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Are you a natural empire builder?

“If you call perpetually failing a trait.” Sampson Starkweather said that. I think empire builder is a bit much, but I’d say I’m maybe the antithesis of that; I like to play a role of political absentmindedness then unexpectedly turn around and slay my enemy to show that I’m “in the know” about something but I don’t want to occupy it’s center. I like to watch the politics of the literary community play out but I really want nothing to do with it. I think the poetry is really what matters, and like old empires, religion was really at the core of matters but so often personal relationships manifest themselves and egos take hold in such a way where the vision gets lost. I hope to never obscure that poetry is what’s important.

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Poetry is a throwback to a time when music was only a rumor; isn’t even love different than it was 20 years ago?

It’s like music composed of memories, or like if memories were chords, or remembering chords in place of people, in place of places, names instead of corpses instead of faces. Nobody worries too much because it just sounds right.

 

Full-length albums are one of the few stable footholds for the past, so the act of piracy is literally saving the dead?

I mean, steal your grandparents, steal your whole culture. I used to be a student—perhaps we all were—but, after a time, there were no more students; everyone was too magnificent for sitting in classrooms pretending to learn things. Now, everyone reads books and no one has time for war. Everyone watches movies all day, sings along, makes murals that encompass whole city blocks.

 

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So how long have you been writing?

Since kindergarten. isn’t that when everyone learns how to write?

 

No, I’m sorry, I meant….you know, creative writing. Like what’s in your new book.

How do you know about my book?

 

My friend Rich told me about it. Is it any good?

That’s a strange question. Like if I told you I saw a car accident on my way here today, and then you asked me: was it any good? I wouldn’t know what you meant, you know?

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I don’t know how to do a self-interview so instead I asked my girlfriend, the poet Jeannette Gomes to interview me as a stand-in for myself.

JEANNETTE: Hi Russ, could you describe for me how your book came about and the emotional landscape it encompasses in your heart?

RUSS: Sure. So this book started from a little tour chapbook I was making for a weeklong tour I was going to do in 2012. I made a PDF version and posted the cover art on Facebook and got a message from James Tadd Adcox, who was at the time editor of Artifice Magazine, and a friend of mine. He asked if he could see the PDF version of the chap, and I said “sure” and sent it over, not thinking much about it. He emailed me later and told me he really loved it, and that Artifice was starting a book arm of their operation and he said, if I was interested, that he wanted to publish the chapbook along with some of my other poems as a book. The cover the book has now is actually the same cover I made for the original chap. Anyway, the book went through many, many edits and many rewrites since then. I think only a handful of the original poems are still in there, actually.

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Does it feel weird having an imaginary tea party interview with yourself?

Yes, yes it does.

 

What type of house did you live in, architecturally?

I grew up in too many houses (houses, apartments, a camper van). Some were broken, but the first one wasn’t. It had a round turquoise pool, and rose gardens everywhere.

Oh, architecturally? Shit! Ah, the first one was a white plaster house, wood framed, residential. We kept pickles and wine in the cellar. Or maybe the pickles and wine were in our neighbours cellar? No matter.

annabelle-moseley-oberon-judgeYou are the founder and editor of String Poet, the online journal of poetry and music. What was the inspiration behind this endeavor?

I believe that the best poetry has an inherent music, no matter in what style it is written. My immersion in this wordless language was in the work of my stepfather Charles Rufino, a renowned classically trained violin maker. His studio, filled with the shaped wood of cello and violin backs, showed me that music had a birthing room, a visceral beginning. The scent of varnish, sawdust, and rosin taught me that this auditory pleasure can involve all of the senses.

As professional musicians visited us, there would often be impromptu concerts, and I came to see how the musician’s love for music paralleled my love for poetry. They often appreciated my poetry as much as I did their music. The intrinsic music of poetry spoke that same language apart from words, the soul’s under-song, understood by both musician and poet. From this recognition came the idea for String Poet, a journal where poetry, music, and art can be appreciated simultaneously.

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After W.S. Merwin’s “Some Last Questions”

 

What is the poem

A distillation of anything

 

What is anything

Anything is a story

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Gregory Sherl’s OkCupid Profile

 

My self-summary

I glow.

 

What I’m doing with my life

Getting my MFA in Poetry.

So what am I doing with my life? I ain’t doing shit.

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Our Obsidian Tongues, huh?

Yeah. I feel like that’s a pretty melodramatic title now. But hopefully that’s just title fatigue. Is it that bad?

 

No comment. What’s it mean?

It’s a reference to the the Aztec history of the Valley of Mexico, and to the power of words to cut, whether speaking justice of injury, since knives and other weapons were made of obsidian. Its plurality refers to the multiplicity of voices that inhabit Mexico City, where I grew up, and the multiplicity of voices cannibalized and regurgitated within the collection itself.

DSC_0004This is the first time you’ve been interviewed as a poet—and it’s a self-interview.

I know. It’s weird.

 

Try to get past that and tell us why, having been a musician all your life, you started also to write poems.

Back in high school I pursued both music and poetry, but I matured far more quickly as a musician. So I went to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, then to New York to become a freelance drummer and percussionist. The beauty of freelancing, for me, is in the variety of musical styles I’m asked to perform in while collaborating with players who provoke me to make contributions I would never come up with on my own.

Picture 1You call yourself a “woman-poet entrepreneur.” What do you mean by that?

I run the West Chester University Poetry Center and the West Chester University Poetry Conference, I edit Mezzo Cammin,, and I direct Story Line Press, I teach. I also do my own writing—poetry, articles, and reviews. I wear a lot of literary hats.

At the same time, when I speak about entrepreneurship, I mean following through on an idea: creating something where there was nothing. Like most entrepreneurs, I believe in the big dream. When I launched The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project in 2010, I wanted to do it in Washington because of the symbolic resonance of the location. Then I created the event from scratch: the fund raising, the evening, the project itself. That evening at the National Museum of Women in the Arts remains one of the best of my life.

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Why are you having such a hard time with this self-interview?

I guess because there’s too much freedom. It’s easy to answer someone else’s questions, but not so easy to answer my own, or even to articulate what they are.

 

Well, what if you just think of questions that you think would be fun to answer?

Isn’t that cheating?

601595_303967846364060_898773954_nHi, Evan, I think I follow you on Twitter.

Yes, I follow you, too. You’re hilarious. I love Twitter, but it’s also part of my job. I gather stories constantly for a daily news aggregate centered on creative writing and the publishing world, so I’m always reading, and Twitter is an amazing resource. I’m paid to use Twitter, but I’ve given myself over to it—not sure I can stop. It’s the first thing I reach for in the morning. I smoked for twenty years—I recognize the impulse.

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Tell us a little bit about your new book of poetry, THE MORROW PLOTS. What’s the significance of the title, and what was your inspiration for writing the book?

When I lived in Upstate New York—way up on the Canadian border—during the awful winter, I became obsessed with The Morrow Plots, an experimental cornfield on the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign campus. The local and campus agronomists conduct important crop experiments there, and then disseminate the findings among the U.S.’s farming industry. So, it’s an important square of land, and hallowed ground in downstate Illinois. You do not trespass on the Morrow Plots. The legal and social consequences for such things are dire. The Plots are regionally revered. Illinoisans lend the Plots this crazy holiness. I was born in Illinois, and I think I was oddly homesick for the Midwest all the way up there near Canada among the defunct Go-Kart tracks and Shining-esque hedge maze that my wife and I lived behind (the area was a bedroom community for Manhattanite boaters in the summer time, and so had all of these kitschy tourist traps that would go skeletal come winter). Yes: we lived behind MazeLand.

headshots 003This is your second interview at The Nervous Breakdown. Does it feel awkward to be interviewing yourself again?

A bit, but I talk to myself quite a bit already.

 

Oh, really?

Yes, but I try to normalize it by telling people I’m just talking to my dog. Sometimes I read poetry to her, too.

 

Does your dog like poetry?

God, I hope so. Otherwise I should be expecting a visit from PETA. No matter how bad the poetry is, though, peanut butter always seems to cheer her up afterwards. I should make a note of that for my next reading: Bring large jar peanut butter.