Matthew Lippman: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Matthew Lippman
October 09, 2010
Your book is full of profanity. Why?
I curse a lot. I am in love with words like “motherfucker” and “shit.” I don’t know why. There was, too, a conscious decision–I think it was conscious–of pushing the envelope of poetry. I just don’t connect to the more academic, more languagey stuff. So, I tried really hard to get this profanity into my poetry and not have it feel stiff and too colloquial. Have it feel like we were all hanging around in the lunchroom. I wanted to make the profanity work as, dare I say, art. It’s not art, though, it’s just “fuckhead” and so on. Fun. It was fun.
Have you encountered any problems because of the profanity in the poems?
I read at a school last night and the woman who invited me asked if I would “PG the poems.” I knew that this would be the case because, you know, I was reading to high school students and using the word “dicksuckers” probably would not have gone over too well with the faculty/administration. I understand the impulse to tone it down. I work in a high school myself and when I invite readers, I do the same thing. The great irony of the whole enterprise is that high school kids love to hear the word “dicksuckers” in poems. It inspires them, makes them feel free, makes them laugh. So, I toned some of the poems down, others, not. The ones I did, felt weird and I knew, as I was reading the poems, that the kids could see through me. Never again, I swore. We’ll see. I have to respect the people who are paying me.
The other problem is that my daughter, who is five, can read and so when she picks up Monkey Bars, I have to make sure she’s not getting into poems like “Fuckhead.” Ultimately, it was just fun to write so freely. I love poets who write freely. Poet’s like Dorothea Lasky.
What is your favorite poem in Monkey Bars?
I don’t have any favorites.
I ask because there is a tinge of anger that runs through these poems. Were you pissed off when you wrote them?
I’m always pissed off. I’m always beautiful and tender. I think humor and anger are the defining characteristics of the book. I tried to be as honest as possible when writing these pieces. You know, that’s not a very interesting thing to say, but it’s true. But here’s the thing—the poems I have been writing lately are less angry, more tender, a touch more redemptive. So, in that way, the whole four year process of getting these out was very good for my little anger engine. Writing calmed it down. I want to get to the point where that little turbine of rage will finally sputter and sputter and then quit on itself, on me. It was fun, though, to write lines like, “Mike Goldstein is a bitch.” God, it was so much fun.
What are the new poems like?
They are a bit softer. There’s still some dog in them some beast, but, overall, more tender. The trick, I think, is to keep the dog in there but to be more loving, more soulful, more full of the sweet caress.
If you could make a lot of money writing poetry how would you do it?
I would do ads for Nike. I would do ads for The Gap and Whole Foods and Mercedes Benz and Louis Vuitton. I figure, shit, if Bono and his wife can get paid a million bucks to have someone take a photograph of them in Africa wearing clothes, why not me. That’s all I want, really, out of life. To take care of my family with the poems like Bono takes care of his family with the songs. We write about the same stuff—social injustice, love, politics, global famine and warmth. Monkey Bars is just as good, or better, than BOY of JOSHUA TREE. Hah. All so American and rich. So, that’s how I’d make money and also, get paid 10 grand for every reading I do, except at schools. Really, the essence of the work is that it connects—emotionally, socially, politically—with everyone. Do I sound out of my mind? Naw. I don’t think so. It’s beautiful, really.
So, poetry is just another extension of commerce for you?
Damn straight. It’s an X-Box or a pair of 350 dollar Cole Haans. Or Silly Bands.
There’s no, you know, deeper “thing” there?
What’s the difference between a poem and a painting, or another art artifact that sells for a lot of money, a song by Lady Gaga or a novel by Nicole Krauss? It’s all perspective? It’s all relative. What sells a song? A painting? It’s the accessibility of its beauty and that is what I am in the business of making—accessible artifacts that reach a large audience and are beautiful. What’s “deep” about it, the making of a poem, of a poem, is that it comes from a sweetly tethered bond between the heart and the head. Then it’s fun. Next, it’s got to sell.
You should work for J. Crew.
I don’t like clothes, but thanks.
No, thank you. This has been very illuminating. I wish you well and good fortunes, all the riches of the world and health to your family.
Blessings to you.
Ha. Profanity poetry. Sounds like just the ticket for me!
Loved the self-interview!
The interviewer seems more in touch then most talking heads, was he attractive?