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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?

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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!


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.

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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.

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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.



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).

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

When you write erotic poems which hand do you use? 

The dominant hand, of course!


Currently, what is your favorite word?



Who do you listen to when you write?

Glenn Gould’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Dexter Gordon’s Round Midnight. Anything Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Chet Baker, Billie Holliday, Booker Little. Or the dear sound of my husband’s breathing.


Is everything okay?

KS: Not really, but also yes. The entire state of Arizona (population seven million) survives only by diverting water from the Colorado River, though the views from the mountains there are unquestionably spiritual. Portland, Oregon (my home) is now the fastest-gentrifying city in the United States, & while myself & many others are actively being priced out of our neighborhoods, there are more job opportunities in the city now than there have been in years. What I’m saying is, many things on this beautiful earth are completely fucked & vice-versa. Our own personal tragedies are (ugh) so tragic, but from them we learn & grow exponentially into bigger, smarter people. I have to believe we are improving, & that we will continue to improve, because otherwise I’d have to believe that everything just kinda sucks. I’m not sure I could make art in a world that just kinda sucks.

TB: Honestly, I’m feeling pretty nervous about this false (?) spring we’re having. It’s late February in Portland, Oregon, & so uncharacteristically sunny & warm that everything’s blooming. There are crocuses (notoriously hardy, I know, but still: February) & daffodils all over, & the flowering trees whose names I don’t memorize are flowering. It bothers me that I can’t remember the names of more kinds of trees, & it bothers me that the trees have started the show so early. Can it last? Are all of the birds even back? Shouldn’t we be shitty until, like, late March? But even more horrifying than a cold snap is the thought that the plants actually know best, because it’s likely they really do, & this is what seasons are like here in already irreversibly fucked 2015, it’s going to keep getting hotter & hotter until we’re trying to go the river one day & realize we’re all just a pile of cinders. Also I’ve never, ever been happier to be alive. Everything (& everyone) looks devastatingly touchable, & the smells are even softer.

mediumhorizontal4TNBYou have referred to Dada in your writing. Why, after almost a century, does Dada matter?
Greil Marcus makes the great point that the Dadaists were the first Punks. They rejected the idea of the “professional artist” and embraced instead being radically playful “amateurs.” An amateur is literally a person who loves something. I resonate with that idea: I love to make writing but I try to refuse – in a hopefully humorous and termitic way — the verbiage of artistic “greatness.” Because I think that language has silenced a lot of creative people ––