Do you feel, here in Wendell, that you're outside of or away from a center of poetry? Or do you feel you're creating a center yourself, with others?
I feel like I'm outside of it here. But I like that. I have some connections so that when I want to wade into that world I can kind of do it. I can go to Boston, I can go to New York. I wouldn't want to be in a position where, "Oh, so and so's reading tonight, I have to go. I don't really want to go, I want to be by myself, I want to work on something else, but..."
Is anything else happening around here aside from your own reading series?
There are reading series that go on not so far from here, but to make a very general statement, a lot of it is involved with the MFA program at UMASS or...it's a whole different style of kind of Spoken Word poetry.
Kind of a slam thing?
Exactly. Those are huge generalizations. But those are two worlds that I don't really relate to in any significant way. But I just recently made this connection with Andrew Hughes and Amie Keddy--they do Frame--and they're in Barre which is fairly close. That was like, "Oh my gosh, somebody who is interested in similar things and is a half hour away." That was a revelation.
What's happening at UMASS--is that more of a mainstream thing?
I'm not sure.
Oh, I know these are all just words--"mainstream"--but when you say Spoken Word is over here and UMASS is over there...
The MFA program at UMASS is like an island unto itself. I know Peter Gizzi, who teaches there, and Elizabeth Willis, his wife, well enough that when I see Peter we'll have a conversation--although every time he doesn't recognize me and then he recognizes me.
But other than that...
I know how that can be.
I've made some connections with some folks there, in the past, but not really. It's its own thing and I don't really traffic in that, other than enjoying that they have a lot of good books at Amherst Books because of the MFA program, and sometimes really good readings there. But in terms of, like, hanging out and talking to those folks? Very rarely.
And why is that? Is it just because you don't really know them?
I think so. And my life is very busy so it is often hard to make it happen. And maybe they have their own obligations that seem, to them, to be the priority.
Their main job.
Yeah. I've made a few connections there, and one of the people I made a connection with, we were talking about it, and he said, "You know, everybody just kind of knows everybody here. You'd be surprised, you'd think everybody reads everybody else's work--but they don't."
I'm getting hip to that.
[laughs] So I think that might be part of it: they might not have any idea who I am and if I come in for a reading I'm not the most gregarious social guy so I'm not like, "Hey, how are ya? I'm so and so!" They probably just have no idea who the heck I am. And then, even if they did know, it probably wouldn't matter to them, so... And I don't really have a way to connect with them, unless I hear them read or something, or saw their work, so I think the synapses just aren't connecting.
Yeah. It can be hard. I've met so many people recently--either through email or, you know, in the body. You don't really know for sure what is happening. [whispers] Is something really happening here, or not?
Is it business or friendship?
Business or friendship, do they really know who you are, do you really know who they are, all that stuff, and how can you be--well, "be yourself," what is that? How can you be sincere and yet be a complete introvert who is trying to be outgoing? We want to talk to each other, but---
But where do you start, how do you do it?
How do you do it and what happens then? And do you have to do it again? Tomorrow night?
It's a funny thing. But if you didn't want to connect with people, you wouldn't even bother writing...maybe. Is that true? That's a question: is that true for you?
What is it that makes you write?
I think it's just something that I do. Like I make breakfast in the morning. [laughs] I mean maybe, initially, there was some kind of grand scheme about being a writer. But it has just become something that I do. It's something I do that makes me a little more sane. When I start to lose a grip on things that are important, I always come back to writing and to poetry. Then it's like, "Oh. Okay. The world's okay." Or I can deal with the world as it comes. You step outside, you turn on the radio, it's like... [makes a gesture with both flat palms a few inches from his face, as though pushing something invisible onto his eyes] So then, for me, poetry is this thing that provides some form of solace but at the same time is more than that. It's a means to live your life.
Not to sound too grandious. [laughs]
No, it makes sense. I mean, we have to keep getting up every day.
Yeah, exactly. Poetry offers me a way to negotiate everything else.
[The owner of the pub comes out, says she isn't wanting to rush us but they're just about ready to leave.]
This'll be the last question then. You've got a lot of things going--how are you balancing them? Do you have a particular hardcover bestseller that you habitually pull from the shelf and bang on the table with both hands?
We have a copy of The Da Vinci Code, which neither of us have ever read--a gift that has become very useful. I keep it in a spot by the dictionary where I can find it quickly, so if things reach a certain level I can grab it and hit the table with it with all my might.
How about you?
Well actually, the healthy side of me plays basketball, goes to the gym. I do find that sometimes I just can't keep up. And then I realize part of me is saying, "come on come on come on come on," and I do wear myself down that way. Insomnia will kick in sometimes, and that's really maddening. I have my stress-freakout moments, but I just try to balance it as best I can. I'm very methodical about planning things out, not necessarily all the little details but through a week, setting things up so I can see what will happen this day or that day, but it's more for life stuff than for poetry and publishing. If I can put the rest of the stuff in place, then I can find the time for that. Does that answer your question at all?
It answers it pretty well...
Or did you want more about how I run screaming down the streets?
I guess I just wondered if you have a way of prioritizing it. I mean, I try, but I have trouble keeping my priorities straight. How do you deal with that?
In the juggling act, I try not to get into the mode where I'm just constantly putting out fires. Then you're always stressed. But if, as you're putting out one fire, you can say, "Okay now, something needs to happen by Thursday, it's Monday today, so I need to put this piece of the puzzle in place on Tuesday. Even though I'm putting out this fire, I need to put some attention here also." I try to think in terms of that so when Thursday comes I'm kind of ready for Thursday. I guess it's just trying to have a bit of a long view, or long enough that I can keep moving forward without having to rush around and race around and make myself nuts.
I'm a big list-maker. It helps. It helps me so that when I go to bed I'm not lying there thinking, "I've gotta do this, I've gotta do that, I've gotta do that, I've gotta do this..." I put it all down on paper and say, "Okay, there it is. That is the mountain I need to climb. How am I going to do it?"
Paper sure comes in handy.
[We stopped there, gathered our stuff, and walked out into the parking lot with the owner locking up behind us on her way out. It was the early autumn of 2006. Now it's nearly a year later, so I wrote to Jess and asked him what's new.]
What's happened about the book with Skysill? How has the reading series been going, and what new projects have come out from Fewer & Further?
Sam Ward of Skysill has run into the same problem that all small presses run into, namely lack of money. But he recently stated that he has resolved that problem, so hopefully the publication of Sky Brightly Picked is back on schedule. We haven't talked specific dates and Sam is new to this, so I would guess that sometime at the beginning of 2008 would be a reasonable time to expect the book.
The reading series has been well attended. I'm hoping we can add more readers for the coming season. And we're in the process of putting together an anthology of the first year of readers.
Fewer & Further published Clark Coolidge's Counting On Planet Zero, Asterisk 1 & Asterisk 2. Brenda Iijima's Rabbit Lesson, Andy Mister's Hotels, Shannon Tharp's Determined by Aperture, and Asterisk 3, Asterisk 4, Asterisk 5 are all in the works as well.
Also F&F is no longer reading unsolicited manuscripts. I've been overwhelmed by submissions.
A poem from If and When by Jess Mynes:
each thing in the bone
my o let me be still
there this thing recovers me
. . .
next interview: Gina Myers
. . .