Among other prominent personalities, your chapbook Pilgrims: A Love Story features Jude Law. I have to ask: what’s it like working with Mr Law?

“The characters and events in this book are figments of the author’s imagination and are in no way meant to represent real people or actual events.” Mr Law doesn’t exist except for in my head. I made him up. Ditto the other “prominent personalities.”

Tell us ten things to love about Pilgrims: A Love Story.

Okay.

#1) It makes me sad. It might make you sad too.

#2) It makes me happy. It might make you happy too.

#3) Jude Law and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Denny’s and Dickinson. Emerson and Walmart. Sonnets and prose. Paris, Havana, Vegas. High Plains Drifter. The myth of Narcissus. It’s all here. All that and then some.

#4) If you can read the last poem and not think of Three Dog Night, you will receive a special coupon for 10% off your next 8-track purchase! (FYI, if you’re scoring at home: Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.)

#5) Helpful signposts to guide you along the way: You Are Here.

#6) Three words: shimmer, shine, and show!

#7) Two more: word play!

#8) Also it rhymes. (Sometimes. [Hey: rhymes/sometimes. Meta!]) (“Now I spend my time just making rhymes of yesterday…”)

#9) It has legitimate use for a legalistic disclaimer. One that makes special reference to the author’s prodigious imagination, no less.

#10) It’s all true. No, I’m not Jude Law, real or imagined. (Disclaimer: Neither is the Jude Law in the book.) I’m not Gabriel Garcia Marquez, real or imagined. (Disclaimer: Neither is the Garcia Marquez in the book.) I’ve never even been to Vegas or the Grand Canyon. I guess that counts as a disclaimer too. But, disclaimers aside, these poems happened. To me. It’s fakery and magic tricks, yes. Misdirection. Diversions. Facades. So many that even I can’t keep it all straight. But like the two poor ersatz souls in this chapbook, I’ve felt simultaneously called and lost, and I’ve felt connected — for better and for worse — to another human being, however broken/whole he or she was at the time. And, not to get too trippy or whatever, but sometimes that other human being was me. I suspect lots of people have felt that way before, certainly lots of people who read poems. Says here that’s pretty much why we read and write poems in the first place.

Most of what you’ve said so far makes very little sense. Are you speaking in code? Tongues? And a follow-up: is that what poets are supposed to do, say things that nobody understands?

Honestly, I’m having a hard time being smart about these poems. I’m definitely having a hard time being anything but evasive about them. I’m not sure why, but it could be because a) I really, really like them — in a way that you can only really like something that doesn’t exactly belong to you — and b) I don’t know what they mean. They just came out. Hence the part about them feeling like they don’t really belong to me.


I hope you’re not going to say they belong to the Cosmos or God or whatever, because we’ll just pull the plug on the whole thing right now if that’s where you’re headed with this. Nobody believes poets are mystics anymore. You know that, right? William Blake’s been dead for a really long time. The closest thing we’ve got these days is maybe Van Morrison, but he’s mostly just a curmudgeon in a funny get-up. And for god’s sake this thing you wrote has Jude Law in it. How mystical can it really be?

One of my favorite songwriters makes this metaphor about how the best songs are like the silvery trail a snail leaves behind. (I won’t say who the songwriter is. I’m digging this whole evasiveness thing. Makes me feel like Ingmar Bergman. Greta Garbo. Sean Penn. Somebody. Anyway…) The world sees the silver (“shimmer, shine, and show”) but forgets or never knew in the first place that the shiny stuff is just an excretion of where this mucousy little creature’s been. It’s a good metaphor. I suspect it applies to poems too. Certainly these ones.


Are you even listening to my questions?

It’s like the politicos say: answer the question you wanted them to ask. Anyway, here’s as straight an answer as I can give you: Pilgrims is the result of following, poem to poem, a crazy (borderline silly) premise: Jude Law. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Careening through the American desert in a red Edsel. In search of…Something. This premise took me down a tangled knot of rabbit holes. I guess it’s safe now to say I thought there was an extremely good chance that nobody would ever publish it. It’s got Jude Law in it, for god’s sake. (Disclaimer: It’s not really Jude Law. But I’ll cop to the accusation that there’s some “god’s sake” involved.) If it works at all, you feel gut punched at the end. Like you’ve lost something you didn’t ever want to think about losing. But maybe, too, you’ve found something you didn’t think you were looking for.

Wow. “Deep.”

Plus: it rhymes! (Sometimes…[see above.])

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TJ BEITELMAN lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where he teaches writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and blogs on arts, culture, and the American way at www.beitelblog.blogspot.com. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared widely in literary magazines and his work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A recipient of fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham, he has published two poetry chapbooks: Pilgrims: A Love Story (Black Lawrence Press) and 13 Curses and Other Love Poems (Dream Horse Press). His full-length poetry collection, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union,will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2012.

2 responses to “TJ Beitelman: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Hey T.J.:

    It was such a joy and honor to work with you. Thanks so much for being part of TNB. Cheers.

  2. […] author of Pilgrims: A Love Story had two spots on The Nervous Breakdown in July. There was the self-interview on the 17th. And there was a poem on the 24th. Happy reading! This entry was posted in […]

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