…with Alex Stolis

Ariana:

You are the author of so many breathtaking collections. Which is your favorite? Why?

Alex:

First, thank you very much for having me as a part of the ELJ family. You have so many great authors and books as well as some exciting projects in the future. It is great to be a part of this.

This is a difficult question for me because once completed I don’t spend too much time with them. I don’t often revisit them and, when I do I tend to see the flaws. If I had to choose I would have to say it is small confessions and pebbles of regret, Rubicon Press 2008 [now out of print]. It was a collaborative chapbook with Michaela Gabriel, an Austrian poet.

I think it’s my favorite because the finished product comes closest to what I saw in my head when it was written. The conceit is a basic call and response using letters as the format for the poems. Michi and I had no discussion as to how it should be done other than there would be ‘missing letters’ and time gaps. We didn’t discuss the type of relationship they should have, what they felt towards each other, anything. The result was something spontaneous and together we created this narrative that truly read like a letter exchange. I think one of the reasons I like it is that Michi’s voice fit so well with mine, it made it all so believable. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from someone who wanted to review it for a journal. He asked me if Michi and I had been married or were we simply lovers. I had to tell him that we had never met before. About a year or so later we actually did meet when my wife and I went to Vienna. Went to dinner with her and her husband

Ariana:

How do you manage to write multiple collections with varying themes? What make Without Dorothy There is No Going Home unique?

Alex:

To be honest I think I write about the same themes: loss, loneliness, the sense of finding oneself etc. What makes the Dorothy manuscript different is this is the first time I set out to create a real narrative with a beginning, middle and end. In previous manuscripts there has been a narrative so to speak but not as clear and straight forward. I am very influenced by film and music so I tend to visualize individual poems and certainly collections through that lens. Also, I had an idea of what the narrative arc would be with this collection whereas with others I have a general idea but let the poems take me in the direction. This one actually came about a bit accidentally. I wrote the last poem, Dorothy says goodbye to Oz, first. Then I started thinking about how she might have gotten to that place. For the first time, I thought of Oz as being an actual person. I tried to write it as a story of Dorothy’s journey because that is really what the film is about, everything else is ancillary. I also wanted it to be contemporary but not derivative, not a caricature either. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off. Oz is so burned into everyone’s consciousness and it has been ‘done’ so many times. I was looking for a new and different take. That was the beautiful thing about Wicked. It took something familiar and made it brand new. Something that stood completely on its own, even if you hadn’t any clue about the Wizard of Oz, Wicked worked. It worked beautifully. I wanted it to be something like that.

Ariana:

If you were a genie, what’s one wish you simply would refuse to grant and why?

Alex:

I would refuse to grant any wish that had to do with going back in the past or changing something they did or saving a person or assassinating Hitler kind of thing. There would be so many unintended consequences and I don’t trust people who want to play God. A close second would be money and winning the lottery. That is such a shallow thing to wish for and it doesn’t really change anything. Money and possessions are such a temporary fix. Happiness is a by-product, not an end result

Ariana:

What are you working on right now?

Alex:

Actually nothing right now, nothing specific anyway. I have a couple ideas bouncing through my head but that is about all. I go through stretches where I won’t write much. I am not disciplined that way. In between projects I sometimes write individual, random poems until something starts bubbling. I will also do a lot of editing, rewriting, to the extent the original poem no longer exists. I have a thought to rewrite Playing Cards with Houdini, Pudding House Publications, 2005 [out of print]. It is a narrative manuscript but a bit more oblique. I was never really happy with the way it turned out. I think I was a bit lazy when I wrote it.

Ariana:

If you could pick one word to describe Without Dorothy There is No Going Home, what would it be and why?

Alex:

Fairytale.

Ariana:

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your ring name be?

Alex:

Oh, God. I have absolutely no idea. That’s horribly uncreative, isn’t it?

Ariana:

Were there any challenges in getting your first chapbook published?

Alex:

My first chapbook was published in 2000. It was horrible. Part of what was difficult was I had not learned to not take rejection personally. I didn’t have a real sense of how to put a collection together either. I think I took it way too seriously then as well.

Ariana:

What is your favorite poetry quote of all time? How has it affected or inspired you as a writer?

Alex:

“I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy” Baudelaire

Baudelaire was one of the first poets I truly read. For me, the quote largely is a truism. I am cynical but not quite jaded. There is a beauty in the things we tend to run away from: sadness, depression, even loneliness. There are two sides/parts to everything. When we only look at one side or part of something we oftentimes miss the whole of it. The other side, so to speak, of beauty is the melancholy, yearning, loss; that’s the part that I tend to see.

Ariana:

If you could possess a super power, what would it be and why would you choose this particular one?

Alex:

I’ll steal Obama’s answer that I could speak every language in the world. Not simply from the standpoint of being able to read literature in its native language but the chance to be able to ‘think’ in that language as well. I am lousy at languages. I am tone deaf, would love to have a sense of music and I believe language is a kind of music and carries with it its own beauty.

Ariana:

Do you sit down with a theme for a new collection and write into it, or do you let the individual poems you write find their own theme?

Alex:

A little of both. The Dorothy manuscript for instance came out of a single poem and I wrote into it. Not in strict order but I wrote each one with the specific narrative in mind. There were a few that ended up not to be a good fit and were tossed out but I definitely wrote into that one. I tend more to let the individual poems find the theme. It usually turns out that after a couple, three poems the theme will come up and then I will start to write around it. So I guess it is actually a combination of the two. It is rare that I write the poems in a collection in consecutive order. I did that with John Berryman died here; [an unpublished collection] and I found it difficult. As it turned out a couple chapbooks emerged from that collection, A Cabal of Angels and Dead Letter Office.

Alex Stolis is the author of Without Dorothy There is No Going Home

 

 

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