I Like Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz A Lot: Part 3

Posted by @ 3:00 pm on December 2nd, 2009


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. In today’s excerpt, Cristin talks about poetic boundaries, nostalgia and penis-shaped poetry.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

The poems about your relationship very intimate. How do you negotiate poetry and the personal?  Do you have any boundaries? You’re involved with a poet. Does he write about your relationship too? Do you whisper clever poetry lines to each other when you’re getting down?

Here’s the thing about my boyfriend. First, his name is Shappy Seasholtz. Secondly, if you picture a 40-year-old man who willingly calls himself Shappy Seasholtz, you have essentially pictured my boyfriend: panda-shaped, Buddy-Holly glasses, pez-dispenser collection. Thirdly, Shappy is a very funny poet & has been the head bartender / bar manager at the Bowery Poetry Club since it opened in 2003. This is all to say that our community of poets is already very familiar with him and our nine-year relationship of being ridiculously happy nerds in love.

When I write about our relationship, I tend to either write about the really quiet stuff  people don’t normally associate with such an outspoken person like Shappy, or I tend to write riffs about our relationship which take into account a basic understanding of who Shappy is and who we are as a couple.

The first type of poem is pretty straightforward, but I’ve been having funny experiences recently with the second type. For instance, an editor for “Everything is Everything” who doesn’t know me or Shappy at all really began hating him, and all of her notes on the Shappy poems were like, “The Very Definition of an Ass!” and “Why is she dating this guy?”

It turns out that if you don’t know him as this pop culture-infused poet & bartender, he can really come off as a jerky slacker in some of my pieces. In various poems, he’s seen eating Big Macs at 2 in the afternoon reading Hulk Comics, or drunkenly singing a song a breakfast sandwich at 4am, or drunkenly heckling a poet at a poetry reading. Not knowing that he is a poet himself, who works nights at a poetry bar, you could totally get the vibe that he is terrible, shiftless punk! But I swear – he’s a sweetheart! And that’s why I can take such liberties!

That being said, when it comes to writing poetry about our relationship, there definitely are boundaries I won’t cross: I won’t parade around one-sided arguments so I can feel vindicate / victorious; I won’t belittle him or his opinions or feelings; and our sex life is totally off limits. All our parents are still living, after all.  We want to keep them that way.

I sensed a great deal of nostalgia in these poems and a real tenderness for your subjects which is an interesting contrast to many writers who are often quite merciless in the ways in which they expose their subjects. Where does that tenderness come from?

One of my oldest friends is a therapist who specializes with people who engage in very high-risk behaviors, and I asked him once how he can handle working with clients who are making such a terrible choices, despite “knowing better.” He said he is able to deal is by believing with all his heart that these people are doing the very best they can at this very moment, and that the work they are doing – as therapist & client – is hopefully raising that bar a little each time, so that “the very best they can” can be that much better.

I think when you view people that way – that they are doing the best that they can – it can change frustration & cynicism into empathy & tenderness pretty easily. When you take that one step further, and learn to really celebrate what people are offering you – even if their choices wouldn’t be your choices, I think the world becomes a really wonderful place to be in.

I love people who aren’t afraid to be themselves: the nerds who dress up in costume for opening night; the people in Westland High Terrier rescues who wear shirts that say “My dog has WESTIE-TUDE!”; the college freshman who shows up to his first poetry open mic wearing all black, carrying moleskin journal & actually smoking a clove cigarette. If you open your heart up and see how much these people are putting themselves out for the joy of being themselves (or who they want to be, in the case of the freshman), I feel like your cynical side is just crushed under pie-eyed admiration.

Or maybe that’s just me!

One of my many peeves when reading poetry is poems that employ form (and when I use the term form here, I mean poetry that is formatted in shapes or in different ways across the page) in ways that feel unnecessary, forced, or senseless. I noticed that you don’t experiment with forms in these poems. Do you ever try and work with form? If no, why not?

I think my poetry is fairly straight-forward — proper grammar, proper capitlization, proper puncuation — and I think the stories my poems tell are pretty straight-forward too. It makes sense, then, that the form they take on the page is fairly straight-forward too.

I haven’t really experiemented with “exploring the space on the page” with the layouts of my poems, but that’s likely because they wouldn’t make a good match.

Also, true story, probably not fit for publication: A pal of mine in the NYC poetry community said he was experimenting with form poetry — the kind you are talking about, where the poems are formatted into the shape of an object. Turn out, all his form poems were in the shaped of dicks. The poems themselves, however, were only sometimes about dicks, though. It was pretty awesome. To this day, whenever he reads, I imagine the text in my head slowly forming into a dick. Ah, the power of poetry!

In my previous books, I definitely experimented more with traditional forms – sestinas, sonnets, pantoums, etc…  but with this book, I didn’t do a whole lot of that for some reason. I don’t really have a good explanation as to why this is, except maybe that the poets I was reading during the creation of this book don’t really delve too heavily in form poetry either.

It’s embarrassing to admit how heavily I rely on reading the work of other poets to inspire the pieces I want to create next. I really consider poetry books to be almost a form of porn, in the sense that a good selection of poetry gets your brain really turned on, makes you go, “Whoa… I’m definitely going to try THAT next time I have a chance…”

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