It was kind of a poem, TNB’s Rich Ferguson cursing about ten times in a row, rattling off “Fucks!” in spoken-word, submachine-gun fashion while at CSU Bakersfield. He knew he wasn’t going to get to cuss at the family-friendly Russo’s Books. So he had to let go.

None of us get to cuss much at Russo’s. And that’s OK. I get it. Bakersfield is a conservative city 110-miles north of Hollywood. The local Barnes & Noble and the now-dead Borders Books are the same way. Rich still wowed a crowd of CSU Bakersfield poets and guests, mashing together a few of his ditties into a twenty-minute performance as his body swayed beneath shadows cast by his dirty straw hat.

The week before, poet Michael Medrano of Fresno wowed the same class while at Russo’s with selections from his 2009 book “Born in the Cavity of Sunsets” (Arizona State University’s Bilingual Press). Michael rode into town on the Amtrak. It’s a nice ride from Fresno. I’ve taken the route. It swings through Central Valley farmland and cuts through little towns like Hanford and Wasco, places where gangs are out of control and mom-and-pop restaurants are still as tasty as ever.

When he stepped off the train he pulled along a black bag filled with his books, notes, an unpublished manuscript for “When You Left to Burn at Sea,” and some pages from a young adult fiction novel.

I pointed at him and we hugged like brothers.

After a Thai food lunch we grabbed some coffee in the sweltering heat and headed to class at the CSUB OLLI Program poetry course I was teaching. He took the reigns and taught about community. In fact, all weekend we spoke about working together, how poetry scenes in towns and across the nation are dead without writers and poets linking arms and digging in.

I was careful to mostly teach from Medrano’s book as well as Bakersfield poet Gary Hill’s works (including “From a Savage City”) and T.Z. Hernandez book, “Skin Tax.” All three poets, I believe, are part of a poetry brotherhood that needs to further help connect the Central Valley to itself, to Hollywood-L.A. (that would be Rich Ferguson and others I know) and even to Colorado. In fact, T.Z. Hernandez is a Central Valley writer now living in Boulder, Colorado. I’m really looking forward to an Oct. 12 gig at Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe with both Medrano and Hernandez. Hernandez mentioned calling it the “Vagos Locos Tour: Poetry, Stories y Mas.” Fitting for a bunch of crazy wandering Latino poets from California’s Central Valley.

After our gig at Russo’s we all ended up at an old mortuary converted into a mansion home with two basements and enough Chinese artifacts to fill all the secret tunnels supposedly beneath Bakersfield. Poets Philip Derouchie and Terry Telford showed up as I was whipping up some salsa and drinking too much Moscato. Derouchie brought beer. So did Medrano.

Poet-literary writer Jane Hawley was there talking up a storm, telling stories about the house. Melinda Carroll, who is the quietest poet on the planet, hung out (actually a tie with Veronica Madrigal, who brought some carne asada and helped me make some rather forgetful Spanish rice. Medrano later said, “Maybe it’s the mortuary that took your rice mojo”). Poet Sofia Reyes had to be talked into showing up.

I cooked the carne asada and talked poetry under the stars with Medrano. “An epic night of Central Valley poets connecting between cities,” I said. It was about then I dropped a tortilla, picked up and flung over the fence into an alley.

“Looks like a spaceship!” a voice from the darkness said.

Soon enough, everyone was eating, even my terrible rice, and talked it up about mortuary ghosts, including one in the house of a cat named Blackbeard. Don’t believe me? There’s even a painting of the cat hanging in a dark room above a bed. Another animal from the mansion dropped dead of a heart attack just days after our shindig. “Cardiac arrest,” Hawley said. “The trainer tried animal CPR.” Apparently you do that for show dogs named Rudy. You rip their little doggy chests open if you have to. But as I mentioned, the little guy didn’t make it. His owner was in Berlin.


(Photo: Dolls found in mortuary mansion closet)

Maybe there was forewarning at our party, because in the middle of dinner, Hawley, whose gramps owns the mortuary mansion, suddenly ran in an odd sort of gait, away from the rest of the poets and launched herself into the pool fully clothed. I can’t think of any other reason than she was possessed by either Blackbeard the cat, who may have wanted her or Rudy dead, or the spirit of poetry infusing her with vibrant energy for a symbolic journey of renewal.

When she emerged there was a june bug in her hair and she screamed.

The next day I got Medrano to the train station barely five minutes before the Amtrak was scheduled to leave. I watched as he ran and boarded one of the big silver passenger cars.

I think I might have worked off an entire cup of coffee in that lone jog,” he later said, grateful he came to Bakersfield and broke bread with a host of tireless poets.

I met Emma Trelles more than twenty years ago, a fact that simultaneously amazes and depresses me. We were both members of an informal workshop run by the wonderful writer John DuFresne. Every Friday afternoon, Emma and I would ditch our day jobs and drive up to Florida International University and sit on a patio with a bunch of other wannabes and try to figure out how to make our bad decisions go away.

Emma must have been writing prose back then. But she was clearly another species -– an observer of the hidden signs, impractical and heartbroken, prone to brief bouts of song. A poet, I mean.

I had no idea how good a poet she was, though, until a few weeks ago, when her debut, Tropicalia arrived in my life. I’m on record as a bad poet, but I happen to be a good judge of the stuff, by which I mean that I recognize its essential mission, which is to reintroduce us to ourselves by reintroducing us to the English language.

Emma does this over and over in Tropicalia.

I spent about a happy week trying to figure out which lines to quote. I finally settled on these three, for no other reason than their devastating simplicity:

I keep asking if he’ll try and find me
after we leave this world, in the next place
whatever shining white nothing that entails

I’m sorry, but no one who’s ever been in love hasn’t hankered after this same mystery.

Emma generally works double shifts during National Poetry Month, but she was kind enough to answer a few questions for an old friend, on behalf of The Nervous Breakdown.


Let me start with the mushy stuff: Tropicalia blew me away. I knew you’d gotten better as a poet, but reading the book I got that strange I’ve come to think of as awenvy –- half awe, half envy. The thing that impresses me the most, though, is your patience. The poems here took a long time to reach. Was there ever a point where you were like: Ugh, this is taking too long. I give up.

I definitely felt like it was taking too long. Writing poetry, by its very amalgamating nature, is an art that requires as much dreaming as doing. But I went to work as a journalist right out of grad school. And that’s a devouring job. The only time you’re not working is when you’re sleeping. But I never considered giving up on writing poems. When I wasn’t, I was reading or thinking about them. I made little random notes, sometimes in the margins of my reporter’s notebook, which was the idea behind one of the poems in the book. Even just one  beautiful word or a lyrical phrase reminded me that I was also a creative writer, that I was once an artist and that I would be again.


I love that the book has an overt morality. One of my favorites was “Letter to the Right,” in which you write:

America, I don’t remember who you belong to
Even when I’ve smiled and said thanks, I’ve really meant shut up.

What I admire so much is the sense of sorrow and bewilderment you’re able to put across. It’s not a sermon, so much as a lamentation.

I wrote that around the time the health care debates were raging, and all that incredible bullshit about death panels was playing on right-wing television as if it was actually real. Alleged news outlets and commentators just pimping their lies with no remorse. It made me sick. I literally couldn’t sleep. One morning I got up feeling helpless and I remembered that I could always write a poem and that act might be my only weapon against demagoguery. Except for a word choice or line break, the poem pretty much appears as I first wrote it. I think I had been collecting some of its images in my mind for quite a while.


So you’re a first generation Cuban-American, and the book has several gorgeous poems about Cuban culture. But what interests me the most is how your family feels about your work. Do they get what you’re up to?

My family rules. My husband is a musician and a bookstore manager and my brother is an art director. Both of them support me in myriad ways, from reading my work to designing event flyers to simply cheering me on at my readings. And my mother is my crazy number one fan. She has a file stashed somewhere with newspaper cuttings, or even printouts, of everything I’ve ever written. I hope she’s not passing that thing around at parties.


You’ve got some amazing poems about what it’s like to be a reporter, the crushing artifice of seeing the world in that way. I’m thinking specifically about “Reporter’s Notebook,” which is written as a kind of news story gone awry. Please tell me you turned it in to some unsuspecting city editor.

Steve, that makes me laugh because I have no doubt you brought all kinds of little surprises to your own editors over the years. There is a part of that poem that was indeed the lede to a feature story I wrote when I was the art critic at a newspaper. My editor at that time, the blessedly cultured Robin Berkowitz, emailed me saying the beginning reminded her of a Tennyson poem. Can you imagine that? At a daily! Of course, it stayed with me, and a few years later when I wrote the poem, I worked in some of his lines from “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.”


You write about music a lot, so I think you need to talk about your own work as a musician. Also, for bonus points, please explain what “noise music” is to the John Mayer fans.

Does anyone listen to John Mayer? I have been a big music fan (and snob) for many years now and I used to write a lot about local music. Eventually I wrote about Ed Artigas, a guy who ran an indie label down here and played music in great bands like Bling Bling and Map of the Universe. Ed convinced me to start a band with two other women. Even though I didn’t know how to play, I thought, why not? So I played a rather shitty bass, sang, and wrote songs. We performed at all the music holes in town, at a few festivals, and even in Austin. When our guitar player left the band, we asked another musician we adored to play with us. I wound up marrying him.

Noise music may be defined as a collaboration of instruments and players without any rehearsal, predetermined composition, or any inclination at blending sound or melody. A driving principle might include chaotic assaults on the inner ear, which, in turn, can cause auditory kinds of hallucination. Noise music is freaking loud and it hurts and the only people that can abide listening are the ones playing it.


The poem “Lorca Is Green” astonished me. Was he the poet who made you want to be a poet?

Lorca is one of the poets who keeps me writing and learning my craft. I read “Poem of the Deep Song” at least once a year. There’s always someone I come across at just the right time who rescues me from my own thinning language or subject matter; when I first started writing seriously, I was bowled over by Denis Johnson, Toni Morrison, James Wright, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. But there are a lot of factors that went into me wanting to be a poet: my friendships with musicians and artists, my evergrowing obsession with birds and the natural world. I grew up in South Florida, and as a girl, I drafted poems in my head whenever we visited the beach. I wanted to describe the ocean, the light, the sound of gulls and water slapping the bow of our boat. It was my way of remembering.


When I first met you, too many years ago, you were working for an insurance company (I think). As a poet, how do you make ends meet?

I forgot about that. I had a lot of dispiriting business jobs before I started writing. It literally changed my life. I pretty much make a living the same way I have for years now: writing articles, features, and reviews, editing, teaching, really whatever is tied to language. Juggling all these jobs takes effort and a sort of patchwork, faith-based approach to money, which is not an easy thing for a daughter of immigrants, or for anyone. But if you want the freedom to make art, you have to give up some security.  And, I might add, that this kind of toil all goes back into the same well from which my creative work comes.  I’m pretty much living and breathing letters.


What’s next?

Another book of poems, a book of non-fiction.  More writing and reading. As I type this I see it sounds monotonous, but it so isn’t. Writing is all about discovery, and in this way, it reminds me of hiking, especially through unfamiliar trails and woods.  I love wondering what comes next.


***

 



Emma Trelles is the author of Tropicalia, winner of the 2010 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame Press, February 2011). She is also the author of the chapbook Little Spells (GOSS183) and the editor of OCHO: The Travel Issue and MiPOesias Magazine’s American Cuban Issue. She has been a featured author at the Palabra Pura reading series at the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago and at the Miami Book Fair International. Her work has appeared in publications such as Verse Daily, Gulf Stream, 3 AM Magazine, Poets and Artists, Newsday, the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel, and Organica. She is a regular contributor to the Best American Poetry blog; read her rambles here.



What factors, in your view, best encourage the writing of good poems?

The most important is having an interesting subject that we care about. The subject can be large or small, weighty or light, and can involve any number of things, from an emotionally charged personal experience to an idea that arrests us in a more or less purely cerebral fashion. We should, however, feel genuinely compelled to write about it. It’s fine to noodle around—to write exercises exploring, say, different kinds of sonnets. And occasionally such exercises may lead to a poem worth sharing with others. But for the most part, we should leave such efforts in our notebooks (or our computer files). Unless we have vital material and focus it in an engaging way, it isn’t fair to readers to ask them to devote time and attention to our work.

Probably the next most important factor is patience. Even when we feel or think something strongly, it often takes us a while to understand and illuminate its significance. To be sure, it is possible to be overly conscientious and to wind up like those perfectionistic artists whom Balzac and Henry James write about and who never can finish anything because of an insane scrupulosity. Yet, generally speaking, there’s a natural and necessary gap between the inspiration for a poem and the realization of it in words. As we work our way across or through this gap, it usually benefits us to look at our material from different angles and to try different ways of expressing it to see which works the best. And if, after finishing a poem, we think we could have done significantly better, we should set it aside, give our thoughts about it time to mature, and then have another go at it to see whether we can improve on our initial attempt.


Your poems are metrical. Why?

When I began writing, I hoped that I might someday produce something that would enchant someone in the same way the poems I loved had enchanted me. Much of the pleasure I derived from my favorite poets resulted from their skillful management of meter and (in many cases) rhyme. I realized I’d have to learn about those devices and use them effectively myself if my work was to have any chance of engaging readers as I hoped to.

To speak more broadly, excellent metrical verse makes a singular appeal to the ear and to memory. The human brain is the original and most efficiently portable version of the Kindle and the iPad; and nothing is more accessibly and freely downloadable than poems that feature recurrent rhythm. We can take a metrical work into mind and heart more readily than any other kind of literary composition. In addition, fine metrical writing captivatingly fuses order and flexibility. We experience, on the one hand, the constant metrical pattern and, on the other hand, the continual and varying rhythmical modulations the poet strikes within that basic pattern. Even if we can’t articulate (because of youth or lack of training) the formal principles of poems we enjoy, we still instinctively appreciate, when we read or hear them, the pleasurable interplay between the impersonal symmetry of the form and the personal quirks and asymmetries of the poet’s living voice.


Are there advantages that meter offers poets specifically?—advantages, that is, that relate to the compositional process?

There are quite a few, two of which can be mentioned briefly. First, against the bass line of meter, we can register shades of feeling and meaning more sensitively and acutely than we could otherwise. For instance, by grouping together short phrases and strong monosyllabic words, we can slow things down or create an impeded or hesitant effect, whereas we can secure a greater flow and ease with longer words and clauses. We can rein argument in by making metrical units coincide with grammatical ones; we can extend and complicate it setting them at variance. (This is not to say that poets always do these things in a conscious manner. They don’t, any more than fine basketball players minutely calculate, as the clock ticks down toward the end of a close game, that they’re twenty-three feet from the hoop on the right side of the court, that a teammate in the high post has attracted two defenders, and that they should therefore drive toward the base line and pull up for an eleven-and-a-half-foot jump shot. Engaged in an actual game or poem, players or poets mostly just go with the flow. But as with any art, we learn by conscious practice, and that conscious practice informs everything we subsequently do unconsciously when the chips are down and we’re playing for keeps.)

Second, meter can serve us as the beloved Other—as the supportively resistant Muse. She won’t let us get away with facile inspiration and easy emotion but insists that if our passions are sincere, we should take pains to communicate them in a manner that gives others aesthetic pleasure. She refuses to join that posse of enablers (Vanity, Impatience, Laziness, Desire for Praise, Lust for Recognition, etc.) that is always encouraging us to indulge in some literary spree or other. Even as we’re ready to roar off to the next disco or poem, she says, “Excuse me, but you’ve misplaced a beat in this line, you have an extra syllable here, and this rhyme is laughably trite. And please don’t try to justify these clumsy enjambments by saying they reflect your broken spirit because Sheila dumped you, or tell me that the rhythmical muddle of the concluding couplet poignantly expresses your anxiety that you’ll never date again. If you think I’m going anywhere with a writer in your condition, think again. Fix this poem: I’ll wait in the lobby with the car keys.”

And however much we grumble about such unsympathetic treatment, most of us find that it ultimately enriches us. Obliged to cast our feelings into a medium that is completely indifferent to them, we find ourselves considering different and often better ways of saying things. To meet the exigencies of strict form, we find ourselves going more deeply into our subjects, and speaking more intelligently and comprehensively about them than we would have done if we’d been left to our own unmediated impulses.


How would you answer the argument that poets interested in meter are clinging to the past and are indulging in, in the words of one critic, “a dangerous nostalgia”?

Metrical composition is one of the fundamental genres of expression developed by our species. Meter is a means—not the only means, but a crucial and incredibly useful one—by which we’ve articulated our experiences as human beings. It has served all sorts of people, in all sorts of cultures, for millennia. It has served both Art with a capital “A” and the traditions of folk chant, hymn, and popular song. The decorous and high-minded have employed it; so have the naughty and subversive. Its instrumental value is timeless. Accusing people of backwardness because they’re interested in meter makes about as much sense as accusing them of backwardness for being interested in prose.


Some have accused you of being unsympathetic to free verse. How would you answer them?

As a card-carrying Aristotelian, I consider all imaginative literature to be poetry: verse, free verse, prose poetry, plays in verse or prose, prose novels, short stories—the whole shebang. All these genres deserve our respect, and we should always honor individual works that exemplify them. So free verse has my critical seal of approval, for whatever that is worth.

I do, however, object to the notion that free verse has supplanted or superseded metrical verse and made it obsolete. Free verse is fine on its own terms, but it can’t replace verse. Whatever its distinctive and unique virtues, free verse can’t entirely do the same kinds of things, or achieve the same kinds of effects, that we find in an art that organizes the rhythms of speech according a palpable, discernible principle or principles.

Some of my contemporaries have been very angry with me for taking this line. They seem to believe that free verse is, in its freedom from meter, a better and hipper kind of meter than meter is. But surely this is a case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too. The sooner we can move beyond such illogicalities, the better things will be for all verse, free and metrical.


Do you think metrical verse will survive in the future?

Meter will almost certainly survive in popular song. Even while meter has been in the doghouse as far as serious poetry is concerned, it has continued to flourish in folk music, rock, musical theater, rap, country, and related forms.

And meter may reclaim a significant place in mainstream poetry if we refresh and enrich the ways we think about modern and contemporary verse. Many discussions of 20th- (and now 21st-) century verse introduce the terms “modern” and “contemporary” as if they are historically descriptive; but on examination, you find that the terms are being used in an aesthetically proscriptive manner and that only verse which is in some obvious fashion “experimental” counts as modern or contemporary. If we can just break away from habitual confusions like these, we’ll be okay. Our literary culture will flourish to the extent that all genres are given fair treatment and all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard.



Santa Monica, CA July 20, 2010—

The Writers Junction along with WordHustler and The Nervous Breakdown are pleased to announce the 24-Hour Literary Marathon this Saturday, July 24 from 9:00 am through 9:00 am Sunday, July 25.

This creative celebration of prose readings, poetry performance, stand-up comedy, music, panels and more will star some of the literary, entertainment, and music world’s best and brightest. There are a few spots still open, so if you’d like to perform please email [email protected]

Jose Rivera, Academy Award nominated screenwriter for The Motorcycle Diaries, will premiere an excerpt from his debut novel and Jillian Lauren, New York Times Best-Selling author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem will read from her work.

What’s wrong with you?

Wow.  Interesting starter question.  A little hostile.  First thing that comes to mind–vanity.  But a dishonest kind of vanity, a disowned vanity.   Checking my reflection in store windows but then making sure no one was watching vanity.  Making fun of women who get plastic surgery vanity.  I’m pretty ashamed of it.


So growing old will be painful for you?

Yeah, probably.


Why don’t you get a real job?

Wow.  Have you eaten today?  Poetry is a real job.  I teach and perform and write and–fine.  Why no “real job”?  Fluorescent lighting.  And authority.  And some other aversions.  Mostly I’m just trying to be happy.  If I thought a steady paycheck would make me happy, I would hunt it down and tame it.  It would be my bitch.


Interesting, Mindy.  Did you mean to fix your hair that way?

Move on.


Ok.  Describe your favorite kind of morning.

Foggy with the promise of afternoon sun.  Cold clean kitchen tile.  Bare feet.  Fresh coffee.  Vince Guaraldi’s Cast Your Fate To The Wind on the stereo.  Comfortable underwear.   Rallying myself awake for whatever I have to do.  And then suddenly having all my plans get cancelled on me.


So if this were one of those personality tests, how would you get around the wall—climbing over it?  Walking around it?  Exploding it?

Yes.


Your new book just out on Write Bloody is called Rise of the Trust Fall.  Were you forced to go to a lot of church camps when you were growing up?

Yes.


Who are some of your heroes?

Vaclav Havel.  The playwright/poet-turned-Czech President.  I would learn to brew beer for that guy. I want him to teach me how to be confrontational with so much style and grace and intelligence.  Also Hillary Clinton.  For taking one for Team Vagina about ten thousand times and still coming out smiling.  She makes me want to be a better woman.


That’s so sweet.  Are you trying to reveal something about your presidential political aspirations?

I took measures when I was younger, photographic measures, to prevent any kind of political career from ever blossoming.


I heard you worked at a sex shop for a few years after college.  Was there anything at the store that freaked you out, or was it all like, “dong this, dong that,” whatever?

Yeah.  Sex toy retail will really desensitize you.  In several important ways.  But there were two things at the store that creeped me out:  a set of Afrocentric Productions playing cards that were all cum-shots-on-the-face.  All the women in the photos were squinting or wincing, you know?  To keep the jizz out of their eyes.  It was traumatizing.  And then there were this pocket pussies shaped like tiny bound women.


Wow.  I can see how that would rub you the wrong way.  So to –

I get the pun.


Okay.  Final question: If you could give aspiring writers any tips on becoming better writers, what would they be?

First, read everything.  When you find something that makes you feel, that makes you want to quit writing you love it so much, read it over and over and over.  Try to absorb what makes it work, what makes it so good.  Try to reverse-osmosis it into your own writing. Second, whenever possible, find a community of poets you can be a part of. Weird, free, fun, strange poets.  Poets who take risks and aren’t always nice, but are passionate and eccentric and smart.  Work really hard at impressing them.  Third, fix that self-confidence thing as quickly as possible, and as often as possible;  it’s probably what’s holding you back.



Would you like something to drink before we start our interview?

What do you have, praytell?


I only have frosty cold Newcastle beer.

That’s perfect, actually.  Newcastle is my absolute favorite.  Do you have any smokes?


Only Parliament Lights or Malby Reds.

Excellent. I’ll take one of each. Let us commence.


OK so let’s get right to the controversial meat of the matter, so to speak: is there truth to the tale that Allen Ginsberg propositioned you for sex back in the late 80s?

Do you mind if I get at least one beer in me before I tackle that question?


Yeah sure, sure.  OK so, the name of your most recent collection of poetry is entitled Poems for the Utopian Nihilist.  What exactly is meant by Utopian Nihilism?

For any self-respecting literary intellectual, I think the term is self-explanatory and that’s why I chose to construct it as such.


Oh c’mon, just play the game…

OK, the term represents a simple human philosophical paradox not unlike say, Religious Atheism, or say, a Positive Naysayer or something as basic as Sweet and Sour.  It is the gazelle and the lion and the lion and the gazelle.  The salt and the pepper of things.  The sacred and the profane making passionate off-the-hook love.  The Utopian thinker believes or wants to believe in a perfect world whereas the Nihilist knows through personal experience and the bitter scarring reality of socialization, that this world and our existence in it, is entirely imperfect. Either everything in this Life is sacred or nothing in this Life is sacred at all.  And yes, the twain do meet.  They meet all the time.  Sublemon/sublime, baby


Are the Utopian Nihilists a cult?

No, not exactly. The Utopian Nihilists do, however, represent a new movement in spoken word and written 21st Century poetry, ranging from France to Germany to Estonia to California.  Emo, modern, ancient hardship type of stuff…tragic yet wondrous…and very romantic in a disillusioning sense, where your heart is being licked gently by a beautifully-colored Poison Dart frog and you feel all euphoric in that moment but you know that you are dying…there is a innocent sadness and a romantic longing as well as a callous, dubious nature which understands disappointment on grand levels…the Utopian Nihilist poet writes from a timeless perspective using a contemporary vernacular edge, synthesizing the transcendent and the downtrodden.  In any poem of human horror there shall always be at least a pinhole of light.


So personally, what are you trying to do with your Subjective Imagist poetry?

Mainly, I am an image-shooter, wherein I like to inscribe vivid images into the mind of the reader, to force the reader to see that picture that I am beaming out to them, and in a very basic, universal way.  Kneeling alone in a cathedral listening to candles… everyone can see and feel that image.  Almost so that a sixth-grader could see the image, providing they could read at a proficient level, and feel the image for what it is in a concrete primary way. Maybe a sixth grader wouldn’t glean all the references, the layers over top and underneath or in an academic way, necessarily, but the images are designed so that any reader should be able, on at least one level, to see the image exactly as I want to convey it.  I’m not into esoterics or surreal cryptograms that people have to decipher with a decoder ring or a Master’s degree.  But mainly, this is the new poetry.  I mean, I dig the metaphysical mysterious higher realm and that is a large part of my shit but I don’t want to shut anybody out by creating literary conundrums that they have to strain to understand.


You seem to be a rather chipper, happy, devil-may-care sort of fellow who spreads much love in this world.  So what’s with all the dark/bummer stuff in your writing?

The “emo” or melancholy emotive quality is not something I attempt to inject but rather, organically emerges on a consistent basis in my writing.  I am not inherently a sad person but rather, a positive amateur Zen-minded person and for some reason, a certain sadness floods my writing—of human isolation, of oppression, of the death of relationships and all living things. But I’ve experienced a lot of pain and death in my life so I suppose I see IT for what IT is and go with IT…it’s an embracing of that which is natural and supernatural…and although I can be heavy-handed, I’m all about the celebration of overcoming adversity and the exultation of love, birds and blooming flowers.


Describe “Subjective Imagist.”

The subjective aspect refers to the author’s editorial or personae NOT being present whatsoever. My personae does not matter. Milo’s take on things is not important within the framework of a larger piece.  It is an omniscient voice, which does the speaking and the proselytizing and the object, animal or second or third person, which traditionally takes precedence.  I have not been a confessional poet because that which sprouts from my bellybutton. I do not consider my opinion or private life to be important enough to share with the general public…I might talk about the play of light on the bathroom floor in the mid-afternoon but not what Milo Martin thinks about the play of light on the bathroom floor…you dig?  But I love confessional poetry like Anne Sexton…I’ve written a lot of confessional poetry but I’m just not ready to reveal it…not just yet…as far as the imagist poetry is concerned, the unadulterated use of strings of images to create the desired emotions I want to convey is tantamount to my writing, without explicitly framing anything, leaving that exclusively up to the interpreter to thereby reconcile the sometimes very disparate yet specific images, to personally create an even larger image and therefore an exponential statement.


The number 11 can be seen all through your writings.  What does the number 11 mean to you?

First and foremost, it’s a powerful, mystical transitional number…second of all, it’s a transcendental number, third, it is the number of birds and angels and insects… certain people, and you know who you are, see the universal affirmation of 11:11 on their clocks or computers everyday…yes, it means something…it is the larger spirit giving us reaffirmation that what we are doing is right or that we need to be doing something else. The presence of a higher spirit or the parallel dimension. There is actually a worldwide cult following centered around 11 and 11:11.  And Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 2/11 and we know what happened on 9/11…and the World War II armistice was solidified on 11/11 in the 11th hour…these are portholes we pass through where the world becomes different…


What is your favorite fruit?

Avocados.  Ripe avocados.  Al dente avocados.  With salt and pepper and a spoon.  And a bit of mayonnaise sometimes.  Or as my friend Michi Ukawa hipped me to, wasabi and soy sauce drizzled on avocadoes…sublime really.  Or Monterey Jack cheese, mayo and tomato and sprouts with big thick slices of peppered avocado on multi-grain bread…


So are you a Vegetarian?

Yes for 18 years now…it is no longer necessary to eat murdered animals when we have all the food that we want to eat…I mean, if we were in a poor forest and the ground was frozen and our only alternative was to snare a rabbit to cook, ok…but that is not the case anymore…why does our society spend billions of dollars on vital resources and food supplies to systematically murder our brothers and sisters and package them up like homogenized meat products and then push them through our innards to shit them out 6 hours later? What good does that do anyone except to perpetuate violence and death-oriented gluttony based on an archaic tradition of barbarism?  What about love and consideration?  Doing unto others as they would have them do unto us?  Do those Christian principles go right out the window when we want to have a hamburger?


What’s the best piece of advice given you to this point?

My mother at age 9 told me, “You can’t give a fuck about what anyone ever thinks about you” and that was the first time I had heard her use the “F” word…and I have always employed a certain disregard in regards to my art.  Some people love my shit and some are vehemently opposed.  Some people think I am full of shit.  Some people think I hold value. And that’s alright because we are here to prick the consciousness and provoke thought, positive and negative…and I always applied that to Slam and I never gave a shit about Slam because I didn’t give a fuck if my poem was the best or the most popular, I wanted to provoke thought and shoot images but I never had one iota of any aspiration of winning a slam by ranting or raving or being funny or animated…because art and competition, in my most humble estimation, is well, inane…I ain’t never been no one’s dancing sweetheart and I suppose I never will be…


How many poetry slams have you won?

Zero. I have never, ever won a Slam in my life…I have, in fact, come in second many times…


Well then why the hell did you get into Slam?

Ben Porter Lewis convinced me in the late 90s that Slam would elevate the art of spoken word and poetry in general…I was skeptical yes but saw first-hand going to slams and poetry events in the late 90s, that there was indeed, a bona fide renaissance in populist poetry and that in fact, the Slam movement and late 20th century poetry was garnering mass attention and population…hell at the 1998 National Slam in Austin, Texas, there was a crowd at the Finals of over 1200 and CNN covering the event…the Beats were getting 40 people at their readings…there is an actual statistical fact that, in the last 15 years, more people have attended poetry events than in the whole of the 20th Century combined…true…therefore Slam across the world has drastically increased exposure to poetry and in particular the spoken word…VIVA POESIE and the exposure to poetry to beings who wouldn’t normally be listening to poetry!  It is a classical art form and must remain alive at all costs…the new movement in poetry has done more than that; it has given poetry a brand-new life, never seen before in history…and here we are, a part of it…


Poetic influences?

From the Old School–Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Cocteau, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso,  Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver, Jack Micheline, and a lot of people from the LA scene– Chris Tannahill  Yvonne de la Vega,  Ben Porter Lewis, Wanda Coleman, Rich Ferguson, Jerry the Priest, Nathan Green, Peter Coca, Jeff McDaniel, Daphne Gottlieb (SF), Ellyn Maybe, Steve Abee and the whole East Hollywood ONYX scene back in the day…certainly all the POESIE UNITED guys, who are some of the most-respected spoken word/slam guys in the world and who taught me much about true vocal dynamic intensity and brotherhood:  Antoine Faure, Tobias Hoffmann, Wehwalt Koslovsky and Ben Porter Lewis—Utopian Nihilists all…


Musical influences as they pertain to lyrics?

Black Sabbath, Fugazi, Morphine, Sex Pistols, Neil Young, Public Enemy, Wire, Pink Floyd, Bernie Taupin, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Lungfish, The Beach Boys and Radiohead. All pretty emo (except PE).   I would include My Bloody Valentine and early REM but it’s hard to make out a lot of their words…it’s more about the palpable texture of the heavy harmonies the words make rather than the actual words themselves…


So you’ve toured Europe doing spoken word poetry?

I’ve toured Europe four times with the multi-lingual international spoken word crew, POESIE UNITED.


What impressed you about the poetry scene in Europe?

Many things:  #1, a deep reverence for poetry, classical and modern #2, many Europeans speak English better than Americans #3, cultural monies are devoted to the arts and in my case, I  get paid good money for poetry performances #4, people buy books and value books and read books #5, poets are considered to be the highest agents of literary form in Croatia and #6, in a crowded bar of 400 people drinking heavily, one can hear a coin drop when the poet hits the stage…


What are your favorite cities in Europe?

Berlin, Freiburg, Paris, Amsterdam, Zagreb, Tartu


Cities you disliked?

I fucking hated Prague.  Goddamned city of atheist pickpockets, grimy violent gypsies, dead-eyed cold people who can’t make a salad to save their lives.  Or a bagel.  When the Jews were taken away to “Holiday Camp” in the 30s and 40s, no one bothered to ask anyone for the recipe for bagels. What buffoons.  And I was in Prague for over a month and I know bagels.  They couldn’t make a proper bagel that tasted anything better than a shoe rubber, swear to god.  Tried about 6 times to no avail.  All bagels in Prague are horrible. All I wanted was a cup a coffee and a decent bagel…They just don’t have the savoir faire there…I studied there in the summer of ’03 and albeit I met some cool writers and the beer (Krusovice) and the coffee were good, the spirit in all of the churches was non-existent and sterile.  No wonder Kafka was so depressed.  Now I certainly understand that the Czechs were jacked-up and occupied by the Nazis and the Russians in the same century, and certainly going back to the 11th Century,  occupied and brutalized by the Ottoman Empire, but there existed a real sense of guardedness and anti-hospitality and it just didn’t feel welcoming or warm whatsoever. I just didn’t like Prague but as it turned out, I wrote some pretty good poetry there that ended up being published.  I actually wrote a lot of stuff in Prague.  But I hated it there and oh the porn stars on parade. Lord have mercy but all the chicks in Prague are porn stars in waiting or being.  All healthy and fed with saucy potatoes and meaty goulash their whole lives, bodies beautiful in an exotic Slavic sense, bouncing and beautiful and fair, wearing almost absolutely nothing in the sweltering summer months, with sunglasses and heels and a lot of times, no panties.  Christ I fucking hated Prague. Partially because I was in Prague with my fiancé at the time who became my wife who became my second ex-wife.


Ok so let’s move on, shall we? To lighter things– what is the singular movie that gives you hope?

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, bar none.


Good one!  Psychedelic Technicolor poetry magic, baby!

I always wanted to be virtuous and rewarded like Charlie.


It is rumored that you are Jewish and color-blind…is there truth to these assertions?

Yes I am half-Swedish Jew.  However I wasn’t raised Jewish (except for one year) but going back to childhood, most of my best friends have been Jewish. And many Jewish girlfriends. I am half-Jewish and proud of the tribe.  And yes I am Red-Green color blind.  So the way you see green is the way that I see red.  All my trees are red.  All my fire engines are green.  But it really doesn’t mean anything to me as since the day I was born, it’s always been like this to my eyes…it’s reduced to semantics: if, from the date of your birth, people told you that an automobile was called a fox and a fox was called an automobile, it would be automatic and ingrained into you and that’s how you would always operate….  however, because of this anomaly, I will never legally be able to pilot  a plane or captain a ship.  Or be an air traffic controller.  There are times at stoplights when I see for micro seconds the green to be red and vice versa…the 80s were hell for me with all those red and green album covers…my eyes were shifting madly…


OK so, the Allen Ginsberg encounter: are you comfortable in discussing that now?

I suppose I am lubed up enough at this point.


Nice.  So where did you meet and what were the circumstances? And did he really hit you up for sex?

I don’t think there was a young male poet that Ginsberg didn’t hit up for sex.  I was probably one of thousands of nervous straight poet guys he propositioned.  It was 1988, City Lights Books in San Francisco. He was reading poems from White Shroud and signing after.  Back then, I always had big messy hair and I remember vividly trying to look ‘literary’ for when I met him and so I combed and slicked back my hair for the event. There is a photo of us in the back of Poems for the Utopian Nihilist and it is the only picture that exists of me with my hair combed. Anyway, my eyes met his and he immediately insisted I come behind the signing table and sit down right beside him.  I was sorta freaked-out but sorta glowing.  Shit, this was my poetic idol.  “You’re going to sit right there,” he said, “while I finish signing and then we’re going to talk.”  When it was just me and him at the end, he turned to me and asked very casually, “So, what do you do for sex?”  I stammered something probably very incoherent or innocuous when he pushed on.  “So like, boys, girls, insects, automobiles?”  I immediately picked up on the automobile tact and told him I had recently read JG Ballard’s Crash and tried to divert his attention to a conversation about auto-eroticism and car crash fetishism.  “So you like to have sex in cars?” “Well yeah sometimes but…” “Well then, where’s your car? he asked…“You’re something else,” I said to him.  “No, “ he admonished,” I am like Everything else…now would you like to come back to my hotel and smoke a joint and further discuss these poems in private?”  It was evident he was gonna try to hunker down on Bobo.  I hemmed and I hawed and I’m sure, as a green 25 year-old, my repartee was very lame and I was intimidated terribly.  I just was not into sagging New Jersey Jewish poetry men, at least not sexually…”Well if you change your mind or aren’t doing anything later, I’ll be at the Fairmont.  You know where it is…” I always sorta regretted that decision not to con a little more face time with one of American’s great poets and share a slice of the cosmos with a sophisticated head but then again, I don’t lie very well and well, I’m just too much into girls…and I knew there was gonna be some fellatio involved…and I guess I wasn’t completely ready for that…


Why did you make this interview thing so long and involved?  All the other TNB self-interviews are so succinct and clever, masterful in their brevity…

Well if you didn’t fucking ask me so many questions and so many complex questions, there wouldn’t be a problem then, would there?


But you are the asker…

Whatever, man…


Any last words?

Treat each person freshly and without precedent, eleven:eleven, and

Utopian Nihilists unite!


“Prof Martin” photo courtesy of Michi Ukawa.  “BigM” photo photo courtesy of Sabrina Hill.

I’ve dated my fair share of crazy women, or rather women who do crazy things.

I’ve been with a bulimic, an anorexic, a cutter, a girl who went on to smuggle drugs from Mexico into Texas and who went to jail for it.

I’ve dated poets, artists, hippies, Johnson & Johnson reps.

All crazy.

And when I moved to Fargo for grad school, I told myself I was done dating girls who I thought needed saving from their craziness.

But, of course, I found this to be impossible.


I should have known from our first encounter that Emma was not the girl I should have asked out for coffee.

We stood next to each other in the back room of a Moorhead bar, she was this tiny little blond hipster girl wearing a tight track jacket, and we watched a local band fizzle through a set. Emma and I flirted between songs, and before she left for the night I asked for her number so we could do the coffee-date thing.

And then she was gone and I felt all warm inside and the band played on.

But Emma reappeared 15 minutes later, tapping my shoulder.

And when I whipped around I saw there was mascara or eyeliner (all the same to me) all over her temples.

Not in a pattern that made me think Emma had been crying and wiping it onto her forehead, but more in a pattern that made me think she tried to apply her mascara/eyeliner without a mirror and someone kept bumping her elbow.

She craned her neck up at me and I recoiled at the black lines on her head, and in a squeaky valley-girl voice that I would soon come to hate, she asked: “Um, do you have any gum?”

So to recap: Emma left the bar, came back 15 minutes later with shit all over her face, and then asked me as if she had been standing there the whole time if I had any gum.

I didn’t have any gum.

And somehow I didn’t have the intelligence to call off our coffee date.


We went out twice before I told her that I think we should just be friends, and oddly enough she took me up on that friendship offering.

But like any opposite-sex friendship where there had been kissing and heavy petting at one point, there was always the possibility that it could happen again.

And it did.

Friends with benefits, I guess.

All this is to say that I spent a couple months hanging out with Emma, learning more about her family and friends, learning that her deceased father had left her a lot of money.

Like, a lot of money.

Which isn’t a big deal, except that I was pretty damn broke and she always made me pay for our friendly dinners, drinks, anything.

And this isn’t what made her crazy; this is what made her totally frustrating.

What made her a bit crazy to me is that she saw a therapist regularly and that she didn’t seem to change the things she was working on.

At all.

And there I’d be, home working on a paper and she’d call from her therapist’s office asking for me to pick her up.

And she’d say, “Pleeeeeeease. I’ll buy you some ice cream.”

Feeling guilty, feeling the need to help this girl like I’ve felt the need to help all these girls from their craziness, I’d go pick her up and drive us to the ice cream stand… and, much to the dismay of the moths in my wallet, she wouldn’t have any cash on her and I’d have to pay.


Emma often offered to buy me something, or offered to pay me back, but it never transpired.

And my resentment grew.

One night she called me saying that she was sick, that she had thrown up all over her bed and bathroom floor, and she asked me to go to the store for several items (that added up to nearly $35) that would help her clean up and and several items (that added up to $20) to make her feel better.

“I’ll pay you back,” she squeaked into the phone.

She never fucking did.


Near the end of that summer session, I tried hard to avoid Emma.

Didn’t return calls.

Didn’t answer the door.

Didn’t back down from the just wanting to be friends label I pressed upon our shoulders.

But one summer night I answered her call. She wanted to know what I was doing the next day, and I told her I was going to the Moorhead public pool. I had been spending a lot of time there since A) we were in the middle of a brutal heat wave and I didn’t have air conditioning, B) it was right around the corner from my apartment and C) it only cost a dollar to get in.

“If you want to come with me,” I said, “that’s cool. It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”

I mentioned that it only cost a dollar three times in our three minute phone conversation:

“It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”

“The great thing is that it only costs a dollar to get in.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow with your towel and the dollar you need to get in.”

I told myself that if she didn’t bring that fucking dollar, then she would be watching me enter that fucking pool without her.

Emma arrived the next day, we walked to the pool and I waited for her to approach the window first.

But she stayed back.

“Go ahead,” I said, ready to pounce.

“Um, I don’t have any money on me,” she said.

And pounce, I did: “Emma, what the fuck? How do you not have a dollar on you after I told you to bring a fucking dollar? Come on. It’s one fucking dollar that I asked you to bring for yourself because I’m done buying you shit all the time when I’m broke and eating Totino’s frozen pizza and drinking water every night.”

She stared at me on the verge of tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess I’ll go home.”

I slapped down two bucks and met her poolside, finding a way to relax, finding a way to not be annoyed by her voice.

We went for a dip, and I did what I do every time I leave my belongings unprotected: I kept one eye on my shit and one eye squinting into the sun.


Emma and I made it to the deep end, a couple of dolphins somersaulting and snipping at each other’s tails.

I made a regular belongings check and shook water from my hair like a dog and made another check on our stuff and… holy shit, two little kids were rifling through our bags.

“Some kids are going through our stuff!” I gurgled at Emma.

I splashed and dove underwater, resurfacing only when I had to.

I got to the shallow end of the pool where the two little kids were still digging around in our belongings, and I’m moving as fast as I can.

As fast as one can run through waist-deep water.

My arms, swinging wildly at my sides.

A teenage lifeguard up on her ladder saw me, we made eye contact, and I pointed to the kids and blurted “They’re stealing our stuff!”


I emerged from the pool like a cat who had fallen into a bathtub: claws out, scrambling for footing, hissing.

The little girl, Indian and cute and thin and maybe eight years old, was wrist-deep in the pocket of Emma’s jeans.

I grabbed her elbow and put my face inches from hers and tried to ask her what the fuck she thought she was doing, but all I could manage was “Blaaaaaargh!”

Batman, I am not.

She jumped out of her skin.

Eyes bigger than the red and white life preserver hanging on the fence.

The boy who had been searching my bag froze.

The lifeguard closed in, every sun-bather and swimmer at the pool turned to watch.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I finally managed to ask the girl.

She opened her hand to give me what she had stolen from Emma’s jeans, and that’s when I had this surprising moment of gratitude.

I was about to see how much money Emma actually had.

I was about to see how much of a dupe I had actually been those last couple months, paying for her top-shelf medicine and extra-large slushies with added strawberries.

I was about to see who was crazier, her or me.

Tell me she found a crumpled up dollar bill.

A mobster’s roll of hundreds.

A couple of twenties sandwiched between unopened packs of gum.

The little girl opened her palm over mine, tipped it, and out fell two pennies.

Two pennies.

Clink.

I laughed right into her tiny scared face.

The lifeguard grabbed the shoulders of the little boy and we had our thieves.

The lifeguard wanted to call the police.

Apparently these two were part of a larger group of kids who had been causing trouble the whole summer.

(An hour earlier I had seen a few of them with their arms shoved up inside a Coke machine, hoping to get a paw on a loose can.)

I said that calling the police wasn’t necessary, but she called them anyhow.


When the male cop walked into the pool area ten minutes later and interviewed me from my beach chair–everyone watching, quiet, trying to hear–the cop ended by asking “And how much did she get?”

“How much money? Two cents. The little girl only found two pennies.”

He laughed and repeated, “Two pennies. Nice.”

And I felt sad for everyone involved, including myself, and I said, “The poor thing couldn’t have picked a worse person in the city to steal from. This chick I’m with is totally crazy.”

What was the impulse that created the poem featured here at The Nervous Breakdown?

A lot of things really. I think much art is multiply inspired.  The poem itself came from a number of related inspirations—a painting, a piece of a novel, a meditation.  When I was at graduate school at Hollins, writing like a fiend, immersed in workshop, I also decided to take a painting class.  While I’ve always enjoyed mixing visual and literary medias, I  was assigned to paint an artistic retake of a famous painting and thought nothing of writing about it at the time.  Having loved Degas, I scoured his art: What image would I recreate?

I found a painting of a woman in preparation for a bath that I stared at for a long time.  As I regarded it, it began to bother me.  No comfort there.  Stark image.  No water in the bath.

Now, every woman I know, granted this is a biased sampling, gets into a bath craving both comfort and an excess of pleasure–or if not these, relief.  Think of a woman with a glass of wine and a cigarette reclining in her bath—with shut door and an ecstatic expression.  A woman unwound.  Degas’s woman was robbed of that of pleasure, and his portrait of the bath I viewed made it seem, beautiful as she was, that her bath became a duty.  So I painted water in the tub, made the tonal quality cool rather than warm, many blues and purples, and placed imaginary violets on the ledge above her.  It was like recreating history:  You will have an amazing bath now, girl, I told her.  I will give it to you.   But the poem hadn’t come yet.  That would take another decade.

Years later, because the painting still hangs in my house, I was writing with my annual MySpace July Poem A Day marathon, staring at my own painting one day and thinking of duty, of obligation, of the wish to escape—also thinking about a recent novel I’d read with a beautiful passage about a woman in her bath—and I wanted those violets in my own space something fierce then.  Wanted them both for me and for every woman I’d ever known.  Thus, the poem was born.


Interesting.  But are you aware there is a lot of sex in your work?

You serious?  I was trying to hide the sex.  What?  Sex?  Where?  (Interviewee grins self-depreciatingly and fiddles with some object on her coffee table.)

Yes, actually, I am.    Sex, or intimacy (broken or expanded), is a theme I work with a lot. But, for me, the sex in my work is almost always a departure point for a philosophical discussion engaged about people, proximity, love, interconnectedness, loss—the entire and enormous mixed bag of everyday living.  It’s also natural, and the one thing that almost everyone has in common because everybody wants it—and sex moves people.  A sudden failure to be touched moves people.  How can a writer explore the human experience and write without it?


Relatedly, you recently had an experience with being censored by iPhone when they required a journal where you published work to remove your story from the journal web site before approving an iPhone application for distributing content.  Did you care to speak to that, to being censored by Apple?

I found the whole thing quite bizarre.  The story in question had an element of the sexual, but it was a literary piece.  In other venues, I had published work far more aggressive, with more profanity, and had no problem.  The story censored was admittedly one of my “cleanest” published stories.  So my primary question was:  What had I done that was so risqué? Speak about sex intelligently or in such a way that the tone was not pornographic yet exceeded the fear factor that smut tabloid stories would cause?  Raise a moral quandary?  Accost some large and moneyed bastion?

With all that’s out there in the world, on the web, even on large sites like MSN and Yahoo, my small, literary short story posted at an online literary venue— a flash piece about a teenage boy trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to masturbate—was determined by a big corporation to be “edgy” enough as to require removal?  Absolutely ridiculous!  Astounding.  And flattering.  Anything that is censored has an implied power.  Don’t you agree?

So maybe I was happy about the censorship, actually.  Nearly all my favorite writers have been censored at one time or another, so, in an odd way, ludicrous as that censorship was, I felt that, in that moment, I had joined (or been inducted into) a very old and honorable fold of public intellectuals.


Regarding the poetry, you also work in form.  How would you like to be considered as a poet?  How do you decide which form to use as you write or how to shape the next piece?

I think this goes back to the whole—I write whatever interests me in the moment idea, and then, for texture, sometimes throw in the kitchen sink.  I like form.  I like free-verse.  I like nothing more than a challenge.  An example would be that I recently decided to write a crown of sonnets, just because it was a challenge.  I had been doing pantoums, sestinas, villanelles, single sonnets, ghazals, terzanelles, and any number of other forms.  But I wasn’t content with just writing a crown.  Like Emeril, I like to kick it up a notch.  So I then researched the form and decided I would do not just a simple (laugh track welcome here) crown, which is seven interconnected sonnets, but I would instead do an heroic crown—which is fifteen interconnected sonnets, in iambic pentameter no less, interlinked, where the fifteenth sonnet is entirely comprised of the first lines of the previous fourteen.  Why?  Because I can.  Because I love challenge.  Or maybe because I, like everyone might, want to be heroic.  You can pass me my super-hero outfit now.

About identity as a writer, or as a poet, I’ve thought a lot about this question, perhaps because I do work in so many other genres, and I think my ideal identity as a poet would be where people feel compelled to binge-read my poems and then go to the bookstore one day only to discover I am actually a prolific fiction writer too. And I write screenplays.  And plays for theatre. Nothing thrills me more than finding an amazing writer and later discovering all of his/her facets.  I’d like people to say: “No way!  She did that, too?  I knew her as a [whatever they read] writer!”

As for choices within poetry modalities, again, my poetic sampling is as voracious as what I do with my fiction.  One day a blues sonnet, the next an heroic crown, the next a form inspired by math—like a Fibonacci sequence.  With my fiction, it often surprises people that I do traditional literary work, literary modern work, magical realism, experimental work, and even Sci-Fi upon occasion.  I like to keep it interesting.  I won’t be tied down.  I live at the mercy of varied and demanding muses.


As Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine, anything you hate in poetry—or strive to avoid selecting or reading?

I have pretty open tastes with reading.  Of course I don’t love trite rhyming poems with cliché turns, especially those that could be considered “cutesy,” and I particularly abhor bad meter when it is not deliberate.  I don’t tend to love poems that avoid capitalization and punctuation—but that’s a personal preference.

Otherwise, I love much of the work that I read and regret only that I can pick so little of it for inclusion.


You have a book of stories coming out from Aqueous Books in late 2010 or early 2011.  Want to speak to that?

Yes!  My book coming out soon through Aqueous Books, headed up by Cynthia Reeser, is a collection of magical realism stories I’ve been affectionately calling my love letter to women, entitled SUSPENDED HEART.  Like the poem here at TNB, it examines women’s lives in both their mundane details and their aspects of romantic love.  This book is actually my favorite, currently, of my short fiction manuscripts—of which I have eight.  I’m excited to say it will also do something I’ve always wanted to do with my writing, which is contribute ten percent of my author’s proceeds to a charity I believe in; this manuscript will be used for battered women and children. I’d like to do that with all of my manuscripts.  A different charity for each.


Which poets do you love?

Neruda.  Plath. Sexton.  Ginsberg.  Clifton.  Atwood.  Shakespeare.  On and on and on.  I love anyone who touches the pulse of life. I am polyamorous that way, an infatuated reader, and I find new interests every day.


How can one read more of your work?

Pop by my website at www.heatherfowlerwrites.com –- or friend my MySpace page and write with me through a thread or annual marathon.  My creative blog invites you.  I invite you.  Are you scared of sex, drugs, rock and roll, widely divergent topics, sadness, loss, dizzying heights, amnesia, electricity?  No?  Good.  Join me.

Maybe you’ll be my next favorite poet or fiction writer.  Who knows?  I welcome that possibility—and especially you—to my page/s.



You had weapons for cheekbones
a killer swagger in leather pants
fingers like the Nightstalker
and eyes that asked for nothing

You were black piano keys
the smell of gasoline
Berlin at the fall of the wall
Troy at the fallacy of the gift
I would have fought a war to save that face

A mind like Screwtape and a form like mortal sin
you took everything and loved nothing
incomplete, human parts missing
as dead as you are deadly

We spared and struck
threatened and clung
I learned you to My Bloody Valentine
you forgot me to Ziggy Stardust

Dude, you ruined David Bowie for me
you wound yourself around every song
and wrung the blood out of everything

I climbed the tower of you
threw myself out of the window
for the sake of the view

You metastasized through my life
illuminating and detonating
yours is a cancer of the glow in the dark variety
of the pretty boy variety
of the bare your wrists to me variety

People impale themselves on hope
for your kind of beauty
ruthless, thoughtless, insidious
you peeled women like apples
like we had a history old debt to you
like snakes were a fashion statement for the curious
like the gravity that only the dark knows how hustle.



Why are you doing this?

Because Rich Ferguson asked me to.


Do you always do everything Rich tells you to?

He didn’t tell me, he asked me.


Okay smart aleck, I guess that’s okay then. So, is there something you’d like to say?

I don’t know.


"Get a brain! Morans"



“I don’t know?!” What are you, some kind of moran, you socialist!

Socialist? You wouldn’t know what a socialist was if it bit you in your teabags, Lipton!


I got your teabags right here buddy! Alright, enough with the Martin & Lewis, I’ll bite… what’re you working on these days?

Okay, I’ll quit beating around the Bush era and bite back, Trickledown. Been putting together a Poetry Bomb.


A Poetry Bomb!? You really are some kind of lefty socialist!!! What in the hell is a Poetry Bomb?

I bought an old military practice bomb back in November of last year. And watch who you’re calling lefty, righty! I just happen to be left-handed.


That figures… socialist lefty!! Where the hell did you find this old bomb?

On Craigslist.


Craigslist!? What’s that, some kind of left wing media conspiracy?

No, it’s a place to find stuff online Fox hunter. Guy sold it to me for a hundred bucks, and he delivered it!


Wow!

Yeah, good deal, huh?


Not bad, socialist, not bad… So, what’re you gonna do with it? What’s some old bomb got to do with commie poetry?

Nothing really. But with a little help from some friends I’ve been converting it.  Took it apart, removed all the insides, put it back together, cut a hole in it and filled it full of poetry from around the world. Taken me almost six months.


Then what, drop it from a plane? Let poetry blow all over the world and litter the world with boredom? Man, you really are a moran!

Nope, taking it on tour around the country, five weeks. Leaving April 28th from L.A., The Poetry Bomb Couch Surfing Across America Tour of Words 2010.


That’s easy for you to say.  Hell, you sound like a crazy socialist to me, health care lover!

You got a problem with being healthy?


So, where are you dropping this here, Poetry Bomb, sicko?

Phoenix, Albuquerque, El Paso, Austin, Memphis, New Orleans…


Sweet home Alabama?

Yep, Florence.


You just working the south?

Yes and no, be hitting the North Carolina coast, drop interior to Asheville. Then head to Nashville at about four weeks, north to Chicago, then south and west to Denver, Sacramento and then, home sweet apartment, Tea Partier! Grab a cup of coffee, prop up my pups and relax.


I still don’t understand, why are you doing this?

Maybe I’m just a few cards shy of 52. Well, I guess in my own feeble commie way, I’m trying to bring people together… community, education. Shine a little light in a sometimes dark world via the poem.


But aren’t bombs made for war?

Indeed they are, Captain. But this is a Poetry Bomb, Palintologist, not some gun show masquerading as a lovefest. War, the artifice and artifacts of war, were all invented to create and enforce agreements. The Poetry Bomb was created to foster disagreements. Disagreements, dissent are the cornerstone of our democratic system. Education is the key.


Well I certainly don’t agree with any of whatever it is I think you said! And how dare you call me Palintologist! I’m not too high on Monty Python, marxist.

Not high, eh? There you go thinking again. And get it right, I’m a Groucho Marxist okay? Hey, if Monty Python were a snake, it would’ve bit you in the clip art! Yeah, well, I disagree with you too, but that’s kind of the point. We agree to disagree, got it? And that, my flag waving friend, is what America’s supposedly all about.


Well, I don’t know if I agree with that either, but I suppose so.

Good, then we disagree.


We do?

Yes.


So where can other socialists that have read this far find out about your Poetry Bomb?

People can find the tour information on The Poetry Bomb Facebook fan page.


And there’s poetry on the Facebook page?

Nope, the poetry’s all inside Elsie.


Who’s Elsie?

She’s the bomb.


What bomb?

The Poetry Bomb.


What’s a Poetry Bomb? Another loser poet at some open reading? Man, I sure do crack myself up!

Elsie is The Poetry Bomb, I named her after my Grandmother Elsie.


So The Poetry Bomb’s an old blue haired woman with no teeth wanting to give you big sloppy kisses all the time, pinch your cheeks and call you sweetie?

Nope, she’s sleek, blue, pin striped by Skratch and quite beautiful.


Who scratched her?

Nobody gunslinger. Skratch is a guy, a pin striper, an artist. He painted beautiful designs all over her and helped make her pretty.


Pretty? Sounds pretty weird if you ask me… you bomb hugging socialist! What a moran.

Okay, okay… you win! Just say good night Dick.


Good night Dick… but I’m not Dick.

Who says? Good night Dick.


Good night.




First things first, is this an intentional look you are going for here?

What?

Your jacket.

What about it?

You look like a lieutenant in whatever army Coldplay started.

Alright, alright. If it bugs you that much, I will take it off. There. That better?

A bit. But just so you know, wearing blue and white striped shirts makes you look like some kid of nautical bumblebee.

I think I was a pirate in a previous life. So are we seriously just going to talk about my clothes?

No, let’s talk about something else. What are your interests?

Ham.

Fascinating. Why people find you interesting is beyond me.

In a world where carpenters get resurrected, anything is possible.

Do you always quote Katharine Hepburn lines when you can’t think of anything witty to say?

Can I have some wine?

No. Now what, in your opinion, is the best compliment you ever received?

An old man with a shrimp tail stuck in his beard called me a fire hazard.

What a fascinating story. You should write that down and tell it at parties.

I can talk about my dog. I am really good at talking about my dog.

What is his name?

Zissou.

Zeezu?

No, Zissou. Like Captain Zissou from The Life Aquatic.

I see. Is your dog also an alcoholic submarine captain?

Only during the summer.

Anything else you like talking about?

Socks.

What a riveting topic. What is your opinion of socks?

You should be totally unaware of my socks. That is, like, my philosophy on socks.

You are a total waste of my time.

Can I have some wine now?




Are you related to the 16th Century Renaissance poet, Garcilaso de la Vega?

Probably, but who knows?

What’s in a name?

Well, there is history in every name. The name de la Vega is almost synonymous to poetry according to most of the research I’ve done. You know, lineage is becoming more and more of a relative topic these days since the New Age spawned spin-offs like alien acceptance, tarot awareness, divination, and fairies, you know…

Are you an alien?

No.

Why did your WORDBEAT Co-host Milo Martin nickname you “Yvonne of The Blue Star”?

Because of my name. There is a star in the blue spectrum of the universe called “Vega” and it’s blue, sometimes referred to as “The Blue Star”. In Espan—l, “de la” means “of the”. Thus, “Yvonne of the Blue Star”.  But no, I am not an alien.

What’s going on with WORDBEAT?

We’ll be back LIVE in April, for National Poetry Month, for now we’re on an unofficial hiatus due to priorities. You can still enjoy the archived segments at www.blogtalkradio.com/wordbeat

If you like poetry and jazz go check it out. You can also find it on iTunes under “Podcasts”.

That was shameless plug wasn’t it?

If you say so.

Who are your favorite poets?

My favorite writer of all time would be Robert Graves. He said two things that never left me. “Poets are born, and not made” and the other is, “There is no money in poetry, but then there is no poetry in money either.” I’m a fan of Lord Byron and what he represents in history as a poet, a revolutionary and a lover. For, where would we be without the Age of Enlightenment?

I recently, believe it or not, fell in love with Jim Morrison, how he knew the truth and had a warrior’s spirit. I love Bukowski’s realist raunch in The Fuck Machine, and Anne Sexton’s courage to live as long as she did. Bob Dylan’s Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell’s songbook. There are so many more, and many amongst my own peers, to name just a few isn’t fair so, next?

What are your plans for the future?

I really plan to stop flying by the skin of my teeth, but I’m afraid that if that happens, I would have to sacrifice inspiration. On a more concrete note, I’m just finishing up a screenplay, an animated film that I started writing three years ago.  I’m looking forward to the publishing of my new book, Tomorrow, Yvonne-Poetry & Prose for Suicidal Egotists, and there’s a new idea being tossed around: Ray Manzarek of The Doors just emailed me and brought up an idea we’d come up with the last time I saw him, and that was to go to the White House with a sextet that would consist of three poets and a jazz trio. That would be him on piano, Karl Vincent on bass and a drummer. We want to perform at Obama’s night of poetry at The White House.

What is a suicidal egotist?

Someone who would like to kill themselves but is far too vain to be caught dead after actually having done it.

Are you happy?

I’m hopeful. Times are changing for the better I think, and I’m looking forward to the improvement of the quality of life for everyone. I want everyone on the planet to be happy.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell everyone?

Not really. I’m surprised you got me to say this much, but thank you and everyone for the opportunity of having to talk about myself.  I understand it’s important, and I am grateful. Oh, and…I like turtles.

for Isabela V. (d. 1988)

 

1988. March. We do not leave the mortuary vault.
At night we huddle on spread blankets
As we did at the rock concert the summer before.
We drink from plastic bottles, cheap wine,
To celebrate the sexy quiver of your lip, the shifty curvature,
The ember ghost of each flaunted lisp.
Lascivious tongue: oyster slit metaphoring what, you had asked.
Ambrosian tongue: changing despairs like workshirts.
Viperine tongue: fangs loaded with subversive jokes.

When we blacklist the teachers who threaten
To fail us if we attend the funeral—
Suicide is the ultimate insult
to our harmonious communist life

You wink in approval. We rise
On numb toes to kiss your eyelids.
We do not leave the mortuary vault
For three days. March. 1988.

 

 

*Excerpted from Father Dirt (©Alice James Books, 2010) and reprinted with permission.

 

 



What is the best way to know a people, a country?

I would say through its art, and especially through its literature. I trust a nation’s literature more than I trust its official history, of course. There’s a truthfulness in literature that is far more reliable than the truths claimed by history. By the time it gets out of history’s production process, truth is far too often tainted, corrupted.

Where does your writing come from?

From a great infatuation with the English language, its capabilities for deliciousness and sensual pleasuring, and from fear—fear of forgetting, fear of failing to register—consciously or at least intuitively or emotionally— change.

Some days my pre-America self and its native Romania seem distant, unfathomable. Those are scary days, days that insist that I return to and revisit the past.

I guess fear may work in curious ways on our psyche, shaping and reshaping who we are and how we relate to others. I was born and raised in a country and at a time when people shared the last piece of bread with you before asking your name, but they were also, for good reasons, extremely paranoid and suspicious.

“No one can enjoy freedom without trembling” said the Romanian-born French essayist Emil Cioran. I have to agree; you do experience freedom differently once you’ve experienced it as lack, dissolution, fear. You can no longer afford to waste it; you need to make something out of it, again and again.

One thing you would change about the literary scene in America?

I would make translation a more integral part of who we are as a culture. I find it embarrassing that only about 3% of our publications are translations, and, within that, only about 0.07% are translations of literature. I think it tells a great deal about our insularity and self-absorption, and I wish I didn’t see in it a predictor of our future.

How do I envision change? I guess I would start with a somewhat draconian measure and make the rigorous teaching of foreign languages mandatory, kindergarten throughout college.

A question I ask my students the first day of classes, before we delve into Inanna and Gilgamesh: What would you have been 5,000 years ago?

Shamhat.

Things you find particularly irritating?

Ignorance that takes pride in itself, and cell phones.

Reciprocated or unreciprocated loves—beside those of family (hello, M, my love) and friends?

Dark chocolate, (ideally 75% to 90% cocoa) pure or colonized by sea salt or coffee, cocoa or chili nibs; good cabernets or sexy blends (Ménage à Trois—an affordable favorite); dishes that taste as good as the best lines of poetry; The Duke & The King, The Felice Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Bon Iver, L P, Gogol Bordello, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen; too many poets to dare start a list; William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Milan Kundera, Ian McEwan, Andrei Codrescu; snowdrops and the smell of ocean.

 

 

1.  The King of Wishful Thinking
is thinking a lot about patterns
and gluing together his busted crown.
Yes, the word open is scratched over his heart.
Yesterday he smoked a cigarette for the first time in twelve years.
He is chips of shale today.
Auditioning for the Pagliacci Parade.
Don’t judge him.

He’s gonna go down swinging, this kid.
He’s checking the weather report and it looks like
the cold ain’t gonna snap much longer.
Still, he is debating growing a beard.
He wants to be a mountain man for awhile.
Or maybe he just wants to be a mountain.
He is afraid of becoming an avalanche.

2.  The Lady of the Lighthouse always knows
which window to put the candle in.
She is never a wall.
She went to door school
and teaches people how to open.

She’s lived on the same shoreline
but never in the same lighthouse for long.
Her dictionary tongue never learned the word
anchor.
She is vagabond kerchief lovely and she is
the romance of car keys and suitcases.

Now here’s where the story swerves for a few blinks.

3.  Where the mountains ease into the sea,
that’s where these two meet.  This stumbling
pile of plaid and this flutter of feathers and circles.
They are orbiting each other, studying
each others’ flight patterns.

So maybe they stumbled into each other’s mouths
a little too soon.  It could be blamed on
the airport bottles filled with courage and release.
It was probably the way they negotiated escape
in the postcards that they loved each other through.
Maybe, someone posits, they are both each other’s doors,
both with open etched all over their frames.

4.   It is difficult for him when they part.
The newspapers are always thick with her life.
The sidewalks whisper, “This is where
she skipped once”.  The walls sigh and say,
“Yes, a boy more sinew than synapse
kissed her here,”
and the floorboards creak trying to mimic
her blooming laughter.

He has started going to Spirits Anonymous to kick
his haunting habit.   She leaves empty boxes
at his doorstep, full of the space that he needs.
It is an awkward waltz at first, as they are prone
to swept-out rugs and intermittent paralysis.
To negotiate this, the King and the Lady
think a lot about patterns.
Small circles, he thinks, watching his feet.
Sets of threes, she thinks, trying to look
forward.