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every other day


10 MAY 06


Weeks 11 and 12, 28 sentences:

"You've had just enough to drink that you're using words like douchebag, commanding me to write things down, and telling me to be quiet."

"Write that down."

(Since you ask.)

"Barrels full of burning wood."

"I moved it from my chest to my head."

(Fear in the body doesn't wonder what it is.)

"I keep getting words like invisible."

"Oh! wait. I know what it is: buried."

(Caught in the traffic between school's out and a funeral.)

"'I'll have the zuchini and a cup of tea,' I'll say."

"We'll get a sleeping car and stay up all night."

(It was a door I'd never seen.)

"No, wait--wait. His hammock was a drum."

"Day two."

(He's already fed up.)

"Then they're walking down a road and there's a train sound--and they might make a run for it, I don't know."

"She was listening to a ballgame, planning a meal."

(He left his boat unfinished.)

"He’s the oldest. He’s carrying the diagram."

"It's been an exciting lunch so far, what with the art, the reminiscing, the poetry, the choking."

(I cannot move the phantom.)

"You want the buffer? [laughs] You want the buffer?"

"Why am I losing sound?"

(Conversation, talking: that was our method.)

 


 8 MAY 06


                                details of everyday life
("What did they eat, what was the house like?")

                   break with the known / a journey

                        A mystery about belonging.

              truth is uncovered / secrets revealed
                   ("What is the trip really for?")

                    voice of the friend

 

6 MAY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

4. Tony Tost


What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for
the first time?

I didn't know what the cover would look like until I saw it on Amazon, but I was pretty relieved when I did see it--the clouds seemed pretty in synch with the gist of what I was up to (swan or wolf shaped clouds would've been better, but oh well), and I was very happy not to have like a headless wedding dress or something as the cover art. I cringe at the possible covers a title like Invisible Bride could generate.

When I had the book in my hands, it wasn't a religious experience or anything. It was nice to read it in that format, bound, but I was pretty chill about it. The idea had sunk in by that point, and I hadn't been found by the writers here in Chapel Hill yet, so it felt pretty strange at first, to have a book, but to just go right in early the next morning anyway to open up the coffee shop and not having anyone know the difference. No one in my daily life knew the difference except for me and Leigh, and that's not a social sphere, that's personal. I have a weird psychology, and I'm a bit dependent on my sense of my objective placement in whatever social sphere I imagine, so I was actually a little depressed about it all, just feeling unmoored. But soon I met Ken Rumble, Marcus Slease, Joe Donahue, Chris Vitiello, Evie Shockley, Todd Sandvik, Patrick Herron, and everyone else around here, and I snapped out of it.

When I found out about CD Wright picking my manuscript, I did imagine my life would change, if just in immediate ways: I was in like the last week of classes as an MFA student at Arkansas, didn't really have any idea of what I was going to do next, and knowing I would have a book with some kind of distribution made that scenario a lot less spooky. At the time, I was single and playing in some bands with friends in Fayetteville and partying too much, drinking a lot and falling down and having songs written about me and urinating in unacceptable places. So I just figured I'd continue to do that and try to get by on part time jobs and not self-destruct too much, try to outlive Frank Stanford. That was still my plan when I found out I'd have a book, but for the first time I thought that I could make a living through writing: all the basic stuff, getting one of those cushy creative writing teaching gigs, having a little less self-doubt about the whole being-a-writer deal, health insurance, affording to live in something other than a $200 a month apartment, not overdrawing my checking account each month, not continually misplacing my car, etc. 

This was all before I knew about blogs, before I had access to poetry worlds outside of Arkansas, so all I knew (as a social structure) was the institutional MFA world in its conservative bent at my MFA program; it was a 4 year program, and the sort of writing I did wasn't the kind that got the funding or the push that other sorts did. So I was pretty skeptical about my job opportunities in academia. The book was a promise of a change in that, and that was welcome.

In an ugly but I think pretty understandable way, the knowledge of having a forthcoming book stood as evidence for me against the small but fairly vocal collection of peers and instructors at Arkansas who didn't think what I did was poetry, or that I would have any publishing success. A favorite example: Dave Smith visited our program and in our meeting he said, "the only thing I can tell you Tony is stop what you're doing." Or the first week of my first workshop, hearing about the older students taking turns reading my first poem at a bar and mocking it, etc. Or people walking out of workshop in the middle of my poem. This all fed into the ambition machine (which keeps humming). 

I'd actually daydreamed about this exact sort of thing happening, getting some sought-after award or publisher, but that it'd happen right before my graduating reading and it'd be announced then, and then I'd laugh in everyone's face. But I think that's the kind of thinking that hyper-competitiveness can bring, or at least it's the kind of thinking that it bred in me. I feel pretty distant from that mindset now, but it was there, definitely.

Anyway, fairly soon after finding about the Whitman I fell in love with Leigh, to whom I'm now married, and followed her from Arkansas to North Carolina, so having a book really paled in the life-changing department compared to falling madly in love, moving to a new place, getting married, finding a new community of writers and a different social approach to poetry, and deciding to get a Ph.D. in English here at Duke.

Immediately, the book did very little in terms of changing my life in any manner of lived experience. After moving to Chapel Hill, I got a job counting traffic, then a job in a coffee shop, then I did some monstrously monotonous text-editing (wasn't even editing, but taking out extraneous dots and blips from 500 page documents that'd been scanned in and converted to a text file).  So, that bitter side of me got self-pitying when I'd get unhappy with this work, thinking about my earlier conception of post-book life. "This was supposed to change my life!" etc. 

But, again, in the more common better moments, it was good for my confidence, in terms of stretching out into new communities, not getting stuck in trying to prove myself to the MFA ghosts of accomplishment in my brain in order to shut them up. I got the confidence to start Octopus with Zachary Schomburg; pathetically, it took something like having a book coming out to get me over the top-down, prestige-anxiety thinking that an MFA program can instill. (Part of why I'm sort of evangelical about the online poetry world is that it has served as a radical counter to this mindset for me.)

But my book has been a pretty miniscule influence on my life compared to all the other things. It's a book, a small one: hopefully, a prologue to bigger, funkier projects.

What did you do/are you doing to promote sales, and what were/are those experiences like?

I've given some readings, but I'm not hugely social, so I haven't pushed the book like I should in terms of readings. I often forget to bring copies to my readings. But I'm sure having a blog and a couple online journals has been a means of promotion. I'm a slow and steady sort of fella; I have a probably naive faith in just plugging along and hoping people will get interested one at a time over a long duration, and that that sort of attention is ultimately more valuable than an immediate, tap-dancing kind of attention getting. To be honest, I've thought about killing my blog to cultivate more authorial mystique, but the attention a blog brings is pretty addictive, and I like the idea of just getting my boring dailiness out of my system thru the blog medium, and getting into the golden shit in the poems. Plus, a blog is a good way to get a lot of my ideas out of my head, where they get precious for me, and into the open, where they can be seen more clearly. It's also a good way to cultivate or just invent the sense of self I think I need, in terms of poetry--I get crazily insecure and unsure, but I find that if I blog as though I'm steadily ambitious and confident, it actually does help.

I'm pretty in love with the various roles that can be inhabited within the world of poetry; I'm thinking here of editing,
publishing, translation, criticism, etc. The combination of blogging and trying to investigate and pursue these notions of how to operate, and then testing them out in something like editing Fascicle--this combo, the dailiness of it--accumulates in interesting ways. When I started blogging, I knew very little about the contemporary U.S. experimentalish scene relative to what I know now; even in the largely social sense that blogs excel at, I find that my intuitive sense of what's going on is much richer than I could have imagined. Similarly, disappointed by my relative ignorance of poetries outside the U.S., I'm hoping that, after several years of editing Fascicle, my intuitive sense of global poetries will also accrue--if nothing else, my slowly but steadily increasing familiarity with poetries outside the U.S. operates as a
relief to the imagined pressures I feel to compose or innovate within the frames offered domestically. So, in short: I don't feel I've really promoted sales in a conscious manner, but that's more because the relative dailiness of a blog (as well as the processes involved in putting together and publicizing a journal) seems to take care of a lot of that on its own.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to having my second book, Amplifier for Hercules, published by University of Iowa Press next fall; I don't think LSU knew what to do with me, or were too invested beyond their contractual obligation to the Whitman: but Iowa seems much more awake and willing to collaborate on building an audience. So I'm anticipating a completely different mindset to develop with book two. And I'm at a more secure point of my life and am looking forward to giving a stronger push to this next book, in terms of readings and shit. I'd love to do a Midwest tour with Aaron McCollough, or a West Coast tour with Standard Schaefer, just to give an example of two adventures I think I'm ready for now that I couldn't have conceived of for Invisible Bride.

Yours was the very first blog I read. How did you get into that?

I found out about blogs I think while googling poets' names that I was interested in, in order to try to find some email addresses of people we'd want for Octopus. So if I remember, I think Ron Silliman and Josh Corey were the first poet bloggers I became aware of--but I didn't really follow along closely until we moved out here to NC and I found I didn't have anyone to gossip poetry with, so I turned to blogs. Now my investment is probably 1/3 desire to read what people are getting turned on to, what they've been thinking, and probably 2/3 just sheer soap opera investment in a particular set of characters (represented by my blog roll).

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? (&/or: What was the best advice you got?)

Oh Jesus, I got no advice. I knew that however big and important to my life the book seemed at that time, that it was just 60 pages of writing, and that in the long term of things I've got grander ambitions and the first book is just a preliminary gesture towards that. I just wanted Invisible Bride to be an interesting first book, and to make the kinds of mistakes a first book always makes (which end up being their virtues): tons of sincerity and ambition and hopefulness and recklessness and incompetence. A fecund starting point. I want to leave an interesting slug trail behind me for whoever's interested in following it, and I basically imagine 40 years in the future, someone reading a book or poem by me and liking it and investigating what I wrote earlier. I'm hoping that Invisible Bride will reward that attention in some way, the way early or first books by contemporary poets I dig amplify my affection for them. 

Fuck advice, seriously. Who fucking knows what's up. The best part of consciousness is getting absorbed in your project and not knowing or caring what the end result will be. Advice gets in the way of that.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I wrote a bunch of awful poems post-Invisible Bride, because I was in a position I'm sure all other post-first book poets find themselves in: writing with a public record. Or just with the notion of a public record, for this first time. Post self-anonymity. I couldn't just invent myself from scratch the way I was used to.    But since then, it's been a test of self-confidence--just kind of trusting that I wrote the poems I needed to write at that point of my life, and that they didn't need to be written anymore, and that I didn't need to 'correct' them or anything, but to begin writing the poems I felt I needed to be composing now. That's pretty nebulous. I've been trying to investigate all the things I didn't do in my first book lately, and have only recently been cool with trying to build upon what I did do.

How do you feel about the critical response to your book and has it had any effect on your writing?

Oh, I was hoping for more backlash, to make me sexier. But then that was in my Arkansas MFA mindset, where Ashbery was the far circumference of what was conceivable. I realized quickly that in a non-Arkansan frame of mind, Invisible Bride was just a perfectly acceptable little semi-quirky book to file next to all the other likeable first books, which was a let down. 

But: I'm always psyched when I hear people dig it. I hope it could serve to younger poet folks the way like Joshua Clover's first book or certain Michael Palmer or Cole Swensen titles did to me: a gateway drug to the interesting things in poetry. 

But critical response, I'm pretty sure, has little to no influence on what I write. One nice thing about the idea of being insanely ambitious is that it offers an escape route from your most recent critics. "It's part of the process," I tell myself, through the tears. "Ovid had it worse."

Do you want your life to change?

Uh, not much. We want to start a family pretty soon. And I'd like to have a less tempestuous relationship with the poet friends I care the most about. Other than that, I desire stasis. But I do long for reconciliation with the poets I've gotten estranged from.

Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

Well, starting work on this Ph.D. will bring about many changes, I'm sure. I've been finishing up projects I started pre-going-back-to-school, so I'm unsure how this will all alter me. I have a lot more time to read and write now, than while doing soul-sucking jobs. As I get a little bit older, I turn less to clever stuff and more towards things like Creeley, which seem to speak directly to my psychology, or else people like Olson or Aby Warburg and Siegfried Kracauer, who operate in my imagination as figures of a new, more useable stance towards knowledge. I get more into the idea of Stein.

My behavior is less self-destructive, though I'm drunk while writing this. But gently drunk, like the father figure in Don Williams' "Good Ole Boys Like Me." I'm just speaking of honor now, as opposed to hitting on Miller Williams' wife.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

Totally, but only one consciousness at a time. Poetry has made me a better person, for real. It's the best medium for knowledge I know of.

:

from Invisible Bride by Tony Tost:

For years, irate mothers' groups have demanded playground reform as child-guidance experts, educators, architects and artists formulated the exact number of dangerous illusions in the world. For openers, the lakes appear to be sheathed in glass while it is in fact the dreary expanses of asphalt that are stuffed with it.

Two swing-sets are nearly touching.

A playground lets our children dash about--willing, laughing, suspending, breaking each other's bones--as the thinkers make fools of us. The playground spins our thoughts around and extends a hospitable welcome to those who want to avail themselves of a chance to walk in the shade of some excellent exterior landscaping. This month, I will explore playground reform as an intuitive response aiming to produce and promote ideal gender identities in children.

A child's body itself is a playground in which gender identities can be monitored and produced, compelling reformers to locate them in public, visible settings. Like a cloud, I am meant to serve a large population. A playground should be a sort of truce between the tunnels and twilights of childhood. A playground should be rippling at its outermost branches. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 120,000 playground injuries are treated in U.S. hospitals each year.

A playground should remain in a child's heart, even as that child, years later, awakes, in his or her own clothes, on a beach, bruised (in a "pool of bruises" in fact), blue-veined and delivered from his or her indolence into an outdoor, multi-use play area of a completely different sort, one that acknowledges a community's commitment to its children and the future they will inherit.

A playground, above all else, should be the first blossom and wintry ground, the fuzzy, distant shore and the whale's belly, the physical soup and the philosophical skin that agrees to mouth adult expectations concerning aesthetics and safety, even as it swallows them.

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

4 MAY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

3. Stacy Szymaszek


Before the day your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?

I feel like I had a realistic sense of what the publication of a small press book of poetry would and wouldn't do to create change in my life. I was working at Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, had several chap books come out, edited 2 journals-- was and still am very engaged in the process of printing the work of others, getting my work printed. I don't know that my life has changed as much as people's knowledge of my work, my existence has changed, increased!

I've been calling myself a poet for a long time. I was 35 when Emptied of All Ships came out. I think my need for the affirmation of a book was much greater in my 20's. I remember telling my therapist that if I didn't have one by the time I was 25 I would consider killing myself, and I was speaking earnestly! Wow, to remember that kind of young inner despotism. Well, I realized that this was a vocation and first I needed to learn how to make poems.

I landed back in my hometown of Milwaukee, in the neighborhood of Bay View along Lake Michigan, by the Port of Milwaukee. I started the poems that would become Mutual Aid [gong press] and Emptied of All Ships when I was 31. THE PROCESS OF WRITING THEM IS WHAT CHANGED ME. Yes, this is the point I wanted to make. It's perhaps the only thing that has changed me in the sense of transmogrification. I invented a public self through the invention of "James." This was before the poetry community reburgeoned in Milwaukee, I hadn't connected, I had published a handful of narrative poems in feminist journals in college. I had finally accessed the language I needed and this gave me a lot of confidence. I believed I had something to contribute, so I wanted it to be out there in a book.

My focus is on doing the work, I have a will to do this work, and of course I like to be recognized for my accomplishments, but regardless the word-work continues.

How has your life been different since your book came out?

My book release and the job offer from the Poetry Project happened in the month of May, 2005. My life has changed a lot since then but specifically because of the book, I don't know. It has better distribution than chap books. One can get it from Amazon, which I think is a weird kind of credential. To be very honest I think it made my parents see me as an adult instead of a possibly "misguided youth" writing poems they don't understand. This is a significant shift. I'm not married, don't have kids, but I have this book. Their suburban friends order it from Amazon and read it because it's me and try to make some meaning out of it because they know and like me. It's a very moving kind of generosity.

What did you do/are you doing to promote sales, and what were/are those experiences like?

I say yes to almost everything that people invite me to do. I'm lucky that people have me in mind. I haven't been aggressive in seeking out readings. I'm of the mind that one thing leads to another. I feel like I've laid a lot of ground work during the past decade and now I'm enjoying the benefits. I do read frequently, I send out copies to a lot of people I think would  be interested, make sure a few book stores as well as SPD keep it in stock. I maintain a vital connection with Tracy Grinnell who published the book. "Promote sales" sounds foreign to me as an author, a copublisher of Instance Press. I want to get the book into people's hands, yes, but it really is a labor of love with no expectation of profit. I did a journal called Gam: A Biannual Survey of Great Lakes Writing, with the tag line "Gam is a gift." I created a gift culture with it, encouraging the trade. In order to do all of these labors of love you need money, and when I moved to New York I needed to siphon more money into rent so Gam is on hiatus for now.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I'm working on a long poem that I see becoming my second book called "hyper glossia"--it's very different than EOAS. I worked with a very short line, with the sense of the line as a self-contained unit. My use of the line and the page in this piece is more akin to Olson in The Maximus Poems. But the manifestation of my vision varies from project to project. There Were Hostilities is talky and documentary, the character in the poems is literally me. The possibility that a reader may love one of my books and not the other is very strong. So I worry a little about this "making a brand name" for yourself thing that Silliman talked about a year or two ago. I don't just write "about the sea."

How do you feel about the critical response to your book and has it had any effect on your writing?

The line "your audience hasn't been born yet" resonates for me with this book. It has been reviewed most satisfyingly by Laura Sims in Jacket, also by Ken Warren in the Poetry Project Newsletter and Bill Sylvester in ecopoetics no. 4/5. Ken locates me within an Objectivist tradition, which I really like, Bill locates me as a writer of the Great Lakes region and has a lot of really lovely readings of certain passages, noting the humor, which is an important element. I really want someone to come at this text as a queer text and an erotic text. There is a lot of erotic activity happening on that ship and I feel like it's being desexualized. No surprise. It's not overt enough to be picked up on by mainstream gay culture and it's easy enough to let it slip by if you're not inclined to think about it. But it's the secret of the text, except it's an open secret, like a big lavender hanky flapping in the wind. There has been no greater force that has formed my sense of otherness and my experience of loss than being gay--but also the inverse, I'm living "in the light" now. This text is born from this pain and this joy; energy born of shame and transformed into theatricality.

The critical response has affected my ego but not my writing.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

This reminds me of the "role of poet vs. role of citizen" question that Lance Phillips asks. Of course I do! And it troubles me how many poets don't think it can (an attitude unique to this country). Words are powerful. Of all the arts, I think poetry makes people the most uncomfortable and I think poetry is the most dangerous to authoritarianism. We need to speak to each other in everyday life, we employ words, for the most part, in a syntactically prescribed order. We read signs, we turn on the TV, our politicians talk to us, it's all propaganda, emotion is commodified and consumed. The poet is in the perfect postion to upset the  linguistic expectation of our society. I agree with George Lakoff's belief that the Republicans keep winning because of their ability to control the language.

I'm not suggesting that poets can topple governments but I do think that we are providing an important resistance, reminding people of the multiplicity and depth and beauty of language. Here is a quote from Rexroth from his essay "The Function of Poetry and the Place of the Poet in Society": "The poet is constantly trying to make the language a more efficient instrument for the control and appreciation of experience. As soon as the forms of society come to rest on artificially preserved methods of controlling experience any such deeply critical approach to the mechanism of communication becomes dangerous to the group."

On an interpersonal level, I've heard and read poems that have changed me: magically, words can open up your ears, make you more alert, more open to noticing synchronicities, more available to the people in your life. The ripple effect of these positives are unquantifiable but cast far.

The whole topic of money and poetry and the agency of the poet causes endless mulling for me. Visual artists and fiction writers can make a lot of money doing what they do but we can't. This is on one hand a boon because what we do isn't subjected to such
intense commodification, but part of me wonders if this is so because of the potential threat we pose to the linguistical status quo as well as the emotionally glazed over status quo. An emotionally galvanized citizenship is harder to control!

Speaking of money and making a living, you're in such an unusual position, having a job that is both unconnected to academia and centered in poetry--incredible! (And your previous job at Woodland Pattern also fit that description--is that right?) I wonder about how you accomplished these feats of livelihood...

Ha! I like "feats of livelihood." Having a job at Woodland Pattern and now the Poetry Project has been my good fortune. When I moved back to Milwaukee, I had a friend who had just gotten a job at WP and I knew I had to get in there. She got me an interview and I made a flip comment about how I would clean the place if nothing else. I got hired as a part-time Education Coordinator and I cleaned on Mondays! After not too long I ended up inhabiting a self-created position or a position created for me called Literary Program Manager. It was a case of my moment of internal galvanization meeting an organizational need for change. Maybe one savvy thing I did was make the Poetry Project people aware of my existence, to draw parallels between the work we were doing. When a job became available a couple of years later I was called. This wouldn't have happened had I not put myself out there.

Can you live on what you make at the Poetry Project? And have you purposely avoided teaching, or has it just turned out that way so far?

At this point in my life I think I would enjoy teaching. I used to be too introverted. BUT at this point I don't have a masters and I'm not the kind of person that could tolerate going through the "MFA industry" (as Mark Nowak calls it in his essay "Neoliberalism, Collective Action, and the American MFA Industry"). I have taught a few workshops, given a few guest talks, been on panels, have been a mentor recently. I like these alternative scenarios. I've considered going back to school but not for writing. For now I'm thrilled to be where I am, and I do make enough to live, but not in Manhattan and not alone.

Would you say a little more about James?

James is the character that emerges in the long poem "Some Mariners" in Emptied of All Ships. I was reading To the Lighthouse as well as Moby Dick. In the "Midnight, Forecastle" chapter of MD, Melville presents a chorus of sailors, set up like a play, Sicilian sailor, French Sailor, Pip, 4th Nantucket sailor.... I started inventing names of sailors for "Some Mariners" [originally published by Etherdome Press], all of them eventually got dropped, except for James. I realized later that James is the boy's name in Woolf's novel.

All I can speak to is what I was conscious of during the emergence of this character. I know it's a bit confusing. Who is James? Is the narrator his lover? A lot of the initial building of the poem was around the prefix "trans"--across, beyond, into another state or place. Transatlantic, transonic, transcribe, the whole thing with James trans-lating Chinese poetry is supposed to be humorous underneath all that angst. So, yes, (James as) trans-sexual but really in a fantastical sense of pan-gendered, a body beyond (trans) anything we currently know. Robotics included (he has a robotic arm).

It was a narrative strategy to be both the I and the persona of James, to be able to use the word "James" as another referential. The rest is for you to imagine. I'm working with another male persona in "hyper glossia", even more overtly his name is Eustace, but in this piece the narrator is clearly a woman. In Pasolini Poems [Cy Press], I filtered myself through the Roman Poems of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

The short answer to why I do this is because my masculinity is as important as my femininity and I have a desire to represent it and explore my relationship to my body/gender/sexuality in a very imaginative poetry.

:

from "Some Mariners" in Emptied of All Ships:


black clouds, spilled ink


progression of centuries. drunk at night watch tower

wrote five letters

 

black clouds. spilled ink blotting out Balkan peninsula

pale rain. beads spatter the tarpaulin

police force wind comes. blasts and scatters them

true solar year is more than a year. pesky fraction

below night watch tower. ocean like sky



after Su Tung-P'o
translated by James

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

 

2 MAY 06
If you haven't already, please look into some of the ways you can help to Save the Internet.

Sign the Move On petition, and get in touch with your Senators and Congresspeople--Free Press makes it really easy here. They also have a map that lets you see how the House Energy & Commerce Committee members from your state have voted on preserving net neutrality--with a list of phone numbers.

It's May (I've noticed).

And so we begin again.

. . .

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