What are your poems about?

Sex. Sex and money. The poems of In This Alone Impulse inhabit the interstitial space within the body politic, they’re little assassins paid to rape people in/out of their slumber.

Be honest.

Fine. These poems are about the chemistry of dependence and malaise. They are little language pills designed to work away at the Broca’s area of the brain, to assess and treat expressive aphasia.

So you’re a doctor.

Doctor Feelbad, at your service. Overcoming sex-pressive aphasia can be a nasty business. One of my patients, during convalescence, began to use language so bigly the hospital collapsed around her.

Bigly isn’t a word. I’m sorry to hear it. Is she okay?

The use is archaic. The hospital was just a cardboard box, fortunately. She didn’t have healthcare. Another victim never woke up, and it was beautiful. Her mouth opened around the most amazing sentence I’d ever heard, then closed forever.

Don’t you mean patient?

We tried to be, but in the bigly end we couldn’t wait. Had to operate. Truth will out.

So you know the truth when you see it, do you?

Who says I saw it? No, I only heard about this secondhand. At the time, I was in the counting house, counting all my money. This poetry business is a racket.

Business? I’m glad to hear you say that, because then you doubtless agree that the customer is always right.


And as the customer, I have a request.


And my request—as you’ve obviously expected from the outset—is that you explain your work so I don’t have to be responsible for my own interpretation.

You’re right, I’ve been unfair.

Well, you’re treating me like I’m some nincompoop who’s never heard of reader-response theory. I’m not your enemy, Shya. I’m a fan. I just want to ask you a couple of questions.

I understand.

See, now you’ve got me angry. I’m sorry, but I’m really sick of all you poets thinking you’re a league above your readers—sad little serfs with whom you must occasionally condescend to interact. It’s arrogant, insulting, and frankly, reeks not a little of fear and self-loathing. Are you a self-loathing poet?

Crushingly so. When will it end?

Maybe it will end when you drop all your dumb facades and try focusing on bridging the gap between yourself and the world, instead of willfully prying it open wider. That’s what you’re doing, right? You’re not “speaking” in any traditional sense, you’re just expressing. Cows can express. They can open their mouths and moo. And that’s great, mooing is nice.

Well I think you’re going a little far.

Do you? That’s nice. Let’s see… Oh, why go even farther than the first line? “This like we, likely, is this is, undo.” What distinguishes this from an intricate moo?

Well now you’re putting me in a position. What do you think?

I think it’s a simile struggling to emerge, or a group, a “we” trying to liken themselves to something, to gain perspective. But failing. Or having difficulty, at any rate. It seems to be saying that simile, even as it seeks to enrich understanding, breaks things apart, creates division. I liken something to something else, and in doing so formally separate these two things. But there’s a struggle! Proximity becomes a kind of poisoned commodity (This sums us up.), something sought but also the source of pain, or at least potential erasure. The poem seems to suggest or paint an attempt to self-define, to build identity in the face of some destructive force that’s paradoxically has its origins in the will-to-create. The end, then, is about compromise. What bends so it won’t break? What burns? I’m thinking a bridge. Maybe one with an ogre underneath it. Or a subconscious.

Oh come on. That’s a stretch.

Well what do you think?

I think you’re more familiar with interstices than you let on.

So how long have you been writing poetry?

Actually, I’ve been meaning to clarify. I don’t write poetry. I write fiction.

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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

13 responses to “Shya Scanlon: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Hey Shya:

    What a long, strange trip it’s been. Great to have you aboard, my friend.

  2. Shya Scanlon says:

    Thanks, Rich! An honor to be here.

  3. […] a coup for my arrogance and solipsism, The Nervous Breakdown has run a self-interview about, well, me. And my […]

  4. AXS says:

    I snorted twice. Thank you.

  5. paula says:

    I feel enlightened.

  6. milo martin says:

    i think that you had private poetry lessons from Gertrude Stein…
    i am looking forward to the audio tracks for these poems as i feel these poems will take on a further dimension with their quasi-anaphoric texture…
    and your self-interview was smart indeed…

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      Check out the youtube vidoes! http://www.youtube.com/user/ShyaScanlon

      Yeah, some of them are quite Stein-y. The strange part is that I hadn’t read nearly any Stein at the time I wrote them. I arrived at them from listening to myself stutter, and by listening to people talk on the phone. Or perhaps Stein communicated to me using some kind of indirect cultural transmission.

  7. Erika Rae says:


    I adore that you describe your poems as “little assassins paid to rape people in/out of their slumber.” I plan to quote that.

  8. Simon Smithson says:

    Bigly son of a bitch! How did I miss this?

    I, also, snorted.

  9. […] SHYA SCANLON on Shya Scanlon […]

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