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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.

Awful Interview: Joe Hall

4 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You cannot
All enter me, my little body tells me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Or like later:

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

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

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

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


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

Yet, yet.

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

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

“What Makes a Masculine Poem”

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

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

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

“What’s even the Point?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Poetry Month Interview With Hosho McCreesh

29 Apr
Hosho McCreesh

Stamp credit: Bill Roberts
Photo credit: Freddie DeLaCruz

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.

Check out all of Hosho’s rad stuff and get stoked for his new book in July!

National Poetry Month Interview with Alexis Pope

11 Apr

Alexis PopeOpen up one of the world’s favorite online lit mags (ILK, iO, NAP, Sixth Finch, PANK, etc. etc. etc.) and there’s a good good chance you’ll see Alexis Pope in the TOC. Each poem seems to get better, creating its own (both) magical and shockingly real world as it stomps along. Also, she’s co-host of the Big Big Mess Reading series in Akron, Ohio, easily one of the coolest series I’ve ever been to/heard about. Most importantly, in all things poetry, Alexis Pope is kind, personable, and with-it. See below for proof, an interview where she reveals much about her writing life and her forthcoming chapbook Girl Erases Girl (Dancing Girl Press, 2013).

1. Hi, Alexis. Here’s a start to say, GOOD JOB. You’ve been popping up on the web and web-like places what seems like daily. I remember one day a couple weeks ago three mags released issues with ALEXIS POPE under Poetry. WOW, I thought when I saw that. WOW, I thought when I read these poems. Alexis Pope at iO. Alexis Pope at ILK. Alexis Pope at red lightbulbs.

Your poems toss me into the ruckus, the world the poem inhabits (or creates), no apologies and no chit-chat. I love that. I love to flail inside poems, and your poems not only allow that, but they demand it. Like your poems at iO. We don’t get much detail about “this terrible job.” We don’t get anything behind why the speaker’s body “is feeling very fragile.” We are captives of statements like “Far away from the center of town/there is a lamb who knows the difference,” left to our own puzzling and reactions.

I think this is your magic. I’m reminded of a mime I saw as a teenager, a baffling bright spot on an overcrowded boardwalk; the pieces might be minimal, a little unfamiliar, but when you add up the makeup and the outfit, the gestures and the gawking eyes, you suddenly realize how right this person is, how you too have been trapped in a box this whole time.

I guess my curiosity is that, is this: How do you see descriptions and details, context and revelation, driving your poems and their ultimate effectiveness? Are you trying to pull people inside the box with you, or make them stand out there and gawk?

Wow right back. Thank you for asking me to think about these poems some more. It’s such a personal process, how we write and what we want to say. Is it something we know before or after or at all? I think flail is a great word for what I’m doing. So is that wonderful & strange mime.

The iO poems are both driving towards the same idea. For me, they’re about feeling lost and questioning everything ordinary. Everything the speaker/reader is used to, the everyday. I definitely want the reader to be totally engulfed in the world of the poem, each poem. I want the speaker to be the reader and the reader to be the speaker. I want the poem to be everyone’s poem. Each poem is its own tiny atmosphere. When I write I’m so dizzy, hazy, and after I’m finished it’s all clouds for a while. So if you feel trapped in that box, perfect. Welcome.

The descriptions and images all lead up to the ultimate meaning. I want them to create the weather of the poem. “Careful I Am Like Honey” is so paced and delicate feeling for me. We are the lambs in it, the sadness and exhaustion of disappearing into something you never expected. I think the “terrible job” is everything we do and feel and try. It’s being alive and interacting with people and always fucking up somehow. You’ve called my poems “meditative” before. That was so interesting and enlightening for me to hear. Since then, I’ve pretty much embraced that concept. So that’s what they are: meditations on whatever. Either way, get in (t)here with me. Maybe I’ve answered you, probably not.

2. The pieces that “all lead up to the ultimate meaning” is a cool way to think of your poems. So often, my brain seems trained (or maybe stupidly bent) toward linking stuff as I go, a desire to “stay with” the speaker. But sometimes, it’s exhilarating and goshdarn refreshing to just be with the speaker, lost (a bit) in the chatter. Thank you for that reminder.

What writers (and other artists or whatever) have had the biggest influence on your writing style in these poems?

Last Fall I read Matthew Zapruder’s Come on All You Ghosts and that was a freaking experience. He was taking the ordinary and holding it up so close to my face. Like one of those Magic Eye 3D prints, it comes to life and you find these ideas you never expected. Where those poems begin and where they end, it’s so honest. Always compelling, always TRUE. How we deal with being alive, being children, being parents. I was also reading a lot of Frank O’Hara, Meditations In An Emergency; Lunch Poems; Poems from the Tibor De Nagy Editions, 1952-1966, a collection of three of his chapbooks (“after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is / to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness / since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love / and love is love nothing can ever go wrong”).  Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents was big for me as well. I think these poets are all doing something I hope to accomplish: dissecting the mundane, the real life moments, and bringing the reader in so they can reexamine their own ideas about living.

3. You’re coming from a rather stellar, though underappreciated, corner of the writing world, in Akron, Ohio. The NEOMFA has helped ignite some creative writing fires on several campuses up in that area. The reading series you run with Mike Krutel, The Big Big Mess, attracts all kinds of stellar small press people. And now, you’ve decided to jump into another writing ring at whatever MFA is so lucky to have you in the fall. So, obviously right, community is a big deal to your writing life. I was hoping you could chatter a bit about that, about how community affects and inspires your writing. I get the sense we’re similar in this way, how community is crucial to our continuing growth as writers.

Yes! We are so similar in this way. Community is the most important, the most necessary. It’s easy, as writers, to feel alone in what we do. The more we can surround ourselves with people doing the same crazy thing, the more we can start to express ourselves openly and in exciting ways. And maybe not even that, just the effortless action of being around each other and involved with each other stimulates that creative blood boil. It makes me want to do so much more, and write so much more, and read, read, read.

Akron is this small little place, so when Nick Sturm placed The Big Big Mess in this dark (and sometimes steamy) dive bar basement something magical happened. Akron became a home to this creative life. When he passed the series down to Mike and me, I think I said he dropped off this little baby on our doorstep(s). It’s true, I feel like a parent to this series. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of Akron for showing up for it. I’m so thankful to every writer that reads for us and keeps this thing breathing.

Without sharing our words, there’s no growth. How can we write without communication, community? I know it’s possible, but who wants that? Not me. I love everyone I’ve met through poems. I feel like reading poems is the one true way to really know someone. At least, for me. It’s so wonderful to write something and send it off to the inbox of a friend. I want that back. I love that.

4. “How can we write without communication, community?” I love that. That’s one of the things I love about the online/small press writing scene, with all its blogs and online mags and email exchanges and social media chatter and conferences and reading series and book tours: it’s knocking down that idea of writers being solitary, awkward figures. Certainly, there’s a time to be alone and contemplate and imagine and write. Certainly, there’s some not-as-social folks (and that’s cool!) out there. But most importantly, I think writing is getting thrown into a more public sphere, not only as an end-product, but also as a process, as a lifestyle, as a community (HUGE community). I think of Matt Bell and Kyle Minor and Cathy Day and others who share via social media a lot of their daily triumphs and struggles as writers and teachers of writing. I think of Steve Roggenbuck and Bloof Books and others who get on the road and visit other areas of the literary country.

Still, there’s still this thing called time, and it’s certainly easy to get wrapped up in tumblrs and readings and online journals and emails and travels. Then the day, the week, the month, the year is over and the poems are still lodged in the skull. How do you both indulge/learn from this community and also know/find the time to let the poems flow? When you say you write and read everyday, do you have a schedule?

Honestly, when I’m talking about community I’m speaking about the people in my town (or through events in different cities). The writers I’ve met in real life. Sitting around a table with friends and writing off a prompt we’ve created, reading our work aloud, simply being in the presence of other writers even if we’re not talking about it. That’s what I find inspiring. Social media is cool because of the ability to “meet” new people and discover work you may not have found otherwise. The truth is, I am actually a pretty solitary person, but I can get extremely down on myself and my work, so being around other writers and artists of all kinds, or people who enjoy listening/reading, really helps kick up my energy. It makes me feel like other people get my crazy, because they have this bug as well.

As far as having a true writing schedule? Not really. I work an 8-5 job and the hours before and after work are spent with my daughter. Being a mother has totally changed the way I work. In fact, my writing has become the thing that defines me outside of the home. So, if I have an extra hour in the day I write. I look back on all the free time I had before and feel like what was I doing? It’s also true that I’ve never been more productive because of this. Mary Biddinger has talked about this before as well (http://wewhoareabouttodie.com/2011/09/22/we-who-are-about-to-breed-mary-biddinger/). The idea that now writing becomes this secret thing we do. It’s the part of the day when I can be selfish with my time. And when I’m at work, I read. If I’m having an unproductive writing week, I’ll read a novel or a collection of stories/poems. My life is already scheduled, so poetry is the place I go when the house is quiet and I can sit with my thoughts.

5. If you had to pick one published poem to show someone, THIS IS WHAT I DO, which one would it be and why?

Oh, man. Intense question. One poem? I feel like what I do is constantly evolving. Whether I’m working on a series or just writing as I go, it all depends on the season. Season meaning a particular feeling or vein I’m tapping while I’m writing. Sometimes a group of poems feels very similar to me and then that vein collapses and I’m on to the next. I would probably show someone poems by a different writer. Like, “This is what I do. Not as well, but I’m trying.”

6. You have a chapbook, Girl Erases Girl, slated for release sometime this year from Dancing Girl Press. What can you tell us about this chapbook? What can we expect?

Girl Erases Girl should come out in June. I’m so excited about it because Dancing Girl Press (Kristy Bowen) produces such gorgeous work. The poems are a strange little group I wrote about two years ago. Very manic. The speaker in these poems is so unfamiliar to me now, but that’s what makes it interesting. We’re always changing in our writing. And I think the speaker wants change. The frustration is overflowing, but there’s also this deep excitement for life I find inside the poems.

7. I really do enjoy these poems from Girl Erases Girl. They have a charming youthfulness to them, frustrated yet hopeful, bursting to tell their side. The stand-out difference (and perhaps growth) from those poems to the stuff you’ve been publishing lately is the attitude behind them, the intent. These poems yearn to convey an emotion, to tell how they feel; they employ narrative and metaphor more in a way to prove some feeling. As we discussed earlier, the new poems aim to be the moment or the feeling; they’re less about the speaker, the person behind the poem, and more about the poem and the mood themselves being the speaker. With the new poems, it’s like Girl has moved away, experienced some new place(s) and thing(s), and now is writing home, the letters smelling like the new place, somehow carrying back the new sounds.  That’s how I see it at least.

I know it’s a bit of a weirdo thing to ask, but is that how you see it? What do you feel is the biggest change you’ve made in intention and execution?

The interesting thing about Girl is it was a different project even at the time I was working on the poems. Everything before had a certain style or aim that was vastly different (I was mainly writing flash fiction & prose poetry). Girl was this urgent project that enabled me to move from prose into the poetry that came after. Post-Girl poems were comforting to me because I wasn’t trying to force any feeling onto the reader. I want(ed) to feel everything, too. The Girl speaker had something to prove, she wanted to convey a change she desired. Those poems were so necessary for me to write. After I finished that series I was able to relax and really write in a way that felt good and natural to me. Also, spending more time editing and revising has changed my style drastically. I spend more time with my poems now.

As with everyone, what I’m writing today is already different than what’s popping up in journals right now. It took me a while to be okay with the change and allowing people to see it. But everything changes, especially poetry. For me, poetry is a deeply personal endeavor. So, of course the energy of the poems will vary with the day, my age, the weather, the music I’m listening to. I no longer see the need to coerce the reader into a feeling.

The speaker is constantly driving all my poems though. The voice is always vital. More than anything, I write with a different intention and attitude, which I hope translates. It all goes back to wanting to bring people into the poems rather than just talk at them. Maybe right now I feel as though poetry is more song than simply words existing on the page. I want my poems to punch the reader but, you know, dance with them a little while doing so.

8. Do you have any National Poetry Month plans (i.e. a poem a day project, reading hopes, etc.)? Every “celebrated” NPM before?

I actually celebrated last April with a poem-a-day. I also did this with three friends in November, which ended up starting my “No Good” series. So, I will definitely try it again.

I think my reading project will involve writing a review (or two?). It’s something I haven’t done yet, but I think it’s really important. If I expect people to read my work it’s only right to do the same and respond. This just goes back to the whole idea of community.

Honestly, my everyday usually involves poetry. I read at least one poem every day. So National Poetry Month is just an excuse to write and read even more.

Check out Alexis’s blog for more links to her writing goodness and be sure to grab a copy of Girl Erases Girl when it drops into this weird planet.