(Questions taken from Kate Greenstreet’s 1st Interview Series)
How did your manuscript for Museum of Thrown Objects happen to be picked up by BlazeVox Press? Had you sent it out much previously?
For awhile I discovered the joyous process of making little handmade chapbooks of serial poems and visual texts and giving them away to friends or presenting in my grad school workshops (I went to Naropa, where you could do that sort of thing. You could do anything, really.). So a lot of Museum first appeared as little d.i.y. books or objects that ended up on people’s refrigerators. Also, I guess it was in 2008, I made a huge, thousand-page handmade extended version of Museum and sent it to poet Jena Osman, who had been supportive of my work when I’d taken her workshop at Naropa’s SWP. My good friend, the poet Joe Cooper – had his first book Autobiography of a Stutterer released by BlazeVox in 2007. Joe had passed my name along I think and I sent BlazeVox’s editor Geoffrey Gatza two manuscripts for consideration. He liked them both, and agreed to publish one – being an incredibly gracious, collaborative publisher-editor, he allowed me to decide which project I would like to see through to book form. I chose Museum because the work still felt interesting and ever-evolving in its construction and relationship to itself as a structure and to my particular interests going forward, and just seemed to be the project that I wanted to live within for awhile.
Were you involved in designing the cover?
Yes! Around the time I was preparing the manuscript for publication, by chance I happened upon the art of Dayna Thacker, an incredibly talented Atlanta-based artist, in an issue of Art in America. I had a strong, positive reaction to her images – these bright, architectural-based surreal, collaged dreamscapes. I felt this was a true artist’s interpretation of the sort-of amateurish conceptual art-vision I had for Museum. I also really felt akin with her ideas regarding art, mindfulness, and process of art-making. I wrote to her and she was a generous and gracious collaborator; we both agreed on an image from her “Ego is Architecture” series.
One small issue regarding the cover graphics which I find funny. I suggested to Geoffrey that the lettering on the name/title have a ‘smudged’ look, as if someone (Curator? Censor? Editor? Artist? Reader?) had tried – unsuccessfully – to erase these identifications from the cover. When we sent the proof to the printers, they rejected the mock-up because they were afraid that it would ‘appear to be a printing error in the final product’ and thereby, you know, look bad on them. I guess we could’ve fought to keep the erasures, but it wasn’t an idea I was really tied to, – it might’ve been nice to have that added layer of mystery for interpretation – ultimately, I was okay with the title being ‘regular’. I’m delighted by Dayna’s work, and I think just about everyone who I show the book to loves the cover.
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
I’d equate it to the feeling of, say, if you take a walk with your dog, who then gets off the leash or just kind of wanders off, while you’re distracted looking at a flock of geese crossing the autumn sky or a squirrel climbing a tree or something, and the dog just goes out of your line of sight for a little while, maybe behind a stone wall or a line of trees or under some bushes, and you get this momentary tinge of panic, like, maybe he’s gone forever, it was my responsibility to make sure he gets back to the house okay, what will happen to him?!, but you know that he hasn’t gone very far, because he was just by your side a minute a go, and then you walk around the corner and he’s just curiously sniffing something in some deep grass, and when he sees you, he bounds out, and he looks a little bit different to you, though you’ve seen him a thousand times before, anyway you are both delighted to be in each others’ presence again, so you continue on your walk exploring the world together. It was kind of like that.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?
I imagined it would, in some way, and it has, but I don’t remember really having any specifics in mind, only some vague sense of things being different…
How has your life been different since?
I find myself interviewing myself in the bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth a lot more. I can look on my bookshelf and see Museum nestled between books by my heroes like Jack Kerouac and Joanne Kyger, and that feels kinda pretty great. I take more pictures of myself. I Google myself a lot more to see if anyone on the Internet’s talking – (they aren’t) – but once or twice, I’ve been confused with the author/Christian musician Andrew Peterson – where people have attributed Museum as his book. I find that amusing and humbling.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn’t? Surprises?
I thought I would’ve developed this feeling of having ‘made it’ as a poet, like I was ‘legit’. I still don’t feel like that. I still feel like I have a lot to prove, like I still haven’t written the best thing I possibly can yet…
I was surprised how much effort it took to transform the book’s abundance of visuals (collages, concrete poetry) to the printed, bound page. Museum contains 61 pages of visual poetry created with old-school technologies: typewriter, scissors, tape, copy machine. Part of the difficulty in the translation was that the original aesthetic for a lot of that material was sort of a punk-d.i.y. style – or, okay, one could say I was just screwing around and experimenting without much precision. But I like that. I wanted to maintain some of that texture, but sometimes the pieces just looked bad. I was surprised that there were a lot of file transfer issues between Geoffrey and my computers. My friend Nathan Child stepped in to help by going through the book image-by-image, and working with him was a pretty fascinating process of rediscovery. I got to revisit these images and think about their expressive qualities with a different kind of screened-in intimacy. While I didn’t want to go crazy with Photoshopping, I did sometimes marvel at how making minute adjustments would bring out new qualities in the images; for example, enhancing the veins on a photocopied oak leaf, or discovering a rogue hair inadvertently hidden under a piece of tape during construction….
The best surprise has been hearing from friends who I hadn’t heard from for many years. It’s been so wonderful to find that these people still exist and to hear about the amazing lives they’ve been living while we’ve been apart. It’s been surprising how much people seem to get behind art, or their friends creating art, or sharing their own art, or trading a photograph for a book. I like that the writing and publishing of this little thing serves as a conduit for reconnecting to parts of myself and other people who I’ve missed, or thought were gone from my life forever.
What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing?
I think as the difficulties with the book production process concerning accessing and manipulating the visual-texts has made me want to close the book on that part of my art-making process for awhile. I came to writing poetry after practicing film and video production for years, so my curiosity and energy for experimenting with that type of hybridity was what fueled that type of expression. Now that I know I can explore that sort of space, I’m curious to move on to more text-based (though still hybrid and experimental) projects. Also, and this is something I conceptualized early on, before Museum was officially released, I’m conceptualizing Museum as a lifelong project, where each subsequent release expands this initial space, with variations on theme and style. Whether we’re going to be building wings or stories in the future, I can’t say yet, but I feel like it is pushing me to explore more emotionally mysterious and meaningful territories.
What have you been doing to promote the book and how do you feel about it?
With BlazeVox, the promotion lies almost solely with the writer. So: I have only done one reading since Museum’s release, and only two readings in the last two years, in fact. Both were set up by poet friends. I am terribly shy and honestly, a little insecure that my work is not good enough, so it’s been somewhat hard for me to promote myself by setting up readings, performing, sending reviewers’ copies to strangers, etc. At Naropa I was around a lot of performance art and participated in a good deal of community, which was at times intensely overwhelming, at times ecstatic and liberating. I’m having a hard time reconciling the egotistical aspects of self, self-promotion, and the money-aspect of having a product being sold as commodity. I try to give away and trade as much as possible, to be an active role as participant in an alternative economy. While I think it would be nice to have a larger audience, I find it necessary (at least at first, starting off as this is a first venture) of having that audience grow organically, rather than as a result of any sort of marketing push. For this first book I have done what I can to get it to as many friends as possible, with hopes that they can pass it on through word-of-mouth, if they like it.
How do you feel about the critical response to the book?
Pleased at the modest, positive response. Mostly from close friends who are familiar with the work and provide insightful readings which usually lead to continuing the conversations about poetry and art and philosophy which we took up when we started as friends. I’m pleased that there doesn’t seem to be one poem that everyone loves. It seems everyone has a different favorite. I think that just speaks to the subjectivity of audiences; I like thinking about the myriad experiences that go into the reading of a poem, or novel, or piece of art, or whatever.
What was the best advice you got before your book was published? Is there any advice you’d give?
Don’t forget to shake.
Do you want your life to change?
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
Yes, everything is always changing the world. Though poetry’s no more or less change than anything else, be it a cloud, or a vote…