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OK. Here we go. A few warm up questions…

(cracking knuckles, exhaling like Michael Vick at a dog fight) Yep. Ready.


What’s the binomial nomenclature for the blue-footed booby?

Sula nebouxii.


Nice. You’re the first one I’ve asked who’s pronounced that correctly.

Yeah. Most people wouldn’t guess that it rhymes with “Corn Flakes.”


OK. Same style of question. This time for daffodil.

Oh, shit. Trick question right? I know it’s part of the Narcissus genus, which is obviously your not-so-sly way of underlining the fact that this is a self-interview, but…OK, Mr. Clever, I give up.


Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Cool, right?

Yeah. Sort of. I kinda wanna divide our roles like that. I’ll be Narcissus and you be Pseudonarcissus. Won’t that be fun? What should our costumes look like?


Wait, wait, wait. I’m fucking Narcissus, dude. I’m not playing that half-ass role again just because everything I say follows a letter Q. And to answer your question (which is an odd role reversal, big boy) I think our costumes should reflect a whole leather and lace thing, know what I mean?

Yeah. Master and Slave, Mick and Keith, the whole nine yards.


The gamut.

Right.


Do you know what the entrance requirement to the American Daffodil Society is?

A bag of potato chips?


Ha! No dude. High cheekbones. Can you believe that? Their male gender ideal actually matches the bone structure of Mick and Keith. Do you think this is closer to quaintness or fascism?

I don’t know, but this is starting to make me a little anthrophobic.


Anyhow: speaking of the Stones, did you know that if you play the Exile on Main Street album backwards, you can hear Charlie Watts mumbling an extended monologue about cutting Mick’s dick off with a piece of construction paper?

I’ve heard that’s an old wives tale.


(dejected) Yeah. Me too. Can you tell us a little known fact about Charles Lindbergh now?

Sure. He was a grasshopper fetishist.


Can you elaborate a bit please? And when you do so, can you adopt a tone that’s both lyrical and informative?

(clearing throat like Susan Boyle preparing to do a mock-up of actress Joan Collins’ boozy version of Debbie Reynolds’ “The Lady Love,” [from the 1953 comedic film, ‘I Love Melvin’]) Sure.


(whispering, to self) Score.

1924: Charles Lindbergh, flight-training in the Army, imagining the strange clouds waiting for him beyond the ceiling of his barracks, enduring time on earth, on dirt, on linoleum, honed his love of the practical joke. To get closer to the sky, Lindbergh would often gather the belongings of a fellow cadet and heap them onto the barracks roof; up there, facing the sky, he would often forget that he was holding a heap of laundry and a sepia photograph of a woman he didn’t know. Lindbergh’s favorite joke involved gathering as many grasshoppers as possible into a gunnysack and emptying them into his fellows’ beds, often trapping them beneath the tightly tucked sheet, restricting their own, however brief, flight.


(clapping) Rock on, rock on. Well done.

Grazie mille.


So this WARRANTY IN ZULU poetry book you have out now. Tell us a bit about it.

Way to get on task, man.


I am Narcissus, bitch.

Whatever. OK. WARRANTY IN ZULU began as a project to engage the ways in which the exhibits of South African museums and galleries have changed since the fall of apartheid in 1994, documenting how the “landscape” of the South African art scene has changed in style, substance, and accessibility with the socio-political landscape, with the aim of uncovering a larger statement about the interaction between politics and aesthetics. After numerous trips to South Africa, my wife’s homeland, and her family’s country of residence, the project became laced with the personal, the various narrators therein (many inspired by unofficial interviews, casual conversations, and folklore) engaging issues of history, identity, confused observation, the nature of healing, irrational fear, irrational love and the collision between insider and outsider voices. While not every poem in the manuscript is set specifically within South Africa (most are), each struggles with similar thematic strains.


Did you just copy and paste that directly from the Notes section of the book?

(sighing like coked-up Linda Evans, post-coital) Yes.


Don’t you think that’s pretty fucking lazy, dude?

Well…


Don’t you think that’s so totally Pseudo…narcissus?

Don’t make me say, Arrgh.


OK. I’ll again try to make you look good. Tell us a bit about any work you have that’s forthcoming.

Well, POT FARM, which is forthcoming 2012 from The University of Nebraska Press, is my hazy and sometimes inaccurate nonfiction book about my work on a Northern California medical marijuana farm. A couple early versions of a couple chapters are on TNB, actually.


Are you copying and pasting again? I’m noticing that, just above, the P in POT FARM is in 14-point Arial font, and the rest of this strikes me as textbook 12-point Cambria. The deal, please?

Arrgh.


So I hear that you also have a working draft of a book about some odd time you spent in Mexico or something?

Yeah. The working title is NEWTON AND PULLED PORK RETURN US TO EARTH.


Ah. The fashionable long title. You are such a product of the 21st century. So… give us the lowdown.

My wife, Louisa, and I, struggling to rediscover our footing as a married-couple-in-love, fled to Mexico. Our search for ourselves, our sanctuary, our relationship, took us from the wild crowds and violent social protests of Mexico City, to the culinary jewel of Oaxaca City, and finally to a tiny indigenous Zapotec village in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juárez mountains. There, immersed in a culture relatively isolated from the rest of the world, where Spanish itself is a second language, we uncovered far more than we expected. Fusing the narrative storytelling techniques typical of memoir with historical, scientific, and folkloric research, NaPPRUtE places the sense of loss and confused search of one particular young married couple within a larger socio-cultural context. As that context began to assert itself more and more as Louisa and I all but vanished into that tiny mountain village, the lenses through which we previously viewed the world began to muddy and shift, our real experiences in this place taking on the unnerving qualities of magical realism and the ghost story. In this village, we discovered an unlikely band of U.S.-American expatriates of various demographics, on grappling journeys of their own, contributing to a community both unique and ubiquitous in its quest for some version of fulfillment. I situate said narratives within the larger contextual discussion and secret histories of the likes of (yes) Charles Lindbergh, Charles Darwin, Davy Crockett, Benito Juárez, early slaughterhouses, ancient Aztec astronomy, Kurt Gödel and his Incompleteness Theorem, the ortolan, crickets, moths, bats, swallows, grasshoppers (yes, again) and the frightening Mexican myth of the duende.


Cool, if a little formal in tone. Are you hoping that agents are going to be reading this or something?

Fuck knows.


Right-o! Just in case, give ‘em a little ending punch. In a Don Pardo voice, if you could.

Here goes. (Clearing throat like Linda Evans’ plastic surgeon, cleaning the scalpel with his breath and a Kleenex) Rich with details of real Mexican city and small-town life, folklore, history, and science, NaPPRUtE engages the strange, sublime, and sometimes-dangerous goings-on in such locales, ever searching, whether via research or narrative, for connection: between cultures, countries, people, culinary traditions, the “old” Mexico and contemporary Mexico, disputed accounts of history, religion, and politics; between my mother’s illness and the vibrancy of a village street parade, children and parents, Louisa and me and our place in this world.


Ha! Nailed it! Except you sounded a little less like Pardo and a little more like Fievel.

Holy shit. An American Tail reference. Wasn’t expecting that one.


(Raising the roof) Narcissus in the house…

And I just placed another poetry manuscript, THE MORROW PLOTS, with Black Lawrence Press. It’s not due out for a couple years yet. It’s a series of these really dark, murderous Illinois poems, based on old Urbana Daily Courier newspaper archives from like the 20s and 30s.


Why is corn so often associated with murder?

Shit. That’s a good question. Perhaps it has to do with corn’s rigorous domestication? Perhaps the original primal corn wants to rebel, go all wild dog on our asses, rip our throats out, and be Corn again.


Speaking of murder, have you ever killed anything larger than a cockroach?

(Looking at shoes [faux gator-skin Stacy Adams]) Yeah. A rat.


Well. Tell us about it, P.N.

Well. Like so many of us, I’ve always found them a little scary. In a germy kinda way. The Post-Midnight-Lying-in-Bed-Next-To-a-Dozing-Louisa-Watching-Shitty-Television-and-Hearing-the-Scurrying-of-Tiny-Feet-over-the-Crinkly-Plastic-of-Louisa’s-Now-Finished-Lychee-Pudding-Cup-While-Naked-and-Thereby-Feeling-Vulnerable sort of scary. And, of course, when I turned on the light, the burrito-sized rat darted out of a pile of dirty laundry, Louisa howled awake, and my hands went instinctively and protectively, to my penis.


Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

As a child, I was bitten on the fingertip by my sister’s pet hamster, Popeye, the incisors sinking to bone, the wound bleeding continuously through the night, and as such, even before finding out that the word rodent derives from the Latin rodere, or “to gnaw,” I developed the sort of phobia for such creatures that prevented me from tracking this rat down without a chilly spine, shortness of breath, and a lack of fandom for the roommate situation between incisors upper and lower and my hanging-out genitals.


Right. Right. Genitals.

So, armoring myself in boxer shorts, and as a hater of killing living things, I barricaded the corner laundry pile with a crescent of pillows, leaving a small passageway at whose mouth I placed an open paper bag. Slowly, I rattled the laundry pile with the buckle-end of a belt. The rat emerged, I screamed and leapt, electricity flashing in my back and neck, Louisa whispering, “Matty!” in bed behind me, kneading our favorite green sheet (which, yes, we named Sea of Green), running, as planned, with a bang into the paper bag.


No way!

“Yes!” I yelled, and gingerly reached to close the bag and carry it outside, when the rat escaped, its own backfur brushing my palm, and disappeared in a second, smaller laundry pile consisting mainly of Louisa’s bras.


OK. You got me thinking of tits now.

Anyhow. My heart sank, and I knew, if we were ever to get any sleep, I likely had to kill the poor bastard. And so, cock safely boxer-shorted, belt in hand, I began picking through Louisa’s clothes pile, bra-cup by bra-cup. When the rat ran out, abandoning its affinity for my wife’s secondary sexual characteristics, Louisa once again whisper-screaming, my entire body going cold and sweat-damp, I swung the heavy buckle, big as a Bagel Mini, and caught the creature right on the head.


Pseudonar-ciss-us!

Yeah, man. The rat stopped, frozen in place, and, I swear, it looked up at me, right into my eyes, but with this stunned confused look, as if to say, What the Hell? Why?, and before I could explain, my body took over and I hit it again. And, as I proceeded to throw a detachable windowscreen over it, and cave in its skull with an empty bottle of Chardonnay, my heart sank, and I wondered if it was a boy or a girl.


Gender issue. Right.

Into this coming depression, adrenaline still pumped and, because of its influence, I couldn’t help but feel manly, and more, heroic, like some grotesque childhood Indiana Jones fantasy had just been fulfilled and, while it wasn’t all I though it’d be at eight, I also couldn’t help but turn to Louisa, as I plastic grocery-bagged the body and Brillo’d the blood from the carpet, and say what I was thinking, “You know, I always felt I’d be good with a whip.”


Know what the binomial nomenclature of the rat is?

Doesn’t that depend on the type of rat?


Let’s say the Black Rat, which, given your Michigan location, is probably the one you killed.

(pausing, looking downward, faux gator-skin Stacy Adams morphing into bare, dumb feet) Rattus… (sniffling, misting) rattus.



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Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer (W.W. Norton: Liveright), Pot Farm, and Barolo (both from the University of Nebraska Press), the poetry books, Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots, and Sagittarius Agitprop (both from Black Lawrence Press), and the chapbooks, Four Hours to Mpumalanga and Aardvark. Recent and forthcoming work appears in The New Republic, Field, Epoch, AGNI, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Crazyhorse, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. After spending over 17 years of his occupational life in restaurant kitchens—from fast-food chicken shacks to fine-dining temples of gastronomy—he now teaches creative writing in the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction Editor of the literary journal, Passages North. This winter, he prepared his first batch of whitefish liver ice cream. It paired well with onion bagels.

3 responses to “Matthew Gavin Frank: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Judy Prince says:

    Matthew Gavin Frank, both of you are weird. Loved your primal male going-after-the-rat story!

    There’s something about the water in Grand Rapids Michigan that hypes rats and McDonald’s french fries (the two, presumably unrelated events). Try to ration your water for a week or two.

    Hey, that book which has an indecipherable title and is about the cultures of Mexico sounds like a keeper!

    yr sister Grand Rapidian, next week to be in the UK permanently and regularly dining at *Sardi’s* restaurant (Darlington, county Durham) THE best in maybe the world

  2. Oooh! Sardi’s. Nice. Nothing like that here in GR, but if you should pass back through these parts, and happen to be craving a solid Midwestern beer, look me up.

    Permanently in the UK? Do tell.

    And yeah: I should ration the water. The tap is spewing some snowy, bleachy, ratty stuff these February days.

    And thanks about the Mexico book. I’m trying to carve some indecipherable niche for myself.

    M

    • Judy Prince says:

      Can you give a very brief excerpt from your Mexico book, Matthew? I found your description of it intriguing.

      My son (L.A.) would look you up for a great Midwestern beer, but I’ve never gone a bundle on beer or ale, preferring red wine.

      You ask about my moving permanently to the UK. It’s dear Rodent’s homeland, and Now that we’re married, I’ve obtained a visa to settle permanently with him there. I love its old buildings, farms and sheep/cows/horses near every town, gorgeous skies, year-round temperate weather and the fine, varied cuisine. We’re fortunate to’ve recently bought an 1890’s home there and are eager to get it fitted out.

      The Sardi’s I love is not the famous one in New York, but a restaurant in northern England (Darlington, county Durham) run by two Sardinian-born brothers. It’s my all-time top choice, with local, fresh, high-quality ingredients, stunningly flavourful sauces, and al dente-cooked vegetables served with excellent wines. Here’s their a la carte dinner menu of the month:

      Starters:

      Soup of the day £4.50;
      Parma Ham & Melon Slices £6.00;
      Deep Fried Goujons of Hake with Tartare Sauce £5.80;
      Pan Fried King Scallops with Cream, Brandy & Cheese £6.80;
      Linguine (long pasta with seafood and tomato) £5.80;
      Gnocchi di Patate (small potato pasta) with Spinach, Cream and
      Dolcelatte (blue cheese) Sauce £5.80;
      Chicken Liver Paté with Tomato & Onion Salad and Red Onion Chutney £5.80;
      King Prawns (off the shell) Pan Fried with Fennel, Pernod and Cream £6.00;
      Mozzarella & Scaglie (platter of buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato slices & shavings of parmesan, rocket leaves, drizzled with basil oil and balsamic vinegar) £5.50;
      Cestino (puff pastry basket filled with snails & black pudding, pan fried in
      garlic, wine & herbs) £5.80

      Mains:

      Half Roast Duckling with Plum & Apricot Brandy Sauce £16.70;
      Fillet of Beef au Poivre £19.50;
      Sirloin Steak with Mushrooms, Whisky & Wholegrain Mustard Sauce £16.50;
      Diavola (half roast chicken, off the bone) and cooked with Wine,
      Rosemary & Chilli £14.50;
      Roast Rack of Lamb with Wine, Caramelised Onions &
      Redcurrant Sauce £17.00;
      Escalopes of Veal Verbena topped with Soft Cheese, Asparagus & Parmesan and with Wine & Butter Juice £16.50;
      Piccione (pigeon breasts filled with garlic butter & cheese wrapped in smoked Parma ham) pan fried with Wine & Garlic Butter £15.00;
      Involtini (beef rolls filled with ham & slices of aubergines, cooked with a light wine, tomato & herb sauce) £15.00;
      Sea Bass (filleted and cooked with wine, spring onions, ginger, cherry tomatoes & garlic butter) £16.50;
      Lemon Sole (off the bone except for the central one), pan fried & with a Prawn, Cream and hint of Curry Sauce £16.50

      Main courses are served with vegetables and potatoes or salad.
      ————

      Take care,

      Judy

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