…with Anthony Frame

Ariana:

What can you tell us about Everything I Know…

Anthony:

Everything I Know … grew out of boredom and necessity. I was finishing up my first book, A Generation of Insomniacs (shameless plug), and starting the work I’m doing on what I hope will be my second full-length. I was struggling with the new work because it was different and I wanted it to be different. But I wasn’t happy with any of it. The rhythms were wrong, the tone was wrong, the way the poems moved was wrong. So, frustrated, I abandoned that project for a while and, bummed out, decided to try to write some fun, ekphrastic poems. “Superheroes,” “Jonathan Schnapp,” and “Ron Jeremy” were the first to come, though in different forms. Slowly, over about a year, I found the voice and rhythm that became the Everything I Know … poems. “Survivor” was probably the first I felt good about, followed shortly by “Lazarus.” The earlier ones then transformed to be a bit more within the voice of these newer ones and once “The Dream Songs” came along, I knew I was doing something that was more than just a fun distraction until I “got back to the real work.” But as much as I liked these, I never thought they’d be published. Individual poems eventually got picked up but it was a rough slog trying to find homes. They always got a strong, positive reaction but were never “a right fit” (which didn’t suprise me since they’re so weird).  At the same time as the poems began to get published, the chapbook came together and then, suddenly, one (“Rachel Maddow”) popped up on Verse Daily and I figured, alright, maybe I should try to find a home for these. Maybe there is an audience.

They’re weird, kind of surreal poems but I really love them. I love that they jump around. I love that I got to do some weird internal and delayed rhymes. I love that they let me use pop culture to explore ideas of mortality, depression, body image and art. I mean, how else would I get to talk about suicide and Kermit the Frog?

Ariana:

Being as you are an exterminator by day, do you typically go out of your way when not working to kill bugs? Is there any bug out there that totally freaks you out?

Anthony:

Actually, I really like insects (“bug” and “pest” are relative to a given situation. A yellow jacket or wasp are actually  very beneficial and useful to have in a garden because, though not really pollinators, they are carnivorous and will eat the harmful insects in a garden. But, you know, when they’re nesting right above your door and attacking you every time you try to get the mail that makes them “pests”). I’m an environmentalist, which is odd considering my job. My carbon footprint is ridiculous and I frequently use chemicals that I know are not helping the planet. But I do my best to balance the real need for pest management (again, a technical thing, I’m not an exterminator but a Pest Management Professional 🙂 against the forces fighting against the planet. I’m very concerned about honeybees, but if they’re nesting outside a window of someone who is very allergic to bee stings, something has to be done.

So, no, I don’t go out of my way to kill bugs. My wife has turned about 1/3 of our backyard into an organic garden. I’m not to use any products on it at all. Instead, we plant things that will attract beneficial insects or that will repel harmful insects, we cultivate the spiders in the yard (and even the ones that occasionally come in the house) and we both celebrated when we got to watch the praying mantis egg capsule hatch this past spring. Now, we check every day to see if we can spot any who stayed in the yard (there is at least one, but possibly three — it’s hard to tell them apart).

I will say which insects freak me out but first will say which ones I adore: bees and ants, which are closely related, evolutionarily. I love the social insects, especially these ones that make super colonies that are pretty much one organism with each individual member of the colony being one part, almost like a single skin sell on a human, of the colony. They’re amazing. They’re also almost all female (no male bee can sting because the “stinger” is the ovipositor, the organ that lays the eggs). Most bee and ant species only create male members when one is needed for breeding purposes. The males often are born without mouths. The feminist in me loves this.

But I hate bedbugs. And fleas. They freak me out. They’re too damn small and I’m terrified I’m going to bring one pregnant female home and then I’m going to have to live in the shed. Which is why I have a shed. So I can keep clean clothes to change into when I get home from a particularly dirty day at work. I also hate flies. I can’t stand a fly in the house. Disgusting things.

Ariana:

Your work is fresh and frequently reaches into pop culture. Do you start with a particular image and write into it or does the image find you?

Anthony:

It’s different for every poem and every project and every stage of every project. Sometimes I have an image, sometimes an idea, sometimes a line and sometimes I just have a bit of a rhythm. Lately, I find myself starting with a rhythm. I’ve become obsessed with jazz scatting and find myself doing it while I’m bored, driving around the area during work. The weird scat rhythms I come up with then lead to poem rhythms, sometimes. My typical process, though, is to have a small phrase or even a whole line which I use to find the poem. That first bit rarely makes it to the end of the drafting process but it helps me get started. Since Everything I Know … are all ekphrastic, most of them started with an idea or a line. “Dream Songs,” for example, started with the idea of the different voices in The Dream Songs and with the image from the post-Dream Songs dream song where Henry walks into the water. From there, I followed the ideas and rhythms until I had something of a structure and a collection of images. I jumbled them around until I felt comfortable and then started to revise and edit until the poem took shape. But “Kermit” was different. That was inspired by a bit of Dave Matthews improv I heard where he took on this persona of a bum on the street begging for cash. He used “It’s Not Easy Being Green” as the refrain for the improv and I just loved it. My poem revolved around that song and thinking of how many ways I could riff off the sounds of “It’s not easy being green.”

As for the use of pop culture, I mostly just like it. I find it helps bring in audiences/readers who aren’t as familiar with literature as someone who has a Masters Degree like me. I refuse to ignore the literary references (I think there are at least three Whitman refs in this collection and Insomniacs if full of Whitmans, Ginsbergs, Dickinsons, Freuds, etc…). Pop culture has become our common language, one of the things that binds us together as a culture/society/generation so I use that to take my (often personal) poems and make them able to connect with readers who don’t know me and haven’t lived my experiences. Also, politically, I don’t subscribe to the idea of high art vs. low art. That is a binary system used to oppress and it is a system that has been (and I assert continues to be) used to dismiss the work (important work) of minorities writers, especially women and African Americans.

Ariana:

What Smurf are you? Why?

Anthony:

Gargamel, because I smurfing hate The Smurfs.

Ariana:

What poetry book do you wish you could have written? Why?

So many! Anything by Bruce Weigl, Tess Gallagher, or Jane Kenyon (because they’re all so brilliant and also they’re so different from what I write). I could go silly and say Tony Hoagland’s Donkey Gospel since it won the Laughlin Award and made him super famous (in poetry circles) but I prefer his first book, Sweet Ruin. Leaves of Grass — need I really say why? Siamese Dream … wait… that’s an album, not a book … My second book, because then it’d be done.

Overall, I guess, because I’m stumped, I’d say Berryman’s The Dream Songs. Again, very different that what I write and what I usually read (despite being a huge influence on Everything I Know…) but it is so brilliant. I love what it does with the idea of voice, the idea of time, it’s concerns with mortality, fame, artistic process and reception. I love that it isn’t afraid to be funny. There are issues with it and with Berryman. He has serious problems with women, which are obvious in The Dream Songs, and the feminist in me has trouble dealing with that, and the character of Mr. Bones, his black face and minstrel voice, really bother me also. But the book/sequence as a whole are just so phenomenal. I feel like I do reading Shakespeare, having to simply understand that Berryman wasn’t a perfect human being but was still an incredible artist.

Ariana:

What do you think is the best Nirvana song ever?

Oh, so tough. I think you have to go by category. So, best Nirvana live song? “About a Girl” or “Stay Away.” Maybe “Serve the Servants.” Best official studio recording? “Pennyroyal Tea,” “Lithium” and “All Apologies” in a tie with “Francis Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” in a close second. Best I’m-feeling-sentimental-and-commercial song? “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Something in the Way.” (Note: “Polly” could easily go in any of these categories.) Best acoustic song, based on the Unplugged session and the few acoustic demos that have been released? “Pennyroyal Tea,” without a doubt. Best cover? I’m going to cheat and say “They Hung Him on the Cross” (a Ledbelly cover) that wasn’t really Nirvana but was a side project Kurt did. “Ain’t it a Shame” (also Ledbelly) is also brilliant (both are available on the With the Lights Out box set) as is “Love Buzz” (Shocking Blue) especially the BBC Session recording from The Complete Radio Sessions bootleg. If I had to pick only one I’d go with “Pennyroyal Tea” but picking only one is no fun.

Ariana:

What is the one subject you’d never write about? Why?

Anthony:

Hmm… I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable writing about pregnancy, mainly because I don’t have a womb. Similarly, I doubt I’d ever truly address abortion, though I would love to write a strong pro-choice poem, for the same reason. Ed Kowalczyk, from the band Live, uses the word “placenta” in the song “Lightning Crashes” and I buy it there for some reason. I don’t think I could pull it off, though. Everything else, I’d say, is fully on the table.

 

Ariana:

 

What is the hardest poem you’ve ever written? What was the subject matter?

 

In 2010, my friend and mentor, Rane Arroyo, passed away. His death was very sudden and very unexpected. It was a huge loss for the poetry world but that hardly compares to how big of a loss it was for his students, his friends, his family and, especially, his partner, the poet Glenn Sheldon. I’ve written about this in the past, but at the time Rane died, I hadn’t been writing. I was so busy at work and I didn’t know what I wanted to write about and I had tried writing about pest control but couldn’t figure out how and I’d sort of given up (not on writing but at least on writing for a while). After Rane’s death, I got flooded with images and lines. I couldn’t stop them. And they were so different than the ones I’d usually come up with. There was a lot of repetition in structure and rhythm. I didn’t have a clue what they were about or what they meant or what to do with them so I just started jotting them down whenever they came. Walking to work at 4 in the morning, write down a line. Driving on the highway from Toledo to Ann Arbor, write down a line. I’d never written this way before, never just collected random thoughts and hoped I’d figure out what to do with them later but I felt compelled to keep these, to remember them, to think about them. It was exciting since it was a new process but it was also really scary. I guess I used to be a bit of a control freak with my writing and this way was completely out of my control. I think I spent the better part of a year or so doing this. Oh, I was writing other stuff throughout, though not much of it useful, but that year was dominated by these lines. Eventually, I tried to put them together, to find some order in them, some meaning, some connection between the random parts. It was slow work, hard work, but it was worth it. After many tries and many titles and many sequences and many revisions, a true draft began to emerge. The poem is now called “Prayers” and it is dedicated to Rane. It is also about his death. A part of me, the part that believes in life after death, thinks some of those lines belong to him (and some of them certainly do since some of them are notes he wrote on an early draft of Insomniacs). Even if they don’t belong to him, I know the majority don’t belong to me. The strange thing is that the newest work I’ve been doing, they way I’ve been writing for the past couple years, follows that same process. Jot down ideas and lines, find a way to put them together and then revise, revise, revise. Again, the sentimentalist in me thinks it was Rane’s last lesson to me. Whatever the case, I’m grateful for all he did teach me while he was alive and I’m grateful I found “Prayers.” It was easily the hardest poem I’ve ever written but it is also the most fulfilling (and, I’ll admit, one of my favorites).

Ariana:

Do you have a favorite journal you’ve been published in?

Anthony:

Third Coast accepted “Prayers” (see above) which was really wonderful. They’re a great journal and it’s a really long poem (I think I ended up getting four or five pages, which is pretty amazing).

If you had to wear the same t-shirt for the rest of your life and you could have one word on the front, what word would you choose and why?

“Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” which, according to Wikipedia, “is ‘an artificial long word said to mean a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust,’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary.” It is also the longest word in the dictionary. Which would mean I would have a huge chest.

If not that, then I’d want to use “defenestration,” which sounds dirtier than it is. It means “the act of throwing someone through a window” and I love both the specificity and the weirdness of that.

 

 

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