@

Wil Gibson by Vanessa Vrtiak

 

You have a book out with Great Weather for MEDIA, tell me about it.

I am very proud of this book. It is a memoir of sorts. Mostly stories and poems about my childhood and growing up poor, but also stories and poems about my life into adulthood. Dealing with addiction, dealing with epilepsy, dealing with the death of loved ones, remembering the path that got me here. Really though, I say fuck a lot and I try not to say too many dumb things.

Jenna Le - horizontal photo

 

So I heard your new book, A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora, is about whales. What is your favorite whale species?

How can I choose just one? I love humpback whales for the way they sing. I love North Atlantic right whales because they don’t engage in any of that inanity that most other animal species engage in, where the males fight one another to see who gets sexual access to the females; instead, everyone just makes love with everyone elese, and everyone is happy. I love bowhead whales for their wiliness, their longevity, the jaunty upside-down Nike swoosh of their mouth shape. I love sperm whales for their stolid squareness of brow, their quintessential Moby-Dickish-ness. Also for how damn loud they are. Good on them for being so loud. But I love the quiet whales just as much, and I love the slow lumbering whales just as much as the fast twittering ones, the light-fleshed whales just as much as the dark.

e3b18fbf-d9fa-4409-97bd-c983c28ac0f1

So, what are you wearing?

I like how you got saucy right at the beginning of this interview. I like your style. I like the cut of your jib. I’m not sure what a “jib” is…sure I could look it up…but I like the whole thing. I’m wearing blue plaid pajama buttons, Target slippers, and yesterday’s socks and shirt. I spend a lot of days like this…though, honestly, the slippers are more of a colder weather kind of thing.

 

headshot 2015 wide angle

Los Angeles, November 2015


What is that sound? I can hear a squeaky noise coming from somewhere.

Ignore it. It’s nothing.

 

What are you doing right now, beside talking to yourself?

Getting ready for a reading this evening at USC.

 

Tell us about that.

Is there a mouse in your pocket?

FullSizeRender (2)

 

What’s it like to be on a first date and say you wrote a book called Inappropriate Sleepover?

Well, the guys mostly look scared and/or confused, but I feel great!

HorizontalPhoto_TNB

Tell us about the most recent poetry reading you gave.

Last weekend I read for a series in Nashville called the Et. Al. reading series. The series has been happening for a while, but last weekend’s was the first to take place in the Sauvage arts space, run by my sister Lydia Gamble and her friend Ashley Boyd Jones. Both are talented photographers. Ashley collects and sells very good clothes (including a nice supply of vegan fur coats) and Lydia does a variety of fine visual art, including woodprints and some glass pieces. The reading felt extra-special to me because my mom, one of my brothers, and both of my sisters were there. The poems I read were some of my most personal and revealing I’ve ever written, I think, so it was really good to have my family there.

Brooklyn Book Fest  2014

Jane: So Before Passing is great weather for MEDIA’s fourth poetry and prose anthology, with submissions opening for the next on October 15. As always, it’s a mix of fun, excitement, hard work, and very difficult decisions. David, we published you in our first collection, It’s Animal but Merciful. Any surprises moving to the editorial side?

David: When I agreed to working as an editor on the anthologies, I told myself to prepare to read a lot of bad work in order to find the good. What I have found is that there is worthiness in almost all the submissions we read. The challenge is identifying the pieces that belong together in a given book. Which is why writers should not despair over rejections.

Bludworth de Barrios horizontal

Can you talk a little about the cover of Splendor, your first book of poems?

Growing up, I was always excited to read a new Christopher Pike book. I remember where they were kept at our local book store, with the other kids’ books on shelves that covered the whole back wall. Christopher Pike books, for the uninitiated, are teen genre thrillers that straddle science fiction, mystery, horror, suspense, and fantasy. Embedded within these stories were questions, or hints of questions, about mortality, time, desire, the limits of human experience, and story-telling itself. I loved the books, even down to their repetitive, marketing qualities—the dreamy, California, quasi-suburban setting of many of the books, the formulaic and familiar narrative devices, and the pulpy covers which always depicted an illustrated scene from the book in bright or neon colors. The covers were a tantalizing snapshot of the world contained within the book.

I wanted the cover of Splendor to have that same feeling of promise and thrill. When I was working with Bri Hermanson, who illustrated the cover, I asked her to conjure a scene of an alien astronaut explorer overlooking an alien landscape, with a nod to the Pike book covers. Bri’s arid, volcanic landscape, done in pink and turquoise colors, feels at the same time desolate and invigorating, which fits the tone of the book. She’s an incredible artist and was really fun to work with.

IMG_0369

 

Have you ever done a self interview?

No, and I don’t like it. I am the last person in the world I would want to interview, live with or have to deal with on cleaning day. Nothing is ever clean enough. There is not enough bleach in the world and Swiffers are the devil’s contraption.

 

Why Pittsburgh?

I am a lifer. I love this town like people love the Outer Banks or Disney (people do, you know). I love the rivers like arteries, the bridges like bracelets and the industrial skyline that shuns gentrification — the mills, the steel, the labor, the blessed tunnels. I love its compartmentalized neighborhoods and how we are proud of never crossing to the other side. We are self-sufficient. I love the hills and the grey weather — how I never crave anything flat.

Luis Rodriguez 2013 - credit CGP

Questions as if Anne Coulter or Bill O’Reilly were asking them—assuming, of course, they’d let me get a word in edgewise.

 

How does a Mexican get to be a poet, let alone “poet laureate”?

Nobody becomes a poet or poet laureate just because they’re Mexican. Still Mexico has contributed world-renowned poets like Octavio Paz, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Juana Ines de la Cruz, Nezahualcoyotl… I can go on and on. In the United States, poets of Mexican descent have won National Book Awards and are now poet laureates of the United States (Juan Felipe Herrera), Arizona (Alberto Rios), San Antonio (Laurie Ann Guerrero), San Francisco (Alejandro Murguia), and yours truly in Los Angeles. Other Chicano writers of note include Sandra Cisneros, Victor Villasenor, Ruben Martinez, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Our literary peers have recognized our value to U.S. letters, even though we are still highly marginalized in publishing and academic circles. But we persist with powerful work (mostly in English, but many are also writing in Spanish).

2015-06-03 12.37.13 2

Why do you hate interviews so much?

Because I don’t know how to answer these questions without feeling like I’m lying in one way or another. Which isn’t to say that I am lying, but how could I ever possibly tell you the whole truth of me when you are there and I am here? It makes me sad that we are not dancing right now or laughing over drinks on a rooftop in a city. I want to be small in the world with you. Interviews are a tangible reminder of the space between us and I would like whatever is the opposite of that space.

Will we humans ever be able to read and predict the progression of seasons again, like the faces made by loved ones when their feelings change like wind-borne clouds?

I sincerely hope so, but I also equally sincerely doubt it. Come on, Ice Age, come on.

 

When, if not now? And why (or why not) and who with?

Now, always now. If not now, then when indeed?! Now, now, and now, and that other now too. And with good people who need no explanations for what you’re doing and/or why you’re doing it. I think it is crucial to learn how to recognize the various and varied members of your tribe before you die.

IMG_1248

Hey, ready? Let’s do this. So my first— For the love of— get off your phone.

Oh, honey; it’s totally poet-related. Darrel Alejandro Holnes (here: read this while you’re at it) and I just covered a whole cosmos of how poetry can evolve the species, artists’ collective consciousness and, in particular, how to grapple with my familial spiritual spine that I share with my eldest uncle and my mother.

Fink Photograph

Why do you write poetry?

One reason I write poetry is that it is the truest artistic medium in which everything that compels my attention in the world can be included.  When you are writing a poem you are simultaneously a cinematographer, a drummer, a music conductor, a storyteller, a preacher, a lover, and an engineer (the list could go on).  These voices exist simultaneously in the mind as you are weighing and evaluating the relative merits of each word in a poem.  A poem welcomes an intensity of attention more so than any other art form I know.  What’s amazing about a poem is that all of these components are contrived from words.  Poems can be utterly unforgiving in the writing process because the materials are blameless.  In most other art forms, there is blame to go around—paint dries and hardens to a color you didn’t expect, a camera malfunctions and erases the film, the custodian accidentally turns off the heat to the kiln—but in poetry, any and every word is immediately and unfailingly available.  The pliability of language is both terrifying and thrilling.

NicelleDavisAuthorPhoto1

Who are you?

I don’t know. I’ve been reading Martin Buber trying to figure it out. I’ve also been trying to spend more time with real people instead of hiding out with imaginary creatures. I have a list of what I am—but who I am seems far away at the moment.

I think who is better experienced than understood—who exists in its relationship to others—it is the space between the players. Take the film Cat Dancers example, here is a girl, a boy, a cat—who they are seems to exist in the area of that triangle.  I like to watch such areas take shape.

At the moment I’m trying really hard to be more of a player than a voyeur—to experience more—to be more who than what, but this is difficult.