MASSIVE PEOPLE(9): Reb Livingston

Posted by @ 4:10 pm on January 6th, 2009

0408729-r01-011-70Reb Livingston is a MASSIVE person for two reasons: 1) I have a crush on her and 2) in an interview with Orange Alert in February of 08, she said, “I believe every ‘serious’ poet should, in some way, assist and cultivate other poets.” Reb lives by that belief. She co-edits No Tell Motel, in which appear a great variety of poets; she runs No Tell Books, a micro press that follows the print on demand model; she is very active online and off when it comes to supporting the community; and she is the author of Pterodactyls Soar Again (Coconut 2006), Wanton Textiles (w/ Ravi Shankar, No Tell Books 2006), Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut 2007), and God Damsel (forthcoming No Tell Books 2009).

A personal bit from her website:

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she now resides in the greater Washington, D.C. area with her husband and son.  Once she worked for America Online. Although that was a long time ago.

After the break begins the email interview. All pictures are taken from her own site or from her blog. I encourage everyone to check out her blog, as there are some great posts in the archives about the starting a journal, starting a press, publishing that first book, etc (look for the ‘publishing’ label). Also, don’t go away: there’s something special at the end of this post. The something special is FREE BOOKS.


1) I read in that interview at Orange Alert that you had a hard time coming up with a title for your book of poems, Your Ten Favorite Words, and that you had a long list of alternative titles, such as Charm’s Vandalism, Uncommon Concubine, etc.

Was there any trouble with naming your son? Would you care to share other names that you and your husband considered? How did you settle on Gideon as a name?

It was the only name my husband and I could agree on. My earlier name preferences were Julian (cause I feel a strong kinship with Julian Lennon, the overlooked, suffering son), Ambrose (my grandfather’s middle name) and Oscar. Chris didn’t like any of those names, but didn’t have a single suggestion of his own, as usual. Then one evening while we were sitting in the Babies R Us, waiting for our turn to register for the long list of crap expectant parents are told they need, we flipped through a baby name book. I stopped on a page with the name Gideon. Simultaneously we both were drawn to it and knew that was the one. When you experience moments like that, you don’t question, you just go with it. Of course it helped that in further researching the name, I learned that Gideon in the Book of Judges was totally rad. He came from an unremarkable family, with no legacy, and defeated far “superior” armies not by brute strength and numbers, but by innovative ideas and tactics. That’s my kind of man.

img_0544-15We, er I, chose Gideon’s middle name, Hart, based on numerology. Well, Hart was my preference, but we also considered Wayne (Chris’ dad’s name), Hugh and Thor.


There was trouble with the name selection, but not between Chris and I. When we announced it to our family and friends at our baby shower, just about everyone freaked and yelled about it being a horrible name, how he was gonna get his ass beat in school, how I was ruining his life. My churchie, holier-than-you relatives never heard of the name before, or thought it was a hotel bible or the name of a city. One drunken relative literally drooled all over me, begging me to reconsider. It was so bad, I feared everyone was going to take their gifts back.

But Chris and I weren’t swayed. Like I said, we experienced one of those moments in the Babies R Us and did not question it.

2) When I lived in Northern Virginia, I did not get out as much as I probably should have to explore the ‘lit scene’ in DC. I attended a couple conferences at The Writer’s Center, read at Cheryl’s Gone, went to an In Your Ear reading once. That’s about it. How has the scene grown since you first arrived in Northern Virginia? And what’s up with The Burlesque Poetry Hour?

I know little about the DC poetry scene. My impression is that it’s rather segregated between schools and styles. I don’t belong to any “group” (I’m avoiding the term “clique” cause it sounds catty) so I don’t get many invites to read in DC, although I did read in DC twice in 2008, at Chery’s Gone and In Your Ear. Twice in the same year never happened before, in fact, there were only two times before that, once at the Grace Church in 2006 and the other at the Mt. Vernon Poetry Festival in 2007. People always approach me about helping them get readings in DC. Then they think I’m a total dick because I’m so useless, but the truth of the matter is that I could more easily connect them with readings in NYC, Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, Austin, just about anywhere other than DC.


One of the things Carly Sachs and I did with the Burlesque Poetry Hour was mix up the poets a bit, get folks who don’t normally read together, to read together. Some people liked that, others complained cause they came to hear _____ read and then had to endure ______ and ______, who are totally uncool or weird or smelly and not who they would ever choose to hear read. Burlesque was all about innuendo and punishing snobs.

After a two year run, Burlesque is no more. Carly is in NYC and I’m too damn busy. A couple local poets expressed interest in reviving the series, which I think is wonderful and would do whatever I could to assist them, but it’s out of my hands. Although I do miss punishing the snobs.

3) A little over four years ago you and Molly Arden officially announced the beginning of No Tell Motel. Over those four years of running the journal, what have you ‘learned’ about publishing? How has the journal changed since 2004?

I don’t know if the journal has changed much since 2004, except both the range of poets and audience are constantly expanding.

I think we’re going to give the magazine a surface make-over in 2009, nothing major, just the art. While most women and some men understand and appreciate the many nuanced facets of a pretty lady in thigh high boots sitting on a motel bed holding a martini, it’s forever being misunderstood. I understand being misunderstood is part of life, but I don’t feel like it warrants the number of penis poems we receive. It’s starting to affect our love lives.

We do have a blog now and an intern named Kurt who helps with that.

4) Guest question from Mike Young, whose poems you will feature in March at No Tell Motel: “You work on No Tell, publish books, orchestrate your family, regularly blog, and still (theoretically) find time for your own work. Do you have any time management tricks or strategies?”

Hi Mike! My secret is lemons and Mop N Glow! Hah, just kidding. I’m a lime lady. Stick your lemons in your ass, why don’t you.

Not to sound June Cleaver, but my son is always my top priority. I will wipe a boogar from his nose before I work on a galley or write a poem.

My own poems are always what gets short-changed, although I’m close to finishing my next book, God Damsel. I just need a couple weeks of (relatively) uninterrupted time. Since that’s not in the cards for me anytime this decade, it means I need to stay up working until 2 or 3 a.m. on a regular basis.


Because my own poems pay the price for my many projects, I’m usually cranky and hate other poets. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I constantly re-evaluate what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, how I’m expending energy and towards whom. For instance, I loved doing Burlesque, but I gave two years and it was time to let that go. Figuring out childcare so I could attend was a project itself. Another example, Molly and I used to read No Tell subs most months out of the year, but now our reading period is only two months. I’m publishing fewer titles per year at No Tell Books. I tend to enter projects with ridiculous expectations, kill myself trying to reach them and then have a Jesus moment where I realize, hey, maybe I don’t have to operate like an asshole. Of course once you demonstrate you can indeed accomplish an assholian task, certain people take for granted that you won’t learn your lesson and will continue doing so. These people will try to guilt you into doing their projects or books or whatever, no matter how much you try to explain that you’re really at your limit and can’t do anymore. It’s the asshole calling the asshole asshole. Discovering exactly which asshole you are in the scheme of things takes years of therapy.

These days I turn to my dreams. They always point out where I need to focus and improve my life. They tell me the things I don’t want to hear. They tell me who’s my ally and who I need to disconnect from my tit.

5) About your first MFA program, you blogged: “Every week I’d turn in a poem and half of the time when I’d get it back, there would not be a single comment on it, just a hand-drawn smiley face. That’s it. A fucking smiley face. If all I needed was a smiley face, I could have saved all that tuition money and just handed poems into my second grade teacher.”

If you could run a poetry workshop without any limitations, how would you do it? What would the semester be like?

I have never taught — ever. I don’t have the slightest clue how one teaches poetry. I rarely think about it.

Which is why every Thursday from April 16 to May 21 I’ll be teaching the following course at the Writers’ Center in Rockville, MD:

Kooky Creation and Radical Revision

This workshop will focus on non-traditional, unorthodox ways to create and edit poems such as “inspired” translations, collage and alchemical revising. Exercises will be designed to push students out of their writing comfort zones in attempt to generate different types of works than they’re used to writing. We will also apply radical makeovers to existing poems in the hope to transform them into something completely new. This class is for the poet who finds him/herself in a writing rut and is ready for a dramatic change in process and result. Not recommend for the adventure-queasy or for poets perfectly satisfied with their current writing style.

Sign up now. I get paid by the student!

6) What is your favorite drink?

Tears, preferably my own.

So that’s it.

Thanks Reb for taking the time to answer these questions.

And thanks everyone for reading. Reb has kindly agreed to put up a special deal, a (Reb)ecca Book Giveaway, to promote No Tell Books: her book Your Ten Favorite Words and Rebecca Loudon’s Cadaver Dogs.

All you have to do is send in an email titled (REB)ECCA BOOK GIVEAWAY your name and mailing address to htmlgiant [at] by midnight tonight (CST). I will randomly select a winner using some sort of random number generating system and announce that here tomorrow.

UPDATE – Winner of the (Reb)ecca Book Giveaway is Brad Green. Thanks to those who emailed in – keep a look out for future giveaways.

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