My poem “The Coroner as a Child” has been published in volume 8 of Trailer Park Quarterly. You can read the full poem here.
My latest interview with poet Daniel Crocker is available on As It Ought To Be
The genius of The Incredible Hulk is that everyone can identify with him. All people have a reservoir of anger inside them, and we all know the painful discipline of managing anger, lest it erupt into senseless rage. The Hulk Smash is the fantasy of acting on our anger with a violent ferocity that mirrors the inner, emotional experience of pain.
In his latest chapbook, Gamma Rays, Daniel Crocker identifies with the Hulk as a metaphor for the experience of bipolar disorder. As It Ought To Be debuted Crocker’s Hulk poem “The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem” last January. For Crocker, the Hulk is more than just a momentary outburst; he is an enduring persona who embodies the manic energy of bipolar disorder. Crocker’s poems humanize the Hulk, and in turn, provide insight into the mind of the bipolar person as they navigate the impulses within them. I had a chance to ask Crocker about the Hulk and how he personifies the bipolar experience in his poetry.
Chase Dimock: The first question on anyone’s mind when they first look at your cover is going to be “Why the Hulk?” In the past, you’ve written poems in which you take on the personas of Cookie Monster, Skeletor, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life among others. What is it about the Hulk that made him worthy of an entire collection of poetry? What does taking on his persona uniquely achieve among your pantheon of pop culture icons?
Daniel Crocker: The simple answer is, I love the Hulk. I wrote one Hulk poem, the one where he goes shopping after taking klonopin, and then I couldn’t stop for awhile. I was filtering everything through the Hulk. I originally thought I might end up with a full length, but after about 20 poems I realized I was kind of done with the story I wanted to tell. But, he’s a great metaphor. Any negative aspect of your personality, especially those that center around losing control, that’s basically the Hulk. He’s the things you bury deep. In a lot of ways this books is about coming to terms with that.
So I used it as a metaphor for my bipolar disorder because you never know when you’re going to have another episode. You just try to keep them at bay with medication. Then I started thinking about what it means to navigate love and a relationship when you have this hanging over your head–when you’re not always sure you’re going to wake up okay. Unlike Shit House Rat, however, this is more about coming to terms with it. It is, I think, a happy book with a happy ending.
(Full Interview Available on As It Ought to Be)
My poem “The Inquisitor’s Parrots” has been published in the Spring 2018 edition of Waccamaw. Here’s the first stanza:
When Columbus returned to Spain,
he gifted two parrots to Queen Isabella.
History cannot tell us how long it took
until the birds had forgotten the language
of the Taíno they mimicked on the island
and if the Spaniards ever registered those
sounds as distinct words or assumed
they were meaningless squawks.
(full poem available at Waccamaw)
The following piece can be read in its entirety on As It Ought To Be
Five years ago, my father, grandfather, and I remodeled the bathroom in our family cabin. This was no luxury ski chalet or time share condo masquerading as a cabin. My great-grandfather built it himself in the 30s with the help of his five daughters and the boy scout troop he lead. Great-grandpa was not a master carpenter or plumber, so as we tore away the rotting drywall and jackhammered the cracked cement floor, we discovered an unexpected and unconventional layout of pipes. It was a map of kludges, improvisations, and applications of sheer brute force.
The more Dad and Grandpa studied how the pipes were fashioned and connected, the more it became clear that the success of the remodeling job became dependent on interpreting Great-Grandpa’s plumbing choices, and then predicting where the pipes would take us. They had to think like Great-Grandpa, and in the process, his cognition and imagination became reanimated. The pipes were a network of thought like the neural pathway of synapses in his mind. Debates between Dad and Grandpa over the next step in the project evolved into nostalgic appreciations of Great-Grandpa’s resourcefulness. They were once again enveloped in the creative vision of a man who built his own carnival rides and managed to keep a citrus grove thriving during the severe rationing of WWII.
If you clicked over here from Facebook or Twitter, you are probably wondering why I am beginning a remembrance of Okla Elliott with an anecdote about plumbing. My Great-Grandpa died well before I was born, so the experience of a man’s resurrection through exploring his handiwork was only secondhand. I could see it in Dad’s and Grandpa’s faces, but I could not feel it directly. Last August, when I took over As It Ought To Be following Okla’s untimely passing, I finally experienced this phenomena first hand.
As the new Managing Editor, I have been combing through nearly a decade of articles on As It Ought To Be. This has meant figuring out formatting, style, and organization as Okla had established them, and charting how he evolved in these ways. I’ve read through all of the posts Okla authored from the beginning of the site to his final article about Lent and its political and social possibilities posted just weeks before he unexpectedly passed. Just as the plumbing revived the spirit of Great-Grandpa for my father and grandfather, so too has editing and organizing As It Ought To Be kept Okla’s voice as a writer and thinker perpetually resonant in my mind. (Read the full article on As It Ought To Be)
My latest author interview is up at As It Ought To Be. Check out an excerpt below:
Keats had his nightingale, Shelley had his skylark, Poe had his raven, Stevens had 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, and Mike James has a jukebox full of crows. While fans of poems about birds will not be disappointed, Crows in the Jukebox is just as much about the jukebox as it is about the crows. James’s book reads like the playlist of an old jukebox in a roadside, greasy spoon diner. There are folk songs that retell old family lore, slow ballads that honestly and sweetly pay tribute to his love, and melancholic memories of a self-destructive father on par with any country tune sung by Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette. You can hear the drawl in his words, but James is not constrained by the clichés or expectations of his background in the Carolinas. His poetry is, as the crow flies, direct in its route and positioned with a vision that can muse on the specific while connecting it to a wider, areal view.
Chase Dimock: Crows pop up as the subject of several poems in your book, Crows in the Jukebox. In “The Crows,” you write that you “love those damned birds for what they aren’t” and in “Poem” you declare that “crows are good at waiting, much better than we are with our alphabet of needs.” What is it about crows that makes them such a fertile subject for poems? How does your interest in crows connect with some of the other ideas and themes in your work?
Mike James: I’ve always loved crows. They are, with pigeons, my favorite birds. Part of what I like about them is their intelligence, but I also love the fact that they exist at the margins. No one goes to the zoo to see crows. They are always around, watching and plotting survival. Many people have a real aversion to them. That marginality probably interests me as much as anything since I think the best writing comes from working against dominant culture, of getting by at the margins. So many of “the great dead” I admire worked actively outside of the mainstream. (I’m thinking of poets like Stephen Jonas, Bill Knott, Jack Spicer, Lorine Niedecker, and Mbembe Milton Smith.) I don’t make a conscious decision to work around any specific themes; however, I have a real love for the decayed, the failing, and the decrepit. In so many ways I am in love with ruination. Give me the choice between walking through a mansion and walking through a closed factory and I will choose the factory on every occasion.
My newest author interview is up at As It Ought To Be. Check out an excerpt below:
If you pick up a copy of Letting the Meat Rest, hoping to find tips for juicy pork chops, luckily, John Dorsey’s got you covered:
a pork chop sizzles in a pan
for six minutes tops
any longer & you’ll let the imagination
bleed out all over your plate
& escape into the woods
Yet, Dorsey’s subject matter extends beyond pork products. Reading Letting the Meat Rest is like rummaging through a friend’s box of old Polaroids. You want to learn more about these people and moments captured in time. Some snapshots are brief, impressionistic prints of a person frozen in a sliver of life, while others have their detailed history scrawled on the back. These vignettes present us with visions of addiction, poverty, and trauma, but also optimistic moments of youthful ambition, rebellion, and intimate friendship. No matter what Dorsey depicts, whether it’s a full portrait or a quick sketch, it’s always crafted with deep humanity
Chase Dimock: I first became acquainted with your work when a mutual friend of ours told me he was driving up to Central Missouri to pick up the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. At that moment I learned a few things: 1. That a town named Belle, MO exists 2. That a town of less than 2,000 people in rural Missouri has a Poet Laureate, and 3. That the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO is John Dorsey. Having lived for a few years in Cape Girardeau myself, I know there are quite a few cultural gems to be found in rural Missouri. How did you become the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO and what has that experience been like? I saw one poem in Letting the Meat Rest depicting the appropriately named Dinner Belle restaurant in town, so I am curious to know how this experience in Belle has impacted your writing.
John Dorsey: Well, to make a short story long, Chase, I ended up in Belle at the end of 2015, from Wisconsin, after being awarded a residency at the Osage Arts Community and through that connection, in particular with the Executive Director Mark McClane, I started to meet more people in town, including Mayor Steve Vogt, who seeing all of the work I had done and was continuing to do, offered me the appointment as Poet Laureate. Continue reading “Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey”
October is LGBT History Month, and this year it is as important as ever to study our past. With all of our recently won civil rights and our dramatically increased visibility in society, the LGBT community sometimes assumes that the features of our culture and the values of our politics are recent inventions. Conversely, sometimes we make the opposite mistake and assume that LGBT people of the past (even before the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender first came about) thought of themselves and the community exactly as we do today. These misconceptions are primarily due to the fact that American culture has closeted LGBT history for so long. We learned little to nothing about the history of the LGBT community in school and have thus been denied the benefit that comes with studying history or even being aware that we have a history. I remember, as a teenager, reading gay poet A E Housman in my English textbook, not knowing that his poems written about his male “friends” were actually addressed to the men he loved romantically. It was more important for those who created the curriculum and standards for our education to lead us into misunderstanding the material than to risk admitting to young people that men could love other men in the 19th century or today for that matter.
Having a history is an essential part of having a cultural identity. A history explains where we are in the present and allows us greater insight into the direction in which we are heading. It reminds us that ideas, values, and expressions do not materialize out of nothing; they are the product of the collective communal action of the people over time. This history is always evolving and our story is never finished being told because we are constantly discovering more about it. Finally, knowing our history cautions us against the uncritical belief in a progress narrative. It is easy to assume that we live in the most civilized and enlightened of times and that progress inevitably arcs toward justice. In reality, civil rights are often a cycle of advancement and blow back. Social action is usually greeted by an even greater and opposite repressive reaction. We cannot afford to presume that our current social standing is permanent or that it will naturally improve in the future. Continue reading “Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film”