Interview With Dean Rhetoric on Cancer [+ Pop Punk]
This is such a heart-breaking book of musical poems on loss, which I already knew because I was honored to publish its crescendo originally in Pink Plastic House. Can you tell me, if you’re comfortable, some about the story behind this book?
First of all, thank you again for publishing it! Cancer [+ Pop Punk] is about grief in general; how intrusive thoughts can stick in your head like the chorus of an annoying pop song. It references the loss of some people very close to me over the years.
There was a time where I simply couldn’t even discuss their names without loudly just singing to myself. Someone would try and I’d openly just start making a humming or musical noise to drown out the conversation. Like I was trying to shout the concept of their deaths out of my head or something.
There was a period where it felt like it just kept happening. Very recently, after yet another issue with sickness regarding someone I care about, I began to wallow in a little self-pity and feel like I was some kind of curse.
Broken Sleep Books is putting out my debut full-length poetry collection (Foundry Songs, coming in February 2023), but very kindly asked if I’d be up for doing a poetry pamphlet as well. I wanted to try and make this long form song that’s poetry but with intrusive thoughts that pop up throughout it.
It references several genres of music, but Pop Punk has always stuck out for me as that genre always has such annoyingly catchy choruses.
All of my royalties go to a charity that supports young widows and helps them to overcome grief by socialising with other people who are going through the same thing.
One of my favorite haunting lines in this book is “When I took off your clothes, I hoped the tumor would come with them.” I think we all want more than anything, in our romantic poet hearts, to heal the people we touch or to be healed by touch whether or not that’s possible. What would the speaker of these poems say to people in this situation — in love with someone battling life and death, as you say “the steps to take not to give in to that wounded man cliche”?
I think there’s a lot of that wounded man with a dark and brooding aura in film, poetry and music. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but I really didn’t want to fall into that trope.
So, I had to be very open and maybe overshare a lot in the collection. I felt it would take out that cliché element. At least I hope it does.
I’d probably recommend being present and not finding ways to emotionally detach yourself from what’s happening. You aren’t the priority, as harsh as that may sound. The person who is terrified about extremely intrusive surgery or regular painful treatments is the priority.
These poems are stunningly musical in themselves. Who inspires you lyrically as a poet?
I’m a huge fan of bands like Bad Religion and Dillinger Four. I think they walk that line between great melodies and cutting lyrics that really make you think. But I’m also fond of acts like REM and Bob Mould because I think they’re great at expressing common things like grief and love without beingtoo twee or sentimental about it.
I just wanted to try and get that earworm you get with music sometimes, except that the catchy parts are the kinds of thoughts you don’t like having in your head. I’d like to think of myself as the Ed Sheeran of poetry, except that I have no money and I write about sickness and death instead of kissing under stars, and I haven’t sold 150 million albums.
Other than that, we’re exactly the same.
4.) I cannot imagine a more dark subject matter than what you cover in this book — though you handle it with a lot of complexity and light. When you are working on something like this, does it affect you psychologically? What advice do you give other writers engaging in deeply personal work about trauma about how to survive the writing of it, if that makes sense?
I’m that person who tries to make light of every bad situation, especially my own. I don’t think this is a popular answer, but I’d advise people to take the piss out of themselves more.
Poets are very keen to be seen as these incredibly serious, brooding slabs of meat. I think part of that is due to us all being overlooked a lot in mainstream literature. But we do tend to have a huge stick up our collective arses.
I want people to take the stuff I write seriously, but I don’t want to take myself seriously. Ever. Fuck that. But I did find it a little upsetting to spend hours on end writing about all of this, and yes, it brought some very raw emotions back to the surface. But I’d force myself to do something daft or fun afterwards, which helped to separate me from the writing for a while.
Of course, Sertraline helps a great deal too!
5.) A lot of the musical references of this book are the 90’s and pop punk. as the title refers. What is the pull of pop punk for you?
I’m a huge fan of 90’s music and I’ve always found pop punk fascinating. I love it and loathe it. It’s kind of whiny and way less aggressive than punk rock, but it’s just so catchy and never seems to leave your head.
It’s such a general word these days anyway. I reference the track listings of the Weezer album ‘Pinkerton’ and the track listings of R.E.M’s ‘Automatic for the People’ in the opening and closing poems, and neither of those bands are Pop Punk in my opinion. The 90’s were formative years for me, so it’smore about encapsulating that music during those years.
6.) As much as this book is about the devastation of life, because one of the things that it’s also about us the triumph of music — the ability of songs to stand with us in our darkest moments as friends or compatriots in suffering when we feel most alone. Do you have a song these days that gets you through moments like this?
For me, that’s where punk rock comes in. Off the top of my head, I find these songs incredibly powerful to get me off my arse when I’m in a shitty mood.
Radio by Rancid
Hooray For Me by Bad Religion
A Jingle for the Product by Dillinger Four
Train in Vain by The Clash
Failing that, anything by The Beach Boys, Kate Bush, Joanna Newsom or a random punk band is fine by me.
7.) You are giving all proceeds of this chapbook, your first book, to a charity for widows. Can you tell us about that organization and what it does?
Yeah, all of my author royalties and any sales I make at gigs and stuff will go to a charity called WAY (Widowed andYoung). It’s a small but vital group that provides support for people who have lost someone special before their 51stbirthday.
I’m not a spokesperson for the charity of anything, but after looking into some of the larger charities, I wasn’t quite sure where all the money went. It’s nice to know that any money I make will be spent trying to get others to socialise and not grieve alone.
8.) I know I speak for many people when I say how thrilled I was that you finally are publishing some books of your work. What other projects are you working on now?
Thanks! Well, Cancer [+ Pop Punk] is available to pre order now, and it gets an official release on February 28th. I’ll be trying to get some online gigs and some live gigs in Manchester to help promote it.
My debut full-length collection, Foundry Songs, is scheduled to come out in 2023 so I’m working on that currently. I’m also fiddling around with a novel and at some point, I’d like to edit a collection that’s full of unpublished poets. I like reading newer poets. They aren’t as obsessed with chestnut trees and old wheelbarrows from the 1600s and tend to write more about current things.
They’ll take over the world someday. I’d like to be on their side when it happens.