In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re interviewing several poets and asking them a few questions about poetry. Our first featured poet is Nick Demske!
1) Do you think poetry is still important, relevant, and vibrant in today’s culture?
That’s such a funny question. Yes would be my answer. Though I’d more interested in reading the no answers, if you get any from other poets
2) What makes you want to write poetry?
A sort of possession, I think, or compulsion, right? And that’s great. It’s hard to say why any of us want to do anything. Why do we want to have sex? It seems like it couldn’t be a weirder thing to want to do. But there’s reasons, depending on what discipline you consult. Basically, I want to write poetry because life is at once a joy rainbow and a trauma orgy. Our culture makes plenty of space to talk about the joy rainbow part, the goodness. “How is your day?” “Good. How is yours.” “Also good!” But we keep a very anorexic space open to discuss the trauma orgy aspects. (i.e.-“How is your day?” “Horrible—my cousin is in hospice, I feel like a shell of a human and I can’t sleep because I watched a documentary on sex trafficking 3 months ago.” For better or worse, I just don’t hear a lot of that).
Again, ultimately, what makes any of us do anything?…but I tend to think of my desire to write poetry as a gift. This is why the idea of the muses came around, right? To be real, I’m still very invested in that idea and “The Muse maybe offers as good an answer here as any.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and thinker.
There are so many that this question feels cruel. But since I have to pick just one right now, let’s randomly say: Rod McKuen. You can like him on Facebook. McKuen–or Rod,as I call him–is one of, if not the, best selling poet(s) alive. Which is interesting to me. Decades ago he sold books like Lil’ Wayne sells records. So first that inspires me just because it notes, in some way or another, that his work as a poet seemed to speak to people in a way that, say, mine… or to use someone who matters, say, Gwendolyn Brooks… does not. Now, Gwen’s work I suspect will stand the test of time in a much more prominent way than Rod’s, but still… there’s just something interesting to me about a poet who–despite what critics or academics think–really connects to a broader-than-usual audience with poetry.
So Rod influences my writing and thinking in those indirect ways. But also in a way that is somewhat of an exercise in compassion. What I mean by that is: it does not seem to be an immediate, natural match for me to love Rod McKuen’s work. I read it and I m’eh. But who cares? I did that the first time I read The Waste Land… the first time I met some people, even, who are now some of my best friends! Whether you like something or not seems to have very little to do with anything measurable, aside from how familiar you are with the thing. And it’s not a 1 to 1 ratio, but there seems to be a very important relationship, at least. When we sing songs in the car that we don’t like at all just because we’ve heard them a hundred times a day on the radio… now THAT is some inspiring stuff to me. And when we eventually learn not to like said song, but to love it…that’s like a miracle, or the opposite of one, maybe. Politicians understand that. The music industry understands that… ALL industry, maybe. And, of course, these forces commonly use it to manipulate people. I’d be interested to see, though, if those same powerful, interesting, magic psychologies can be applied—as a writer AND a reader—to grow compassion.
Not sure if all that makes any sense. But, if not, read it a hundred times and, either way, you’ll love it!
4) Tell us about one lesser-known poet who you’d like more people to know about.
I’ve got some bad mamma-jammers right here in Racine, Wisconsin, for sure. I only get one again, huh? Can I use my white privilege card here? Of course I can! I get two!!!! Nicholas Michael Ravnikar:
and Kelsey Gray:
I shot both of those videos. I love both of these poets. I have faith that people will know more about both of them soon…
5) How do you feel about poetry in the age of social media?
It’s like everything else in the age of social media, I guess. There’s too much of it. And it goes too fast. And, at the same time, it offers remarkable new opportunities.
I know I sound like Grandpa Poetry here, but I just think doing less and slowing down are kind of anti-values in our culture. Which has been disastrous, for me. Facebook, for instance, for me is a kind of glorified e-mail. I check my messages there, which is how I got connected for this very interview even. So some connection happens via this resource that is significant, to me anyways. But that’s all I check—the messages. I am perfectly shocked that other people are able to do more than that. I guess it’s all relative but, as one hears many a grandparent say, I am just completely overwhelmed by it.
It is creating new diseases, this compulsion to keep up with so many random things—or it is at least creating new mutations of old diseases. It definitely offers us more options, in general. But more options does not automatically equal something beneficial, and I feel like our culture doesn’t acknowledge that, usually.
A message from Big: “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” Etcetera. You get it.
6) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Why don’t we look at these, which are at least over a year old now. I’ll just look at the bottom one:
POEM STARTING WITH A LINE POSTED BY MurdaMook504 BELOW THE OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR “HOE SUCK MY DICK”
for Blake Butler
Lil’ B is the perfect example of a highly functioning retard. I’m mad he fucked my grandma, dumped her in a forest and then stole her jewelry. He’s making his bread and butter off coonery. Let that boy grandma cook.
A pre-sunrise glows the subtle hues of damaged laptops. The day sings roughly 3000 or so songs into our eyes. I’m a fag. I’m a lesbian. I am the hood, hypergraphic with a new age mysticism. Worst fucking rapper of life itself.
Your bitch sucked my dick cause I look like Darth Vader. This nigga funny as fuck, I don’t give a fuck if he can rap or not. I laughed out loud so hard when I read that, but then I felt like shit. Rock on London. Rock on Chicago. The kaleidoscope of daybreak shatters smooth across horizon. Be glad Lil’ B did this for you. He is a Human Sacrafice.
It’s about the rapper Lil’ B, whom I love dearly, very similarly to the way that I love Rod McKuen (though my love for Lil’ B is more immediate, probably). If you don’t know B, here’s something to start with:
This poem is mainly composed of quotes from Lil B songs that B says himself, quotes in articles written about Lil B from sources like NPR and quotes from the comments sections of Youtube below Lil B songs. The first line in the poem that doesn’t beat-juggle various quote sources is: “I laughed out loud so hard when I read that, but then I felt like shit.” That’s all me there. And really that line could be written on my tombstone.
The poem is an Aubade, like the poem above it (which is exclusively a description of the sunrise) and all the other poems in the manuscript it lives in.
The poem, like the manuscript it comes from, again, is intended to be a criticism of celebrity culture—how it seems to be a perfect micro/macrocosm of the issue of resource imbalance in general (the resource of attention especially, which is perhaps extremely, extremely more important than we tend to acknowledge).This poem is one of many in the manuscript that looks at contemporary black performers—males, especially—in the context of minstrelsy and corporate exploitation. While I love Lil’ B and I love Old Dirty Bastard and I love Mike Tyson, all in their own ways, there’s still a deep concern in me that that love comes, at least in part, from a cultural baggage I’ve inherited (all of us have inherited, regardless of ethnic makeup) that loves to see black men acting like they have no sense whatsoever. There is such abundance in the entertainment industry today of black men, in particular, acting like they’ve got no sense. And the fact that so few people think that is connected to the history of minstrel shows and black exploitation is alarming to me.
There’s plenty more I could say about the poem, and how it represents the manuscript overall, but I’ll end with this: both the poem and the manuscript are very concerned with how distance and anonymity make it easier for human beings to hurt one another (think of drone technology, or gossip). This poem, in particular, makes me wince when I see how easy it becomes for many of us.
Nick Demske‘s first full-length collection of poetry, which is self-titled, was published by Fence Books in 2010. He spends a lot of time, now, worrying that if he doesn’t publish another one soon, everyone in the world who matters will forget about him. You may remember him here, however…at the blog he never updates: http://nickipoo.wordpress.com/