Tag Archives: Ben Kopel

An Unruly Collage of Strange and Intense Emotions, or Best Ofs For 2012

27 Dec

If I remember right, I saw Scott McClanahan give this performance after Abby Koski got me wasted on rum and Cokes then introduced me to Matt Siegel, and I had no idea what to do.  Or where anyone was.

I didn’t think, “Hey, where are all the people I know” until after.

You can tell I’m happiest not when I smile but slapped into dumb stunned awe like I was watching Scott bark his generations, a latter-day prophet too made of thunder and dirt-real truth for any church, so boiling over with harsh and angelic vision, soothing my frayed thoughts while setting the room ablaze.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a cheerleader; I’m a lower-tier saint.

This was probably my best moment in the Beauty Bar at AWP 2012, followed closely by drunk hugs from Brian Oliu and laughs with a few others but roundly defeating some other interactions, Hellos I didn’t want to say, Nice to Meet Yous that felt everything but.  Again, some unraveling.  Basic kindness can appear to us as an unblemished lamb, so we take up our knives.

*   *   *

There is a place I go to read and write when I need to recalibrate and push off the stupid shimmery idea of being a writer or an indie lit writer so I can just do the thing without all the shit.  Two people know where that is.  Both of their names start with A.

I took Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby there during the ugliest time of year, when winter is worn out and spring is all, “Whatever, be there in a sec,” when I’m sick of wearing scarves.

I could barely hold a fork, knocked slack-jawed by Baby’s rapacious beauty.  I found myself mouthing the last story, “Zachary, Zahir, Zedekiah,” a real electric rush that swells like Explosions in the Sky, incanting

And then every morning, some new and constant sun, born upon the horizon.

and almost crying in my booth.  I paid, left, and stared at the iron atmosphere too much for safety as I drove.

*   *   *

The cover of Nick Sturm’s chapbook, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING!” with its birthday party horses is the perfect graphic representation of a genuine smile, which seems like the kind of person Nick is (Nick Sturm: A Genuine Smile) and the requisite spirit embodied in that joyous little book.

I remember for a while keeping it in the passenger’s side interior door pocket to show to anyone I gave a ride.  It seems like there are about three people at any given time who are riding in my car regularly, so my evangelism wasn’t far-flung but lacked no enthusiasm.  I generally showed my passengers the poem that ends

                                    …My spirit animal is a bear

with a confetti cannon strapped to its back

The point is to surprise you & then maul you

into pieces of joy

and thank goodness, no one ever said they didn’t understand why.

*   *   *

For some reason I read Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless a lot while giving plasma this spring, squeezing myself through a needle with one hand and holding the book with another.  Listening to Jimmy Eat World, Lovedrug, The Smashing Pumpkins, that helped too, to distract from the displaced queasiness that got better little by little but never went entirely away.

It makes sense that his poems helped the same way; the direct mention of Sunny Day Real Estate aside, the upfront guitar fuzz and gorgeous thrash of them calmed and exhilarated.  Every appointment I had a half hour to imagine where else I could be besides Muncie in February, March, April, still slushed and gray.  It felt holy, an internal push toward whatever better places there were to be.

*   *   *

Brian Oliu’s Level End is the first book I’ve ever delayed reading to intentionally take time to absorb its packaging.  I couldn’t stop just looking at the thing, turning it over and getting happier with every detail from a childhood and adolescence spent on four generations of Nintendo consoles, starting with the NES, a game for which the book’s design was modeled after.

When I finally did get to reading the thing the effect was much the same, a combined joy and relief that someone understood so well the real emotional tug 8-bit worlds have on us whose first big adventures included finding the Master Sword and discovering gold-littered shortcuts in the clouds above danger.  And rendered it so truly in its surreal beauty and sincerity; all nerd jokes aside, sitting in front of a pixel-laden TV screen with my big brother, defeating all number of monsters and villains, is one of the most loaded and precious memories I have.

*   *   *

I remember texting


to Chris Newgent as soon as I read it, and immediately claimed it in a tiny yet steady fashion for my own near future:  a beach, a flock of friends, an ocean, a slew of present moments far from Indiana.  I read the rest of Thomas Patrick Levy’s I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone with a similar hyper-focused sprint, or as a binge, on the couch in my beige and tan apartment and sunk into myself with relief, consuming its color and breathlessness.

*   *   *

There’s a modest handful of books that wind themselves around the edge of my thoughts almost constantly. I think this is in part a residual effect of being an expatriate of Christianity that took the idea of being in constant prayer deeply to heart:  once the verses about no hope for men outside of Yahweh and his son were discarded from whatever walled garden in me they occupied, there was left a decade’s worth of empty earth.

Ben Kopel’s VICTORY is one of those few books that immediately took root in me.  Fragments of it run through my head throughout the day, quiet meditations on how to stay vital and honest and brave.  This book was the first thing I wrote about for Vouched and it remains one of my favorite, most dearly loved books of poetry or anything else.  When I read it I feel like the first time I realized that wet pavement under streetlight is beautiful.  I feel fifteen, riding with my brother in his Explorer through cornfields at night, summer, hands out the windows, brushing fingertips with fireflies.

I could not tell you what my favorite poem is from the book, but there is one part from the poem “Because We Must” that heartbeats through my thoughts almost daily:

A prayer, now

& at the hour of our death—

Fill me with yr light inside this car.

Fill me with yr light.

*   *   *

Yesterday, Christmas, after my family ate a lot of things then opened a lot of things and then said even more things, I continued reading Sal Pane’s novel Last Call in the City of Bridges.  I get embarrassed with how often the book describes my own tendencies and identity:  self-doubt alongside a sense of superiority, a feeling of specialness bred in part by constant consumption of heroic narratives growing up, strong attachment to video games and college memories, yet another member of a generation that was told by parents and teachers to get good grades or else we’d have to work at McDonald’s then was chastised by parents and teachers for thinking we were too good to work at McDonald’s.  The accuracy is painful.

I’m only halfway through so I can give you no conclusions, other than to state that I’m curious to see what direction a story about the directionless will take, and that reading will take me into 2013, heading in one of many possible directions.

Laura Straub’s END O’ THE YEAR list

21 Dec

My futon’s favorite people:
Matt Bell & Brian Oliu, Amber Sparks, and Tyler Gobble.

Cool Presses that started working with Vouched the past six months: Lazy Fascist, Sarabande Books, Queen’s Ferry Press, Curbside Splendor, Spooky Girlfriend, and Black Ocean.

COVER ART: May We Shed These Human Bodies and The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan, Vol. 1

People I’m still confused to have not met IRL yet: Mel Bosworth and Christy Crutchfield

My Husband’s Budding Bromances: Ben Kopel, Tyler Gobble, and Kory Calico

Top 5 Stage Presences in no specific order: xTx, Devan Goldstein (when reading and also when he sings the shit out of some Bon Jovi), Amy McDaniel, Zach Schomburg, Peter Davis.

Favorite Dance Party: Lit Party @ AWP- duh! 

Thing that makes me feel like !!! every time I read it: Ravi Mangla’s Visiting Writers from Uncanny Valley Press

Favorite special thing: Electric lit’s recommendations in my inbox. SO RAD. Also Matthew Salesses’ Writer in Residence series at Necessary Fiction.

These book tours came and BLEW ME AWAY: Bloof books tour, The Southern Comfort Reading Tour, & the Over the Top tour.

Awful Interviews that still make me laugh big and large:  Joshua Ware, Michael Nye, Matt Bell, & Nicholas Tecosky (who still owes me an arm wrestle…)

SSR #7 of 15: Victory

9 Jul

Once again, Layne beat me to the punch on this one at Vouched, but holy-moly is it worth a second mention! Also, check out Megan Volpert’s article The Importance of Being Ben Kopel up at HTML Giant. It’s rad!

by Ben Kopel
H_NGM_N Press
112pgs; $14.95

We are all in need of an anthem or ten- things to yell and scream and cut; these are red-blooded oaths between punches.

Awful Interview: Ben Kopel

27 Jun

Ben Kopel probably sounds familiar. That’s probably because of Layne’s awesome review of his book, Victory, recently released by H_NGM_N. If that’s not why, it’s probably because his rendition of Thunder Road, (performed here in Atlanta shortly after his reading alongside Kory Calico and Megan Volpert for the Solar Anus reading series) was truly inspired and really got people talking. Luckily for Atlantans, he’s coming back! Ben will be reading for the What’s New in Poetry series at Emory with Hazel McClure, Laura Theobald, and Kim Vodicka tomorrow at 8pm. What better excuse for an Awful Interview than a reading?

Ben, you recently had a collection of poems released by H_NGM_N entitled Victory.  Now that you are an expert on all things victorious, you can answer the question that’s been itching at my insides for decades: Who would win in an arm-wrestling match: Bruce Springsteen or Bono? Why?

Ok, having taken this mental image under serious consideration, here’s my answer: They sit. They stare. They lock hands. They struggle. He smiles. He smiles back. They struggle more. They come in close. They touch forehead to forehead. They stop struggling. They kiss. Nothing crazy. Think ‘Bob and Charlotte at the end of Lost In Translation.’ Platonic but passionate. Exploring but knowing. A contradiction of a kiss.

In that scenario, the winner is all of us.

Ben, that is really beautiful. I’m kind of flustered, actually. You live in New Orleans, yes? Is it true that you can pay for things with Mardi Gras beads and Bacchus coins there? What’s the current exchange rate Bacchus to USD? How did you come to find yourself in the Big Easy?

Yes, I’ve been living in the magnolia for about a year now and I couldn’t love it more. RE: exchange rate and whatnots: YES, beads and trinkets are still a very viable bartering system in the city by the river. Currently, a fistfull of Bacchus doubloons will get you a there and back streetcar ride to nowhere in particular. Now the beads, that’s a totally different story. Those will actually COST you about 7 lbs. of self-respect.

As for how I found myself here, well, that’s nothing insanely exciting. I grew up in Baton Rouge, about and hour and a half away, and was there for twenty-three years. I left to spend 5 years (cue ‘Ziggy Stardust’) in the poem mines of Iowa and Massachusetts, respectively. At some point in the process, I just kind of capital ‘K’ Knew that that’s where I needed and wanted to be. It’s like living on the Island of Misfit Toys, but minus all the self-loathing and plus all the dark-hearted sickboy joy one can handle. It’s a pretty honest place to be, if you ask me.

You made yourself a home on the bayou! I happen to have a number of Bacchuss XX coins (Alan Thicke circa 1988) what do you think that would get me?

If I had my way, ma’am, seventy-seven ’88 doubloons would get you a private evening with Alan Thicke’s son, the human sexbomb himself,  Robin Thicke. See here.

OMG Ben! For realz? Also, do you remember this jam from the early days of Robin Thicke? EPIC. Speaking of epic, what kind of awesomeness are you going to unleash when you return to Atlanta this Thursday?

I am totally prepared to inflict my feelings on yr fair city. I’m bringing the Lucille Ball of contemporary female poetics, Kim Vodicka. She’s a farce of nature. We’ve adopted a megaphone named Rudolph. I’ve been listening to ‘Bankrobber’ by The Clash on repeat, so yr gonna have to see where that’s gotten me. I went to Graceland today, so the word of God lays heavy on this heart of mine. I miss someone, too. That only makes me stronger. Atlanta, I’ll be up in yr grill ASAP. To quote Sam and Dave, hold on. I’m comin’.