Saturday
May192012

"Limitlessly Mined for the Strange That Was There All Along": An Interview with Gabe Durham

Gabe Durham is the author of Fun Camp, a novel forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press. He lives in Northampton, MA, where he edits Dark Sky Magazine

His story "The Different Thing" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Gabe Durham talks to interviewer Joseph Scapellato about asking questions with fiction, a strange church experience, and what happens when you aren't asked to explain why you picked one poster over others.

1. Where did “The Different Thing” begin for you, and how did it get to here?

I was writing another story—what I’m tempted to call a real story with character, event, etc.—that began, “It was that perennial time of year when clouds shifted restlessly and comedians passed out flyer coupons just off Times Square.” I liked the game of that sentence, the way it pointed to the perpetuity of comedians handing out coupons, and imagined writing a short story in which I might gorge myself on sentences like this.

At the same time, I was in a rut. I’d moved to a city I didn’t much like with a degree that didn’t much help me, and my agent was forwarding me these lovely glowing rejections by career-maker editors on a manuscript, and though I’d prided myself on being a persistent and goal-driven guy always in pursuit of the next thing, I was very unsure what the next thing was. I began to fear my own decision-making. This story seems to me now (over a year later) to have been born of that fear: I wrote a story in which I made no decisions about who anyone was or what they were doing.

2. I’m struck by this piece’s compelling narration—right off the bat, the reader encounters unspecific specificity (or specific unspecificity?): “The young couple was informed: Something today would be different. It was a time of day again and the sky was active, casting rays onto things, making the things look different in this light than in other light.”  The characters’ actions are at times interchangeable: “They resisted making contact until one risked it. The other was glad.”  These are only two examples of this voice’s playful energy.  Can you tell us more about this voice—what your goals were with it, how you found or followed it?

As I wrote and revised, I pushed the story as far as I could into what you’re nicely dubbing this specific unspecificity: About the young couple, I asked: Could this be said about any couple? About the different thing, I asked: Could this be said of any event?

What excited me about asking those questions was that it turned out I was asking myself: What do I think couples are like? And many of the answers were so basic, the kinds of things it’s rarely worth mentioning: Well, okay, when they meet, they like to look at each other. And I’d scan it and make sure I agreed with it. It’s nice to get to say something true like that, even if that true thing is obvious.

But then of course in this story, as in all stories, there had to be the turn. The story had to get away from me somehow. And I tried out a number of things, and the one that stuck was the idea of meeting avoidance head-on: “You could paint their shirts red or their trees oak or fashion their coveted different thing into a sexy Panamanian burglar from Amnesty International and spend the rest of your life paying for it.” And of course, near the end, we do all of that stuff and more—but tentatively, hypothetically—and then run away from it.

3. This piece includes many moments of insightful and comic defamiliarization: “The clothes the young couple wore reflected their beliefs on temperature, mobility, modesty, comfort, and style.”  To what extent do you think that all fiction makes (or should make) the familiar strange? 

I’ve heard other writers talk about the mental game that goes, “How would I explain this to a space alien?” Which isn’t so different than asking, “How would I explain this to a very precocious child I’m babysitting?” To me, the object of the game is the attempt to clear away our received ideas and start from somewhere closer to scratch.

Around the time of the writing of this story, also in the new city, my wife and I attended a church service recommended to her by an acquaintance. They met in a very appealing space and catered to twentysomethings, especially musicians, lots of tattoos and artificially darkened hair, and the band there performed loud midtempo praise medleys very proficiently—kind of that “drone of worship” mentality where the words don’t especially matter. And it wasn’t until their minister got up to speak that we realized we were in the most radically conservative church either of us had ever been to. The minister was a large and kinda sloppy man, but he had a real aggression in him. His rambling message was all about prosthelatizing, peppered with bits about Hell and the domination of men over women, and whenever he felt like he’d made a killer point that hadn’t gotten its due from the crowd, he would say, “I think that deserves an amen, don’t you?” And while he was speaking, before he brought up a trembling ex-gay with a testimony about how Abba Father had cured his affliction of homosexuality, the minister said this of his own sermon: “I’m blowing your mind right now. And the reason I’m blowing your mind is because you’re not used to people telling you the truth.”

I don’t think the familiar can be made strange, I think the familiar can be limitlessly mined for the strange that was there all along. It’s the recognition that makes it satisfying. And for that quality, I think “Louie” might just be the best show on TV right now.

4. Some literary magazine editors say that their position as editor affects their own writing/writing process; others say, “Not really.”  How has being the editor of Dark Sky Magazine affected (or not affected) your relationship with your writing?

You can’t edit a magazine without quickly discovering that all editors for any magazine are just people like you. And with that knowledge ever in place, you can never again fault one of them for rejecting your writing. Taste is mysterious.

I am not going to fact-check this—They did a study: They put the subjects in front of a box of posters. To half of the subjects, they said, “Take whatever poster you want.” And the most popular poster was an image, no text, with this cool ineffable quality. And to the other half of the subjects, they said, “Take whatever poster you want, but first tell us why you picked it.” And the most popular poster was some stupid motivational poster with a caption about following your dreams or something. They picked the motivational poster because they could think of something to say about it, an easy justification for their decision.

Because I never have to explain my decisions, I think editing pushes me further toward the “know it when I see it” and away from “here’s why I like it,” and that’s got to help my writing.

5. What writing projects are you working on right now?

Before too long, J.A. Tyler and I will embark on the edits for my first book, FUN CAMP, due from Mud Luscious Press about a year from now. And I’ve got a story collection in the drawer.

At the moment, though, I’m working exclusively on a nonfiction account of September 22, 2011, and have slowly been becoming the expert on that date. And there are no other experts on that particular date, so I’m breaking ground on an entirely new field of study. It involves looking up a lot of stuff on the internet.

How I know it’s a good project for me is that before I was writing it, I would try to work on my writing and then accidentally find myself on the internet. Now whenever I try to go for a relaxing stroll on the internet, I accidentally find myself doing research for the book.

6.  What knockout writing have you been reading recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

Okay, ready?

Recently I blew through a number of the short books that had been happily accumulating: Victory by Ben Kopel (wildly openhearted teen punk poems edited with a brain—most ecstatic voice since Bailey’s Drunk Sonnets), For Out the Heart Proceed by Jensen Beach (calm and sly short stories of fathers discovering ugliness and glory inside themselves—even when they’re not fathers, they’re fathers), Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (my favorite is easily “Justine,” in which three daughters put their philandering father on trial and enact swift justice, taking first a thumb and then more), Baby Leg by Brian Evenson (one of those cool recursive loop books—you can tell early on the end is headed straight for the beginning), Life Is with Other People by Atticus Lish (book of evil sketches in which the artist makes great use of the opportunity for surprise in the distance between drawing and caption, and even greater use of the dramatic effect of the hair on a hairy man), and A Cloth House by Joe Riipi (a short and emotionally raw story of loss).

I just taught my reading class Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a short novel I really admire about a guy using journalistic tricks to try and figure out how it was possible that his friend got murdered when nearly everyone in town knew it was going to happen. The book juggles an enormous cast of characters, dips from past to present whenever it wants, and maintains a complicated register that is both darkly funny and not at all. There’s no fluff—I like it much more than Hundred Years of Solitude.

Also, Mel Bosworth has loaned me the autobiography of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson. She had it tough. Michael K. Williams recruited her for The Wire just by watching her in the club one night, convinced her to go audition. She continued selling all throughout the shooting of Season 3 before giving it up.

On deck: Wise Blood and some Alice Munro stories. And I just found out today that the new Leni Zumas novel is out, which I got to publish a bit of last year when I was editing Keyhole Magazine last year. Her fiction is consistently terrific—I’m eager to read it.

 

Thursday
May172012

"So as Not to Give Away His Predicament": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Robert James Russell

Robert James Russell is author of Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing, 2012). His fiction and poetry has appeared in  Joyland, Thunderclap! Magazine, Red River Review, LITSNACK, Greatest Lakes Review, and The Legendary, among others. He is the co-founding editor of Midwestern Gothic. Find him online at www.robertjamesrussell.com.

An excerpt from Sea of Trees appears in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, Robert James Russell answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Sea of Trees.  Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

Inside Shinji felt different—more powerful. He picked up the nearest racing form and scoured it for information, watching others like him and feeling, for the first time, superior. With the brick of money in his coat pocket he selected what he thought were sure bets. As he approached the teller—an automated machine could not be trusted with this sum—he had planned on making a few small bets, at least today, a few trifectas, perhaps even an exacta, but as he stood there, the young girl on the other side waiting for him to place his bet, the words slipped out on their own: “Pick six. Two-point-five million.” The girl processed the money with little regard for this man, and when she handed over the ticket, Shinji took it and held it like an infant—careful not to crumple or crease it on his trek to the stands.

2. What isn’t writing like?

She hiked another thirty minutes into the woods, assured she was now alone, stopping near a small shrine someone had erected to the memory of a loved one, someone else who had died sometime before, and Kimiho wondered if anyone would erect one in her honor—but figured probably not. She walked away from the path directly into the woods then kneeled and emptied the belongings of her purse onto the ground and sorted through them: make-up she never wore for Dai, a phone she used to use to call Orito with, various trinkets that reminded her of how horrible she had been, then: the gun. She picked it up and felt the weight of it and imagined her grandfather in the cramped cockpit, the great whirring of the jet engines surrounding him as he flew to his death in order to protect his country—his family. Kimiho then placed the pistol in her mouth, the barrel cold on her tongue, and thought only of Dai’s smiling face on their wedding day as she pulled the trigger.

3. When you do it, why?

Every time I find it more beautiful than the last.

4. When you don’t, why?

He vomited at his desk and was told to go home. His mind spun, his body had become numb, floating him everywhere, his feet inches off the ground, in a daze, completely oblivious to everything. Every idea he could think of, every scheme and notion that popped into his head in order to get the money back, was greeted ultimately with failure. He had no extended family he could ask for help—neither he nor his wife came from money—and he had no real friends he could confide in, not for something like this, anyway. So he watched the days tick away, unable to do anything, spending the time with his family while he could, watching them and crying when they were not looking, so as not to give away his predicament.

 

Wednesday
May022012

"Swallowed Altogether into the Belly of the Earth": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Kirby Gann

Described in the blogosphere as one of the nation’s most underrated writers, Kirby Gann is the author of the novels The Barbarian Parade (2004) and Our Napoleon in Rags (2005). He is also co-editor (with poet Kristin Herbert) of the anthology A Fine Excess: Contemporary Literature at Play, which was a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Anthologies). His work has appeared most recently in The Lumberyard and The Oxford American, among other journals. He is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship and two Professional Assistance Awards from the Kentucky Arts Council, and an Honorable Mention in The Pushcart Prize Anthology.  Gann is Managing Editor at Sarabande Books, and teaches in the brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University.

An excerpt from Gann's novel Ghosting appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Gann answers interviews "in the form of excerpts"--with further exceprts from Ghosting.

1.  What is writing like?

The light from his hand works like an intangible guiding rope drawing him behind its lead. He has been in this place many times before, yet at each entry feels utterly lost—even, in some way, bereft; his heart in his throat. It has always struck him as the backdrop to undesirable dreams: inexhaustible in its rooms, tangled by puzzling stairways and corridors, often presenting mystical compartments with no function he can divine. In dreams he has staggered from hall to hall with slow-thighed dogs panting unseen behind him; he has fled down stairs and stone slides; he has been swallowed altogether into the belly of the earth. As if this building masked a portal that led deep into ancient caverns, sculpted by slicked flues and hidden rivers.

2.  What isn’t writing like?

When Ponder finds the desired verse he raises his free hand and signals the audience with splayed fingers again. “Thou has caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. ‘How’s that strike you,’ God asked. I told Him He was the Man. He reminded me: God’s Will never leads you where God’s Grace will not protect you. And He reminded me again, ‘Check Deuteronomy eight-eighteen.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

3. When you do it, why?

The shotgun sits across the Adirondack’s armrests like the safety bar on a thrill ride, the barrel anchoring his elbow to steady his hands (clothed in fingerless gloves) as he reads. Spillane and MacDonald novels, mostly, but he’ll take whatever mysteries they got at the secondhand shop in Foster, even the occasional Western. He especially likes accounts of the gangster heyday before the war, the stories of Capone, the Barker-Karpis gang, Pretty Boy Floyd (who was nowhere near pretty, Erly has seen pictures). Stoned or sober he reads deep into the night while Greuel and guests curse and joke over cards and business inside. He reads and then drifts into daydream—wonders if daydream is still the word for it when it occurs after dark—and considers how he might invent a better story than many of the authors he has read. If he were to ever recount on paper the things he has seen! In fact he has composed eventful beginnings, harrowing scenes of suspense, chases that lay waste to entire towns; designed foul murders and extortion schemes and methods of blackmail that would land him lauded in Hollywood if he could set them down, lay them out (what would Greuel and his illiterate cronies have to say to Professor Mule—that odious nickname—then?). But then with sunrise comes sleep. When he awakens his mind is a clear slate, empty of the scenarios conceived the night before. On the rare occasion that he can recall a snatch of story or a line of dialogue it never seems as thrilling as it had in the throes of creation. Characters never seem to get their due. Mule conceives a failure to all the murder mysteries he kills time with in that they center on one person only, an investigator who uncovers clues by clever wit and judicious brawn, and in real life no story works like that. In real life a story occurs among legions; to understand the story you have to know all the people it touches, too. The disappointment he feels after finishing a novel is that there’s nothing more than a problem solved, and everyone in it except for the main guy exists to tweak the problem one way or another, they’re either bad or good or torn between the two and have no life outside their brief appearance on the page. These authors narrow the scope too far; even a murderer with the coldest blood has his hopes and dreams. 

4.  When you don’t, why? 

The moment was as he had hoped it would be, his tongue searching hers, this instant so longed for in secret and with the guilt of a brother’s betrayal, but these concerns fell aside easily as his hands, his arms, came alive. It did not take long before he was naked above her. She cradled his face in her hands, casting warm smiles into his own. They wrestled one another, twined themselves in the blankets; he pressed into her and tried to slide her jeans down but she was adept at preventing him, he couldn’t figure how she managed it, a twisting of her body or a flex to her legs so that, somehow, the jeans would not move. He tried everything he could, shifting his mouth from hers to her jaw and to her neck and then down, taking in the palm-sized wonder of her breasts and the smooth belly, managing to get his tongue to graze the top of her pubic line and inhaling the deep true smell of her there—but her hand grasped his jaw gently and tugged him up again. Over the next hour the bed turned on dyskinetic awkwardnesses: Shady over-ardent, almost penitent, Cole relaxing, forcing himself to a degree of calm in disappointment. The jeans stayed on. Soon the kisses shortened, died away, and he rolled onto his back, drawing the sheet over his waist, painfully aware of his full nakedness next to her half-clothed.

“I’m sorry, Cole,” she whispered. “I’m not ready.”

 

Friday
Apr272012

"The Night Sky Crashes White": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Justin Sirois

Justin Sirois is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. His books include Secondary SoundMLKNG SCKLSand Falcons on the Floor, written with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy. He also runs the Understanding Campaign with Haneen and co-directs Narrow House. Justin has received several individual Maryland State Art Council grants and a Baker "b" grant in 2011.

An excerpt from Falcons on the Floor appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Justin Sirois answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Falcons on the Floor.

1. What is writing like?

Fleeing blindly in the failing dusk, Khalil and I scramble free, the burning city behind us. We scale toppled walls and blown brick hovels. We run through market squares and the crippled township, to the river running west and closer. 

All I can think of is Rana and how she’ll assume I’m dead if I don’t contact her soon. Her family was smart to flee to Syria before the real war began. Before the siege and the fire within it. 

Khalil pushes my backpack from behind. We reached the stone plateau, slipping on talcum, hints of gypsum. 

The night sky crashes white. We turn toward Fallujah. Empty steel drums roll under clouds. A few drop on the town, sending ripples through our teeth. Great gales of depleted uranium scatter like seed. Deltas of oil smoke leech the sky. 

We breathe like dogs. 

The river is at our backs.

In the quiet muck, we’re alone.

2. What isn’t writing like?

We took position after clearing the building, SnackWell covering the exit while I waited for the target. 

We could see all of Ramadi from that roof. 

I remember the dump mostly.   

Cooked by the evening sun, moldering dunes of garbage fumed putrid and persistent. Westward gales flapped great aprons of rot over the rooftop. A recent avalanche had breached a hole in the garbage mountain, releasing pus and milky seepage into the breeze. No one dared roam too close to its perimeters spread deep – and neither did we – as concoctions of boiled piss wafted off the range. It only added to the misery of the inflicted city. 

It was perfect. Who would spot us here, three stories above the sizzling junk? 

“Anything?” 

“Target’s in route,” I said. 

We knew where they were going. 

“Target has entered site Calico.” 

Site Calico was what we called the café. They’d been there night after night.

3. When you do it, why?

Embers sparkled, perishing in the wind. The rancid tang of phosphorus chlorinated their tongues until it was all they could taste. Khalil turned. He didn’t lean down to retrieve the rifle.

4. When you don’t, why?

It was my mother.


Thursday
Apr262012

"The Power to Make Me Forget": An Interview-in-Excerpts with Jac Jemc

Jac Jemc lives in Chicago.  Her first novel, My Only Wife, is out now from Dzanc Books.  Her chapbook of stories, These Strangers She'd Invited In, sold out from Greying Ghost Press in 2011 and she's the poetry editor for decomp.  She blogs her rejections at jacjemc.com. 

An excerpt from My Only Wife appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Jac Jemc answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from My Only Wife.  Enjoy!

1. What is writing like?

I liked the broad inflations of her chest on the inhale.  I liked the collapse of her shoulders, heavy with all that weight, on the exhale.

2. What isn’t writing like?

My wife looked at me expectantly and I forgot everything I had planned to say.  My wife had the power to make me forget: a bittersweet fact, for when I needed most to forget, she was gone.

3. When you do it, why?

“Did you want me to say something?” “I thought you were going to say something.”

4. When you don’t, why?

“You know better,” she said, locking it behind her and struggling to reattach the bracelet to her wrist, key dangling.

 

Wednesday
Apr252012

"Multitude of Selves": An Interview with Corey Van Landingham

Corey Van Landingham recently completed her MFA at Purdue University, where she was Poetry Editor of Sycamore Review. She has won the Indiana Review's 1/2 K Prize, the 2012 AWP Into Journals Award, an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and was awarded a Bread Loaf Work-Study Scholarship. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Collagist, Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, Cream City Review, Devil’s Lake, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Redivider, Third Coast, TYPO, Washington Square Review and West Branch.

Corey’s poems “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” and “Diurnal” appear in Issue Thirty-One of The Collagist. 

Here, she talks with interviewer Amber L. Cook about writing in and out of forms that are uncomfortable, unsettling, and undoing of themselves.

1. Where did these particular poems, “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” and “Diurnal” originate from respectively?

Unlike most of my poems, “Parallax Designed as Endless Disappointment” stemmed from a specific image I kept coming back to, that of Tereza’s dream in The Unbearable Lightness of Being with all the women marching around the swimming pool while Tomas shoots them one by one. Kundera writes: “She was ready to dismiss the crew of her soul from the deck of her body.” I kept coming back to this idea of agency (or the lack of it), and how it seemed almost liberating to Tereza. That has always been maddening to me, as is a country (or its leaders) telling women what to do (which seems quite relevant right now). This seems more didactic and political than my poem ends up being, I think, but it does seem to harken back to a gaggle of people telling the speaker what to do, and, ultimately, her being unable to escape any of it (except maybe with a really good cup of coffee).

“Diurnal” began, as an embarrassingly large number of my poems do, during a storm (thank you, Indiana!). Aren’t big storms so simultaneously scary and sexy? This seems a good mental place to begin a poem to me. To begin with, there was a “you” in the poem as well, and the “girl on the floor” was largely passive, perhaps some failed metaphor for a failed relationship. Ho hum. Instead, the poem wanted to navigate a plurality of selves, so I let it. 

2. I love the repetitions of “some days” in “Parallax” and “a person can” in “Dinural.” How do you see these repetitions morphing or staying the same when they are used again and again? How does repetition work for you in these poems?

I’m really interested in anaphora and its capabilities, its benefits and drawbacks. It can seem like an easy poetic device, something to return to when the poem slows down. But it has the ability to create such an interesting emotional space. There’s this artist, Kara Walker, who casts these silhouetted figures onto the walls of a room to create an interesting kind of gothic feeling. There’s this one piece where she did so in a round room, so that there was a kind of narrative that never began or ended, or, rather, was always beginning and ending. I wondered how a poem might do something similar, and I decided that might be a role anaphora could play.

Both of these poems feel really claustrophobic to me, in that they are both birthed and bound by their respective repetitions. While there are moments of departure, each poem is unable to escape the anaphora, which, at least to me, falls back to the mental state of the speaker. For me, repetition creates a comfortable pattern that can then be used to create discomfort in its breakage. It places the reader in its lap and strokes its hair repeatedly, so that when it’s replaced by something sinister (what nice hair you have!) it almost goes unnoticed.

3.  I’m so drawn in by your language, especially when you write something so jarring like: “A person can/ say things that cleave open the roof like a falling tree.” How do you see the forms (stepped couplets and tercet lines) of your poems informing the language? What else is working to inform things like line break, pronoun shifts, etc.? 

I wish form informed my language more, as this seems to be the case with so many poets I admire. Form often comes last for me, and each poem often gets forced into many different, uncomfortable forms before it finds the right one. More so than stanzas, I’d say the long line has had more of an influence. I’ve always thought longer lines were more suited to narrative poems, of which I write very few, and so I’m interested in the pressure put on a lyric poem when it’s forced out of its comfort level. The amalgamation of images goes back to that idea of claustrophobia, I think, so that the silence that has always comes so easily to the lyric poem is interrupted. Ultimately, too, these forms—the couplet and the tercet—seem somewhat unsettling to me. And I do write to unsettle. The couplet seems to force two things together and make them confront each other. The tercet seems to enact a kind of third-wheel awkwardness.

The pronoun shifts in “Diurnal” go back to the idea of multitudes of selves. Because, really, what poet can say that any “she” or “he” or “you” in a body of work doesn’t have an “I” involved, too? I feel, as a younger poet, like I’m supposed to distrust the “I,” to distrust poems with ideas about the self. It’s something that I think about a lot. And so I wanted to write a couple of poems that seemed to go over the top with them, to get almost vitriolic in the aggressive use of the “I” and the self.

4. Who have you been reading lately that you’re especially fond of?

Oh, let’s see. My problem is often that I’m often too fond of everything! I have recently been reading Eduardo C. Corral’s Slow Lightning and Tracy Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins, both of which are lovely, and I’m trying not to devour them too quickly. I just finished Stacy Gnall’s Heart First Into the Forest, which I wish so badly I had written. I’ve been reading a lot of Paul Celan lately, too.

It’s also always important for me to have something around that I’m mining for material, and right now that’s The Encyclopedia of the Occult—demons and devils and witches, oh my!

5. Are these poems part of the same project? Different projects? What other projects are you working on? 

I wouldn’t really call it a project, but these poems are both from my manuscript Dear Body Count, Dear Bother.

I’ve been wary of projects as they seem so in, now, but hell, that’s a silly reason not to do something. I recently began a series of prose poems enacting surrealist reinterpretations of Annunciation scenes, where Mary has a lot more agency, and isn’t just passively being impregnated by some creepy light. 

 

Saturday
Apr212012

"Wisdom While You Wait": An Interview-in-Excerpts with William Walsh

William Walsh is the author of Unknown Arts, Ampersand, Mass., Pathologies, Questionstruck (all from Keyhole Press), and Without Wax: A Documentary Novel (Casperian Books). He edited an anthology of fictional appropriations called RE:Tellng (Ampersand Books). His work has appeared in Annalemma, Artifice, Juked, New York Tyrant, Lit, No Colony, Caketrain, Quarterly West, Rosebud, and other journals. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and their four children.

An excerpt from Unknown Arts appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, Walsh answers questions "in the form of excerpts"--with further excerpts from Unknown Arts.

All responses are derived from Ulysses by James Joyce, 1922.

He reflected on the pleasures derived from the literature of instruction rather than of amusement as applied to the works of William Shakespeare for the solution of difficult problems in imaginary or real life.

1. What is writing like?

Two apples a penny! Two for a penny! That is how poets write, the similar sounds. But then Shakespeare has no rhymes: blank verse. The flow of the language it is. The thoughts. Solemn. Like Shakespeare's face. Shakespeare's reverence.

I may as well warn you that if you want to shake my belief that Shakespeare is Hamlet you have a stern task before you. After God Shakespeare has created most. Shakespeare is the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance.

Too poetical that. Music did that. Music hath charms, Shakespeare said. Quotations every day in the year. To be or not to be. Wisdom while you wait.

2. What isn’t writing like?

Shakespeare's ghost. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare. It is the ghost, the king, a king and no king, and the player is Shakespeare who has studied HAMLET all the years of his life which were not vanity in order to play the part of the spectre. Shakespeare, a ghost by absence. The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake.

Trenchant exponent of Shakespeare. praises of Shakespeare's songs ineluctably preconditioned to become. What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself, God, the sun, Shakespeare?

3. When you do it, why?

To create a figure which the world will set beside Saxon Shakespeare's Hamlet.

(And) payment at the rate of one guinea a column to the writer. With the help of God and His blessed mother, I'll make it my business to write.

4. When you don’t, why?

The birth of William Shakespeare over delta in the recumbent neversetting constellation of Cassiopeia.

(And) the plays of Shakespeare's later years. Shakespeare himself forgot. Good Bacon: gone musty. Rutlandbaconsouthamptonshakespeare. Shakespeare. Shrewridden Shakespeare…

THE FACE OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, BEARDLESS, APPEARS. IN THE MIRROR.

What does Shakespeare say?

—GOODBYE, NOW, GOODBYE! WRITE DOWN ALL I SAID AND TELL TOM, DIEK AND HARRY I ROSE FROM THE DEAD. WHAT'S BRED IN THE BONE CANNOT FAIL ME TO FLY... GOODBYE, NOW, GOODBYE!

 

Thursday
Apr192012

"We Have to Pull Ourselves Up With Words": An Interview with Luke B. Goebel

Luke B. Goebel is a writer of fictions, living in Texas. He teaches at a Texas university and his work has appeared in journals including: the New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Pank, Elimae, Wigleaf, Gigantic, Everyday Genius and one soon to print with Kitty Snacks. He works as a Co-Editor with The New York Tyrant and Tyrant Books. 

Luke's story "Chula Chula, My Heart My Heart, Chula Chula" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.

Here, he speaks with interviewer Joseph Scapellato about speaking, singing, and flying.

1. Where did “Chula Chula, My Heart My Heart, Chula Chula” begin for you, and how did it get to here? 

It started as one clean mental picture—the whole story—in one quanta shot. The beginning middle and end peeled right off from out—and into word. It was a straight shot to paper. I think I recorded it, actually, into a microphone. Then it was a story on paper. On screen, next. Dictaphone to typewriter to computer to space. I sent it to S. Garson at Wigleaf. He took it. I almost let it go up. Then I pulled it. I hated the story, suddenly. I didn’t want it out anymore. It reminded me of someone’s work I don’t adore—a guy in specific. Then it sat around in nowhere. It aged. It got irritable. It hated being nowhere. It wanted a new life. The story wanted to be told a story and/or to conduct a motorcycle, carry a pistol, contain a new line about a cucumber out at the edge of the trees. Stories also want to get some action—some touching.. It wanted a girl. It slept too long and had a headache. It got constipated. Dreamed of a life that was made up from its former life, but that life didn’t need it to be part of that life anymore.

A guy named Johnny came over for two weeks and drank wine and we fiddled with it a bit. Then I started cranking. It changed and lengthened and grew out of its shape into a less clear shape. From there, I sent it over to you. Matt Bell took it—I hear big things about Cataclysm Baby—YUKNAVITCH loves it. I love YUKNAVITCH. She’s terrific in her memoir at talking, structuring, carving up the steaks. I mean that’s it! Stakes. It wanted to interact a bit. It needed to see there were people—women in the place, again, even if it didn’t have what it took. Like that old dancehall from In A Shallow Grave by the great Jimmy Purdy. It needed some of that. It had some of the same desires, to mate with anything, even male to male, anything at all, just to be in the dancehall with people. So, Matt said yes.

Then I started scalpel work and pencil work. I still had misgivings. It wasn’t honest enough. It was about something ugly and I felt ugly. I tried to make the story tolerable, but only got it more ugly. There are a few lines now that have succeeded. Maybe I should have let it die out there in nowhere time. Still, there was a truth to the feeling of it. But, I got a few lines in there that are pretty wild, such as ending that one line with marijuana that ends with marijuana.  Marijuana is a tough sell these days. Real hard to place that word on the board. And I think it stands strong where it is now, at the end of that line with the cucumber and the girls, at the edge of the unencumbered rough. So I’m happy with that.I can’t tell you how many guys I know who can’t get rid of all the marijuana they got. Hundreds of pounds of the stuff, and the prices all cut to hell. The gold rush is over.  Makes me glad I’m in a different game. All that dope and nowhere to go with it. They put it in storage facilities. What a nightmare.

2. I find the narrator in this piece compelling—his sentences, taken on their own, are quite a read, and they also provide the reader with the pleasure of keeping up with his train of thought.  It seems to me that he describes himself well when he says, “I had certain affects mastered. Not so much charm, but a wild determinacy and animatedness. A madness that would serve me from time to time.”  As a writer, do you try to evoke these qualities in your narrators?  To what extent do you think that all fictional narrators must be charming, determined, animated, or serviceably mad?

I only write like that to get your attention. The low brow and high brow. That’s the gimmick—the try for humor. And I’m not funny. I don’t think I am that.

The train of thought, it’s something I can’t extricate myself from. If there’s anything that stays consistent, all the way back to my first awareness moments, it’s that trainwreck mind of mine I got. It’s the buzz of the engine, like those twin prop old planes with the thrusters overhead, buzzing away like the engine is coming from the luggage and the seats and the whole plane trembling and droning forever.

As for narrators. I’m in… in for narrators who aren’t narrators. I am mostly interested in how speech and writing work together. The speaker, the one talking, that’s what you’re calling the narrator, right? Well, he’s got to speak, but it’s the writer who’s got to give testament. Still, somebody has to speak. As Beckett wrote, “What matter who’s speaking, someone said, what matter who’s speaking?” Maybe this all seems too obvious or too unclear. Let me bring things down to daily life. I live down here in East Texas … You should hear these people talk. These—whatever they are that are abounding here. The other day a man said, “I never went for Mom and Pop, but Federal Money was all I was after.” This guy robbed banks. He ran whores. He cut people. Our man is so many years old, his white hair still gelled like a greaser with stiff comb lines in the white swept back glory of hair, his lips clean shaved, a little half turned grin comes over up one side, and the place lights on fire when he tells his life. I wish I could have lived as he has, and speak as he speaks. But my life has been half way toward this old friend of mine’s life, and half way in the door of respectability. Like a naked professor being chased by police and Indians on television news, disappointing the hell out of everyone, and then getting off with a good lawyer. Actually nothing like that. Pretty lonely. But I have the writing game—trying to warrant my existence by writing. Trying to steal it back, what’s been taken away or will disappear—and through these things get to what is all of ours—anyhow, the other day at lunch, this news-reporter woman says to me, at the bar, with me in it, in person, me talking to her to see where we can get to, referring to her grandmother, a Choctaw Indian, them both: “Her name was Tennessee and she was meaner than hell and she still had her brain,” I mean that’s an opening! That woman was a narrator. Right there at the lunch bar, and me squinting, trying to look like something up against this reporter, who goes on television, her effervescent hair and black little Choctaw eyes. A looker, for a late lunch, just she and I in the bar, besides the bartender, “She punched my grandfather in the face six hours before she died because he called hospice,” she delivered her second line of narration. “She was just pissed off to be dying. And she was Christian!”

Those are the types I am competing against down and out here. There’s so much more where that came from. They can talk down here in the South. We are less than 80 miles from the Louisiana border, in the pines, so I can call it the South:Even though it’s Texas. We have Confederate Street here. We have Robert E. Lee High. But of course she wasn’t a narrator, except she was performing as we all do. She was the speaker. That newscaster started to get invested in speech. More than just the usual crap. She suddenly wanted to tell me about her grandmother. In that moment, she wanted me to know and to see her. She told me stories about both her grandmothers, one a white, one the Choctaw named Tennessee, and them fighting over who had the best rack at 92 and/or 93, 94 years old. The kind one likening Tennessee’s particular rack to a pair of socks with sand in the bottoms hanging off her old chest. When it gets right down to it, it’s about speech. Or it’s about writing. But I think you have to pick or it has to pick you. I tend more toward speech, though I beat the hell out of myself trying to not rest on that. There are speakers on paper and there are writers. Noy Holland is a writer. Pamela Ryder is a writer. Rick Bass is a writer, though he does it by pretend-speaking—at least his early stuff, but his moves and word selection is that of writer. Nabokov is a writer, but does it with narrators. Those narrators aren’t who we are listening to, but who we are listening through. We are listening to the writer speak, or write, or both. But it all still depends on being able to speak; some can take it further than speech and get the narrator going and then get them out of the way, so as to let the writer have their discursive creation. What a joke, discursive creation. Their heart, their vigor, their ability to see the world and seduce us with their love. The “narrator” is speaker, first and foregrounding. But then that narrator has to get out of the way. I don’t want to hear someone out talk me. Sure, to listen in the South makes you proud of people. Of their ability to tell all. But in real life, I say all kinds of solid things, all sorts of doddling shit, too, or I say the right stuff but it’s all overly acted and feels false.  In real life, if I’m not with tears in my eyes when I’m talking, then I’m not getting after it. On the page, it’s not just a voice of a narrator. It’s the ride of the sentence. It’s not speech, alone, but someone singing—the writer. It gets you someplace you didn’t know you’re going, and no one needs a narrator anyhow, not for long. Was Humbert Humbert the narrator in Lolita, or was it Nabokov singing in character? That’s something you got to wonder. That wasn’t H.H. talking to us, was it? That was opera. What about Rick Bass? What about Hannah? What about Faulkner. I’m not comparing myself to these boys, No, or Noy Holland, or Grace, Virginia, or whoever whatever sex gender race politic body, etc, you want to dig up or pull over, living or dead meat, so long as they sing. The point being, here, “general reader” as Hannah wrote in a blurb for Ricky Bass, the point I am hoping to make here is it’s the writer talking through a guise or singing—which is obvious—but it’s got to be more than that. You have to throw the narrator off of you. It has to be singing, and singing has to have feeling. It has to be the feeling in the syntax, the words, the sounds, and the gunning it, or caressing it, or touching. I hope to keep charging at it all my life.

Growing up in Ohio, it was all about talking, out there in the hickory. And it still is. It’s all talk. Then there’s singers. I sometimes just want to shut up, and that’s death, or maybe it’s something better. But of course, I don’t want either: I want my brother back who left us this year. I want our shared secret of being boys in bodies back, of being only brothers. Everyone is going to die before you do, or you aren’t reading this. It’s a tough hook to handle. But you have to handle it, while it’s there in your throat, and you have to find some manner to love, to sing, and to care more than just that anchorwoman cared, but to make something that sings forever. Speaking is not enough. It has to be ready to lift off into the sky anytime someone gets to that page you fashioned. Like a ribbon on your chest that means more than participation. Or second place. That page has to offer a flight out of town at any moment, and to the best place anyone’s offering, and it has to sing. That’s why the birds get to us so immediately. They can do both: Sing and Fly.

3. The “narrator” zips from “high brow” to “low brow,” mixing registers, and the effect is as profound as it is comedic: “It was all what I deserved for trying, I suppose, as life is meant to be suffered, constantly, insubstantial as it is, and alone, with great flashes of brilliance coming less and less likely—meaning you look at the walls more and think of what you've done, so why not grab ass?” Can you talk a little about this effect—its role in your work and in the work you admire?

I was just trying to be honest in that line up there. I think to transgress you must employ both the traditional/accepted registers, as well as the “low brow” or “gut” or “groin” or “devil’s hammer” or whatever else you might call it. One guy called it the devil’s heel. You’ve also got to reach for the holy ride of something better than what is available or felt prior to taking that ride. It’s just the honest to God truth. Like Noy Holland said, somewhere, in “Absolution” I think, something such as: “God didn’t give me two mouths. One for the clean and one for the rest.”*  That isn’t what she wrote at all. I don’t have the book in front of me. It’s at the office. I’m just saying, we are stuck in the mud down here, and we have to pull ourselves up with words. If you don’t mention the mud, you’re just lying to everyone. If you only mention the mud, then you’re cheating the reader.

4. How has being an editor at The New York Tyrant and Tyrant Books affected your approach to your own writing?

I get to walk around and tell myself my farts stink less appreciably than the farts of others who are not editors for the THE NEW YORK TYRANT and TYRANT BOOKS. I’ve seen some great writing come through my hands, and have put the edits on some people to see what they’d let me make better. Being an editor has probably done things to me that I don’t recognize.

5. What writing projects are you working on right now?

I have a collection a story away from being finished, and the response has been positive, among the few readers I’ve had take the whole thing on. I don’t shop things, hardly. I hardly ever send to anyone to see if they want to put out my book, or stories. Usually, if I send something to two or three parties and it doesn’t get taken, I put it into nowhere land. Come back to it later. It feels good to be finishing this first collection. And I’ve learned from doing it such. I don’t know if I’ll put it out. It’s been worked. It’s got a good span of my life in it. I am starting to think it’s all about getting as close to flight, or really flying it, as you are able at the time, and then saying, look at that! Look at her go! She’s flying, or she’s getting so close. This little machine of mine. And all this self puncturing and nailing ego to the beam, it’s counterproductive to the ride. I don’t think the geniuses do much of it. I’m a fighter. I have to work like hell just to not drool in public or have my fly down.

6.  What knockout writing have you been reading recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

Padgett Powell’s Aliens of Affection  (“Scarliotti and the Sinkhole”).

Rick Bass’s The Watch.

Atticus Lish’s Life is With People.

Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water.

Brian Kubarycz had a story about a grown female cousin peeing in the yard, and all the other cousins peeing on the pee later that night, everyone digging chuffs to bury their underpants in together with hers, and that was really great to hear in NYC at UNSAID’S reading in Brooklyn, where I read as well, but did not a guy read who failed to show who’s named after a houseplant, and in his place, Robert Lopez read.

I am excited to see Sam Michel’s, my old teacher, first novel he ever wrote,  Lincoln Dahl Turns Five or Strange Cowboy, appear in print with Tyrant Books. Also, Noy Holland, married to Sam Michel, another teacher of mine, has a HELL of a story coming out in the next issue of Tyrant—Tyrant 10. I’m curious to see GL is publishing new stories. Looking forward to seeing where that takes us.

Honestly, I read terribly slowly. I read terrifically slow. I am sometimes, I feel, a much better reader than a writer, so long as I am reading one who has beaten me thus far, and it’s out loud I am reading, etc. I’m a really solid reader. I can read and read. But I’m slow. I like to take it all apart in my head. I want to see how the bird works. But you can’t take it apart. Not with the really great ones. Not with Holland. Not with Purdy, no, or Hannah. You can only sit, transfixed, while it sings and lifts from its guts off the patch. 

*I went back to find the quote, and could not locate it—I now believe the sentiment is from her unparalleled story, “Orbit”.

 

Wednesday
Apr182012

"Expectation of Pain Is Reasonable": An Interview with Victor D. Infante

Victor D. Infante is a poet, editor and journalist living in Worcester, Mass. His piece "Boys' Own Stories" appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Collagist. He is the editor of the online literary journal, Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge, and the author of City of Insomnia, a poetry collection from Write Bloody Publishing. His poems and stories have been published in numerous periodicals, including Pearl, Chiron Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Spillway, Word Riot,and Dark Horizons. 

Here, Marie Schutt talks with him about swords, stones, and making fiction from poetry.

1. What inspired you to write “Boys’ Own Stories”? What was on your mind while you were writing this piece?

It’s funny, but it started as a 30/30 — 30 poems in 30 days — exercise for National Poetry Month. I had a rattlebag of themes I wanted to explore — the Arthurian mythos, the entwined concept of the hero as a symbol for a culture when war’s in the wind, issues of masculinity in the modern age and my own struggles with depression. It didn’t take me terribly long to realize that what I was writing was actually one piece, although it took me a while to figure out that it was stronger presented as prose than as poetry. That line gets terribly muddy sometimes, despite what any of us would like to think. (I’m actually of the opinion still that this is more poem than story, but others disagree with me, and I’m not terribly inclined to argue the point.)

Anyway, large swaths of it are autobiographical, and I wanted to take the time to look back at my being “downsized” from the job I had been working at in California and being forced to relocate to Massachusetts, and the emotional toll that took, that overwhelming sense of defeat. It was almost a decade until I was in a comfortable enough space to put myself back in that place, artistically speaking, and this was the result. 

2. I’m very interested in your use of the sword in the stone to carry so many different meanings in such varied contexts throughout the piece. Could you tell us a little about what this image, this story of the sword in the stone, originally meant to you, and how that changed or grew as you were writing?

First off, I’ve always been fascinated by the King Arthur legends, and indeed, had written a series of poem based on them back in the early ‘90s, and revisiting those themes greatly appealed to me. I asked myself the question: “What makes the sword in the stone different than a rock with a piece of metal in it?” The answer being, of course, because it is, and suddenly, that lead me to the writing process, about what that sharp instrument of poetry has been in the hands of writers throughout time, how the poem can cut you and, yet, make you feel indelibly alive at the same time. That thought was very much on my mind when I began.

It wasn’t actually until I turned my attention to the stone that it all began to click in my head and I found direction. The thing that, for the most part, gets overlooked in the legend. “It’s just a stone” sounds a lot, to my ears anyway, like “it’s just a story.” It’s not important. But it’s the thing that cradles the symbol and, consequently, the emotional truth. Which means it matters, even if it’s easily taken for granted.

From there, I began laying out the other ways in which blades and stones could be used as symbols in writing, and began looking for connections, and ultimately that trail kept leading me back to the martial and masculine themes that I was interested in exploring. To be fair, they probably led me there because I was interested in them, but the point being, those two basic metaphors — which are something else entirely when combined — opened up the door for the narratives to emerge.

3. There is a clear narrative with a developed voice running through this piece, interwoven with a couple of sections addressing a second party, most directly at the end. How did these two voices develop as you were writing?

That was a bit of luck, really. I had two main narratives I wanted to play out: the first, somewhat autobiographical one, and then the less dominant (in terms of the piece) story of one of the 20th century’s most important writers, Jerry Siegel, who created Superman. Siegel’s a bit of a touchstone for me. We’re both from the Midwest (him from Cleveland, me from Pittsburgh, which is the Midwest no matter what geographers say), we both had family that were 20th-century immigrants, and we both lost our fathers to random violence at a young age (a theme I explore more extensively in my first poetry collection, City of Insomnia.) And he created the single most memorable fictional character of the 20th century, our most modern incarnation of King Arthur, which is a thought that hasn’t been lost on me, especially not since reading Brad Meltzer’s wonderful thriller, The Book of Lies.

But there was also a point where I wanted the voices in the poem (it was a poem then, remember, and maybe it still is) to intersect and blend, to re-enforce the idea that this was a story being told and retold down the line of history.

In his recent novel, The Magicians, Lev Grossman has a character observe that “the hero is the one that pays the price,” which is an idea I think I was dimly aware of when I was writing this, even if I couldn’t have articulated as succinctly as Grossman did. But it occurs to me that you also pay a price to be a writer, too. Or, really, probably to do anything, but writing’s what I’m most familiar with. I can only speculate the tithe to become, say, a plumber or an architect. In any case, somewhere along the line in writing Boys’ Own Stories, it became clear to me that I was very interested in the idea of the price of a life in writing, and to me, that seemed clearly to be the fact that to do it correctly, you have to willingly grasp the sword by the blade. It would cut, and it would hurt like hell, and there’s no real way around it. To write is to transform pain into something beautiful, but the only way to accomplish that is to go back through the pain itself. That was the point, to my mind, that tied the disparate threads together, and which linked the voices of writers struggling to find something beautiful and human across what’s been an agonizingly violent history. 

4. Do you have any other writing projects in the works? Are there any recent publications or upcoming releases that you’re looking forward to?

I’m at something of an in-between right now. I’ve recently had poems published in Pearl, The Mas Tequila Review and the zombie poetry anthology Aim For the Head, among other places, but my work as an editor has been commanding my attention, lately. I’ve been a bit preoccupied with my ongoing work as editor for the online literary journal Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge; helping edit the forthcoming collection News Clips & Ego Trips: The Best of Next… Magazine, which comes out any day now and collects articles and interviews from the Southern California based poetry news magazine which I wrote for in the ‘90s; and serving on the editorial board for The BILiNE Project: The Best Indie Lit New England, all of which has kept me terribly busy. I’m also revising a handful of short stories and poems right now before seeking homes for them, and beginning to think about diving into my second poetry collection. You know. When I have a moment.

 

Thursday
Apr122012

"Breech, Butt-first and Suffocating": An Interview with Stephanie Lenox

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and two daughters. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. She is the author of The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, an award-winning poetry chapbook published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. Her first full-length poetry collection Congress of Strange People is forthcoming from Airlie Press in fall 2012. Her work has appeared widely in literary journals and has been honored with fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission. Her website is www.stephanielenox.com.

Her poem "The Question" appears in Issue Thirty-Two of The Collagist.

Here, Stephanie Lenox talks to interviewer Elizabeth Deanna Morris about questions that grow, falter, and live on. 

1. How did you find yourself writing “The Question”? Was it by, indeed, asking a question?

Oh, I think most of my poems start with a question of some kind. Someone recently pointed out how many of my poems include a negation, such as no or not, in the first line which gives the subject or speaker a shadow-like quality. So whether or not the first line of a poem is actually punctuated with a question mark, the opening tends to initiate a search, an attempt to slip out from under the shadow created by doubt.

2. For as many times as I had read this poem, in re-reading it once more in preparation for this interview, I still found myself completely caught off guard by the first line, “I say it wrong again.”  If we’re looking at this question as something that grows, like a child, it seems like a terrifying idea that there are many of these that have been born to grow and fester.  Why is it this occurrence, then, that causes the poem?  By that I mean, what about this time in asking lends itself to being THE question, the one written about and left for us to examine?

I suffer from the illusion that if I can just ask the right question in the right way I will get the answer that I want. Just ask my husband. It’s annoying. With this first line, I place the speaker in medias res, smack dab in a world populated with nagging questions. The truly big and serious questions, for which “The Question” is a metonymic personification, don’t get answered. The questions have a life outside our own, and our relationship to them is tangential and complicated at best. The key to that first line for me is “again” which hints at the speaker’s awareness that there is no right way to ask the question. This is the sliver of light through the cracked door that the speaker sees and walks toward.

3. While I don’t want to know explicitly what The Question is, it seems as if it is a question that creates the crack that leads to a breaking point.  And yet, the speaker hopes that this question, this fussy, troublesome question, will “with luck, outlast us.”  Why does this speaker hope that this question will live on?

In writing “The Question,” I discovered affection for that “fussy, troublesome question.” Our questions—ugly, naive, even impossible—make us who we are. In the creative writing class I teach at Willamette University, I ask students to craft a self-portrait in questions. The prompt is modeled on a poem composed of 755 questions called “A Jar of Balloons, or the Uncooked Rice” by Matthew Yeager. I enjoy how both the big and the apparently insignificant questions can tell a story about the asker. Regardless of the answer, the act of asking is ultimately hopeful. It’s this hope that I aim to communicate with that final line.

4. What have you read recently that’s grabbed you by the shoulders and shook you?

I’m reading Fall Higher by Dean Young. It’s the first book in a while that I’ve wanted to re-read even before I’ve finished it. Here is a poet who knows how to ask questions:

Do you think the dictionary ever says to itself

I’ve got these words that mean completely

different things inside myself

and it’s tearing me apart?

From “Selected Recent and New Errors”


Beyond that, my daily reading habits are managed by my two-year-old who brings me things—the sports page, a cookbook, an empty cookie box—and says, “Mama, read it.” She once had me read Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” seven times in a row. She has a lame book about a lost tiger that I’ve altered with stanzas from William Blake’s The Tiger all in an attempt to keep me engaged. (Great questions in that one, too.) Mostly, we read books about mischievous pigs and pigeons and bunnies, so when I came across David Sedaris’ grownup bedtime stories Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, what he subtitles a “Modest Bestiary,” I devoured it. He’s nailed it—chickens really are “raging assholes.” The book contains gory illustrations by Ian Falconer, the author/illustrator of the Olivia children’s series. It’s the perfect antidote for parents who have been forced to read Elmo’s World over and over again.

5. What other writing endeavors have you been working on as of late? 

I’m putting the finishing touches on my poetry collection Congress of Strange People which will be published by Airlie Press this fall. In fact, answering your questions was yet another one of my elaborate schemes to avoid saying “All done” and sending the manuscript into the designer. I’m also working on new poems that are inspired by other poets. These are less imitations and more what I call “offsprings.” For example, my most recent offspring was inspired by the Richard Jones’ poem “White Towels.” Mine is titled “White Towels, Red Sock.” It’s my attempt to trace my poetic lineage and pay respect to writers who have really shaped the way I think about poetry.