January 19, 2012
Mike Bushnell has been making Internet literature for years, and in 2007 he appeared as the force behind publishers Jaguar Uprising and Bore Parade. He also created an alter ego in the form of a professional wrestler called “The Industry,” with which he made promo videos wherein he wore his now-signature face paint and business suit as he screamed threats into the camera. Jaguar Uprising was a chapbook press as well as a sort of shock squad that challenged literary and Internet conventions, while Bore Parade specialized in parodies and tributes to the aesthetics of the publisher Bear Parade.
I took closer notice of the latter development, as back then I was obsessed with most of the Bear Parade authors, including Tao Lin, Ellen Kennedy, Noah Cicero, and Brandon Gorrell. But after a couple of years, Bore Parade and Jaguar Uprising petered out, and the name Mike Bushnell faded into obscurity on my Internet radar.
He resurfaced on that radar over the past year with the website I Am Party (the site’s classifieds section is hilarious). In fact, I discovered that he had never really left at all. Rather, he had assumed the pseudonym Martin Wall and had continued to produce lots of writing.
This past August I did a reading with Mike in Brooklyn for the opening night of Poncho Pelligroso and Steve Roggenbuck’s tour. Mike appeared with the old war paint and suit and tie. He fooled the room by embedding his friends in the audience to play his foils. When he came up to read, these loud guys got even worse and Mike got into a fight with one of them. It was then that we realized it was all a ruse, albeit a very entertaining one.
After the reading, I kept in contact with Mike. I added him on Facebook, where previously I had been unable to find him because he used the name Salisbury Bushnell. I bought his most recent poetry collection, Traumahawk (Six Gallery Press, 2010). The book contains short poems that employ minimalist language but are still able to produce a gushing, flowing effect. A few weeks ago he showed me videos he’d made, reading his current work-in-progress, Mesomporph Gospels. I asked him if he would be willing to do an interview regarding his work, and he said he’d be delighted.
Hey, Mike. How’s it going?
Eating some Checkers. Just got home from seeing the Dragon Tattoo movie—some good suspense.
Have you read the book?
Yeah, I did. Pretty different than the book.
I like the narrative sort of flow to your book—why poetry and not prose?
I don’t really know how to write proper sentences. My reading style is very broken up. I tend to read a few words, then sit and think about what I just read, regardless of the style of text I’m reading. I like to open books to random pages and start reading instead of reading sequentially. I long for structures that can be looked at from micro to macro, and stand up to the test, down to the word or letter pattern.
Also, poetics calls to me for some reason. I hear the call of poetics; I don’t hear the call of novels or prose. I don’t hear a thing. Sometimes I’ll try to write it, but I never get into it. It’s all thought and no catharsis—when I do it, at least.
What do you think of line breaks? I feel like they’re really intuitive and difficult to explain.
The worst thing about line breaks is the voice that most people believe you must read in, if the thing you’re reading has line breaks.
Nevermind that, though. I like a line break to serve multiple purposes, and for some of those purposes to be intentional while others, not so much.
What are the different books you have besides Traumahawk? I know you showed me one other book. It had a bibliography.
I started writing books in 2004. I’ve written more than ten books of poetics since then. Some with essays, varying in length from forty to a few hundred pages.
A lot of it I did nothing with, I just moved on to writing the next book. I’m more in it for the experiences that writing gives me than I am the rat race of constant publication. And don’t get me wrong—poetics is the core of my life. It’s the power behind every action I take. It’s the light to me, truly. My answerability to my own actions and words is what the writing process holds for me as a supreme boon. Not chicken shacks. Not book deals. I follow the process with the dedication of a warrior. Or I try to, everyday.
Speaking of being a “warrior,” is it okay if I talk about your different literary persona, or is that weird?
Everything is on the table.
I’m interested in your thoughts on Jaguar Uprising and Bore Parade, looking back.
During my time with the Jaguar Uprising I made childish mistakes. I think some of the things my friends and I were doing would be more popular now than they were at the time. I feel proud of some things, like the trip to Tao [Lin]’s book release and the friendship montage, but I feel that throwing my hat so publicly into the ring so early in my life progression dirtied my brand a little. And I’ve been working to find a place in your hearts ever since. I made mistakes, lied, cheated, and felt the repercussions while I paid for it and tried to repent. With many online things, real life invades and steals the spotlight, and before you know it there’s a wall of guilt staring at you from your browser. A guilt that isn’t exactly real, but rather an amplification of the dirty laundry of life. That happened with my first online life.
The reading you did back in August, was that similar to Jaguar Uprising?
Much more refined. Back then I was just a screaming kid. Now I’m a passion beacon pouring on your face. Similar intentions though, probably.
Have you seen the video of Noah Cicero yelling about Jaguar Uprising? Did he not understand it? Was he playing along? Somewhere in middle?
Between ‘somewhere in the middle’ and ‘playing along.’ I think he was serious and also understanding of the satire.
Can you rank these types of human interactions in terms of your personal preference: email, online chat, phone conversation, face-to-face conversation, video chat?
I’ve had high functioning autism my whole life. Part of my experience with it includes times when I don’t want to talk to anyone and am highly withdrawn. Other times, I don’t struggle as much. I’ll include two sets of rankings, up for when I’m social, and down for when I’m reclusive.
Up: face-to-face, phone, video chat, email exchanges, online chat.
Down: online chat, email, face-to-face, video, phone.
What do you think of adjectives? I know we’ve talked before about our mutual relative loathing (too many adjectives there, cringing), but I was wondering if you could expand on your personal views. Also, you utilize adjective stacking and other word stacking in your Traumahawk poems. What’s that about?
I find the shifting of articles from definite to indefinite to be the best use of adjectives. I hate when people only use adjectives to find the color of the words. I also believe adjectives more properly serve as verbs or nouns a lot of the time. I like to be outrageous. When writing I think more about music than grammar. I dislike adjectives in theory mostly due to the dull music that they bring in bulk, so slow.
I believe in word stacking, word comboing and doubling. Sometimes for music, sometimes to make a more specific word, sometimes to push the slow music of two words into a compound. I like to explore what language implies, its possibilities for communication. If it fits the structure of the object I’m following, if it sings to me, I’ll be fearless, so long as I believe it has a communicative core. For example, “underunder” to me means “subconscious.” Internal meaning is a different world than external meaning.
None of your poems have capitalization, I don’t think, except in the titles.
They did when I had punctuation back in ’04. Now I have none, so I don’t cap. I cap “I”, because I think “i” doesn’t look as good on a page. I cap “I” and I use apostrophes in contractions. That’s the only punctuation I use.
Who’s your favorite professional wrestler?
Shawn Micheals, king of selling the injury. Stone Cold is also so awesome, though. Artful.
316, Steve Austin, Stone Cold. Why did he get more nicknames than other wrestlers?
He got them to sell t-shirts.
What do you think of the word inflation?
I think about the word subprime. Subprime loans. In my mind there is a movie that doesn’t exist called Subprime about a family falling apart while their house goes into foreclosure. It airs on TNT three times on weekends. I’ve thought of this movie for many years.
Also, a theme park mogul game I used to play when I was twelve or something. Started out with all inflatables, inflatable palace, inflatable wacky arm guys.
Favorite non-poetry authors.
Joseph Campbell, Raymond Carver, Scott McClanahan, Joanna Newsom, ad writers for Old Spice.
Those ads are funny.
What do you think of the word metaphor?
Favorite arcade games?
The Sims. Triple Play ’97 with the super team code. There was one really small guy who could get an inside the park home run on a bunt.
I have an emotional image of arcades because of an arcade I spent emotionally charged days in back in Ann Arbor, 2002. I associate them with longing.
In ’01 I gave up baseball forever after playing year-round since I was five. I was on track to go to school for it. Played first base and pitcher. I was on a team called the Bombers that got third in the AAU national tournament when I was fourteen or something. That’s when I went to boarding school in Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy, for the last two years of high school. My life was baseball, all around, then I came into poetics, and it took over, and I needed to go and study and spend time.
That kind of happened to me, too. Less extreme shifts though, maybe.
I used to play Triple Play ’97 and dream about the big leagues.
I used to stand in my backyard pretending I was hitting a game-winning home run. Bottom of the ninth. Game 7. World Series.
I hit two home runs on the little league World Series field. I think about that when I imagine ethereal baseball on TV.
What do you think of the phrase day job?
I believe there is no better thing to teach a writer or creator about the substance of the struggle of people’s lives than to have a day job, 9-5, or service. The grind keeps one in tune with the pains that are most important when it comes to relating to other people in this world.
In your author’s note at the end of your book it says you “have disdain for the academy, literary journals, workshop norms, and the lack of historic context sought after in poetics today.” These are curious things to say. The last one in particular rings true for your book.
I’ve been in a few workshops in my life. I’ve always battled through them, often at odds with the discussion. These battles have left a terrible taste in my mouth. I find literary journals to be good for the people involved, but mostly they’re a big part of the rat race that doesn’t interest me much. Literary journals bolster the individual poem, which is fine, but I like a sequence with some wiggle room, be it a long poem or a sequential series or a collection. I’m less interested in journals than books. And my boarding school was an “academy,” so I associate that word with schools, with the bending of wills to faculty aesthetics. I see a place for them, and I ultimately respect them, but I decline the politics in this one part of my life.
As for “historic context”: it’s less about the physical objects of the surrounding time and more about the context of other poets and poets’ lives within the tradition. The movements that got us here. I know plenty of folks who are encyclopedic about things but never personalize it. And that, in line with the politics, leads to a cold aesthetic with no sincerity or passion. I’m not interested in irony or the safety of the dispassionate. I’m all in, no matter what I’m doing.
What poetry were you immersed in while you were writing this collection?
I wasn’t really reading much at the time. I was working a full-time job in a local TV studio. Right now I’m reading Walt Whitman a lot while I write Mesomorph Gospels.
In the poem “Watching Baseball On Mute” you use the phrase “I kneel next to it and embrace machine.” If you had to characterize machines, specifically computers and televisions, as pets, lovers, slaves, or slave-masters, which would you choose as most accurate?
I would go with pets. They are things to give attention to and understand. Then you upkeep them and give them what they need and they do what they are there to do. In the absence of all other organic form, a machine is the next best thing with which to form an emotional placebo.
In the poem I embrace the machine because I’m struck with loneliness and long for connection. Machines can provide many types of connection stand-ins when needed.
What are you up to for 2012? Projects, writings, sites, etc.
I have a couple of big projects coming up. First, I’ve been working on Mesomorph Gospels. It’s very fast and powerful, lines written in phrases, no line breaks, unpunctuated paragraphs. Other than that, there are two sites in the works. One is called the Metawrestling Federation. I’m working on that with Zac, aka Jovial Jellyfish. Metawrestling is an event-based project where creators will compete via performance and general room-sharing to create narratives of loss and victory similar to those seen in pro wrestling. The first event is slated to run in April as a triple threat between Sam Pink, Scott McClanahan, and myself in Brooklyn. This match is for the MWF championship belt. There will be promos, there will be readings, will there be blood? We’ll see. I hope to see the event expand into all sorts of creators competing in the staged circle.
The other is a site created by Noah Cicero and myself called Bulk Culture that will be an editorial/opinion featuring content based on writers rather than category. We’re collecting content creators from all over the web. From the netlit niche we have Noah, Jordan Castro, Sam Pink, Ana C, and Marie Calloway onboard as contributors. Jordan and Noah will have significant roles, and we’re working to solidify other such commitments now.
I have high hopes for these projects, as always, but more importantly I really believe in the people that are coming together to produce them. Nothing is more empowering to me than the group, the team. I love a team sport.