“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”~Alice In Wonderland (1951)
This blog post is dedicated to the first poet to have a book published by Spark Wheel Press, Mr. Steven D. Schroeder. Please do take time to go out and read his book. There were lots of moments of unexpected little pleasures, like the Konami code right in the middle of “serious” poetry. Our interview got me thinking about the miracle of the brilliant among the competent and how the choice of subject is irrelevant to the caliber of work.
This led to me to a meditation on our adult commitments and the meaning we attach to taking certain obligations and events seriously. We take pride in being “adult” about the way we handle money and our relationships, meaning that if we are “serious” then we are “responsible.” The themes in The Royal Nonesuch include poems about these and other very serious and adult concepts (see the handily-provided index, “Transgressions”). On the other hand, Steve’s poetry is free-spirited, retaining an element of the childlike willingness to try out new sounds and freely associating words and feelings together that arrives at whimsy without ever being nonsensical. Or maybe it is, but it’s a whole lot of fun along the way!
First, congratulations on the book of poetry. I’ve read it and it was absolutely fresh and playful and kinetic. How does it feel to see your work in such a solid and complete form?
Thank you for the kind words. I’m very happy with the book as a physical item, as a collection of poems I can stand by, and as representative of me starting a new writing project now that it’s out. I worked on the manuscript for the bulk of three years, so it’s gratifying that it ended up looking and feeling so good. And of course, thank you to Liz, Jen, and everyone else who helped Spark Wheel bring it out.
I had a colleague who was forever revising and editing her work, sometimes even after it had been published. Do you ever see a published poem of yours and think “Oh, I should fix this ….”?
I’d make a joke I’ve made before about how much I tinker with my poems and my book manuscripts, but first it needs a couple minor changes. Seriously, though, I perform minor rework on many of my poems between when they’re published in journals and when the book comes out—probably the majority of poems in the book have been modified during that stage. The book, however, is a relief for me because I stop editing the poems at this point. They are what they’re going to be, and I can move on unequivocally.
How do you think The Royal Nonesuch is different from Torched Verse Ends? Does it represent a change in where you are as a person and a poet?
On the most basic level, it’s much more coherent as a book. Torched Verse Ends was my attempt to put in book form everything I had written for several years before I started even thinking about having a book. As you might expect, that makes it a bit of a hodgepodge. The Royal Nonesuch had the framework of a whole project from the beginning. The individual poems are also more accomplished on average, since I’m still developing as a writer—I hope to be able to say the same thing whenever my next book comes out. This second book also represents a geographical change for me, from Colorado Springs to St. Louis, and a turn toward less openly autobiographical work.
I am particularly interested in what spawned the creation of your “index page” at the end of the book. Although I found myself giggling happily at regular intervals (much to the mystification of my fellow airline passengers), your index was my favorite portion of the book! How did you come up with this idea?
My first book also has an index, though not so closely focused. At first, it was simply a whim, and then I kept it going because it helped me track themes that come up in my work, some of which I wasn’t even consciously aware of at the time, and because my close readers typically found it amusing. For The Royal Nonesuch, since I knew from the get-go that it was going to have themes of theft and lies, the index also made sense from day one. Many of the other transgressions in it (bad advice or mind games or scapegoating) emerged over time.
What was the moment you realized you were a poet?
When I was in first grade, I wrote that I wanted to be a police officer who gave speeding tickets to cheetahs for running too fast. My teacher and parents complimented me for being imaginative and funny, so I guess that was when I realized I could entertain with my writing. I don’t know that I’ve had a moment yet when I realized I was a poet. Maybe that’s what I’m still trying for with each new work I write. If I ever do realize it, then I should stop.
Tell me about your poem-writing routine. Do you have a magic quill, a special seat at a local establishment, or lucky underwear?
I have no interesting writing rituals, I’m afraid. I scrawl ideas and phrases and lines down in a notebook, often next to my bed as I drift in and out of sleep. When they actually start to form into a draft, I sit at my computer and type them in Word. The first draft is almost always terrible. Then, assuming there’s enough to salvage, I go through a lengthy process of writing on printed drafts, reading the poem aloud, and fixing whatever needs fixing. Aside from at least once during the early stages theatrically cursing the poem’s unwillingness to cooperate, the closest thing I have to a writing ritual may be Coke Zero.
What is your muse or favorite subject? Who inspires you?
At the moment, my favorite subject in a broad sense is the apocalypse and dystopias, since my next project throws those themes in a blender with more contemporary concerns. One idea that I’ve covered more and more since my first book, one that definitely fits the new manuscript, is the way we twist language so that it confuses or actively misleads, and particularly how people use that sort of doublespeak to maintain their authority, whether it’s political, business, or personal. Happy stuff. Poets who inspire me one way or another include William Blake, E. E. Cummings, Frank Stanford, and an awful lot of my amazing friends. As for my muse, I think it’s one of those things better kept to oneself, like a birthday wish or a true name.
What do you read just for you? What kind of material really helps you to fill your creative tank, when you’re not in editor-mode and you’re not in writer-mode?
I’m never completely out of writer mode—no matter how tangential or odd or seemingly disposable, anything I read could bubble up in a piece later. That said, the things I enjoy reading most for pleasure beyond poetry include social/sociological nonfiction (things like Fast Food Nation, The Corner, or many of David Foster Wallace’s essays) and smart fantasy novels, building on my childhood obsession with hacky fantasy novels. Music also helps recharge me—recently I’ve been listening to The Gaslight Anthem, The Civil Wars, The Bronx, and P.O.S, among many more.
I read a recent interview you conducted in another journal where you outlined your pet peeves and special delights with regard to poetry (please note the distinct lack of the phrase “I remember” in this interview!). As an editor yourself, what are thoughts on what’s going on in poetry today and how do you see it evolving as independent and electronic journals increase in both quality and quantity?
There really are a lot of small and online journals popping up, aren’t there? Here are just a few promising places that have started in the last year or that I’ve discovered in the last year: ILK, The Account, Black Tongue, and The Cossack. Funny that Anti-, my own little online journal, is almost a veteran at this point.
Poetry today is deep and diverse, which of course can have two faces. Anyone who says there’s no good work out there simply isn’t trying, or has an agenda to push. But it can be overwhelming to wade through all the mere competence in search of the brilliant, and I wish there were less of a fragmented tribe mentality to the whole thing. Overall, I’m glad to be alive at a time that can give us everyone from D. A. Powell to K. Silem Mohammad, Terrance Hayes to Laura Kasischke, etc.
What do you do in your non-editing, non-writing, spare time?
As is the case for most poets, the writing is a huge portion of my spare time. Beyond that, I bake cookies and other desserts. I turn music up too loud when I’m by myself. I played basketball weekly until a shoulder injury earlier this year. I visit my family and friends in Colorado as much as I can. I help fund PC games (and some other projects) on Kickstarter. I feel like I’m filling out a dating profile here. I do also try, on occasion, to date.
And finally: Deadpool > Wolverine. Sorry.
Comic books are actually one of my weakest areas of pop culture, and I’m not even much of a Wolverine fan anymore. If you want me to argue why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk, or Snake Eyes is better than Storm Shadow, or Gandalf is better than all the other wizards, I’d be happy to.
That sounds like a most interesting discussion but then people would know we are nerds! (Shh!)