“An animal I’ve skinned.” Like Holy Land, the poems in your latest book, The Moon’s Jaw (Black Ocean, 2013), have no titles. Bare and screaming—all of it. I think the lack of formalities allows for one hell of an immersive experience.
Yeah, I think it’s like walking or dancing or just standing with arms spread wide apart in a spacious butterflarium versus looking at one butterfly after another (or groups thereof) pinned under glass. Or dragonflies flapping around in jars. (O, man, what a bunch of bullshit!). But, seriously, since the poems (or pieces) aren’t titled it makes the reader (or at least I hope) read and feel and view each piece as part of a sequence. A whole. They aren’t exactly stanzas but they’re kind of like that. But kind of each their own little world. Like stars in a starry jar. Kind of like butterflies. Huh? (again, what a bunch of bullshit!)
Right now I am thinking of the cathedrals and abbeys of Gothic architecture—their ribbed vaults and pointed arches—the ways the lofty aesthetic draws (forces) one’s eyes upward and into the sky: the great glory of God! Now I am thinking of Rome’s own colossal dimensions. Swells of idealized marble erected to make humans feel small. This brings me to your own anti-? architectonic: “A temple, reclaimed, by the jungle.” Contorting royal iconography juxtaposed with screaming, blossoming animalia. Are you waving your finger at a tyrant sky?
Yeah, I’m waving my finger at a tyrant sky. But that finger’s doing other things too (sorry couldn’t resist). But, seriously, I’m also being crushed by that tyrant, am lying, male and female, squirming, lost and yearning under that tyrant. I believe, sure, that the sky somehow is going to save me. That a winged genius-beauty will lift me, male and female, up into a safe eternity with concerned granite counter tops. It’s no secret that I’m charmed by churches. And temples too. They are, of course, the language of yearning and brave faux-certainty that grinds against my sad and angry and arrogant atheism.
Your crayon illustrations are definitely not something I’d expect to see from a child, but isn’t that the brilliance of it?!—and I think that’s why it has such a visceral impact. Much of The Moon’s Jaw is not what it appears to be at first glance. “I am no one.” But it is important to note that there is a “But” that follows “I am no one.” You appear to be crayon-ing humankind’s history of mortality and contradiction. Collision after collision. Our various moments of “Hard & Calm.” We often forgive or tolerate ignorance. I feel your work—your writing and your illustrations—have much to say regarding the violence of ignorance.
I think that it’s in Holy Land where I’m most concerned with and most eloquently get at the “violence of ignorance.” The following poem may be one of the better examples of this:
People mean well. Then they grab your dog and beat him to death in front of you. You’re listening to the news, and you find yourself ironing your daughter’s chest. Sewing up her cunt. This world comes down to you, and you pass it on.
Yeah, we’re mortal and yes we are filled with contradictions and it’s usually not so elaborate and vain and beautiful and rusty and romantic as Whitman’s famous boast. Whitman, great God of a writer, but also terrible pervert and con-man, should be more ashamed of himself. And ashamed of his trash death-talk garbage. His endless recruiting, cuddling and coddling. He’s a truly great feel-good drug. And now and then he deserves a good spanking!
There is death in these poems, but there is also life. Do you agree? Do you feel too many artists try to impose a social order on many things undeserving of categorization?
Yes, my poems are filled with death but they are filled also with bright, vivid and lively striving against that death. So, yes, life, decadent, and rotting, increasingly so. But, life. I have no problems with artists trying to impose on things, impose on their subjects, the words, their images, their readers even. In the end, really, artists are trying to enslave their subjects and their audiences. For a period, anyways. But I do feel like some artists are using the wrong chains and electrical boxes, the wrong chocolates and flowers, the wrong starvation, coaxing and rape techniques. The wrong sweet nothings. Certainly I am not real big on socially PC bullshit. Bringing that stuff to your art doesn’t seem, to me anyways, like a good idea.
You and I have had some conversations about the occasional audience member being visibly distressed by everything coming out of your mouth during a reading. How great is that? Seems pretty difficult to make anyone feel anything these days.
My feelings about making people “visibly distressed” are mixed these days. When, four or five years ago, I was reading from Holy Land I occasionally would look up and zone in on someone who seemed a bit, or more, bewildered by what was coming out of my mouth and this was encouraging. But it was encouraging, I think, because I was achieving a kind of solidarity with the audience. Holy Land, you see, is I think mostly a victim book. The universe is fucked up. Bad things happen. And in Holy Land I stand with a fist against that and this is something a lot of people can relate to and even champion. But in The Moon’s Jaw the vibe’s more decadent. More Bad Caesar. More perverse, self-indulgent and monstrous—and I guess I’m not yet 100% comfortable with being a monster, in person, that disturbs, distresses and grosses people out. This is something I need to work on.
Okay, soooo . . . you’ve recently been commissioned to design a parade float for National Poetry Month. Any ideas?
My first idea, of course, would be a beached and rotting whale carcass. Then of course maybe a kind of Mt Rushmore (Tony Hoagland and a few other stooges). Or a grandma knitting in a rocking chair surrounded by thousands of fat toothless cats. Or a fancy guillotine, decorated in red and purple velvets, with a long line of stunted little weasel creatures (some of them sonnets, haiku, blah, blah) waiting for the royal treatment. Or it could be a Botswana trash site where legions of aging and inbred rats fight to the death over scraps of an acceptance letter from the “Red Barn Rabbit Review”.
And I might even bring Tim O’Brien on board to collaborate because even though I’ve said many times (just kidding, just kidding) that I’d like to kill him I do like how uptight he got about that “old koot” who came up to him after a reading and told him how sorry and sad she was for that poor little baby water buffalo (the one he’d fucking made up).
Rauan Klassnik's second Black Ocean book, The Moon's Jaw, was just released. Rauan lives quietly in the pacific NW. Visit him [here] or [here]
What can you reveal about Butcher's Tree (Black Ocean, 2012), your forthcoming poetry collection?
I think about someone like Grendel or the Monkey god the same way I sometimes think of my favorite wild animals. These creatures are so much a part of the way I understand affects, and they come through distorted in so many things that people say and do and create. The vast difference is that we tend to manipulate and use animals for our own ends, and they suffer. Mythological creatures don't suffer, so physics would say, since they "don't exist," but this book is how they do exist. They do suffer, because they have been made our animals, and we are animals, concentric in all things.
"Poetry hurts narrative. It likes the wound body. It is not opposed to wrapping the wound body up in gauze ghosts." This selection from your chapbook, Ugly Fish, has crawled into me. Will not leave me. Do you think this "hurt" is something positive? Does poem have a place within narrative's "wound body?"
It can be mixed with pleasure, and often cannot be extricated. It's hard to think about, because there are many varieties and valences of wounds, physical and not physical. Poetry is what gets translated in loss, Ben Friedlander once said (I think). Another famous poet said that all poetry is an exercise in failure. I don't consider wounds failures, though they do fail, and narratives are not failures, but we as living beings do not like to see the body for its wounds. The image of wound is in the shape of our sensing and speaking orifices, and these are very prone to failure.
There are instances in which the narrator of Ugly Fish acknowledges and refutes her gender. There were moments when I read gender as something parasitic--something suffocating. I also felt your use of brackets effectively reinforced that suffocated condition. There are male writers who seem to inscribe gender into their pages: A WOMAN IS THIS. A GIRL IS THIS. Does your narrator seek to destroy these kinds of inscriptions of gender? What does your narrator want to achieve?
I think the narrator is annoyed that gender is so rhetorically effective and caustic. The narrator doesn't want to achieve anything, but perhaps let the abrasions show, pick at them for the monkey games that they are. I find that playing with binaries, really playing each part against another, is natural and energizing. Reality is more gray than gender norms wish it to be, even for "normal" people.
Do you believe in dangerous poetry/prose? Should we ever ignore poetry/prose?
I'm not sure. I think ideas are dangerous, not poetry or prose. Like firecrackers. Depends on how it's used.
What five books do you recommend most often?
Bluets, With Deer, Black Life, uuuuuum. Elizabeth Grosz stuff. Depends on what I'm reading at the time. Right now I am reading Edmond Jabes, which Carrie Lorig recommended to me. So I recommend him.
What is your favorite animal? Why?
I love the Hovercat. I love all animals. Even the ugly ones, because they are divine.
Feng Sun Chen's first book is Butcher's Tree from Black Ocean (now available for preorder). She is also the author of chapbooks Ugly Fish from Radioactive Moat Press, Arcane Carnal Knowledge from Pangur Ban Party (and Night Vegetable Press), and blud, forthcoming from Spork Press. Recent poems do and will appear on her blog, in Conduit, >Kill Author, Claudius App, and other places. She is currently a graduate assistant and MFA student at the University of Minnesota, and sometimes blogs about potatoes and art for Montevidayo.
Ugly Fish is now available from Radioactive Moat Press as a downloadable PDF:
Could you describe your writing process?
I'm a miner. I go into the dark and throw my claws around. I'm always surprised to find myself clutching. I have also thought of each poem as a building of some kind. I push things together and watch carefully as it goes up. I read and misread for bricks. This morning, I wrote, "I put my ear to the ground / and feel for the moving cement / that was once in my mouth / and in your mouth." That seems right. I never understand what I'm going to say until the end. Even then. It's questionable. I go back and forth between thinking that is a good thing and thinking I'm a writer who is simply not mature enough to see the compass.
Who has influenced you? Have any non-writers influenced your writing?
This also changes a lot for me. I feel very malleable, and there is so much to read. But lately, Raul Zurita and Edmond Jabes in particular. How to move and live inside of holes. To open yourself up so much you must be a hole. Maggie Nelson's book, Bluets, is now an important organ in my body. Jenny Boully. Any writer who writes something that destroys me into hoping. Gertrude Stein, Mike Young, Frank Standford (!), M.G. Martin, James Schiller, Zachary Schomburg. Molly Prentiss is someone I follow. There's something energetic and acrobatic about her. The other writers in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota add light to my cells constantly. I am lucky to write with such a diverse set of promising heads. I also have some poet friends from undergrad who are the only pearls I've ever been allowed to touch.
I see so many poetic tendencies in non-writers. Absolutely. I'm a constant jewel thief. Listen is the most important verb we have access to! I try to do it with my whole body. A guy on the bus told me that he keeps a particular shade of orange in a safe place. What a diamond. Also, the way an ex-boyfriend talked about playing the cello has influenced me. He would talk about how images and colors would well up inside him, push him out and dent him inwards as he moved through a piece. This is very similar to how my thoughts swim, and to how a reader's thoughts move as they ingest my poems. Discussing that at length made me embrace it as a really good part of myself and my writing in a way I definitely could not before.
One of my favorite things about your writing is that it never has the same look. Take for instance your poems "Bone Woman" (decomP), "Let the Record Show" (elimae), and "this is my cybersex. is it ok?" (Pangur Ban Party). Do you think more poets could benefit from versatility or do you think there's something desirable in sameness?
I'm so glad you asked me this, though I fear my answer from its beginning. This is what I wrestle with most as a poet. I feel like many writers are able to create links that are very clear poem to poem to poem. A huge, huge number of books demonstrate their ability to do so. Some of those books rip me to shreds until I cheer! Will all the shards that look out of me ever be able to do that? Do they have to? Will my voice ever not be a spreading herd of red cattle--a stupid puddle scatter? I can't even decide whether or not I want to capitalize or keep it lowercase. But I do trust myself. A lot. (Though that has taken some time. Only very recently, have I made progress.) This is the language I am. There are some wonky mountains in here. Shrugs. Lately, I have been inside of a project that has some strings poem to poem, which has never happened to me before. I feel surprised. However, I definitely would never push myself to stay within any one stomach. That's just not how I can work at all. I look at my fractured face and grin twelve different ways.
Each poet, like each body, is different. We should celebrate that on the dance floor. Doing tons of different colors all the time is not good for everyone. Do I think it's good to kick outside the lines, hard and with your eyes closed? Yes. My god. That foot could end up somewhere. Nebraska, the back of your fridge, your mother's forehead. That feels important, if not as a writer, then as a reader, perhaps.
Book or Nook? Or both?
My dad sent me an email before Christmas asking me what I wanted. I listed about four or five books. He answered in all caps, "DON'T YOU WANT A KINDLE OR AN IPOD?!" It was a legitimate question. However, I'm a book. The book bloods my heart. The sound of page turning is how I say your name. The page is the breath smell. The page is skin collapsing again and again.
Your canine companion has been described as "cute," "adorable," and even "wonderful." How would you describe that darling dog of yours?
My canine companion is yellow. In my dreams, he can be whiter. His favorite food is underwear or mittens or pencils. He just gave me a mournful look.
What five books do you recommend most often?
It depends on the person. But here's a shot?
David Foster Wallace - Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Lydia Davis - Break it Down
Roberto Bolano - The Savage Detectives or 2666
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - 100 Years of Solitude
Haruki Murakami - The Wind Up Bird Chronicles
Carrie Lorig is in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota. She has been a bike messenger, a teacher in Asia, a house painter, and an invasive plant remover, among other things. Her favorite holes are in cups that coffee, form a poem in the desert, and appear often in the very center of records.
In a recent vlog post by Steve Roggenbuck, he said, "Almost every poetry book is eighty pages long. Almost every poetry book is twelve-point-god-dang font. Black on white. Left-aligned. I'm interested in a more flowing culture." Later, he exclaimed that, "Everything is literature," and then cited examples like twitter.
Steve, what is the alternative? Or better yet, is there an alternative?
there are endless alternatives. my suggestion is to take whatever you really like (in literature or other activities) and just do that, maybe even isolate that. allow yourself to do what you love completely instead of reverting to conventions. there are so many things i used to do just because it's what poets do. over time i've become progressively more open to doing different things, and now i'm not even sure if i'm a "poet"; i'm not actively trying to do anything to be a poet anymore, i'm just doing what i like
i like graphic design, i like posting on social media, and i like (post-)ironic humor, so i freely blend my poetry with all of these things. if you like knitting, maybe you should knit your poems. it won't automatically make your poems better, but it would be a more interesting format than plain text, and you would probably love the process a lot more
if you can't think of anything that makes you more excited than just plain text, i think it's fine to write plain-text poems. there are other ways to focus on what you love. the only thing i worry about is if people feel restricted, like once they enter "poetry" they might think they have to sound like "a poet," create poems that "look like poems," etc. my message is to freely take what you like from poetry and take what you like from other forms of culture (for example, the knitting idea) and just do what you really like. if you do, i think you'll have more fun and you will generally stand out from other poets too
In regard to poem, how important is font?
font choice is not crucial to all poems. some of my favorite books, i'm not aware what font they are set in, and for classic works, different editions may have different fonts, and i might enjoy them all equally. but i think it's a place where poets can add value and meaning, and where you can differentiate yourself if you like
there is no neutral font choice, you know... allowing the book designer to take care of it doesn't mean that it's non-existent. everyone is swayed to some degree by product design. some of that might seem like cheap, surface-level branding, but visual design is also just a big part of "style," and style is something connected to personality, ideas, and discourse--things that matter to many contemporary writers. if you are trying to express an overall aesthetic or worldview, like i am, then font choice is potentially very valuable. if you are trying to create enjoyment for people, like i am, font choice also may be very valuable
In many academic circles, the centered justification of a poem is often thought to be taboo. Though, would you argue that the demonization of the 'centered poem' is strictly related to a hierarchical American literature? Left-aligned, centered, right-aligned--do you think any one of those arrangements actually benefit a poem?
i think just the willingness to do something different, and the willingness to become more aware of the poem as a visual object seems valuable. i have always defended people who center their poems or use script fonts, haha. i just think people should be encouraged to fit poetry into their own tastes and interests. if using a certain style, alignment, or font (or subject matter, theme, reference, etc) can make poetry more fun to you, more relevant to you, then i think that's great. i don't see the point in professionalizing or standardizing the appearance of poems. poetry already feels too professional in my opinion. i am in favor of allowing more personality and individual style into poems. i just want more people in our society to have fun writing poetry in a way that makes them more excited about their life
I've been thinking a lot lately about something Johannes Göransson wrote in one of his blog posts: "How many times have I heard supposedly experimental writers say, 'The Internet is great, but there's so much shit published on it . . . ' The shit makes the Internet interesting." How would you respond to this? Do you see a poem as something that can either succeed or fail?
"The shit makes the internet interesting" could maybe be a slogan for flarf poetry
the deeper idea behind the quote seems to be about there being fewer gatekeepers online in general. some people complain about the lack of quality control, but i think it's great. anybody has a chance of reaching readers. it's much more democratized. actually taking advantage of the situation requires a lot of perseverance and, yes, "marketing" in some sense, but i think it's amazing that i can reach an audience without an editor ever approving my material. part of my aim with my career is to demonstrate this and inspire others to do the same.
i think there is amazing opportunity right now for poets who want to build a readership online. you don't need to impress institutions or raise money or anything now; all you need is (1) writing that people actually like and want to keep reading, and (2) dedication to keep posting and caring about your community over time
yeah there are probably thousands of poetry blogs that neither of us would like at all. but if nobody likes it, it will just be ignored; nobody will subscribe to it or remember the URL. it's not harming anyone that it exists. and even if people do end up reading and liking "bad poetry" on the internet, then so what? the same people were probably already watching "bad television." i think it's great that these people are writing and that poetry can be a part of their life
Book or ebook?
tumblelog :) or, to be honest, probably a combination of book, ebook, and tumblelog.
if you serialize your writing and post it regularly at the same place online, and if it's good enough that people come back (and tell others to come), then you can gradually accumulate followers and returning readers over time. tumblr especially speeds up the process because of the built-in "reblog" feature. also, if you do want to release a book later (either of the online material or a different project), you'll have a place where you can promote it to people who like your stuff. of course this probably won't work for all writers, but i'm finding that i really enjoy the freedom and the active engagement with my readers
Steve Roggenbuck has published two short poetry collections online, i am like october when i am dead and DOWNLOAD HELVETICA FOR FREE.COM. He is a vegan and a buddhist. He posts image- and video-based poetry regularly on his tumblelog, LIVE MY LIEF.
A mom, a PR writer, an editor, a blogger--and you still find time to submit and publish poetry. Are you a writer on the go?--the jot down idea when it comes type? Or do you have a specific time set aside for writing?
I’m not sure I even have time for this interview. I’ve learned the hard way not to put off an idea, because I will forget it. A lot of my work is on cocktail napkins and bill envelopes. As you’d expect, it gets a little chaotic.
I’m trying to be more disciplined. Sometimes “having” to write makes me feel a bit constipated. Submitting has a way of making me feel accountable. If I don’t have anything to send out, then that’s a problem I’ve got to attend to.
What has the time you've spent writing taught you?
That the more I experience the process, the less I understand it. I really feel as much conduit as creator. I don’t mean I’ve got dental fillings that receive cosmic messages. It’s just a unique mental mix of organization, impulse and hard-headedness.
Who has influenced and/or shaped your writing?
My favorite professor took me to task for everything I put on paper and forced me to articulate thoughts I didn’t believe could be articulated. My dad insisted on precision in speaking (and that’s probably why I write instead). They both instilled a deeply mechanical appreciation of language. Then there are too many outrageously good writers to name that keep me reaching.
Who is your ideal reader?
One who doesn’t have to parse out every detail of what I wrote, who doesn’t get bogged down in the why of it all--someone who brings their own experience, who can play with it and make it dance in a way I couldn’t have even imagined.
How long have you been editing Orion headless? I think leaving readers the option to respond to works published is a good editorial move--it definitely promotes dialogue among readers and writers.
Orion headless started in April 2010. It just had a birthday!
It’s different from putting a bound journal into someone’s hands, never knowing after if it affected them somehow. I don’t get a huge amount of comments yet, but there are so many journals out there with so much awesome writing to consume. I fully understand the literary chew and screw. But with time, maybe there will be more of a community around Orion headless. Who knows? I know I’ve been overwhelmed by most of what I’ve been able to publish so far.
Sara Fitzpatrick Comito is a poet living in Fort Myers, Florida. Her work has appeared in places like nthposition, Leveler, Right Hand Pointing and Hip Mama. She edits the online journal Orion headless.
How have online literary journals affected the way you read poetry?
They haven’t, really. I don’t really read much poetry but when I do read poetry online, I cannot say I read it any differently than when I read poetry in print, save that I probably read it more carefully in that the kind of poetry I tend to enjoy tends to be published online more than in print.
What shocks you about writers?
Everything. Writers are curious, curious, endlessly fascinating people in terms of the worlds they can create through their writing, in terms of their insecurities and arrogance and passion and ennui.
What should matter most to a writer?
What does or will defeat the writer?
Weakness, worrying about what other writers are doing, too much self-doubt and insecurity, trying to be something you’re not.
What five books do you recommend most often?
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Brutal Language of Love by Alicia Erian
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Is there a particular type of writing you would like to see more of in literary journals?
Writing with heart, real bloody, beating heart.
Roxane Gay lives in the Midwest.
How have online literary journals affected the way you read poetry?
I don’t think they’ve affected the “way” I read poetry, in that, I have always read poetry by sitting down and looking at the letters/symbols comprising a poem and then perceiving the letters as words and then perceiving the words as some sort of narrative or allegory or sonic thing, which I simultaneously, or sometimes after minutes, or even days, later recognize as a sort of experience, ultimately becoming an “I like this” or “I don’t like this” or “I am indifferent to this” response.
What online literary journals have done, for me, is allow me to read poetry and prose that I may not have had a chance to read otherwise. For instance, I cannot go to St. Marks Bookshop and pick up Ellen Kennedy’s yesterday i was talking to myself and i told myself that i was going to write a book and give it to you so i put paper in my bag and put a pen in my bag and rode my bike to the river bank and then sat on the ground and thought 'i will never write a book' and watched ducks swim away from me, but because of Bear Parade, an online literary journal, I have the option and opportunity to read this collection as much as I want as long as it exists on the Internet.
What are “bad" poems?
There are no, in my opinion, “good” or “bad” poems. Objective statements regarding literature confuse me, and can make me uncomfortable. Saying something is “good” or “bad” implies a certain unalienable truth, which I would never apply to something as subjective, personal, and interpretable as art.
There are poems that I enjoy reading and poems that I don’t enjoy reading, and then there are poems that I neither enjoy nor don’t enjoy reading, but rather feel personally indifferent to, but will read from a cultural or societal context. For instance, I feel indifferent toward most poems I’ve read by Emily Dickinson, but I continue to read them, often several times each, sometimes to understand their importance in the history of poetry and the development of American literature, sometimes, simply, because they’re assigned to me. I neither like nor dislike Emily Dickinson. A poet I like to read a lot is Matthew Rohrer. A poet I don’t like to read is Phillis Wheatley, but I don’t consider her poems “bad.”
What are five books you recommend most often?
That’s hard to say because usually I am recommending different types of things to different types of people. I recommend Bed by Tao Lin to a lot of people. I recommend Anagrams by Lorrie Moore to a lot of people, especially my mom, who really liked it. I know I’ve recommended Eat When You Feel Sad by Zachary German to many people. Honored Guest by Joy Williams I’ve recommended but sometimes I forget the name of that one in social situations. I think I used to recommend Rose by Li-Young Lee a lot, but that has been replaced by recommending poetry books like Rise Up by Matthew Rohrer or Yes, Master by Michael Earl Craig. I have recommended Glory Hole/The Hot Tub by Dan Hoy and Jon Leon. I usually recommend things that have first been recommended to me because that makes sense. Also, I will just say Google Andrew James Weatherhead if I am talking to someone who I know likes poetry but isn’t familiar with him because I like his poetry a lot.
What was your most-played album of your high school years?
Again, hard to say. I mean, it was four years so a lot of things happened. Referring to a blog post about this subject, I think, it seems Funeral by Arcade Fire, Highway 61 Revisted by Bob Dylan, Illinois by Sufjan Stevens, Easy Beat by Dr. Dog, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, Person Pitch by Panda Bear, OK Computer by Radiohead, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, and The Libertines by The Libertines were all listened to many times. Many times.
Why do you write?
I write because I feel depressed often and when I write I am able to look at the funny things about the idea of “life,” or “existence,” and I’m often able to have fun and think things are funny. I am also able to think about events, those that have happened in my past, or present, or simply, and entirely, a product of my imagination, closer and with greater sensitivity to detail than when merely thinking about them in my head.
What about the future?
My immediate future is finish this semester of college, write papers, take exams. Then I will move back in with my parents and work on a farm for three months in my hometown in Massachusetts. Then I will go to Berlin for a semester. Then I will turn 21. Seems pretty all right. I am always working on writing. I have many short stories that I hope to publish together as some sort of collection. I have many poems, which I would like to keep working on. I have ideas for chapbooks and collaborations specifically regarding my poetry and the poetry of people I know. I will continue to do performance art in the style of 5 Days in the Upper West Side. I don't have any details about the direction or documentation of these performance art pieces. I have a Flip camera, so I will be filming things and possibly putting them on Vimeo. I will drink. I will read books. I will post on my blog infrequently. At some point, I'll probably go swimming.
David Fishkind is a twenty-year-old student of English and Creative Writing at NYU. He has been published throughout the internet, in some literary journals, and by himself. Check out his blog [here]
How have online literary journals affected the way you read poetry?
It's made it more convenient to read. Between meetings at my real job, I can get a fat helping of xTx or Roxane Gay or Gregory Sherl, etc, etc, etc. At the same time, I'm terrified of the way my skin feels from sitting in front of the screen all day and I might be addicted to the hum of the computer. So it's great but awful.
Could you describe your writing process?
I always feel like someone is looking into my underwear drawer with this question. I get a little cagey and want to say, "GET OUTTA THERE, PERV." I guess I think of one line, the first line, for a few days and then the rest just comes out like vomit.
Your book, Tongue Party, is forthcoming from Caketrain Press. The excerpt I read in PANK was absolutely heart-wrenching and it left me wanting more. In terms of Tongue Party, what is a "tongue;" how would you define it? What else can you tell us about the book?
The tongue is the heart of the mouth. The book . . . I don't know. Someone called it aggressive fiction once. I liked that. I thought that was fitting. I just wanted to deal with consumption, language, and aggressiveness.
What five books do you recommend most often?
60 Stories by Donald Barthelme
Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck
Notable American Women by Ben Marcus
Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter
An American Dream by Norman Mailer
What have you learned from your own writing?
That it's okay to rip your skin off a little bit.
What's next for Sarah Rose Etter?
Benjamin Franklin, I think. <3
Sarah Rose Etter is the author of Tongue Party (Caketrain Press, 2011). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Flatmancrooked, PANK Magazine, elimae, The Baltimore Review, and more. She earned her B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University and her MFA in Fiction from Rosemont College. Visit her website [here]
Two names. DJ Berndt and Shaun Gannon. United, they are the D-Generation X of the online lit scene as well as the driving force behind this past week's much-discussed, Let People Poems--an online literary forum in which anyone can contribute writing. There is no submission guidelines or editor. There is nothing but the opportunity to share one's work with the rest of the online lit community. The project began as a Blogspot, but due to this past week's sudden rise in the number of contributors, LPP quickly moved to Wordpress. Here's what the two writers had to say about their project:
PC: So how did the concept for Let People Poems come about?
SG: Well, I have the chat log where we came up with it. So we were talking on Gmail chat really late and DJ said we should start a lit-blog:
"Let people poems," said DJ.
"I don't know if that will pan out. Let people poems," Shaun replied.
"Hahahahaha," laughed DJ.
"I like let people poems," said Shaun. "Straight to the point, obliquely."
"Yeah," replied DJ. "Let people poems."
"And let literally anyone post something," said Shaun. "Like they email you for an invite to blog there. And then they can upload whatever! And have no limit on who can join!"
SG: So the title, "Let People Poems," came from a typo, or grammatical error. But it made me think that was the perfect way to express the idea for an awesome site. Where we simply let people poems. I just really liked the idea of having a completely open lit site with a facilitator and not an editor.
DB: Yeah, basically, Shaun and I were Gmail chatting late one night and somehow the phrase, "let people poems," stumbled out of me and Shaun ran with it. We were excited to see if an open, organic lit blog would grow. Or just become spam and die.
PC: Well, people are still contributing. Did you imagine the site would attract so many writers?
SG: I didn't expect it to attract as many people considered "prevalent." Like the first post was xTx, who is all over. And then Frank Hinton posted pretty quickly, too. And then the Internet Poetry bros also got into it pretty quickly. So I was just surprised to see it embraced by a lot of writers I admire. It makes sense . . . how things branch out via word of mouth. That people who were 'strangers' to me would end up posting. But I didn't expect it to happen so quickly.
DB: I definitely didn't expect it to explode like it did. It's kind of crazy to me that we got 11,000ish hits in one week. I think it says something really positive about the lit community as a whole. I think that, despite out differences about what we all think poetry is, we can all just get together and let people poems. It was so funny (and cool) for me to see people talking about LPP on other forums and blogs.
SG: Yeah, there might be bickering and whatnot between people, but whatever man. If you want to post here, you can post here. I'm not going to ban people for having slap-fights in comment threads.
PC: I'll get behind that. How important are the comment sections?
SG: The comment sections are really important to the site. I think being able to communicate with one another on the site is what makes it a community. And not just a list of poems.
DB: If somehow a community sparked out of LPP, that would be really cool, I think.
PC: Definitely. So is LPP here to stay?
SG: That's all up to the contributors. I'll keep paying for the domain and keeping that gate open as long as people are coming in.
PC: So would you say that one should "let people poems" because it simply strengthens a sense of community in terms of online literature?
DB: Well, it's kind of an organic thing to me. It grows and takes its shape based solely on trends that people make up. For example, the "Craigslist" poems about female online writers was awesome for me to watch, because it evolved solely out of creativity--in an open forum. People just ran with it.
SG: Yeah, the fact that we're willing to respond to each others' poems shows how we're working as a community.
PC: Additionally, all of the work on LPP is actually really good.
DB: I'm really surprised at how responsible and creative people have been.
SG: It's very surprising to me--the level of quality. Since it's entirely open, we could have had nothing but awful high schoolers posting trash.
PC: Right, well, what would you do if awful high schoolers did begin posting trash?
SG: If that is what LPP becomes, then that is what it becomes. It's an open forum. That's the entire point. But the beautiful thing about it is that LPP is so quality!
DB: Anything can be posted there. The only thing Shaun and I did was put up a big, blank piece of paper. Everyone else filled it in.
SG: I think the only time I wouldn't let someone "poem" is if they were going to spam the site without taking the community into regard. Contributors were getting upset when a poster was posting immediately after they did to circumvent the 'no double-posting' rule. And this poster wasn't contributing any comments or interested in criticism of the work. If you spam the site with quality and you are willing to communicate with the writers in the comment threads, then you win, in my eyes. But when you're shoving others out of the sandbox--when you're not letting them play--that's unfair.
PC: Right. And this particular sandbox is spacious. There's no need for shoving. Currently, I'd say that it's a great resource for writers. Especially writers new to the online literature scene.
DB: Also, I think some readers think LPP possibly sold out because there are ads on our site. But they are there by default. We're not making any money if you click on those ads. It's just too expensive to have them removed.
PC: Yeah, everyone. Let People Poems is not 'the system.'
DB: In closing, we would just like to thank everyone who contributed and who will contribute to LPP in the future. I think it's remarkable--how well it's done. And it's just because people were cool with it. So everyone who contributed, pat yourself on the back, champs!
SG: Yeah, this is all on them. We're just here to let people poems.
PC: Anything else?
SG: I AM SHAUN GANNON!
DJ: Shaun Gannon cannot arm wrestle!
DJ: We like to end professionally.
DJ Berndt blogs at Self-Conscious and is the founding editor at Pangur Ban Partyand an editor at Metazen. His work has appeared in places like decomP, For Every Year, and My Name is Mud. He is a bb. Go vikings!
Shaun Gannon is the author of the echapbook, Casual Glory; or, Macaulay Culkin Does Nothing (Pangur Ban Party, 2010). He is currently in the MFA program at the University of Maryland. His work has also been published in places such as Everyday Genius and The Corduroy Mtn. He blogs [here]
How have online literary journals affected the way you read poetry?
Online literary journals allow me to more easily encounter an intense level of diversity. Styles, techniques, traditions, forms: all kinds of crazy words up the wazoo, and all right next to each other to boot. It's incredible, and reminds me how infinite poetry is, and how many poets there are writing it. It's daunting, but also fantastic in the sense of support and community. The inspiration of like minds (all trying to do different things). And with that, online journals also steer me into reading more books. The online encounter of someone incredible leads to searches and purchases.
What would Philadelphia be like without Paul Siegell?
Philly would be 1/6 millionth quieter. It'd be 1/6 millionth less conceptual, less quirky. It'd be 1/6 millionth less narcissistic and less secure. There would also be 1/6 millionth less of the stench of farts.
Wild Life Rifle Fire may not take long to read, but it stays with you--inside your head--all day. All week. Longer even. It's a book that one often wants to revisit. How long did you spend working on WLRF? Which piece from WLRF was the one that started it all?
Thank you for your kind words (and this interview). They are greatly appreciated. Wild Life Rifle Fire was so much fun to write and I'm glad it has an impact. Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 was the day it all started and Otoliths Books released it on Sunday, February 21st, 2010.
It was the morning after the long Labor Day weekend, with me seeking that wrestle and peace of writing something well, and I looked up on a weirdness: I had "ZOOM IN" typed in Helvetica on my screen, a headline for some ad at my marketing department job. I increased the point size a bit but I went too far and it was too much for the margins and then Word broke the line to reveal: "ZOO / M IN." Cue eureka. (Animals in captivity + zooming in makes something larger, but this says minimize.) I fell in love immediately and that, as if a meditation, would become the first page of the book. (Side note: the Disco Biscuits' "Digital Buddha" was playing when all that happened.) I hit print and took "ZOO / M IN" home to show my fiancee. She took one look and said, "Make more."
What was your most played album of your high school years?
9th grade: Pearl Jam Ten and Nirvana Nevermind.
10th grade: Blind Melon Blind Melon, Soul Asylum Grave Dancers Union and Tool Undertow.
11th grade: Counting Crows August and Everything After, Green Day Dookie and Grateful Dead American Beauty.
12th grade: Blue Traveler Four, Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York, Phish Junta and Bob Marley Legend.
If you'd asked about middle school, I'd have said 2 Live Crew As Nasty As They Wanna Be. (What? Sicko.)
Have any of your favorite concerts coincidentally transformed into some of your favorite poems?
From Poemergency Room, "04.06.06 - the Greyboy Allstars - TLA, PA." A buddy of mine who never dances at shows danced his ass of that night.
From jambandbootleg, "SET 1" is an amalgamation of pretty much every PHiSH show I've ever been lucky enough to attend. That's a pretty special poem for me. "11.17.05 - Galactic - TLA, PA" is a great, crescendo-ing opening poem for a reading. "10.19.96 - PHiSH - Marine Midland Arena, NY" is me at my most, er, ridiculous at a show. And "12.03.05 - Iron & Wine w/ Calexico - Electric Factory, PA" is central to the story of how my fiancee and I got together. Highlights!
From the someday forthcoming Trombone Bubble Bath, "05.05.07 - Jonathan Freilich, Skerik, Stanton Moore, Todd Sickafoose & Mike Dillon - Chickie Wah Wah, NOLA" is a poem in the shape of a saxophone, and when I read it I get to produce an energetic and powerful tone, so it's a really fun poem for me to read aloud. It's the kind of poem I throw my hip into.
Tell me more about Trombone Bubble Bath. Is that the only new project on the horizon?
The next big thing is Trombone Bubble Bath, which is currently in manuscript. (((Who's got my publisher?))) Look for poems to go down the left margin, look for some sonnets, and also, sculpted by the spacebar, poems in the shape of a raven, a trumpet, a sax, an old STS9 sticker, Roger Waters on his bass, and a few other kaleidoscopic offerings that I'm very excited about.
I'm also all up in a manuscript called Take Out Delivery. It's completely different than anything I've ever done. Short bursts of (hopefully) bigness. The series started coming outta me in August 2010, and poems from it have been finding homes in places like Dark Sky Magazine, Everyday Genius and No Tell Motel.
Yeah, it's always good to have something to work on, you know? Poems to write and revise, poems to submit. A purpose. I'm looking forward to seeing where all this is going, and I'm incredibly grateful that there's a reader or two out there sharing in this experience with me.
Paul Siegell is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). Trailers of these books are yours for the viewing [here]. Paul is an editor at Painted Bride Quarterly, and has contributed to American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Rattle, and other fine journals. He has also been featured in the Philadelphia City Paper, Paste Magazine, Relix Magazine and elsewhere exciting. Kindly find more of Paul's work ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL.