I like Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz so much that every day this week, I’ll be posting excerpts from a really long interview between Cristin and I about writing, New York and her forthcoming book Everything is Everything which will be released in January 2010 by Write Bloody Press.
A lot of your writing seems like it would also lend itself quite well to prose. Do you agree with that? Why do you choose poetry as the medium for your creative expression?
The writers I have admired the most are the ones who create in whatever genre they feel serves their idea the best.
Sherman Alexie, for example, has written poetry, essays, short stories, screenplays, novels and even a young adult novel—and he’s been fairly acclaimed in all those genres too!
It might not make sense to anyone other than Alexie why one idea becomes a poem while another becomes a novel, but as long as he is creating, and inviting the sense of play that genre-switching can bring, I think he’s a better writer for it.
I write / have written non-fiction (essays, articles & the one book), and studied playwriting and screenwriting in college, so the role that poetry serves in my life has become is pretty well-defined. It’s my one overtly autobiographical medium.
The stories I tell in my poetry are my own… Or have become my own, in the sense that I can’t shake them… Or maybe they are stories I want to make my own, so I write them down so I don’t forget.
And when you deal with long form projects — like the research-heavy non-fiction work I do — having poetry is such a godsend. You can just write it in whatever time you have, and it’s always there for you for whenever you need it. And it turns out, I need it a lot.
Everything is Everything is organized thematically but I also felt that this collection had a really interesting shape to it. You start with the personal, in poems about poetry/slams, then the writing expands to broader subjects with poems that capture a vivid sense of place then the poems come back to the personal in writing that exposes the anxieties of the intellectual outcast and finally, you finish with very poignant yet wry writing about your relationship. Was the shape of this collection intentional? Is your writing always so deeply autobiographical?
I’m so happy that you picked up on the themes that ran through the book. I initially did some grouping when I presented the collection to Write Bloody, but the editors definitely helped me see themes and common threads that I hadn’t realized were there. I really liked the outcome of those changes, and it’s thrilling to hear that the ordering resonated with you as well.
In terms of my poetry, the vast majority of it is highly autobiographical. That is how I approach poetry, as a way to record.
Sometimes it’s recording an event; sometimes it’s an attempt to record a person or a feeling; other times I’m trying to record a time period, or a type of dialogue, or maybe just a ridiculous fact I can’t believe is true.
Poetry is my way of pining whatever it is to page so that I can see it for myself, and — if the poem is good enough — share it with the larger world.
In what ways does your collected work differ in tenor from individual poems? Collecting work is a very interesting project. How did you choose the poems to include in Everything is Everything?
The community where I developed most as a poet is the New York City Poetry Slam community. I was introduced to the poetry slam was I was a sophomore in college, and was so enamored with it, that I was starting my own venue a few months later (the NYC-Urbana Poetry Slam, which still happens every Tuesday night at NYC’s Bowery Poetry Club).
The Poetry Slam community is a D.I.Y. community, for better or worse. Once you have enough poems to make a little chapbook, you make that little chapbook and see if anyone will buy it. And if they do, you make some more.
The first three books I wrote were originally self-published chapbooks. They each covered certain periods of time in my life: “Dear Future Boyfriend” covered my college years; “Hot Teen Slut” is about my post-college experience working as a writer / editor for porn; and “Working Class Represent” is about my (ongoing) life as a cubicle jockey.
These self-published chapbooks proved popular enough to be picked up by the Poetry Slam online store, which sold them to anyone with a credit card. Soon after that, it was picked up by the fantastic Ann Arbor-based indie press, The Wordsmith Press, which created an expanded version of the books and handmade each and every copy using their basement printing press (talk about being a TRUE basement press!).
Now, almost decade after I printed out my first chapbook in the basement computer lab of my dorm, a reissues of all three of those books — as well as “Everything is Everything” and the TWP original, “Oh Terrible Youth” — will be published by Write Bloody Press, for even wider distribution.
And because the choice was made to keep those books intact and in print – as opposed to having them go out of print, and then combining them, which won’t really work anyway, since “Hot Teen Slut” is so SO vulgar — each book of my books continue to serve as a record of a specific time period of my life.
As per themes that occur, sometimes the themes were intentional (or, at least obvious, such as the multiple poems where I grappled with accidentally learning about giraffes which have been trained to rape humans), and other times, I didn’t even realize that I was writing poems with similar themes or tones or throughlines until I put the collection together, or until someone else pointed it out. Which is weird, and amazing.
I also love the title because, to my mind, it so perfectly captures the impressive breadth of your inquiry in these poems. How did you come up with the title? Were there other titles you considered?
The title has a funny story to it. My partner, Shappy Seasholtz, is a pop culture junkie. He went through a phase where he wanted to just watch Muppet-related things, and we ended up watching a lot of a DVD of the first season of “Sesame Street.” That first season was a much different show the current incarnation (so much so that the DVD box carries a warning NOT to show it to young children), and we became fairly obsessed with its brazen weirdness.
One of the sketches we kept returning to was a Kermit the Frog “News Flash” sketch where he is reporting on Jack Be Nimble’s attempt to jump over a candlestick. Well, in this version, Jack Be Nimble is this dazed hippie who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “over.” He goes UNDER the candlestick. He goes AROUND the candlestick and all to the annoyance of Kermit the Frog.
Well, each time Kermit announces that Jack Be Nimble is going to make his fabled leap, hippie Jack convinces Kermit that he understands what is being asked, then backs up and shouts what I can only assume is a mantra of some sort to sort of focus himself and then just goes for it.
The first time he makes the attempt, he yells, “Everything is Everything!” and just starts running.
My partner & I just fell in love with this sketch, which you can watch here, and began shouting, “Everything is Everything” whenever we attempted to do something new that we weren’t sure we were going to do right.
When I was putting the book together, I wasn’t really sure how all these weird, nerdy elements were going to work together as one collection, so I just kind of thought, you know, “EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING!” and just leapt into the challenge. And when it came time to title the collection, it just seemed like a really good fit.
I’m almost loathe to admit this was the origin story of the title! It seems too goofy! But ah well, I’m goofy. So be it.