Gregory Sherl is the author of two poetry collections: The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail and Heavy Petting, as well as the chapbooks I Have Touched You and Last Night Was Worth Talking About. His poetry has appeared in The Rumpus, Columbia Poetry Review, The Los Angeles Review, diode, and at Poets.org. He currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
Monkeybicycle: In the acknowledgements, you say “A special thanks to Kevin Sampsell, who was like Hell yeah, let’s make a book when I sent him fifteen pages that ended up looking nothing like this book.” Can you tell us a little more of this backstory?
Gregory Sherl: Monogamy Songs had an unusual start. In its most infant form, it was a chapbook originally titled Pop Songs. Around the time I finished Pop Songs, I read Prathna Lor’s Ventriloquism, a chapbook that was put out by Future Tense Books last year. I loved the simplicity and size of the chap—it almost fit in my hand and was held together by staples. I had been thinking about self-publishing a chapbook for some time. I thought it would be fun to have something original to sell at readings and through Facebook. I’m poor and lazy, though, so I wanted something cheap and easy to make; something I could produce in small quantities as they sold.
But I had no idea how to do such a thing. So I contacted Kevin Sampsell (head of Future Tense) and asked him if he’d be up for telling me how he put together Prathna’s chap, because I was interested in doing one myself. Kevin got back to me quickly, and he said, why don’t you just send me the chap and maybe I’ll publish it, and I was like, super cool, here it is. So I sent him the chap, and a few days later he got back to me. He seemed to dig it, and he offered to publish it.
A couple days after Kevin accepted Pop Songs, I realized that I wanted to lengthen the project. The fifteen pages couldn’t fit what I was trying to accomplish. I saw it as a 100+ page book of linked prose poems. I saw it as something bigger and more intimate than anything I have written to date. So I messaged Kevin again and was like, I kind of want to make this a full-length book, what say you? Maybe he was drunk at the time, I don’t know, but Kevin said he was up for it. He thought the title should be changed and after a long back and forth, we came up with Monogamy Songs. It still doesn’t feel real sometimes.
Looking back, I think this was the only way Monogamy Songs could have been created. Just like the relationship I was in while writing the book, I never knew where it was going until I got there.
Mb: “When I imagine my life without her: a tandem bicycle rusting in the front yard.” Is Monogamy Songs poetry or prose? How do you define each of those?
GS: Monogamy Songs is a hip-hop record. It is Hologram Tupac’s abs. It’s the fuzzy leg feeling when you’re laying in bed with the taste of a little too much NyQuil on the back of your tongue. Or, three out of five winning lottery numbers. It’s the best inch of your lover’s thigh. And every second it took me to answer these interview questions.
Mb: Monogamy Songs has small references to “the Oregon Trail” as well as to the figures “Girl #4” and “Girl #7” who are seen in one of your previous chapbooks. Will your new books always have at least some passing references to your previous works?
GS: It makes me happy you picked those out. I like the fact that I was able to dedicate a page of Monogamy Songs to an out of print chapbook, even if only a handful of people will be able to get the reference. I get off on that kind of shit. Whenever I name-drop a past project, I try to write it in a way that wouldn’t confuse anyone who didn’t read the previous work. I hope I did.
I want my work to be in constant conversation with itself. I want the reader to be able to seamlessly transition from one book to the next. The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail and Monogamy Songs are completely different books, but I hope there is a thread of semblance between the two. I like continuation in the art I enjoy, whether it be literature, TV, or film. I grew up on Kevin Smith movies (though, sadly, most of them are very unwatchable now), and always loved how characters bounced from one film to the other. He created his own universe, and I wanted to hang out in it for as long as possible. Or during my Bret Easton Ellis phase—how Patrick Bateman is Sean Bateman’s brother. They talk to each other in Rules of Attraction, and then Patrick appears again in Glamorama and Lunar Park. It always felt rewarding when I was able to connect the dots.
Mb: “I want to ask every poet Do you regret discovering words? I wake up and they are always under my pillow. I am talking about the words not the poets, but usually a poet is next to me.” Do you ever regret discovering words?
GS: Every day.
Mb: What is up next for you? What are you working on or hoping to finish in 2013?
GS: I am currently working on two collections at the same time: History Lessons Pt. 1 and History Lessons Pt. 2. The two collections consist of prose poems that are brief histories of things (but we’ll take the word “things” loosely). But usually they are not histories at all. Usually they are like most things I write—me being completely aware that I am only really interested in writing about myself. I hope they are able to meet the world sooner than later. I am also (very slowly) working on a novel about basketball. After I finish History Lessons Pt. 1 and 2, I plan on taking a very long break from poetry. It feels damn good to say that.
J. A. Tyler is the author of nine novel(la)s of poetic fiction. His work has been published in Black Warrior Review, Redivider, Cream City Review, Diagram, Fairy Tale Review, Columbia Poetry Review, and New York Tyrant.