Austerity Pleasures — An Interview With James PayneBy Jordan Castro
December 07, 2011
Austerity Pleasures, a 5.5” by 5.5” chapbook of 30 poems by James Payne, is now available via Monster House Press – a “not-for-profit, cooperative publishing house” – for $4.
My first interaction with James took place in the comments section of something I posted on The Nervous Breakdown and I remember initially feeling threatened by him and “like he was another intellectual shit-talker” whom I’d invariably meet IRL one day (via mutual friends) and feel uncomfortable around. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
After a period of time, James and I became good friends, appearing in Monster House Press’s first release, Assuming Size, together, doing readings together, doing drugs and getting drunk together, etc.
Austerity Pleasures struck me as a kind of literary advance, in that it seemed written in an aesthetically conventional, to some degree, manner, but dealt with content ranging from hierarchy to J Crew. I read and enjoyed it many times and plan on reading it more in the future.
Below is a Gmail chat interview I conducted with James.
James: Nothing too much, running around.
I woke up very late today so all of my to-dos had to be squeezed in very tightly.
What are your plans for the rest of the night?
James: This interview, making buttons, painting a little bit, packing for tomorrow, and going to sleep.
Should I just start asking questions about your book?
James: Yes, whatever you want to do.
me: Ok, I can’t stop thinking about how my mom came into my room ~5 minutes ago and said something about she ‘never actually said yes’ re me going to the Lil B concert tomorrow in a manner that implied that she didn’t want me going.
me: I feel an ability to ‘move on’ now, after having typed that
James: Oh, the travails of family life.
She wouldn’t want you to miss out on the number one gay performer in the world.
me: I wrote unorganized questions in a notebook while reading Austerity Pleasures around the 3rd time I read it. I was thinking about just picking random ones and asking.
James: That is usually my journalistic approach as well.
me: Sweet. I also have an introduction/short review written of the book, so we don’t have to talk about the basic things. Like what it is.
So we can cut to the incisive questioning on specific word choices.
And questions about how my early childhood relates to my syntax, etc.
me: Were there any specific books that you focused on specifically in terms of style and/or content that had a large impact on how you chose to write and/or organize the poems in Austerity Pleasures?
James: Yes and no. Basically Austerity Pleasures is the culmination of my first year of writing poetry. So I was running through styles and influences fairly quickly, and wrote ‘sets’ of poems that show strong influence of other writers. However, after a year of assorted writing, an extensive editing process, etc, I’m not totally sure if that is obvious. However, I have next to no formal training/background in poetry/creative writing, so some of these poems might be exactly like other things, without me realizing it.
I like Frank O’Hara. I think writing about contemporary art in poems is something you can’t do without doing him.
I’m pretty sure that Tao’s writing / seeing him read and realizing that you could do ‘punk’ or ‘diy’ in literature and it could translate well led me to consider writing.
I’m not sure my poems are much like his.
I think you and Richard and Ryan EIlbeck had the strongest influence on me.
Since the writing of my friends provoked me more than anything else.
And Matt Whispers I should say.
There is a poem that is very clearly like a Brandon Scott Gorrell poem.
But I wrote it before reading his book.
me: I remember that.
I like that poem.
Where you listed the websites.
I like that.
James: I like Chelsea Martin a lot.
And the people writing short declarative sentence poems…
And Jacques Prevert and Richard Brautigan.
That’s it really.
I have plebeian tastes.
I should say that I wanted to write poetry because I didn’t know anything about it.
And that was freeing.
me: Interesting, can you elaborate?
James: Sure. I initially went to school for painting and I work generally in museums and galleries. In constructing a visual image I am always constricted by the referents in my head – can’t do that, that’s a (this famous artist).
And that knowledge can be paralyzing, as can knowing what your contemporaries are going to think of your work based on your shared education.
I’ve read so many comics that if I was going to make a comic it would be anxiety-ridden, same with music I think.
But I skipped the part of my life where I was supposed to read literature and become well-rounded, which I initially took as a fault but I began to see that as an opportunity as the business cliche would have it.
Poetry specifically was perfect since I could do it anywhere.
And for the year AP covers I was a transient.
So that was important, and offered me something that other art forms couldn’t.
me: When, in your view, did you “start writing poetry?”
James: The first poem I wrote was a fake rap hook I kept saying to fill up space.
me: How did it go?
James: “I’ve got so much money, I’m a bank.”
with the “I’m a bank” repeated.
The first long poem I wrote was the Oh, O’Hare one.
That was January of 2010.
The bank rap sounds good.
James: It’s not.
James: But I think it was already thematically what AP turned out to be.
me: “I’ve got so much money, I’m a bank” or “Oh, O’Hare”?
The bank one is a pretty facile comment on the bail out.
Oh, O’Hare satirizes privilege/upper-class and is about class conflict.
But the “I’m a bank” one is interesting to me since it takes a social issue and turns it into a personification/personal identity thing.
James…bro…I feel like I’m going to throw up…
Like, ‘out of nowhere’ I just started sweating really badly and feel like I’m going to puke.
You should puke.
If you feel better I will be online.
me: I’m going to be near the toilet but will continue asking questions.
James: Haha, okay.
me: The toilet bowl just hit my head.
James: My answers are sort of stomach-turning.
I am laughing
James: Is it the Lil B anxiety?
One thing I thought would be interesting for the review would be if I sent you words/phrases that may or may not somehow pertain to Austerity Pleasures to enter into your Gmail inbox to search.
Do you have emails saved or archived somehow?
James: Yeah, I have every email that isn’t junk since 2001 or something.
me: Sweet, do you feel interested in doing that?
James: What would I do after I search the term?
me: Tell me how many results there are.
James: Ohhhh, okay.
Yes, I am intrigued.
James: I see. I hope none for Panera.
The last place I went before I took the GRE was Panera.
I regret that decision.
James: The sandwich made me quasi-sick, and I was over caffeinated.
me: Do you remember what sandwich you got?
It had goat cheese.
James: I remember thinking, “goat cheese, at Panera?”
That’s what gets all of those New Albany parents in there.
me: That sounds funny.
James: Working on their vanity novels.
me: I have seen them before.
The novel writing moms in Panera.
James: It’s a rich scene.
me: “Fleetwood Mac”
James: Goat cheese driven.
me: Rich goat cheese: a novel.
James: I would read/eat that.
What about Fleetwood Mac?
me: A phrase to search.
James: Ohh, should I be doing this now?
I will do it now.
me: Yes, ok.
James: Somehow only 4.
And one is this chat.
me: “American Apparel”
James: Another is a survey for a focus group.
2 are Microcosm emails.
Another is an email to myself with notes for an essay I never finished.
me: I feel interested in reading the essay or notes if you’d be willing to share them.
James: Called “Radical normalcy.”
Radical Normalcy is not the “Radical Center.”
Radical Normalcy is not an ideology but a tactic.
Radical Normalcy is the purging of inessentials.
Radical Normalcy cements expression.
5 RN is
5 RN is not
5 Paragraphs + Foot notes.
Malcolm X, Jehovah Witnesses, Their thoughts / actions, Thoughts and actions instead of slogans and signifiers, no labels, no references, no style, Against “Get Decked” – mainstreaming of hair dye, piercings, American Apparel’s style change and incipient bankruptcy as “before its time”, true subversions, neither norms nor hipsters ready for it, Americans think creativity begins and ends with clothing, like politics with bumper stickers, our life is in the quartier des spectacles, not, print culture, written arguments remain, vestments/investments/invested interests, brick lane plimsoles, Woody Allen.
I think I have a more written out version somewhere else.
I wrote that walking around in Montreal.
The basic idea is that people should look as boring as possible so the only way to judge them is on their ideas/expressions.
Because clothing is short hand for that, a lot of people never have to develop their ideologies further than their clothes.
Also, that looking normal is a tactic taken by radical activist groups / radical religions.
I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I think that plays into it.
But how immaculate Malcolm X always looked, for instance.
So you couldn’t use ad hominem arguments against his appearance to denigrate his ideas.
A N Y W A YZ
One is from Austin Eilbeck’s phone number.
me: How many emails total do you have saved or archived?
James: I keep them so someone can write my biography one day. J/k not j/k.
me: That is a good idea.
James: Mostly in emails with Cassandra.
me: “I’m” “drunk”
James: I have 31 for that.
me: “I’m going to kill myself”
James: 1 – just this conversation.
James: Maybe I usually text people that.
me: I am laughing.
One thing I was wondering about in AP was how you chose when to use line breaks?
James: Funny you ask.
My first drafts of all of those poems, it was entirely intuitive, without any idea of how anyone ever decided that – or even recognizing it as a real issue.
Later I edited the poems to be somewhat like how I would read them.
I don’t fuck with metrical feet or any of that, mostly because I’m horribly ignorant.
But when I sent the final edit to Richard, something happened, and so the line breaks in about half the poems in AP are exactly like how they ideally would be to me, and about half are different than my ideal.
I think my .doc file did something different when he opened it, at it was on our deadline, so he sort of felt it out.
I think 1/3rd to 1/2 are affected.
me: Damn, interesting, how do you feel/what do you think about that?
James: I think there is only a poem or two where I think it matters, I generally embrace the results of the exigencies of creative things.
My line breaks don’t make sense to begin with.
So even if they were all different, I doubt it would matter to the reader.
But a lot of the poems are exactly how I want it to be and I’m sure make no sense or are very annoying to read to people with creative writing educations.
I personally enjoyed it.
James: Poems like ‘Cloudberry Jam,’ ‘Trop Moderne Lovers,’ or ‘Bushwick, NYC’ are not things that can be put down to any methodology.
It’s like outsider art… or something, or I imagine it to be the equivalent.
Well people who are educated on a subject generally like their educations to remain relevant.
They don’t like to see things change.
I think that is the main reason for the blowback to Tao Lin, for instance.
me: Interesting, I think I agree.
James: There are things that are safe and are products of a tradition, generally an exclusive one that is divided along lines of class and education, and there are things people are making because they are making it and their friends find it valuable to their lives.
The academy takes like 30 years to catch up, usually as those artists/writers are dying.
Not that that concerns me, but I do think that is happening to Tao.
There is no real reason that he should have been excluded from that New Yorker list for instance.
me: I agree.
I am enjoying your responses.
How often have you been doing drugs recently?
James: I have been “super sober” recently.
I’m incredibly poor right now, and I don’t have any friends in Chicago.
me: I’m sorry.
Do you hang out with Matt Whispers?
James: We went on tour recently together.
He’s great. It was a treat to hear his poems each night.
I think in Chicago you can know 40-50 people and never see them.
And I think Matt would agree with that.
me: While writing poems for AP, did you write them with the context of a poetry collection in mind?
James: Not really.
I was publishing poems in different things, and writing poems for different things, and generally just enjoying making them.
Then I wanted to collect them, and I thought I was going to collect them under the title “Us Out of North America”
And then I thought maybe two collections…
But then I just made Austerity Pleasures, which was a good idea.
Because I could have really even cut that in half too.
It isn’t exactly an integrated whole…
If that’s what you’re asking.
James: I picked poems that seemed thematically appropriate and then Monster House Press picked the goodies and that was that.
I presented them with 40 poems and they picked 30.
Bro, I’m sorry, I’m feeling pretty sick and want to try to sleep so I can wake up for school tomorrow. Can I just email you a few more questions tomorrow?
James: Yeah, sounds good.
me: Ok cool.
James: I hope you feel better.
me: Thank you, good job.
James: Have fun in Columbus.
me: Thank you.
James: Sorry I write a lot! You’ll have to edit this a bit I think.
me: I will, don’t be sorry
James: I think it’s partly because I am drinking Modelo and I never drink anymore.
* * *
me: Hey, one second.
me: Ok, sorry about that.
James: It’s okay.
me: How is your mother’s day so far?
I had to ask my mother for a loan yesterday, that was my Mother’s day gift.
me: Damn, lol, I’m sorry.
I think there are only a few more questions/things I want to ask and talk about.
me: I also wanted to ask whether you would prefer reading it unedited, the interview, or if you’d rather read it edited, to some degree, in a more conventional ‘interview format.’
I can’t decide whether to publish it unedited or ‘extract the juice.’
James: Edit it.
James: Extract the juice.
Edit my answers too, they are long and mostly boring.
me: Ok, sounds good.
Would you rather be able to fly, become invisible, or both but inevitably die at age 30?
James: I don’t really know what I would do with either. I don’t know. I guess I could monetize either.
me: lol, yeah.
What is the last ‘major motion picture’ you watched and enjoyed?
James: I watched, this is embarrassing, but that Howl movie.
me: That is funny
That is the most recent thing you watched and enjoyed.
What are your thoughts re Allen Ginsberg?
James: The most recent thing I enjoyed was the two season of Pulling.
I like Ginsberg in small amounts. I think it’s a little annoying at times.
me: Interesting re “it’s.”
That seems…I keep thinking of aphorisms re works of art and the people who create them and thinking about posters at school.
James: Yeah, he had a shtick I think, people indulge in sometimes, Ginsbergian.
You could slap him on a poster and make some college Freshmen bucks.
me: I am laughing.
What else are you involved in besides writing and literature?
Currently I am involved in trying to stitch my life together.
I don’t know.
I make visual art sometimes. I blog. I used to be in some bands. I used to book shows. I occasionally curate art shows.
me: What specifically are you doing to “stitch your life together”?
James: Moving away from a failed relationship, trying to make rent, always applying for and being turned down by jobs and schools and residencies and internships and grants.
It’s been a rough year.
Very transient/unstable. I think a lot of Austerity Pleasures is about that.
James: I have to move back to Columbus currently.
me: Do you want to?
James: I don’t know what is going to happen.
I wanted to live with my girlfriend and go to school in Chicago.
me: Damn, I’m sorry bro.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about AP or anything else?
James: Did we talk about the Monster House Press end of it?
Like the process of making it? I think that is important.
Maybe we already did.
me: I will check, one second.
It doesn’t look like we talked about it
Do you want to type some things about it now?
me: Ok, sweet.
James: I met Richard and Ryan Eilbeck at The Dube when I was visiting Columbus.
I asked what they were publishing next after Assuming Size.
I said I had something ready to go (though it wasn’t really, I thought it was).
Richard looked at millions of edits of this thing, as did everyone in the collective. They whittled it down into shape, and picked the order of the poems in the book. Jack Ramunni and I and Richard did the cover, Richard and Jack did the interior design work, and I sent edit after edit back to them, probably being very annoying.
It came down to a buzzer beater, which was the Chicago Zine Fest, but they managed to print copies and bring them. I think the whole process took 3 months.
There are copies left and they can be ordered through MHP’s website. They are releasing Josh Kleinberg’s chapbook next.
I think I have enough things to use to make an interview.
Thank you, I’ll talk to you later bro, have a good day.
Thanks for doing this.