Review by Candice Wuehle
Carleen Tibbetts’ “a starving music will come to eat the body” (winner of the Five Quarterly e-chapbook contest) often reads to me like Roland Barthes and early Alice Notley attempting to collaborate on a valentine to theory itself. This effort produces dream words (“gurgleprettied,” “mothervoiced playmouth antigen,” “fuguethroated,” “softboundaried” and “night-purr”) but also as a stanza that can declare:
so find the metric
eat around the bad parts & pay as you go
love that perfect kind of rot
the high monotony of –ologies
the doublecross of body
anyway, in real time, dance
It is a weird kind of energy to state that branches of knowledge themselves (“ologies”) are the “high monotony” and it grants this book—which is itself steeped in structures, theories, the idea of the void and voided “thing”—lift and flight. “a starving music will come to eat the body” asks how the body comes to history and life through it’s “ologies” but also insists context itself is corrosive. This notion is implied through epigraph by Christian Bök (“delicate words simply dissolve when immersed in their meaning”) as well as through the speaker’s own insistence that “utterance is just another word for corrosion.” What is so intense for me about these poems is that for Tibbetts, it seems there is little division between the body and the words that encompass it; the language is all possible expression when it is on the page and thus it become necessary at points to rupture into disarticulation, hyper-articulation, or the compressed articulation of neologism. At one startling point in the poem “shame makes all the warm sounds”, Tibbett’s writes “I made my body a comma” and while this clearly indicates pause, stoppage, and any of the other grammatical indicators of “comma” one might think of, I was instantly inclined to imagine the selfhood of the speaker as transfigured puncture, or punctum in the Barthesian sense. The act of writing had performed its dissolve—this is often the acknowledged work of poetry and the unacknowledged work of theory: to recognize what by its very nature cannot be articulated, in turn producing a language of intimacy which teaches a style of sensual knowledge.
One of the ways “a starving music…” achieves this sense of intimacy is through a resistance to overstate metaphor. Instead, the diction of these poems, frequently invested in the kind of sparkling glitter that becomes at once a blinding violence akin to the work of Chelsey Minnis or Lisa Robertson, is a gnawing diction that eats at the words of the poems themselves as opposed to suggesting parallel quality between object or idea. If a “starving music” is coming to “eat the body”, Tibbetts acknowledges the creepy ouroboros of her poems as music machine and music murderer. This is apparent in the semantic drift of “you’re okay with this ravenous system if we call it a charmed structure”:
how to sorrow: make a home in a fuguethroated syllable
misdial some light (a lushy lux charge in the air)
& rifle through the mica of miracle softboundaried anatomy of salvation
encrusted with the sweet ANTIgen of praise wrung from the hymn
RIFLE through not as in search as in CUT
spiral grooves within as in a cannon
with such grooves as in gun as in GUN
ning for yr mineshaft orifices
yr landmine hands
Or the defiant voids built into a poem like “something darkling”:
i recall each
___is the new night, another essential for___
you sieve your heart as you’d
separate grain from the chaff
the implications of an open window
undeveloped film canisters
the impossible crawl toward____
like cotton anticipates the combing
There is a precise instability or a very specific misdirection achieved by the ease through which words transfigure into other words in “you’re okay with this ravenous system if we call it a charmed structure”. “Misdial” slurs “mica” drifts “miracle” until we arrive at “cannon” “gun” and the spliced “GUN”/”ning” which in turn enact the “softboundaried” and “fuguethroated qualities of the poem itself. By the final effort of the poem’s ending on “yr mineshaft orifices/ yr landmine hands” the subtle conflagration between the personal possessive “mine” of “mineshaft” slipped into the underlying telluridic qualities conflated with the overly violent essence of the word “landmine” expands to asks how language can be introduced to the body before the body is itself languaged. The of “something darkling” insist that language can and should be expelled at the points when it becomes a device of limitation or boundary. A line I especially love from the book’s very first poem, “let’s start with traps”:
the sister-feeling of______
this rusting from the inside
is simply such a generative refusal of boundary, as are all the points of void or blankness in “a starving music…”. In part, this refusal is achieved exactly because at points the poems resist through void Bök’s dictum that “words when immersed in their meaning dissolve” by simply refusing immersion; in the above selection, there seems to be only “sister-feeling” and no root feeling, all “inside” and no body. In the lines “___is the new night, another essential for___” and “undeveloped film canisters/ the impossible crawl toward____”, the “essential” or orientation is again omitted. It’s in this manner, I think, that Tibbett’s “softboundaried” poetics opens up and allows for a confidence with the poems which creates a multiplicity of your own “sister-feelings”, your own “impossible crawl toward” within the distinct aura of the thing-music these poems play on their spindly thumb orchestra.
As I’ve read and re-read these poems, one of the qualities of the chapbook as a whole which has most struck me has been its harmony as a suite of poems which grows, begs both questions and demands of itself and arrives at a site upon which it can sustain its own sense of being. The final poem of “a starving music…” is titled “disarticulation”, medical terminology which means to separate two bones at their joint. However, it occurred to me that to “disarticulate” in speech would be something very different than to “be inarticulate”—it would indicate not lack of cogency or an occultism of unclear speech; rather it would herald a movement of “dis”: away, asunder, and apart. An articulation of energy both within and without, as, I think one reads within this selection from that poem:
should velveteen as does shine culled from light
should swan into spangle sounds
should hum [a bonesound slow-dancing through this soul suit] like marrow
utterance is really just another word for corrosion
While this poem spreads the bones, disarticulates them with utterance itself, it also suggest arenas for coming back together in nature, the soul and sound itself and speaks in an energetic litany of indicative tense. Perhaps the last idea I need to emphasize about this book is its relentless lushness, its compulsion to speak about scale, theory, the body, violence and the ability of language itself to function in perpetual vibrancy. This vibrancy which, for me, suggests the “spangle sounds” of language are larger, more generous, than the logic which can encompass them.
Candice Wuehle is a confident, articulate & inaccurate tarot reader. She will divine for you anytime. She is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa, holds a Masters in Literature from the University of Minnesota and is a PhD candidate at the University of Kansas.
Some of her poems can be or will be found in “The Volta”, “Inter|rupture”, “NOO”, “Boaat”, “Fairy Tale Review”, “BlazeVOX”, “SOFTBLOW”, “Smoking Glue Gun”, “Similar:Peaks::” and “The Sonora Review”.
Interview by Sarah Carson.
Joyelle McSweeney writes in all the genres, and her new books include Salamandrine, 8 Gothics from Tarp Sky (Prose plus a play) and Percussion Grenade from Fence, poems plus a play. She teaches at the University of Notre Dame du Lac, Named for Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Rust Belt.
Sarah Carson’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Diagram, Guernica, the Nashville Review, and the New Orleans Review, among others. She is the author of three chapbooks, and two full-length collections, Poems in which You Die (BatCat Press, 2014) and Buick City (Mayapple Press, forthcoming 2015). Sometimes she blogs at sarahamycarson.wordpress.com.
Welcome to “How Did You Do That?!” a series of conversations with those writers we admire/are jealous of. You know the ones—people who are always doing amazing things and make it all seem so easy.
An accomplished poet and hybrid writer, Joyelle McSweeney’s résumé is full of just those types of amazing things—from a sci-fi novel to a gothic poetry collection to a play retelling of a Grimms’ fairy tale, she seems to never run out of energy or ideas.
In 2013, McSweeney’s experimental play Dead Youth, or, the Leaks was awarded the inaugural Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Playwrights, which honors “exploratory approaches and an innovative spirit in writing for performance.”
As if winning such a title wasn’t enough, McSweeney wrote the play in just a few weeks, a feat deserving of a “How did you do that?!” if there ever was one.
McSweeney was gracious enough to answer just that question and more.
Abduwali Muse, the inspiration for Dead Youth, or, the Leaks
Sarah Carson: What was the impetus for this play? What made you choose this content matter + this form for communicating it?
Joyelle McSweeney: This play germinated from learning that Abduwali Muse – the teenage Somali ‘pirate’ who was tried in NYC a few years back—is imprisoned in a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana—the state where I live, the Rust Belt state whose name vaguely refers to a genocided people. That’s how misery moves around the globe and always finds its Target ™. Like many citizens of the Internet, I remember Muse for the movie-star grin he flashed at the cameras upon arrival at trial in New York. The charisma of that moment floods all through this play. I wrote it as a spell for his protection and an effort at occult communication.
In my play, a benevolent Julian Assange has hijacked a containership full of Dead Youth, a plural character made up of (un-)dead, saucy, track-suited teens who have died all over the planet from contact with violence: gang warfare, pharmaceutical industry predation, environmental toxicity, drones, suicide, johns, etc. He is steering them to his childhood home Magnetic Island where he will reboot them/upload them to the Internet. Muse and a female Saint-Exupéry (representing The Law) board the ship and attempt to wrest control from Assange. Their fortunes are all controlled by a female deity played Henrietta Lacks, the African-American cancer patient whose cells, harvested without her consent, at Johns Hopkins in 1951, have led to many important medical (and consumerist) discoveries and are used in research settings all over the globe.
This may sound like heavy stuff, but it’s actually a farce, given the many political figures who collide in this inside-out Tempest. There are many press conferences, song and dance numbers, show trials, etc, and lots of campy banter. The farce form makes your belly shake and then sticks you with its blade. Yikes!
SC: What was your process like? Where did you begin? How long did it take you? How did you know you were finished?
JM: I forced this out over just a few weeks to meet the deadline. I knew what I wanted to write about and why—as a play of advocacy for Muse and Assange, and a chance to elevate Henrietta Lacks to a position of absolute power. I had a lot of urgency driving me to write. But I also wanted to write a real play, not just a shorty poet’s play of 10 or 15 pages. So I went back and made every draft longer. This also allowed me to carry certain motifs (bees, computer code, cancer, green) from section to section.
SC: I’ve read in some of your interviews that you were a fan of Leslie Scalapino, for whom the award you won is named. Is that how you came to submit to the prize?
JM: Yes! I wouldn’t call myself a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet in terms of aesthetic affiliation, theory or technique, though I admire how they pulled off the impossible and forced American poetry to let them in. At this point I’m just an old-school early Modernist think. But I am a big Leslie Scalapino fan. I love the ballsy way she turns genre conventions inside out, her total commitment to the occasionally inscrutable, her denial that it was inscrutable, her conviction that her writing belonged in newspapers, her political commitment, and especially her technique of ‘housing’ one character inside another character, one genre inside another genre. That knocked me out in her book Dahlia’s Iris: Secret Autobiography + Fiction.
SC: What was it like to hear that you’d won such an important award?
JM: Bonkers. I had driven to Chicago for the Marble Room Reading Series, and I could barely give the reading, or drive home. I could not believe it. I felt like I was falling through the earth.
SC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into writing experimental plays like yours? Are there any authors you’d recommend?
JM: My advice is just to read like hell and write that which gives you perverse joy and which you are somewhat humiliated to present to the world. That’s a sign you are writing stuff no one else but you could write, which usually makes for the most delicious and devilish work. To write my play, I really drew on an array of plays and performances I love: Langston Hughes Scotsboro, Ltd.; Amiri Baraka The Dutchman; Suzan-Lori Parks America Play; Shakespeare Tempest and Merchant of Venice; Soyinka, From Zia with Love & A Scourge of Hyacinths; Durenmatt The Visit; Genet, entire body of work; Jack Smith, entire body of work. I researched Assange and Lacks and, to the extent I could, Muse. I made up the Exupérystuff. I had also read CLR James The Black Jacobins earlier that year and became obsessed with this short note written by Toussaint L’Ouverture, in (I assume) James’s translation here:
Brothers and friends. I am Toussaint L’Ouverture, my name is perhaps known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in San Domingo. I work to bring them into existence. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.
The self-announcement of this note stops the show and initiates revolutionary time. I have used its tone, syntax, and cadences in all of my plays because they are works of revolution and vengeance. When Henrietta Lacks says her name in this play, it is a declaration of war. When Julian Assange says, “Hello, I’m Julian Assange”, it continually resets the play’s clock. I recite this letter to myself while driving around South Bend or whenever the spirit wavers.
Mason Johnson is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. You can find his fiction at themasonjohnson.com. Also, he pets all the cats.
I was surprised when Jason Pettus of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography approached me at a book release I’d read at and asked me if I had anything CCLaP might be interested in. Though I did readings and wrote plenty of prose, I’d always considered what I performed at readings and the novel drafts and short stories at home to be different and separate entities. I didn’t really expect my performances around Chicago to have any substantial effect on me ever getting a book published, but it was those readings that caused Jason to hear about me in the first place.
I guess this makes sense in hindsight.
Excited, I sent Jason a few things I’d been working on.
He didn’t like what I sent him. Welp.
He suggested I try to take a piece of my Sad Robot Stories e-book, which some people liked and a decent amount of people definitely did not like (shrug), and try to make it into a serious novella.
I hated this idea, but I said I’d try it out. After two weeks of thinking that I’d never be able to do what he asked (and that I really had no desire to do it), I started getting ideas. They were mostly scenes in my head. Scenes that would theoretically work well in, say, a Sad Robot Stories novella. It got to the point where I knew I’d write the damn thing regardless of whether CCLaP wanted it, so I started writing the damn thing.
I had miscalculated. I thought I’d be able to finish this in the same amount of time it’d take College Mason to finish it, which was a huge mistake. I wasn’t College Mason anymore, I was office Mason, working 9 hour days (minimum) in a cubicle. And it didn’t matter how much time I spent in front of a computer screen attempting to write this damn thing after work, my mind was too jellified by the day to get a lot done. Still, I sat in front of my computer every night and got a tiny bit done at a time.
What I ended up doing was writing most of the book in notebooks. Every free little moment I had, be it at home, work, on the train, waiting at a bar for a friend, I’d write a sentence or two. Eventually, I had a few notebooks with a bunch of jumbled scenes that weren’t in any order whatsoever. I’d made an outline initially, to help get me going, but hadn’t stuck to it whatsoever. A lot of the initial editing was just getting shit in the right order as I typed it.
After a few months of crazed writing and reordering, I had half of the draft finished in a word document, which I sent to CCLaP. Having read this, CCLaP finally agreed to publish the thing for realzies.
From there, I was given a date to finish the book by, and I missed it. I missed the next one, too, and the one after that. What we initially thought would be a January release, got pushed back to August after I missed goddamn date after date (I still thought I was College Mason, whelp).
To my knowledge, Jason never cursed my name (over me constantly missing deadlines, at least).
Eventually, I got the book in the correct order from beginning to end. After that, I read through it and saw what stuck out and what didn’t, theme-wise (I had no real “authorial intent” before this, I just kinda wrote). The themes that stuck out the most, I emboldened a little, the themes that didn’t, I let fall to the wayside. I can’t remember exactly what got lost from that first draft, but I do remember looking at the draft and feeling very… certain about a few of the themes: gender/sexuality, loneliness/hope in nature, etc. So I sorta used those as tentpoles to hold the story up, I guess.
Photo by Don Solo, above design by Troy Palmer of Little Fiction.
Finally I sent a full draft to CCLaP. Jason Pettus, Robert O’Connor and Allegra Pusateri then read it and, while getting coffee, assaulted me with questions that might help the editing process. I don’t remember what they had problems with (I don’t think there was a lot), but this has less to do with their contribution (which was great) and more to do with my terrible memory (for example: I’ve probably forgotten key elements of the book itself, despite having written it, because I’ve got a shit memory).
After that, they edited the book chapter by chapter, sending me a chapter every few days. Robert and Allegra would pass on their comments to Jason, Jason would add his comments/tweak theirs, then send the comments over to me. Most of this was about individual sentence structure, we were making sure that the thing sounded how we wanted it to sound. We weren’t focused on grammar or punctuation yet; that was for the copy editing stage. We just wanted to get the voice right.
I remember as this was happening, I was also rewriting the end extensively, because I wanted to be a pain in the ass, I guess. So I was always slow getting back to them about edits. I have no idea what I changed in the end, but it changed pretty significantly (actually, I’ve got a slight idea, but it’s sort of a spoiler).
The biggest change Jason demanded for the book was to take out a very short chapter. In the middle, there was an interlude that was a couple of pages. I was adamantly against removing it, most of my motivation coming from the point-of-view that it was MINE and no one else could touch it.
Jason said something along the lines of, “it’s a HUGE fucking mistake” to leave it in.
After about two weeks, I realized it was more my ego that wanted to keep the damn thing, and found I could look at it a bit more objectively. Though Jason told me I could keep it if I wanted to, I saw that it was a huge fucking mistake to leave it in, and decided that, yeah, we should take it out.
Good thing Jason was so adamant!
From there, we copy edited it for about two weeks (I must of read the book a dozen times during the editing process, yet mistakes still remain, guess I’m a shit CE), then it was finally ready to be published…
Before Jason approached me about the book, I’d been thinking a lot about the forms books can/should take. I wondered: Should I even bother to attempt to make something I write into a physical novel? Should I just make ebooks? Should I find a group of humans willing to let me tattoo my gender bending, hardboiled alien-sex-romp-detective novel all over their bodies?
CCLaP’s want to publish my book kind of temporarily answered that question. Their “thing” was totally in line with what I wanted.
CCLaP had started by publishing their books exclusively in a digital format. Eventually, they moved on to making handmade books. The physical being of their books was beautiful, something I noticed with Lauryn Allison’s solo/down.
Years before, I’d make my own zines and comics the old fashioned way, folding and stapling them myself. At first, I hated this; I just wanted to write. But as writing became more and more of a job, I longed to fold and staple things, which became a sort of Zen activity that allowed me to pull my mind away from my writing. CCLaP’s hand bound books were light-years ahead of my stapled creations, a dream come true for anyone who wants care to not only exist in the words on the page, but in the entire physical creation of their book. That, combined with my preference of reading digital books over paperbacks and hardcovers (digital books weigh a hell of a lot less than real books, though I’ll purchase the physical form of a book I absolutely love), made me excited about the prospect of having both the beautiful handmade book CCLaP makes, while also having a convenient digital version.
Of course, it’s not easy to do this. By the time Sad Robot Stories had come out, CCLaP had several books that were being handmade. For an indie press, the time and work it takes to make what CCLaP calls their “Hypermodern Editions” is immense. Also, it was primarily Jason making the books. So as CCLaP became more successful, with more and more book orders coming in, it became harder for Jason to keep up. Not too long after Sad Robot Stories came out, with more book orders than ever, Jason became sick, delaying any books people had recently ordered.
Needless to say, CCLaP was becoming too successful to continue like this (not the worst problem to have).
Now, they publish their new books as paperbacks. They get the job done. You can still buy their “hypermodern Editions,” though they’re a bit pricier and seem to come in limited printings. For all I know, they may soon stop doing the “Hypermodern Editions” altogether.
Which just makes it that much nicer to see something I wrote exist in that form.
I have no clue how I’ll publish my next book, but I’m glad this is how my first was published.
Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2014) and two chapbooks. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Better, Denver Quarterly, Volt, Best New Poets 2012, Guernica, and others. She edits Jellyfish Magazine and writes, teaches, and lives in Athens, GA.
We interviewed Gale about her Elizabeth Bishop cover poem, [“Cal, have you ever gone through caves?”], in Banango Street’s recent Covers Issue. You can also read two of Gale’s poems, “No Heart" and "Explorer in the Classic Mold,” in Issue 5.
RH: Most all of the pieces in the covers issue are after a particular poem or poet, but judging by the title and some Googling, [“Cal, have you ever gone through caves?”] appears to be inspired by a letter that Elizabeth Bishop wrote to Robert Lowell, paraphrased by Lowell. How did this particular cover come about? What was the process of writing it like?
GT: I love that you followed the title’s history—it makes me so happy! Well, I’ll say it came about through a kaleidescope of things. I took a seminar in my PhD program last year based entirely on Bishop, whom I just adore. We read all of her poems, prose (short stories, travel writings, etc.); then, we went through One Art, her collected letters, which I’d read in college and could never get enough of. The collection of letters between her and Robert Lowell were put into a book called Words in Air that came out in 2008. She called Lowell “Cal,” which is my favorite nickname for anyone. (Speaking of nicknames, here’s a little factoid: a young Robert Lowell used to give his friends “bear names,” and that’s how you knew whether he liked you or not.) Their relationship is one of the deepest for me, despite its serious issues—it’s how I view my relationships with my own, close, poet friends. It is a love deeper than most, accepting faults and defending to the death. It’s a platonic, idealistic love, a la Mulder and Scully (and yes, I know, they ended up non-platonic, but you get my drift).
The letter to Lowell including the lines, “Cal, have you ever gone through caves?” and so forth, which Lowell pretty much used verbatim in his poem, was written in February 1970. This was three years after her longtime love Lota’s sudden death. Bishop was desperate. She had worked for years on an elegy to Lota, drafting over and over again this replaying of her death. She never finished. Reading these drafts in Edgar Allen Poe and the JukeBox is haunting—it’s painfully obvious she’s having a hard time “mastering disaster,” as she says in “One Art.” And here’s a gut-puncher: One of the lines in the poem is, “No coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you no coffee can wake you.” As you can probably tell, that plays a little part in the poem. So all that comes in when I think of the letter. And, that horrible thing called optimism, where you really just wish you could give up everything, but instead you have this nagging hope that if you just hang on for a little bit longer, you’ll come out of the cave.
So, I’m a PhD student at the University of Georgia, specializing in “the poetics of memory,” for lack of better words—and the way Bishop’s work deals with loss is a big part of my interests. I am obsessed with, and have written about, the unique way Bishop views memory, and the art(ifice) with which she portrays it. I won’t go into too much detail, but her poems end up resulting in both a recognition of loss and an acknowledgment of its persistence—a continual mourning. That the work of grieving and attempting to fill in for that loss can never be completed. And all of this leads to me writing the poem.
It started out slowly—I thought it was a failure at first. I just played with some Bishop imagery, some things I’ve written about Bishop, and then sort of faltered. Then at some point, whatever it was that was supposed to bit, bit. I suppose it had to do with a recent personal loss as well.
RH: The poem deploys repetition at key moments—”where others won’t wake up they won’t wake up” and the “diver”/ “please dive down” towards the end. We also see this in the two poems of yours we published in Issue 5. Can you talk about the role of repetition in your work?
GT: Haha, I guess it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? I never noticed all of this until recently, and then was pretty insecure about it. But now I’ve gotten both used to it and fulfilled by it—I do repeat often, and for a couple of reasons, I think, both practical and otherwise. Part of it, I’m sure, is just a tic I have to keep going, to work out a thought or emotion without having to disconnect or pull away, or feel the pressure to fully complete and connect what I’m trying to say right away—I can just keep going, and work it out in my own way.
I’m thinking also that it has to do with that obsessive compensation for loss, maybe—I’m reminded of Freud’s “fort-da” case study in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. (If you don’t know about this case study please go look it up now because it’s so strange and necessary!!!!) So, basically, in this case study, a young child ends up obsessively repeating these words in a game (“fort” means “gone” and “da” means “here” in German) in attempts at substituting the loss of his mother. Peter Sacks’s The English Elegy includes the “fort-da” incident as an example of “successful mourning,” in which the child compensates for this loss by substituting language in for her absence. Except, I’m much more interested in that mourning that cannot be easily made redemptive or easily whole again. It’s what my brain does—what all our brains do to some extent—it replays and obsesses and tries again and again to master trauma and rebuild the walls that were torn down during the traumatic event. I can see this happening during the “they won’t wake up” part, and Bishop’s “no coffee can wake you” lines.
RH: In this poem, as in the two from Issue 5, you have these ending lines that just blow me away (and the repetition plays a part in this). It’s like the entire poem builds up to an ending that just…creates this space of silence and gravity that echoes out. How do you usually arrive upon the endings to your poems?
GT: Oh wow, thanks so much for all of these really thoughtful, kind questions, and I’m sorry I am babbling on and on! For this poem in particular, as I mentioned before, I was having some trouble getting through until something bit. Once it bit (which I think was around the time of the “it won’t quit”), it was a pretty big rush. I began to put things, a lot of repeating things, in italics, and…well, I lost my breath. I almost typed “I lost my shit,” but I’ll say “breath” and call it a day. I had a good three minutes of getting out the remaining things I wanted to get out in the poem, then I had to, well, abandon it. I didn’t finish, I just had to get out of the moment, and I suppose repetition helps me, perhaps, settle the score before I can leave.
Although in recent poems I’m doing a similar feeling but the opposite of repetition, really—where I sort of just take little steps out of a poem with either a fragment or small piece of something dropped so that it doesn’t seem like I’ve just run away.
RH: Let’s turn this issue’s concept on its head. If you wanted to see someone cover your work, which one poem of yours would you choose? And who would you ask to cover it?
GT: Hmmm…it’s really more series of poems that I’m working on right now, and am desperate for other voices for it. So, I started writing a long serial poem about 3 years ago called Observatories, that deals with the construction and survival of memory using Joseph Cornell ephemera, space, snow, World War II, food, bodies, etc.—that’s it in a nutshell—and have never really felt finished with it. Then, earlier this year I started writing a pretty deeply personal long poem called Helen or my Hunger. I actually started writing Helen for my Adrienne Rich seminar—I was trying to explore her use of the serial poem, together with issues of trauma, memory, the female body and its experience, being an identified woman in the world. I ended up taking some parts from Observatories and blending them into Helen because they seemed to grow into each other—in actions or images occurring both infinitely far away (deep space) and intimately close up (the body); they both exist in the feelings of both awe and utter terror when we consider the infinite.
So what I’m trying to say is that I’m lost in these two worlds of poems, which may in actuality be the same poem, and what I would want more than anything is to swim through these worlds with another voice echoing back to me, letting me know how far I’ve gone, where we’re going, or even just to let me know—we’re okay, I’m here. Is that super corny? I feel like I need to keep calling out, “are you still with me? are you still here?” all the time.
Here’s a little bit:
dear Helen, our dead names are on your tongue
my space in this seat of language, patient
as the teardrop shape of a hand
as it dances through the other hand
I can’t change that: I wait until the hunger
returns, ever small this loss of canopy
That it is difficult to settle this hollow,
that I bleed above my lip and don’t mind
the mechanism: that I deserve this riddled hunger
So, okay, who I would like to help me with these poems. My poet-loves, Anne Cecelia Holmes and Caroline Cabrera, yes yes. They’re already ones I call out to a lot. Anne’s poems have such a fierce language and hearty/hardy voice that I’ve rarely read one of her poems without having my hand involuntarily on my heart—I called her the Barbra Streisand of poetry one time. Inside joke. And the Justin Timberlake of poets is Caroline Cabrera. Her poems just “say the thing,” as my creative writing students and I call it. You know how we live in this mundanity and see so many patterns in the mundanity, but can’t seem to just get down to it and say the thing, like it’s a poem? That’s Caroline. She does that. Seeing patterns in the everyday and blowing them up to mean everything. Also, Russ Sara Woods, and Carrie Lorig, with their bellowing, throaty love for the world—although very different writers—are both voices I’d love to have call back as well. RSW and I have in particular talked about this sort of sprawling, specifically female voice in poems, re: Stevie Nicks, so I think she and my poems would get along just so well. <3
RH: And finally, because we ask this in every interview: why write?
GT: For me, poetry is a way of working through emotions, obsessions, and events that don’t necessary need a narrative right away. That can come later. I think that’s why I’ve never been much of a fiction writer. My ADD brain can’t/won’t put information into an immediate logical, narrative order, and poetry allows for that overlap, that displacement of time and separation of body and experience, and lets me say what I need to say in a way that is impossible otherwise. I think in blips, and here I can arrange and figure out the blips on my own terms. And I feel like I have to make meaning and find pattern, and poetry is historically a type of meaning-making. Poetry has taught me more about myself, my experiences, the way I interact with people, the way I love and hate and mock and obsess, much more than I think could happen in any therapy session (Obviously I’m exaggerating. Therapy is good for everybody!)
And, I’m just going to quote a little bit from Dan Chelotti over at Huffington Post: “Read poetry because birds, honeysuckle, lit windows, new shoes, walking outside, donuts, lipstick, fresh peaches, cocktails, kisses in the rain produce in you a feeling that you never want to lose, but you will, and the only thing you can do is pay better attention when the feeling comes again. And here it comes. And there it goes.”
Tyler Gobble is a multiple-hat wearer for Magic Helicopter Press & the host of the Everything Is Bigger reading series in Austin, TX. He has a couple of chapbooks & a full-length coming this fall from Coconut. Tyler & I emailed about his poems in the Banango Street Covers Issue.
Where did the idea for the OPP (Other People’s Poems) project originally come from? I love the idea of it, taking all the poets you love & briefly becoming them.
Great question and one I’m happy you’re asking. Simply, these OPPs welled-up inside this TGOB outta love and admiration, influence and downright joy for a bunch of years because of reading books/manuscripts, sharing poems, reading together, etc.
The first one I ever blurted out was “Carrie Lorig Poem.” In the first half of 2013, my big joy device was editing Carrie’s chapbook NODS. for that good ol’ Magic Helicopter Press. Scribbling !’s and flinging suggestions and underlining all across the manuscript, chattering with Carrie about intent vs. content/LOUDNESS/new ways of making, hearing her breath those poems through the phone, I got irreparably engulfed, I got joyously overwhelmed, I could only respond in such a way through poems.
It wasn’t meant to be a project or chapbook or whatever. Like little notes in the margin of a book, I slipped these outta myself and into the world as ways to unleash a particular joy. Eventually, also as a kind, small thank you (always sent them to the person).
Here I must clarify: these are not just poets whose work I love. These are poets whose selves I love. These are my pals (in various connotations).
To circle back and chip in the end of this answer, this project exists at all because of other remarkable people, the same people who are the reasons I poem at all, the same people who probably are the reasons I live at all. As I stumble outta the earliest of stages as a poet (first book in the fall, as well as starting the MFA dance), this seems like a necessary artifact for the most necessary of my lovin’ that’s come before.
I’m glad you brought up that first book. I’m in the process of trying to get my manuscript in order & ready to send out right now & it’s so difficult, in my opinion, to know when to stop writing & start trying to order things.
What advice do you have about ordering a manuscript? What kind of connections did you try to make in your book & how often did you find yourself throwing out poems you loved because they wouldn’t fit in with what you were trying to do.
Yup, so this first full-length book of mine is called MORE WRECK MORE WRECK (though I’ve been scraping at the idea of scrapping it and branding it with something fresher, haha, but titles for books is a completely other styrofoam cup of worms, so I continue…) and it’ll plop off the tree at the end of October from the gorgeous and loving Coconut Books.
Ordering, yikes, isn’t that a mess? This book has probably at least 6 or 7 considerably different versions over its three year incubation, and with that is issued an exponential herd of orders. I think the difficulty with it for me has always been how far removed it is, both in time and in practice, from doing the shit I love to do: write and edit poems, in order to make them huff as individual cathedrals of joy.
And then, what? I’ve got to hunk this all together as one big wooooooooot? I’m remembering something Matt Hart said to me once in a creaky house in Indianapolis, about slapping together his early collections, something like: “I don’t write books. I write poems.” Because of this, right, it’s very tedious, this ordering, because you’re overwhelmed and drained, hopefully in a good way, from writing all these poems, and then your spirit’s gotta turn them precious poems into puzzle pieces and find the picture of the rowboat on the pond or whatever.
I’m glad I can finally answer this in terms of what my book, like the final booky-book, is gonna do. I still gotta swap final ideas with main-man Bruce Covey, but as long as I’m not a total fuck-up, I think this version I’ve got sprung up right here is it. It shook out as alternating between these tad bit long poems and sections of 8-10 single pagers. The long poems (hopefully) prepare the reader for what I see as the slight shift of mood/tone/oomph in each section. For example, the first poem in the book is “The Big Permission,” which is available for eyeballs at Punchnel’s, to kind of start the stomping, to encourage both myself as book builder and the reader as absorber/the entertained to let loose and be prepared to mosey wherever, as the book tends to do, especially section to section. But did it work? Is this advice? I don’t know, but I found when my play-time ordering was done, this version felt the most enjoyably manageable (which is all I can ask for in a review, haha).
None of that was advice, but let me try:
I let myself enjoy it. I think the key is to play. Create new shapes. Throw shit around/out.
Do up a couple different versions, as far as actual content. Make an all-inclusive version—every poem you got that might have any chance of fitting goes in. Or very narrow versions—only one page poems, or only poems that talk about cats, or whatever.
Do up a couple different versions, as far as ordering those content-varied versions. I have one version where I slopped all the titles into alphabetical order. Maybe if it’s all one hunk, add sections, or vice versa, and see wassup.
Printing it out seems necessary, too, for ordering, the physical form across the linoleum floor.
If I set one rule, it’s to save every version, well-labeled and such.
But to say again: I think it is necessary to play. That’s certainly more fun.
Let’s open up that worm can, though. Titles. I can’t think of MORE WRECK MORE WRECK without thinking of Adrienne Rich’s book “Diving Into The Wreck,” & also of the fact that Alexis Pope’s Coconut book is (unless she’s changed it) “More No Good.”
The Pope thing is probably just a coincidence (though a great one, since you’ll both be on the same press & Alexis is a good friend of yours/ a poet you love), but I wonder about the Rich— it’s such a well-traveled book. Was that title in mind when you titled this? & also, how did you come about that title?
Totally dig both of them connections. The Rich connection is brand-spanking-new to me, but one I much appreciate. The early poems in the book got their seeds planted from my divorce (one of them young, wacky, wrong-reasoned marriages) and I do think my reach towards wreck in this collection, like Rich’s poem, vibrates onward because of those grievances, heartbreaks, and mistrusts, along with most importantly probably, the head-on confronting of those things.
As for that Alexis Pope, wow, she’s a darling, huh. I do believe she has swapped out the title (Okay, okay, I know the new one, but that, my friend, is a secret I’m keeping). Under whatever umbrella, I’m stoked to have my book now and forever beside Alexis’s—it was the same first book prize we snagged, they’ll be released together, we are gonna tour together (tentative tour name: THE TANK TOP TOUR). Her poems lean on their wrecks in another particular way, but the connection of both needing MORE and both harnessing the various “good,” both no good and beyond to good-good wreck, is fascinating.
My title actually came from Dean Young’s poetics book “The Art of Recklessness.” Post-divorce, I hugged that book as a recovery tool, as a reminder to embrace recklessness and wrecks in both my poems and my life. I plopped the phrase MORE WRECK MORE WRECK into a poem called “Poem” that was in Country Music Poetry Journal way back when, the phrase wielded as a call-to-action more than a low-down-no-good-sad-cry. Yup, I have been thinking of changing it, especially since that poem got yanked from the final manuscript, but I’m hesitant, too, loving the crisp sound of it, the various connotations, and the idea of making beer koozies that say MORE WRECK MORE WRECK.
I love “The Art of Recklessness.” Dean Young’s been a big influence on you— I mean, you have his lines tattooed on your body, & now— you’re about to start an MFA at Michener.
How exciting is that, getting to work with a poet you love that much?
& also, I just found the poem:
The ruin of imagination is a steamroller
flattening your existence, is your ship
safely docked and full of boring people.
I’M SAYIN’ MORE WRECK! MORE WRECK!
If one end of the spectrum is this safe, boring dock & the other end is wrecking, what’s in the middle? As a poet, do you always find yourself gravitating toward this wreckage, or do you try to maintain some balance, somewhere in the middle, sometimes?
It’s gonna be a wacky thing sitting in Dean’s workshop in my tank top and his lines flapping around as I wave my arms while commenting on someone’s use of couplets. Dean was actually one of the first people to see it, via text message; I was chilling with Matt Hart the day after I got it done and he texted Dean a selfie beside my arm. Haha.
I think wreck is the middle. Wreck is everything else besides being boring, from the flailing to the failing to the wailing with joy, the fucking-up, the fucking, the launched canoe, the fist fight on the front lawn. What else are we supposed to do? Where the fuckyeah and the fuckno and the ahfuck all come together, that’s the wreck, and it’s inescapable. Through divorce and boo-hooing and a knuckle across your jaw, it’s about putting the damn thing back in the water and paddling on. The other end is death, and gracious, I am not quite ready for that plunge.
I’m not ready for that plunge either, hah.
It sounds wacky, but it also sounds perfect. I’ve been traveling through Indiana a little lately, once on the way to & back from Iowa & then again on the way to & back from Chicago, looking at the landscape & thinking about how much it reminds me of home. Maybe I’m off here, but Indiana feels, to me, to be like the Texas of the Midwest.
I also have this feeling, one I’ve had since you moved to Austin, that Texas is the perfect place for you, a space to grow more as a writer that is both familiar & defamiliar. What do you like about Texas & Austin, & also I want to hear some about the ATX lit scene— I’ve done three readings there, but they were a few years ago & it seems like things have exploded since then. One of the Houston grad students once told me that Austin was the place people went for an MFA, but Houston was the heart of the Texas literary culture. It feels like that’s been shifting over the past couple of years, though.
Wow. I’d never thought about that, but in significant ways—geographically, culturally, and politically—I see it, that proclamation you made up there—“Indiana: The Texas of the Midwest.” Get your bumper sticker machine fired-up; we got work to do.
First time I met you, you rolled down with Joshua Kleinberg to read in Muncie, Indiana, that endearing (to me) shadow in central Indiana. Just got reminded of a bumper sticker often seen cruising around that there town that says, “Muncie: We’re Trying.” Better than the plunge to nothing, right?
Indiana is the only home state I’ve ever known ‘til now and like a good couch on a good porch, the comfyness, the chillness, made it shine for me, regardless of the stupid and frustrating things that undeniably bloop up around me/inside it. I miss it everyday, mostly because of the folks there—my parents especially—because of the nice pace and odd-jolly that hums there.
But I do, I do love Austin. Thank you for your very kind-hearted thoughts.
Over at the H_NGM_N tumblr, I chatted a bit about my love of this town. Here’s the quick list I gave them, my five favorite things about Austin, Texas, though probably in no particular order:
1. Malvern Books – easily one of the raddest bookstores in America! (yup, biased, as employee, but geesh, it’s hard to deny, folks)
2. The Disc Golf – over two dozen good-to-stellar courses within an hour drive of me, the best disc shop I’ve ever seen in Disc Nation right down the road, and some of the friendliest golfers I’ve ever met.
3. Austin Beerworks – my favorite local brewery
4. Mother Merey and The Black Dirt – I’ve put my hands up so many times for these folks being my favorite musicians here in Austin. Listen to their debut Down to the River, but be prepared to hoot and holler: http://mothermereyandtheblackdirt.bandcamp.com/
5. Toobin’ – Gotta head outta the city and hit it when the water’s stacked, but man, toobin’ is where it’s at: beer and buds and chillin’ all dang day.
Absolutely, the number one thing I love about this place is the sights, the real sights, the nature. L and I were both blown away by how much access IN THE CAPITAL CITY OF TEXAS we have to uplifting plots of earth. The rolling, fresh lawn of the Capitol building. That massive expanse called Zilker Park housing Barton Springs (and it’s free, run-off side!), the start of the Green Belt, and a quick little ditty of a disc golf course.
Oh and no surprise I turn to disc golf, right. On one road, Slaughter (which I’m declaring the best road in disc golf), in a ten-mile stretch, you’ve got one of the most popular courses around in Searight (a short, challenging wooded course) and Circle C (the beefed-up version of Searight—big and wooded and technical) on the other end. And between is Disc Nation, an honest-to-goodness brick-and-mortar disc golf store complete with a 500-foot driving range out back! Actually, I just blabbed myself into plans tonight.
As for literary stuff, I can’t speak to Houston—only been there once and not for a literary thing. But I’m already chest-deep in the literary scene here in Austin, so I feel mighty confident saying this literary scene is wow. Sure, there’s some odd divides and some glaring holes, but goodness, we’re trying (harder than Muncie even, haha).
Reading series a-plenty here now: my Everything is Bigger series, Sam Sax’s most-welcoming New Shit Show, Dan Boehl and company’s Fun Party, Smoking Glue Gun Magazine’s new SUNCHILD shindig, Caroline Gormley’s sporadic Shitluck (only two so far, but already have had Ji-yoon Lee, Monica McClure, Timothy Donnelly, Lisa Olstein and more!), and a bunch of others I don’t have time (I’M A PERSON) to tromp to. Add in random events at places like Malvern Books, the hunk of art spaces, and UT, and boom, I’m trudging to at least two or three readings a week.
And speaking of Malvern Books (disclosure reminder: I work there and they house my Everything Is Bigger series), there’s a decently bopping bookstore scene here too. A lot of specialty shops that are tops: Malvern for indie/small press stuff; BookWoman for feminist/LGBT/gender stuff, Resistencia Books for Chicana/o & Latina/o stuff, and on and on. If there’s a book you want, one of the stores here can keep you off the interwebs shopping spree (or they can definitely hook you up eventually).
But yes, yes, I’m so stoked about the scene here. There’s a hum of great writer folks here. Lauren Becker—whose book just dropped from Curbside Splendor—rolled into town recently. Ben Kopel (I’m spilling the beans here; sorry Ben!) is boogieing down in August. Add those additions to the already awesome cohort of MFA students (Sam Sax, Vincent Scarpa, Blake Lee Pate, Laurel Hunt, and on and on), UT faculty (Dean Young, Lisa Olstein, Elizabeth McCracken, and on and on), and folks sticking around (Jess Stoner, Laurie Saurborn-Young, Ryan Bender-Murphy, Fernando Flores, and on and on) and it’s a constant buzz of literary goodness. And of course, I’m missing some really important folks and niches of the scene. My ignorance speaks even higher to the variety and scope of the lit community (I’M STILL A PERSON). I’m just happy to be here (regularly scheduled Mark Cugini nod).
The first thing I did when I got into Muncie, when I realized you & Kleinberg weren’t in town yet, was look for a Chinese buffet. It was a good Chinese buffet. I like cities with good Chinese buffets.
The best Chinese buffet I’ve ever been to was in Austin. It was my senior year of high school & we were on a PALS trip & we had X amount of money each to spend on food so we stopped at a place over on the west side of town, the far west side where you’re out of the main part of the city altogether. It was a good place.
You missed out on Domy Books, didn’t you? I loved that place. It was down on Cesar Chavez. I think there’s a new store that took its place.
How is tubing influencing your poems? Serious question.
If you could pick five writers who you don’t personally know (either via real life or internet life) to come read at Everything Is Bigger, who would they be?
Super happy to know the reading scene is alive & well there. I’ll boogie down to Austin sometime to check everything out.
Favorite places to eat in Austin. Go.
Oh goodness, Chinese buffets. That’s one of L’s happy places, trashy to classy and every type in between. I’m probably losing some Midwestern points here, but gracious, I can barely stomach that gunk, and I eat A LOT of rough stuff. I don’t even like the American food they serve up for lame-o’s like me. Usually, when love drags me there, I just get me a plate of them sugar biscuits and sweet and sour chicken (minus the sweet and sour sauce, so I guess they’re just chicken nuggets).
I did miss Domy books. Is that where Farewell Books is now, I wonder? Working at Malvern, and also living a block from it, I’ve been shitty about getting to other bookstores. Lots of my literary needs met here (I’m working now haha) + the guilt of tossing money elsewhere (especially if we have/can get the book) + my hulking to-read pile. That is a summer goal of mine—to check out some of these other places better.
Toobin’ is a necessary style of leisure activity, like disc golf and hiking, for my writing. It reminds me that I’m not a machine, often so self-slung up to my beep-boop machines. The muck on my bare toes. A little bit of sunburn. Real air. I know a lot of people in the Midwest that write a whole bunch and read a whole bunch come winter time, their snow fort of concentration keeping them inside, but I write and read most (and most importantly, enjoy those activities the best) when I can get out and explore and float (metaphorically or not) through this good earth. Also, toobin’ brings together pals of all sorts—my sports buds and my poetry pals and friends from shows—and that is another necessary thing for my poetry.
EIB reader list (assuming we are voiding any restrictions for realistic possibility):
1) Tomaž Šalamun
2) Tytti Heikkinen
3) Mary Ruefle
4) Maurice Manning
5) Roger Reeves
Who are some of your favorite readers, whether you know them or not?
In my less than a year here, my eating-out habits and go-to places have rollercoastered majorly. First, I was overwhelmed, two-to-three times as many eating places in my neighborhood alone as in my entire hometown, and of course, quantity and quality both maxed up here. Then, making some pals, they tugged me here and there and found some mighty cool spots, which evolved further, you know, to “my spots.” Now, I’m back exploring, less overwhelmed now, and super into food trucks.
Anyhow, here’s a bit of a breakdown of my favorite places to grub down:
- Loveballs (awesome varieties of rice balls)
- East Side King (who am I?)
- Gourdough’s Donuts (I about sunk myself with a massive chocolate donut yesterday)
- Crown & Anchor (greasy burgers and fries + good spot to watch games)
- Double Dave’s (shitty pizza, but with great beer specials and TVs for games)
- Torchy’s Tacos (damn good is right)
- Black Star Co-op (always dig places that serve good beer and food AND pay their employees a livable wage)
What am I missing? Where should I go?
Yeah, I think it’s over where Farewell is. The guy that ran Domy was super cool (& does some cool “weird” art stuff too).
My all time favorite reader is Carolyn Forche because when she reads “The Colonel” there’s just this moment where the entire room gets quiet & we all lose our breath. It’s magic, or something. Kleinberg is a fun reader. I think I’d love to see Ruefle read more than anything, not counting people we could bring back from the dead.
Food, food! I know it’s probably a little overrated, but I love Kerbey Lane. Gourdough’s is great. Thundercloud Subs has a great egg salad sandwich. Big Bite has phat sandwiches with fries & everything else you can imagine on them. I like the wings at Pluckers a lot.
Best place in the world is an hour south of Austin, a gas station called Hruska’s, where they have the best kolaches I’ve ever had.
Okay, let’s wrap this up— why do you write? We try to ask everyone we interview this because it’s an important question.
Oh my goodness, that Forche piece. I read that in undergrad, but haven’t thought on it much lately. Must return to it (soon as I finish this typing). That does have AWESOME READING PIECE written all over it in invisible ink.
I’m down for some best kolaches. Next time I mosey south, I’ll find this Hruska’s, no doubt. And I actually think Kerbey Lane is super great, too. Reminds me of Midwestern diners a tad bit (though a tad bit fancier). Oh and they serve Red Gold ketchup; it is housed in Elwood and L and I lived across the road from the plant before we moved here. All times of day, big huffing truckloads of tomatoes coming in.
It is an important question, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to sparkle like others have. I’ve been squawking into this glow box for a few days now, the ol’ add-and-delete-and-blabber dance. Honestly, my first thought was “what else am I supposed to do but write,” which of course sounds shitty. I don’t think my mind conjures that response as a this-is-my-destiny sort of thing; rather, it feels that movement is a necessary part of life (an obvious statement). We got all these years (life, for a lot of the lucky us, is longer that people give it credit for). Writing is a way to not burst from the inside over time.
Exercising, being social, flexing the brain with poems, looking around—these are all ways for me to trade bits of inner Gob Life with the surrounding wacky world. Out goes an odd thought for a hypothetical porno and in comes a rooster clucking in the flower bed next door. Later, the rooster in the flower bed gets poemed and there enters a camper half-buried in snow. It is winter now, but not forever.
Or, let me put it this way: I shake hands with a nice, new friend and I find myself both moving towards death and away from it at the same time. I write a poem about it—maybe the feeling of being on the death-is-inevitable conveyor belt, maybe the new friend, maybe the handshake, maybe the flock of geese that bannered his peculiar head shape, maybe nothing or everything at all—and I’m both here and not here, there and not there.
For me, it’s not a matter of a legacy or a necessity or even a particular drive. Writing keeps me connected to my own life and the lives of others, keeps my little dust particle from growing too big before the poof. I write because it’s a hell of a good time being alive.
Thank you so much for chatting, dear Justin Carter. You folks do good stuff over there, and I’m honored you asked me to do this chitty-chat. See you in Texas or Ohio or somewhere in between soon.
Hey all! Banango Street is looking for a few good people to help us read fiction & creative non-fiction! If you’re interested, email us (email@example.com) your answers to the following questions by June 25th! Feel free to share the application around.
What genre would you like to read for?
What previous editorial experience do you have?
What do you think you can bring to the Banango Street family?
What are your favorite literary journals?
Who are your favorite contemporary writers (in the genre you’re applying to)?
Dalton Day is an editor for FreezeRay Poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hypothetical, Former People, and Cap, among others. He can be found at myshoesuntied.tumblr.com. Dalton’s poem, “Feed”, covering Zachary Schomburg, recently appeared in Banango Street Issue 7. We interview him, below.
Banango Street: How’d you land upon Zachary Schomburg to cover?
You are a reflectionof either Satanor a smilingtranslucentmountain on mybedroom ceilingI miss you terriblyI am looking atpictures of theNorthern Lights onthe internet