Andrew Byrds: I’ve read through Hotel Alexander a couple times and one of the consistent traits I’ve noticed in these poems is each section begins at the bottom of this mountain at a grounded level marked with terse, concrete, and easily swallowed observations. As the pieces build together a narrative foundation is laid down but the language becomes cryptic, somewhat archaic and the poems move from “this is what’s happening” to “what the hell is happening”? The same depth of emotion is there, the same drunken invocation for flesh and blood is there. Your really keep people on their toes, you know. It’s a hell of a ride from the get-go. So my first question, between writing prose and writing poetry, is it more important for readers to glean emotional understanding or narrative understanding?
Rebekah Morgan: Wow, thanks for those nice words. I think probably emotional understanding in my poetry and also in my short fiction. Everything’s so fucking painful all the time and I just feel like we try our best and even when we have something good, or at least for me, it’s so terrifying. Like, the prospect of losing things I love and dealing with that grief whether it’s just being sad that the really beautiful peach I stared at in the morning on the breakfast counter has been eaten or the fear that my lover is gonna disappear. Everything’s just scary and painful.
AB:What are your thoughts on the creation of beauty through art? I find myself bringing it up a lot with people I talk with, I like seeing how other artists perceive that idea of regaining lost beauty, do you think that’s even possible? Or can we create a new beauty?
RM: I think beauty exists in most things and I don’t know if art is real. I have a really ugly photo in my room of a blown out flower in the dark and it’s ugly as hell, but, it’s so beautiful that someone loved this crappy photo so much they had it blown up huge. I like that kind of beauty. Like when you give your lover an ugly rock but it’s like beautiful ‘cause of the emotion behind it.
AB: And what was the rock that made you wanna write Hotel Alexander?
RM: I left the US on a one way ticket with $53 and spent 9 months in Romania. I wrote the entirety of Hotel Alexander while I was there. Many of the poems are to and for my then husband Alexander, who stayed in the US. One of the poems is for my girlfriend who overdosed on heroin while I was gone. Some of the poems were written for my Romanian Lover. I landed in Romania not speaking the language and not really knowing anyone. A lot of the poems deal with isolation and longing and love. I started writing poems in Romanian to learn the language. All of the poems have actually been fully translated into Romanian.
AB: There’s a lot to unpack with that, it’s like an entire lifetime of wounds and wonder happened in such a short time. Was this your first time delving seriously into poetry? What could poetry do that your usual stomping ground of prose couldn’t?
RM: Poetry actually got me into prose. I have a book with Dostoyevsky Wannabe called Blood Burger Parade (2016). I think poetry is a knife and prose can be like a brawl. I love writing poetry for the short and concise edge it can have.
AB: Have you ever read any Breece D’J Pancake?
RM: I love ol’ Pancake. He actually lived In Charlottesville for a while where I lived for ten years. Huge fan of his stories.
AB: I ask because the cadence and language you use in your writing reminds me of him. It’s like Breece D’J Pancake melded with John Berryman, Incidentally, how do you feel about literary circles? Someone could read Hotel Alexander and say, “Now this guy right here is definitely part of that Appalachian trope”, much like some other contemporary writers like Scott McClanahan are part of that recent surge in that kinda style. Or, maybe a better question, how has living in that neck of the woods complemented your voice when it comes to writing, and how did Romania compare to life in Virginia?
RM: Oh yeah I love Scott McClanahan. Giancarlo DiTrapano from New York Tyrant and me and Scott went to a ski lodge in West Virginia back in the fall and stayed up late talking shit and drinking. It was a real sassy time and we got biscuits at Tudor’s Biscuit World. I stole a bottle of Texas Pete from there. That was pretty cool and I got to meet Juliet Escoria, Scott is her husband, she’s really nice and their dog Jelly is a hot mess.
As far as living in Appalachia I don’t think I’d ever want to live anywhere else, anytime I leave I just want to get back to Appalachia. Everything is just so beautiful but life is definitely, like, harder and resources are hard to come by sometimes. But, living in Romania there were definitely some parallels, when I would stay in Suceava on the Ukraine border there are still, like, leftovers of the communist state where some people don’t use money and they just barter goods and you can find that in some areas of Appalachia or people just, like, trade resources and it’s really beautiful and I really cherish that aspect of living in the mountains. I think there is definitely, like, a certain cadence to my writing that you could find in other Appalachian writers’ work. I sort of just write the way my internal dialogue sounds and I try not to edit it too much and just keep things the way they are in my head, the way I would just talk about whatever’s going on, but I think you could say the same about Scott McClanahan because listening to him, like, tell stories about growing up in West Virginia he really talks the way he writes and I think I do the same thing.
AB: How did you find your way to Brian in getting Hotel Alexander published through House of Vlad?
RM: I really like Bud Smith’s work so I was familiar with Brian’s press from reading Bud’s work. I don’t really remember what happened but at some point after we had agreed to one day do a book together, a few months went by and I posted on twitter that I had just taken my manuscript out back and thrown it in a dumpster and then shot the dumpster and Brian messaged me like WTF send me the manuscript so I did and now I have a book
AB: All cards on the table, I share some sentiments with William Faulkner when it comes to poetry, especially his belief that poetry is the most demanding kinda writing. Aaah, I just found the full quote:
“I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
What do you think about that?
RM: I think poetry is probably harder than short stories and novels ‘cause let’s be honest most poems suck. But then again most books suck and I’m not personally attracted to most short stories. There are some really great short story writers out there right now. My current favorite writer is Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, she’s really nice and her writing is really fucking good and she’s from the south and idk. I think she’s really great
AB: It’s no secret most writers, at least most writers with even a modicum of trust, believe a sizable hock of their output isn’t any good. But there’s usually that one piece they bled over, dragged their guts through the mire, and put it down on paper that they feel is something they can actually be proud of. Someone walks up to you and says, “Hey man, I read your book and ____ is one of the best poems I’ve ever read.” Which one do you hope they say? As in, which one would align with your own feelings that it was something you’re proud of?
RM: I think from Hotel Alexander my favorite poem is the first one.
Nicotine; serpents tongue flicks the applesauce
Cows remain at graze in the field
I’ll never be good again
So, I’m here
With a taxi
With a stranger
With a coffee and a sweater
With a dog on a train
I buy vodka just to see
Your name in print
A L E X A N D E R
AB: So where’s it all taking you now? The world and its people. Are you working on anything?
RM: I’m just writing short stories mostly. I wrote a small collection of stories about heartache and longing and self published them as a zine recently which was cool. Wrote some heartbreak poems. Been feeling kinda raw the last couple months and just feel like fuck it, so I’m writing about my heart haha (kill me). Spend most days hanging out alone with my pit bull Jack, shooting guns, drinking bourbon, smoking and walking around the woods. Everything seems kinda fucked, so I don’t know what the future holds. I’d like to publish a short story collection one day and get another Glock.
AB: Any final thoughts or shout-outs you wanna make before we call this an interview?
RM: Shout out to Brad Phillips for all the dope film recommendations and to Jordan Castro at Tyrant for always reading my rough drafts. Shout out to Cooks Country Store for always having good biscuits and Mountain Dew slushies :)) thanks y’all.
Big trans asshole writer from Appalachia DTF. Work in Anti-Heroin Chic, Faded Out, Tyrant Books, X-R-A-Y, Hobart, Bad Nudes, etc. FUCK 12 HE/HIM