You use alliteration a few times in ‘Maro and Raquel’ – how important is this tool in your writing arsenal?
The Sisters of St. Joseph, were my teachers for twelve years. They were very good at educating us about figures of speech: metaphor, synecdoche, onomatopoeia, and so on. A nod to the nuns for my fondness for alliteration.
There is a lyrical almost jazz rhythm to the line breaks and phrasing here – is this careful post-first-draft craftsmanship or the way in which your initial words / sentences come out?
I grew up with six younger brothers in Massachusetts. There was, and still is, a free-form razzmatazz to the way we speak to one another. Phrases bouncing around, insults careening here and there. My brothers never shut up. I listen to them and make mental notes. Masshole poetics.
Your bio states a love of film from a young age. How does that factor into the images you pursue in your writing?
Sometimes my poems remind me of shots or brief scenes from a film. I invariably write about people. They show up, do something revelatory (I hope), and then I yell “Cut.” Well, at least I like that idea.
As I’ve asked all poets in this issue the same question: why poetry instead of prose?
I wrote a novel once. It was abysmal.
Read “Maro and Raquel” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.
’1.’ is built on three short moments: the first feels very adult in nature, speaking of ‘positions’, and the second, with its mention of ‘Crayola & construction paper’ reads childlike, so where does the third section fall, with its ‘sky miles’ reference?
That’s interesting. That divide wasn’t intentional. I think, at large, this series is both imposing sense of being very “adult” and reading a little “childlike.” So, I don’t think I see those small divides as much as I see instances of each to a greater and lesser degree mixing together in the actions of the narrator and the others s/he is with.
The series that this comes from is a part of a manuscript I’m working through, and this particular series I’ve called, at least to myself, Group Activity poems. I think it’s stemming from an interest in how the notion of doing group activities to me is very childlike, very innocent. As you get older it seems more and more absurd to walk over to a friend’s and see if they want to play catch in the street or watch TV on a whim, for obvious reasons. Yet, we do engage in group activities all the time. This game of accumulating sky miles or points from companies is one. They are these large manipulative games, and I think that childlike activity and excitement over interaction is still very much alive and a part of these “adult” interactions. It’s all really silly when seen from a distance. But, on the other hand, we can’t live at that distance, so you do silly things. I do. I own an iPad, for instance. Totally unnecessary object.
Where are the other numbers of this larger manuscript published? And can you give us a little preview of where they head?
Some of them were in the most recent issue of Minnetonka Review. These characters don’t necessarily get more daring, but they get a little more brazen. They want to dominate the world, in a way, but there is a certain amount of childishness to how they see the world. That makes doing the “adult” things a little harder. (Also, I just referred to world domination as an “adult thing.”) I’m not sure what their overall movement is though. Deathward, maybe?
There are just over 30 words in this poem, but several of these repeat – how important is repetition in your poetry?
It’s really important to me. I think in music, visual art, and writing, repetition can be a very powerful tool. I love the aesthetic of it musically in something like “Glassworks” or Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops” or the visual patterns in Ander Monson’s writing. But I think it’s wonderful as a tool for directing an audience’s attention and giving the creator greater control over audience perception, beyond the aesthetic. This series definitely does this a lot; it’s somewhat central.
And here is the question I have for all of the MB8 poets: Why poetry as opposed to prose?
I don’t know. I write both. I don’t know why some things need to be one or the other. Something about the texture of the thought determines that, I think. But I don’t know that I can explain what the “texture of the thought” means. If I did it would probably sound terribly idiotic. Some ideas are poems, some are stories. I don’t have a good answer. I enjoy both.
In your bio you mention that you live in and like Astoria. I’ve not been there – what do you like about it?
I identify with places in strange ways. Maybe it’s not that weird. I’ve lived a lot of places and I get really attached to neighborhoods and cities I live in. I think I’m defensive of Astoria, maybe. It’s got a stigma in New York I think. Not Astoria in particular, but Queens at large. I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe I just have lazy friends who don’t want to go to Queens. Or maybe I just associated Queens with Kevin James so I assume everyone thinks it’s dumb. Anyhow, I like it.
Read “1.” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.
Our pal Blake Kimzey recently read his Monkeybicycle8 contribution, “Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff,” at the Times Club in Iowa City’s Prairie Lights Book Store. Please enjoy the video evidence of this below.
‘Sacrifice’ plays with the reader, giving some info but not all of it, leading us to a cliff blindfolded but not telling us we are on the precipice. Is this a normal tactic in your work or something put into play for just this single story?
A little of both, I think. Thinking about it, I’d say it’s three things: one, I have found myself trying to be more and more implicit in some of my stories. Two, with this story in particular, which is, to some degree, about excision on a plot level, I wanted to try to mimic that on a writing level. Third, the ending itself was originally much more explicit, with the final of the 10 sections being probably twice as long, and it was Shya’s good editing eye that recommended we cut it a little sooner.
In several journals you have published pieces that feature dismemberment – what draws you to write about this separation of the body?
It’s fun to write. And it probably shows some of Brian Evenson’s obvious influence on me. And, too, I think it sometimes grows out of almost a personal challenge when writing – my most natural tendency is to lean toward stories where not a lot happens and the protagonist is passively progressing through it, so trying to throw a heightened element like dismemberment into the mix forces something happening and, when it is self-dismemberment, it forces me to try to figure out how to craft a story where, even if the protagonist is the typical, passive character of my stories, that character has a believable moment of pro-action instead of only reaction.
Segment 6 is entirely blank. What happened to it (or in it)?
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made?
Oh, I don’t know. Don’t even know where to begin to think of an answer.
You have a fantastic chapbook out with PANK and a great story collection from Keyhole Books – what is next on your print horizon?
Nothing official on the horizon or anything, but I’m trying to cull together and tighten a collection’s worth of my stories (of which this story is a piece), as well as a road trip novel.
Read “Sacrifice” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.
Summer Block + “The New Yorker Fiction Section Presents: Killer Robots from Space” = MB8:
As early as the title of this piece you are playing with juxtaposition – The New Yorker next to ‘Killer Robots from Space’ – how important are these contrasts to the overall working of this story?
I had the idea for the story while talking with my friend, the writer Grant Munroe. We were both lamenting what we saw as The New Yorker fiction department’s over-reliance on certain character types, plotlines, and scenarios, and Grant suggested that it would be great to have a totally different type of story appear in the magazine’s pages, one that was gripping and narrative-driven and imaginative and maybe a little over-the-top. I liked the idea of contrasting a totally outrageous, science-fiction cataclysm of the type Grant suggested with the typical story as it appears in the magazine’s pages now – the high stakes of killer robots from space destroying the city of New York is a great comic background to the typical New Yorker magazine protagonist’s petty personal problems and impenetrable self-regard.
Another aspect that really intrigues me here is how you build tension by the repetition of news-related interjections while our narrator Harold remains nonplussed. How did you come to create this kind of structure?
Well, what I wanted to get at is the sense that Harold is so utterly self-absorbed that even the most absurd, extreme, cataclysmic outside events can’t really shake his core narcissism and neurosis. And of course, from a comedy perspective, the more absurd and out of control the news events become, hopefully the funnier it is, this contrast between a man kvetching about his son’s MBA and an entire city being destroyed by huge menacing space robots.
What does Xenia’s final and cold rejection of Harold say about your take on our emotional state-of-being in response to crises, real or pretend?
I think Xenia’s rejection is largely based on her specific prior relationship with Harold – which is to say, I don’t think she would necessarily reject anyone who had come to her door, or that all ex-lovers would turn on each other in these circumstances. It is a cliché that crises bring out the real nature of a person, but I think there is some truth in that, and so a crisis like this one reveals Harold’s true nature to Xenia and lays bare the total failure of their relationship. Which is a longer way of saying that Harold is just an incredible asshole.
Perhaps it is a ridiculous question, but: is this story making a comment on humankind as a whole? Or is it all about the joke of The New Yorker in contrast with killer space robots?
Well, now I’d like to say the former, because what writer doesn’t want to comment on humankind as a whole? But no, really my intent was just to send up a very particular kind of fiction for which The New Yorker is known. In fact, it’s rather the opposite of humankind as a whole: it’s humankind as a solipsistic, middle-aged academic working in the humanities. So thanks for making me feel bad.
According to your bio you have 1.5 babies, but surely by now that must be 2.0 – is it?
It is! In fact, I had Baby #2 just last week. So far he seems alright.
Read “The New Yorker Fiction Section Presents: Killer Robots from Space” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.
Friends in the NYC area, we’d like to invite you to come to a literary extravaganza with a purpose.
Recently, Jason Napoli Brooks, co-founder of one of our favorite NYC reading series, The Enclave, was unjustly arrested and now faces a plethora of trumped up charges, including assaulting an officer (despited the fact that he and his brother were both the ones who suffered injuries at the hands of the NYPD). Jason had to hire an attorney help fight these false allegations. Obviously, this leads to mounting legal fees and a lot of debt.
To help Jason tackle all of this, the Enclave is throwing a benefit reading and barbecue on Saturday, June 04 at 2pm. The event will include readers (including Monkeybicycle’s own Laura Carney and Shya Scanlon!), DJs, and a raffle. It’s going to be a fantastic time, and it’s going to support a great cause.
Here are all the details, and please read the statement from Jason Napoli Brooks below. We really hope to see you there.
Saturday, June 04, 2-5pm
The back deck at Metropolitan Bar (559 Lorimer St.) Take the G or L to the Lorimer stop.
$20 includes one drink, all-you-can-eat barbecue, and a ticket for the raffle.
A statement from Jason:
On April 1, 2011 my brother was stopped by two police officers in the Lower East Side because he was carrying a bottle of beer in public. Instead of issuing him a ticket, the police officers inexplicably told my brother he was under arrest. My brother had never had any prior criminal record or any run-in with the law. When my brother protested this unwarranted arrest, two other officers approached him from behind and held him, while the first two officers beat my brother with their fists and batons. After they wrestled my brother to the ground, they handcuffed him, stood him up, and backed him into a wall. Even though it was impossible for my brother to offer any resistance, the officers then continued to punch him in the head and ribs, after which, one of the officers (who I later found out was the sergeant on duty) kneed my brother twice in the groin.
From about ten feet away, along with several independent eyewitnesses, I watched this scene of my little brother being beaten by four police officers. My only recourse at the time was to shout, “Officers, please there’s no need…He’s not resisting! Please stop hitting him!” When one of the eyewitnesses attempted to give me his phone number, a police officer grabbed me and slammed me against a wall. When I tried to turn around, the officer slammed my body repeatedly against the wall. The officer then handcuffed me and told me to “Shut the fuck up” and “Don’t say nothing.” A second police officer approached from my left side and stuck a can of mace in my face, saying, “You see this, asshole? I’ll spray you right in your fucking face!” I was then told I was under arrest. When I asked why I was being arrested, the arresting officer responded, “I don’t know.”
My brother and I were then shipped to central booking where we spent 30 hours in a cramped jail cell without food, water, or sleep—and without knowledge of what we were being charged with. When I was finally allowed to see my public defender, he read me the official police report of the incident, which stated my brother took a swing at the officers and because of this they had no choice but to arrest him. Meanwhile, it said I attacked the police officers from behind. This police report is thoroughly false, and there are documented eyewitnesses and a video (posted on YouTube) that refutes this report.
Because of this arrest I am facing multiple criminal charges, all of which are phony. If convicted of these charges it is unlikely that I will serve jail time (although the District Attorney is reportedly prepared to ask for jail time for me despite the fact that I have no previous criminal record), however I will have to live the rest of my life with a criminal record for crimes I did not commit. What’s more, the police officers who perpetrated these lies will be emboldened to continue this type of abuse of power at the expense of other citizens’ rights.
My only choice is to fight these charges…which means I have had to hire a capable attorney, which of course means I have incurred an enormous amount of personal debt. However at this point, money matters much less to me than my desire to see that justice is served and my hope that this type of police abuse will not go unchecked.
‘Clockwork Dog’ is built on a disparity of terms – ‘friendly friction’ / ‘retrieving discarded’ / etc. – how important is this discord to your poetry (or this poem)?
In poetry, and contemporary poetry in particular, I think that the pairing of disparate words and contrasting language is a common strategy. The goal, I’m pretty sure is to be evocative, but often it results in obfuscation. You could say the same about the very title and subject of this poem. I understand that an initial reaction may be something along the lines of, what the hell is a “clockwork dog” anyway? Well, I don’t want my reader surrounded by a jangle of words, so while the exact form of the dog is left to the reader, by the end they have an idea of this dog’s motivations, and I think would agree that he is a “good dog.” So rather than discord, in this and other pieces I work to create chords from unlikely notes.
There is also an aggressive use of range in this piece – running the reader from a ‘tornado’ to a ‘merry-go-round’ – can you talk to us about what you hope this scaled-variation will do to readers?
Simply, the range makes the poem livelier and more engaging. The reader has the opportunity to fit their own rotations and clocks somewhere between bottle caps and planets, and make their own personal connections to time with the Clockwork Dog as a guide.
Why did you chose to close the piece with baseball metaphors, which are always loaded with free-time connotations, and how does that contrast with the title ‘Clockwork Dog’ and its denotations of punching the timecard?
In a geometrical sense there are other sports that the Clockwork Dog might be drawn to. For instance, he may like the backspin from a perfectly shot free throw, or the tight spiral on a thrown football, but I think he’s drawn to baseball because while most of the other examples in the poem are finite, baseball represents time unbound. Time measured not in coffee spoons, ringtones, or buzzers, but by living in and meditating on moments. During the baseball season day-light is at its longest and in a game there are no timeouts or limits. Baseball is filled with different representations of time, from less than a second for a single pitch, minutes for outs, to hours for extra innings, all while the players strive mightily to do the only thing that really counts for a win: complete a full rotation around the bases.
Here is a question I have for all of the MB8 poets: Why poetry as opposed to prose?
I’m always drawn to William Stafford’s response, that the prose poem is somehow more honest because it doesn’t seek to “bamboozle [the reader] with white space,” and like David Shumate, I also appreciate the relative “homeliness” of prose poetry. Prose poetry doesn’t put on airs. It’s more approachable. In the same vein, some would probably call the pieces I do, which often take the form of tiny stories or myths, “flash fiction,” but I aim for lyricism in my layering of language, and I feel I’m best able to achieve that when I approach my writing as a poet.
You bio says that you fall asleep by counting Iowans – how many are there?
As someone that has struggled with Insomnia I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about “counting to fall asleep” trope and I’ve determined that the actual number you count is far less important than what and how you count. Sheep are popular because they’re like zoomorphized pillows: so wooly and gentle. Iowans are generally speaking less wooly, but nearly as gentle. Also, outside of the metro (ha) regions like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowans are spread across the plains and gently rolling hills. So when you count Iowans to fall asleep you can’t help but also count cornstalks and acres. I recommend it.
Read “Clockwork Dog” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.
Over the next few months we’re going to be posting podcast versions of some of the stories and poems from Monkeybicycle8. It’s a fantastic issue that we’re really proud of and we want to share it with you in as many ways as we possibly can.
The latest podcast comes from Matt Briggs, whose story, “Hunger,” tells the story of a man whose dishwashing routine becomes more and more difficult as his fingers start to disappear, thanks to his girlfriend. It’s a surreal and beautiful story that we hope you check out.
Buffalo’s Sunnyoutside, run by the wonderful and talented David McNamara, is six years old today, so to celebrate, we asked him a few questions about this milestone &, if you read to the end, you’ll get in on the super sweet deal they just posted in honor of six years of books!
Wow. Six years. Amazing. What does that mean to you? And what does it say about Sunnyoutside?
Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me until yesterday sometime. I just got the ARCs in for Mostly Redneck (Rusty Barnes’s next book with us), I’ve been setting up readings and events in May and June and July, and I’m in the middle of design and editorial for a few titles, not to mention the end of the ARC push for Next Analog Broadcast by Charly Fasano. So I guess it means that I still get to make books!
So how many titles is that in six years? And how many headaches? How many fits of love?
I think right now it stands at forty original books, so I guess I move pretty slowly. There have been a few broadsheets and reprints and special editions in there, too, but just the forty original paperbacks and chapbooks.
There haven’t been too many headaches beyond printing mishaps—and I’ve definitely gone through my share of printers, which is probably the main impetus to me falling into print brokering and trying to spare other presses those ordeals.
But each book has been its own love affair, and I’ve been pretty happy with my authors, and I’d like to think they’ve been pretty happy with me.
We aren’t asking you to pick favorites, but, any favorites?
Every title is a favorite on some list at some point, so it’d be hard to keep this response short if I were being fair to the titles.
Tell us a little about the accolades, awards, nominations, etc. that Sunnyoutside has garnered in the past six years?
Micah Ling’s Three Islands was a finalist for an Indiana Authors Award and also had a piece from it shortlisted for a Pushcart, which I think is probably the most attention a title has received. Nathan Graziano was named the unofficial poet laureate of Manchester (New Hampshire) by a local paper after we published Teaching Metaphors. Vouched Books has seen two of our titles fit for selection. We’ve had a fiction bestseller at Small Press Distribution (Chelsea Martin’s The Really Funny Thing About Apathy). And the University at Buffalo, Yale, and the University of Pittsburgh have all purchased the bulk of our titles for their special collections, which I reckon counts for something. But I think mostly the press flies under the radar—it’s the books that get the attention, and rightfully so.
Lastly, though we don’t want to be pushy, are there any deals in the works to celebrate this anniversary? Maybe a little something something to entice our reading audience to check out your titles if they haven’t already?