Mercy, my life is a jukebox. My head is on shuffle like an iPod on meth. Because the book was written in fits and stops and outrageous rages over about 4-ish years, it might be best to give you the PA, USA Greatest Hits. The earliest parts of the book—some of the sonnets—were written during a heavy dose of Red House Painters/Mark Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon. His AC/DC covers will knock your pants off. There was also a lot of Spoon in constant rotation. Almost simultaneously, I started in on these two Scottish bands: Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad (both on Fat Cat Records). I discovered Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. I rediscovered Bo Diddley. I listened to Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak every day for a year. If you want, I’ll put on my headphones and sing “Love Lockdown” for you so loud you’ll scream. I’ll dance so hard I’ll burn holes in both of our shoes.
I don’t think there’s one album I could compare it to. Maybe someone could. But I always think that because there’s so much music in the book, it’s a jukebox. A jukebox of what I love. A jukebox that doesn’t actually exist.
Pop culture references are hard to successfully pull off in a poem, let alone across an entire book. Panic Attack, USA references everything from Lorca to Diane Lane. In “WE ARE ALL THE ANIMALS” you write “I got hundreds of horsepower for you I am / into you like cherries & Diane Lane when you / call me Ponyboy I’ll bleed all my blood for you.” You mention in your recent Bookslut interview (see here) that you are “attracted to works that make mention of popular culture because they are actualities that populate our experiences.” Can you talk more about this and how the idea of “pop culture” functions in your poetry? One of the poems in Panic Attack, USA is titled “YOU ARE ZOOEY DESCHANEL,” and an e-chapbook of yours is titled a mixtape called Zooey Deschanel. How does she figure into this?
One of my first poet loves, Frank O’Hara, put/kept life in his poems. O’Hara wasn’t necessarily a model for me, and I strayed from him for years and years, but one of mottos is “If it’s good enough for O’Hara, it’s good enough for me.” There’s a grounding in the actual when there are references to the people, films, music of popular culture. To some people the actual is trees, is geography, is history. I think the actual is everything sensory.
The Zooey Deschanel chapbook was a project, a Paul Schneider-esque extending of the film All the Real Girls. I love that movie more than any movie this century. I also have another newer, larger batch of poems that semi-remake the film Garden State, so it’s kind of just a thing I do sometimes.
You’ve constructed a book that deals heavily with teenage desire’s anxiousness, rage, and absurdities. As an adult man with a family what’s your take on how those emotions “come of age?”
I feel I need to be way smarter than I am to answer this. I suppose all I can say is that now, at 35, I feel comfortable in my hair and my clothes and my skin, and I can somewhat reconstruct those emotions in different ways in different poems.
In the epigraph of your book you quote the following from the movie Lost in Translation: “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.” What follows is a book that is consumed with an exploration of the self. You seem to get at the self by explaining it in relation to the “you.” It is a self/self-conscious that seems to need to stand with or even in opposition to a “you.” Do you think this is how we create our selves? Are we only who we are because of “the other?”
The self is a cluster of wants and needs. We need, possibly more than anything, love. However love works or fails. And that’s part of the heart-crushing beauty of life: to fail is to be a living thing. But we are not successes or our loves or our failures. We are standing nose-to-nose-nose, throwing our non-metaphorical hearts at each other.
Expanding on the previous question, let’s talk about violence. Panic Attack, USA seems to be infused with hyperboles of violence imagined to be enacted on the self. The speaker seems not to know how to give or receive love without figuratively impaling the self. For example, in “Let’s Get Old Time Religion,” it says “As if / everyday is your birthday & all I got you / are these teeth I smashed out of my mouth / with a brick,” and later in “What I Mean Is Yes,” “I’m ready to cut my neck / with a broken bottle bleed wolfblood / onto my pants onto your blue blue dress.” The book seems to imply a necessary violence. Can you speak to that?
Have you heard that John Cougar Mellencamp song, “Hurts So Good”? Lord, I can’t believe I’m quoting Mellencamp, but part of the chorus goes “c’mon baby make it hurt so good.” I mean, that’s kind of cheesy, but it’s a pop song from 1982. So I say, I see your “hurts so good,” Mellencamp, and I’ll raise you some specifics. Like carving landscapes into my wrists with a pocketknife. Like having “you” kick out the side of my head. Like cutting myself with “your” photograph. Yeah, that’s right, Nazareth, love does hurt.
Let’s talk about the ampersand. In January’s Poets & Writers magazine there was an article called “Poets & Ampersands” by Kevin Nance that discussed the ampersand as applied to poetry. The article states, “Throughout the mid-twentieth century, such uses of the ampersand suggested experimentation, casualness, a desire to tweak the sniffing nose of literary decorum, and a certain kind of haste.” Panic Attack, USA employs the ampersand exclusively. What does the ampersand mean and/or do for you? Do you feel that as a poetic tool the ampersand says something that cannot be otherwise stated?
Many (all?) of the poems in PA, USA are fast. They move across and down quicker than quick, and I read them that way, too. The ampersand—and I learned to love the ampersand for the quickness, the “haste,” when I did a close re-reading of Alex Lemon’s Mosquito—makes sense in the PA, USA poems for a number of reasons mentioned in the Poets & Writers article: “casualness,” “haste,” and, as always, fuck “literary decorum.” Some of the poems exist in earlier versions with various abbreviated words (e.g. sd instead of said, yr instead of your), so the ampersand is a part of that abbreviating, too. That said, I don’t think I’ve used an ampersand in anything I’ve written for a good couple of years. So me and the word and are cool, too.