I don’t know how to do a self-interview so instead I asked my girlfriend, the poet Jeannette Gomes to interview me as a stand-in for myself.
JEANNETTE: Hi Russ, could you describe for me how your book came about and the emotional landscape it encompasses in your heart?
RUSS: Sure. So this book started from a little tour chapbook I was making for a weeklong tour I was going to do in 2012. I made a PDF version and posted the cover art on Facebook and got a message from James Tadd Adcox, who was at the time editor of Artifice Magazine, and a friend of mine. He asked if he could see the PDF version of the chap, and I said “sure” and sent it over, not thinking much about it. He emailed me later and told me he really loved it, and that Artifice was starting a book arm of their operation and he said, if I was interested, that he wanted to publish the chapbook along with some of my other poems as a book. The cover the book has now is actually the same cover I made for the original chap. Anyway, the book went through many, many edits and many rewrites since then. I think only a handful of the original poems are still in there, actually.
As for the emotional landscape it encompasses, it’s a broad one. It’s my first book. So obviously I have a lot of love for it. I’ve written two others since this one was finished. Some of the poems are really personal. In fact I ended up cutting some that I felt like were TMI or felt a bit too confessional in tone compared to the rest of the book. But other poems are really, really, deeply silly. Most are some combination of those two things with a good dose of “let’s see where I can make this thing go/oh I guess it’s going there/what the hell/okay sure why not”.
When looking back at all the work you have put into this book and watching it evolve, how has it affected you personally and the way that you look at poetry? Can you name some of your major influences, writing wise and life-wise who gave inspiration to these poems?
Sure. The writing of this book really changed my perspective on poetry in a number of ways. I had started writing these sort of surreal prose poems and was trying to sort of crack the code to how to make a really great one, what made them tick. I was reading all kinds of stuff by people like Zachary Schomburg, Anne Carson and James Tate and I came across this really great poem by Mathias Svalina, which mentioned that once he had been given the advice that “the poem should outgrow it’s initial concept.” That was huge for me. It really made me start to think about how to kick things up a notch. Some of the older poems in here, or the ones that have a different M.O. don’t quite do that, but they work well enough in other ways that I kept them in. Other, later poems like “Lake Beach” or “Tuscarora War” really go off the rails in that way. Through that I really got to the point where I felt like I was really channeling something deep and weird inside me instead of just coming up with a clever concept and watching it play out. In terms of influences, I’d definitely include the above people, as well as Frank O’Hara, Chelsey Minnis, Richard Brautigan and Mark Leidner. Before that I was in a band, writing songs mostly, so there’s still a lot of musicians that influenced the way my brain works creatively. The Robot Ate Me was a big one, actually. I think his lyrics and the way he approaches making songs really got inside my head when I was an undergrad and rearranged all my furniture. Shew, that’s a big list of names.
Where and when are you favorite places to write? Do you feel like it affects or enhances your writing in anyway?
I like writing in the morning before you get up. I like writing sitting outside with a cup of coffee and a cigarette (though now it’s an e-cigarette, as of two weeks ago). I like writing while on the train to work or waiting for the train. Those times when it’s quiet and nobody is around and I’m sort of reflecting on the sky and how it’s making me feel. It definitely affects my writing. I have a number of poems that mention the sky because of this.
What has poetry given to you and what do you hope to give it back?
Russ: Poetry has given me so much. I feel like I’ve become so sensitive to myself and the world around me from reading poetry. It’s huge. I feel like it’s helped me grow gracefully into an adult. It’s also given me some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I met you at a poetry reading. It’s incredible. My life wouldn’t be the same without it. I want to give it the parts of myself I think are the most important. I want it to grow to touch all the people who wouldn’t have given the thought of poetry a second look. I don’t know how to do this, but I’ll do whatever I can.