When Hosho McCreesh, author of For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed… (which is a popular pick on the Vouched Books-Indianapolis table) and many other BOOM things, sent me a ARC of his forthcoming poetry collection, A DEEP & GORGEOUS THIRST (Artistically Declined Press, July 2013), I knew I had to chat with the guy. Hosho, as both a poet and an interviewee, has always been engaged, passionate, and unrelenting; this book and this interview are certainly no exceptions.
1. Wow. Looks like you’ve got Hosho McCreesh Writing Jams turned up full volume. Stop me if I’m wrong, but you’ve got a new book AND TURNS STILL THE SUN AT DUSK BLOOD-RED, poems and paintings co-authored by Christopher Cunningham, due from Bottle of Smoke Press soon, and a book of poems called A DEEP & GORGEOUS THIRST due late July from Artistically Declined Press (and the thing I wanna chatter about the most). You’ve also been tossing out some short stories via http://www.smashwords.com — experimenting with eBooks. All these words in and I’ve yet to get to the 4 different novella projects you’ve got churning and burning: CHINESE GUCCI, EXPATRIATES, CORMORANT FISHING IN AMERICA, and RANK STRANGER. That’s a whole heap of stuff. I’m just gonna come out and say this: how in the world do you do all this? What’s your world like?
Well, that’s just it: I always feel like I should be writing more…but I’m basically lazy. Lucky for me, the way I write and the way I feel about writing have changed over the years. I used to save up my money, and go live and travel for months on end — doing nothing but living, and drinking, and going to museums, and writing in these immense, marathon, Kerouacean sessions. But it was a chaotic kind of writing, one born of desperation to “make it.” But I cannot write that way anymore. The mortgage, 40hr/week job, and the fact that I’d rather drink, sleep, or play Pictureka! or Minotaurus with the gal and her kiddo means I write a lot less. I spend my lunch hours writing (if I’m not sleeping in my car), or after work, and whatever time I can get on weekends. But this desperate desire to “make it” has mostly gone away. I love writing. I will always write. I have a loyal grip of readers that support my work in every way. I write what I want when I want–with only self-imposed deadlines, and limited only by the time I do take to do the work. I work in tiny, manageable chunks of time — and hour or two, a thousand words here, two thousand there. That’s how to write and still live and love your life. That’s how to be motivated by joy and not desperation. You’ve made it, people — if you are writing, and have time and space and no deadlines — you’ve made it. To hell with the dream, to hell with a big publisher, and a big book, and a book tour. Do your work, and the rest will take care of itself.
2. In our initial message about your new book/this interview, I remarked how this new book of yours, “A Deep & Gorgeous Thirst,” was a monster, spanning 250+ pages in the ARC. You said it was very different from your previous work but still very much ‘you.’ Can you chatter on about that some more? How do you see this book fitting into the stack of work you’ve created and continue to create?
Some people have dismissed my earlier work as dark, or angry…but as a poet and an artist, I think we must be honest about where we are as people — and our work must be a reflection of how we feel. This book is the logical extension of the “maintaining hope in the face of damnation” ethos my previous books are packed with. It explores some of the reasons why my previous work was dark, and angry — but the mere fact of the book’s existence is the vast and joyous reward for fucking gutting it out when life is shit. It shows us why we have to keep answering the goddamned bell, round after round — giving ourselves a shot at victory someday. Our fragile little egos invent ways to be stroked. Indulging our own ignorant, selfish suffering — like it’s some rare and precious gem that sets us somehow apart — is what led to this ridiculous notion that poetry must be about suffering, about the hard, and ugly world. Yes, the world is hard, and ugly…sure…but it’s many, many other things too. These poems testify to breaking through that wall. They were, themselves, a response to life having gone sideways on me. They broke free in a seismic, consuming kind of fire. I found myself, once again rebuilding from nothing, and for the first time I finally understood Henry Miller when he said, “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.” Instead of being angry at life being hard, and sad, and ugly…something snapped within, and I just started laughing. This mad, lusty joy had won — and with joy came love…a delirious, drunken, and soul-gripping kind of love…love of my life, of my woman, of any and everything. At that point it didn’t make sense to write about anything but joy.
3. That’s a big part of why I dig your work so much; that “maintaining hope in the face of damnation,” it’s like a flare. Part scream out of the darkness. Part shiner of hope. Part firework. From behind the Vouched table, I once sold your book For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed… to a dude in a Shai Hulud shirt because their albums and those poems of yours beat the same drum in a certain dark yet hopeful part of me. Those poems felt both loud and sincere, unforced yet uncontrollable shrieks.
There’s a little story from me. And in this new book, you’ve got your storytelling hat on, narrative as the frame that holds this new set of unleashed emotions and frustrations together. Can you talk a bit about how narrative works for your poems, both with this book and your previous work?
Narrative: In terms of poetry, I can’t say I make a concerted effort at narrative…maybe it’s even a kind of obligation — setting the scene in as few words as possible. Hell, I can’t even say I make efforts at narrative in my fiction. I want the familiar, the everyday, the things that people actually do and know and feel to be appreciated as something more. Right now, it’s just the stuff between the memorable stuff. It’s like Woodie Guthrie. Everyone loves Woodie Guthrie’s music — but he was supposedly an amazing painter of signs. Now anyone who’s ever seen a great hand-painted sign knows that shit ain’t easy, so why isn’t it he known for it? Why isn’t that seen for the art it is? Well, narrative is why. Everybody knows Woodie Guthrie the songwriter, the road-weary troubadour, the union organizer stickin’ it to the man…but not the sublime painter of signs. This is the problem with narrative. Too often we tell the wrong tales, too often we value (and hence remember) all the wrong things. In fact, this answer I’m giving right now is the problem with narrative. It’s just like Q-tips…they pretty much push earwax into your head, right — which is the opposite of what we intend with them to do… But goddammit, they just feel too good to quit. Narrative is the wax packing into our skulls when what really matters is that orgasmic feel of the whole thing. Joan Didion says “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” that we seek out the higher human message as if all this shit is supposed to make sense. It doesn’t make sense. There is no sense to be made. I mean, I get it: we need our lives to mean something…we need the soundtrack to swell at pivotal moments so we’ll know when to fight, or kiss, or cry…I’m just not so sure we don’t engineer it all on some subconscious level…a “which came first: the story or the events” kind of argument. Maybe it was neither. Maybe narrative is a curse, a swindle, and a lie? Anyways, it’s what we got — so I guess we do our best with it.
4. Who and what (poets, poetry, and not) are some of the biggest influences on your poetry?
Bukowski, Henry Miller, John Fante, Hunter Thompson, Vonnegut, even Kerouac all have tremendous humor at the core of them; Rock and roll music like Zepplin, AC/DC, Guns & Roses, Van Halen, Hendrix…these all figure largely in this book. And last but not least are my people — the ones who appear in all these poems…friends, family. This book is a kind of biography via booze — and what is my life without all of them?
5. In an interview with Hock G. Tjoa, you call this new collection, “drunk poems.” Drunkenness has always had its place in poetry, obviously. What makes you give this label to this new book? What constitutes a “drunk poem” for you? (Maybe I’m asking, Can a poem be drunk even if the writer/speaker is not?)
God, I hope so. I’d rather a poem be drunk then what it usually is. I get tired of poetry that is joyless, and without spirit…even my own. It is necessary, and it has a place — sure…but dammit, life is more than that, and art and poetry should definitely be more than that. Whatever needs to be done so that poetry could be given back to the people who need it we haven’t been doing. The last thing we need is more blather about dandelions and rainbows and how your ex-girlfriend stole your “collectible” Pearl Jam imports. Our poetic sensibilities are dying. Poetry is a punchline on Leno…LENO! (The biggest punchline on TV!). And I feel like we should fight to save it. We pass ten poems on the way to work, ten more leaving the bar or the movie theater after a talking animal movie. Where do they go? Why doesn’t someone do something about that? Either we fight to save it, or we have the brutal mercy to club it to death — finish it off with dignity. Please please please make poems that are drunk. Or high. Or randy for a good fuck. Make something joyous and alive and lounging on the summer grass, something cackling at that tempestuous, furious sun as it sits there plotting our demise. Our suffering doesn’t make us special — but our laughter as we die, that terrifies and delights the drunk and silent gods. Seeing the ultimate hilarity of our useless suffering…now that’s something beautiful. So can a poem be drunk? I say it damn well better be — or else why bother?
If I’m wrong, let’s just say I was drunk.
As to why I called this book drunk poems — well, mainly they’re about drinking, being drunk, a kind of biography by booze, booze as a vehicle for our humanity and inhumanity. You know how Miles Davis was a raging asshole? Well, he got away with it because he was so amazing. And good thing he had his trumpet, his music — because how much more of an asshole would he have been without it? Anyhow, this is kind of like that…kind of like how Bukowski said booze was the only thing that kept him alive sometimes. It’s a trumpet, it’s a bent spoon for tunneling through cement. It’s a thing which makes living more possible. And dangerous. And hilarious. And, at moments, even makes living profound. Poetry should be that too.
6. I dig that, man, the poetry of the everyday life we’re missing, the poetry we’re not giving to the people who need it. That’s kind of the Vouched Books dealio, you know. With the tables in Indy and Atlanta, we bring small press work, this energetic DIY lit, to people who otherwise wouldn’t probably see it. At the website, we try to get people talking about and paying attention to journals, presses, writers, and pieces on the web (and extended outward) we’re stoked about, stuff that they might otherwise miss, lost in the vast interwebs. Your statement “Whatever needs to be done so that poetry could be given back to the people who need it we haven’t been doing” really resonated with me. What do you see as some opportunities to give poetry back to the people who need it? More specifically, who are these people?
The fault, I think, lies in our inability to teach poetry as anything but a dead & lifeless thing — a mummified, one-armed Stonewall Jackson. We teach poetry by poking at its fetid corpse with sticks, saying “Eww…look…life was rumored to have once been present here…” Kids love stories, they love new words, word-play, puns, they love being entertained…jezus, they’ll sit through Radio Disney in hopes of it. And we take this natural curiosity, and — by the time most have finished school or quit — they have no need for poetry. That’s astonishing to me — taking curious minds and making them uncurious. Now maybe poetry is no good; maybe the poems we teach are no good; maybe the poems we try to teach at the few different ages we try to teach it are no good; maybe what we teach and how we teach it is the problem; or maybe it’s that society no longer values subtly, complexity, uncertainty, or a deep rumination on the problem of being human. Books, films, paintings, poems — all should be an attempt to reconcile our lives against our own mortality; an attempt to chronicle this living & breathing & fighting & dying as it happens. So the answer to who needs poetry is simple: We all do. Only we just don’t know it. We have forgot what it is, and why it is. It’s not to fill journals, or stack up publishing credits, or whatever the hell it’s being dolled up as these days. It’s to celebrate our own living and dying, to un-muffle the tiny gods and creators within us.
7. Navigating one’s way through writing a poem, especially ones as intense and fueled as your poems, is certainly its own balancing act. When releasing such furious emotion and telling such personal stories, one must certainly take some caution, run a fine-tooth comb of decision making through the writing, in order to not whoop up on anybody’s feelings and privacy too bad. But oppositely, you can’t walk around on tip-toes, extra cautious not to step on anyone’s favorite pant leg. How do you deal with writing about friends and family? Throw the ratchet into the sky and hope it doesn’t bruise anybody to bad when it falls? Any special conversations you have or precautions you take when writing about people you know and care about, before publishing those pieces?
Well, the entire world is built around caution, around being congenial, and tolerant, and conscientious…most of which is a lie. So the last place that should happen is in your own writing. To me, I say it’s a matter of intent. Do you intend to hurt someone with it? If so, well, maybe there’s a case to be made for reconsidering. But maybe not. Because truth be told, we only ever really write about ourselves — an infinite little menagerie of pewter figurines. Every character is us — or else we run the risk of writing about someone or something we don’t actually understand…and who wants to read that? People will either look for, and maybe even see themselves in the work; or they will pretend not to see themselves in it. If they don’t, it’s because they refuse to believe something about themselves; and if they do, it’s because they’ve decided to believe your lies. Because just like narrative, writing is just another kind of lying. And it’s as easy as lying: you write about problems you really have only using characters who do all the things you wish you could. Tell the truth…then just make up the rest. And if someone gets upset over something — say you either were lying…or that you had no choice but to tell the truth…and either way, you didn’t mean anything by it…whichever you think will work better for them!
8. Do you “celebrate” National Poetry Month in any special way (a poem a day, special reading assignments, etc.)?
I have been celebrating National Poetry Month the same way every year, since even before I was a poet: by listening to the poets. And I don’t mean in readings, or coffee house backslapfests — but rather, by doing all the things they say we should be doing. That means drinking, fighting, laughing, making a little trouble, making love…living. I began decades ago, and I will continue to do so, year round, because I take my responsibility as a nobody-small-press-poet very seriously. You’re welcome, everyone. Feel free to send booze, food, or money to facilitate these daily celebrations…you know, in the name of the highest and truest human arts.