Here, he speaks to The Collagist’s Lauren Walbridge about the origins of Nanopedia, as well as his upcoming collection, The First Risk.
1. Can you talk about the inspiration for this selection from Nanopedia: The Smallest American Reference? What was on your mind while you were writing these poems?
Nanopedia has grown out of a writing prompt I gave myself a few years ago. For a long time, those pieces were all individual prose poems, but I began to see that they had similar concerns, themes, and images. “The moon watches you through her veil of thin clouds” and “He brings the night into the house like a long thread of smoke” are from a clustering of other pieces that draw from horror films, while the moon piece and “When I heard sixty-three birds…” to me are both sad love poems. It’s as much about sex and violence as it is about transformation, love and shopping, I guess—all of which, to me, are decidedly American pursuits, especially together.
2. How do these poems fit into the larger work as a whole?
This has been an interesting work for me because I write so often in sequence, but I understand Nanopedia to be a book that could be read, for example, unbound. A series of leaflets. The order doesn’t matter. Instead of focusing on the sequence of them, I’m really using that word “cluster” to describe this kind of work. And like I describe above, there are threads—there’s another piece that uses the language of economics to discuss the practice of cruising for anonymous sex, while in another an elderly man commits an act of euthanasia for his wife, and in a third, John Dillinger is reborn as the branches of a lime tree.
3. Your collection, The First Risk, will be published by Lethe Press in September. How does it feel to have your first full-length book coming out soon?
It’s exciting and nerve-wracking and also very final in a way I didn’t expect it to be. I’ve published chapbooks, but this is different because I think there’s a sense with chapbooks that they “expire,” or at least many of them go out of print quickly enough. The First Risk is a book I’m still excited about; I just hope other people don’t think it’s too dark or too strange, although it really is both of those things.
4. You received your poetry MFA from Arizona State University, and you’re currently pursuing an MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Could you talk a little bit about how you see these two degrees working together?
Well, they work together perfectly in my current job. I’m the director of The Writer’s Center, a nonprofit arts & humanities organization in the DC metropolitan area. We provide writing workshops, give free public events, sell books and literary magazines, and generally support writers at all stages of their careers. As the director, I manage the day-to-day operations, overseeing everything from programs to budgeting to strategic plan implementation. Some organizations can have an artistic director and an executive director, but with my background, I can fill both roles confidently. I understand what the needs of the artists in our community are, and I understand the needs of the organization as a business as well. It’s a good fit and it balances a lot of my interests nicely.
5. What other writing projects are you currently working on?
I’ve been working off-and-on on a novel called Musical Theatre in Hell, about a college theatrical production that goes horribly (and laughably) awry, and I have a stalled sequence of poems in progress. The poems explore faith from the perspectives of Dorothy Eady (one of the leading examples of reincarnation in the last century), Joseph Smith (who founded the Mormon church), and Dorothy Gale (from The Wizard of Oz).
6. What great books have you read recently? Also, are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?
For the past few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of short stories—collections by Mary Gaitskill, Antonya Nelson, and Amy Hempel. I like their brevity, and all three collections are very distinct from each other in style. And for a while before that, I was making steady progress through the Gossip Girl series (which is a lot better than you’d think). I have an enormous stack of new books I’ve been trying to get to—new poetry from Matthew Frank, Brent Goodman, Brian Teare—and honestly, my to-read shelf is getting embarrassingly overfull! I wish everyone would take a one-year hiatus from publishing books so I could catch up on all my reading in the meantime.