1. Years ago, when I had you as a student in a class, I thought, “I could see him writing drunk sonnets.” But I never thought, “I could see him writing Hallelujah Giant Space Wolf.” So that probably shows my limitations as a person, but enough about me. I mean to say your new book is expansive, jam-packed, full. It seems to be totally different from your first book, in form especially. Can you compare and contrast the two projects, Drunk Sonnets and Wolf?
I remember that class. You had to address the class as a whole and tell them to stop writing stories about bros that drink and do drugs in their apartment before ultimately killing themselves while listening to Elliot Smith (not an exaggeration). Maybe that’s why you could see me writing The Drunk Sonnets, because I was the only one capable of overcoming the excessive nights in a way that allows the speaker or protagonist or what-have-you to move forward in life. JK. That was a fiction 1 class. I think I wrote a story about a couple dudes who kidnap another dude, but the kidnap victim doesn’t really care about it, and then they end up driving to the Grand Canyon and dancing and just really believing in themselves and experiencing God. The Grand Canyon part came after your class. I don’t think that story exists anymore.
As for the two books, Wolf is bigger. Wolf is time. The Drunk Sonnets came about over two or three (I think two, but, at this point, I can’t remember) nights in late 2008. Wolf happened over a period of about three years, from mid 2008 to late 2011, and I think that space of time shows. There are possibly gaps in the story, if there is a story. The Drunk Sonnets are compact, they let you hold them. I don’t think this book can be held or read all at once. I don’t think the same can be said for Wolf. Wolf doesn’t let you see itself all at once. I’d like to think that each poem is like a close-up view of single strand of fur on Wolf’s body.
2. What is your writing process?
I don’t really have one. I just say things. My fingers say things in their own language or something like that but that sounds dumb. Most of the poems, maybe all of them were written on couches or at kitchen tables in four different apartments that I lived in from 2008-2011. I don’t have a specific time of day that I write. I simply let a poem happen when it needs to. I use Microsoft Word much in the way that Quakers run a church service: just let it speak. I don’t subscribe to any advice from writers about how to approach it or how to be disciplined about it. I don’t have any discipline except to only write when something needs to be said, when the throat is full and its time to gurgle, when the words are ready to out their way out of my fingers. Which sounds dramatic or high energy, but it’s usually not. I like to put my feet up on the table and try to channel the Lord.
3. Years ago I asked you about Satan. Now I’m asking you about God/god. What kind of presence does God/god have in this book?
I don’t know if I can answer this question without spoiling what the book does/did for me, which is to move myself away from the past and toward a newness of belief.
I could probably go through every mention of God in the book and try to explain it, but it wouldn’t be useful. All I know is that God or whatever you want to call it, “the mystery of the universe,” I don’t know, is the most important thing we can write about or think about. Ultimately, everything we do points toward purpose or purposelessness, exaltation or non-worth, joy or despair. It maybe points at those “or’s.” Maybe “and’s” would be more appropriate.
4. What was the submission process like for individual poems from the book? Did you send individual poems out?
Many of the poems were published by bearcreekfeed as the ebook east central indiana. I sent those to Colin Bassett and he was way into them. That was my first “major” publication. It was very exciting. Other poems from the book that have been published were published because an editor solicited poems from me or I met them at AWP and they said I should send them something. One of the poems is on the SPD website because they had a promotion where you could send them a poem and get a free book or something like that.
I don’t really enjoy sending poems out. It just feels like a distraction from the writing itself.
5. A lot of these poems use asides, fugues—they begin a subject, then leap off somewhere tangentially, then usually return to subject. Was this a purposeful structure?
It was something that seemed necessary for me to be able to say what I mean. I could have a beginning thought or image, but I need/needed to move away from that. I didn’t want to make sense, necessarily, or I didn’t care if I made sense. It’s more than the thought itself. Poetry is more than its inception. I wanted to find all the possible tributaries of thought and emotion and language in these poems, for each poem to create its own landscape, little areas of garbage and glory to explore and walk through. I wanted a poem to be more revealing than Google Earth could ever be. I still feel that way. A huge concern I’ve heard about my poems is that there is too much in them, that certain parts fail a central theme or overall togetherness, but I don’t know if there is such a thing. This criticism causes me a lot of stress because I often feel like there can never be enough in a poem. I can see a river and its tributary and I can feel a tributary that isn’t physically there wanting me to speak of its not being there, of its wanting to give tribute in one way or another. That’s the way that I feel about asides. And as for fugues, I want every molecule to sing its song at once.
6. What do you think Colorado has done to your writing? Is that a valid question? Does place affect your poetry?
Colorado has mostly just given me a different space to write in. I don’t feel obsessed with the place physically. The culture of Colorado is nothing I’m interested in. I simply live here. I write poems while living here. The apartment building I lived in while in Fort Collins had a strange and transient feel to it, which felt right to me at the time. There was a tension between college students and the older locals and immigrant families. I would often stare out the window at night into the pool, which was always lit up but too murky to see to the bottom of. I think Colorado has mostly shown me a new weirdness. In that same apartment building I befriended a man called Danny the Cowboy and his wife Glenda. Danny was an alcoholic who was on house arrest for multiple DUI’s. He used to be in the military but was discharged after he got in a fight and was thrown out of a third story window. I used to get drunk with Danny and listen to country music. He loved Johnny Paycheck. We played Scrabble and Glenda always won. I was supposed to teach Danny to play the guitar, but that never happened. They moved out before I did and I have no idea what happened to those two. Danny was sort of a strange guy to hang out with. He would get really drunk on Jack Daniels and throw a guitar painted like the flag of Texas at me. He would give me the tablature to “Danny Boy” and Glenda would sing as I tried to remember how to from chords. Danny once breathalyzed me with his own breathalyzer that he used to make sure he was below the legal limit before going to get his breath tested every day. I blew way below the legal limit. The Fort Collins that I knew while living in that building was a weird world. Now I live in Denver. It’s better living here. It’s not so removed from the reality of 2012 the way that Fort Collins was removed from the present day. Fort Collins is probably what it felt like to live in a large Western city in the early 20th century or so, except with a college and lots of white people who think they’re Rastafarian. Living in Colorado has definitely alienated me from the overall poetry community and poets in general because of how cliquey it is here. That’s ok though. Poetry is a reflection of the poet’s relationship with the universe and life. I don’t think scenes or movements are an important thing to seek out unless you’re new to poetry and need to find a voice or need to learn or something, I have no idea. I was much more engaged when I was living in Muncie, and I think that had to do with being younger and newer, just wanting to stir shit up. No one sees willing to stir shit up in Colorado, and I get the impression that nothing in Colorado has ever been stirred up, which explains all the “Native” bumper stickers and the weird condescending attitudes that people have about being from Colorado, the weird Colorado pride over simply living near mountains. If people hadn’t moved to Colorado, creating a population boost, the state would be nothing more than South Wyoming. It’s almost daunting to figure out where to begin stirring. I’ll probably just do nothing as I wait to move elsewhere in the country.
7. You write, “I am thinking in terms of biology.” This seems to be central to the book. We eat, shit, drink, sleep. Repeat. Discuss.
It really fucks me up sometimes that we’re forced to exist within a body. What a crappy and limiting way to exist. I have no specific beliefs on the afterlife due to my lack of experience or exposure to any such thing, but it really does feel like life in the physical is just to give us some exposure to what might happen after death, like everything that happens on earth is simply to prepare us for some next level shit when we die.
8. When writing, how do you know when a poem of yours is finished?
I don’t know that there’s a way to analyze what makes a poem finished. I guess when I feel like I can’t go any further with it, when I feel satisfied in what the poem achieves, what feeling it creates. I want every poem to create an experience. Basically, I know a poem is complete when I read the poem to my dog and she goes and passive-aggressively licks her empty bowl because she’s hungry.
9. There’s so much energy in this book. Momentum. Did you have to really think about how you were going to order the poems in the collection?
I did think about it. I knew I wanted the long, title poem to be the centerpiece. And I knew I wanted the poems from east central indiana to come at the beginning. I did that thing where you spread the poems across the floor and then try different orders. That process is incredibly beautiful to me. It’s like rearranging a life to try to give some sort of meaning to it. In terms of thinking, it was more of a thinking through the gut. What would feel most powerful? How can I best sustain the feeling that I’m longing for? The book begins with a prayer. Then there’s sort of a debauched despair, which leads into destruction of the self, and then an attempt at the destruction of the world. I could only talk myself down from that attempt, however. The rest of the book is sort of an attempt to take the world apart in order to study the beauty of the parts, as well as an attempt to relinquish my personhood. This is, more or less, the philosophical journey I went through over the period that these poems were written. And the poems are, more or less, arranged in the order that they were written. There are a few exceptions to that, but mostly that’s a true statement.
10. There’s a wonderful time wherein the speaker throws hammers at the sun and sort of asks himself, “WTF? Why I am throwing hammers at the sun?” But then the poem ends with the speaker sitting there, with a “hammerbucket” clearly prepared to once again throw hammers at the sun. Discuss.
Any moment of clarity is temporary. We, as human beings, are basically babies who grow more insane every day. We can try to pretend that we are rational, but really we just assimilate more and more into a society that is not exactly perfect or anything close to perfect. Fuck the sun. Fuck the way that it sustains life on earth. But moreover, fuck everyone for not working together in a more meaningful way to make it so we can be amazed by the sun at every moment that we feel its presence in our lives. Human beings should be constantly amazed at how insanely beautiful everything is, how miraculous life is, but instead we’ve become addicted to our own impermanence. I have spent way too much time on the internet today. I’ve spent way too much of my life in my own head. I think this is universal. Maybe the Dalia Lama has overcome this, but I doubt it.
11. What do you think about poetry readings?
I mostly feel bored with them. No one ever does anything worth remembering or telling a friend about. Just hearing a good poem read aloud is not enough. I’d rather stay home and read the poem in a book if you’re just going to stand there and read words. I feel done with poetry readings, or maybe just bored to the point of not caring. Attending them, giving them, whatever. Elizabeth and I will probably continue to do parties/readings in our apartment where we encourage everyone to do whatever they want. I want people to throw bags of feces at me. I want someone to ride in on a horse and make damn sure we don’t get our damage deposit back. That’s way better than hearing a poem read out loud. Another thing better than hearing a poem read out loud is having a conversation with someone at a bar instead of being forced into silence while someone reads a poem. Let the poems be the background to a night with friends. Don’t shove poetry into the foreground. Audiences need to be obnoxious or just do whatever they want at a poetry reading. I hate etiquette. I hate it so much that I’m not even going to learn the proper way to spell it. Poets also need to realize that their thoughts are never as beautiful as they think.
12. Is poetry a sport?
If it is I want to be the Greg Oden of poetry. Or maybe the Metta World Peace. I would love to throw an elbow or two.
13. Who you been reading lately?
Lately, I’ve been really into Ariana Reines’ new book. I also just read and loved William Bronk’s Death is the Place. Bronk is a next level kind of poet of thought and possibility. Also Eileen Myle’s Different Streets/Snowflake. Also, I’ve been teaching poetry to fifth graders, and one of them ended a poem on the line, “I triumph in absolute baby glory,” which is an awesome line.
14. What’s your favorite burrito?
Lately it’s been the chorizo breakfast burritos from this place in Denver called Bocaza. It’s a Mexican restaurant that never has any customers, yet somehow it stays in business. I mostly eat burritos at breakfast, and when I get breakfast burritos from Bocaza, I always get two of the chorizo, which they grind up into a sauce, so the chorizo is all over every bite.