How has your first book changed your life?
24. Allyssa Wolf
How did your manuscript happen to be published by Otis Books/Seismicity Editions? Had you sent it out before that?
I sent my book ms to a handful of presses before Paul Vangelisti suggested I send it to Seismicity. Paul had previously published my work in Ribot, in 1999--I sent out my first ever submissions 'with love, from Ohio' to literary journals, and Fence and Ribot both accepted my work right away. I think that was even more exhilarating than my first book; it was the first first. I wept. Because I had been writing, peerless, a high school dropout and doing every shade of destruction in the underground, for years. So I felt out of nowhere, working on these things that were very foreign to my life in a way, and to have them accepted in what I thought were the most forward journals at the time, it was quite something.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
No. Absolutely not. Paul and Guy [Bennett] have a vision, a minimalist vision, a flat-rat-black vision, a noli me tangere vision (that was very close to my own vision in Vaudeville). I love the cover; I call it my 'little black virgin.' No blurbs, no hideous 'poetry art,' no hand on chin author photo--flowers and horses and tables or what-all. No things but in ideas. But my next book is going to have me nude on the cover, with a blurb written in lipstick across my belly.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I was living in San Francisco, it was February. I got two copies in the mail in the morning before going off to work. So I was opening the envelope as I was walking and looking at it while I was walking in the street. The first thing I did was scan for typos, since I had developed a neurotic fear that my book would have them. I am proud to say there is not one typo in the book. That was the first thing I said when I spoke with everyone about it--no typos!
I brought the book to work and took a few long cigarette breaks to read it. I was shocked at how total it was. I showed it to the 65 year old gay men I worked with at the suit shop. They politely feigned interest.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I had already been schooled by the poets I knew in Los Angeles in what to expect. I braced for silence. When people like Dennis Phillips and Paul Vangelisti, master poets, are virtually ignored, it's obscene to pity yourself if everyone doesn't immediately bow down. What is bowed to often troubles me anyway. On the other hand, my life has changed dramatically in general since entering the Land of Poetry, and I am grateful for that.
I feel a sense as having been pronounced 'not guilty' at a trial.
The first poem in the book, which still hurts me, received a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing. That was very exciting.
What have you been doing to promote Vaudeville, and what are those experiences like for you?
Seismicity sent copies to 300 poets/magazines in America, which is wonderful. I have done next to nothing to promote it. I gave one reading in Los Angeles. I may give more, but I'm not so sure about poetry readings. It is important to go to them--like church socials--but they don't seem to have much to do with poetry. They often seem like a bad re-enactment of poetry. Also, in places where poetry readings are very important the 'funny poets' proliferate. They must become funny to entertain a crowd, I suppose, because poetry is going to hide in those environments anyway. It takes a great deal of effort to bring poetry to a reading, which I have seen only a few times. I think poetry's music for eyes on paper and has much more sound possibility in a reader's mind, rather than trapped in some particular voice.
As for my own readings, I would like to create some sort of machine that I could work to perform the reading for me.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
Life is neither absurd nor meaningful, it is.
I barely wrote for six months, because even doing next to nothing there always seems to be some poetry business to attend to. I've received several offers. I'm working on two mss now: Prisoner's Cinema (or Film of Dust) is the extension of Vaudeville with more phenomenology--the stage is gone, and in Pure Waste the stage reappears--this time housing a sex show with the idea of the inhuman galloping about.
I've also been spending a lot of time editing, doing a guest stint at Effing Magazine. The issue should be out early Fall, it really turned out well.
So far there has been little critical response. I think the lack of blurbs/big names buttressing the book, added to my uneasiness about 'promoting' myself, is going to slow down the process considerably, which is fine by me. I'm not going anywhere. Jon Leon wrote a great review in Jacket (Jon Leon wrote this review before we met or had talked much and now he is my lover, so I lied when I said my life didn't change somehow because of this book), buried in 'the flarf issue.' (And aren't we all these days, buried, in the flarf issue?) A mystery review is coming out soon in Verse Magazine. I'll be curious to see. I'll be looking forward to many more.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
I feel like Miss America.
I'm for a poetry that is actually a way to live, in that respect I think close to the aims of philosophy. But I'm not sure what to think when I look at the poets who did cause political change: Ginsberg? the Futurists? Pound? Not exactly ethical all-stars in my eyes. Poets seem to do goofy things politically when they are active. Why is that? And they're really not much better as sedentary upper middle class generic lefties--only slightly better as upper middle class armchair Marxists. If the international class wars come down they're going to be toast, but nevermind. You have to be willing to fight in the street for what you believe, as a citizen first. I'm ready. I will take up arms.
Rather this or that, says one
I would have grown sound even
Within a crowd crying
A spike of light?
Is it an anger which turns
(scrubbed hand in red fogged sun
. . .