The poems in Bobcat Country feel significantly different than the ones in Hard Reds. Why do you think this is?
The poems in Hard Reds feel more “cooked,” more “done.” People are resistant to the messiness in Bobcat Country, but it was a necessary chaos that allowed me to access places more raw and truly emotional than those depicted in the previous book. Plus, I used a lot of 10-dollar words in Reds. I love 10-dollar words, but I was fortunate enough to have readers—especially David Trinidad—question my use of these words as a defense mechanism to avoid saying what I really wanted to say, needed to say. It’s much more difficult to actually say what you mean than to cover it up with pretty.
You used to talk about “Poet Crushes,” which are different from regular crushes. Who are you Poet-Crushing on these days?
I am Poet-Crushing on a prose writer these days: Aaron Michael Morales, the author of Drowning Tucson. I am Prose-Crushing. You crush me, Aaron Michael Morales!
Poetry pet peeves?
My poetry pet peeves are well documented. Right now, though, it’s talented writers who don’t submit their work. Yeah, you. I’m talking to you. Do you want me to help you? I can come over to your house and lick envelopes. I’ll create your Submishmash account or make you a submission spreadsheet. We’ll both feel better, I promise. Text me.
Why have you been experimenting with fiction?
I think after writing Bobcat Country, I was left wondering what even constituted poetry. I couldn’t tell anymore—for myself, let alone for anyone else. It was kind of a horrible feeling. Maybe as a result, I wanted to return to that fun, exuberant feeling that writing without the internal critic can create.
It seemed easier to shut the critic off when she didn’t know what to criticize. What’s plot? What’s denouement? Character development? She knows none of these things. So she lets me have a good time with fiction, and I do like having a good time.
What are your goals for your writing, whether it be poetry or prose or other?
I’ve always, always wished that I could be one of the writers doing fabulous, interesting things (there are so many of you out there!) that push boundaries and alter the state of poetry a teeny bit, tilt its axis — more Stephin Merritt than Bruce Springsteen. Ultimately, though, I know in my heart that I am not one of those artists. I’m Bruce Springsteen, which is fine, because Bruce Springsteen can write a damn good song at times. Really, my goals are to make someone, anyone, laugh as well as cry. The laughing part is much harder than the crying, maybe. And really, I’m not Bruce Springsteen. I’m John Mellencamp. But
that’s ok too—I do what I love. Most people don’t. Most people don’t even know what they love, or why. So I’m lucky.
You’ve been told that your books are fun to teach because they’re “accessible.” How do you feel about that?
It many ways, “accessible” feels like “less complicated,” which feels like “not as good.” But really, I think it’s fantastic that my books are being taught. They are accessible, and if that quality allows one student to have their eyes opened to the possibility of enjoying contemporary poetry, then that’s pretty great. The two poets that opened my eyes in college were Sharon Olds (who surely achieved this status among many a female college student then) and Sandra Cisneros. I remember thinking, people write like this? About this? So if my work allows anyone to get excited about poetry, or gives them the permission they need to write it, then I am very, very happy.
On a nonliterary note, some might say that you fled Chicago for Denver because Chicago got to be too much for you. Is that true?
You bet. I love Chicago. I hate Chicago. Before I left, I ate Chicago one hot dog stand at a time.
Denver is just a little bit slower, and for the first time in years, I know more nonwriters than writers. It’s hard to keep up with everyone in Chicago. There’s just so much exciting stuff going on there right now.
You recently went skydiving, but vehemently object to bungee jumping. What’s your beef with the bungee?
I am never putting my life in the hands of an elastic cord. Ever.
You bought a Toyota Yaris, for chrissake. Why?
My sister and I got one as a rental car once. I was hungover and she told me not to yak in the Yaris. Don’t yak in the Yaris! she said. I think this is funny. See, I told you the laughing part is harder.
And back to the literary. Can poetry save the world?
Nothing can save the world, but I truly believe poetry—and all the other art forms, at every inch along their continuums––can change the world for the better. Let’s get to it.