The Next Big Thing: And when the time for the breaking

High fives to Kirsten Jorgenson for tagging me on The Next Big Thing Facebook post.

What is the title of the book?

It’s called And when the time for the breaking, after a line from John Ashbery’s Flow Chart. The full epigraph for the title poem reads,

And when the time for the breaking
[…] is here, be sure it is to take place in the matrix
of our everyday thoughts and fantasies, our wonderment
at how we got from there to here.
Where did the idea for this book come from?

The themes in this chapbook cluster around an interest in forms of substitution (pareidolia, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, simile) and how they play out in a larger social context (movie characters’ or megastars’ lives for audience members’ inner lives, a government representative for a population, money for labor and things, things in place of an inner life, slogans for a system of thought or body of knowledge, words for things). The poems are a close examination of how these substitutions compose the larger social context, creating the illusion of what’s in common, and begin to encroach on what might have been more nearly original to one’s self. More immediately, they are concerned with the ways that I readily exchange something inner for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, mid-century modern furniture, an American Apparel mini-skirt (beginning to gag yet?), Barack Obama, Oakland, and the institution of marriage, and willingly evacuate myself for popular culture to take up residence.

By chance, the emergence of these interests coincided with the Occupy Oakland and Cal movements. These popular resistance movements raised further questions for me about the relationship of the individual to a larger “whole.” Who are the 99%? Can their demands be summarized? What does it mean to put the definite article “the” in front of “99%”? How can we define solidarity within the context of a group that claims to be so broadly based? How can a movement represent 99% of people? How is the 1% defined? Which percentage do I belong to? Why does it seem there’s been little involvement of historically low-income and poor people in Occupy? What are the terms of commonality? When does unity become assimilation? Must a crowd congeal into the emblematic?

During the months that Occupy Oakland grew, I found myself very drawn to and suspicious of the idea of solidarity. At the edge of a crowd that appeared to be so comfortable with its conviction, I felt alienated.

The poems in And when the time for the breaking back away from the crowd. But at a certain distance, depression sets in. Depression can be described as an inability to see beyond oneself, a deadening of the eyes, myopia-cum-egoism; the second definition of selfhood is selfishness. Without substitutions—which are relationships and yearnings outward toward others by way of likeness and liking—one is islanded. And what would one bring to a deserted island? Everything one has left behind.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a chapbook of poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of the characters in a movie rendition?

The speaker would be played by Jinkx Monsoon as Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Selfhood disintegrates and agglomerates through a series of figurative equivalencies and equivocations that are literalized by politics, economy, culture, and emotion.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I wrote the poems during fall 2011, when I was taking a poetry workshop with Sharon Coleman at Berkeley City College. The editing, sequencing, and proofreading process took another couple years, because the publishers and I worked in fits and starts; we all had other things going on in our lives.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?

As I said, Occupy Oakland and the impending election year weighed heavily on my conscience. Also, the psychology of joblessness worked its way into the poems. But that answer only covers the thematic inspiration for the chapbook. The folks who inspired me to stay involved with poetry or gave me feedback on the chapbook include Jorrit Poelen, Alisa Dodge, Jenny Yap, Jennifer Ling, Mike Chon, Victoria Der, Shira Dentz, Craig Dworkin, Brenda Hillman, and, of course, my friends at Ark Press.

What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

Writer and book artist Kirsten Jorgenson letterpress-printed an illustration I drew for the cover. She and her partner, Nathan Hauke, also sewed the chapbooks by hand, with gold vellum flyleaves. The chapbook is a gorgeous little object to behold and hold.

Will you be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m proud to say And when the time for the breaking was published in an edition of 50 by Ark Press in April 2013. Get it while the getting’s good.


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