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Awful Interview: Nick Sturm

30 Sep

Sturm3H_NGM_N Books recently released Nick Sturm’s debut collection of poems How We LightLike most of Sturm’s work, the book exhibits a certain exuberance wherein the speaker makes claims such as:

                                                        There’s nothing
I’d rather be doing than having
elaborate hedonistic parties     Than using
my mouth to love you (28)

To some extent, the book’s enthusiasm for life, for friends, for love, for poetry acts as a “fuck you” to the “Darkness” (41) that sometimes can envelop of our emotional and psychic states. But more than functioning as an antidote or counterbalance to negative aspects of thought and life, these  poems also work as affirmation, in and of themselves. Take, for instance, the conclusion of the collection’s final poem “I Feel Yes.” The speaker champions experiences that are “both meaningful / and valuable”:

                       because meaning and value
are unbearably soldered to the meat
of living, so that we have nothing but happiness (88)

Yes, these poems are just as much (if not more) about creating “happiness” than dismantling the “Darkness.”

Over the past couple of week, Sturm answered some questions for me over email, so as to provide a bit more insight into the creation of his manuscript and offered some ideas about the writing found within his book.

Much of your first full-length collection of poems, How We Light (H_NGM_N BOOKS, 2013), contains material from four chapbooks that were released over the course of the past couple years. I was hoping you could talk about the process of re-imagining these poems in service of a broader context. By that, I mean, how did your relationship to these particular chapbooks (and the poems therein) alter or shift during the sequencing process? Did you learn anything new or different about them when considering their placement in the book? What types of resonances did you discover between them? To that end, were there any points of friction or dissonance that were problematic for you or need to be resolved? How did the publication of these chapbooks help you along, ultimately, in the development of How We Light?

Chapbooks deserve their own lives as chapbooks. They’re a vital publishing form – intimate, textural, concentrated, audacious. They put pressure on how we think about and about making books. Which is to say I don’t think chapbooks exist only to serve what we call, simply because of quantity, full-length books. Four chapbooks that come to mind as resolutely full-length, however you want that to mean: Matthew Rohrer’s A Ship Loaded With Sequins Has Gone Down, Bernadette Mayer’s The Helens of Troy, NY, Carrie Lorig’s nods., Dana Ward’s The Squeakquel. Thinking about this answer, it’s important for me to say that when the process of talking about the book began I did not have a “complete” book, not at all. Nate Pritts, the editor-hero of H_NGM_N, and I had a long conversation about this exact question: how do chapbooks come together into a book? At first I resisted dismantling the chapbooks to make a book, but the problem was exactly that I was thinking about the process as “dismantling” – the chapbooks have their own autonomy and time – it’s not possible to take them apart. But I couldn’t really account for the parallax between the chapbooks and the time of the book until I had newer poems to stand in. Once those poems existed, the shape of How We Light became intuitive. I realized I didn’t have to “make” an organic emotional structure – I had to grow it, get wet in it, be hurt by it, and that’s mostly a matter of failing, flailing, and having fun.

How We Light contains two long poems: the title poem, located midway through the book, and “I Feel Yes,” which concludes the collection. Could you talk a bit about long poems, generally speaking: What do you they offer you as a writer? What long poems by other poets have influenced your writing? Why and how? How does your process differ when composing a long poem? What are the difficulties inherent to that process? More specific to How We Light, how do you think the two poems in your book affect the reader’s experience, as well as alter or shift the manner in which we read the shorter poems?

For a while I was only writing poems that fit on a page, and that was necessary – I needed to write a lot of poems. As you’ve talked about, most of the poems in my first chapbook, What a Tremendous Time We’re Having!, play around the shape of a sonnet – they’re all quite dense. When it came out, my reaction to its material presence in the world was to write something sprawling and digressive. I had been reading Anselm Berrigan’s book-length poem Notes from Irrelevance and Padgett Powell’s novel of questions, The Interrogative Mood, and I sat down and in one weekend wrote “I Feel Yes.” At the time, it was a way of unbalancing myself. Going past the edge of the page over and over was exhilarating, if only because I was curious to know what would happen if I kept not stopping. Over the last year I’ve been mostly only writing long poems, which means I haven’t been writing many poems. But that’s not true. I have been writing a lot of poems, they’re just absorbed into larger patterns after the fact. The idea of writing a discrete poem on a single page is kind of impossible to me right now. And that’s not a choice I made. The radical shifts in the textures of the circumstances of my life made long form poems a necessity. As far as process, it means my thinking is more accumulative, disparate, open-ended. I never feel like I’m finishing anything anymore. That makes me anxious and unbounded at the same time. Sometimes it feels more like translating than writing, as if there’s an original poem somewhere, I don’t know where, and I’m slowly distorting it into this new thing. Nevertheless, I spend the time there because long form poems allow for collaboration with the indeterminate, self-reflexive mystery and magic of the forces that I feel most (non)human inhabiting. In How We Light, I imagine the long poems making the other poems forget they are poems. I mean that they might create the possibility of poetic potential that is greater than any distinct poem. No one wants to just read poems.

What types of projects or poems are you currently working on/writing? How do you see your newer poems working with (or against) the poems in How We Light? Is there a development or progression in your writing that engages or moves away from your previous concerns? How so and why?

I can’t seem to write if I’m not writing with someone else, so a few collaborative projects with the usual suspects have been underway. More than anything right now I’m just soaking in things. I’m taking three amazing classes, a theory survey, Postmodern Tragedy, and Žižek’s Politics, that are stretching and overlapping all the patterns, and teaching two classes, one on Postmodern Joy and another on short story and short film. Jeff Hipsher and I started a new reading series in Tallahassee called Dear Marge, Hello. I’m watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen movies. I read and loved Lisa Jarnot’s biography of Robert Duncan. I’m helping edit an essay-anthology of experimental female poets for The Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. I’m eating more obscure fruit. I was lucky to be able to spend most of August doing a tour of readings from How We Light and after spending over 4,000 miles with those poems and friends I was able to see the shape of a new manuscript called Outside in the Aporia Days. It has an epigraph from a Prince song. I don’t know, but I want that to be a sure sign of progress. One of the new poems is here in PEN. Whatever this book turns out to be, it’s coming out of my obsession with long poems, which doesn’t necessarily mean my concerns are changing, just transferring. I recently edited an issue of NÖÖ Weekly focusing on long poems and sequences – I am letting those poems and poets permeate me. I’ve been working to be more permeable in general lately, more weather-like, amalgamated. I have a reading list for the winter that includes Alice Notley, Jules Verne, and Peter Sloterdijk. Other than that, I’m happy to watch so many other poets’ successes lately, like forthcoming books from Tyler Gobble and Alexis Pope, both from Coconut, and Mike Krutel’s chapbook Best Poems from Big Lucks. I’m just going to keep writing poems with these people until everything is a skylight.

Best Thing I’ve Seen This Month: Book Trailer for How We Light by Nick Sturm

17 Jul

This video, shot and edited by Dave Carulli for Nick Sturm’s debut full-length How We Light, is probably the best book trailer I’ve ever seen. I know I know, I’m getting hard to listen to here. (Check out all the Sturm love here so far.)

I love Nick Sturm and lemonade and skateboarding and these poems already A LOT. Though my opinion is still up in the air on balloons. GOSH. Anyhow, this is an incredible thing to watch. Watch it. Feel incredible. We all deserve it.

You can glow in the title poem in the new issue of Coconut.

And now that you feel incredible, go check out the book page and consider picking up a copy.

I Feel Yes by Nick Sturm

17 Apr



When Nick gives us the chapbooks I, like everyone else, take it out of its Ziploc and lick it.  I lick too hard, with childish gusto.  The letters of “YES” are lemonade mix glued to the cover, and my Y is blotched with a wet tongueprint—temporary, but obvious in the moment.

Later all of us splayed out on two hotel beds reading our stories, poems, and in-betweens. After I say and this sadness shall not prevail against it Nick kissbites my shoulder.  It is really wonderful.  There are so many places and gatherings of persons where doing even a little too much of the right thing is wrong.  Their Yesses are not written in all caps, have no taste in their mouths or yours.

*   *   *

Sometimes this poem holds my face in both of its hands and it’s almost too much to handle.


All this is a fist full of telephones

filled with the same immense voicemail,

an almost translucent string of sounds

resembling light more than language,

the basic message being:  I feel fucking yes.

My heart making out with your heart in the mist

of sprinklers. our hips secret beaches sweet

with nonsense and campfire smoke and an illimitable

unspoken feeling that regardless of this being

a complete mistake it is, in fact, complete,

and amidst the ongoing collapse of laughter

my head fills with something that is not control

in favor of reciting sunflowers on some wet wet

interstate perhaps not so far from here where

this system is neverending sufficiently and I

might fall asleep in your daffodils with a smile

smashed against my face.


I mean just, Jesus—did you read that?  At a reading I read at recently, another reader—a poet—talked about how he didn’t want to hear about some poet’s feelings and telling a former professor this story I half-jokingly addressed the guy: “Oh man, you are gonna hate the next forty-five minutes; I mean, you better get ready to frown.”

But really, what are you doing in the space of a poetry reading or reading poetry if you’re not looking to encounter a heap of somebody else’s vital, genuine something?  Yes language and form and so on but if it’s not serving some central vehicle of a desire to express then why should anyone give a sincere fuck?

Disconnect and detachment are easy to find and harmful, and I’m just not interested.  Poems like this one, running and reveling like a goddamn stampede of joy are a huge part of why I’m consuming poems at all.

*  *   *

One night when I was fifteen I pressed my forehead to the rear right window of my friend Tina’s packed purple Camry and promised myself with all the fierce purity of a teenage promise that I would not forget that moment, the cold dew-dappled glass.  We were surrounded by southern Indiana swells and corn ransacked by fireflies.  I knew my heart was full in a way that seemed wrecked or exhausted out of most people I knew past a certain age.

Reading I FEEL YES is a small sadness in one way, in that its unabashed revelry makes apparent to me the myriad of little wrecks, tiny collapsings that have worked their way into me and people I love over the ensuing near-decade, how easy it was to get far removed from that precious internal space, because the ecstasy of it can seem distant.  But it’s also an incredible joy, a lightning storm of wonderful news, in that one route back is so easily, poignantly available:  a poem written and physically given to you by a friend.  This is the best kind of grace, the kind knotted messily to you by a heart in a body with a mouth that can bite you, gently, that can tell you Yes.

Awful Interview: Nick Sturm

14 Nov

Nick Sturm is this joy of a man who really knows how to SHAKE a WEIGHT. He’s excitable and lovely. He’s been known to jump over things. Jump over people, even. He’s jumped over some people I love very much. You know what? I like him even more for jumping over those people. In fact, I may even love those people more for having been jumped over by Nick Sturm.

Two FYI’s for you about Nick. 1. He has a book, BEAUTIFUL OUT, coming out from H_NGM_N next month.  2. Nick is reading this Saturday at Joe’s Coffee Shop in Atlanta. It’s going to be grand. Other readers include Molly Brodak, Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Kory Oliver, P.I. Navarro, and yours truly. He may even jump over some people. We’ll have to wait and see!

So Nick- your last name, STURM, makes you sound mega-serious. Do you know its origins? Do you think it could give people the wrong impression of you?

I totally understand how the über-Germanness of Sturm could make you think I’m a serious person. It’s kind of a monosyllabic brick of a name. The hiss-to-exhale through the “st” at the beginning is like a stutter-spear followed by the pursed lip inhale of “urm,” which, if you exaggerate when pronouncing, makes your eyebrows crinkle in to make an angry face. Side note: some friends in high school called me Mruts, Sturm backwards, which was fun. The word “sturm” actually means “storm” in German, which is pretty rad. It can also mean “tempest,” “gale,” “assault,” “attack,” “rush,” “squall,” “thunder,” “gust,” “turbulence,” and “forward line,” as in a battle. It’s fun to think there’s some kind of exchange between these meanings and how I think about poems. But synchronicity and coincidence are their own metaphors. Not like I’m not willing to carry those words on my banner though. I love the opaque, roaring rush, the joy of turbulence, the thunder sheet in the vowel feelings, and I’m more than in favor of poem as assertive force and contradiction, as Dean Young says. It’s really too bad none of the Futurists were named Sturm. When I was an undergrad I was completely delighted and, in a youthful, idealistic way, validated when I found out about Sturm und Drang, translated as Storm and Stress, which is the German counter-Enlightenment movement. Goethe is the most well-known writer associated with Sturm und Drang, though he eventually discarded the term. Essentially, a number of 18th century German artists and intellectuals looked at the principles of the Enlightenment: empiricism, rationality, and a focus on science, and were like, we think you’re fucking up. 1) Because you forgot to take account of human emotion and, 2) Oh yeah, everything is irrational. The only drawback is that they were just as into exclamation points as they were suicide notes, but they had something to rail against, and they railed, un-reigned themselves where it felt right, and so as a movement it’s always captivated me. It was essentially the German door into Romanticism, and if you want an intense not-wasting-your-time introduction to the principles of German Romanticism check out Lars Von Trier’s films Antichrist and Melancholia. Charlotte Gainsbourg is in both. They’re enchantingly dark and disturbing, visually gorgeous, and there’s a great article in the October Believer about them. I wish my name meant/sounded like what happens between Williem Dafoe and the fox in Antichrist. I’d be happy with that.

I saw Williem Dafoe on a train in Chicago once. Two things about Williem you should know: 1) He’s way shorter than you think. Think he’s short? He’s shorter. 2) It doesn’t matter that he’s short- his jawline is larger than life.
Man, how about that opening scene of Melancholia? Holy smokes. I wept like a baby and nothing had even happened yet. Did you? What movies make you cry the hardest?

The saddest part of Melancholia is when Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character puts a pancake on her son’s plate the morning of the last day of the world and Kirsten Dunst’s character looks at her like she’s done the most senseless thing ever. I cried when the cat died in Miranda July’s The Future. July wrote a wonderfully fun, honest book called It Chooses You (passed on to me by Wendy Xu) about her struggle to write the screenplay. She says great, simple things like, “Trying to see things that are invisible but nearby has always been alluring to me. It feels like a real cause, something to fight for, and yet so abstract that the fight has to be similarly subtle.” And that fight is constantly creating the condition for tears, for necessary scattering and reconfigurations, for glowing things to stand up in us. Pretty much a Matthew Rohrer poem. I’ve been having a lot of feelings lately watching documentaries, most recently Nostalgia for the Light, a lyric documentary about memory and being in Chile’s Atacama Desert post-Pinochet, and Buck, about Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer. The documentary Happy, about the nature of happiness, is also excellent and warm and humbling. Horses, light, and deserts always resonate with a good, complicated yes.

Word on the street is that you really enjoy lemonade. Have you ever had a glass of lemonade bring you to tears? What was the best lemonade you’ve ever had?

Lemonade brings me to many things, but not tears. This spring Joshua Kleinberg, Mike Krutel, Tyler Gobble, Ashley Ford and I, in lieu of a football, threw a carton of lemonade back and forth in Lake Erie. There was some whiskey in it, too, and probably some Lake Erie. It was good monster juice. Just the existence of lemonade makes me happy. Every glass of lemonade is a total affirmation, an ontological exclamation point. It always seems to show up right when you need it. Also, it’s one of those drinks that someone will offer you but is rarely asked for, as if it’s very special that they have it and can suggest you share it with them. No one ever comes over and asks for lemonade. You give lemonade. Also, why is When the Sun Tries to Go On full of lemons? Why is The Tennis Court Oath full of peaches? I’m being a little hyperbolic with Ashbery, but Koch’s long poem is a fruit basket rioting in a broken semantic blender. It’s not just an objective correlative; there’s a wider emotional pattern at work. And it’s not about being cute, it’s about sheer celebration (“The pears are dancing. What rain?”) coupled with inevitable loss (“my love / Is lemons”). Food and drink carry a lot of associative emotional fuel. In August of 2008 I was sitting on the Rhone River in Lyon and somebody handed me a bottle of red wine and said, “It’s shit, but it’s good.” It’s difficult not to spread those kind of statements out over the whole world.

What if I told you I was that somebody who handed you the wine? WOULDN’T THAT BE SO WEIRD?

In the second episode of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager, the USS Voyager approaches a type-4 quantum singularity, a black hole, and receives an incommunicable signal from another ship trapped inside the event horizon, which Captain Janeway decides to try to help. What they don’t find out until later is that the ship they see stuck in the event horizon is actually themselves, in the future, as the space-time continuum has been distorted, allowing effect to precede cause. Our friendship is kind of like that. In the future we’ve been handing each other drinks for a long time.

I remember that episode very clearly. That one and the Star Trek: TNG episode where Data has a daughter Lal. That one made me cry. Is it just me or does earl grey tea sound like a very good thing right now?

I just put on water for coffee. It’s funny, the last couple weeks we’ve been talking about Ron Padgett’s most recent book How Long in one of my classes and he has this poem called “Earl Grey” – it’s very much a poem of the moment it was written, casual, conversational, restless, playful, turning around on itself light-heartedly, giving the impression it was dashed off. The first lines are “That cup of Earl Grey / didn’t perk me up. / What time is dinner?” The general opinion was that this poem, along with others in the book, wasn’t fully formed, i.e. it wasn’t fulfilling expectations of what a poem should do or be. I was a little upset about this. As a reader, I’ve always tried to experience those moments of resistance as a widening of what’s possible in a poem. Specifically, Padgett shows us that to be whimsical is not to lack pathos. To imagine Padgett’s poems skirting honest feeling just to be cute! How do the lines “What a joy to sit here and think / of oven mitts!” not nuzzle up next to your heart? There’s no difference between listening to a symphony and being suddenly astonished by oven mitts; the former appeals to your emotions overtly, you can’t avoid hearing the themes and feeling the vibration of the sounds, and that’s great and fine, but the latter is more subtle, favoring the nuanced epiphany of small joys, the pleasure of the everyday, eliminating the idea of inconsequence, and, really, pointing to the innumerable ways we’ve found to protect ourselves from a world made of so many elements we’re not built to withstand, yet need to get close to. So, now I’m on my couch drinking this coffee. If you don’t want to dance it’s not because you can’t dance, it’s because you forgot you’re free. Did you make tea? Is it incredible?

As a matter of fact I did, and it is a lovely thing. So. You’re reading in Atlanta and the name of the reading is WE AIM TO GET YOU SO EXCITED. Can you tell me what makes you excited to be in Atlanta and to read at that reading and why other people should come and hear you read, and others read, at that reading? Read.

I am so excited to be back in Atlanta! And excitement is a big beer-shaped blanket I’m bringing for everyone to hang out under! I’ve spent two weekends in Atlanta since I moved to Florida a few months ago and I’m totally in love with the city and everyone in it. It’ll be fun to read, but I’m more stoked to hang out and see everyone! It’s going to be such a lemonade smash, an oven mitt from the future. Six poets with emotion hooves. It’ll be dark when we get started. We’ll sit close together for light. It’ll be pretty.

“Since I got here I’ve been hugging everyone”– Nick Sturm at SCUD

4 Oct

It’s true that Nick Sturm and I are pals, the waves of the interwebs colliding us together about a year ago. And it’s true this space is where I come to say just that, what thrills me, what moves me, what makes me feel more life-jogger than dirty dish in the sink.

What is also true is how Nick Sturm was before and still is undoubtedly one of my favorite of these poets rattling those same webspaces, proven again at SCUD with three poems that say WAKE UP WITH ME. These poems are portraits of living, so sure of themselves telling you what living is and what is truly up, but notice the shift poem to poem, that same voice shape-shifting within the one webpage, acknowledging how clumsy and flimsy and TOGETHER life is. It’s beautiful, the pictures Sturm paints, showing me just how motion-filled living is, how okay that is, how joyous and YES that can be.

Make a mess      Read a book      We all
might need to go to bed more often
together    Put on & take off our
intentions without purpose    It’s all good
as long as no one’s decent    As long as
we end up loose & whipped by mist
into gladness    The day picking up
to bash us immortal

Vouched On The Road: Akron with Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel

21 Jun

In the first of my road trip posts, I visit with Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel of Akron for some rad hangage.  

Here they are, our first hosts, our radiating poets, Nick Sturm and Mike Krutel, recent NEOMFA graduates, lifelong Akronites, rad dudes.

Sturm, you might remember, of his TREMENDOUS TIME (and will see him chapbooking again with his BASIC GUIDE that just won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook contest). Krutel, you need to remember, from poems like these and this.

These dudes can write! But can they live?!

I asked them both a bunch of questions beforehand about their connection to Akron.


1. How long have you lived in Akron?

I have lived around Akron pretty much my entire life. It’s one of those cities that have dozens of other communities surrounding it in every direction (small suburban towns/”cities” and also areas that are more farmland). But I spent most of my teenage years hanging around Akron, running around the city with friends, and participating in the local music scene to lesser and greater extents. I have been an actual resident for nearly three years now.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Akron?

The part of town that I live in (North Hill) has a lot of nostalgia buried in corners of it, most related to being in high school and playing music with a good friend who lived in that area. Other than that, I enjoy going to Highland Square. It’s the only real neighborhood in Akron, that is, one that has a distinct culture about it. I have grown a bit tired of the Square over the years, but there are a few parts I’ll never get tired of, such as the local punk bar. There is also an amazing record store named Square Records that is a definite place to stop even if you are just passing through town. One last area worth all its weight is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system on the edge of the city. There are good hiking trails, as well as the old towpath that is now a hike and bike trail.

3. What keeps you in Akron?

For one, Akron is an extremely affordable place to live. But other than that, I have yet to live anywhere else than in Akron or in areas around it. Though there is a college crowd around, Akron still holds onto it’s own identity without being wrapped up in college life, which can get old after awhile.

4. How has Akron influenced your writing?

I am really unsure how to answer this question. Perhaps the only thing I can think of is that having been settled in here for so long, and the affordability factor, I have been able to invest in traveling and experiences outside of Akron, which I then come home and digest. There is enough space in and around Akron that it doesn’t feel claustrophobic ever, as it might in other major cities at times.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

I have the dream to live in some major city, at some time in the next few years (I hope), such as Chicago, New York, or some place like that. I’m not to picky, I just really want to experience that kind of life for at least a bit. Chicago is always nice because it is familiar, being a Midwest city. Basically, I would love to not need a car and just use public transit. Akron has pretty bad public transit in my experience.

6. How’s the literary scene in Akron?

While maybe not that great/thriving, it always feels like it is because of my friends and I and how stoked we are to be involved with the greater Lit community as well as each other. The Big Big Mess Readings Series has been really bolstered Akron’s connection to the larger community by bringing in awesome writers to read and hangout here.

7. Describe Akron in three words.

Salad, half cheese.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Akron?

My porch. And maybe some hills.

The Big Big Mess Readings Series, ah yes. Held at the mega-cool Annabell’s, that glorious thing Sturm started last year, having brought in readers such as Matt Bell, Heather Christle, Jason Bredle, and many others. Krutel and Alexis Pope hope to keep those good times rolling next year. I had the pleasure of reading at a Big Big Mess in January and boy, they sure are fun fun fun, hootin’ and hollerin’ and clappin’ great time.

Vouched contributor, Ashley Ford, made this journey with me (and big thxxxxx to her for these pictures and videos). First big adventure was hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Above Ashley and Sturm dance on a wobbly rock. These guys like to wander around, like to wonder about their surroundings. Sturm full of stories about finding horse teeth in a river, about the history of the land. Krutel the constant kind guy, the warning signal of slippery rocks, the teller of the whats-up.

If you’re paying any attention, you’ll be astounded by these two dudes’ sense of self, how they absorb and exist, experience and share.


1. How long have you lived in Akron?

I’ve been in and around Akron most of life with short stints in Michigan and Oregon that always made me appreciate Ohio more. I’m actually about to move out of Ohio for a PhD program in Florida, so I’m finding myself looking back on my time here, getting nostalgic and way too fluffy, but really realizing how amazing it’s been. I was in Massachusetts a couple weeks ago and Christopher Deweese and I were talking about my upcoming move and he said something like, “How do you feel about leaving? Akron is your jam, right?” I said something about how it’ll be okay because the trees in Tallahassee are rad. But he’s right, Akron will always be my jam.

2. What are your favorite pieces of Akron?

52 Corson front porch. Kendall Hills secret creek valley in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Abandoned downtown roof spot. Skating down Mill Street. The Aqueduct garden.

3. What keeps you in Akron?

For the last seven years school has kept me in Akron, my undergrad in History and my just-finished MFA. But it wasn’t really that simple. I left Akron post-undergrad not really planning to come back soon. Went to Oregon. Got my certificate to teach English as a second language. Planned to go overseas to use that certificate. But then this girl happened. The best girl. So I came back for her, jumped into the MFA on a whim, and here I am. No more girl, but that’s how things happen. Realistically, there are only so many dance parties you can have in one city before moving on. It’s been a really good seven year dance party…

4. How has Akron influenced your writing?

I spent my undergrad reading Ginsberg, Whitman, and Blake and seeing Akron through their prophetic voices as a place that kind of embodied the line between the human and nonhuman, natural and artificial, hope and decay, pastoral and urban. So a lot of my terrible early poems were these ecstatic, pseudo-transcendental attempts to show how awesome it was to be alive while wandering through a continual mixture of sunlight and desolation a la James Wright if James Wright had spent a weekend camping with Kenneth Koch while they wrote all the songs for Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! I still feel the current poems connected to all that in ways, but I don’t think anyone would say my work is connected to Akron or any place really, though I know my environment does influence the poems. I wouldn’t have started writing the poems from my first chap, WHAT A TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING!, if it hadn’t been May and spring was just starting to set in and everything was turning over golden again. So Akron is there somehow. I guess you could say there’s an Akron glow over it, but you wouldn’t know unless you knew me in this place. I think a lot of people’s poems are like that.

5. If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?

Give me every city. I’m too curious to decide.

6. How’s the literary scene in Akron?

I think the literacy scene in Akron has, over the last few years, really started to become something, or at least it’s become possible that a poet in Northampton, Massachusetts knows what Akron, Ohio is. Is that even significant? I don’t know. A couple years ago when I was starting to become aware of the wider contemporary poetry scene I felt like Akron wasn’t really on the map. But not for any reason, you know. Somebody just needed to stand up and start saying, “Hey, have you been to Akron? What do you know about poetry in Akron? Pretty dope, huh?” Hart Crane wrote a poem that is dear to my heart’s heart called “Porphyro in Akron” where he talks about rubber workers on Main Street and our “smoke-ridden hills” and the etymology of Akron, which comes from the Greek acros, “high place” (Akron is in Summit County) and really shows how much of a working class town Akron was in the early 1920s, which is right when my family moved to Akron from West Virginia to work in the rubber factories, and then at the end of the poem says: “The stars are drowned in a slow rain, / And a hash of noises is slung up from the street. / You ought, really, to try to sleep, / Even though, in this town, poetry’s a / Bedroom occupation.” Throughout the poem Crane is both celebrating and lamenting the working class and industrial landscape he sees – these people are alive and joyful but they’re also doomed to the inhuman forces of a newly forming modern America – and I’ve always loved how Crane modulates between despair and a tired joy, like when they overpay the Sunday fiddlers “because we felt like it,” but I can’t deal with how he ultimately gives in at the end of the poem when “poetry’s a / Bedroom occupation.” I put my shoulder to the wheel with THE BIG BIG MESS READING SERIES trying to get amazing writers into Akron to read and to get people out of their bedrooms to see what new poetry is all about and I’m so happy that the BBM is now continuing under the control of Alexis Pope and Mike Krutel. Other reasons Akron isn’t a town where poetry is a bedroom occupation: Barn Owl Review, edited by Mary Biddinger (for real, if you ever want to know why Akron is awesome, ask Mary), and the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts. Become psyched.

7. Describe Akron in three words.

Pretty rad, regardless.

8. What are you most stoked to show me in Akron?


Oh hey, Akron has some killer food, I’m telling you, like this awesome grilled cheese (with grilled apples! C’MON) and goldfish crackers from Lockview (rad Great Lakes beer not shown), like MR ZUBS where you can get a Mac and Cheese sandwich and tator tots!

How does one bring up Joshua Kleinberg? After the entire state of Florida had had enough, Kleinberg has been bouncing around Ohio and recently got stuck in Akron. He’s a cool poet too and a nice guy, putting together a reading for myself, himself, Sturm, Krutel, and Akron writer Alexis Pope (along with sets by local metal bands Rhomer and Gasmask).

Hey look, it’s Sturm ollieing over Ashley, getting psyched for his reading.

Basically, Akron felt like a big Fourth of July party, and that’s a good thing. I ended up getting a tattoo, my first!, at the Sturm/Krutel/Kleinberg-vouched Good Life shop in Akron. You can see a little more chatter about that here.

While this weekend was jam-packed with readings (the Akron reading on Friday, a Heather Feather Review reading in Cleveland that Kleinberg and I did with folks like Mary Biddinger and Aubrey Hirsch on Saturday, and Sturm’s reading in Dayton with Noah Falck and Matt Hart), the refreshing and rad thing about living some days with Sturm and Krutel is there sense of go-go hosting outside of writing stuff, the aforementioned hiking, a pre-Cleveland reading Lake Eerie visit (pics too sexy for here!), general goodtime hang. ABSOLUTELY A BLAST.

UP NEXT: Chicago with James Tadd Adcox


13 Apr


Nick Sturm

io Poetry, $8 (includes shipping), 21 pages

  1. Nick Sturm’s work stumbled into my inbox as I was editing Stoked, these bold Basic Guides, to Truth, to History, to Home Repair, these radical poems that stretch the imagination and capacity to hold onto a poem, the poet behind it, this voice telling you something we hope is important.
  2. And I’ve stumbled around Sturm and his work ever since, flailed in the dark, in love with this style, this voice.
  3. And eventually I put my head on this pillow, okay it’s a chapbook, called WHAT A TREMEDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING! (oh you wild child, all caps AND an exclamation point), each poem that same title, each poem that Sturm-booyeah of mind-energy.
  4. Three rad TREMENDOUSes at iO Poetry.
  5. The titles are repetitive, but more importantly they are reminders.
  6. I asked Nick once why not a long poem, or sectioned, or titles are necessary? or what? He said it is a series. I said a series of what? He rode off on stampede of horses. Or maybe it was a birthday cake.
  7. I think something I love lots and lots is the child-like fascination with the world. No, that’s not right, kinda dumb to say, rather I mean that unfiltered unbogged lens used to look at the surrounding glob, look within it, that thing lost with time of life, of writing, of cracks called sucky moments.
  8. Here is an example: “Take off that ridiculous hat & tell me you love me/is what I want to say but my tongue is not so evolved.” Then it trickles in the weirdness of the tongue, generations of crabs taking apart teeth, before circling back to all that in this youthful heart matters: “which is when the world was the size of a gazebo/with one undying heart at the center of our lives.”
  9. Have you seen that stop-motion video Sturm made for one of the poems. I watch it and think that is how these poems exist. They are tiny movements and wacky objects and the string holding it all together is an emotion that is not fleeting so much as it is fast, not silly as much as it is overwhelming for the speaker, for us, for everyone ever.
  10. What is forever? It is everything, man.
  11. The other day I told someone that I’m interested in poems that are sincere, but then I asked myself HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT OR EVEN WHAT THAT MEANS. I don’t.
  12. Charles Bernstein’s poem “The Republic of Reality,” specifically I’m thinking of the passage “mimicking maniacs like it was/going out of the question, when/you fall upon a fellow with/falters and a fit for a glove:/not the machine in your/eye but the ladder in your/mind…” seems to offer something about what I’m struggling to say here, a poem lending itself to a review trying to lend itself to a hunk of poems. What I mean is these poems are wisps of poetic identity, this chatter about the self, excluding not a thing, reaching and reaching.
  13. Maybe like a poem that starts wacky then punches you in the mouth, dude. “A whale is not a type of information/Neither is a ship’s rigging nor a peach tree/If you were not alive you would already/know this.”
  14. Maybe like the poem that ends it all, burrowing in that place where, yes it is okay to be silly with the lights on: “My dinghy can catch some wicked air/Let’s go to the carwash & chew on the sun/Let’s go to the capital & use our hands/Our hands which are a chance for music” and still get back to what we’re talking about, to never really leave what we’ve always been talking about: THE TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING
  15. Yeah, I know she’s talking about Edward Hoagland and his essay about turtles and about CNF in general, but I can’t get this sentence out of my head, from “The Situation and The Story” by Vivian Gornick, about how these Sturm poems tackle and tangle with objects, weird wild and real, yet there is that speaker, that voice I wanna hug: “The reader realizes that the man who’s using turtles as a stand-in for human intimacy has been there from the very beginning” (p.51).
  16. Maybe like a poem that worries about friendship and self-disappointment, “It is so embarrassing how nothing out there/stays together How playgrounds build up/in our jaws but we never learn to play right.” Or the ending of that poem “Sometimes I just want to give up & say/watch this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  17. I like Nick Sturm’s poems for their awareness, how they go to the place, bounce around, the voice and its lovely echo, shifty lens, from the spot where it needs to be to the spot where it needs to be.

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

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.

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

Awful Interview: Mark Cugini

10 Oct

Mark Cugini and Tyler Gobble gambling, which is a sin in the eyes of our Lord.

Mark Cugini is a certified badass dipped in gold.  He’s the founding editor of Big Lucks and recently announced the launch of Big Lucks Books, which will be releasing its inaugural titles in 2014.  I’m pretty sure we both played a lot of N64 games as kids, but that’s speculation based on circumstantial evidence.  Anyway, I convinced Mark to let me interview him about Big Lucks Books.  Here’s what happened.

So you recently announced the birth of Big Lucks Books–congratulations! Did you smoke a cigar like a proud papa? Have a glass of bourbon?

Oh man, I smoked about 13 cigarettes in three hours and then you told me to drink bourbon but I didn’t have any bourbon so I drank something called “Whipped Cream Vodka” and now I have a headache but at least I smell like a banana split. So yeah, good thing we aren’t talking about a baby here.

With that many cigarettes, I imagine you’ve got a hint of biker bar thrown in there too.

Thank you for making me sound more masculine.

So what started you thinking about publishing books through Big Lucks? If we’re continuing the metaphor here, what was Big Lucks Books’ *moment of conception?* (cue Usher’s “Nice and Slow”)

Oh man, we’re three questions in and I’m already uncomfortable.
I’ve been sporadically thinking about starting a press for about two years: it just seemed like the next logical step once things illogically took off for us. I got the final nudge in April 2013 on a car ride to Buffalo with Adam Robinson. It was still winter but the weather was perfect and the only way to get to Buffalo from Baltimore is by taking a series of really weird one-laned highways that are built into too-beautiful, too-green mountains but also the power lines are too low and the turns are too sharp so of course you’re going to get stuck behind about 150 trucks that are stuck in ditches, because sometimes it’s like the whole world is playing this terrible-yet-perfect poetic trick you’re supposed to get stuck in.
Anyway. We talked about my plans for Narrow House Books and I just started asking him questions about distribution and ISBNs and press releases and plus I had just read this amazing chapbook (cough cough Layne Ransom’s) that had me really excited about poetry and publishing and old-fashioned, full-hearted-and-fluffy goodness and I just kept thinking, Wow, what if BIG LUCKS did books, and then Adam said, “really, I think the smartest thing would be to start doing your own books,” and I was like well.

So, yeah. Big Lucks was conceived in a Chevy Corolla. With Adam Robinson. I do not remember if either of us showered the night before.

You are too kind. I never knew you and Adam Robinson conceiving anything together in a Corolla could sound so lovely, but I can’t deny the magic. And the idea of daily showers is totally overrated anyway, right?

I don’t know, I’m from Staten Island, I used to wear COLOGNE EVERY DAY. But Adam is one of the smartest people I know. Without his advice and encouragement, I would be utterly rudderless. And that would be a big problem, since our logo is a submarine.
Wait, do submarines have rudders?

Yes. I just imagined you guys piloting a submarine together, which was ridiculously endearing and a good premise for a bizarre-yet-wholesome Saturday morning cartoon series.
You said you’re excited about publishing “old-fashioned, full-hearted and fluffy goodness”–can you elaborate on that, the sort of creatures you want to release into the indie press ocean? (I am real good at metaphors.)

That’s tough, you know? When I think about my favorite indie presses—Publishing Genius, Hobart, Caketrain, Wave, Octopus, H_NG_M_N—I feel like I can never sum up their style in simplistic terms. If I do this right, you’ll never be able to articulate the Big Lucks vision in a way that does it justice—instead, you’ll just feel it, and you’ll want everyone you know to feel it, too.
But I will say this: I’m not interested in any theoretical, inaccessible hublub. I’m 100% more concerned about honest-to-goodness sentiment. Those are the sort of books I’m looking forward to publishing—the sort of books that make you say abstract nonsense like “old-fashioned, full-hearted and fluffy goodness;” the sort of books that make you feel like you’ve got an IV of high fructose corn syrup in your arm and it’s ruining your cardiovascular system. Maybe those books will take nontraditional forms, but at the end of the day, I want to publish books that make you feel excited and light-headed and terrified about the awesome potential of human possibility. I know that sounds a little nebulous, but I think the books will speak for themselves—especially the ones that are already lined up.

I was gonna say, you’ve got a pretty damn impressive lineup for 2014 releases: Mathias Svalina, Carrie Murphy, Sasha Fletcher, Mike Young, and Mike Krutel–whew. With such solid writers, I have to ask: if they were pitted against each other in a cage match, who would win?

Oh god, what a terrible question. Mathias would be the odds-on favorite, considering he has a good three inches on everyone. I’ve seen Krutel read and he is a flamethrower—I think he’s the dark horse. Mike Young has amazing lateral mobility, so he’d most likely be a Floyd Mayweather-type. And Carrie Murphy would be dressed impeccably.
I think the key to this whole thing is Sasha. He’ll probably try to out-love and out-shout everyone, which might turn the whole thing into a big cuddle party. If that’s what happens, we’ll all be winners.

You’re right about the question and I can’t even be mad.

In all seriousness, you’ve got a fantastic group of writers to start out BLB with a bang.  In addition, you’re holding an open reading period from October 1 through November 30, so, wahoo! More people can join the party. Say there’s some folks out there with a manuscript who are on the fence about whether to submit to the open reading period–what do you want to say to them?

Well, first I would tell them that people shouldn’t spend too much time on the fence. The fence is uncomfortable. Not much gets done on the fence. The good stuff gets done in the mud. Send me your good stuff and we’ll get in the mud.

The second thing I would say is that if you’re working with me, then you’re going to be working with someone who’s committed to you. I’m not going to take on too many projects, and I’m not going to go disappearing for long periods of time. I’m going to send out ARCs and I’m going to manage my budget and I’m going to pay you. I’m going to make sure orders go out on time and that book never goes out of print. I’m going to find you new audiences and get you in some really cool bookstores. I’m going to work long and hard to make sure you’re happy because chances are I’m going to be really, really, really, really happy and excited to do your book.
The last thing I’d probably say is let’s go steal some Four Loko and you know, dance.

Why have I never danced drunk in some mud? Suddenly, my life’s purpose seems clear.

Hey Layne—what’s the weirdest thing that happened to you this week?

The other day I was making this salsa that Amy McDaniel brought to a shindig I was at with Tyler in Atlanta while having this magical visit with Nick Sturm and Laura Relyea, both of which blew my whole goddamn mind (the visit and salsa). And so I’m opening a can of corn to add to the salsa-in-progress and it spews a bunch of corn everywhere. I’m on my hands and knees picking the kernels off the kitchen floor and out of nowhere just shove a handful of corn in my mouth. After a second I said, “What the fuck am I doing.” Then I ate another handful. I am a graphically sexual person.

Oh, man. I can’t wait for your next dinner party.