Where can we go now, motherfucker?: An Interview with A. Minetta Gould

Posted by @ 3:03 pm on June 28th, 2011


A. Minetta Gould was raised in the mittens by a beautician. She’s since transplanted herself to the West where she worries herself with rust, the epic, and pagination. She’s the managing editor for Black Ocean and edits the journal Lonesome Fowl. She is the author of two recent chapbooks: Arousing Notoriety (Publishing Genius, 2011) and Dutch Baby Combo / The Boys are Talking about Restlessness at Five-Points (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2011).

Nathan Logan: I first remember encountering your work in elimae, and then in the fifth issue of Caketrain. Your poems seemed strange in the best kind of way—in both issues, no other poets seemed to be up to what you were doing. It is a hard feeling/observation to quantify. Do you see yourself as writing in/out of some tradition—do you get your cues from any specific poets or schools of thought?

A Minetta Gould: I think the poems you saw in elimae and Caketrain work outside any poetic tradition for a very simple reason: I didn’t know anything about poetry, really. I started writing poems when I was 20 or 21, and I started publishing when I was 21 or 22, and I hadn’t yet realized how to examine the tradition. I was influenced by play, by being anything but the tradition, and had no desire inside myself to learn about it. The first books of poems I read were by kids—people who were maybe 25-30—from small presses. The first books I can remember buying are Jason Bredle’s A 12 Step Guide (whoever has that please give it back) and Laura Glenum’s Hounds of No (which also is no longer in my possession). I had no clue what was going on in those books, but I knew I liked it, and knew I wanted to be weird. I didn’t have time for dead white guys, the 1970s, or, heaven forbid, craft studies.

Then I turned 25 in my first year of grad school and realized it’d be super dumb of me to keep fooling myself into thinking weirdness came from ignorance. I started with the big buzz dude’s, the Surrealists, and have worked my way around the scope of what it is I think I may do. At this point in my career (I think I’m referring to an academic career here, not some sort of poetic one) there are several names/traditions that obviously have an influence on my writing: Lyn Hejinian, Mina Loy, Russell Edson, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Celan, etc. I’m intensely interested in the Lyric due to my intense studies with Martin Corless-Smith, and will probably never let those dirty little tricksters of the Surrealist Movement go.

NL: You said that, initially, you weren’t interested in dead white guys (my sentiment, too) and that you will probably “never let those dirty little tricksters of the Surrealist Movement go.” It seems to me that Surrealism is one of the more rare places a poet starts when they begin examining “the tradition.” That said, it seems that there is a resurgence of interest in Surrealism and that many poets, especially younger ones, are harnessing elements of it in their writing. Besides “weirdness,” what do you see as the attraction to this movement? What does it offer you, or what do you think it offers other young poets, that other movements do not?

AMG: There are several snarky things that come to mind here, but inevitably all of them are simple manifestations of themselves, creating a hypocritical argument on my part, but I’m young so I’ll just say it anyhow. I’ll limit most of this answer to some keywords: 21st century hipness: rejection of Waldon: Micro attention spans: We’re all getting dumber. I don’t really think anyone is getting dumber, but it does seem like we (the “we” here is, for good measure, 23-34 year olds entering into the poetry scene, whether it be through university, community, or sex. Might I digress for a moment that this age bracket goes to 34, not 33, because I feel like a lot of poets I know take that Jesus year head on and rip it’s throat out Dead Alive style and come out on the other side doing something crazy-awesome. Granted, I know a lot of 33 year old poets that would consider themselves the throat being ripped out.)

Surrealism, the real stuff, has but two critiques: it’s an amazing reactionary movement that redefines community, politics, and Great Literature (when’s the last time Breton was included in a Norton? He isn’t in any of mine), or it’s complete shit (see my Nortons). The real Surrealism is something lived, something moment-al, and something un-abiding to the rules of reading and critiquing poetry. You can’t follow the craft of a Surrealist poem. There is no narrative arch. You can’t flesh out and re-work a scene, push a metaphor throughout a whole poem, or re-evaluate a character’s plot: the whole purpose is to give that good shit the finger and say, “Where can we go now, motherfucker?” In this scenario the reader (we) are the motherfucker.

Surrealism offers us an arena of narrowness, a very specific plot that meets the same ends every time. This is why Surrealism may be so appealing to all of us. We see the poetry pool and sure, Surrealism is at the deep end, but this pool is clean and we can see the drain at the bottom and notice the sign for ‘no diving’ which, I admit, makes us want to dive.

As odd as some people may find it, I think Surrealism is easy, and that’s why we’re so keen on it’s little tush. And it does pilates four days a week (I know this because we go to the same Y).

I’ve successfully not answered that question.

NL: In both of your chapbooks, you seem drawn to the long form. Arousing Notoriety is a series, and Dutch Baby Combo / The Boys… are both long poems. Are you especially drawn to the long form, or is this just a coincidence with these chapbooks?

AMG: I would say I’m attracted to long poems mostly because they’re like the dirty kid that wants to date me that I know is a bad idea but I do it anyhow because I can (and will) save him. I never actually save that dirty kid. Long poems are difficult. “Master” poets write their “epic” poems because they want people to see how awesome they are at poems. I write long poems because I think I need that much space to express myself properly.

Arousing Notoriety is a series. It was an assignment for a class I was in when I was young. Our objective was to write a series or sequence to make into a little chap to give to all our classmates. I was writing some odd little ducks about cities with peculiar names (Enigma, GA, for instance) but was having more trouble internally trying to tell my boyfriend (my first poet boyfriend and classmate) I was cheating on him. So I started writing poems about all these other boys and my first poet boyfriend loved them and the class loved them so I kept writing. I feel like this story was way more tragic five years ago, but whatevs. What am I even talking about? Oh yeah–dirty kid I date to save:

I don’t know how to write without the larger, longer picture in mind. It’s how I started writing and I doubt I’ll ever stop having the bigger picture in mind before I ever start a poem. My thesis, which “Dutch Baby Combo” is a part of, started as my attempt to articulate why I think young poets aren’t ambitious enough (cue hate mail in 3, 2, …). The poem begins, “There are several things wrong with today […] Reading isn’t important to my friends. If I were to say camera, what would you say?” Those several wrong things are my frustrations. Those friends are my peers who still don’t think they need to pay attention to the tradition. Saying camera is all a part of the play.

NL: It seems to me that a lot of poets that are doing exciting things these days are from the Midwest, but have been transplanted other places for school, or have moved to one coast or another. Being from the Midwest yourself, do you think there is something about the idea of “place” that seems more/less valuable for writers from the Midwest? If not, are there things about the Midwest that you sense weave their way through your poems?

AMG: I applied to grad school at Boise Sate because I really liked Kerri Webster and the back of her book said she taught at Boise State. That was a lie, and that’s ok, because I found that in displacing myself from what I’d always known (I’d been to Windsor and Ohio…Chicago once or twice) I was forced to think about place in strange new ways. I began writing a lot about the ID (I luv puns) and find myself thinking about Manifest Destiny a lot.

John Ashbery wrote a keen observation of this place nonsense in his essay “The New York School.” He said something like the only thing a poet or artist says by living in New York City is that they aren’t living someplace else, and I think that’s just it. All I’m saying by writing in the West now is that I’m not in the middle anymore.

I think place for authors might be more important in some very stereotypical places: the South because you are automatically rural or have some sort of slavery ties and California because you can win some big money for being regional there (cue more hate mail in 3, 2, …). There isn’t even a poet laureate in Idaho because too many killed themselves in the 80s. I suppose we do have cowboy poetry here, but I’m still not sure what that is and am afraid I will never own the right pair of boots to find out. Forrest Gander came to read and lecture here recently and asked us all if we found ourselves to be writers of place. I giggled and said “no way” but immediately thought of all the poems I write that have specific places/locations in them, “Dutch Baby” and “The Boys” included.

NL: There have been some conversations here and there (I’m thinking about HTML Giant in particular), where people have generally lauded the poetry reading. And you recently told me that at a reading you gave, you felt it was nerve-wracking. Do you like giving readings of your work? Are there general things about poetry readings that you like/despise/wish were different?

AMG: Confession: I had to look up what “lauded” means. I’m also terrible with blogs so would love to know what sorts of things the lovely HTML Giant folks are saying/doing about readings: do share!

I have a love/hate relationship with reading. I think readings should be a performance: I’m there to entertain, not listen to myself be awesome. Therefore, I do a lot of…stuff…during my readings, which includes anything from singing in the middle of poems to kissing audience members to constructing elaborate poems that require 8-10 participants to read along with me. This showmanship is also very nerve wracking because I have no clue how to keep one-upping myself. One of these days I’m going to have to normal down, but not before I get some major structures built, or carried into a reading Gaga style.

I hate boring banter, or a lot of banter between poems. The phrase, “this is a poem about…” is stupid. I say it a lot, but only to announce what my poem is not in any way about. I was on tour with Zach Schomburg for a bit so picked up the crowd-pleasing banter of “do you guys like…” You’d be surprised how many angry audiences that phrase will win over. I recall a reading by some big wig poet at Sarah Lawrence where there had to of been 250 people there with no AC and we’re all dying and this lady wouldn’t shut up with the banter and finally this angelic man yells from the balcony, “Read a poem!” and she did shut up and read a poem. He’s my hero.

Man, now I’m thinking about everything I don’t like about readings instead of all the good stuff…quick negative list: AWP readers who read for too long when there are twenty readers on the bill. AWP readings with twenty readers on the bill. Banter that lasts longer than a poem.

Awesome positive list: AWP readings where you hear a voice you’ve never experienced and get excited about poetry again. When readers are bilingual and read in their native tongue (Ales Steger was just here and he read in Slovenian for me and it was beautiful). Readers with distinct voices/styles (Abe Smith, Raul Zurita, Christian Bok, Keston Sutherland, etc.) Focused readings. Baby Bear-length readings: not too short, not too long. Readings that make you want to go home immediately and write.

NL: Your readings sound like events! (I have to admit, I am stealing one of your ideas and having a poem read simultaneously by 14 voices.) Most of the commentary on HTML Giant, and what I’ve heard from others, centers around the negatives you talked about–the poetry reading seems to be something that most people dread, only because a lot of poets don’t practice reading aloud or do those lame moves (e.g. “This poem is about…”) that you discussed. I really hate the one where the poet says, “This is a long poem…”

AMG: Yeah, my readings are events. I think this goes back to my distaste for visual artists who disregard my art as art (do other people get the cold shoulder from visual artists like I do? Am I just surrounded by ignorant jerks?). Yes, poetry is something insanely internal and personal and developed most commonly alone, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. I write poems that are meant to be read and I write poems that aren’t. I know when I’m composing each, and I love composing each. I also thrive on the performance community I have around me in Boise. A good friend and amazing poet Adrian Kien often wears costumes, buries himself in dirt, eats his poems, or ties animal bones to his body during readings. I look up to him and always will try to match his quiet (yes, these events are subdued) intensity in his poetry. My classmate Merin Tigert performed a menagerie as her thesis. We are different here, and I like us. I think, maybe, because we’re not affected by a scene, we take risks here in Boise. I think, maybe, simply being in Boise is a risk, but it’s one worth taking for me.

NL: What are you working on now? Are your current creative endeavors poetic only, or are you trying some new/other things?

AMG: About a month ago I started working on a new manuscript named Family which is beginning to develop ideas about heredity, infestation, and my mother. I like it a lot.

Nate, I am a very scared person, which prevents me from doing a lot of things for fear of failure. I stopped painting in my undergrad because I met people who were better at it. I’ve never understood how to write music. I’m not very good at building things, and I can’t sew or knit. I recently began a relationship with a craftsman and abstract artist. We haven’t collaborated on anything yet, but the other night he asked me if I’d help him with some lyrics for a song he has the tune for but can’t think of what to say. I’m scared, but I’m going to do it. Today I will be strong and ask him if he’d like to play a little. Oh—I do garden.

NL: Before I let you go, I need to mention that you successfully defended your M.F.A. thesis (congrats!). Now, looking back on your time in your program, do you think getting your M.F.A. was something you needed to do, or do you think you would have arrived at the point you are today without being in a graduate program? Would you advise undergraduates interested in Creative Writing to go for a graduate degree?

AMG: Fuck no I wouldn’t be where I am as a poet if I hadn’t done my MFA. I took this time seriously: I completed three full manuscripts, I don’t even know how many chapbooks, and have expanded my library by hundreds of books. I only know one person (Matt Bell) that reads more than I do (this is not to say reading is a competition, but it is just as important as writing poems) and I think more critically about poems than I could ever have imagined three years ago. I wouldn’t have my position with Black Ocean if I hadn’t entered my MFA, and I wouldn’t have produced the poetry I have. That said, do I wish I would have taken the teaching position I was offered at the high school I was working at prior to beginning my MFA? Probably, but not today. A few days ago I wish I had, but I’d probably jammed the printer in the office or something and was having a breakdown.

I do not advise undergrads to go to grad school. It is a very bad idea. I do know, however, that the best poets will only make bad decisions. Except when it comes to funding: NEVER GO INTO AN MFA THAT DOESN’T OFFER FULL FUNDING FOR ALL THE STUDENTS! That’s just bad song writing, Petey.

NL: I really love that you say that “the best poets will only make bad decisions.” One “bad decision” might be, indeed, to get a degree or two in creative writing. Are there other bad decisions you had in mind though? You did mention that you cheated on your first poet boyfriend, which seems like a bad decision, but it did help spawn a poem series for you. Do you think there risks in being a poet that one doesn’t go through if he/she is a fiction writer, or creative non-fiction writer? Or another kind of artist for that matter?

AMG: Naw. I’ve made a lot of personal bad decisions in my life because I love love. I also think you’re getting at a poet dilemma that I can’t possibly begin to articulate any sort of unique answer for. Poets have a bum wrap. That’s the bottom line. We all know it. We all know our worth is determined by a prize, contest, who we’re sleeping with, who wants to sleep with us, what stunt we’re performing on the internet, who we’re pissing off, etc. et. al. I don’t care to carry on about this stuff. Instead I’m going to work on introducing myself to people as a poet (something I think I’ve mentioned to you before as a gesture I do not make) and take on any sort of disgruntling or snuffing they may do (& oh they do) and say, “Hey, I know I have no chance at the benjamins & I like it that way. Now buy me a beer.” What if I did say that same thing every time? Man. I think I’d get some beers.

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Nathan Logan was born and raised in the cankle bone of the Midwest. He is the author of Arby’s Combo Roundup (Mondo Bummer, 2010) and Dick (Pangur Ban Party, 2009). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Creative Writing at the University of North Texas.

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