So, it’s been a while.
About a year, I think—it hasn’t been that long.
What have you been doing with yourself?
Well, as you know, my second book, Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock, came out in May.
It’s not… actually about prog rock… is it?
No. The title’s a bit of an inside joke on the long length of many of the poems. Sure, I dig Van der Graaf Generator a bit more than is actually healthy, but I can’t really imagine actually writing a collection about prog rock.
Because for all that I’m as much of a sucker as the next guy for a pleasingly arranged collection, there are way too many poetry books with rather limited concepts, by which, I mean shticks. Seventy Poems about Earwax? Envois and Envoys: Sestinas about the State Department? Heaven help us! And we’re deluged with them. I’d rather the subtitle for a particular collection be Fifty Pages of the Best Stuff I’ve Written Since My Last Book Came Out in 2006 or something of that ilk.
For whom are you writing these days?
John Foy’s currently writing what looks to be a good article on “the Muse” for The Raintown Review, but I have realized, however, that rather than a “Muse” per se, I tend to write for a rather indistinct crowd of fanatics, who, whether in a sort of Eleusinian Mysteries-type ecstatic frenzy or out of pure fucking hatred, want to do me physical harm, in which case, what is there to say but, “Is that how it’s going to be? You’ll never take me alive, cocksuckers!”
How has this more adversarial stance toward “audience” affected what you do?
I almost feel like I should tell you to suck my taint in response to a question like that, but I suspect it would be churlish. Crucially, I don’t give a fuck nearly as much as I did even a few years ago. Perhaps it has something to do with excessive self-regard, perhaps with a more healthy sense of self-worth, but the whole point of seeing the interaction with an audience as a struggle is that you can’t let them get complacent, and you certainly can’t get comfortable yourself. The point is (and this may be a function of having come into contact with punk rock and a still-functioning associated subculture at a crucial point in my life) that one is, in essence, challenging one’s self to go to new places and challenging the audience (whoever that might be) to come along. Some days will, of course, be better than others.
Aren’t there some unexamined assumptions in there, the same old “make it new” mantra? Why should we valorize novelty or being different, anyway?
Have you gone New Formalist dipshit on me since we last spoke? Sure, the cult of novelty (or self-perceived novelty) can, when treated as a sort of product placement, result in abominations such as langpo. But more damage is done, I think, by “regular guy” poets like Billy Collins and Ted Kooser, who are competent and amusing and don’t really take the audience much of anywhere. Sure, Collins in particular is amusing, but there’s an underlying aridity of substance and a lack of propulsiveness that is, in my mind fatal. We are, moreover, in a genuine fucking crisis at the moment. We can’t, we are told, afford our own lives, and the political solutions that might allow us to do so are simply not on the agenda. The sensation shouldn’t be a pleasant, familiar one.
In something of the same vein, what’s this about your flipping off Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference last month?
What, you aren’t going to ask about the Carmine St. Metrics/Umbrella panel, which went really well? About my impressions of the conference since Kim Bridgford took over? (Vastly improved, with a far greater range of voices and experiences represented.) Or even the food? (It was okay.) No, you want to know about a middle finger that was in the air for about three seconds in a mostly dark auditorium until Anna Evans kicked me from behind.
Yes, that’s what I want to know about. Does that surprise you?
No, unfortunately. Anyway, he was being a self-satisfied douche and giving a douchy introduction, and he made a sweeping statement he had no right to make…
Oh, about how Christian Wiman is by far the best poetry editor in the U.S. I don’t think it’s denigrating Wiman to say that Gioia doesn’t have his ear nearly close enough to the ground to even begin to make that statement. So I gave him the bird. Trust me, the thought of making an obscene gesture at the guy has occurred to others as well.
But here you are with a new book out….
So I have to suck former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia’s ass after he failed to take any notice of the first one and would doubtless ignore the second one as well? Huh? Look, I may be speaking out of turn when I say so, but Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock is a good book, building on Across the Grid of Streets but marking a significant advance on it as well. And in November, Shadows and Gifts, which will come out with Barefoot Muse Press, will mark a collection of my more recent work, which is a bit denser, allusive, and overtly political than the poems in Obscure Classics. I know who my friends are, and by this point, I know who they aren’t, too. So boo hoo hoo.
Any last words this time out?
Well, I have a question for you.
Umm… okay. Go ahead….
Why are you being such a dick?
It’s for your own good. I keep you on your toes, dirtbag.
I knew you’d say that, asshole.