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Chase Dimock

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

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Literary Criticism

Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

My interview with poet Daniel Crocker on his latest book Leadwood has been published on As It Ought To Be. Check out an excerpt below.

In Leadwood, Daniel Crocker surveys twenty years of his work as a poet. Ranging from the metaphysical significance of the McRib to courageous deep dives into bipolar disorder, Crocker’s book is more than a collection of poems; it’s a chronicle of a poet’s maturation and a man’s coming to terms with his upbringing and identity.

Leadwood is the Daniel Crocker origin story. He was born among the long closed lead mines and chat dumps that littered his rural Missouri hometown. In his poems he confronts poverty, bigotry, and religious zealotry along with personal tragedies that shaped him as man and a writer. As a middle aged poet, Crocker depicts the lingering effects of Leadwood, balancing nostalgia and care for his home with trauma. In his newest poems, he crafts vivid insight into his relationship with bipolar disorder.

No matter his age, his work has always been confessional and brave. Crocker is a rural Anne Sexton, a Sylvia Plath raised on Sesame Street and WWF wrestling, a John Berryman in the Wal-Mart aisles, a Robert Lowell with a smirk and morbid punchlines.

 

Chase Dimock: Although this is a collection of your work from the past two decades, you decided to give the book a title: Leadwood. Once the reader hits the first poem “Where We Come From,” they will learn that Leadwood is the name of your small hometown. Why did you decide that this one word would be descriptive of two decades worth of your work? What does understanding Leadwood as a town achieve toward understanding Daniel Crocker as a poet?

Daniel Crocker: This kind of dates back to my very first full length book, People Everyday and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), which I dedicated to  Leadwood. Later, me and my wife, Margaret, would do a chapbook together called “My Favorite Hell.” It was put out by Alpha Beat Press. We used the Leadwood population sign as our cover art. So, I guess Leadwood has had a hold on me from the beginning.

Like you said, it’s my hometown. I think most of us are shaped by where we grew up–for better or worse. Most of my formative experiences happened there, and I’ve written a lot about them.  And, I certainly have love/hate relationship with Leadwood. I have many great childhood memories, but also worries about lead poisoning and the ecological disaster that my home town is. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that the voices of my small town, and by extension other small towns, aren’t lost. There are small towns all over the country that have been ravaged and left behind by corporations–whether it’s Leadwood, which was founded by a lead mining company who later up and left the town with huge piles of chat (lead and dust) that were as big as football stadiums. The cancer rate there is extremely high. The soil has been tested there was found to be 10,000 more times the lead in the soil that is considered safe.

You can find the full interview at As It Ought To Be.

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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)

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”

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.

The Female Body and the Seduction of Modernity in Ali and Nino

I’m excited to announce that my essay has been published in the book Approaches to Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino: Love, Identity and Cultural Conflict. I worked as an editorial assistant on this collection as well. Here’s a brief snippet of my article:

My Review of Bettyville By George Hodgman

My review of George Hodgman’s memoir Bettyville has been published in the journal Western American Literature. Here is an excerpt:

In Bettyville, New York book editor George Hodgman returns to his native, rural northern Missouri home to care for his elderly mother. In the process, he crafts a Proustian remembrance of growing up gay in a small town amid the cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies that at once seemed as distant as Fire Island in New York and as near as the campus of the University of Missouri.

The actual geographical location of Bettyville is Paris, Missouri, a town that like thousands of other small American towns finds itself slowly disappearing from the map as it struggles to transition into the twenty-first century. What separates Hodgman’s account from many other queer coming-of-age narratives of small-town life is his genuine affection for Paris despite the decades-old wounds he still nurses. Hodgman offers both a personal and sociological elegy for his hometown. Mourning Paris’s vanishing main street, he writes, “Wal-Mart, the store that wiped out the merchants, shuttered everything, has never offered a lonely widow a turkey dinner, a day of fellowship among friends, or hope” (217). He feels most at home where he never fit in and shows true affection and empathy for townspeople who were taught by their religion and their government to hate him.

(Full Article Available in Western American Literature via Project Muse)

LGBT Writing and the 21st Century

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Mayday Magazine’s special LGBTQ edition is now available, featuring poetry, fiction, and commentary selected by myself and poet Amy King. The following is an excerpt from our co-authored introduction, “LGBT Writing and the 21st century along with a link to the entire article and issue:

On Sunday, June 12th, 2016, the most fatal mass shooting in American history took the lives of 49 LGBT people and allies. Up to this point, there had been a culturally pervasive sense that the upward trajectory in the cause of LGBT rights meant that LGBT people were becoming less susceptible to bigotry and violence as signaled by the passing of legislation on marriage equality. This sense of tolerance led many to believe that LGBT culture was becoming obsolete. The thought was that becoming accepted into the mainstream meant that an alternative culture of LGBT outcasts was no longer necessary. This viewpoint sees LGBT culture as an ersatz imitation of a community pieced together out of the remnants of society. Now welcomed into society, it was time for LGBT people to cast aside the juvenalia of the queer world: the sexual exploration, the gender ambiguity, and the political dissidence, and embrace the politics of respectability. We’re here, We’re queer had its moment when we had to burst from the closet and fight for our lives during the AIDS epidemic and the rise of the Moral Majority, but just like the feminists and people of color have been told earlier, the passing of a few laws and the corporate adoption of some diversity initiatives meant that the goal of acceptance has been accomplished and it was time to pack up and step down.

What the viewpoint above does not understand is that while fighting for civil rights has always been a priority of LGBT culture, it has never been its end point. LGBT cultures have always been about living and thinking queerly. A queer culture is a non-normative culture; it resists and challenges assumptions and fixedness. Queer culture is in a constant state of flux; it evolves without a predetermined destination. Historically, queer writers have used their marginalized positions in society as an opportunity to critique normative culture from the outside and to investigate and cherish the repressed and devalued parts of human existence. As long as there is a norm, there will be a queer, and thus there will always be a space in the margins in which a universe of experience will be discovered. (full article available at Mayday Magazine)

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