1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does
your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook, Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah,
opened a few more doors for me as a writer. For instance, it’s a bit easier to
book readings when you have a chapbook or book out. But the biggest change was
the conversion of a group of poems, previously private to me, into a more
public realm. Only two of the poems had been published from the chapbook before
the whole thing came out. The rest had been ping-ponging exclusively between
brain and laptop for years, and all of a sudden many more people could get
their hands on them. It was a bit scary.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction
I really love novels as a fan—I read
more novels than anything else. I cannot imagine the work that goes into a good
novel. How horrific! I really admire novelists for this reason. Writing a poem,
with its sensible size, seemed like a much more manageable task. I’m sure my
motivation when I started writing poems was that pragmatic. Now, I’ve come to
love the task of telling a full story via little shards of poetry.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project?
Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first
drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of
The line between “starting a project”
and “working full-speed on a project” is nebulous to me, especially since my
large-scale projects reveal themselves gradually. Continental Breakfast started in
November 2013 and is coming out now, five and a half years later. If I had to
pick a point it went from “project I’m starting” to “project I’m working on,”
it was maybe halfway through. Until then, I was just writing poems about stuff
I thought was funny. Sometimes they come out almost finished, sometimes they’re
revised for years.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of
short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on
a "book" from the very beginning?
Breakfast is mostly poems that I wrote individually, which eventually came
together to form a book. My second book was a Project Book from the very
beginning. Perhaps that’s because the more I write and read poetry, the more I
understand how a poetry collection works.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative
process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. I help run a reading series in Lawrence, Kansas with
Megan Kaminski and our events start with a short open mic. If I’m at all unsure
of a poem, I take it for a walk at the open mic and it quickly reveals its true
colors to me. I enjoy doing readings, in part because I try to write poems that
work well out-loud (I try to write poems that work well out-loud because I like
hearing when other people have poems that work well out-loud).
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What
kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even
think the current questions are?
Every poem I’ve ever written is about
what it means to exist in the suburbanized and/or gentrified Midwest during
brand-centered late capitalism.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger
culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer
I always circle around two lines line
from Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland:” “the poets down here don't write nothing
at all / They just stand back and let it all be.” For my whole life (well, my
whole Springsteen-listening life) I’ve had a single interpretation of that
line. Then, I recently discussed the line with my friend Morgan and she had a
totally different interpretation. Then, I saw the amazing Hanif Abdurraqib
speak and he had a still different interpretation.
Should a poet down here write anything at all? Should they just stand back and
let it all be? Is the answer always the same? I don’t know. My mind changes.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor
difficult or essential (or both)?
Every editor I’ve worked with has been a
delight, specifically Aaron Burch at Hobart,
Michael Tager and Ian Anderson at Mason Jar Press, and Martha Bayne and Anne
Trubek at Belt Publishing. So, as long as this luck streak continues, I declare
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily
given to you directly)?
I started my post-college life as a
teacher. At the end of my student teaching, one of my students told me to stop
teaching if it stopped being fun. It did, I did. Good advice.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you
even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have a full-time job and a
nine-month-old son, so I need to be purposeful in carving out writing time.
Monday through Thursday I spend the last hour of my work day writing. I also
have a writers club that meets every other week. When I’m feeling very
ambitious, I have a daily writing accountability group that I join for a month
at a time, where the expectation is producing a poem every day. Without these
structures, I’m sure the other busy-nesses in my life would swallow my writing.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return
for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading. Always reading.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza heating in
an oven, ready to scald the roof of your mouth.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but
are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music,
science or visual art?
Many of my patron saints are musicians
(the Sufjan Stevens Christmas albums, for instance). But the richest
cross-genre inspiration for me has come from photography. I first learned
photography and poetry can inform each other when I read Erika Meitner’s great
2014 book Copia, which draws from the work of
Alec Soth and Brian Ulrich, two photographers I’ve come to love too. Then, one
day out of the blue, the great photographer Tara
Wray emailed me asking if I wanted to collaborate. Long story
short, we’ve got a book coming out soon, and it’s been one of the best
collaborative partnerships I’ve ever been a part of. Her work is
incredible—look up her #TooTiredProject, a crowdsourced initiative
which employs photography as a method to explore issues of living with
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work,
or simply your life outside of your work?
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d love to fly in one of the first
class pod things that recline into a bed. I’d also like to get something at a
restaurant that sizzles on its way to the table.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would
it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you
not been a writer?
I’m a bookseller now, I already tried
being a teacher. Those two, plus writer, were my only three ideas. I’m glad at
least two of them worked out.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
An obsessive reading habit.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last
It doesn’t come out until July
(#BookstorePerks), but The
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is simply stunning. A
brilliantly crafted novel that knocked me over.
19 - What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m finishing edits on
the first draft of El Dorado Freddy’s, my collaborative
book with photographer Tara Wray that’ll be out in 2020. My portion is 30
poems, each one functioning as a poem on its own, but also as a review of a
particular chain restaurant. Tara’s part is a color photo portfolio in
featuring the buildings, people, and landscapes of these restaurants.
I’m also at work on a third manuscript
called Flavortown that
investigates and challenges narratives of authenticity via a series of
speculative poems about a Guy Fieri-inflected culinary paradise called
Flavortown. The whole thing is in its nascent stages, but right now Flavortown also has poems
about fatherhood, Christmas, and a crown of sonnets about the Oscar Meyer