$650 apartment for $650
Protecting that "indefinitely prolonged" bright edge. Where are you? Found this exchange written down, from Cather:
--What do you think of the stars, Padre?
I guess I just wanted to say that to somebody: she'd be in a new world. I prayed every night, I didn't know what else to do. "If you had a life and it was interrupted..." How will the girls be free?
When I was young I needed songs to survive. Take an example--although every one of them is an example. They are not portraits if the word is taken. This will change too, very quickly.
How has your first book changed your life?
42. Oliver de la Paz
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I was teaching at Gettysburg College as the Emerging Writer Lecturer at the time. I had just finished teaching my creative writing class, so I was a bit tired...ready to go home. When I went to the department office to check for my mail, there was a flat cardboard book mailer in my mail slot from Southern Illinois University Press. I opened it up as fast as I could and I remember seeing the gleam of the office lights reflecting off the glossy black cover. Fred Leebron, and Kathryn Rhett were my mentors during that year at Gettysburg, and I showed them my book. They congratulated me and gave me some book promotion advice (don't give away your copies, use those for reviews, press kits, etc.) When I was done with my parade through the English department, I went home and called my parents.
I didn't proofread or double-check any of the poems. I didn't look for any editing issues. "Finished" is a good word to describe how I felt about the pieces in the book before I received my first author copy. Many of those poems were written from 1995 to 2000, so I was tired of looking at the poems in manuscript form. I'm funny about publication in that respect. I send stuff out in order to stop my brain's editorial impulses. While I was in the process of sending the manuscript out, I was revising the poems and the poem order constantly. The phone call from Jon Tribble, the editor for the Crab Orchard Poetry Series, came while I was revising and printing out the manuscript for other book contests. I think I was on draft number eight when he called. My laser printer was running out of toner and spitting out the last of some manuscript pages I had revised.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
When I was in my first year of graduate school, there was a glamour I had assigned to being a poet with a book, but that was quickly deflated when I went to my first AWP conference in Portland, OR. There were so many poets. There were so many poets with one book. It was all pretty intimidating. All of a sudden, the writing world seemed a lot bigger, less intimate.
I did have the benefit of having a supportive group of friends in the MFA program at Arizona State University, and some wonderful mentors. Together, my friends and I would go to Gold Bar, a coffee house between Mesa and Tempe, and we'd write, read, and talk for hours. Anyway, before the arrival of the book, I was nervous about my future. Being of immigrant stock, my family had a strong investment in my success as the one and only son. As an undergrad, I was a double major (Biology/English). I thought for sure I'd be a doctor and fulfill my filial duty. Even today my father suggests that I should further my education either in law school or in a PhD program (my mother keeps him in check. He usually talks to hear himself talk). So...there was a bit of pressure to succeed. Meanwhile, the happy fantasy world of graduate school was ending.
I had the belief that a book would be what got me hired at an institution of good repute. I'm embarrassed by that shortness of vision now, even though it did help me land my current job. I was more concerned about being gainfully employed and I didn't want to fit the "starving artist" stereotype. I felt that having a book would help me land an academic job--a book was "the golden ticket." Lord knows I wanted a gig like the ones my writing professors had.
When the book got picked up, I was a lecturer at ASU, teaching eight composition classes per year. Each class had about 25 students, so I had a lot of paper work in the evenings. (The ideal job for many writers who aspire to teach in MFA programs and PhD programs is a 2/2 load, or two classes per semester.) It was actually a pleasant time. I'd quickly grade homework at home and dive back into my reading, writing, and revising. All the while, I was figuring out who I was as an artist and as a teacher. And I didn't have the same fear of failure that I had as a student. I had some distance from the "professional development" mantra that was buzzing around the other graduate students. It was a very strange turn. I guess it came about because I had ended my schooling, realized the world wouldn't end, and had some badly needed perspective. The call from Jon Tribble came when I was a lot healthier in spirit.
How has your life been different since?
Well, for starters, I'm no longer teaching a four/four composition load. I'm gainfully employed, married, I have to pay a home mortgage... All those fairly conventional things that are supposed to happen as you get older happened to me (no kids, just a whiny German Shorthair Pointer).
I now get occasional e-mails from Filipino/a students, telling me about how much my work means to them. I also get e-mails from students asking me about certain themes in the book (I'm assuming as part of a homework assignment). There are also students and professors who ask their schools to bring me in for speaking engagements, which is always nice, especially since I usually get a small honorarium for speaking.
I'm also involved with Kundiman, a not-for-profit organization committed to the discovery and cultivation of emerging Asian-American poets. The wonderful poets Joseph Legaspi and Sarah Gambito are the visionaries for this organization, and we have an annual summer retreat on the campus of UVA. The organization puts me in contact with a number of fabulous Asian-American writers who sometimes ask for advice, feedback, or general support.
Finally, my writing has changed dramatically from the days before the book. I'm a more deliberate writer. I write in sequences and in series now, whereas before I could write disparate poems--pieces that were independent of a sustained narrative or from a thematic concern. Now I have to write pieces that interconnect/interrelate. Part of that has to do with my interest in the overall construction of a book that was informed by my construction of Names Above Houses. Also, my writing time is more regimented. I have designated writing days now, because of my employment at a university. Summers are my buzz times when I'm not encumbered by student papers or reading course materials.
Needless to say, all that change slowed my writing down a bit. My second book, Furious Lullaby, took me almost seven years to finish. Hell, I'm still fiddling with order now, even though SIU wants me to mail them my final formatting. It should be out in the Fall of 2007.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
I wanted a Filipino/a artist to design the cover. That's the one thing I absolutely wanted because Names Above Houses is about a Filipino community. I e-mailed Filipino/a writers like Bino Realuyo, Eileen Tabios, and Nick Carbo for names of artists. I also surfed the web for interesting art galleries that showcase Filipino/a artists.
The one compliment I kept hearing from everybody was that the cover was stunning. Southern Illinois University Press did an amazing job with the cover, even though at the beginning we were having image quality issues. It's an installation piece done by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo entitled "Pasyon." She took these letters that were between she and her mother, painted and laminated them onto small blocks, and arranged the blocks as you see on the cover. Because it's a three-dimensional image, it was difficult to get the blocks "just right." Anyway, I was remembering some of the problems we had during the early stages of cover design and I was very pleased with the end result.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
I'm always surprised by people who assume the character in the book is me. Names Above Houses is pretty fabulist--it's a series of fables/parables. The kid has wings. At one reading a student asked, "When you flew off the roof, what was going through your mind?" I didn't know what to tell her. What's even more surprising is that it happens frequently. Now granted, there are some aspects of the character that are distinctly me (his obsessive compulsive tendencies, his introspection), but overall the events of the book are not events of my life.
What have you been doing to promote the book and what are those experiences like for you?
I received a nice box filled with twenty-five copies of my book. Of those twenty-five copies, I kept only a few copies to give to my parents and my mentors. The rest of the copies I shipped off in press packets to reading venues, journals, etc. SIU flew me out to give a reading in Carbondale, IL. I then got a few readings the first few months the book was out. The following year I had a lot more opportunities to read. At the time I was living in Utica, NY (my Gettysburg College lectureship ran out), and I was only a four-hour train ride away from New York City. So I read at venues like the Asian American Writers' Workshop, the Ear Inn, and other places. ASU invited me to come back a couple of times for their Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference--they've supported my post MFA years.
One of my mentors told me that most books gain momentum two years after they're released, and the results of my press packets bear that out. Most of my promotional readings for Names Above Houses came in 2001-2002. I noticed it started getting adopted for Asian American literature classes and creative writing classes around 2002-2003, so those who were readers the year it first came out became my chief book promoters.
I also do a lot of community teaching, which I enjoy. I've conducted workshops at the YMCA, the AAWW, and at other non-profit gigs. This year I'll be running a workshop to benefit Doctors Without Borders. Hopefully I've turned into a resource for the writing community, particularly through my work with Kundiman and in the classroom. It's what being a poet-citizen's all about.
What was the best advice you got?
Did I mention that poet-citizen thing? Alberto Ríos, one of my mentors at ASU, was fond of that term. I think it's a good way to think of this thing we do as we give readings, teach workshops, and write reviews. I strive to be generous with my time in the community, in the classroom, at reading venues, and "off camera." When a poet's first book comes out, I buy that book and try to bring them to my school for readings (I try to buy as many first-books as I can afford). Finally, I try to be gracious in all things, whether that be teaching workshops, reading other people's manuscripts, or performing at venues. I write thank you notes/e-mails after readings and after someone has been generous enough to read and accept my poems for journals, contests, etc.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
Right after I finished my time at ASU, I was working on a "darker" series of poems. I was determined to write something completely different from Names Above Houses. Unlike the prose/character-driven poems of Names Above Houses, the new stuff was lineated, short, and lyrical. I wrote a series of about eight of those poems before I had to stop due to a cross-country move, a new job, and other life-changes. A part of me felt that I had forgotten how to write a line-break after the first book, so those small lyrical pieces were experiments for me. Later, I started writing my Rube-Goldberg poems (as I like to call them) as a function of being stuck on these small lyrics. The small pieces were too dense, too sound-driven. I didn't know what was going on in those poems, didn't have any perspective for the work.
I wrote nothing for a few months. Then I decided to get back into writing by giving myself prompts. I wrote a series of Aubades that started as these Rube-Goldberg exercises: write a poem with an animal, a passage from the bible, the color teal, a scent that speaks. Write a poem with a necklace, a phrase from a Bee Gees song, the Aurora Borealis, and a plant indigenous to Minnesota. The one thing that helped me unify these disparate elements was narrative. I guess you return to the things you do best. Ultimately those longer puzzle-like pieces unified what I was doing in the smaller lyrics and it became Furious Lullaby. It's so very different from Names Above Houses, but truer to what I was doing before my MFA program.
How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?
I've received a lot of critical response from professors who teach Asian American literature classes. The response has been positive and I've had students and professors alike ask if there's a sequel in the works. For a time there was a sequel in my brain. I had even thoughts of a trilogy of books all centered around this Filipino community, but I don't think my idea of revisiting those characters was a reaction to the critical feedback. I just liked those characters and I wanted to know what was going on in their lives.
While it's cool to have this feedback on the work, I really don't listen to what's being said. I mean, I could write another Names Above Houses, but I'm not that poet anymore.
Do you want your life to change?
On TLC, there was this special about blue-collar workers who won the Mega Bucks lottery. I'd like to be one of those folks, paying off my home mortgage, my car, my other debts. However, there's always a moment in those shows where viewers see the aftermath of the sudden fame and fortune--new millionaires over-spending and declaring bankruptcy, family members fighting family members, tragedy everywhere. I'm happy with my life. I've got a job I enjoy. I'm married to a wonderful woman. We sing '80s songs to each other and watch a ton of homeowner porn on HGTV and Discover. We make walking trails on our property and run our hyperactive dog in the rain. We laugh a lot. I'm sure our lives will change, and that's okay.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
You have to start small, of course, but yes. So much of my worldview is wrapped up in my teacherly subject position. (A subject position is basically the position someone takes based on life experiences, race, culture, gender, religion, etc. I've been teaching for almost fourteen years. The way I view poetry, politics, the world, is colored by my attempts at solving problems and finding ways to explain how I've solved my problem to students so that they can share the experience.) One of the things I try to emphasize is that reading poems is a dialogical act. Reading is compassion. It's a moment when a person sits down quietly and listens to someone thinking or speaking. A poem is a moment of private dialogue, a stoppage of time, a careful listening. (If only more people in the world stopped what they were doing and read poetry!) By some measure, I try to create a small world change through my teaching and in my poems.
2 poems from Names Above Houses by Oliver de la Paz:
When Fidelito should be sleeping, he instead pulls from under his bed a flashlight and a blue box holding cards with names of constellations. They glitter when held to light, pinholes poked through cardboard to match the sky's geography. Fidelito, mouth opened wide, holds the butt of the flashlight between his teeth. Over the narrow beam, he projects Orion on the ceiling.
Above, the dust motes spiral in the light: Sirius, Arcturus, Capella. He points at a bright blossom in the mica and tries to say its name. The glow of streetlamps bleed into the galaxy of his room. And on the pavement after rain, the headlights of a lone car fade in the bright glint of quartz trapped in asphalt. The driver, looking out his side window, sees three stars from Orion's belt lifting the boy's ceiling to the sky.
Because, after rain, it smells like green tea his mother brews on slow mornings, because he likes the view of the world upside down from this height, he hooks his legs around the topmost branch of the world's sixth-largest Douglas fir. Fidelito has a mission. There is a certain grace with trees, he thinks, and hanging from one for a long time will show him how little he needs his legs, whether his dreams are different, whether he is closer, the way mountains or skyscrapers or even Douglas firs scratch the back of the sky.
If Fidelito is part of the order of back-scratchers he will know simply by hanging around until slowly his blood, in an act of defiance, rouses itself from his feet and leaves in procession down the arteries of his knees, marching, red ants renewing their contract with gravity, and dizzy, Fidelito lets go.
. . .
. . .
an interview with Matt & Katy Henriksen
Part 2: Matt
When did you first host a poetry reading?
When I was seventeen I helped a poet in his fifties, Charles Dahlen, with an open mic/featured poet series at The Blue Moon Coffeehouse in Appleton, Wisconsin. I posted fliers like a madman and talked the ears off of all the young folk (and the agreeable old folk) who showed up. Chuck had a sound system and knew local poets we featured. I think the featured poet, Chuck, and I were the only people who showed up for the second reading, but within six months you couldn't walk across the floor to go to the bathroom without having to step over half a dozen teenagers listening to poetry. The local poetic establishment, made up mostly of endearing older people writing about their gardens, started showing up, too, but The Blue Moon was such a dive that didn't last long. We started two other readings in nearby towns, one of which took off, before I flunked out of community college and left for Los Angeles.
How did The Burning Chair series begin?
Katy and I wanted to start a series that wasn't entrenched in any particular poetic or social community. We'd recently moved to the city and noticed that each series had its own following and that few curators were drawing from a large range of younger poets. We wanted an eclectic audience--poets on the outside, shy and nerdy folks, non-poets--that would deflect a scene or established criteria. We had no idea how we'd accomplish that.
We needed a venue. I was waiting for Katy to get off work one night and having a drink at The Telephone Bar. I went around the corner to meet Katy and saw imitation stained glass windows inside The Cloister Cafe. I brought Katy back to the place and had mojitos with the managers, who had wanted to have a reading series but didn't know many writers. The freaky interior and the garden seemed conducive to our weird sensibilities. I got a friend involved, a fiction writer I grew up with, but that didn't last. Despite good turnouts for all but one of the first few readings, and some fantastic readers (Timothy Liu, Alex Lemon, Sabrina Orah Mark, Katy Lederer, Heidi Lynn Staples), I grew frustrated with the venue, the borrowed sound equipment, and my inability to hold the events together. I'm not much of a leader or organizer; I tend to follow impulses.
After three months I canceled the series, but then G.C. Waldrep asked if I'd set up an event for him and Paul McCormick at a venue that didn't serve alcohol. We found The Fall Cafe, and Henry (the owner) and his staff gave us free run of the place, as they continue to do. G.C and Paul gave what's still one of my favorite readings. Then we had the Slope Editions people (Andrea Baker and Sam White). Those readings convinced me to make the series work. I bought my own sound equipment and we were off.
You and (Typo co-editor) Adam Clay met in school in Arkansas, right? Were you fast friends or did it take a while?
Adam, Shannon Jonas, and I hooked up on the first day. I wasn't so sure of Adam, though. One night we were drinking beer in his backyard and exchanged words at length about the Civil War. I, for one, was ready to go to blows. It wasn't really about the Civil War, though. The three of us had prepared for immersion in poetry, to the point of physical transformation. We read our asses off, wrote our asses off, and at the end of the day had no one else (except for Tony Tost and a few others) to drink with who'd commiserate with the obsession, fatigue, and doubt. As time went on we became more sure of ourselves and felt ourselves pulling away from classes and workshop and following our own intuitions. Mostly, we were ostracized--except at the local bars, where we were (mostly) loved. We had to trust each other, and then we became brothers.
While in Arkansas, before we met our wives, Adam Clay and I liked to say that "Typo is all we have." When I came to New York I didn't know anyone, but I had Typo as a pool to draw from. The Burning Chair absorbed New York poets, though, and became something other than a mouthpiece for Typo. Also, the series would be much different with Adam involved--fewer mistakes, better manners, a plan. I wish it had that. Typo predates and will outlast all my other projects.
What's the team dynamic like for Typo & how does it work out being co-editors long distance?
We both got married. We're too busy destroying the lives of our chosen women to move with Typo as quickly as we did while in Arkansas. Fortunately, we get enough good work that the magazine runs itself. We're online a lot. It was more fun to make editorial decisions over a game of chess and a couple beers, though.
How does working on Typo with Adam differ from doing Cannibal with Katy?
Cannibal happens quickly. I chose most of the work for Cannibal and ask Katy for her take when I'm having a hard time deciding. Adam and I go back and forth, sometimes for months, on poems. Katy and Adam are both pretty critical. I guess I am, too. They do all the layout and design. I'm just the happy bum who reads poems.
You're a busy guy, you've got a lot of projects rolling at the same time. How would you characterize your ambition?
More like enthusiasm than ambition? Doesn't ambition have an objective? A poet I admire asked me, sort of challengingly, why I do so much. I still don't have an answer. I like to see what happens when I provoke something. Also, I trust my instincts. The journals that bore me seem to have objectives. I guess there's nothing wrong with having objectives. If Typo has made some sort of statement about poetry, it's a bi-product of our objective of having fun and finding good poets.
Aside from the fact that one is a print publication & the other an online journal, how do you see Cannibal and Typo as different from each other?
I tried to describe Cannibal as "sloppy" to a poet I tried to solicit. That backfired. "Why forgive sloppy poems?" she asked. I try to stay out of the business of forgiving poems as much as I stay out of the business of judging them. I wanted to make a magazine that put viscerally rapturous blogger poets like Anne Boyer and Sandra Simonds in the same pages as skeptical lyricists like Edmund Berrigan and Dustin Williamson, whose work I'd fallen in love with since moving to New York. All good poems have kinship. I also wanted to publish Jane Gregory, because her poems teeter over an explosion, and I want to be part of that when it happens. And I wanted to give Katy something to design, because she has a good eye.
It's available print-on-demand. Jen Tynes keeps her poets' books available.
What function does your blog serve in your writing life?
I started Hyacinth Losers late last spring after a twelve-year-old student at my middle school, who I knew well, was killed in a drive by. Plenty of people, especially Katy, know how insane I was for a few months after that. Writing poetry was impossible, and I've never kept a journal or anything like that. The act of babbling online, of not revising, proofreading, or even weighing my words was intentional therapy.
Some blogs seek attention: mine exists in spite of my desire to askew it. I'm now as over my student's death as I'm going to be, no longer teaching in the public schools, and writing poems again, so now I have a blog in search of a purpose. I'm not going to stop blogging, though: I had another blog I deleted that then became a right-wing rhetoric-spewing hardcore porn links page.
You write prose in the blog--do you have any interest in writing other kinds of prose?
I want to write a mystery novel called Crib County, Wisconsin. It'll be a long narrative prose poem, like Fanny Howe's Radical Love, except mine won't be nearly as good, and probably I'll never write it. If prose is good, it's not any different than poetry.
Max is usually the first person to hear anything I write and, though he isn't a poet, he often gives really useful feedback. Is it like that with you and Katy?
One of my teachers used to show his wife his poems only after he'd finished his final draft. When he died, she knew the two poems on his desk were not finished because he hadn't shown them to her. I hide my poems from Katy. I'm trying to impress her with them more than anyone else, so I'm not going to show her anything I'm unsure of (or half-certain of, which is as far as I ever get). Also, I often avoid her criticism with anything I haven't worked on for a long, long time. She's an astute and unforgiving reader.
How do you feel about reading your poems in public?
I love it. Readings are the only time I get to be a poet in public. Poetry should be read aloud. I'm never satisfied after I read but love it when strangers come up afterwards and talk to me.
3 poems from Is Holy by Matthew Henriksen:
When the Lights Go Out at the Wooden Nipple
The woman asks "Any virtuous sailors in the room tonight?" A man with a neon halo says no, smashes the halo onto his scalp with his cap--
"Off to sea wit ye, den. Ar, ar," she says--
And he is gone. The room, still as a cigar that's been out for hours, smells of dog. The woman's leg is broken. Glass on stage shattered in the shape of a necklace. Lays her throat in the beer-dew crystal rainbow, sings herself to sleep, becoming the red river
a piano with nobody in it plays. A
The dog smells like saltwater, speaks: Thus has spoken.
The woman would get up, fix a drink, but she's forgotten whom she was: That's the nature and the nonsense of being blood. She hopes the dog didn't say that. But she's riding the tide. She's in it for the dough, the bread of her body whitening. The dog is just another way of saying,
"I'm sorry, didn't know who he
Afterlife on a Long, Shallow Hill
The footed rhyme of grave
benign in grass, this body, alive.
And when. Or not when but of. Of longing.
Oblivion's lens never closes. Diner won't blink.
People were terrified, then gone.
Regulations of the Assassins
Farcers told me when I went to extremes.
Seldom did I return but to twitch as a twig in the scene.
Who knew exorbitance burned stone.
What's left along the riverside wreaks havoc on the dead.
Call your memory finger and point the place unmapped.
Horizon to scold the tongues down.
A foothold in the mundane shell disclaimed veins.
In all that nonsense I became a gun.
an interview with Matt & Katy Henriksen
Part 1: Katy
You and Matt are a formidable team--when did you meet and how long have you been married?
Matt and I have been married a little over two years. We met in Arkansas, where I grew up, at an MFA party. Although we talked for a long time that night, it wasn't until a year later that we started hanging out, when I was about to move to Berlin. We'd developed crushes on each other from that night and he came into the used and out-of-print bookshop where I worked. We were both shy and, when we'd first met, both with other people. Occasionally we'd talk in the bookshop. Then in the summer of 2003 he came in with a friend and introduced me as "that girl who did a documentary about the bookshop." I'd done a little film on the place and that's why we started talking at the party. I asked if he'd had a chance to see the film and he hadn't, so we exchanged emails. A few days later he came in to borrow the documentary and he brought in the Errol Morris film Vernon, Florida in trade.
Since I was moving to Berlin, I needed to find someone to replace me as the lit manager of the store--a very coveted position because the bookstore is one of the best used and out-of-print stores in the country and just a very awesome place. Matt wanted my job and was hired, so we really got to know each other when I was training him. We flirted constantly and kept saying we needed to hang out. We started hanging out and were inseparable. Those three weeks before I moved to Berlin in August of that year were the most intense moments of my life. Neither of us had a car and he didn't have a phone and it was August in Arkansas, meaning that whenever we walked anywhere we'd be drenched in sweat and at night the cicadas, crickets, and toads were a chorus for us.
A few days before I moved to Berlin, Matt's thesis adviser, Jim Whitehead, died. Matt and Adam had taken a summer course with him in which they met at Jim's house to discuss poetry. Matt owed him a paper for the end of the class, which Jim badgered him about to the point that he barged into the bookstore looking for him. When Matt called the house to let Jim know that the paper was done, that's when he discovered Jim had died. My plane for Berlin departed the same day as the memorial for Jim.
We knew we wanted to be together forever even when I was leaving, but when I got to Berlin, and we sent constant emails and talked on the phone, this just sped up our feelings and confirmed what we already knew. I spent five months in Berlin and in December Matt came to visit for three weeks. We took the train down to Leipzig and Dresden and into Prague and then back to Berlin, where we had Indian for Christmas dinner. I decided to move back to Fayetteville so I could be with Matt as he finished up school.
Then, on April 6, my birthday, he proposed to me in the bookshop. We already knew we were moving to New York in June, so we decided to have the wedding before we left--giving us less than two months to plan it. We got married by a woman justice of the peace in my neighbor's backyard underneath a large oak tree. We wrote our own vows and had friends and family play music. The reception was a large party in my parents' backyard, with Mediterranean food catered by a family friend and the wedding cake made by my best friend, who was also a bridesmaid.
We moved to New York a week later, packing all our belongings in a U-Haul, which we drove straight to Queens to stay with a friend. We parked it overnight only to have it stolen when we woke up. A week later a man named Ziggy called my father to report the stolen U-Haul sitting outside his place underneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Most of our items were still in the van...
I know you just asked how long we've been married, but the story of how we got together and how we got here is just one I love to tell.
All your stuff stolen the first night! It's surprisingly lucky though, and maybe significant to the metaphor, that you did get most of your things back. How do you like living in Brooklyn?
I love Brooklyn. For the first five months, we lived in a tiny box in Chelsea in Manhattan. While we enjoyed being 'in the middle of everything' it wasn't home. I consider Greenpoint home. We discovered it because I read a profile of the neighborhood in the Village Voice. We decided to check out the neighborhood and we walked all the way down Manhattan Avenue and in that walk we knew this was the place for us. Matt found our apartment after only viewing two places and that's where we've been for close to two years now.
Our first year in NY was really tough. Besides having our van stolen (they did take our computer, stereo, wedding gifts, my jewelry box) we weren't savvy on NY. We took that expensive apartment in Manhattan and it took me all summer to land a job. I gave up looking for a job in my field and took a job shelving books in the art department of the Strand. I was bitter about it the whole time, although I made two very good friends out of the experience.
That all seems really far away now and it's actually amazing when I look back at it how much we've changed our position in the city in so little time.
As for liking Brooklyn, there's a piece I wrote in The Brooklyn Rail that would do a better job of explaining why I like it. [At the end of this post there are links to three of Katy's articles online.]
Your background is in design? Is that what you're doing for work now?
My background is, in degree terms, in Journalism. I have a BA and MA in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. I grew up studying all different forms of visual, written, and performing arts. In college I started out as a music major (voice/viola). I wouldn't say I wasn't trained in design though, because I grew up enrolled in art classes and loved to draw and create things. In high school I was the art editor for our literary magazine and that's when I got into page layout with Quark Xpress. In college I also took a couple design courses.
I earn a living as an assistant project manager at Facts On File, an educational reference publisher. I manage an American Indian searchable electronic database. The job is mostly editorial and doesn't really involve design.
Do you write poetry?
While I've written the occasional poem since high school, I wouldn't say I write poetry. It's a question I get a lot since I'm so involved in the world of poetry. I write nonfiction: criticism, features, interviews, essays. I love to write about art and culture (my emphasis in my MA was popular culture/gender studies). I recently started contributing to The Brooklyn Rail, as a books and music writer, and I will have a piece in Dustin Williamson's Rust Buckle zine shortly. [It has appeared since this interview, see links at the bottom.] I'm also going to contribute to this newish online mag called econoculture.com.
How does it go when you show Matt something you've just written or he shows you what he has written?
I think we both give each other great feedback, although it might not be in any traditional sense. We don't sit together and talk about our actual writing so much, but we really help each other with what we're writing about because we're always discussing ideas. When I finish a piece, I usually want him to look at it and he'll provide stylistic edits mostly and tell me where an idea works and where it doesn't. When I look at Matt's work, I am a little more general and as far as editing goes he always wants to know which poems are his strongest and weakest. When he was finishing up his MFA thesis, he had me go through his poems and give them number ratings. Lately I haven't been giving him much editorial advice, but I want to. We've both been so busy and he's getting so much feedback now from a lot of other poets.
There is most certainly a clear divide, which is why we can work so closely together. Matt wanted to start a print journal and his idea was to make xerox copies and staple the thing together. I really wanted to try my hand at handbinding and so I convinced him to get a little fancier. He solicits and picks all the writing; at times he'll discuss submissions with me. These are the submissions he's unsure of. I do all of the design for Cannibal. I'm hoping to become more active in submissions though, as I'd love to find some creative nonfiction to run in the mag.
Burning Chair is more Matt's baby. He finds all the poets and venues. My involvement in Burning Chair is more PR. I send listings to the Voice, Time Out, etc. I also design promotional materials (postcards, posters). I go to all the readings that I can and help organize, but the readings really are his.
Does publishing Cannibal feel like a cool side-project to something else that is more central, or is it the early stages of what you hope will be the central work?
When Matt started talking about Cannibal, he wanted to do some xeroxed, stapled little thing and I convinced him to let me design and craft it into what it became. Sometimes he regretted this. It was much, much, much more work. I am so thankful that he granted me that though, because it gave me a platform for my visual side, which I hadn't gotten to work with in a long time. I've always been pulled in so many directions and perhaps that is what people might see as my flaw... I want to do everything and sometimes it's impossible to focus on one medium. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love working within all different artforms. Right now I'm finally involved in both writing and design and I'm so happy about that. The only thing that would make me happier is if I was playing my music.
Cannibal is certainly not a side-project. It eats up way too much energy to be considered a side. When we first unveiled C, I was really nervous because I'd put so much into it and I was concerned that people wouldn't appreciate the juxtaposition of refined and coarse. Instead people saw it and just gave me so much positive feedback. People saw me differently. It was my first creation many people saw in NY. Before C, I was Matt's wife who helped him run Burning Chair. After C, I was catapulted into this woman who designs books. It came out before any of my NY-published writing appeared, so they saw me as visual first. Now people read my stories in The Brooklyn Rail and see me as a writer, but for a long time all these poets didn't know me as a writer or an artist.
I'd love for Cannibal and Burning Chair Books to turn into my livelihood, but I am realistic. Presses and publishing just aren't really ways to make money. So, I'm happy to do this and not make any money at it because that's how important it is to me.
The first issue of Cannibal looked fantastic. Would you describe how it got produced? I'm curious about the learning process, how you tackled the job, and if the two of you sat around evenings, punching and stitching them, or what?
I've been doing crafts ever since I can remember. My parents wanted my sister and I to be involved in any creative task we wanted and we were always doing craft projects and just general creative endeavors. In high school, I was lucky enough to have a literary arts magazine with tons of funding from the community. I was on the staff both junior and senior year and it totally began my love affair with that format. I was the art editor senior year and was in charge of the layout.
In college, the University of Arkansas didn't have a literary magazine so I decided to start one with a few friends. We got funding from the university and in less than a year we were on the official media board along with the newspaper and yearbook. The chair of the journalism department, my master's thesis adviser, was into book and magazine design too. So I bonded with her and one semester I did an independent study on graphic design with her. She was into the old processes of book making and hand bookbinding, which she did for a while, under the name Picadilly Press. She designed and handbound chapbooks.
One of my best friends in the world doesn't really buy anything other than materials to make her own stuff. She told me about this book that she used to make her own journals called Creating Handmade Books. I found myself a copy because it was something I really was drawn to doing. I'd say that Cannibal is something between a magazine and a book. The design comes somewhat from this book, although it's a modified stitch. The silkscreen on the cover was the first I've ever done and I learned how to from a Dover thrift edition of Silkscreen Printing Techniques. I used modge podge to block out a pattern on a screen and the "table" for the printing was a three foot board I found by the trash that I sat on the floor. Each cover of Cannibal is aligned differently because I didn't really have register marks to line up each one just right. I also didn't have any sort of mechanism to lift the screen up except for my own hands, so the pressure was individual.
We did sit around all hours of the day and night punching, trimming, and sewing Cannibal. We borrowed this cast iron paper cutter from our friend. It has a dull blade so I could only trim one signature at a time--each Cannibal required six cuts. I did all the screen printing and the printing of the pages (which we did on our laser printer at home). Matt would fold, punch, and sew along with me. For the upcoming issue, we're hoping to do them all in one or two fell swoops by gathering friends to help. This was originally the plan that didn't really come to fruition last time.
Do you have any interest in performing?
Jim Behrle asked me to collaborate on a poem with him and to read it with him at the Cannibal release party. It was a ton of fun. Afterwards people who didn't know me thought I was a real poet! When we first moved here, I became friends with a comedian who does a sketch group. He had me perform with him for one of these sketches and it was also a lot of fun.
I definitely miss performing. I've been doing it since I was six and I've always had that dramatic flair. In high school I acted in Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap and in Bye Bye Birdie. But I was always a weird sort of performer. People were shocked to see that a shy gal like me could command a stage. Singing in choirs and playing in orchestras is an amazing experience that I should get back to.
What prompted you to switch majors? And do you still play viola?
I kind of grew away from classical music, even though that is how I was trained. I think that happened because of the musical community I was in for so long. It really wasn't much of a community at all because I didn't relate to or feed off the energy of the other musicians I was around. It takes time to find a real community--I'm hoping to find that here. I'm also looking to go in a different direction and try to play folk/bluegrass/fiddle music. My mother was a classically trained pianist and upright bassist and in the past five years she's delved into accordion, all different styles--Irish folk, Klezmer, Latin American. That's given me inspiration.
Aside from that time in Berlin that you mentioned, had you always lived in Fayetteville before you and Matt moved to New York?
I was born in 1978 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I was raised until 1980 when my parents, sister, and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, so my mother could study speech pathology at the university there. After four years, we returned to Fayetteville, which is also my father's birthplace. My parents are both teachers and travel enthusiasts (nature especially), so every summer we took road-trips across the country. We spent a lot of time in Colorado where much of my mom's family lived. We drove out to Taos and Santa Fe, and one summer we drove through all the states on the Eastern Seaboard and camped in Acadia National Forest in Maine, then went through Canada and back down through Upper Michigan and into Wisconsin. One of my best friends in Madison was from Berlin, and I got to visit her in Berlin in high school. In college, I stayed in Fayetteville and spent one summer living in Portland, Oregon, where my sister was at the time.
Sorry for the asides--people ask me where I'm from all the time and, often, when they find out, they think it must've been a huge culture shock to move to the big city, which I always laugh at. My family always valued travel so much that I am accustomed to all sorts of different cultures and lifestyles. When I was in grad school, my parents lived in Moscow, Russia, where they taught at the Anglo-American School, so I got to visit there too and met them in Switzerland one winter. I had that artsy fartsy (to use my dad's term) upbringing, raised by liberal parents. They always valued the creative arts. They also wanted to expose me to as many different cultures and religions as possible.
I'm really sad to hear that kari edwards died on Saturday.
from Obedience by kari edwards:
if it seems something belongs somewhere
if in fact
an exposure turned inside out
Two readings coming up. I've been sick this week but hope to have my voice back by tomorrow afternoon for the reading with Amy Small-McKinney, Julia Lisella, and Eric Schwerer at the Manayunk Art Center (419 Green Lane) in Philadelphia. 3-5 pm. There'll be a Q&A after the reading on the subject of getting a first book published.
And the next night at 7:30, that's Monday December 4th, I'll join Jean Valentine and Suzanne Gardinier for the Reading Between A & B at the 11th St. Bar, 510 E 11th Street (between Avenues A and B) in New York City. If you're in the neighborhood...
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