Tag Archives: Interview

Contradiction and Community: A Talk with Dan Magers

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The poetic work of Dan Magers is challenging and engaging, beautiful and mysterious. A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece about one of Magers’ poems and, more recently, had the chance to speak with him about poetry, process, and influences to his work. The results of this conversation, printed below, hopefully give some fresh insights while providing us with a context of how a poet works and thinks. I would like to thank Dan Magers for his time and thank you for taking the time to read this conversation.

A TALK WITH DAN MAGERS:

Jamie Grefe: Do you find yourself exploring philosophical ideas through your poetry? Do those two worlds ever overlap in your writing?

Dan Magers: Yes, and no. I sometimes use the language of philosophy a lot in my writing,
but I feel like philosophy and poetry have different aims. There is this quote I heard in grad
school, though I forgot who said it: philosophy and science are about finding contradiction and reconciling it, but poetry and art find the contradiction, but are fine with just leaving it, or even heightening it. But I do think my work is influenced by philosophy.

Grefe: Do you write every day? I’m very interested in your writing habits and how a piece might take form. I know that’s a very open-ended question with many different possible answers, but any insights into your process would be interesting.

Magers: No, I don’t consciously write every day, and particularly right now I’m really busy with work. This used to be something that made me freak out all the time, not being able to have time to write, but I’ve become more relaxed about it in the last few years, understanding that sometimes it’s okay to take breaks. I think about writing and poetry every day. For the last few years, I’ve usually written stuff down in a big Word file of stuff, and then later I’ll start selecting parts that still speak to me, and then try to collage them into poems. That’s how Partyknife was written and that’s how I’ve been writing lately, a little different from my first chapbook Exploitation Poems, which was a little more deliberate, written in unrhymed, metered sonnets, though I’m sure there were lines that became stuck in my head that I would then try to put in the poems, etc.

Grefe: Do you feel your method resonates with the line, “a poem is never finished, only
abandoned,” or do you feel that you get to a point where you can comfortably say, “this
particular piece is where I think it should be.” That is, do you ever feel that some of your older work could be remixed or revised or rewritten? I often have that feeling with my own work, but am not sure how others deal with that feeling.

Magers: I write a lot, but I am very picky about saying when a poem is “done.” I usually will
finish something and then hold onto it for a long time, constantly rereading it, and then usually I’ll keep revising. At some point, I intuitively think that a given piece is done. When I was revising the Partyknife manuscript, I definitely went back and cannibalized old poems, and that’s definitely something that I’m pretty okay with – taking the strongest lines from old stuff and combining that poetic DNA with new strong stuff to make better poems. I don’t publish very prolifically, so I usually have a lot lying around.

Grefe: Do you find yourself reading a lot of poetry?

Magers: Yes, I do read a lot of poetry – I’m surrounded by other poets in NYC, and besides
reading their work, they are always suggesting new stuff, and I’m also just reading stuff I come across too.

Grefe: That must be quite a wonderful thing, to be surrounded by a supportive and engaging community.

Magers: It is really great being surrounded by other poets – it’s one of the great things about living in NYC. There is a big and supportive community of writers.

Grefe: Have you considered or attempted writing fiction or exploring the “poetic” or “lyric”
essay form? (which leads to an underlying question of: why poetry?)

Magers: There was a point in late 2008/early 2009, where I was like “fuck poetry, what’s the point” and I started writing short stories. I wrote three of them: the first two were pretty good conventional stories, and then the third was this more experimental but crappy piece that came out of reading Lydia Davis I guess. I went back to poetry, and actually that third story became the backbone of the narrative that runs throughout Partyknife. and When I was editing the manuscript, I took a ton of stuff from that story. I’m into the idea of the lyric essay, though I guess I don’t think very much about whether my writing is fitting in one genre or not. I’ve been reading and rereading Dana Ward’s first book This Can’t Be Life, and that book is so prose-heavy, and very infused by memoir, and yet I have no problem with calling it poetry. He also thinks of it as poetry, too—the opening poem is partly about just that.

Grefe: That’s, perhaps, one of the beauties of poetry–just how large and encompassing
it is. I taught sonnet writing last year to high school students, which was amazing, but I’m
always interested in how one can gain a sense of writing poetry. So, how do you think one can become a more astute reader/writer of their own work, especially when creating a collection of poems? Also, did you decide the narrative backbone prior to writing Partyknife or did it arise from below and begin to organically seep through?

Magers: I think one of the outcomes of not being a teacher is that I don’t think as much about how to define or talk about writing, since I don’t really have to boil it down for students. I do feel like if one is reading and writing poetry that they see the world a little differently, maybe not as straightforwardly, more okay with living among the contradictions. Maybe that is just me. The narrative for PK I think sort of organically grew probably before even writing the short story I mentioned. The Birds editors edited it very thoroughly and intensively, and when I was revising, a lot of the stuff from the story got used for the book. I also expanded on the characters in the book based on editor suggestions. It’s not a memoir, but I kind of think of the book as the last will and testament of my 20s.

Grefe: Do you have any close readers who you tend to share your unpublished work with
(perhaps, friends or family) or do you tend to keep your work private until released?

Magers: I have about a half dozen close readers of my work, though it’s only been lately that I’ve been showing new work to them. Basically all of 2012 I was just writing and not showing anything to anyone. I felt like I could indulge in that because I had a new book out and the pressure was off to finish anything new. My readers are generally other NYC poets who are my friends.

Grefe: In closing, would you mind sharing some influences with me? I’m an avid reader and I’m sure there are some other readers out there who are interested in exploring influences. Poets? Fiction? Philosophers?

Magers: there are a ton, I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like different influences have come at different times, and some I haven’t returned to in a while. One of my favorite books is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son. The language of that book continues to blow my mind and I reread passages of that book pretty often. I was a huge John Ashbery fan in grad school and he no doubt influenced me, though I don’t really write like him anymore and haven’t read his work lately. I think I was really taken with This Can’t Be Life in 2012, and I’m finishing up a review of it.I was blown away by Ariana Reines’ second book Coeur de Lion when I first read it. I also just love reading stuff on the Internet, like Wikipedia, or doing cursory readings of the technical language of aerospace and civil engineering, which I don’t have training in and don’t really understand, or about ecology and other sciences. Some of those things are maybe not yet that present in my work. I’m fascinated with religious writing, it definitely goes on…and that’s just the literary influences. I’m very influenced also by music and film.

Grefe: Any projects on the horizon?

Magers: I have a few new projects in the works, but I feel like at least some of them will come to nothing. The more I conceptualize projects, the less I tend to write them. I need to look at the drafts I’ve finished in 2012 and early this year to see what I have, try to finish some of those. I have some book project ideas, but it will probably take a while to work through them.

Grefe: Well, I wish you the best with your work. I’m sure those drafts hold many beautiful
poems. Thank you so much for your time.

Magers: Thanks so much for interviewing me.

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Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Interview/Preview of “Beware”

bonnie_prince_billy-beware-cover_artI have written about the music of Bonnie “Prince” Billy in the past and will continue to do so as long as he continues making music. With a new album due out on March 17th, I would like to direct your attention to this radio interview/live performance that Mr. Oldham recently did where he performs a piece from his new album, “You Can’t Hurt Me Now” and talks about the new album “Beware.” I hope you enjoy this: Bonnie “Prince” Billy – You Can’t Hurt Me Now.

Morris Berman: Audio Interview/Conversation

Today I discovered an excellent audio interview/conversation from June 2008 with author and professor Morris Berman. If you are familiar with Berman’s books, then you may have already found this insightful audio piece for yourself, but if not, here is the link: Morris Berman Audio Interview/Conversation.

Berman discusses his books, American culture, politics, consciousness and more. Personally, I am not too familiar with a lot of his works, so this audio piece has helped me to better understand his way of thinking and approach to social and human critique.

UPDATE: Here is another Berman audio interview from a radio program called “Against the Grain.” The first several minutes is a recap of recent news (from that particular day), and after that, a very thorough conversation with Berman. Listen here: Morris Berman on Against the Grain.

Also, please visit Berman’s official blog: Dark Ages America.

Thank you. If you find any other audio interviews, please post a comment or get in touch.

How Determined Are You?

Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Michael Phelps. Slipped in between the jokes, Colbert asked Phelps about his training for the Olympics. Phelps said that during a five-year span, he practiced every single day for four to six hours a day.

That bears repeating: 5 years…365 days a year…4-6 hours a day…

Talk about determination. Talk about someone aware of what it takes to actually achieve the “impossible.” That’s the kind of dedication and determination that will get you where you want to go if you’re really willing to put in the hard work that it takes to get there. To be “the best” takes sacrifice and grit. Or, to turn to Thomas Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Discover your genius by actually doing something about it.

The Colbert/Phelps interview can be seen here.

Also, Thank you, Mr. Phelps for your determination.

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Johnny Unicorn live on “The Basement”

My good friend, Johnny Unicorn is good at doing what needs to be done. His perseverence and competence coupled with an intense drive has kept him busy and productive doing what he loves: making music.

He was recently featured on Lansing, Michigan’s college radio station Impact 88.9’s show, “The Basement.” The above video features an interview, in-studio performance and meta-commentary by Johnny Unicorn, himself.

Johnny Unicorn currently lives in Michigan, but frequently travels to Los Angeles. His full bio can be read: HERE

An Interview with Japanese Eyewear Brand: Less Than Human

The Less Than Human glasses that I bought last year in Tokyo, Japan, are sitting now in a clean metal case on my bookshelf. I am saving them for those moments when I want to transform my appearance – a thick, black rimmed metamorphosis.

I save them now, in that clean metal case, as they are part of a new face, an “accessorized face,” a face-for-others, a less than human face, only to be brought out on the most important of moments.

I was recently able to ask the Less Than Human team some questions about their brand. Also, they graciously sent me two beautiful promotional pictures of their Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. The pictures are posted above and below are for your viewing pleasure.

LESS THAN HUMAN: 3 Questions

1. Why should people wear Less Than Human glasses? That is what makes your glasses special?

We regard an eyewear not only as an instrument to remedy person’s eyesight (at least in western sense of value) but also as an important element which makes vivid impression at a central part of each one’s face.
In other words wearing an eyewear can be said to be an expression of mind which tells the personality.
Our originality spontaneously appears from our insight, or sometime is inspired by various cultures. LTH set each collection theme affected or organized by complex aggregation every collection show. Our eyewear design, function or coloring reflects our theme or own world view. Not to mention we are happy to be received highly, that is, our collection is just received to be “excellent as an eyewear”, “beautiful as a color” or “unique as a form” but also for the reason we are unaware of, ‘Wearing LTH eyewear’ can make people have fun or cheer up through our unique communication as well as international performance.

2. What influences your design team?

What influences us specifically fluctuates from time to time. We are always looking for some interesting designs, gadgets or details like ‘Never seen it before’, ‘Must be interesting if there is’ or ‘It can be surprising if・・・・’. Of course, we do stick to product’s original role as an eyewear. However we can say that our position or attitude as LTH is affected by so called ‘PUNK’.
We would be happy if you can sense our spirit and paradoxical sincerity through our activity.
We hope you can sense LTH originality from our collection, drawing a line from a temporary fashion. Please do insist ‘My fashion and idea shall be beautiful in my own way even if it is different from others’. You should let yourself be what you are.

3. What is the future of Less Than Human?

When we look back to eyewear history in the future, we can be a significant standard as it is ‘before LTH’ or ‘after LTH’. We mean that we are the strongest brand in the world in an ironical way.
Here is a hidden theme on our next collection.

I AM RECOGNIZED AS THE STRONGEST BRAND IN JAPAN
I AM COMMONLY RECOGNIZED AS THE MOST POPULAR BRAND
I AM FURTHERMORE RECOGNIZED AS THE CHARISMATIC BRAND
I AM THEREFORE PRAISED AS GENIUS,
AND RECOGNIZED AS THE STRONGEST BRAND IN THE WORLD
BUT, I AM EXTREMELY AND ABNORMALLY IN DOUBT OF MY BRAND NAME

Please don’t understand this sentence literally. It’s just a morbid humor.

We hope that we will be able to produce the most featured and the most popular eyewear that makes people happy (in good meaning as well as in bad meaning).

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Thank you, Less Than Human for taking the time to answer my questions and provide stunning promotional pictures.

URL: Less Than Human

William T. Vollmann: 8 Audio Links (Interviews/Conversations)

william vollmann

A working list of William T. Vollmann audio pieces drawn from various websites. I have not listened to all of these interviews/conversations in their entirety yet, so cannot vouch for which one is “better” than the other. With that said, as always, if you know of any Vollmann audio links that I have missed, please drop a comment or get in touch via email. Thank you and happy listening.

Eight William T. Vollmann Audio Links

NPR: Riding Toward Everywhere

Drinks with Tony Vollmann Interview

Vollmann discussing his book “Uncentering the Earth”

Vollmann on Trains

On Rising Up Rising Down

Another Piece on Rising Up Rising Down

Vollmann on The Royal Family

Vollmann on The Bat Segundo Show