Poets Krystal Languell and Gina Myers have played hopscotch moving across the United States, but neither has ever occupied the same city at the same time. Already familiar with each other’s work, the two met for the first time at an off-site reading at AWP Denver in 2010. Shortly thereafter they reconnected when Languell read in Atlanta and they discovered they had been offered the same job at the same time (questionable ethics!), but neither of them accepted it. They became fast friends through their shared working class Midwestern backgrounds and habit of being unabashedly honest in the literary world, as well as their love of sports and hanging out in bars. They also came to share a disaster, with the demise of a press where both had titles slated to appear.
KL: I am curious to ask about what you think the purpose of book reviews is, since I know you have written a LOT of them, and because the topic is on my mind for “personal” reasons, too. What is the point of writing a book review, for you?
GM: My take on book reviews, as a reviewer, is fairly modest. When I publish a book review, I like to think that in some small way it has helped bring more attention to the book and author who I have reviewed. There are so many books of poetry that get published each year that it’s easy for many books to get lost in the shuffle. I think a review puts a spotlight on the book, however brief or however bright. For that reason, I tend to only review books that I really enjoy, unless I am on assignment. That being said, it doesn’t mean the reviews are all 100% positive. I frequently feel uneven books give me a lot more to think about and write about.
I also find that writing reviews is a way for me to engage with work more thoroughly, which is something I don’t do very often as a non-academic.
As a poet, I tend to find reviews encouraging, regardless of the tenor of them–just the fact that someone took the time to engage with my work is rewarding.
Your new book was recently reviewed at Publishers Weekly. What were your thoughts on that review? What are your hopes for reviews in general, both as a poet and as someone who has written them yourself?
KL: When I write a review, it’s because I feel that there’s a deficit of attention being paid to the book, the author, or the press, and I want to draw some attention there. Last summer, I prioritized getting paid for writing more than I usually do and with your helpful advice made $100 writing a review for Hyperallergic! Like you, I take it as mostly an opportunity to spread a little love, though within some kind of critical framework so as to establish a context for the work rather than just heaping on ungrounded or naive praise.
Yep, my second book just got its first review and it was a bit of a stinker. My take is that a lot of reviews don’t say much and that’s ok. Even if a review is sloppy, it’s still good for the poet/publisher’s SEO (Right? You know more about this than I do, I’m sure!). The last couple lines of my PW review basically said my book was a failure, and that hurt my feelings. It also didn’t seem to be very purposeful–like, what was the point of that? I stewed about it for a week or so and then remembered the back cover of my book says: “The mis-/conception continues.” So, ok.
The book was really marinated in a lot of stressful circumstances, and its existence as an object marks the end of a sad period of my life for me. So maybe the review suits that.
Your chapbook Philadelphia is new work from a new city. How has your feeling about Philadelphia changed since writing and publishing this work?
GM: Philadelphia was written within the first two months of my move to Philadelphia, which was a time of great uncertainty and instability for me personally. The book wrestles with that instability along with wrestling with larger social and political issues. The world outside of me has remained to be uncertain and unstable, certainly hostile and perhaps increasingly so under the current government–or at least whatever veil of “democracy” and “justice” there was has been lifted. In that sense, not much has changed from the time of writing the book. However, personally, I am feeling more settled in, more at home here in Philly, though I’m reaching my three year mark, which is when my wanderlust usually comes on strong.
I want to discuss your recent book, but I can’t help but ask since you recently moved–how is Chicago treating you? Has the move from New York to Chicago affected your current writing at all?
KL: I remember a time when you first moved to Philly when you were searching for a solid corner bar and encountered some really disgusting racism at a place you’d been to a few times and then stopped frequenting. I feel like a city really shows its ass when you first arrive, and I had a somewhat similarly bumpy landing in my first few weeks here. None of which is to claim that these problems don’t persist, but it’s as if a city can smell that you’re new and can trot out its hazing rituals. I was harassed by men on the street more times in two weeks here than in seven years in Brooklyn. And then it suddenly stopped. I guess I got my footing, in some astral plane. I also moved house this week with a stomach bug, so that was suspenseful.
In the 2.5 years since my book was first accepted for publication, I’ve written a lot of poems about cities and moving through them and who you meet on an odd schedule, but that book is more concerned with, maybe, being a gender misfit or a working-class fuckup with a big mouth. Is that what my book is about? When I read “Now it’s / the moment / at the end of / the work day / when I take off / my dress,” I feel like our work has some of these spirits in common. What do you think? (Also is it too glib to say “fuckup”?)
GM: Yes, I think there is definitely an overlap–a shared interest in not trying to fit into expected categories and roles, and all the things good and bad that come along with that. The “costume” I wear to work serves as a daily reminder of what I am, of what we are, as you describe in “An American Poem”: “tiny little workers without power.” I also identify with your description of being a working-class fuckup with a big mouth! There’s no shame in my game. And that’s certainly one of the things I love about your work–its boldness and self-assuredness, even when listing your own catalogue of humiliations. Is this–bravery? honesty?–a motivating force in your writing?
KL: I’ve thought about this a lot recently, and I concluded that the mode you describe is a risk I can “afford” to take because I’m not afraid of losing. What do I have to lose? I like my life now, but nothing in it is contingent upon a poetry audience’s approval, whereas some folks have all their eggs in that basket and can’t risk upsetting anyone (or they believe they can’t–a little poetry Panopticon for you). And then I think a little more, and I take it a little further, and I think, you know, I know how to work. And I have the benefit of being able-bodied. We talked about this last winter and co-authored that great line: Jobs are not hard. So I can “afford” to write whatever I want. And I love Zoe Leonard’s “I want a dyke for President,” and I’d like to build on it to say I want people with GEDs running small presses, and I want public school grads and community college students and state school dropouts curating reading series and single moms getting paid to edit university press book series. I want to see black women executive directors of big budget non-profits. I want to see trans people with tenure.
But also I really don’t feel that brave. What are my other options?
I heard a rumor you might be editing something again soon… is that still a secret or could we talk about it here? And I’d love to ask why now and why this and why the way you’re doing it?
GM: Yes, the rumor you heard is correct! Gabriella Torres and I are bringing back the tiny, which was a print journal we founded and published from 2005-2007. The new incarnation will be online for financial reasons, which ultimately was the original incarnation’s downfall. It was too much for two working class poets to finance out of their own pockets, as we were doing at the time.
Gabriella lived abroad for several years and sort of became disconnected with poetry. However, she returned to the United States over a year ago with a renewed interest, both in her own writing again and in fostering community in Clinton, Iowa where she voluntarily teaches community workshops.
As you are aware, I had run Lame House Press for eleven years but decided to end its run after feeling I wasn’t doing my authors justice. Something that I had once done out of pleasure began to feel like work, and I realized the model wasn’t sustainable for me and I kept missing my own deadlines for releases, etc. I am constantly amazed by how Shanna Compton accomplishes all that she does as a one-woman shop for Bloof! Obviously Lame House was a much different scale, but whatever it is she has motivating her, I lack.
However, I still have the desire to help people get work out there, which is really how the tiny and Lame House Press started. I was at a reading listening to Colette Arrand and her work just blew me away. And it came to me while I was listening: I wanted to bring the tiny back to publish Colette. I talked to Gabriella the very next day and she was excited about it too. We have been thinking about scale and what is manageable for us to make this work. And we want to continue with our previous editorial vision of publishing a range of writers, from more established poets to emerging poets, as well as aesthetically ranging from lyric poetry to more experimental work. I have always been proud of how many people had their first publication in the pages of the tiny.
You have been running Bone Bouquet for how many years now? Do you feel like your editorial choices have changed over that time? Have you noticed shifts in the publication landscape?
KL: I made myself finish a full proof of the new issue before responding to this question! Bone Bouquet has been around for eight years now. I print twice a year. I’m not sure that my editorial choices have changed one iota, but I’ve brought on other editors to participate and have shared the privilege of making final selections in order to have a wider aesthetic range of work represented. Some readers have come and gone but Trina Burke has been involved for several years and is a very active editor. I also solicit work and pay attention to the (apparent) diversity of the table of contents.
As to the publication landscape, I’ll just go ahead and say I think there’s a lot of douchey stuff out there. Editors being douchey, douchey poems being published. It feels like I was only reading a handful of poems at a time online for like 6-12 months, and this summer I started reading BOOKS again and was just blown away. I think maybe the internet has spawned some poetry that doesn’t satisfy me as a reader. But once I picked up Jennifer Nelson’s Civilization Makes Me Lonely and Bernadette Mayer’s The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, I just felt this refreshing panic that I needed to get off my ass and write more poems. And keep putting out this magazine, which always contains some work you have to turn the issue sideways to read or that’s using the asterisk to build flowers or some other freaky shit and that continues to feel urgent.
Since I moved I started listening to poetry podcasts. Commonplace, The Poetry Gods, Poetry Jawns. Could you please encourage Emma to make more episodes of Poetry Jawns? Do you listen to these kinds of things, or do you get your fill of poetry talk elsewhere?
GM: Ha, I think I constantly harass Emma about more Poetry Jawns episodes! That is one podcast I listen to–I’m not familiar with the other ones you mentioned. I’ll have to look them up, though I have to admit that I am not much of a podcast listener in general. They’re too distracting to listen to at my day job, and I don’t really think about them when I am at home.
I currently get my poetry talk mostly from a book club I organized about a year ago. We meet once a month and take turns picking the titles. We’ve done full collected works to newly released titles. We just finished discussing Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager and will be discussing M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! next. I think I felt like I was lacking an outlet to discuss books and general poetry stuff since it’s not something I do in my work, and it’s not something the majority of people I hang out with are interested in. I also thought it was a great opportunity to be exposed to books I wouldn’t necessarily encounter on my own.
And of course there is a very active literary community (communities) here in Philadelphia, so there are a lot of opportunities to talk to people at readings and other events.
I know you are still quite new there, but do you feel connected to the Chicago literary community? Do you feel like it is very different than the community/communities you were a part of in New York?
KL: I love having friends who don’t want to talk about poetry.
GM: Haha. Right?
KL: It’s great to go out and remember the rest of the world. That said, I isolated myself the last few years and feel like I missed out on a lot of opportunities to experience things in New York. I went to very few events and didn’t make poetry part of my social life. But I also didn’t own a hairbrush that whole time, so I had bigger problems than poetry readings.
Currently I’m just trying to get my stuff out of boxes still, and as I make progress on that I’m widening my radius of exploration. I was also sick for more than two weeks, so I lost a chunk of summer to that. So much to do! I hereby resolve to go to more events. I had a great time reading for Red Rover in June, hosted by Jen Karmin and Laura Goldstein and reading with Becca Klaver, CM Burroughs, and Melissa Severin. That was a great way to be welcomed to the city.
Should we wind this down with a standard question? What are you reading now? (Besides for book club!)
GM: I have been slowly reading and cherishing Diane di Prima’s Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years. I’ve been immersing myself in her work lately and am totally captivated by this memoir and di Prima’s total commitment to being a poet at all costs.
What are you reading now?
KL: I finally found my box of to-read-next books and I’m so excited to dig into Valerie Hsiung’s EFG and Samiya Bashir’s Field Theories. I’m also reading the Aerial issue on Lyn Hejinian in preparation for working on her forthcoming Belladonna book Positions of the Sun, coming out next year.
Gina Myers is the author of two full-length poetry collections, A Model Year and Hold It Down, as well as numerous chapbooks. Most recently, Barrelhouse published her chapbook Philadelphia (2016). Her poems and reviews have appeared in Big Lucks, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Fanzine, and the Poetry Project Newsletter, among other places. She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
Krystal Languell currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of two books, Call the Catastrophists (BlazeVox, 2011) and Gray Market (1913 Press, 2016), and five chapbooks. She has been a recipient of a Poetry Project Emerge-Surface-Be fellowship and a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council workspace residency. She is a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship Finalist in Poetry. Recent work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere.