“The Next Big Thing” asks writers to self-interview about recent or forthcoming books with 7-8 designated questions, post somewhere in the blog-o-sphere, and then “tag” five writers for the next week to do the same. I was tagged by the inimitable Debra Bruce.
What is the title of the book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
My prior quartet of tomes (I Am Spam, About the Author, abbrev, and Basic Cable Couplets) were all thematically-driven, which is perfect for the chapbook format. It's a concept I used to eschew, but I had so much fun with I Am Spam (poems based on spam email subject lines) that it added fuel to that part of the creative bonfire, and I started thinking more actively about other short-form ideas. I Am Spam was published in 2004; in 2006, a number of things happened: I became an owner, not a renter, for the first time in my adult life; I enrolled in an MFA program twenty years after completing my undergrad education; and my mother died. This all impacted my life in general, but also my writing particularly. Thematic work I get into feverishly, winding up with a draft rather quickly, whereas full-length manuscripts are assembled after a specific period of time, in recognition of writing done within those parameters, and their cohesion is determined after the fact rather than as a part of the process. The poems in Brief Nudity cover about three years, and many are directly responsive to my mental state, though perhaps not obviously so. There are vestiges of another series that I toyed with comprising a separate entity – the Loma Prieta persona poems – but I began to feel that too many of them would be repetitive or even oppressive, so they wound up being folded into the scope of the longer book.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I'm a big proponent of the merits of popular culture, so part of this is easy to answer. Another persona subject in the book is “Dracula's Daughter,” so Gloria Holden, who assayed Contessa Zaleska in the 1936 movie of the same name, would be a no-brainer, though if I could cast a contemporary actress Julia Goldani Telles, one of the stars of Bunheads would be better suited to how I visualize her. Jeff Goldblum, Evel Knievel, and Tom DeLay appear in other poems; Goldblum and DeLay could play themselves – well, DeLay after he gets out of the pokey – but with Knievel kaput, unless CGI (which I dislike) is utilized to insert the old Evel into new scenes, that won't do. George Hamilton and Sam Elliott have channeled him in the past, but I'd opine they're too long in the tooth to lively up the Evel I have in mind; George Eads (who plays Nick Stokes on CSI) was cast in a 2004 TV movie, but I don't watch the show so I'll go out on a limb and say that I'd enjoy seeing Daniel Day-Lewis as Knievel, mainly because he would insist on remaining in character throughout the shoot and break a few bones at least. Using animation – which is so popular with the kids nowadays – Hercules, The Angry Whopper®, Tweety Bird and Winnie the Pooh could all be realized quite easily, though only after paying through the nose for the rights to fleetingly use these vigorously trademarked icons.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
“Brief Nudity's poems are concerned with the juxtaposition between elegy and irreverence.”
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
As mentioned above, most of the book was composed from 2006-2009. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” (Paul Valéry is attributed with switching out “art” for “a poem”), and while that sounds thoughtful in theory, in practice I disagree. Writers have always been historically, perhaps stubbornly isolationistic; that's endemic of being creative. Writing-by-committee is not something I've ever subscribed to, and I fear that having too many cooks in the kitchen creates even more dilemmas – there's a time to dither and a time to be done with it. However, I received some excellent feedback from my MFA co-poets (Chris Collins, Pamela Johnson Parker, Karissa Sorrell, Chet Weise, and Scott Woodham) and faculty mentors (Brian Barker and Ann Neelon) that proved invaluable to many poems individually, as well as with envisioning the book as a collection. Without all their input it would not be the same, and it may not have been published.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above comments regarding pop culture. I love movies and music, and don't distinguish between 'high art' and what others may consider lowbrow; part one of Brief Nudity is introduced by a quote from John Prine, who I think is the ideal poster child for such tightrope-walking. My mother dying was also an influence, though ironically enough it resulted in two poems about my father, who died in 1980. The Loma Prieta earthquake prompted four poems; I was in San Francisco at the time, and maintain some vivid memories of that day (October 17, 1989). If you live in the Bay Area for awhile, you become inured to earthquakes, which are common, but this one was magnitude 7.1. Luckily no one I knew was injured, and because I lived in the Mission, which is built on bedrock, the worst that happened in my apartment is some books fell off my shelves; we did lose power, but it was restored relatively quickly. I do recall how everyone was outside, talking excitedly about the quake, venting as a form of auto-therapy; my neighborhood was abnormally dark, but it was oddly soothing, and I felt disappointed when the lights came back on. The windows of a pizza place up the street had shattered so they were making pies with their gas ovens, and passing free slices through the opening before boarding up. These memories instigated the Loma Prieta poems but it was only after reading a New York Times article about some of the victims of the I-880 collapse in Oakland that I was finally able to write them.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I'm originally from Flint, Michigan, and while I was still in high school I started working as a reporter for The Flint Voice, whose co-founder and editor was Michael Moore. Michael was one of the first people who gave me a forum as a writer, and the experience of working there was often chaotic, but enjoyable as well as educational; it also cemented many of the ideas I already had about my hometown. Since I worked for the Voice, I was frequently called “pinko,” “punk rocker” and “fag” by my less enlightened Flint brethren, epithets I wore as badges of iconoclasm. Roger and Me also accurately conveys Flint's very sad and strange, socially-suicidal tendencies. I came of age at a time when the city still had some diminishing vestiges of culture, which I craved, including a downtown with historical relevance and of course its importance as a union town, but it was on the decline with jobs being outsourced and people fleeing in droves. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I had grown up somewhere that was more culturally enriching and artistically endowed; living in Flint was a struggle at a critical time and that continues to influence everything I do.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Brief Nudity is being published by Salmon Poetry, Ltd., Ireland's most prolific poetry publisher, and is distributed in the US by Dufour Editions.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are: