every other day

31 AUG 07

a conversation with Jess Mynes (continued)

an All Small Caps reading

So, when did you first host a reading--is this a new thing?

Yes, this is new. We started doing it last year. We'd talked about it--Stephen Broll, Charles Bado, Paul Richmond, and I. We had talked about doing something like this, and then we sat down and talked to the owner of the pub. She agreed to open the place on a night that it's not normally open, and we would just have to pay for the space and make sure the person who's working makes enough money in tips, that sort of thing. It hasn't been a problem. We've been advertising in the local papers and the blog, word of mouth, and it's been pretty well-attended. We've tried to have a mix of local and further away, also more kind of mainstream and more kind of avant-garde.

So you're mixing it up that way too. Cool.

The crowd necessitates that type of mix.

Is your crowd more interested in narrative poetry?

Generally, that's true. There are a lot of people who'll come and read something like Billy Collins... But there are also people who are tuned in to other stuff. There hasn't been too much negative reaction to the less mainstream work. Well, recently I read a poem I've been working on, a longer poem (it's since been published in Effing 6). After I finished, some guy said, "The weed in Wendell must be really good."


But in general people have been appreciative and supportive. I think they like the idea of being able to come here and hear and read poetry. It's open just for that purpose, so it's a really attentive crowd. But if you're going to favor one side or the other, you might want to favor things that seem more immediately accessible.

I'll keep that in mind.

[laughs] Yeah.

Sometimes people who have a reading series object to poets contacting them to ask, you know, "Can I read in your series?"


Yeah. I'm doing that with nearly everybody, because so far people don't tend to invite me. You did, which was nice. But do you mind if poets write to you and ask if they can read in your series?

Not at all.

Would you actually even welcome that, maybe, or how do you feel about it?

That's interesting. I almost put something up at the blog at one point, soliciting readers. And I talked to some folks who do reading series, asking about that possibility, and their advice to me was to not do that. [laughs] I didn't know who I'd get and what I'd have to do then. I'd rather have too few people than have to turn people away.

But it's okay with you if someone writes to you and asks to be considered?


Is it okay with you if people write to you and ask you to consider a manuscript for Fewer and Further?

That happens. What I usually say to them is, "Have you bought any of my books?" And if they say no, then I say, "You can save us both a lot of time by taking a look at the books I've done."

Isn't it amazing that you have to tell people that?

It is pretty amazing. And I've had poets say, "Well, no I haven't." And I've even offered, if they can't afford to buy them, "Okay, I'll send you a couple and you can check them out." And some people have taken me up on that. The irony is, sometimes in the interim, while they're waiting for the book to arrive, they start sending me their manuscripts. And, you know, then I feel a responsibility...

Do you?

Well, I feel like I can tell, within a few poems, if it's a fit. And a lot of times--you know, there's plenty of good poetry I've read from people who wanted to publish something through me and I've said, "This is great. But it's not a fit." Usually when I say that, I try to say which other publisher I think might like it, or at least who they might try. Sometimes I have no idea. Or if someone's obnoxious I just say, "Sorry." But people are pretty reasonable, generally. [The submission policy for Fewer & Further has changed--see the very end of the interview.]

What about other kinds of writing--do you want to do anything other than poetry? Or are you doing anything other than poetry?

I used to write a lot of short stories. I haven't done that in a very long time. I used to try to write essays. I haven't really done that in a long time either. Everything now, no matter how it starts out, it ends up as a poem. I start to hear it in some sort of cadence and that's how it plays itself out. Probably the closest thing to not doing that was In(ex)teriors.

In(ex)teriors by Jess Mynes

I love that book. I was just reading it again the other day. And, yeah, it's in blocks of prose but is poetry--to me, to my ear, it is.

Yes. Thanks.

I'm interested in that too. But I have a hard time doing it--I just have to break it into lines after a while. I can't help it.

On that one, on In(ex)teriors, I purposely wouldn't let myself. That was the decision. I was like, "I'm going to make this have a poetry cadence without breaking the lines."

And you did it. [Anchorite Press will be publishing a second edition of In(ex)teriors later this year.]

You do write some prose for the blog. Does it tax you?

Right now the blog feels more like something that I have to keep up, more than something that I'm really interested in doing.

Why are you keeping it up? What's your reason?

Just because...I want to keep that public interface where, again, I can be a conduit, where when something really excites me... If I want to start putting poems up, or... Just to turn people on to stuff...

Out of a desire to be part of a community, that sort of thing?

Somewhat, yeah. It's interesting the things that people respond to. You can write a big long thing and just get nothing. Then you mention that you're making a mix tape and suddenly--


--the flood gates open. Or you talk about the Red Sox, or these different preoccupations, and suddenly you get a dialogue going. So you can make different connections with people that you wouldn't make just through the work, which is kind of cool. But I find that, for some reason, there's a really terrible self-consciousness with blogging for me, to the point where...it's almost paralytic when the moment comes to put something up. Partially it's the immediacy: I like to let things gestate. Ideally I'd have posts that I've kind of gone over, that I've worked with for a while, and then I'd put them up. But I don't ever really approach doing blogging at that level. That kind of gestation I'm saving for other projects.

Do you regret it then, when you put up a post and you haven't had the time to work it through?

Sometimes I regret it.

Do you ever take them down?

Occasionally. But not much.

Sometimes I put something up and I realize, "Oh, that comma's misplaced," or I put it up and think, "This looks sloppy," and then I get self-conscious about it and [laughs] I won't blog again for, like, two weeks.


What're you reading at the moment?

Well, Andrew Hughes and I decided we wanted to focus on a poet and trade ideas on it. We decided to do George Oppen. We actually started a blog so we can trade ideas. And we invited some other people to comment on the blog. So I've been reading a fair amount of his stuff.

That's a great idea. I love Oppen.

And then I just got the Hangman flip chaps--

I haven't seen those yet.

They're pretty great! I just got the Gina Myers. And Dorothea Lasky's.

Is Dorothea a friend of yours?

Kind of. She does Katalanché Press with Michael Carr. And I know her a little bit. She's somebody whose poetry I've always really liked. And she's a total sweetheart.

I always like her work when I see it too.

You should ask Chris if he has any more copies of her Alphabets & Portraits that Anchorite did. It's really, really nice. Her work is very original and interesting. Completely different from anything I would ever write, but I really dig that about it. I mean, so many times you meet somebody and the only poetry they like is poetry that resembles their poetry. [laughs] You know?


I feel almost the opposite way.

What would you say you want from a poem?

Music. The sound of it. And I want to, when I read it, feel that every bit of it is charged. Because I think that's what lights me up about anybody else's stuff when I read it: that it's charging me through the sounds of it. There are exceptions. Or work that has another dimension, like Joseph Ceravolo's poetry.

I don't know his work and I keep seeing his name.

He's great. He's musical in an often unorthodox way with his syntax and his emotional intelligence. It's very original and innovative, but at the same time accessible. I could say a whole lot more, but I fear I won't do it justice.

I guess, for myself, what I want varies from poem to poem. One thing may be more sonically charged than something else where I might feel, as the poem develops, "I need something else. The sonics shouldn't be foregrounded, this should be tuned in a different way."

I guess what I want from a poem is that whatever the poem seems to need, I can help make that happen. Because each poem is going to ask different things of you. You try to figure out what the poem needs by the end of it. Does that make sense?

It's an interesting kind of answer. It started out with the poems of others and wound up with what you want from your own work. Or maybe you also mean that what you look for in a poem is to see whether you can supply what the poem you're reading needs from its reader.

I think that is part of it. I don't want to say that I "complete a circuit," but...

What have you read recently that's most given you what you're looking for?

George Oppen's Discrete Series. And Wild Flowers Out of Gas by Joseph Ceravolo, I thought that was fantastic.

When you read Oppen, are you reading from the Collected or from separate volumes? I know they're all in there but...it's a little different somehow.

It is. I'm so...maybe neurotic isn't the right word, perhaps a little obsessive. I have the Collected at home but through the library I ordered each of the different volumes. It's such a different experience.

It is.

You know, if you get the Collected Ted Berrigan, it's like, "Man, I'm never gonna make my way though it." But if you get the individual volumes, it's just a whole other relationship with the text.

[The pub has closed and gradually the other customers have gone home, leaving just us out back and the crew cleaning up inside. Music is playing from little speakers.]

Do you have a regular writing practice? Or do you just do it whenever it comes to you?

Little bit of both. I can be diligent about it or let it go for periods until, noticing I'm not doing it, I sit down and do it. If it's not happening, I have different kinds of exercises I do to get my brain in that mode.

What kind? Can it be revealed?

Sure. There are lots of different things I'll do. Like I'll sit down with someone's poems, someone I think can reveal something to me, and I type up their poems. So I can kind of go through the whole process that they've gone through with it when they've finished. In the process of doing that, you've got to check it and you're forced to do a close reading of someone's work, just by going through the mechanics of typing the poems. It's another kind of seeing of the lines, of the choices. For me it reveals a lot about their practice. I haven't done that in a while. The last ones I did were some Alice Notley poems from At Night the States.

I just read that book of her essays, Coming After. Have you read that yet?

No, I haven't.

It's great.

There are a bunch of her sonnets in this book called All Stars, edited by Tom Clark--he'd taken 20 or 30 pages of new work from all these different poets and she has some sonnets in there that are really interesting. I typed some of them up.

I like reading certain poets aloud--you know, repeatedly, wandering around the studio--but I've never tried typing someone else's poems to see what I'd find.

It's painstaking, but it works.

Also I do a lot of phonetic translations of other languages. I find that gets me going. Or I work with old writing that I have, play around with it, see if I can make something new out of it. Those kinds of things.

How do you feel about the relationship between helping other poets to get read and heard and doing your own writing and getting that read and heard? I mean, it must be more important to get your own writing done, and yet you spend a lot of time with other people's work.

Yes. That's a hard thing to reconcile. And I've been thinking a lot about this--about the relationship between Fewer and Further Press and my own stuff--because I tend to be the kind of person who wants to make sure that so and so is very happy with the end product. My kind of neurotic diligence sometimes takes me away from my own stuff. When I sit down to write, I can tend to think that I also have to answer to this other person so maybe I should work on that instead. Sometimes--I wouldn't say it interferes, but it distracts. Or I'm thinking about something I'm making for someone else that has an obligation or responsibility attached to it. It's a bit of a struggle and I don't think I've quite figured it out.

One thing I have in my favor is that I tend to be fairly prolific in my own writing. That helps. And I always feel that if I am working on someone else's stuff, it will in one form or another feed where my work comes from and make that richer. Did I answer your question?

Yes, and it brings up another: do you ever just stop writing? Has it ever happened that you completely stopped writing for a significant period of time or does it always keep coming back?

It always comes back. Pretty much ever since I started. There's always something [wiggles his fingers next to his ears] that needs to get written down.

And is it like that? I mean, is it like you're hearing it?

It varies. I wrote this longer poem that I'm actually working on right now and just retitled "Lake Effect." It happened right in the middle of moving and working on these other books. I couldn't shut it off. I was writing and writing and writing, and I was driving Sarah nuts 'cause we'd go to bed and the lights would be out and I'd be scribbling away in the dark, and couldn't read what I'd written, and she'd roll over and say, "Go sit at the desk."

"Get out of here with that scratchy pen sound, you're driving me crazy!"


Exactly. No, actually she was very gracious about it.

But it does happen sometimes where it's like...the Martians are talking to me and I've got to write it down.

I hear you.


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