I’m really interested in how people think about their home – which for this purpose I’ll define as the place where you most feel that you ‘belong’ or the place that you feel most ‘belongs’ to you. It seems like you’ve travelled and moved around a lot, what are some of the different cities you’ve lived in? Out of those places, does one feel more like home to you than another, or does it change a lot? Or do you reject that idea altogether? What’s the ideal type of place that you’d like to live in?
The cities I have lived in are York, Liverpool, Montreal, Toronto and briefly Baltimore.
Currently I am living somewhere very rural.
In a couple of months, I will move again.
I don’t know if I have ever felt a sense of belonging anywhere, geographically.
I do remember a particular morning in bed, in Brooklyn, when I felt like I was in the right place.
But I think that we could probably have been anywhere.
I can remember being in the ocean at various points in my life, and feeling like I wanted to stay there.
I can remember a specific Saturday in Toronto, when I knew that I didn’t have plans to see anybody until the evening, and I went to this second-hand bookstore in Parkdale which is owned by this cute, old couple, and I bought a book that I had ordered online, literally the night before, because I didn’t want to wait for delivery. And then I went to buy groceries at the shitty Price Chopper close to my apartment (I would almost always just eat rice and about 4 vegetables and drink cheap wine from the lcbo), and it was winter and completely unremarkable from any other Saturday, except that I had a strong feeling that I was living my own life, which I had chosen for myself.
When I think about home, it’s more like little moments with particular people, rather than, for example, the place where I grew up or the places I went to school. And I take comfort in the fact that I can carry around the same book or the same songs on my ipod and read or listen to them anywhere in the world, and they’ll always be exactly the same, wherever I am.
I don’t know if I’m particularly unusual with regard to all of this. It’s sometimes easier for me to maintain friendships with people who lead similarly scattered existences.
I’d like for there to be a place where it felt necessary for me to be, but I don’t know how that happens to people. They meet another person and decide to stay together, maybe. I like the idea of those characters in the novel,‘Generation X’ who leave behind their rat-race, career jobs and go tell each other stories in the California desert. I’d be down to do that, if anybody wants to come.
It seems completely obvious to say it, but most of all I’d just like to be around the people with whom I can’t make eye contact in a serious situation, because I know that we’ll all start laughing.
For a very long time, whenever I mentioned to someone that I wrote or loved books, they would almost always respond ‘you should move to New York.’ NYC has always had a deep literary culture—it’s easy to romanticize the city because so many other brilliant writers and poets from the past have romanticized it. NYC has branded itself as the place where artists and writers thrive, as the center of culture. Lately there’s been a lot of discussion about whether that’s still true or not—what do you think? In your experience, what are some of the things that New
York can give to a young writer, and what are some things about the city that you’ve been disappointed by? If a young writer or artist asked your advice about whether she should move to NYC or not, what would you say to her?
Lately I keep thinking about this reading that happened in September 2012, in Ed Halliday’s basement in Bushwick.
It was a Keep This Bag Away From Children event and a lot of people read, including myself, Andrew Worthington, Andrew Weatherhead, Stephen McDowell, Steve Roggenbuck, Mike Bushnell and Maggie Lee.
Maggie and I had made this video called ‘Refried Beans’ during the summer, which was basically 7 minutes of her trying to open a can of beans with a broken can opener, set to music by the Kronos Quartet and overlayed with a conversation we had on facebook chat.
On the day of the reading, I had the idea that we should do it as a live performance.
So we took the broken can opener and bought some beans and we borrowed a big knife from Ed and we read from the script as Maggie attempted to open the can with the string quartet playing in the background, from a laptop.
And it felt so funny and spontaneous to me. There were beans all over the floor and we were spreecasting from two different computers. We had never rehearsed it. The whole reading was just these kids in a basement, trying out new work and making each other feel things. I remember Steve read other people’s poems and simultaneously broadcasted an episode of the Illuminati Power Hour. And Mike had his facepaint on and was walking all over everybody, and sitting on them. And there was, it seemed to me, just some kind of energy about that night which doesn’t exist at most readings I go to. I don’t know if that happened because we were in New York, or if we had all just ended up there because we thought that was the kind of place where these things can happen.
But that’s not about writing.
Writing is mostly being by yourself, at your computer, for a long time. And I think that’s hard to do in any big city when you have a job and friends and there are always places to be. Especially if you want to write prose. I guess with poetry it’s different, maybe.
It all depends.
I’d probably refrain from advising anybody to do anything, with regard to moving anywhere.
But I’d say I feel mostly disinterested in reading books about people who move to Brooklyn to make it in America.
However, to some extent, what else is there?
(I’m just kidding, there is an entire world).
What are some of your favorite books that you’ve read in the last year or two, whether old or new? Why do you think those books became your favorite, what drew you to them? Sometimes I’ll run into people my age or younger, and they seem really confused about why I like books, when there are so many other things in the world to entertain yourself with. Speaking for yourself, what do you get from reading that you can’t get from other art forms?
Well, I don’t watch tv and I hardly ever watch movies, except for art documentaries, which I watch when I want to take a break from thinking too much. I like going to galleries. I listen to music for most of the time that I’m awake. I think I like reading because it feels more intimate, often, than say watching a film, which you know has been filtered through probably thousands of people’s brains before it reaches an audience. Books are just more personal, and I like that I have control over the pace at which I read them. I think I get frustrated by television because it feels like I’m being fed information too slowly, and I feel distrustful of it because I know it’s just trying to sell me things and keep me dumb.
At the moment I think I’m having a harder time enjoying books because I’m always trying to understand how they’re structured, rather than just reading them for the enjoyment of the story or the language.
Some newish books that I read and enjoyed are How Should A Person Be by Sheila Heti, Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen, Rontel by Sam Pink, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner and Scott McClanahan’s collected works.
For a while, when anyone asked, I used to say Tender Is The Night (by F.Scott Fitzgerald) was my favorite book, but I don’t know if that’s true now. It doesn’t feel true.
I love The Moon & Sixpence by W.S Maugham and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.
At the moment I’m reading Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys and after that, I think I’m going to read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I want to go back and read some classics that I haven’t read yet.
I’m excited for Guillaume Morissette’s first novel, New Tab, which is coming out in April.
Please give me six links to some non-literary stuff that you currently feel is kickass/awesome/exciting/the best ever.
Michael Inscoe : Instagram
Adam J Kurtz : Gift Shop
Steve Roggenbuck : Stop Pretending It’s Boring To Be Alive (this is literary, I know, but I think it’s important)
Oscar Bruno D’Artois : Twitter (this is literary too, sorry!)
I really like your story ‘One Day’ – I admire how much the story says in 700 words, and how emotional and intimate that story feels. It feels like a majority of the things I read these days are autobiographical – was it based closely on a memory you had, or was it mostly invented? How long did it take you to write that story, and what was your life like when you wrote it? What are the best cliffs you’ve seen lately? A lot of Texas is very flat, I don’t get to see cliffs too often.
It’s interesting to me that you like that story. I don’t think I’ve ever thought very much of it before, probably because I wrote it all in one sitting and just edited it the next day. And it came out very easily. Although I guess I spent maybe two or three years thinking about how I could reconcile the sad ending to the relationship which it talks about. I wrote it when I went back to the place where I’m from, after having been away for quite a long time.
I think I wanted to write an ending to the narrative in my head which felt more reverential to the love that had been lost, than what had happened in real life, which was much less conclusive. I think it felt necessary for me to write it, to be able to move on from the disappointment of losing that person.
There’s that Rilke quote about, ‘A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity’.
I tend to agree with that definition of good, I think. I don’t feel very interested in writing for other reasons.
Nothing in the story actually happened though.
I’ve realised recently that I like my writing the most when it starts out as something based in reality and then moves into something that could happen rather than what actually would or does happen, so things will often start out seeming autobiographical, and then shift into something surreal or imaginary. Like this story, ‘If I Could Be Sweet’, which I wrote after standing on a subway platform imagining what would happen if I jumped in front of a train.
It feels strange to read,‘One Day’ again, a year or so after I wrote it. It still feels hard to think about that person, though I can see now that losing them freed me and forced me, to some extent, to relate to new people and to do other things in my life.
This interview is teaching me about myself…
What made you decide to start a literary magazine? What things do you most enjoy about that job, and what do you think is the hardest part of running a literary mag? Do you have any interest in getting a job in publishing, or does that not really appeal to you? I like seeing Shabby Doll House updates that feature you and Sarah, or show you hanging out with a group of literary friends, it seems like you guys enjoy each other’s company a lot—it makes running a magazine seem fun.
I started Shabby Doll House because I had recovered from a period of depression and I suddenly had lots of energy. I wanted to do something which I felt could be helpful to myself but also to other people, and doing things with art and writing is the only way that I really know how to do that, I think.
I’m talking about the writers and artists, to some degree, but also about some kid in a small town somewhere who doesn’t have any friends they can really talk to, who might read something in a story or a poem on the internet at home on their own one night and feel like everything’s going to be okay, eventually.
That’s really important to me. I still feel like that kid, often. I didn’t want to make something which felt exclusive or inaccessible or intimidating. I just wanted to make something which felt honest and welcoming, that could make the world feel a little bit less lonely for a few people. And I think that we’ve worked really hard and we’ve sometimes been really lucky, and we have been able to achieve something along those lines, so far.
I’m saying ‘we’. One of the best things that has ever happened to me, which came from doing this, is that I met Sarah Jean Alexander, who is the poetry editor.
Working together is really fun.
The only part of running Shabby Doll which I’d describe as ‘hard’ would be thinking about what we can do to keep pushing it forward. We’re going to be doing things quite differently this year.
We’ll be announcing new things soon.
If you were talking to someone who’d never read Frank O’Hara before but was interested in trying him out, what are a couple poems you would recommend? When and how did you start reading O’Hara? Lately I’ll read something by Joe Brainard or Bernadette Mayer or Frank O’Hara or another person from ‘the New York School’ and it sounds really familiar to me, even though these poems are more than 50 years old. What do you appreciate about Frank O’Hara’s writing, what about it attracts you as a reader?
I found Frank O’Hara’s selected poems in a used bookstore when I was about 20. I didn’t know who he was but for some reason, I started reading.
It was the first time I had ever felt really excited about poetry. The first time that poetry had made me feel as good as rap music does. I felt amazed by him. I still do. There are so many lines that just run through my head like screensavers.
‘I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love’
‘How terrible orange is / and life’
‘Now I am quietly waiting for / the catastrophe of my personality / to seem beautiful again, / and interesting, and modern’
‘Partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yogurt’
‘I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world’
‘Pain always produces logic which is very bad for you’
‘I know you love Manhattan, / but you ought to look up more often’
‘You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”’
His work has a sense of wonderment which just feels so essential to me. I felt like I had been waiting my whole life to have the conversations you can have with his poetry. And that’s how he wrote. It’s in his manifesto, ‘Personism’,
‘I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. ‘
A few months ago I read his poem, ‘St Paul and All That’ for the first time. I don’t know how I had gone for so long without reading it before, but it felt so exciting to me because I thought that I had already read almost everything he had written. It felt serendipitous also, because the poem seemed aligned, somehow, with what was happening in my own life.
I’m smiling, thinking of this.
The poem that really made me fall in love with him in the beginning, was Steps.
‘oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much’
It would be so cool if somebody read this interview and then got to know about Frank O’Hara.
February 2014. interview by Chris Dankland
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