost them a hundred (or more!) bucks, though of course, it’s still available in fancy ebook form for us less successful folks.

I started this one business that applied to the eyes of our clients the opposite of blinders, what we called Seeingers.

See everything! Every detail before you in intense exactitude! This was our pitch. Our scientists stumbled upon these Seeingers during an experiment on the bone structures of kaleidoscopes. It was a failed venture, until two of the scientists, depressed at their impending unemployment, got gin-drunk in the lab & ended up half-naked with the bones of kaleidoscopes strapped around their faces. What they saw in that moment they could not describe. Later, during his debriefing, the senior scientist said it was the visual equivalent of when you bite through your tongue & suddenly feel how your teeth are both weapons & exposed bones.

The Seeingers made every detail as important as if you were looking into the face of your child for the first time. No patch of spackle or inflamed pore was ignorable. Each dent in the hood of the car after the hailstorm was unique & therefore astounding. The creases on the pants of the person on the other end of the subway were as vivid as the exclamatory breasts of the woman in the window, removing her shirt in a Greek statuary flourish at the exact moment you happened to look up toward the sky.

Read the rest at Everyday Genius.

***************************************************************************************************

You Are Not DeadWendy

Wendy Xu

Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013

Before someone shrieks against this being a indie press classic, let me explain: Though released on a university press just this year (though hey hey right right a university poetry press is often a smidge of a thing, too), Wendy Xu’s first book deserves to be in this here list because of its origins in the small press magazine scene. Let’s mosey into the acknowledgements list where we find tops small press journals like Dark Sky Magazine, Forklift, Ohio, ILK, Phantom Limb, and many more. This book is a triumph in putting together the pieces—the poems lifted from the indie press world to win a university prize, the wacky and startling pieces of life smushed together, voice melding with passion to create a whole new hum. It’s impossible to fall asleep inside a Wendy Xu poem. What you once think you saw (“Here there is an altar made of sand. It dismantles/no less than itself to please the sea.”) gets quietly disassembled and brought back to new life five poems later (“I put some sand in a jar and wait/for it to mean. Some horses wade into/the dangerous ocean because what else/is more important to see?”). It’s impossible to fall over dead from boredom in a Wendy Xu poem, though of course, she reminds us one day we will die, in her ending sequence, each called “We Are Both Sure to Die” (See below). But ultimately these poems, slapped with that sticker You Are Not Dead, remind us that time is not now, there’s still joyous life and tragic sorrow and paranoid delusion and impossible connections waiting for us, blowing into our faces—“In my past life I was just a math/equation and then I got promoted. Now I have/way more variables.”

Without coffee and only very minor explosions
to spell our names. One will actually just be
a bird meeting a clear pane of glass. Fanfare
and various stems of wine. People circulating
in a slow, meaningful fashion around
other people exchanging gifts. One time you
gave me a gift. One time everything
was rare and dispensed in intricate
packaging. One time it was a real accomplishment
to find someone a coat they could wear
into a mountain and its forgiving silence.

Read the rest (and another from this sequence) at Diagram.

***************************************************************************************************

KillebrewFlowers

Paul Killebrew

Canarium Books, 2010

Mr. Ware brought forth Killebrew’s new book, Ethical Consciousness, in his great style not that long ago. But here I wanna poke back further, into Killebrew’s debut collection, Flowers. Flowers is one of those rare books that gives off a mist of rowdy and loud, yet still bends its knees to talk insightfully into your face, an effusive mix of the emotional and the intellect. Meaning: Killebrew is a pure delight, a fuse lit before the fireworks even begin; each poem in Flowers demands to be read—read aloud, read to someone, read with your heartrate a bunch of notches higher. Killebrew relentlessly searches, asks questions, demands from us and the world (answers okay I guess, but also cooperation, curiosity and enthusiasm). In “For Beth Ward,” Killebrew begins, “One of my basic human dilemmas/goes something like, Does metaphor/contain us, or do we extend ourselves/out into it?” and as he moves from himself, the “my,” to include the “us,” we relearn what contains us, what shapes us, what room we have to wiggle.

…Dark blue clouds approach
from the west like a future from California
full of the natural tragedies of living there:
mudslides, earthquakes, house sinking into the ocean,
B-movie actors in positions of public authority.
I hope it’s not all happening on my account.

The coasts shape our boundaries
and in this way define us, though sometimes
you forget all about them, forget that you’ve got ears
on either side of your head, that a lake
in Carlisle, Illinois isn’t, in fact, the ocean,
but just a place out in the corn
where people in shorts circle arbitrary triangles
under the fact of dark blue clouds arriving without thunder.
The clouds just sit there, a quiet, heavy metaphor
we share like a giant backyard.

Wow, no, don’t be thinking Killebrew is searching for meaning, is trying to convey meaning, but rather, he exports ideas to bend this world backwards into a new light. It’s impossible to know where our next step will land us, where Killebrew’s next breath will guide us, but two books into this dude’s career, I’m invested and committed and will hop in the buggy for the wild ride every time, all along the way asking the question I ask all my pals who haven’t read this fella, “Why aren’t we throwing parades for Paul Killebrew?”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,032 other followers