How do you feel about solitary vs. collaborative writing?
Well, contrary to appearances, I'm a fairly solitary person and spend a lot of time alone in my basement apartment or studio at Var Gallery, usually in complete darkness and often with a cat. This is when I write most extensively, perhaps because it is when I am my most authentic self, which is unfortunate.
Meanwhile, I try to participate in group processes, such as the now retired Secret Words series hosted by Freddy La Force of Vegetarian Alcoholic Press or writers groups with Bethany Price of The Art Shore (huge thanks for this Q&A, by the way!). I find these to be helpful exercises in working within constraints, a concept I hold dear after years of reading Oulipo authors’ work.
What does the term “poetic process” mean to you?
It is a degree of ego death and sequestering feelings onto a page. It's having a harrowing conversation and thinking "wow, that would make an excellent line." It is stressful. It is reading others' work and feeling inadequate for not being published or gaining national attention. It is rereading finished pieces, wondering if that is what you are beneath years and years of façades. It is actually just stringing together words, opting to write poetry because you are not very skilled at writing plot and aren’t even bothered by that.
Do you feel it still is (or ever has) been important to memorize poems?
This year I participated in the Recitation Challenge, reciting “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. The invitation of Kimberly Blazer and Soham Patel was an honor. For those unaware, the challenge involves memorizing a poem and recording it for others’ viewing pleasure. There’s a map of recited poems expanding throughout the country, celebrating the importance of memorization. You can check out the Wisconsin Recitation Challenge page here.
Kim taught me the importance of memorization during my mostly chaotic undergrad. Perhaps it’s part of the waning art of the oral tradition, which has been the foundation of storytelling for longer than written language has been a tenet of society. As my short term memory rapidly degrades (long story) I long to join the death throes of spoken memories but instead appreciate it from a distance.
Do you ever get sick of poetry?
Sure. I am very sick of needing it so badly. It’d be easier to live without this compulsion but it’s too late for that.
Do you have any advice to veterans of poetry?
I'd eat that.
In your mind, are technology and poetry in bed together or still in an awkward flirting phase?
They used to call electric typewriters new technology. Telegraphs were once new technology. Computers distill language down to 1s and 0s and, hell, they even call them “programming languages” for a reason. Without language, and thus poetry, there wouldn’t be technology to begin with.
There will always be something devastatingly poetic about obsolete technology. Just mechanized death, casual mechanized death. Poetry latches on to everything it can like some sort of pleasant leech and technology is no exception. As always, poets will fill every available space and claim it as their own, all but peeing on concepts to mark their territory (and they would if they could).
Now we got that new new. We see people do high-profile readings from an iPhone, opt to chronologize work in a meticulously organized Google Drive folder, and share work across Facebook like an STD. Just because poets are wildly sentimental doesn’t mean that everyone is resistant to change.
Who are five poets, local and non local, dead or alive, that you admire?
1. Gwendolyn Brooks, who was an incredibly human person. I'm not sure what that means, but it's fitting. Her work is grounded in a way that makes it both identifiable and open to empathy while also remaining deeply personal and of a human experience I will never understand. Her style of performance is my single favorite; I will never tire of hearing her voice. She is the most immense person to have ever lived.
2. Derrick Harriell, duh. What a force. I've told him (and an audience at Var Gallery) too many times that his influence functionally created whatever it is that I am. He introduced me to the work of other poets on this list and writes these collections that read as platinum-selling albums, recognizing the true value of a tome in itself. Even all the way from Oxford, Mississippi, he reps Milwaukee harder than half of the city's current population. It was the most humbling and surreal experience to have him read at the first Poets Read Some Stuff Someplace in Milwaukee; why anybody let me host a reading of that magnitude is still beyond me.
3. Kevin Young, another outright beast. He's the total package, you know? The things I hold dear in my own writing, such as styles of lineation, really kind of curt imagery, and the ekphrastic process, are paramount to his work. Everybody needs a copy of "To Repel Ghosts: The Remix" in their collection (and I need to re-purchase it, as I think I might have given it to a suitor during some late night tales). He's also so goddamn accomplished, I can't read his Wikipedia page without sweating. This is a truly inhuman man.
4. Kenneth Patchen, even though I don't like his work all that much. I think it's because of the recording Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada, which, for the first time, taught me that my past life as a musician and my future as a poem writer were not fundamentally incompatible but rather irrevocably tied together. His collection We Meet was one of the first books of poetry I ever owned, I believe, back when it came out in 2008 and I was ratting around the old H. W. Schwartz down on Downer. Hey, this isn't a list of the top five poets I'd like to sit in a jacuzzi and read, this is a smattering of five folks I fuck with heavy.
5. Brenda Cardenas, duh part 2. Harriell passed around a few of her poems and I happened to notice that she was teaching an interesting class in the spring of 2011, so I took it and my life flipped upside down. Nobody carries the presence of Brenda. Nobody can compete with this degree of wild-heartedness and wisdom that has been so obviously learned through years of being part of it all. These days I have been seeing her around the city more and more often and I cannot put into words how that has affected my life as of late. Maybe I'll figure out how to say something about it, but for now I'd like to keep living it.