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On the First Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

One of those waxy, chocolate-crunch foil-wrapped Santas. We were seven. He liked to read as much as I did – we even co-won a reading contest. I knew right then that we should get married, because that’s what love was: reading together and eating candy.

 

On the Second Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A kind word. I was in fifth grade and had to wear this awful orthodontic headgear that looked like the inside of a football helmet, and his first worry was that I had been in a terrible accident and was I going to be okay? And then he defended me when all the other kids pointed and called me ‘Jabberjaw.’

 

On the Third Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Nausea. We were playing Spin the Bottle at my eighth grade Christmas party. I was terrified that he didn’t like me, or wouldn’t like me, or thought I was fat, or stupid, or both. So rather than make-out with him behind the drawn curtain, panic-stricken, I told him that I was sick and quite possibly contagious. So we stood there like two idiots until it seemed plausible that we had been frenching.

 

On the Fourth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

The honor of being the first person he came out to.

 

On the Fifth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A Godfather marathon. I was home from college and we started from separate ends of the sofa, but by the time Fredo was praying his last Hail Mary, the two of us were a tangled mess on the middle cushion and nothing but the deafening screech of the auto-rewind on my parents’ VCR could stop us. And then we went to the movie theatres to see Godfather III – our first “official” date – but all I remember about that film was that we played with each other’s fingers throughout. Well, that and Sofia’s nose.

 

On the Sixth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

An official NHL hockey jersey. No, seriously.

 

On the Seventh Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

One of those Verse-a-Day bibles. Same guy.

 

On the Eighth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A complex. After years of friendship, peppered with on-again-off-again relationship attempts, rather than simply tell me that he had met someone else (with whom he would eventually fall in love and marry), he ended things by reporting that it was, in fact, me and not him.

 

On the Ninth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A perfect first kiss. One of those idyllic kisses, where the guy walks you to your car and stops you just as you reach for the door handle. He spins you around and pushes you firmly, yet gently, against the car door as he drinks in your eyes with his. One of those kisses where he gently traces the line of your jaw with his fingertips and brushes your cheek, and right as he leans towards you and you think your heart is going to explode – at the precise moment your lips meet – tiny snowflakes begin to fall.

 

On the Tenth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A vibrator. I was alone that year and my date was me.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

 

On the Eleventh Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Silence. Alone again. Batteries? Dead.

Worst. Christmas. Ever.

 

On the Twelfth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Anticipation – for the date that’s yet to come.

There’ll be no bibles or hockey jerseys. No movie marathons, no kind words, no frenching. No batteries. But neither will there be rude awakenings or callous dismissals.

I’m not exactly sure when my next date will be, or where.

But I have hope that wherever, whenever, with whomever, there’ll be stacks of books and heaps of candy.

Is this poem, “Rosemary’s Divorce,” autobiographical?

Yes.


So you actually believe in the Devil?

No. But I am a huge Roman Polanski fan (and I hope he gets so bored under house arrest that he googles himself and finds his way to TNB and reads my poem). I may start wearing a “Free Roman” T-shirt (like the “Free Gilligan” T-shirts after Bob Denver got busted for pot). “Rosemary’s Baby” is a favorite movie of mine, along with “Chinatown,” “The Tenant,” and “Tess.” Anyway, don’t get me started, or I’ll spend my whole interview talking about Polanski, and then probably get lynched. But look at the movies being released today: if we’re going to extradite him, it should only be to do forced labor in Hollywood.

Are you wondering if I actually did shtup the Devil? Well, as my seven-year-old said while drawing last week, “This is my first imaginary world,” and then, a few days later, “This is actually my REAL imaginary world.” Marianne Moore couldn’t have put it better. Poems, like movies, are actually our REAL imaginary worlds.


What are the three biggest mistakes you’ve made regarding poetry?

Dropping out of grad school at 21, because I fell in love and wanted to be Dostoevsky.

Not going back to a writing program till 30, because I was in love and trying to be Dostoevsky.

Not realizing the importance of making connections in the poetry world and networking much earlier.  Thinking that if I were Dostoevsky, I could do it all on my own.


What do you think about performance poetry?

It’s fun.  It gets people interested in poetry, and it teaches poets how to perform. We had Taylor Mali at my school, the College of Saint Rose, last year, and I was completely envious of his ability not only to fill an auditorium, but also to keep it rapt.

On the down side: for me, although I love to perform (and have slammed at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café), I’ve found it reinforces certain tendencies that I would rather work against, such as reliance on humor, sensationalism, and the broad or obvious statement (see “Rosemary’s Divorce”).

My ideal in art is to be like the Beatles or Hitchcock: a marriage of perfect craft and popular appeal that bears up through repetition and time. Slamming became not good for me, like smoking & drinking, so I quit. I wanted to put more emphasis on quieter, more introspective and subtle work, that you can read over and over to yourself. Sometimes at open mics I wonder whether the people reading have any interest in any poetry but their own: they support one another, and that’s great, but do they read much poetry by their contemporaries or past masters? That’s how you learn. Still, I think there’s room for it all.


Why do all your books have pictures of (semi-)naked women on the covers?

Since no one buys poetry books, I thought I might trick them into it that way. Or at least into picking the books up, or giving them a second glance . . . More seriously, I am interested in the experience of women in their bodies, which hasn’t been written about much until quite recently.


What do you see as the future of poetry—in, say, 100 years?

I have no idea. If the world doesn’t end in 2012, I suspect that poetry will return to its ancient, sacred roots, when it was one with music and dance. That seems to be the direction we’re moving in. But I don’t think books will ever die. I also love the combination of poetry with visual art, which moves it in a whole other direction.


Influences?

Dr. Seuss and Edward Lear first (I started writing when I was 6 or 7, imitating the poems my mother read to me). Then haiku: I fell in love with Japanese and Chinese poetry, and discovered English poetry through the back door, later. I love all kinds of poetry, including ancient poetry in translation: Sappho, Catullus, Kabir, Rumi, Li Bai, Issa, Izumi Shikibu and Ono no Komachi are some favorites. In English, Dickinson, Hopkins, Blake, Keats, Whitman, Bishop, O’Hara, Plath, and Sexton. And, of course, Dostoevsky . . .


What do you think about the preponderance of poetry contests?

I, too, dislike it, but it’s the only way I’ve managed to get books published: usually not by winning, but coming close enough to get published. I look at it as a subscription fund: our entrance fees pay for publication, so the people who care about poetry most support it. I admire WordTech Communications for having stopped running contests; instead, they put out a lot of fine books POD (print on demand). I wonder if the whole publishing industry won’t soon be following their lead.


Who do you think are some superb but underappreciated poets working today?

Richard Carr
Djelloul Marbrook
Nancy White
Stuart Bartow
Naton Leslie
Michael Meyerhofer

….to name six off the top of my head. They all have great books out there you can find online.


Any final advice?

I think it was Lawrence Ferlinghetti who said, “If every asshole who writes poetry would just buy poetry books, then poets could make a living.”

Go buy books by living poets. Read them. Give them as gifts. ’Tis the season.



…in which he asks the same questions ‘Teen Magazine’ asked actor and heartthrob Zac Efron in December 2005; find the original interview here.


Age: 41

Sign: Pisces

Birthplace: Portsmouth, VA


You may know me because:

I emailed you to ask you about mooning.


My house is:

In the suburbs, but pretty big.


The first thing I do every morning is:

Look for glasses, then coffee, then the New York Times. Oh, and then my children. And wife.


About my pets:

Two cats, Lux and Nadine, inherited by marriage. They don’t like me and I don’t like them. Someday they will be dead. In the meantime, I feed them and pick up their droppings.


I exercise:

On elliptical machines that never go anywhere, and always seem to have reruns of Monk on the TV.


Lately I’ve been surprised by:

The career of high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.


The cereals in my cupboard are:

Grains that go with rice milk. It’s my most progressive meal of the day.


Heaven on earth is:

Toss-up:

The Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, NY

Dove and Hudson Old Books in Albany, NY

The warm lap of poet-bartender Shafer Hall


For dinner, I like to make:

A phone call to a place that delivers.


I’ll eat sushi:

If it’s in New York. In Albany, not so much.


My coolest article of clothing:

It’s my glasses these days: Basic horn-rimmeds from Selima Optique or Butch Spectaculars from Fabulous Fanny’s.


My most prized possession:

A Burns Brian May Red Special replica guitar.  And a mint copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks on 8-track.


My TV screen is:

…in need of an upgrade.


My favorite TV channel is:

The DVR playback channel, where episodes of Nash Bridges and CSI: Miami wait patiently to be viewed.


My first financial splurge:

A pimped-out stereo in my Honda Fit.  Totally unnecessary.


Wackiest fan encounter:

An actor who I had seen on the previous evening’s Law & Order who stopped me on Second Avenue to tell me he really liked the leaving New York essay (“Goodbye to All Them,” which appears here and is in How to Be Inappropriate.) I asked him to repeat his line from the episode.  He played a doorman. He paused to get back into character and said something like the following: “I dunno, officer. Last time I saw him leave the building he looked angry and had a lot of luggage.”


Before I die, I want to:

Finally convince my friend Chris Connelly that Neil Diamond has contributed more to Western Civilization than Neil Young.


Celebrity whom I’d ask for an autograph:

Cindy Sherman.


Dream car:

A red 1965 Mustang convertible.


When I fly I have to have [Original Zac Efron answer here]:

Rocket boots! Otherwise I always seem to fall….


People would be surprised that I:

Am just like you.


Book I’m reading:

Philosophical Dictionary by this French guy Voltaire.


Magazines I subscribe to:

The Believer, Dwell, Details, International Male, Poets & Writers, Harper’s, Kenyon Review, New Yorker, New York, McSweeney’s, Mojo, Pank, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue.


Favorite cartoon:

Looney Tunes.


The DVD release I was most excited about was:

Queen + Paul Rodgers Super Live in Japan.


I can’t start my day without:

Coffee (see above).


If I had to spend $10 at my favorite fast-food joint, I’d order:

Burger King all the way.


I hear that people think you look like a vegetarian. What’s up with that?

I sit on the subway or plane and watch people and wonder where they live, or what they do. I guess that’s a writerly habit. But I don’t tend to categorize people by their eating habits. So I’m surprised when it happens to me. What does a vegetarian look like? What does that imply? I’m not really sure.

Please explain what just happened.

I am filming a scene in a supernatural thriller and the ghost made something fall on me. I did my lines perfectly twice in a row.

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, recorded 11 December 2009 in New York City. Featuring Kimberly M. Wetherell, Amy Shearn, and Don Mitchell. Produced by Aaron M. Snyder, Megan DiLullo, and Kimberly M. Wetherell.

He posted in the writing gigs section of Craigslist. 

Some people say they’re empowering; others say they’re oppressive. They’re high heels, and, like them or not, women keep wearing them. The benefits of walking tall are obvious–attractiveness to the opposite sex, added height and confidence. But at what price? If one were to look inside the mind (and shoe closet) of a shoe diva, what would one find? What does the siren call of fashion footwear sound like? And is the wearer still smiling when she removes her shoes at the end of the day?

I am interested in having a short story written about a professional woman who has a love-hate relationship with her collection of impossibly high, pointy-toed stilettos.  

For a moment, I indulged the illusion that the posting entity might be a women’s fashion magazine or website. I released the moment and wrote a quick, yet thorough, e-mail that detailed my many qualifications for writing a PG-rated pervy shoe story. Writing gigs don’t last long on Craigslist and I’m unemployed. I spend much longer moments dreaming of groceries.

I had questions for “Paul.”  “For you or publication?  Erotica or literary fiction?”  The unemployed are not choosy. I wanted to know what Paul was buying so I could sell it. Fast. For American cash money. The kind they take at Trader Joe’s.

He admired my powers of perception. He liked the ridiculous water bra workshop casualty I sent him as a sample. “I’m in discussions with several other writers but I must say you stand out.”  Just as I would accept his money, I accepted his flattery. I’m a writer. I like praise nearly as much as I like Trader Joe’s tomato and basil hummus.

Paul was discerning. There is plenty of free foot fetish literature on the internet. I did my research. I sensed that he wanted more of a connection.  That he didn’t take as much pleasure in reading the same stories as hordes of the similarly-stimulated. 

He asked if we could chat online.  He wanted to share the nuances of his custom order.  I grudgingly threw in the extra time and learned the following:  He is turned on by the thought of women’s feet hurting.  He loves very high, pointy-toed stiletto pumps.

And Paul is really into bunions.

For those not learned in podiatry, a bunion is “an unnatural, bony hump that forms at the base of the big toe where it attaches to the foot. Often, the big toe deviates toward the other toes.” In layman’s terms, they’re painful foot deformities.  Painful, smokin’ hot deformities to some, it seems.

I was all business. “Anything else?  Calluses, blisters, bleeding, corns?” 

No calluses, blisters or bleeding.  A corn or two would be fine.

He specified that the afflicted, yet fashionable, main character should have little to no interaction with men. He reiterated that she should be an educated professional.  Paul did not want a trashy heroine in hooker heels.  He wanted me to write him a girlfriend.  He didn’t need to say it. 

I received a lesson in two types of shoeplay: dangling and dipping. Dangling occurs when a woman, often seated with legs crossed, allows her shoe to dangle from her toes, exposing her heels.  A woman is dipping when she slips her foot in and out of her shoe, often when she’s been standing in uncomfortable shoes for a long time.  Though Paul enjoys dangling, he prefers dipping.  He kindly provided me with a YouTube link to ensure my comprehension.   Though he was at work, he located the video link in a jiffy.

In addition, he instructed that “[r]ealism and authenticity with respect to the woman’s day are what give this admittedly formulaic story novelty for me.”  He seemed innocuous, even sort of sweet.  Then he asked the question.

“Do you happen to have bunions?”

“Damn,” I thought, “Please tell me he did not just ask that.”  He was not sweet and innocuous.  He was trying to score some free foot chat.  The kind provided by professionals for $3.99 a minute. I shut him down and advised that matters involving my own feet were outside the realm of our transaction. 

He explained that he pays some of the writers to provide photos of their feet as “author inscriptions”. In exchange for the promise of one picture of my bare feet, Paul tacked a cool ten onto the $50 he would deposit in my Paypal account immediately.  He wanted to know more.  Did I have bunions?  (Lie number one:  Yes. I have early stage bunions. Truth: I don’t even know what that means.)  Did I wear pointy-toed shoes?  (Lie number two:  Yes.  Truth: I am 5’9” and, though I like some heel on my shoes, five-inch stilettos hold little appeal.)   What color polish will you use?  (Lie number three:  I don’t know yet. You’ll find out when I do. Truth: Is he freaking kidding me?)

I wrote the story. She’s an architect.  She dips and dangles with the best of them.  Her Manolos are $500 vises, twisting her feet into shapes no foot should know. 

[She] is happy to dress conservatively from the ankles up, but is unyielding in her insistence on wearing the highest heels possible.  Her feet, disarranged and misshapen without the stunning stilettos, are perfect when tucked inside the pointy, pretty, pain-making pumps she wears.  They proclaim her womanhood and dare anyone to think otherwise.

It wasn’t terrible.  I arranged my feet to look as ugly as possible, snapped and uploaded a picture and sent it and the story to Paul.

I didn’t hear back for two days.  I had my money but where was my flattery? 

“I’m sorry for not writing back sooner.  My mom had surgery.  She’s recovering nicely.  I love the story and the picture.” 

I admitted that I had been worried that the story was more literary than he wanted.  “No.  I love rich narrative.  I would like for you to do another.”  During our interactions, I took note that he was not a stupid person.  I was genuinely pleased that he liked the story.  Then he asked, “Didn’t you say you had corns?  Which toes are they on?  I can’t really tell from the picture.”

Ick.  I knew there would be some hanky-panky going on with the story, but cognitive dissonance had downplayed the co-starring role my feet would play.  Double ick. I did not respond to his e-mail.  It didn’t seem necessary.

That was about a month ago.  He e-mailed the other day to tell me he wants to buy another of my “incredible” stories after the holidays.  The ick factor faded with the compliment, the promise of compensation and the idea of him saving up to buy stories about women with beautiful bunions.  I will gladly write him another story.   I’m a writer. It’s what I do.