11 JUNE 06
Week 16, 14 sentences:
The house where we last all lived together--I’d never find that road now. Four twelve? Four thirteen? My father snoring, grinding his teeth upstairs. The window fan in their bedroom, blowing out. The wet street.
The first light has a reason. What we call "lyrical." And now he’ll go in with the blindfold on, to make sense of their span. Don’t belong. I have done all I could do. To be lost.
They were all facing different ways, and now they all face the same way. Things like this happen toward the end.
9 JUNE 06
"words won't show me where some things attach."
7 JUNE 06
How has your first book changed your life?
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
There was a line at the post office which I joined, with my yellow slip from my POBox to pick up the package at the counter. People were bitching about the line, because they never remember to bring something to read, and because I never remember to bring extra things for them to read, which means I have a hard time reading inside all the bitching. I don't remember what I was reading because the bitching about the long line overwhelmed us, all of us strangers. There were at least a dozen opportunities for us to stop being strangers, but we failed one another, again. Who were they? Who am I? I miss you all, I miss you, do you miss me?! Do I still see you and don't remember you? Which means you don't remember me? In this world there are soft things the hard things press into called sandwiches, called capitalism, called mispronounced verbs, called duties for cash, salutations with no lightning bug parades and don't forget the kiss you either wait for or administer. See, you do remember, and so do I, hello, and hello.
The package was yellow out in the sunlight, but dark mustard in the post office, which makes me worry that the constant exposure to the lights might harm the postal worker's pigment, one day, soon. This was a month ago, wait, no, two months ago. Richard, the publisher of Soft Skull Press, wanted me to take a look at the book's spine because the type crawls over the edges. The Soft Skull ant logo is perfectly centered though, which is beautiful. And it's green, a bright green ant on jet black. Someone might think that it's a strange thing to have an ant represent an organization when there are lions in the world. But I ask you, can a lion carry more than ten times its body weight? The leaf cutter ant can carry fifty times its body weight. Ants are everywhere, while lions are either in cages, or in a few last wild regions of Africa. Lions have a rough time of it with the human being and all its unbridled human growth. Ants are growing extensive condominiums beneath your porch, unseen beside the police station and deep inside your grandmother's grave. Ants are making shit happen and pesticides will destroy our own human drinking water before they put a dent in the plans ants have for the world.
It wasn't just that I was looking at my book for the first time, it was that I was really THERE with the experience of surviving all these goddamned years of fucking and fucking writing poems. What a lovely day. And don't think for a second that I didn't realize how many people there are in the world who want to do something like get a book published and they work their asses off and work their asses off and the whole thing seems to shit back in the face at them. It's awful. You can wait a long time while you're busy reading and writing. It's a very sobering thing that wait. And don't think for a second I don't know how fortunate I am let me tell you. You also better realize the dues I've paid aren't just in the writing and the waiting but also in taking some pretty sharp jabs and cuts from behind over the years from "friends" who suddenly lost their minds when I got a little success. The shit some people will do to you will shock and depress you. And then you will realize they were never your friends in the first place and you'll let them talk to the place in the dark where you used to stand. And continue to live in your child heart despite, and despite, not leaving behind your kid jaunt despite, and despite.
But it was beautiful and my good friend Greg Fuchs took that photograph on the cover, of my hand, my middle finger. Soft Skull Press is fantastic because they will never censor you. If you are fortunate enough to be part of their publishing genius, then you get to participate with as big and as personal a Love as you can to say Fuck You I Love You. Is this childish of me? Please don't misunderstand my childish behavior for the polite behavior I never learned. If I am childish and crude and enjoy fucking my boyfriend in his taxi cab it is because machine guns have been silencing tens of thousands of bodies once filled with laughter in Iraq, once longing for contact with the soft hairs of another's arm, holding open long closed doors loneliness could not protect. Fuck for the dead. Fuck and love fucking for the dead won't you please for them. After the news with it's latest body counts and explosions lead one another to the bed and fuck and fuck and fuck the prayer for them, And Love Much! My government has no right to ask me to take my middle finger off my book cover, not that they will. I mean, it's poetry, and poetry has not been filling the rooms of the White House and the Pentagon, yet. But if you ask me to be sensible, I will ask you to stop being sensible. Be with me here, for a little bit. Is it better where I am? I'm fucking broke man, it sucks being broke. But I really am happy. I really have discovered that we all deserve Love, and you're a fool if you think you don't, and you're an even bigger fool if you think that no one out there could ever Love you.
Before that day (so recent!) did you imagine that your life would change with the arrival of your book?
Yes, and it did. If I owned a car it would be the end of fearing parking tickets, or something. Instead I have the opportunity to taste strawberry ice cream like I never have before. Why did my strawberry ice cream never speak to me like this until now? This is a serious thing whether you care to believe me or not. I mean taking things seriously means caring about war. Are we caring about war? Did we remember at least once today that we are at war? And that STUPID homosexuals all over the country are joining the army right now because of some STUPID homosexual journalist writing about Military Pride? It's a serious thing when strawberry ice cream takes a moment from your life to get you to understand that Donald Rumsfeld is celebrating National Military Pride Month singing songs about Chicago or something, and some STUPID gay guy thinks the Pride in National Military Pride Month is the same Pride the STUPID gay journalist used in his STUPID article about Military Pride. If there are any people in this world who are a problem it's the STUPID ones. Especially the STUPID ones who are issued guns with an endless supply of bullets. The American factory of bullets has been on 24 hour shifts for three years now. Some folks have jobs making bullets for those who have jobs in tanks in the desert. It's a serious job making bullets and delivering them to their designated targets.
So you better believe me when I give you the finger on the cover. Fuck You I Love You. How dare you not realize! Yes it changes you, changes me, getting changed meaning getting other clothing on. Clean clothing. The book makes me want to put on clean clothing, because it makes me care more about you. I don't want to smell bad anymore, unless you say you liked it. Well, it's okay to Love you so much to get the clean clothes from beneath the dirty ones. Imperialism will force its children you and me to kill better or to Love stronger. The GRIP of needing to Love can you feel it? Yes it changed everything. The deer my uncles used to hang from the trees, the blood-filled vitals yanked from the chest and thrown into the river, that's not me because I was a little boy not a deer and boy oh boy was I the lucky one. Always lucky to have been a boy and not a deer. And then there's that deer I saw hit by a tractor trailer when I was a kid sitting at the mouth of the Pennsylvania Turnpike selling cut flowers from STUPID rubber buckets for my drunk ass mother and her STUPID drunk ass husband. That deer did other things and yes I'm changed from now from then and this is a book and it's something I wrote, for you. And let me tell you that deer and that moment as a kid is where and when I became a poet. Meaning concentration at the access of life's transmutation.
The book changed everything as soon as I figured out how to open the yellow envelope, which a deer would take hours to figure out, see. Let's get something clear, I'm a big fag. So the book changes things because I'm a big fag who doesn't need to just be a big fag at home, with boyfriends. My hope is to indoctrinate the youth of America. It's time we confess that yes OH yes it's quite true, we big fags have been slowly turning the queer dial up on your televisions and your favorite radio stations. Ten percent my ass! We're at least twenty or thirty percent by now, especially with the 20-something crowd. If you're under 30 you might be a big fag in the making right now. And you need to be eating vegetarian. Meat stinks. If you eat meat you stink. Your gut is a graveyard of stink. You big fag. You big graveyard. You stink. You stink stink stink. But I Love you. And I'm here to help you forget all your dreams of a heterosexual lifestyle. Being heterosexual is such a weird lifestyle choice, and I'm here to help you be cool, be a big fag. I'm a big fag, I'm okay. See, look, this beer tastes better to me because I'm queer. Do you not understand this yet? Every single thing your pastors and ministers said about us at church is true. You think Jesus Loves you my dear? Well I can Love you better.
Do you want your life to change? Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I live a block and a half from the United Elevator Company. The elevator repairmen are the happiest men in Philadelphia, it seems. Getting people up in the air suits them, it seems. When I walk to my job (I HATE MY JOB!) at that early hour when the sky just barely begins absorbing sunlight and the lights inside are still brighter THERE THEY ARE in the office by the largest storefront window laughing over coffees. Such affectionate men whose tool belts are always poised to assist our reach our lifting epiphanies burning our shadows into the opening closing opening doors. It's SO GOOD repairing elevators, they have me convinced. They are united at United Elevator Company. Should it be my new career (or my first career, since I've never had career. Unless mischief counts, but mischief never pays, much). And I could have a side business on my days off helping people overcome their fear of elevators, if they have such fears. I've met a few, and I've TRIED to tell them the back staircase cannot possibly replicate the rush of the vitamin of the grocery store lipstick of the ache of, like a skinned chair for a coat for a cow instead of leather cushions, elevating gets you interested in the magic steps you find JUST outside the everyday decisions to be made.
It would be a good job to help people overcome their fear of The Elevator. I want to help. As for people who are afraid of poems, they make me nothing but angry. They're on their own! Well, maybe not. Maybe lock them in a room, make them eat cakes with poems written in icing by the genius poets of our time, Frank Sherlock, hassen, Pattie McCarthy, Jenn McCreary etc. A beautiful conversion through poetry cakes would emerge when they walk from the room. Poetry, how could you have it another way? But what about my future with the elevator repair? Maybe I should date an elevator repairman instead of becoming one? Any advice? Oh, it's right, it's right, I should date one, you're right, yes, SURRENDER, YES, SURRENDER! Request tours of Philadelphia's finest sky-crawling love boxes. I've kissed men while racing thirty floors in seconds, but never kissed a man who can MAKE THAT ASCENSION POSSIBLE! DO YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN DO YOU FEEL THE SPREADING TINGLE!? Oh my dear sweet Lord how fortunate for their wives and boyfriends! The poems I want to write HIM! I LOVE HIM! Where is he? Oh.
2 poems from Deviant Propulsion by CAConrad:
In the Black Forest
before the Birth of Rilke
under her skirts of bark
the hidden pencils grow
My Mother after
she calls it her
new knee it's in
hide my book of
poems tired of
she distracts herself
i watch to
when it's boring
she makes herself
"hey, remember when i was
a kid i asked why humans
aren't extinct, and you said
it's because we're afraid
of the dark?"
"bullshit, hey, c'mon now,
i'm trying to relax my
new knee dammit!"
. . .
read more first-book interviews
. . .
5 JUNE 06
How has your first book changed your life?
11. Laura Sims
The Alberta Prize is such a great one: $5,000 (a fortune in poetry terms) and Fence's good distribution... Were you amazed, or did you have a feeling you might win? Had you submitted to many other contests?
Yes, it's a very generous prize and yes, Fence does an excellent job of getting books out there--so I was thrilled to win, and no, I had no inkling. I had been a finalist for the Alberta Prize before, but it was still utterly shocking to WIN. Rebecca Wolff, Editor of Fence Books, sent me an email with the subject heading "you win," so that made it all the more shocking, and wholly unbelievable--I thought it was a practical joke for at least 24 hours.
I submitted to many contests from 2003 on. I said 20 somewhere, but it's probably more accurate to say about ten, with repeat submissions. I also submitted to presses without contests, and I had really had it with nice rejections and close calls when Alberta came through, so I felt and still feel very fortunate--and relieved, overjoyed--at the timing.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I was meeting Rebecca for the first time, and she nonchalantly pulled the book out of her bag and handed it to me while we were having dinner. There it was! I remember holding it a lot and flipping through it, and then obsessively checking for flaws, like some anxious mother checking for fingers and toes. All ten toes and ten fingers were there!
How involved were you with the choice of the cover?
I was free to choose my cover, although Rebecca had veto power over it, in case she hated it--luckily she didn't! I had seen Laurie Simmons's work in the MoMA when I was living in New York: haunting black-and-white photos of dolls underwater, right up my aesthetic alley, so when I was thinking about the cover I remembered her. I contacted her directly (via Sperone Westwater Gallery), and she graciously sent me a bunch of jpegs and told me to "go shopping"--for free! When I saw "Boy Walking Bottom of Pool" (the cover image), I fell in love with it, felt it really matched my work, and Laurie Simmons thought so too. I'm thrilled to have it as my cover--anyone who likes it should really check out her other work.
Before the day that you saw your book, did you imagine your life would change because of its arrival? How has your life been different since it came out?
I think I had fairly realistic expectations--I knew the book would "legitimate" me as a writer (whether deservedly or not), meaning that, especially in the "real world," people would stop thinking, "oh, poor Laura, when's she going to stop trying the poetry thing and get a real job?" and start thinking, "Oh, she's a WRITER." Period. It's silly, but that's the way it seems to work. It works that way within the writing world, too, though--suddenly you have some stature thanks to this physical object, and although you're the same writer you were before the book, people see you differently. They also start soliciting you for journal submissions and readings more often... I'm not complaining about that! That's lovely.
What have you been doing to promote sales, and what have those experiences been like?
I've been doing a lot of readings since last October (2005), and I hope those have helped promote sales--it's hard to know. It was difficult to manage trips for readings around my hectic teaching schedule (four classes at three different schools), so some of the trips were less enjoyable than they might have been. Whenever I came back from a quick trip, papers, emails, and lesson planning had piled up and became overwhelming at a certain point. But in general they were positive experiences--I met nice people all over the States, felt appreciated, and got the book out there.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
Unfortunately, I haven't been writing very much since the book came out. Is it the book's fault? I don't know. From the time I found out about the Alberta until the book's publication I felt like I was in limbo and couldn't really start anything new. So maybe it is the book's fault! Oh well, it was worth the sacrifice. I'm sure the fragmented teaching life (did I mention, at three different schools? I like to highlight my martyrdom...) didn't help much, either. I have started a new project, but haven't been writing enough for it to be the least bit satisfying yet. I have about seven months of free time coming up now, though, thanks to the JUSFC/NEA fellowship, so that should help me get rolling. If it doesn't, I'll be really pissed at myself!
Would you tell me a little about the JUSFC/NEA fellowship? Why did you apply for it? What do you hope to do in Japan? Do you have a special feeling for or connection with Japanese culture?
I applied for it on the poet Sawako Nakayasu's recommendation--she visited Madison for a reading and had just returned from the fellowship, and spoke very highly of it. I had heard of it before, but after her visit I seriously looked into it and decided to apply. I'm glad I did! They send five artists in various disciplines every year, and it's a very generous fellowship. Some people assume you need to know Japanese to apply, but you don't--and they give preference to people who've never visited Japan before.
I first went to Japan in high school, on scholarship, for two months during the summer. At the time, I knew nothing about Japan and had no idea what to expect. But I fell in love with the country immediately, and when I came back, I studied Japanese, and then minored in Japanese Studies in college. Right after I graduated from college I went to Japan on the JET program, and ended up staying for several years. So yes, I do have a special feeling for Japanese culture--I feel like Japan is my second home, and I'm thrilled to be going back there.
I plan to write, write, write and read, read, read when I'm in Japan. My husband will be working on his dissertation while we're there, so I'm hoping that his discipline will influence me to be disciplined with my own writing. I want to work on my poetry, of course, and I also might start work on a young adult novel...but I'm not sure about that. Top priority is the poetry, and I'm also interested in doing some critical writing--not reviews, which I've done a lot of, but larger projects. We'll travel around the country, too, and maybe visit Hong Kong, and I'm going to take as many hot springs baths as I can!
How do you feel about the critical response to your book and do you think it has had any effect on your writing?
I've been very grateful for the critical response so far. First, cyberspace has been a blessing--Ron Silliman reviewed the book on his blog right after it came out, and that was probably the greatest boost I could have gotten. Better than a New York Times review--a Ron Silliman review! Also Simon DeDeo, who runs rhubarb is susan, has given my work some very smart attention. Since then, more print reviews have been coming out, and they've been wonderful, too. I don't think they've had any effect on my writing though--especially since I haven't been writing much!
Do you want your life to change?
Some days I do, some days I don't! (And sometimes my feelings about that change on an hourly basis.) I would like to have a full-time teaching job--that would be a great change.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
Well, I'm applying for full-time teaching jobs, so hopefully that will work at some point. I'm also teaching and gathering more experience in the classroom, which should also boost my chances in the highly competitive job market. I would also like to follow a stricter writing routine, which is very hard to accomplish during the school year. But I feel like I need to be as disciplined as possible, and hopefully I'll establish some good writing habits in the upcoming months.
How do you feel about teaching? Had you always planned to be a teacher?
I love teaching. It was always something I considered doing, at least after I gave up on becoming a detective like Nancy Drew (at about age 10, I think I finally let that dream go). Teachers have had a huge impact on my life, and I'd like to think I can have a positive impact on students' lives, too. It's wonderful to be in the classroom, but what's most gratifying is to connect with students individually and help them in some way at a crucial time in their lives (college age). Teaching creative writing workshops in particular has been rewarding for me--I've seen it as a way to relive some of my best workshop experiences, and also as a way to redeem some of my worst ones.
What's difficult about teaching is that it takes so much of my energy--or I let it take so much of my energy, how could I not?--that I write infrequently, at best, during the school year. But that's something I realize I'll have to deal with for a long time, unless I want to go back to meaningless office work.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
I want to say YES! I certainly used to think so when I was younger. In high school I remember writing a pretentious little essay called "Why I Write," and the central theme was basically "the pen is mightier than the sword"...ha! But now, especially in these dark days (or my increased awareness of the darkness of our days), I have very little faith that anything can create change in the world, least of all poetry. I wish I could recapture that faith in The Word! What a great feeling it was.
I guess, on a more positive note, that in a miniscule way poetry can create change--just because people who write and read it do it out of pure love (I hope), and share it with others, and that must create some kind of positive energy in the world. Right?
A poem from Practice, Restraint by Laura Sims:
nowhere and nowhere concerned
with your welfare,
albeit a strange one
The doll looks on.
With a plush human face
the fowl looks on.
Wings over water anticipate
In threes, by the porcelain toes
This is the glassed-in city,
these are its gates.
This tiny hand
is the gatekeeper's wife
in a gesture of solace
the sound of her voice
. . .
read more first-book interviews
. . .
3 JUNE 06
Week 15, 14 sentences:
Steven walks in a circle in his backyard. He talks in several voices. He says: "Steven Meeven, you have no free time today. Steven! You have to change your behavior. You have no free time today." He has a loud high-pitched voice that is his voice, the one he uses most. Like the doves and the arguing couple, it is a feature of the neighborhood. He says he wants an octagonal garage with no locks and no windows.
Because people are different. But not too.
When one of us has had surgery, and the other one hasn't. When one of us has to be the man. "I wonder if the galleys were originally called 'the galleys' having to do with...oh...but no--that's the gallows, isn't it."
1 JUNE 06
but no one sees it, and no one sees me.
but all I care about is that we would speak.
but I didn't have the kind of desire that produces the result.
but you wouldn't try to form that event into a poem.
but we would always want words, of some kind.
but also, maybe, the wind.
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