I had written one poetry collection in undergrad at FSU and my first few years out of school living in New York. I published a few of the poems in literary magazines, but didn’t have much luck with a chapbook getting published. I then wrote a terrible spy novel and got an MFA. I think I was just teaching myself how to write but was disappointed when the novel also didn’t get published. I played in bands for a few years too, that went nowhere really. I was in a pretty hopeless place when I had a great conversation with my undergrad poetry professors, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby. They encouraged me to write about the dogs and my life in Brooklyn. Before that it really hadn’t occurred to me. So basically, a lot of failure led up to it. I figured even if this book went nowhere I would have honored the animals that I spent my days with and made their owners happy.
You played in bands for many years as well as being a writer, how does music influence your work?
Music is a huge part of my poetry! if it isn’t musical what’s the point? I’m obsessed with not only what words mean but also how they sound together. I write in an odd free verse, with elements of formalism, and a ton of enjambment. I think my writing reflects my own need for a mix of structure and boundaries, yet with a good streak of punk rock rebellion. I want my words to bounce of the page and sing songs in people’s heads.
What are some of the bands you listened to while writing Dogs of Brooklyn?
My all time favorite bands to listen to when writing are Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil. Blake Schwartzenbach is such an amazing lyricist. I was a teenager in the early 90s so all those great bands like Sonic Youth, Fugazi, PJ Harvey, Shellac, and Sleater-Kinney made a huge impression on me. I spent hours in coffee shops in Brooklyn hunched over my laptop and the only way to focus and shut out the screaming babies and loud talkers is to have music drown it out, but I definitely think the rhythms of whatever I was listening infiltrated the poems.
John Koethe’s poem “95th Street begins, “I used to love poetry, and mostly I still do, Though sometimes “I, too, dislike it.”’ What is your relationship to poetry?
While going to writer’s readings can be really inspiring, it is rare that a poet or performer really blows me away. It is such a lovely surprise when they do. I think it’s really important to leave people wanting more and read shorter as opposed to longer. I feel like people get up there and sometimes take the audience hostage. I went to a reading once at WORD bookstore that had a timer that was awesome!
What are your thoughts on MFA programs?
It’s complicated because I think some people need that kind of structure to learn and get work done. Honestly, after running up student loan debt and not really walking away from my MFA program with any kind of writing community to speak of I wouldn’t do it again. So many people have MFA’s now that unless you can get into a fully funded program that has teaching apprenticeships or something I wouldn’t do it. I think you’re better off spending the money to go to writing retreats abroad like US Poets in Mexico, Prague Summer Program, or Summer Literary Seminars. I’ve kept in touch better with some of those folks and seen some amazing places while also working on my craft.
Really the best thing you can do as a writer is find some sort of job that gives you time to write. That’s why dog walking/ training has been so amazing for me. I have a few hours free most mornings before work to write. It isn’t the most glamorous job, but I make more than my friends who adjunct all over town and have more time to write.
Who are of your favorite all time American poets?
Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg- both amazing writers and activists, though Whitman was a bit quieter about the work he did with Civil War soldiers. If you haven’t seen the PBS Documentary, you should, its pretty amazing.
I really think its important not only to write but also to do service in the world.
What is your favorite Poetry Press?
When I was interviewing/reviewing for BOMB magazine Pittsburgh Press had the most consistently good quality books. Maybe someday they’ll actually publish one of my books!
What are your working on now?
I am a few drafts in to a Young Adult novel about becoming and alcoholic and getting sober in your teens and dealing with all that. That continuing to work on a book of travel poems.