Interview with Oliver de la Paz

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of four collections of poetry, including Names Above HousesFurious Lullaby (SIU Press 2001, 2007), Requiem for the Orchard (U. of Akron Press 2010), and Post Subject: A Fable (U. of Akron Press 2014), as well as the winner of the Akron Prize for poetry chosen by Martìn Espada. He is the co-editor with Stacey Lynn Brown of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (U. of Akron Press 2012). He co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry and serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Board.  A recipient of a NYFA Fellowship Award and a GAP Grant from Artist Trust, his work has appeared in journals like Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, Tin House, Chattahoochee Review, and in anthologies such as Asian American Poetry:  The Next Generation. He is the music editor for At Length Magazine and he teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.


 

How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal?

My first publication ever was a sestina about Filipino rooster fighting, and basically I published that poem right after college in West Wind Review. All told, it didn’t take me long to get published the first time. However, it took a few years to get published after that initial success.

Do you make your living as a writer, and if not, do you aspire to?

I make a living as a teacher and academic BECAUSE I write. I never made much money for my writing, but I certainly have crafted a life because I can do what I enjoy and because I can share what I do.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Read. Read. Read. First way to have a good two-way conversation is to choose to be a listener. Know what the publishers want and read selections of their presses. I learned about great presses by reading great books and then tracking, via the acknowledgments page, the journals that had first published some of the work.

How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

I used to have lots of time to spend on a poem and I would do that—revising incessantly. Now, with a steady job, three kids, and lots of advocacy work and service, I have no time. So I developed shortcuts—I tend to write in sequences now more than I ever had. I use similar titles for poems as ways of getting me started quickly into the work. And I’m more patient with staying still on a tonal premise.

Is there anyone’s work you are currently reading that you find exciting?

I’ve been reading a lot of hybrid stuff—work that combines visual images and poetry/text. Among the books I recently read that do this sort of thing are Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies, Todd Kaneko’s The Dead Wrestler Elegies, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Philip Metres’s Sand Opera, and Matthea Harvey’s If The Tabloids are True What Are You.

How did you get starting in writing? and did you always want to be a writer?

Oh, that’s tough to answer. I was always writing as a kid because I was an only child and my family lived in the barrens of Eastern Oregon (If you watch the news, the takeover of the Oregon Wildlife Refuge happened not an hour and a half away from my home town). It was, however, mostly a hobby. I lived in my imagination to keep myself company and I had a healthy imaginative life with lots and lots of books and lots of trips to the library. I, of course, had no ambition of becoming a writer. Like all immigrant kids, I was expected to become a doctor or a lawyer, but that didn’t happen.

Is there a reason plenty of your works have a country setting?

I mentioned just above that I grew up in Eastern Oregon and that landscape codified my aesthetics. There’s a particular smell and texture of the air there that’s difficult to articulate to someone who’s not from there. And part of what I try to do to non-Eastern Oregonian readers is show what that’s like, even though I’ll ultimately fail at it.

Was there anything from your youth that inspired you as a writer?

Oh, all of it! I was a big reader, but also a kid who was outside almost every day. Ontario, Oregon had its specific rural narrative and tone. Much of that life I draw from, though sometimes other passions take hold. Right now I’m inspired by grotesque photographs, but I think part of that inspiration comes from my mother’s medical books which she had everywhere in the house. I used to gawk at all the pictures of the diseased subjects with the black bars over their eyes. Strangely, that’s my latest inspiration.


About the author of this post: Josh Soldati is a senior majoring in Media Studies with a passion for animation.

Review of “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” by Patricia Lockwood

Poet Patricia Lockwood has received a deluge of positive reviews for her work, and 2014’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals will fare no differently. The new poetry collection features poems such as “Is Your Country as He or She in Your Mouth” – the poem from which Lockwood takes the name of the book – “The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple,” and, her viral sensation, “Rape Joke.” The cover art is an original work of cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt, the same artist used for Lockwood’s first publication. The two-tonal, white and green jacket art features an all-white silhouette of a hybrid human-deer, featuring two sets of sharp antlers, fanged teeth and a wiry tongue. This is set upon a heavily blue-green backdrop splattered with crude, toon-like details of leaves. This, along with the haunting title, sets the mood for Lockwood’s strange and elusive poetry; a mood that is tense with the unification of nature and sexuality, the human and the inhuman.

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Lockwood is unbelievably frank in her metaphoric and sometimes literal language. Her ability to marry the natural with the unnatural is as seamless as turning a deer into a porn star. Equally praiseworthy is her integration of pop culture into works that seem to belong in a culture all their own. In “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” she writes “Every deer gets called Bambi at least once in its life, every deer must answer to Bambi.” Conjuring up images of childhood films, and walks in the woods, Lockwood twists the childhood imagery. The seemingly universal deer nickname suddenly becomes a frightening call to the loss of innocence.

Her viral sensation, “Rape Joke,” lives up to its fame. The irony of the piece is in the writer’s moment of worry that all she’d be known for was the poem about the rape joke.   Stylistically, the poem is denser than many of her others, less lyrical, and more like prose-poetry. Almost every line begins: “The rape joke is”, a statement that readies the reader for the following definitions of the rape joke itself. Lockwood often personifies objects and abstractions in her poetry, and the rape joke hauntingly takes the identity of the rapist himself, a chilling move which resonates through the rest of the book. She writes, “The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.” But, whether or not Lockwood is sincere in her fear “Rape Joke” becoming her signature work, it seems it already is. Rape Joke was selected to be in The Best American Poetry 2014 and won the Pushcart Prize, awarded to poetry, essays and small fictions etc., published in small presses.

Lockwood should rejoice; “Rape Joke” and her collection are worthy of any bookshelf for their strange charms and cultural appeal alone. The poetry in this collection is beautiful, dreamlike, and startling like a nightmare, all qualities which amount to some of the loveliest poetry conceived in the last few years.


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Patricia Lockwood’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Tin House, and Poetry. She is the author of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black (Octopus Books, 2012), Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (Penguin Books, 2014), and the viral internet sensation “Rape Joke” (The Awl, 2013).


 

About the author of this post: Ryann Overstreet is a junior at North Central College where she studies Writing and Philosophy. She has two orange cats that she is obsessed with and eats a box of pasta a day.

 

Interview with Brandon Courtney

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Iowa. He is a veteran of the United States Navy, and a graduate of the MFA program at Hollins University. His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, The Boston Review, American Literary Review, The Progressive, and Verse Daily. His first book, The Grief Muscles (2014), was published by Sheep Meadow Press. His second collection, Rooms for Rent in the Burning City (2015), was published by Spark Wheel Press. YesYes Books will publish a chapbook of poems, as well as his third full-length collection in 2016-17, respectively.

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When did you first discover you liked writing?

I first discovered that I enjoyed writing fairly late in my life. I entertained a number of potential career paths, including fire science, interior design, architecture, and medicine, before devoting my time and efforts to writing. I grew up in a small, rural town in Iowa, so the idea of writing—especially as a career, or as anything other than a hobby—was completely foreign. I was encouraged to learn a trade skill, and before entering college, I planned on apprenticing as an HVAC technician. After the Navy, I worked at SimplexGrinnell as a fire suppression technician, installing and inspecting kitchen hood systems. Even now, the idea of calling myself a writer seems strange. As an undergraduate, I took my first Creative Writing class; I thought, wrongly, that the class would be an easy “A,” and that I could pad my GPA. I can’t remember now what I received in the class, but it was not an “A.” After that course, I began writing obsessively. I began as a dramatist, actually, and I took several playwriting classes before my first poetry class.

Is your writing a hobby, a part-time job, or do you focus solely on writing and getting published? If it’s not a full-time ordeal, what else do you do?

Right now, I consider writing to be a full-time job, although I work two jobs, as well. Currently, I am a Developmental English Tutor at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, New Jersey. Also, I teach a poetry workshop for Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop Online. Lately, I’m devoting my time to completing two manuscripts, which will be published by YesYes Books in 2016 and 2017, respectively. When I’m not working, or editing the two forthcoming poetry manuscripts, I’m devoted to writing a memoir. After some excellent encouragement and advice from a faculty member at Sewanee, I decided to seriously pursue memoir. In fact, I’m applying to Creative Non-Fiction programs in New York City this fall, and I hope to join a cohort of students and faculty who can assist me in shaping the memoir.

When and where did you first get published?

Strangely, my first publication was in Best New Poets ’09. I was encouraged to submit to the open competition by Jennifer Perrine, a poet who teaches at Drake University, and Kim Addonizio, the guest editor, selected my poem, “Memorandum for the Record.”

How long before then had you tried to get published?

The poem published in Best New Poets was in the first batch of poems I submitted, three in total. I was more concerned with trying to understand the craft. Poetry was completely foreign to me; besides a week in high school, where we probably read Poe and Shakespeare, I had never been exposed to poetry. It wasn’t something that was on my radar. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I was probably 26 or 27 that I understood that people were still writing poetry. As an undergraduate, I was more concerned with comprehending what a poem was, and less concerned about submitting. Once I felt more comfortable, I started submitting frequently.

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

My suggestion for anyone attempting to publish his or her work is to read the journal in its entirety. When I submit work, I focus on two things: what is the overarching aesthetic, and what are they not publishing? The first one is relatively self-explanatory. The second, I’ve found, is something many writers neglect. I think, for most writers, the instinct is to send poems that mirror a journal’s aesthetic, but I’ve always tried to send the opposite. Ask yourself, what is this journal not publishing?

Do you have any favorite poets/authors? Why do you like them? What elements of their style make you enjoy their writing?

My all-time favorite writer is Samuel Beckett, who takes minimalism and erasure to the next level. As far as poets, there’s not enough space here, but I’ll list a few poets who I believe are writing some of the most important work right now. Malachi Black, whose collection, Storm Towards Morning, is a masterpiece, both formally and emotionally. I believe Solmaz Sharif is writing poetry that all poets should not only read, but study; the same should be said about Eduardo Corral, Roger Reeves, Phillip B. Williams, Ocean Vuong, and Joshua Robbins. Also, both of TJ Jarrett’s collections are untouchable.

When you are writing, do you have any special rituals or processes?

I have some very strange rituals. Unlike most poets I’ve encountered, who need silence when they write, I have to listen to loud music. Mostly, I listen to Black Metal or Shoegaze. I’ve been collecting records for some time now, and I like having to leave the page to flip a record; it allows me time, I think, to step away from the writing and really think about what it is I want to say, if only briefly. I write a lot about drowning and, in a way, I think listening to aggressively loud music is a kind of drowning. I’m interested in how a particular record’s atmosphere can change the tenor of a poem.

I noticed the recurring image of bottled bourbon in a few of your poems. Is there any special significance to this image, or is it simply a drink you enjoy?

I’ve been sober since December 26th 2007, after struggling with alcohol both in the Navy and after. For a long time, alcohol played a major factor in my life. I also have an extensive family history of alcoholism, so it’s something that continues to appear in my writing. Bourbon was always my drink of choice, as well as my father and grandfathers. There were other drinks, too, but some of my worst, and best, nights were fueled by bourbon.


About the author of this post: Nicholas Drazenovic is currently a senior at North Central College and is a co-editor of 30 North. He is studying English with a concentration in Writing, as well as Computer Science. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in either technical writing or software development.