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by-chelsea-bieker

Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon! Writing to you from Miami—I’m in my hotel lobby. There is a beautiful strange wood ceiling, incense burning, and cacti. And everyone is walking through in bathing suits.

 

All your books are unique in the sense that you wrote them in English and French. Can you tell us about your process?

French is my mother tongue but English became the dominant language when I moved to the United States. Actually it took over even before, when I wrote my thesis on Henry James for my Masters at the Sorbonne. I was already an anglophile, having lived and studied in England, and I loved writing in English. So I wrote my first book in English. It was my first publisher’s idea that I present it as a bilingual collection. This turned out to be a brilliant idea because the books become a dance between languages.

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Where are you now?

In my apartment in New York City. Eating mac n’ cheese. I just got back from having a few beers with an old friend, TJ.

Whats the difference between poetry and other writing?

Poetry is writing minus the traffic lights, bridges, and boring parts.

 

Terry Wolverton: Douglas, I first spoke with you about the dis•articulations project at the opening for “Oasis,” an art exhibition at Descanso Gardens in which poets and artists made work that responded to the landscape. I described to you how each month I was asking a different Los Angeles poet to collaborate with me on a series of exchanges that would result in new poems by both of us. The process was this: We would each find four poetry prompts in the media (print, broadcast or social), something we did not generate. We would exchange those prompts and use them to do four different segments of “fevered writing” (timed writing, without specific intention, a word spill for 3 minutes.) Then we would exchange the fevered writing, and write new poems using the words given to us by the other. So your poem would be comprised of words I had given you; my poem would be comprised of words you had given me. We didn’t have to use every word we were given, but we couldn’t add any words.

I remember feeling shy about asking whether you might consider participating, and was over-the-moon thrilled when you said you would. What made you decide to say yes?

 

Douglas Kearney: We’ve known each other for a minute, Terry, and I remember fondly our discussion about your adaptation of Embers for opera. I think it gave us an insight into each other’s ways of approaching language. At the time of your invitation, if I recall correctly, I had been kind of off-the-grid, locally. Holed up. It was a good way to get back out with someone I respect but hadn’t worked with in a creative capacity for some time.

I mentioned at a Dis•Articulations reading that I connected the approach to sample chopping—like say, Bob James’ “Nautilus” as sampled by 9th Wonder on “Murray’s Revenge.” Were you drawing the project frame from any particular aesthetic traditions?

ellyn-robbie

Hi Ellyn,

Hi backatcha!

 

Tell us about your background.

As an incredibly shy kid growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I expressed myself through writing early in life. I scribbled stories about going to California and meeting Barry Manilow, I never imagined reading this work aloud.  I mean, I was too timid to order in restaurants or even to ask where the bathroom was.  My shyness, in part, stemmed from having a hyper-critical father (luckily my mother was loving and supportive), a proverbial dysfunctional family in general, and from enduring classmates’ criticism that I was “an unusual-looking girl.”

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What are three things you want the reader to know about GHOST / LANDSCAPE?

KMD: In the poems, you’ll find a bank robbery, a lock on the door, and a freezer we keep forgetting we keep in the basement. One (and only one) of these things is real.

Now that you’ve entered the landscape, don’t follow the paths that seem most clearly marked. They’ll lead you further away from the guesthouse (and the truth about the ghost).

Lastly, and most importantly, the conference we keep referring to was really an elaborate cover-up. Even the panels were just for show.

JG: Things keep changing, you know? One moment the news is on, and it’s such very bad news from so many quarters (1). And then you’re shopping for new shoes (2). Both of these things are honest and true things about living in the world (3).

I was reading something the other day (you might’ve seen it; it was passed around facebook) arguing against the current conception of empathy, that it’s too easily swayed by individuals in crisis and not enough by long-term goals. And it reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Riker gets turned into a god, and loses his capacity for empathy. Like most things, it’s a negotiation.

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Who was your favorite teacher growing up?

I’ve always thought of high school or college teachers, but since you said, “growing up,” specifically, I thought of Miss Jackson, my school librarian. I still remember the day she let me graduate from “easy to read” books to “red tape” books (which were marked with red tape on the spines to indicate a higher grade level). It opened the world for me, and I’m forever grateful.

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WHAT IS THE WORST LETTER IN THE ALPHABET?

Kardashian.


SDAI P&A #1--Michael Klam at Mic
Hello.  I’m reporter Michael Klam, and it is my great pleasure to interview myself for The Nervous Breakdown.   I was told by the mighty Rich Ferguson to read the other self-interviews on TNB, but I didn’t.  My ego is far too big for that, cosmic big, not like the cosmos of yesterday (we are the only galaxy, etc.) but “Kepler huge” like the infinite cosmos with all of its bits of dust and muck that barely fit into the pinky toe of my self-awareness and enlightenment.

Woah, woah, woah! Hello? Editor Michael Klam checking in here:  Was that last sentence a run-on? Should I fix it? Should I consult Strunk and White? I don’t think it makes sense.

Autobiography in ten words.

Brawled my way into the world. Survive is my language.

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What’s the strangest place you’ve ever written a poem?

In a Porta-Potty at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, drunk off my ass on the first beer I’d ever imbibed. The poem didn’t make it past the cutting room floor for my first book, but that feeling of MUST WRITE A POEM NOW before I’d even really started identifying as a poet (I still thought of myself as a fiction writer, ha!) was exhilarating. Though the beer probably contributed to that.

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In your most recent collection, The New Testament, you wrote in one of your poems, “Hustle”: “I eat with humans who think any book full of black characters is about race.” Overall, your work seems to revolve around issues of sexuality, love, violence, masculinity, family, spirituality, mortality, and race (among other things, of course). When someone attempts to categorize you exclusively as a “homosexual” or a “gym rat” or a “Southern black man” or a “’religious’ poet,” etc (while misrepresenting or failing to acknowledge the other parts of your identity), how do you resist such curtailment or oversimplification of your identity? 

Well, I don’t exactly “resist” any identifiers because I don’t automatically think of it as “curtailment” or “oversimplification.”  So yes, the parenthetical phase in your question is of utmost importance.

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When did you write your first poem?

I wrote my first poem in 1967 when I was a freshman at the University of Southern California. It was my first time away from home, the war in Viet Nam was going full force and I was a confused, angst-filled adolescent who didn’t know what I thought about anything. I had a huge crush on my French professor, Dr. Robin Blake, and one day — I usually sat in the front row of class — he saw that I had scribbled the beginnings of a poem on my notebook. He stopped and picked the poem up off the notebook and said to the class that Ms. Bogen had written a poem and that it was pretty good. For the rest of the semester, I would strategically leave poems on the side of my notebook although he never singled me out again. I probably would have stopped writing but at the end of my freshman year I became the first freshman to ever win the (college) award from the Academy of American Poets at USC.

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When did you start writing poetry?

I was drawn to poetry quite young. In the first grade I wrote a ‘poetry collection’- think rhyming couplets and magic marker drawings. When my teacher caught onto how I was spending my time, she allowed me to go ‘on tour’ to all the other first grade classes to present my work. This was my first poetry reading. I continued to read poetry throughout childhood and into adolescence, where I got simultaneously got very into sonnets (penning a few on the kitchen floor of my childhood in cleaning solution) and pop punk lyrics (Fall Out Boy, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday). Even a few years away from its general angst, I’m still a big fan of the genre- there is something piercing, illuminating and revealing (from a cultural standpoint) about a lot of pop punk and emo’s lyrical themes and qualities. More recently, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the poetry of hip hop- hip hop is doing a lot of important work right now. I would be remiss to not mention the lyrical and performative prowess of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.