Mark Leidner weaponizes the deadpan tone of a defeated world to reclaim that classically Romantic thing: the Sublime. Weaponizes like the weapon is a water gun; reclaims like he’s won a water gun contest and the reward is the end of global warming. In Returning the Sword to the Stone, Mark isolates the scenes of absurdity that string our inner lives together while gesturing toward the authenticities still available to us at this late date, this deeply stupid, cynical, and sentimental moment in history. Reading this collection was re-invigorating and a reminder that the opposite of stupidity is not intelligence but love.

 

Mark is a generous, wise, and witty writer. This interview was conducted by email.

 

While reading these poems, I was reminded of the D W Winnicott line where he says flippancy is a reaction to despair. What do you think is the relationship between that attitude and that feeling in your work? Does playfulness exist in concert with futility/frustration, or is it something purer and more simply fun?

 

I try to pair flippancy with something else — some other kind of seriousness, a lyricism, a formal constraint — to create tension. My favorite poetry is flippant yet not, playful yet ferocious, silly but provocative. Such conflicts are also the way I feel most of the time: despairing yet ready to laugh, contemptful yet looking to show mercy, skeptical but hoping to be naïve, etc.

 

Following on that, what or who is the contempt directed toward? The idealism here seems to be connected to love – the marveling at your subject who recites “Having a Coke with You” is one of the most moving invocations of love I’ve read in a long time. I love how that poem lifts off. Do you feel idealistic about love and love for writing? Or, why was it important to you to write a love poem where what you love is how much someone loves something else and loves sharing that something else with someone else?

 

I try to reserve the majority of my contempt for my own greed, vanity, and pettiness, but it often sprawls into contempt for the same qualities in others or the culture generally. While I’m idealistic about love and writing most of the time, that idealism is freighted with contempt for the deluding character of love and poetry. I usually feel satisfied with a poem’s honesty about poetry if it has at least little of both of these impulses in it.

 

In “Having a Coke with You,” I was recording a real-life event that spontaneously happened, so I didn’t think too much about underlying whys. In retrospect, it makes sense that I’d want to write this poem and put it in the book because it does present an ideal of love I believe in. Loving someone or something outside yourself is one way to escape the claustrophobia of exclusive self-regard. Loving someone outside yourself who in turn loves something outside themselves — poetry in this case, or a way of relating to it — seems like a more liberating extension of that transcendent space.

 

Transcendence calls to mind the moments of almost gleeful resignation in the collection: in the title poem, returning the sword to the stone (in all its forms) seems to indicate some abdication of expectation that sets you free. Is this act of playfully loving your limits (Sisyphus licking the stone) the same as humility?

 

We all face limitations we have no control over, mortality being the main one. I think learning to accept limitations, and possibly even to love them, is one pinnacle of wisdom. There is that Eliot line from the Four Quartets: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” Someone quoted it to me once, and I often return to it. In Returning the Sword to the Stone I wanted to explore it.

 

I started the drive at 5AM from my Chicago apartment to Funks Grove, an unincorporated woodland area twenty minutes south of Bloomington-Normal. I was supposed to start working the previous day, but the publisher of Dalkey Archive Press had been in the hospital for treatment of a heart attack over the weekend. Off I-55, the narrow road twisted through corn fields and forest preserve. I pulled into the driveway and heard multiple dogs barking while I gathered my bags. The door opened as I approached and, in his Irish staccato speech, John O’Brien told the golden labs, “Quiet down, guys, it’s just my new friend.” 

The house smelled of cigarettes, which was no surprise after my three-hour Zoom interview the week before, during which John chain-smoked as we discussed the difficulties of modern publishing. The week I arrived, John gave up smoking after fifty years of doing so, because his cardiologist bet him that he couldn’t quit, and he was determined to prove him wrong.

I was admittedly nervous due to the notoriety of the Dalkey Archive Press, as well as the infamous “worst job posting ever” articles that appeared when I initially researched job openings at Dalkey. The 2012 posting for an unpaid internship demanded applicants “do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.).” John was the one to bring up the posting in my interview, stating “I’ve been called an asshole many times before, but never as much in a twenty-four-hour period. Some people don’t get my humor.” While my position was for a modest salary, commensurate with experience, I convinced myself it would be worth the opportunity, and if not, I would try to learn more about publishing.

Greg Gerke is the author of the essay collection See What I See (Zerogram Press).

 

Gerke’s work has appeared in Tin House, Film Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, and other publications. He is also the author of a story collection entitled Especially the Bad Things, which was published by Splice in 2019. He lives in New York.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

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Mark Leidner is the author of the poetry collection Returning the Sword to the Stone (Fonograf Editions).

 

 

Leidner is also the author of two feature films: the sci-fi noir Empathy, Inc. (2019) and the relationship comedy Jammed (2014), as well as the story collection Under the Sea (Tyrant Books, 2018), the poetry collection Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me (Factory Hollow, 2011), and the book of aphorisms The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover (Sator, 2011). He lives in California.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

A man is following me through a congregation of sightseers who’ve got no idea I’m about to be murdered. Shy is awestruck with the hundreds of gelato flavors and says, “Look! There’s one that tastes like blood…” but I can’t look because the guy is just beyond the open door, staring. He wants to kill me because when he got emasculated by a sort-of mime who made a slide-whistle noise while running a balloon sword up the inside of the guy’s thighs, everyone in the Piazza della Rotonda laughed, but I laughed closest, so I was his prey. I tell the scooper I would like half-pistachio, half-blood. 

 

***

 

Pool water wet, I weave through olive trees desperate to nab the pet-shaped blur I let escape out the villa door. All the others are jet lag napping and you and Chelsea are approaching fast so there’s nothing to do but fess up. You laugh and say no, there’s no dog, but, Chelsea asks, did it happen to have udders, which yeah, come to think of it, the dog mooed. 

 

The plumber’s pantomiming freestyle swimming and then he’s pantomiming a plumber who is shivering so hard he’s gotta grab his own arms tight or else he’d Energizer Bunny the fuck up, out, and away. He is doing this because, although my appearance says otherwise, I cannot speak his language. But little does he know, I’m from Boston and drink Dunkin Iced Coffees when it’s negative degrees, in fahkin Fahrenheit, dude. You’re around the side of the house, cracking up so hard, you’re a yellow rubber chicken that can no longer scream, just wheeze.  

Pedro Mairal is the author of the novel The Woman from Uruguay (Bloomsbury), translated by Jennifer Croft.

 

Mairal was born in Buenos Aires in 1970. He studied a degree in ‘Letras’ (‘Humanities’) at USAL (‘University of el Salvador’) where he was an assistant lecturer of English Literature. He has published three novels, a volume of short stories and two poetry books. His first novel, Una noche con Sabrina Love, was awarded the ‘Premio Clarín’ (‘Clarín Prize’) in 1998 with a panel of judges comprising Roa Bastos, Bioy Casares and Cabrera Infante, and was adapted to the screen in the year 2000. His work has been translated and published in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Germany. In 2007 the Bogotá39 jury selected him among the most notorious 39 young Latin-American authors. He currently lives in Montevideo.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

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Forrest Gander is the author of the poetry collection Twice Alive, available now from New Directions. In 2019, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection Be With.

 

Gander’s other books include Core Samples from the Worldwhich was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has collaborated frequently with other artists including photographers Sally Mann, Graciela Iturbide, Raymond Meeks, and Lucas Foglia, glass artist Michael Rogers, ceramic artists Rick Hirsch and Ashwini Bhat, artists Ann Hamilton, Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, dancers Eiko & Koma, and musicians Vic Chesnutt and Brady Earnhart, among others.

Gander was born in the Mojave Desert and grew up in Virginia. In addition to writing poetry, he has translated works by Coral Bracho, Alfonso D’Aquino, Pura Lopez-Colome, Pablo Neruda, and Jaime Saenz. The recipient of grants from the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim, Howard, Whiting, and United States Artists Foundations, he taught for many years as the AK Seaver Professor of Literary Arts & Comparative Literature at Brown University.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

www.otherppl.com

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

I usually think people hate me which is why when Mario hadn’t texted me since I’d rejected his poem, I thought he hated me. 

 

But it turned out he didn’t hate me, he’d just killed himself.

 

Not to say it was a relief. 

 

Thank God, he hadn’t killed himself because I’d rejected his poem. I found out from a mutual friend when exactly he’d killed himself. It was a few days after submitting the poem to me but before I’d emailed him the rejection.

 

That part was a relief. So to speak.

 

But then I was in a predicament. Everyone was posting positive things about him and his good poems. I was very depressed and playing video games all the time and didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself “Fuck, should I just publish this? Maybe as a celebration of his life?”

 

The problem was the poem was bad. Not his best work. Not his worst work either, he’d published that back when he was in college. I wondered whether his decline as an artist was what made him kill himself. There wasn’t a note. Not that I know of, at least. Not that I would know whether or not there was a note.

 

We weren’t very good friends. Mostly friendly, with the wary respect that you feel for someone who is a version of you from an alternate universe. Someone mistook us for brothers one time at a reading.

 

We both said “Haha, no, not brothers.”

 

Then he introduced himself to me. 

 

He seemed slick and he really wanted to be liked. I really wanted to be liked too but went more for the blank canvas approach: don’t flatter people, just kind of be there and eventually people will decide they like you. Other people’s attention was like an oncoming train—just stand to the side and be ready to sneakily jump on but whatever you do, don’t meet it head on or invite it.

Lana Bastasic is the author of the debut novel Catch the Rabbit, winner of the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature. Available now in translation from Restless Books. The official June pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Bastasic is a Yugoslav-born writer. She majored in English and holds a master’s degree in cultural studies. She has published three collections of short stories, one book of children’s stories and one of poetry. She lives in Belgrade.

Her short stories have been included in regional anthologies and magazines throughout the former Yugoslavia. She has won the Best Short Story section at the Zija Dizdarević competition in Fojnica; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ festival in Podgorica; Best Short Story at the Ulaznica festival in Zrenjanin; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright (Kamerni teatar 55 in Sarajevo) and the Targa Unesco Prize for poetry in Trieste. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom in Barcelona and she now co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She is one of the creators of the ‘3+3 sisters’ project, which aims to promote women writers of the Balkans.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

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The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

 

[Below is an excerpt from Brooks Sterritt’s new novel The History of America in My Lifetime. Get your copy here!]

 


 

The first powder they provided for our enjoyment sharpened something inside me, and dulled something else. My body ceased functioning in the way I was accustomed. Reagan switched on speakers in the room’s corner, filling the air with what may have been a brown note. The two of them flanked a lamp, and sort of shimmied there, watching me. I was reminded of Giotto’s Death and Ascension of St. Francis, for the angels of course but also for what was hidden inside the cloud. In foreground: corpse, mourners, roughly ten haloed angels (some with illegible faces), and the ascendant St. Francis. The cloud, though, contained the face of what could only be a devil, demon, imp, daemon, fiend, or fallen angel. What else watches from a cloud?

 

The better question: what did “demon” really mean? Even if you reject the label, some things shined with enough intensity to make direct viewing of the source impossible. Some had an ability to control brightness, to blur certain aspects of themselves, even to cloud a mind or two. 

 

The second powder they gave me caused my body to sink into what felt like a jelly-filled bag. A series of sounds: paper being shredded in slow-motion, a chainsaw backwards, the sound of a single finger snap echoing, extended until it sounded like a hiss of flame. I breathed heavy electricity. A layer of clear glass emerged between my eyes and surroundings, which then shattered, reemerged, and shattered, until the ceiling extended into an infinite corridor. Woodland paths and streams became visible in the tile, a maze buzzed into the hair on someone’s gargantuan head. The pair of attendants were sitting on the edge of the bed, talking.

 

“They always say they can go forever,” Reagan said.

“Like, I’m going to fuck you for hours,” the other said.

“Then, a few minutes later…”

Barrett Swanson is the author of the essay collection Lost in Summerland (Counterpoint Press).

 

Swanson is a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine. He was the recipient of a 2015 Pushcart Prize, and his short fiction and essays have been distinguished as notable in Best American Short Stories (2019), Best American Nonrequired Reading (2014), Best American Essays (2014, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020) and Best American Sports Writing (2017). His work has appeared in many places, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, The Believer, American Short Fiction, The New Republic, The Atavist, Guernica, The Guardian, Best American Travel Writing 2018, and Best American Travel Writing 2020. He lives in the Midwest.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

www.otherppl.com

@otherppl

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Melissa Febos is the author of the essay collection Girlhood (Bloomsbury). It is a national bestseller.

 

Her other books include the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (St. Martin’s Press 2010), and the essay collection, Abandon Me (Bloomsbury 2017), which was a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, a Publishing Triangle Award finalist, an Indie Next Pick, and was widely named a Best Book of 2017. A craft book, Body Work, will be published by Catapult in March 2022.

The inaugural winner of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary, her work has appeared in publications including The Paris Review, The Sun, The Kenyon Review, Tin House, Granta, The Believer, McSweeney’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Elle, and Vogue. Her essays have won prizes from Prairie Schooner, Story Quarterly, The Sewanee Review, and The Center for Women Writers at Salem College. She is a four-time MacDowell fellow and has also received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Memorial Foundation, The BAU Institute at The Camargo Foundation, The Ragdale Foundation, and The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which named her the 2018 recipient of the Sarah Verdone Writing Award.

She co-curated the Mixer Reading and Music Series in Manhattan for ten years and served on the Board of Directors for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts for five. The recipient of an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, she is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Sam Tallent is the guest. His debut novel, Running the Lightis available on Too Big To Fail Press.

 

Known for whip-quick wit and rollicking improvisations, Tallent is one of the sharpest, most original rising talents in comedy today. For the last 10 years, he has performed at least 45 weekends annually across America, Canada and France. Called “the absurd voice of a surreal generation” by the Denver Post, Sam is beloved by fans of contemporary comedy. He was a New Face at the 2019 Just for Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival, he won his battle on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle, hosted the Denver episode of VICELAND’s Flophouse and appeared on the Chris Gerhard Show to impress a girl. His critically acclaimed debut novel Running the Light— heralded as the “definitive novel about stand up comedy” (Marc Maron, WTF) — was published in 2020 and his short fiction has been published on VICE.com and in BIRDY magazine. He lives in Colorado with his wife and his dog.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Courtney Zoffness is the author of Spilt Milk, a collection of memoirs available from McSweeney’s. It is the official May pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Zoffness writes fiction and nonfiction. She won the 2018 Sunday Times Short Story Award, the most valuable international prize for short fiction, amid entries from 38 countries. Other honors include an Emerging Writers Fellowship from the Center for Fiction, the Arts & Letters Creative Nonfiction Prize, and two residency fellowships from MacDowell. Her writing has appeared in various outlets, including the Paris Review Daily, the New York Times, The Southern Review, Guernica, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and she had “notable” essays in Best American Essays 2018 & 2019.

Zoffness holds graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona, and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She directs the Creative Writing Program at Drew University and is a faculty member at Writing Workshops in Greece. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.

Elissa Washuta is the author of the essay collection White Magicnow available from Tin House.

 

Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a nonfiction writer. Her other books are My Body Is a Book of Rules and Starvation Mode, and with Theresa Warburton, she is co-editor of the anthology Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Capital, Artist Trust, 4Culture, and Potlatch Fund. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the Ohio State University.

***

Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Life. Death. Etc.

Support the show on Patreon

Merch

@otherppl

Instagram

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Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.