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Chase Dimock

Writer, Editor, and Researcher in Comparative Literature and LGBT Studies

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As It Ought To Be

The Incredible Bipolar Hulk: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker


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)

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In the Mental Architecture of the Deceased

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)

The Very Southern Pronunciation Still Rings In My Ears: A Conversation With Poet Mike James

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.

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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.

Continue reading “The Very Southern Pronunciation Still Rings In My Ears: A Conversation With Poet Mike James”

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey

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
like magic.

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

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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”

Different From the Others: LGBT History Month and the Almost Century-Old Legacy of an Early Gay Rights Film

                                                   

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”

Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

(Full Interview Available on As It Ought To Be)

As It Ought To Be Announces Chase Dimock as New Managing Editor

I am excited to announce that I will be serving as the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be. My friend Okla Elliott co-founded this publication and managed it for years before his unexpected passing last spring. I want to keep Okla’s legacy alive by continuing to publish creative pieces and progressive works of social and political commentary. I hope that my friends and colleagues will help me in this endeavor by submitting their work for consideration (contact inquiries.asitoughttobe@gmail.com)and spreading the word about As It Ought To Be’s relaunch.

The full formal announcement can be read at As It Ought To Be.

Growing up on the Island of Misfit Toys or: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a Queer Allegory

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The Misfit Narrative and Queer Youth

The narrative of the misfit character struggling to find his place in the world is a well-used trope for popular entertainment. It is universally identifiable and it lends itself to a light, yet redeeming moral at the end of the story. Everyone thinks of himself or herself as a misfit to some degree and everyone is accustomed to the simplistic and not controversial message of tolerance and treating everyone equally.

Yet, the story of Rudolph as a misfit takes on a different dimension for the 50 years worth of queer American children who grew up watching the holiday classic every year on television. While these stories about treating kindly those different from us and not being afraid to be different were commonplace in the American classroom with their examples of not being ashamed to wear glasses, have freckles, stutter, etc., the narrative of tolerating difference resonates differently for queer youth. Unlike the child with glasses who knows he is the same as other children beneath the glasses, queer youth often feel an intrinsic difference; they are often treated as though they inhabit a different kind of body and thus live as almost another species of being. The queer youth is looking for more than a little hope that they will be tolerated and accepted; they are also looking for a subject model to emulate, a guide on how to live as a misfit.

For most of the past 50 years, lgbt youth have had to look for subject models in the abstract. Until the past decade, there were few, if any, lgbt-identified characters in the media that their family consumed. Unlike today, where lgbt youth have a character on Gleeor Modern Family to point to in order to navigate their lgbt subject position, children of previous generations (including myself) had to look elsewhere for characters and subject models who mirrored their queerness in non-explicitly gendered or sexual forms. Coming into one’s gay identity meant identifying across a variety of different kinds of queerness and cobbling together a sense of how to think and live in a marginalized subject position by observing and learning from other forms of outsider status, like racial minorities, the disabled, immigrants, the poor—pretty much any oppressed class of people who had some representation in the media.

In a certain way, maturing into my gay subjectivity by identifying through the similar outsider subject positions of others was beneficial because I saw my gayness as united with other disadvantaged segments of the population. It allowed me to see that some of the challenges facing the lgbt world come not simply from sexual or gender difference, but also from how society defines and polices otherness. In contrast, growing up today with gay visibility in the mainstream media sometimes cuts out some of the unique self-invention that the queer youth historically went through in understanding their sexual or gender identity. Now they are given preformed, and usually limited, definitions of what constitutes an lgbt person. We now tolerate same sex attraction insofar as it does not disrupt or challenge our cultural norms.

(Read the full Article on As It Ought To Be)

From the Same Source as Her Power: A Threnody for Adrienne Rich

How do we account for and preserve a writer’s power after she dies? At the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, any researcher who wants to access the lab books and notes of the legendary scientist Marie Curie must first sign a waiver acknowledging the danger of leafing through her papers. Over a hundred years after Curie’s discovery of radium and polonium, her lab book is still radioactive enough to set off a Geiger counter. Perhaps this is why when I heard of Adrienne Rich’s passing last month, I immediately thought of her 1974 poem “Power” about Marie Curie. Just as Curie’s words literally radiate from her pages with the physical properties of the power that she discovered, so too does Rich’s six decades of poetry continue to empower the reader with her social critique and introspection.

The Poetical is the Political

In the past few weeks, several obituaries and memorials have been written to commemorate the life of Adrienne Rich after she passed away from rheumatoid arthritis at age 82. In every remembrance, Rich’s status as a “feminist poet” comes to the forefront and in the process of assembling a biography, the age-old rift between politics and poetics, art for art’s sake versus art for raising social consciousness, is still being waged over Rich’s death. Most of Rich’s critics and detractors over the course of her career dismissed her work as overly polemical, accusing her of sacrificing poetics for politics, as if these are somehow mutually exclusive entities. As Rich herself once said, “One man said my politics trivialized my poetry…. I don’t think politics is trivial — it’s not trivial for me. And what is this thing called literature? It’s writing. It’s writing by all kinds of people. Including me.” For Rich and other feminists who came of age under the belief that “the personal is the political”, it was impossible for the deep introspection of poetry to not find the political oppression of gender and sexual non-conformists as inextricably determinative of one’s psyche and soul.  Rather, Rich would contend that to believe poetry could be written outside of the political is to naturalize one’s worldview and political privilege. Being “apolitical” is the privilege of those who have power.

(Full article available at As It Ought To Be)

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