Pink Plastic Interview of Dean Rhetoric
In addition to being a poet, you are an accomplished screenwriter who was a finalist in The BBC Writer’s Room. What was that experience like?
I don’t know about accomplished, but I was lucky enough to be shortlisted in a few screenwriting competitions and the BBC invited me to a workshop day with meetings and talks, which was fun, but also made me aware of my place pretty quickly.
During a break, one of the producer guys stopped me to explain what needed fixing in the broken toilets. There’s nothing wrong with being mistaken for someone who is there to do a very difficult, under-appreciated job (and I’ve done plenty of them myself over the years), but it stung a little because I was flat broke and it took so much effort to get there for the day.
I didn’t have money to buy any smart clothes, so perhaps some of that misunderstanding rests on me, but it certainly pulled my head out of the clouds and straight back down to reality.
The few times I was asked to come back in after that didn’t end well. I think they’re used to writers who are able to meet on short notice at any time of the day. I was working ten hour days at the time, and walking to and from work (which was 6 miles there and back again) so after a few missed opportunities, the line of communication simply stopped.
I guess the experience was everything I hoped it would be, followed immediately by everything I dreaded it could be. I’m a stubborn arse, so I’ll get back there one day. For now, poetry keeps me busy!
I’ve written some novels and I think even though I write short poems mostly, this experience translates to my solo poetry books in the realm of organization, arc and narrative. How does being a screenwriter influence your poetry?
Probably not so much in the narratives and structure, and more in the habit of lovingly knocking out draft after draft of something. I hear other writers talk about how much they loathe re-drafts, but I love them. It’s the thing I look forward to do after a shitty day at work. It’s the thing I do to relax, or vent, or just spew out something. Even if it’s awful, I like having something to work on.
You’re very attuned to the plight of the working class poet. You and I have discussed this before, and I see your tweets regularly on this subject. I know you were a foundryman for many years as a young man. Can you describe this work and how it informs your writing?
Yeah, I worked the foundry from the age of 18 until I was 26 and got into University. Even then I’d work there in the summers during term breaks and save like crazy for the next year. I had no qualifications, so I didn’t have career options. The only subjects I passed in school were English Language and English Literature. Everything else, I completely failed.
I think Americans are better at embracing modern poetry and acknowledging its quality, regardless of class. Here in the U.K. it’s fashionable to wave a working class flag, whilst doing your best to hide the fact your parents have afforded you the luxury of being a working writer by covering all your bills. Maybe some of that is just bitterness on my part.
I still put aside 2 pounds every week for the entire year and then pick three of four competitions to enter. It can be frustrating, but then again, what does poetry owe any of us? Nothing, really.
I’d love to see less poetry about how some random chestnut tree at Cambridge, or yet another collection about travelling during a gap year and really finding yourself, but I’m sure plenty of people would love to see less of poets like myself.
As far as how these jobs have informed my writing, I write about my lungs and breathing a lot, and I do have vague worries of having to go back to heavy manual labour and how my body would take it.
The last job I had in a factory was 2016, and it was a zero hours contract with no sick pay. I ended up with mild walking pneumonia from a chest infection that got worse after walking 6 miles to my nightshift in the pissing rain.
Since then my lungs have really struggled in dusty, toxic environments. Added to the near ten years of breathing in foundry dust and very fine metals, it leads to lots of poems about heavy lungs and a seemingly hopeless future. Really life affirming stuff ;-).
I loved your poem Foundry Song, about a foundry worker losing his fingers. The first few lines really show how dangerous, particularly to a writer, this job was. Was this about a person you knew? As a writer did you fear this job would take from you your ability to do what you loved?
Actually, back then I was still very embarrassed by the fact I wrote anything. I’d hide it all or get really defensive when people mentioned it.
I think in my shift crew, I may be the only one who left with all of my fingers. I had hospital visits for severe burns, a concussion, falling off a gantry, and two times I had to get my eyeball swabbed due to metal debris, and now I’m on some inhalers to help with all the crap in my lungs, but I have fingers, which is nice. I like having fingers. They’re wonderful things.
In the case of this specific poem, it was the catalyst for me getting off my arse and trying to get some kind of education to better myself and get out of the place.
The guy it happened to was a great bloke, and I knew him well. One side of a ladle snapped whilst hanging from a crane and just slammed his hand into the wall.
I remember us all dragging him to the on-site medic with some other lads, and how annoyed he was about potentially missing his overtime. He didn’t want rehab, or the surgeries, he just told them to cut off the fingers that were crushed, so that we could have it over and done with. It was barely a thought – he just didn’t care.
In my time there, I’d seen a 20 year old with his stomach and chest completely burned through (he is still in need of constant care 24/7, all these years later), fist fights and police raids during night shifts to search lockers for weapons, but his complete dismissal of the vital parts of his hand was probably the most sobering thing I saw there.
That’s a lie. Showering after a 12 hour shift with 20 of the stinkiest, loudest and strongest factory workers in the midlands was the sobering part. That and people pissing in your boots, or throwing your clothes out of the window so that you had to scamper across the fire exit, butt naked, as the secretaries all cheered on from the office across the road. Fun times.
During this same period of my life I was stripping — dropped out of graduate school, wrote very little. I know for me though I did a lot of living, I felt personally very alienated from both education & writing. I know you completed a degree in this period of your life. How challenging was that? Were you also writing then? Have you taken breaks from writing in your life?
Just like you, I’d got through quite a bit of living by the time I studied, and so I felt out of place. University was difficult for me. I was a pair of sweat pants that had somehow gotten lost in the skinny jeans aisle. I lived on a very strict food budget. Water, porridge oats, pitta bread and cheap sausages.
I remember trying my best to fit in on the first day, but I’m just terrible at being human in big groups. Someone mentioned a writer and everyone was praising his work. I’d never heard of him, so I was intrigued and admitted as much – the guy sat next to me turned his back with disgust and said “You have to be kidding me, how have you not heard of him?! I don’t think I can sit next to someone who doesn’t read him.”
I think that sums up my university days.
If I was to do it again, I probably wouldn’t. I was a square peg, and even with low income student support, working the foundry and saving up in the summers, finishing that degree was brutal.
I was writing scripts, short stories and song lyrics back then. One day a friend was in my room and found some lyrics. She asked why I wasn’t studying poetry, since my poems ‘Were pretty good.’ That’s roughly when I discovered American poetry, and fell madly in love with it.
I take breaks from writing now and then, but I’m difficult to be around during times like that. I think we’ve talked about this before. You’re the same, right? You get very fidgety and impatient when you aren’t able to write?
Oh, I definitely do. It’s how I deal with anxiety and depression — and when I don’t deal with it, it takes its toll on me. The poem we’re featuring by you in The Sonnetarium today, “On Automatic for the People — by R.E.M,”(which you can read soon in the ARCHIVE of the Pink Plastic House — where the poems of the Sonnetarium are moving) begins with that gut wrenching line about this song being what Kurt Cobain was listening to when he killed himself. Then it transitions to your own experiences that are linked by their connection to this album that you immersed yourself in — your friend’s suicide and then years later an ex-girlfriend’s, a nine-year relationship, death from cancer. I remember when I read this poem the first time I was walking ( I read a lot on my phone because I like to wander in nature and read) and I remember I just sat down next to the water down from the path and finished reading, crying. The way the details of this narrative work with the songs, it is so perfect. How long post the events of this poem did you write it? Did it come out quickly? Painfully as it is to read?
I wrote the poem at the beginning of 2018, so it’s taken years to address it. The poem only really came about because of Ingrid Calderon. She was encouraging me to be more vulnerable in my writing, because I have a habit of writing something and feeling really naked about how open it is, then wrapping it over and over in unnecessary metaphors or indecipherable filler just to feel less exposed.
I promised myself I’d not remove the lines that I felt made me look pathetic and hopeless. Within maybe a week it was finished. I usually take much longer but I didn’t want to overthink it.
I’m still shocked by how many people like it. It’s not a fun read. I listened to the album as a teenager after a friend’s death, like you said. I couldn’t really bring myself to listen to it again until my ex-girlfriend passed away. I was alone in the flat and I guess I wanted to just wallow.
It’s a beautiful album. I’m very grateful to Memoir Mixtapes, who briefly gave it a good, loving home. I have a habit of wanting it removed online, because it’s so personal. I’m working on being less weird about it.
I mostly have Ingrid and Claire Askew to thank, for making me realise that it’s okay to be a little less guarded with my poetry.
Another favorite line of mine in this poem is : “-later I will wonder if this album saved you for a while, or just made death more comforting.“ Personally, as someone who battles depression and, at times, suicidal thoughts, I relate so much to the idea of art as both a creative and destructive pull in life. I love that this poem embraces that truth. What is the value of art, in your view, that is dark and potentially triggering?
Thank you. I think you’ve expressed that merger way more eloquently than I could in the question itself. As far as putting a value on writing that is a little morbid, or could affect someone else in similar way, I’m in two minds – I do feel, especially now that most poems online come with content warning, that it’s very important to acknowledge those subjects.
The only issue I have with it is it can also be used as a buzzword/shield for those oh-so-edgy poets, who write about horrific shit they have no business attaching themselves to and then hide under the umbrella of Art needs to make people uncomfortable, stop censoring me!!!!! as they continue to belch out some kind of sick, masturbatory fantasy they have about other poets or cultures they have no right to leech from. I think you answered it perfectly in the question – Embracing that truth – if it’s true, and heartfelt then it can walk that line.
You’ve told me about your voice being used in erotic art exhibit that was just your voice in the darkness reading a poem. You said it was Fisher Price Symphony our readers can hear here: (KRISTIN – I will send you this new recording ASAP! PROMISE!) How did that come about? What was it like to attend that?
I didn’t get to attend the erotic art exhibition I was featured at. I was working late at work and couldn’t get away in time. It’s probably for the best. People called Dean shouldn’t be within a fifty mile radius of anything remotely erotic. We ruin the mood.
From what I heard it went very well. People would walk into this pitch black room with only my audio poem and a few others for company. I have no idea what they all got up to in there. It was an art exhibition in London, so they probably all talked about their ideas for novels, and how no publisher is brave enough to take a risk on their genius idea.
Then they all climaxed, I’d imagine.
For those who haven’t heard your voice here is a link to a reading of you reading Fisher Price Symphony, the poem from the exhibit. You are such a compelling reader. And yet I know from our own conversations (as I’m a person who records but can’t read live due to anxiety) that you also have issues with reading in public. When you have read in public, how do you face your issues? Do you have advice for others like me who haven’t been able to do so yet?
I’m fine in public, as long as it’s a play or something like that. If I’m me, reading my poetry in front of people, that’s when I just turn into a pile of sweat and stale beef. I spent years trying to perform poetry when I lived in Manchester, but always backed out at the last minute.
When I moved to London, I’d had a really crap day at work, and just decided that I wanted to go read and not think about how much I hated my job for one night.
My advice would be to research and pick your nights carefully. My last gig was Listen Softly Edinburgh at The Fringe Festival, which is a poetry night specifically aimed at those who struggle to read live, or have speech impediments, or anything else. It was incredibly supportive, and ran by my very talented poetic buddies, Claire Askew and Dom Stevenson, which made all the difference.
What is the best thing about reading in public someone like me is missing out on?
I think you are missing out specifically because you’re a very warm, kind person with about two thousand poems, all wonderfully creative, and people would love them. Plus, you’re friendly, and would make others feel less anxious. You’re missing out on that great ‘I fucking did it!’ feeling that comes with a live reading. I know you’ve been tentatively considering it, and I can’t wait for the day you do it!
I love Psalm of Bandages, which I’m including a link to here for the readers https://therisingphoenixreview.com/2018/01/14/psalm-of-bandages-by-dean-rhetoric/ It’s such an intimate poem about connecting in darkness in the milieu of religion. Can you tell me the story of this poem? As much as you’d like to share with us. It is one that really sticks with me.
Thank you. I’ve since edited this poem, and it’s been a while since I’ve read this version. The emerald green eyes bit is a bit cringe, as are the first four lines or so, but I have a soft spot for this poem.
I’m not religious, but I went to a religious school, so it always seems to be there in the back of my mind. Without being too specific (because I love hearing how others interpret stuff like this so I don’t want to spoil the fun too much) it’s about the quick, deep bonds we can form during hopeless and terrifying times, followed immediately by the bullshit of it all when some of that stress or darkness is gone.
It’s very much about those private, brief moments that are just yours and maybe one other persons. Like kind eye contact on public transport, where you both look, then look away, but look again at the same time, or how we connect during really fucked up times, but don’t always learn or change when it passes.
What environments do you like to write in? What is your writing process like?
Alone. On my belly. In the duvet fort. I’ve never been able to write in public. It just sounds awful! I have a playlist on and just type away in solitude. I’ll usually bash out a really scrappy draft and then move on to something else. Then I’ll return to the draft every day, time allowing, and change bits here and there. I’ll then leave it for a week, and return with fresh eyes. At that point I’ll hate the poem and scream at my laptop, then swap around lines, or completely start again. It never feels ready, and I cringe at some of the stuff I’ve submitted that just wasn’t good enough. Some of it is published, and it’s very bad.
One question I always ask everyone who appears in The Sonnetarium is about their astrological sign and how they think — if they do think it affects their writing. I’m a Capricorn and I think that is why I have the work ethic I do. I feel very committed to my art as work. How do you think your astrological affects your art?
I know I’m a Taurus, and that’s about the limit of my astrological knowledge. I’ve had ex-partners call me a ‘quintessential Taurus’ and random people will guess I’m a Taurus correctly shortly after meeting me. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Another poem I love of yours is We Are Television. For the readers here is a link to the poem in Sea Foam Magazine https://www.seafoammag.com/blog/we-are-television-by-dean-rhetoric This is full of great lines but one I love is “We are a ten second delay in case of a passionate live outburst.” To me this speaks again to the notion that art and life for many people in such a pose and controlled, scripted. People are afraid to be real and show genuine emotion. If this poem was We Are Poetry, what hours of a life would you hope would be included?
6am: We are more supportive of other poets.
7am: We remember that their success isn’t our failure.
8am: We aren’t sending automatic DMs to promote books, then unfollowing two weeks later.
9am: We are aware that some indie presses are just as full of shit as the major ones.
10am:We are always trying to promote the talents of others when we can.
11am:We are reading outside of our core group of mates.
12pm:We are offering free/discount fees to low income writers.
1pm: If we are offering contributor copies instead of payment, we actually post the copies out.
Do you have a poetry manuscript you’re currently working on or that’s already making the rounds? If so, would you tell us about it?
I have about 40 pages of a debut full length collection so far, and I’m aiming to get it with a specific publisher, so it’s not going to be sent anywhere else other than that place. The working title is ‘Euthanise The Creature’ but that’ll probably change. If the press doesn’t like my stuff, then it’ll most likely remain on a USB until centuries from now, when archeologists will uncover it and deduce that in the year 2018, there was once a right miserable bastard in East London.
What poets you admire are including such hours in their work?
I’ve really enjoyed Tanya Singh’s poetry recently. They’re really great. As is Joyce Chong, Khalypso, Stephanie Roberts and of course, Ingrid Calderon, who I am always in awe of because she’s my mate and has been one of the most overlooked poets when it comes to writers who are due their big break.
Scout Bolton is a one of a kind poet, and someone I admire constantly as a writer and person. I don’t think I’ve ever lost myself in a poetry collection as much as I have with Wild Heather.
June Geringher is tremendous, and I think will one day be one of the top selling modern poets in the world. She really has this perfect balance between being this relatable, beautiful and unique voice in poetry, whilst maintaining this staggering talent for writing, all wrapped up in an eloquent bow. I can’t wait to get my wages, as she has two books out that I’m salivating for.
Claire Askew has a wonderful collection out with Bloodaxe, (This Changes Things) that made me fall in love with poetry again after a long period of disliking it. She’s is also currently getting rave reviews for her debut crime novel, All the Hidden Truths. It’s such a relevant book in today’s world because it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting in a way I don’t think anyone else has managed to. It’s being praised in the U.K. and it’s a huge shame that America isn’t getting to hear about it. That’s where it’s surely going to be at its most vital?
Logan February is probably going to take over the world. I’m really looking forward to that.
What recent publication of yours are you most proud of? Will you tell us about the poem and what inspired it?
I have a poem, Love Letter to your Animal Decomposition, which was lucky enough to be a semi-finalist in The Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize. It’s coming out in their fall issue, and might be available to buy already. I’m not sure.
It’s a poem about a funeral, and the odd ways in which we all cope with our grief. Everybody please order a copy and then validate me in some small way. It’s the least you could do.
PINK PLASTIC INTERVIEW OF DANI TAUBER
KRISTIN GARTH: I will confess that you came onto my radar because of your Twitter, your adorable selfies and really compelling tweets. I hadn’t read your book yet, but I was totally fascinated. Having now read It’s Always Summer In Hell, I really fell in love with it instantly. It exceeded my expectations, and I think I knew it would be good because to be a good, memorable Tweeter is to write short form compelling verse. And I feel that’s what you do in this book. Being a newcomer to your body of work, is this your first book? Do you write other styles, lengths of poetry? Other forms of writing?
DANI TAUBER: Thank you so much for that; as an awkward, shy child who has blossomed into a neurotic, anxious adult, I have spent the majority of my life trying to say as much as possible in as few words as possible! I grew up a little bullied for it (among other things), and it’s surreal to hear that it’s something people enjoy about me now. It’s Always Summer In Hell is my first professionally-released chap. Jeremy Gaulke at APEP Publications and his lady Cara Herchenrother really blew me away with how beautifully they put it all together, and I am eternally grateful. Prior to this, I released a zine with APEP called At The Bottom, and I’ve released several zines and two chapbooks on my own, as well as having had a Rock n Roll advice column for a time in The Aquarian Weekly. I used to interview bands as well! I’ve pretty much been writing since I learned how. I’m fairly confident I’d be long-dead by now without the outlet it has provided me.
KG: I was instantly attracted to the title of this book, “It’s Always Summer In Hell.” t really reflects the wry wit inside a gritty, at times, coming of age reality you convey so well. How did you come up with this title, and what does it mean to you in the context of this story?
DT: In 1984, Fred Schneider (B-52’s) released a solo album called Fred Schneider and the Shake Society and somehow, it ended up being one of my first cassettes. I assume my father gave it to me because it wasn’t really his sound. I wore that tape out. The third track is called “Summer In Hell” and for whatever reason, even as a kid, that one line really struck me, and it seemed to just kinda stay with me growing up. I think I’ll probably always to some degree feel like an outsider, but growing up poor and weird and ugly, watching the world around me have what seemed like a lot of fun, was at times very sad and difficult. I’m sure almost everyone can in some way relate, but I had no idea that was the case in my teen years, ya know? I think every piece in the book conveys discomfort; everything I’ve ever written is uncomfortable.
KG: Reading the book, I related very much with the speaker’s awareness of the male gaze, the acknowledgment of both the power of it, the decisions to use and not use this power. In my life, I was very aware of sexual attentions long before I had (consensual) sex, so I really related to this poem. In my life, this resulted in me being a very sexual person on the inside and very much as your speaker is labeled a “prudish” label by the outside world. However, when I did have sex I was very, very aware of who I was and what I liked and wanted. I sense that in the speaker of this poem. Am I correct in that assumption? Is the speaker, though inexperienced in the physical world, perhaps more experienced than others around her in a self aware, emotionally intelligent way? (And you can answer with or without acknowledging if this about you)
DT: Absolutely spot on. I have often referred to the male gaze as a prison, but as a social invalid, everyone’s gaze is kind of a prison for me, haha. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of experience – boys didn’t seem to like me, I was / am at times extremely self-conscious due to bullying, I have severe anxiety that has held me back from more in life than just sex, blah blah blah…my connections have laregly been emotional and cosmic. There has always been more to intimacy than just sex, to me. But now I’m grown, and I understand myself and the power I am capable of having. I am able to express my wants, needs, and desires. I am able to bring them out, in others. It’s wild to me, the effect just words can have. Once I added confidence to that, it became a whole new monster. The response to my work since I actively started really trying to put myself out there has been elevating, to say the least. I’ll be 30 on my next birthday and I am really enjoying being this seemingly enigmatic, devastating thing.
KG: I write short poetry, sonnets, primarily, and so not more than 14 lines, and I really respect people who master a short form poem. I love the matter of fact tone of these. Have you always written short poems? What is your process of writing them like? Do you write longer and whittle down? Do they come naturally like this?
DT: Well I’ve always been blunt and direct, that’s for sure! Writing has always been sort of a compulsion for me, I’m just lucky that I can be considered ‘good’ at it. I write all kinds of things; my body of work since day one is massive because it just comes, it just happens. It’s a burst of energy and then it’s ink on a page, whether it’s short or long or a poem or a story. As a kid I’d literally just very abruptly ask to be excused from the table all the time to run and scribble. Sometimes I’ll have no idea where it came from. Automatic writing comes to mind, and people just assume my planchette tattoo is Ouija Board related but really it’s an homage to wherever this all comes from before it goes through me and into a notebook. My focus has always been on poetry, it’s my whole heart and soul, and the length really just depends on how quickly – or not – I can say what I feel like I need to say.
KG: Another favorite poem of mine in your collection is Got An A In Math That Year. I have a dark mirror version of this story called 14 and Kneeling that is about abuse and the necessity of earning a change in grade through sexuality or the idea of it. When I read this poem, it felt like the same recognition of the same phenomenon that the body was somehow now a commodity, but the speaker in your poem seems to take glee in it. When you write a character this short, whether it’s a version of you or not, can you tell me what this speaker’s experience of the world is? Because of the poem you write about the young girl saying sorry to Mom for saying she was okay when she wasn’t — I inferred two things about this speaker’s life — a fair amount of freedom from the parental units (an alien thing to me) and also that some traumas happened or were narrowly avoided. Does this speaker come from a stable home life? Does she have Daddy issues? Is she using the world or is she too being used? Both.
DT: A little bit of all of that, probably. I grew up very sheltered, not allowed to do all the things kids around me were doing and, not that I’m ungrateful, but it led to a lot of naivete and ignorance of what was expected of me as a human female person. I had a lot of fun, and I narrowly escaped a lot of awful shit. The things I did not so skillfully evade contributed to the anxiety and fear. When I did start to venture out into the world and form complex relationships, I trusted too freely, like a child. It got me hurt, it got me assaulted. Being raised by a father who grew up getting the shit beat out of him seemingly for simply existing and who vowed to never lay a hand on his kids but still manifested abusive behaviors in other ways definitely also shaped my voice. I’ve survived a lot. And I know one end of the line is overcoming and being an inspiration, while the other is straight up oblivion; I try to hang out somewhere in the middle. I lick my wounds, but I also don’t shy away from the pains that make me human. I write for myself, but it feels good when others relate to it and feel less alone, or feel understood.
KG: What poets, artists, writers inspire your work?
DT: I have the utmost respect for ANYONE who can artfully speak their truth. Anyone who has ever affected me in any way has been an inspiration, positively or negatively. I discovered the A Softer World webcomic in junior high; Joey Comeau is a fucking master of the short-form devastation. I think he’s had the biggest impact on my style. I listen to a lot of dirty punk and rock music, and a lot of sad 90’s music. I read Sexton, Plath, Patti Smith, and I love Sarah Manguso. I like art / music / writing that makes me feel like I’ve been punched really hard in the stomach, I like the wind knocked out of me. And I like knocking the wind out of others.
KG: Your poem “Handful of Dirt” is just a masterful elegy of a death spoken in so few words so eloquently. The line “a boy I loved fell over the face of the earth and i watched him land in a box” is just so simple and guts me the way simple lines do. I adore simple language in poetry. Can I ask about your background as a writer? Did you study writing in school or are you self taught? And I ask this with no bias for either way as I’m a grad school drop out who finished on the stripper pole. I think the world of academia and the world of experience both have something to offer writers. I think some things we may learn in school we have to unlearn such as being too verbose or wordy when simple plain language can say so much. What is the story of your education/journey into writing and how did you learn to cultivate and trust that simple eloquent voice?
DT: Thank you…I think revenge is what might make it so impactful. It’s actually about one of the people in my life who has hurt me the most. He’s not actually dead (to my knowledge), I just need to kill him poetically sometimes. In regards to my background though, it’s always just been pretty straightforward and organic. Before I learned how to write, I would talk to anyone who’d listen. I’d tell stories to strangers.
I think my parents were grateful when I entered school and learned how to be quiet; I had a very overactive imagination. Of course they had no idea that this would all grow into Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so my mother cultivated it as well as she could. She’d buy me diaries with little locks and pens with my name on them, enroll me in after-school programs like Young Authors’ Club and all that.
As I aged it became a coping mechanism. I had to trust it. I don’t think any particular academic background makes you a writer; you either are, or your parents had the money to send you through program after program where you were told you were special and you just like hearing yourself talk. I absolutely favor experience over academia, which has systematically silenced those who are too poor or not book-smart enough or POC, historically.
To be excruciatingly honest, and at the risk of sounding like an absolute asshole…I grew up working-class and I exist below the poverty line. I didn’t have a formal or even necessarily decent education, and I dropped out of community college when my anxiety became severe. I’ll get a manuscript rejection, then see winners announced with various degrees and teaching positions, already so well-established, and I’m just like, oh. I have none of that. But I refuse to see myself as “less than” in comparison to other authors who know how to mingle and network and find their footing so easily because they, in their work, rely on simple and basic. And I straight up reject poetry that complicates ideas that are already vague with difficult language and big words that are hardly necessary or used correctly.
I reject poetry that feels so familiar and generic that it actually does become pandering, and poetry written by abusive men to either absolve or excuse themselves or to be a hand at the throat of a woman whose story is the one that should matter. I reject the idea that poetry needs to be purely academic and arduous and tough to chew, that it needs to be dissected and the author’s ass needs to be kissed at the end. Much like the art and music worlds, there’s a lot of bullshit clogging the filter.
I stayed away from the world of publishing and reading publicly for a very long time, mostly due to crippling fear, but also because I was so worried I wouldn’t fit into this world that from the outside kinda looked like a very exclusive circle jerk for attractive and wealthy people who’d been told their words matter since birth whether they have any substance or not. But, my voice has reached the eardrums of people who needed to hear it, and I am proud and thankful. I’ve read alongside women who go right for the fucking jugular, who write raw and bloody, and those are my people.
You can know you’re good, but if The Right People don’t understand you, then what? Fuck ‘em, is what. Don’t ever write for people who are set on not understanding you. The right people will relate. You don’t need a piece of paper to prove you’re talented, if you’re talented.
KG: What other jobs have you had that have prepared you to be a writer?
DT: I’ve had mostly either customer service or direct care (I spent years working in the dementia unit of a nursing home) jobs, but I was a theatre student – graduated from the same program under the same instructor as Gaten Matarazzo with an honor cord from The International Thespians’ Society and a varsity letter – and writing for Scene Trash Magazine right out of high school and thenThe Aquarian was definitely a confidence booster. I really enjoyed writing reviews and interviews and my column, and photographing shows and festivals. Had I not had those opportunities, I’m sure I’d still be feeling less than capable.
KG: What is your ideal writing environment?
DT: I don’t even know if I have an ideal writing environment – it happens anywhere, anytime. I definitely would never turn down a secluded cabin in the woods, though.
KG: What is your sign and how does it affect your writing — if you believe it does?
DT: Well, I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re always truthful. I don’t sugarcoat my work. I’m also prone to exit seeking and escapism I suppose. Each poem is a tiny way out, or at the very least, some feeble scratches at the coffin lid.
KG: What is your favorite poem that you’ve ever written? (Can you provide a link if it’s online or an image of it for me to share here if it’s from your collection — or I can take one.)
DT: I love and hate all of my dumpster babies equally, and I’m not sure I’m confident enough to have a favorite. But the first time I think I realized the impact I was capable of having was with a poem called “POTENTIAL.” The piece was about how at 8 I was told there was So Much Potential in me and how at 18, I desperately tried to get it all out with an X-acto knife. I put it on tumblr and it blew up. People really related. Just goes to show everyone has their soft, messy parts whether they have the ability to not only be eloquent about them, but also to share.
A Pink Plastic Poem by Dani Tauber:
i spend five minutes
of my lunch break at work
freeing a moth from a
long-vacant spider’s web;
i understand the weight of
waiting for an end that
doesn’t come and no
creature that small
could possibly bear it.
Dani Tauber is a 29-year-old, basket-case poet, professional ghost, former music journalist, and antiques archivist from NJ. She shares a room with more than 50 journals and several antique locks of hair. She doesn’t know what she’s mourning yet, but she’s beyond consolation.
PINK PLASTIC INTERVIEW OF STU BUCK
KRISTIN GARTH: Tell me about the process of writing, curating these poems for this collection.
STU BUCK: Despite its relatively small size, the poems actually took about two years to write. My writing process has changed massively in the last two years or so. I used to write daily, one, two maybe even three poems. The big problem was the quality wasn’t there. I was writing for the sake of it, for the catharsis of getting the feelings out, but what I was putting on the page wasn’t up to scratch. So I slowed right down, and now I write maybe one poem a week but the quality is there, the standard I pride myself on is back and Become Something Frail is really the culmination of all that. The book itself is split into three very loose sections (and one final poem which I feel envelops all the themes). When I write, I tend to have an image in my head and just describe it in one long sentence. I then refine it a bit and put the line breaks in. I almost never edit any of my poetry, as for me I want to get the words from my brain to other people’s eyes without any fussing. I understand this makes me strange in poetry circles, as editing is vital for most people, but I dislike it. In terms of curating, I knew I wanted the three sections, I knew I wanted the three themes, so I just collected the poems that best fit and it all evolved very naturally. It isn’t explicitly obvious what the themes are, and they are only divided by images, not titled. But the themes are there if you look hard enough. The final poem in the book is for Scott Hutchinson, a singer who committed suicide last year. I wrote it on the night that he died and it just seemed to encompass a lot of what the book was about. He was the lead singer of a band who sung about depression and mental health to thousands of people but he couldn’t tell anyone about his own problems. He couldn’t become frail and it cost him his life.
KG: Do you have a link to one of your favorite poems from the collection where it was published previously? Tell us what it specifically represents about your collection.
SB: I think my favourite poem in this collection is ‘Festival of Lanterns’. It deals with a lot of the themes in the book, from childhood trauma, repression and the dream like worlds we create to escape from these feelings. It also has a killer ending, which is what I look for in a poem myself. The last lines are always the ones that stay with you.
I think it is all too easy to leave childhood feeling dirty and guilty, that too often you don’t get the help you need and (for me anyway), these feelings can linger well in to adulthood.
The poem was actually published on the blog section of @SelcouthStation, the wonderful press who are publishing this book. Here is the link;
KG: Was the length of the book organic or was it an artistic choice?
SB: I wanted to bring out a smaller collection this time round, so yes it was an artistic choice. My first collection is something I am hugely proud of, but it has poems in it I feel like I put there to make it full length rather than poems that deserve to be there. With Become Something Frail, I truly believe every word has a place, every piece leads on to the next. I sold quite a lot of my first collection but I don’t feel that it represented who I am as a writer, but who I thought I was. A great deal of these poems have been published by journals that I really admire, so I feel confident that they are worthy. I wasn’t true to myself the first time round and it was not a mistake I was going to make again. I think Become Something Frail is a really nice overall package, a journey that I hope people want to take with me.
KG: If I may be so nosey as to ask, for the sake of emerging writers seeking to publish a book, as much as you feel comfortable revealing, what was the road to acceptance like for this particular book?
SB: Quite simple really. I knew Haley from Selcouth Station beforehand. We had shared our love of anime and poetry and had read a fair amount of each other’s work. I knew I wanted a publisher who would treat me and my words with delicacy (although I love my first book, the publisher was absolutely disgraceful in the way they acted towards me (although that’s another story)) so I pretty much just asked Haley if she would be interested in reading the chapbook I had. She said yes, liked it and offered to publish it. I don’t think that’s the general rule by the way, I was very lucky. In terms of emerging writers, just remember to take your time and love yourself and your words. And don’t take rejection personally. Because it really isn’t.
KG: In what sorts of environments did you write these poems for this collection?
SB: Mostly I write sat cross legged in my bed with some sort of instrumental music on my headphones. I have zero writing regime,
KG: Are you working on a new collection now? If so would you be willing to tell us a little about it?
SB: I have been focusing a bit more on visual arts the last few weeks which I am really enjoying, but yes I have a collection about half built and I am working on a micro-chap about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I want about ten tiny poems and I hope to illustrate it myself. I suffer a lot from self-doubt issues (we all do I think) so I tend not to think about grouping poems together until most of them have been published. It’s being published that shows me whether a poem is worthy of going in to a collection or not. Again, I don’t think this is particularly good advice, it’s just what works for me.
PINK PLASTIC INTERVIEW OF LAUREN MILICI
KRISTIN GARTH: I’m very excited about the prospect of your forthcoming chapbook Final Girl, and I know I’m not the only one. Can you tell us some about its inspiration, organization, the story of its inception?
LAUREN MILICI: Thank you! When I moved to West Virginia for grad school, I was assaulted. This -inevitably brought up a lot of other trauma I was choosing to ignore. Once I started writing about my trauma, I couldn’t stop. EMDR therapy helped me write these poems/revisit these scenes with a clearer mind.
The Final Girl is my favorite trope in the slasher-horror subgenre. She’s the girl who makes it out alive in the end – the sole survivor. I have always looked for myself in horror movies, and have always found so much comfort in watching these incredible women survive.
I wrote a piece about it for Birth.Movies.Death two years ago: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2017/01/13/saved-by-the-final-girl
KG: When and where will be able to order it?
LM: Big Lucks Books! I’m not sure when it’ll be available for preorder…but soon!
(As of the publication of this interview, this book is now available for preorder at: https://www.biglucks.com/store/lauren-milici-emily-oneill )
KG: Are you working on any other manuscripts currently or have any submitted that you can share any details about?
LM: I’m working on adding to the manuscript that was my MFA thesis, as well as a chapbook about Catholic guilt/womanhood/sex. Although I feel like I’m always writing about all three.
KG: I have loved your confessional poetry since I came to poetry twitter. I also deal with my trauma in writing, publicly. What has been the best thing about doing that for you and the hardest thing, if you feel able to share?
LM: Thank you so much, my love. I pride myself on being something of an over-sharer, mainly because that’s what I needed when I was younger. I needed someone to be open and public about the awful, “taboo” things that I can never seem to shut up about. The best thing is hearing every now and then that what I said reached someone, that it made them feel seen, that they needed it.
The hardest thing is that it can be perceived as weakness to certain people. People who don’t know themselves or have zero desire to work on themselves are put off by someone standing on a soap box and shouting about abusers – and sometimes it can hurt.
KG: I loved your poem Bodies that was published in Flapperhouse: https://flapperhouse.com/2016/05/19/bodies-another-failed-poem-about-unrequited-love-and-synesthesia-poetry-by-lauren-milici/ All three of the poems featured are as dense and powerful as medicine. They took me back to sick places in my past with such a bitter sensory immediacy. How do you get yourself to such a pure, honest place to write these perfect encapsulated moments of desperation and truth? Do you write longer and trim down to the essential or is this just how it comes?
LM: This is beyond lovely. Thank you. I don’t think anyone has ever said that about my work before.
Sometimes, it’s a long piece that more or less looks like vomit on the page. Sometimes, it’s line by line. The honesty just sort of happens without me really thinking about it, to the point where I’ve received workshop feedback about it being “too” honest. But it’s hard for me to use metaphor or describe a flower blooming outside. My poetry is point blank nonfiction. I just write it as it comes – and I never really get to pick what I want to write about. If that makes sense.
KG: What is your writing process like? Do you have rituals or conditions you must have to write (music or silence, for example, favorite locations)? Do you write every day or most days or are you a person who writes more sporadically or spontaneously?
LM: I’m moving to a new apartment (that I plan on turning into a spiritual, witchy sanctuary a la the HausWitch book) and starting a new job, so I’ll be starting the trial-and-error of finding a brand new writing process. I tend to be very sporadic/spontaneous, but I think that had a lot to do with me being in school and teaching. Now that I’ll have some structure, I hope to turn into the writer that churns out work every single day.
KG: What is your sign and how do you think it affects your writing, process and product, if you do?
LM: I’m a Cancer, so naturally I’m an emotional babychild. I’ve never really thought about my sign affecting my writing…other than that I tend to hate something after I finish it and get really pouty until someone tells me it’s fine. Haha.
KG: How long have you been writing? How has your writing evolved as you have grown and evolved as a person?
LM: I’ve been writing since I was very small, but I always thought I was going to write the Great American Novel. I started seriously writing poetry in 2013, after the poet Melissa Carroll told me that I was, in fact, a poet. I used to stick to what I call “stock imagery” – lots of blood and broken glass and all of that. There’s definitely more music in my poems now, and the speaker is so much more sure of herself. I have to thank Mary Ann Samyn, who I worked with for three years, for that.
KG: Will you share a published poem that you are particularly proud of and perhaps some of the story behind its creation?
LM: You know what? This poem is about my period…and it’s everyone’s favorite – everyone meaning my close friends and such. I wrote it after getting my period after two years, and it became a meditation on a woman’s choice or inability to have children. It’s something I think about a lot more than I’d like to admit. https://www.swwim.org/blog/2019/1/26/no-children-1
KG: I know that you are a crafter/visual artist in addition to writing, what do you gain from these mediums as an artist that is different from what we gain as writers?
LM: Oh my gosh, I am so not a visual artist. I like to sketch and play with paint as a means to relieve some anxiety. I was really really depressed this year and all I did was order food, watch Netflix, and paint/collage a shelf. It gives me a release that poetry doesn’t. The poetry has to be good. The sketches and paint blobs can be whatever they want to be.
KG: I feel like as someone who also writes, at times, confessional poetry that people feel they know you very well from your writing when they know, in fact, a piece of you, often a past piece you might have evolved or outgrown. Can you confess to us something that your readers don’t know about Lauren Milici — even if it’s — maybe especially if it’s something silly or mundane?
LM: Oooh…okay, I love the Food Network. I love watching people cook. I’m going to have my own kitchen in my new place…and I plan on getting all gourmet and fancy and trying to recreate everything I see on Chopped and Guy’s Grocery Games. Guy Fieri is an absolute treasure.
A PINK PLASTIC POEM BY LAUREN MILICI:
Today, I am thankful for the clumsy lock on my bedroom door.
For the dust that collects on the radiator.
How a structure so old can become sanctuary, if you let it.
For two years, the makings of a haunted house.
The windows I will never close, not even in winter.
Still, I want the carpet ripped up where he bit me.
I want a new mattress, one that knows only my touch.
I want. I want. I want.
But do you love?
I love knowing what I shouldn’t. I love waking, alone.
Lauren Milici is a Jersey-born, Florida raised poet and writer based in West Virginia. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia University. When she isn’t crafting sad poems about sex, she’s either writing or shouting into the void about film, TV, and all things pop culture.