Q: I want to start with the word romance. There are a lot of romantic images in your poems, but most of them are not your typical Hallmark card or romantic romance images. Is this collection a new take on Romanticism? Modern Romanticism?
A: Well, I’m a romantic person, but in the construction of some of these poems I had no interest in dealing with a lot of traditional tropes. I think we’ve already done quite a bit of work circumventing and inverting the typical romantic tropes that are found in all forms of art. But what I really think is romantic is finding someone else’s hair on your pillow or the smell of someone else making you coffee, little intimate moments that are so simple and universal and connect us to a whole history of people being sweet and kind to each other.
Q: What about the poems in your collection that are not kind? Some poems romanticize un-romantic scenes: a child falling down stairs, someone losing a favorite hat, and visiting a psychiatrist. These moments might be intimate, but, as your cover suggests, they’re not happy, sweet, or kind. Why do you choose to include these moments as well? And what does romance have to do with it?
A: Haha, well the world is full of unkindness as well. There are so many cliches about the necessity of darkness to have light, but it’s obviously true. Also, not to sound too cynical, but I think it’s much easier for people to recall traumas, or painful memories than it is to conjure the kind ones. We can also have a communion with our pain, it brings us together as well.
Q: Time is another big theme in Starving Romantic. In the last poem, we meet “time” as a character. Why did you decide to end your collection with this poem? And second, does time age or is time always a 65-year-old man?
A: That poem, to me, is sort of a big thematic nail in the coffin and I think it ends the book in a way that leads to more questions than any sort of direct revelation. That’s how I like the books I read to end. Time and memory are the key themes of the third section of the book. The effect time has on memory, the way that memory defines how we perceive time. These ideas are wrapped around each other and while they’re huge themes I wanted to explore them through a microcosm of experiences both real and fictitious.
Q: How can experiences be both real and fictitious?
A: My work is influenced by my own life, the lives around me, and the lives I’ve yet to know. It’s the same idea as time. Everything that has happened and ever will happen is happening right now. Who’s gonna argue with that, it sounds so nice. You never have to miss anyone.
Q: Michigan is mentioned multiple times throughout the collection. Do you see Michigan as more than background? Some artists talk about cities as characters in their work, is this true in your work? In other words, is place, location, or even the concept of “home” important in your poems?
A: Home is key. Michigan has been my home for most of my life. I have a great passion for the midwest, for the people and the buildings and the ecosystem. There is one poem about a city, Grand Rapids, that talks about the unnerving conflict of midwestern kindness and the total anonymity of a larger urban area. I love cities though. Starving Romantic is definitely urban in its setting and tone. I’m mildly uncomfortable anywhere that isn’t mostly pavement.
Q: There are some poems that are more experimental—more surreal. Take, Powwow and Fiddlestick, for example, both poems are mostly images. Is your intention to give impressions or snapshots?
A: I like the the term hyperreal. I’m actually trying to get to the most simple translation of feeling to image. Say the feeling I need to create in the poem is one of confusion, a heavy dosage of juxtaposed images that evoke fear, pleasure, and paranoia may have a more direct effect than a single image or line. Other times I want the reader to be swept up in the freedom of poetry itself, the endless possibilities to say so much with so little. At the end of the day you also have to just listen to what the poem is telling you. Some poems want to be swift, experiments, others narrative, others meditative. You don’t have complete control of it.
Q: When you start a poem, do you begin with an image?
A: When I start a poem I most often write like three stanzas that get cut. I have to write myself into a poem, just sort of spinning the wheels until I catch a hint of something. Even if I have an idea, or a starting place, I need to exercise it out on the page because my feelings about the subject are often unresolved until the poem is close to done. Other times it’s much easier but I don’t want to talk about that.
Q: Killer cover—can you tell us why you choose it?
A: I saw the image and was immediately taken with it. I just thought it was so visceral, yet at the same time vulnerable. Imagistically it felt like it connected to a few poems in the book and I’ve always been preoccupied with mouths and teeth. Also, I’m just a big fan of the artist. [ www.zoebeaudry.com ]
Q: What is the best way to read Starving Romantic? At home, with the lights on or off? In a coffee shop? In a bar? With friends or alone?
A: All of the above. Be sure to buy multiple copies to use as coasters.
Q: Who are some of your influences? What books were you reading while you were writing this collection?
A: Some authors I read when working on the book— Kaveh Akbar, Ada Limon, Sam Sax, Solmaz Sharif, Alex Dimitriov, you know all those big books. I always keep Ted Berrigan close to me. Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris was instrumental to the completion and structuring. My friends and loved ones were enormous influences.
Q: You’re a musician as well as a poet. Is the writing process similar or different?
A: While mentally I feel like the process is quite different, I do sit in the same chair and at the same desk to do both. With music I often have the luxury of collaboration and a greater sense of immediacy. Poetry can be slower, I have to pace myself.
Q: Have you ever thought about writing music for poems in Starving Romantic?
A: I’m not but there may be some music in the works from a young classical composer as well as a collaboration with a jazz trio. We’ll see what happens.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers who want to become published poets?
A: The only thing I can advise is to keep editing. People often forget that it’s 90 percent of the work. Also, don’t be precious about writing, don’t use it as a means to feel smarter or superior. Modesty is a better policy than honesty.