Jan 27

Blot Lit Reviews: An Interview with August Smith

August SmithWe love presses that look out for their writers. Nostrovia! Press sent August Smith and his collection Bird Lizard Horse our way, and we are so glad they did. As an extra bonus to you, Nostrovia! offers the ebook as a free download. And on top of that, all this wisdom from August I his interview below. Enjoy!

Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.

I find that my origins—specifically the place where I grew up—spontaneously appear in my writing more often than my actual physical location at any given time. I’m originally from a small town called Iron Mountain, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; picture in your mind lots of trees, snow, deer, guns, churches, hunting camps, snowmobiles, and a ton of pastoral beauty, and you’ll get a basic idea of the locale.

My first chapbook was called Upperpeninsula, actually, and in that project I was directly dealing with the imagery and mythology of my hometown and my own personal conflicts with it. Right now I live in Boston, but I don’t find myself writing about the city or trying to contextualize via poems it in the same way. Rather, I feel like I can always draw a subconscious link between the poems I’m writing and Iron Mountain. Who knows though? Maybe my brain is storing up troves of Bostonian information and it’ll start gushing Boston poems any minute now. I can see that happening.

Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?

It’s difficult to catalog this! I’m the type of reader that survives on a widely varying diet. I’m not prone to picking one writer and reading everything they’ve written. It’s more like: a little bit o’ this, a little bit o’ that.

Here’s an attempt at listing my biggest influences: Matthew Rohrer, Arthur Rimbaud, the French Surrealists, Charlies Bernstein, Tao Lin, Joshua Beckman, Steve Roggenbuck, Fernando Pessoa, Italo Calvino, Kevin Barnes, and maybe just a dash of Douglas Adams.

When you read a lot of an author’s work, you get the privilege of grafting their thought patterns and processes onto your own. Your reality is refracted through their voices, and vice-versa. So I think you can chart my influences by the ways in which I maneuver around tricky ideas in my poems: through humor, or plainspoken surrealism, or by animating and exaggerating the world around me.

How do you generate new ideas for your work? 

I have no fucking clue. At a certain point after you’ve absorbed a lot of poetry, you just start to think of everything in terms of poems. Weird and uncomfortable interactions with other humans, new and strange emotions, funny private thoughts, the navigation of pop cultural miasma and random Wikipedia articles—these are my usual battlegrounds.

When have you been most satisfied with your work?

I’m always satisfied with my work. I know a lot of artists—a lot of writers, actually—feel that being unsatisfied with your own work is part and parcel with the field. In a sense, it’s true; how do you keep moving forward if you feel secure in your current position? But I reject the necessity of unsatisfaction. You can cultivate a love of your own work while still pushing yourself to do better and write better lines. For the purposes of the question, I’d say The Mario Kart 64 Poems feels closest to my original idealized vision for it.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

When it gets published.

What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?

My press published a collection of video game poems, stories, and essays by women and non-binary artists called Goddessmode, and though I think the finished product was a total success, the publication process was full of pitfalls and obstacles. The overarching lesson I took away is that you can never be fully prepared for every obstacle in the publishing process, but it’s imperative that you don’t let these obstacles slow you down or irreparably damage your enthusiasm for the project.

Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?

 Aside from my own writing, I’m focused on Cool Skull Press, the small press I manage. I can’t really talk too much about our upcoming publications, but we have two books in the pipeline that I’m absolutely rabid to get into people’s hands. In a broader sense, I’m hoping I can make my press to sort of bridge between the world of poetry and the world of weird internet writers who are already poets but don’t know it yet.

What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?

The persistent trend towards formlessness. I see so many poets—mostly ones my own age, I might add—who disregard any intense consideration of form as a way to affect/augment a flat, disinterested ennui. I get that “no form” is a form in itself and this approach certainly has its uses, but it becomes such an addictive crutch! The result is a total lack of energy and momentum; it seems implicitly tied to some reactionary strain of anti-canon anti-intellectualism. I’d rather agonize over line breaks and meter than pretend I don’t give a shit. Nothing makes me roll my eyes more than when I come across a poem where almost every line is an isolated, unbroken stanza that begins with “I think…” and overuses the word “maybe.”

What are you working on right now?

Aside from working on my first full-length book of poetry, I’m writing a long poem about Octopodes. My plan is to record the poem and pair it with a soundtrack that I’m composing for a silent short film by the late French director, Jean Painlevé, The soundtrack is going to be composed on an old analog synth autoharp called an Omnichord. It’s going to be a really goofy little project, I think.

What are you reading right now?

A few things: The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather, which is quite literally four wildly disparate poetry collections all in one book, all of them bursting with exuberance and wild imagery; Dear Leader by Damian Rodgers, which is just a total dream; and Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes, an extensive biography of the romantic era poet. I feel inclined to mention that the first two were Christmas gifts from my parents, so thanks mom and dad!


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