Andrew Byrds: For the first question, I wanna backpedal to our first interview. We hit the ground running talking about poetry, so I wanna quote you here, “…poets generally live in the land of bullshit…everyone kind of lives there in their own certain way, but poets are oftentimes the most snobby and blatant about it.” Does that still ring true for you?
Brian Alan Ellis: Andrew, don’t ever quote me again. But to answer your question: Yeah, pretty much. Poets will always be the absolute worst. Change my mind.
AB: I remember you saying one time, “Poets will always be the absolute worst.” Has your mind changed in the last 23 words?
BAE: You know what, Andrew, now that you put it that way… No. But check back!
AB: You begin your collection, “I write bad poetry…and I don’t care.” This goes for all fields of writing, but I’m wondering specifically for poetry how you see ego, like how it can act as a crutch for people self-conscious about their writing. For that matter, what separates ego from personality? Your writing consistently has a lot of guts and voice, and no bullshit. That’s what personality means to me in this sense.
BAE: Perhaps announcing that I write bad poetry right off the bat is a defense mechanism. It’s humor. It’s like obliterating your ego before anyone else has the power to do so. It’s also like telling the reader to relax, to not take everything so seriously. We’re all suffering, so let’s laugh about it.
AB: I reckon poetry is where people take it the most serious. You hear the word “poetry” and suddenly a string of lights lining a gilded icon wreathed in rose petals appears, there’s like a predisposed mythology surrounding it. You usually lean towards prose, so why poetry now?
BAE: I simply want to change people’s perception of poetry so that when they think of poetry, they think about the golden, glowing arches erected above the McDonald’s across the street from the check-cashing place where a disgruntled person is standing outside of, naked and screaming at police officers. God’s work.
AB: If McDonald’s is the muse, what’s the most poetic experience you’ve had at a Mac’s? I’ll even extend it to a Waffle House, to commemorate the fallen.
BAE: Food poisoning can be a pretty poetic experience. I wish I had something interesting to share about going to McDonald’s. I generally just sit somewhere in the very back, listlessly eating a McChicken sandwich while staring at the soda fountains. Recently, though, a portly redneck couple had come in and they were obviously fucked up on something and they ended up making a big mess—dropping food, spilling drinks, knocking shit over—and nobody cared, so I sat and watched them go into the employee supply closet to get a mop and some cleaning supplies and they just started attacking their disaster—they did a terrible job of it, too—and the McStaff gave zero fucks. It was fascinating, like a mini McMeth opera. I almost clapped. You’d think more people would write their novels at McDonald’s instead of, like, Starbucks, but the McWi-Fi is awful.
AB: Do you read Lydia Davis at all? If you do I have a little anecdote and follow-up question because Bad Poet reminded me of Davis.
BAE: I do very much enjoy Lydia Davis. I consider her writing an inspiration, especially the very short stories. What a lady, am I right? Hubba hubba!
AB: So Lydia Davis wrote these micro-fictions/vignettes, and they were published all the time in fiction mags. And being the bad-ass she is, she’d take these pieces, put them in a slightly different from, call it poetry, and have them published in poetry mags/anthologies. With your book SAD LAUGHTER, you took your tweets and made them aphorisms. I noticed Bad Poet takes some of your tweets, puts them in a different form, and now it’s poetry. Is this a rad statement against “the man”?
BAE: It’s more of a rad statement against “my laziness” and/or “my lack of creativity.” Every book I publish is basically the same book done in a slightly different way. I pretty much make Ramones albums. Lydia Davis is smarter than me because she probably makes money and wins prizes from recycling her material whereas I just remain poor and underappreciated while continually confusing people who already think I’m an awful writer.
AB: The Ramones were known for mixing their tracks in a way that would sound the best for their fanbase, because they knew most of them only had shitty boomboxes. Any way you can tie that in with your own writing?
BAE: Is that what they did? I thought they just hated each other and kept touring and making records because they didn’t want to have to work in a deli. I look at myself as like a self-hating solo act because there’s no one else in the band to hate.
AB: I just wrapped up an interview with Kim Vodika, and I posed this same question to her and I’m interested since pop culture comes up often in your own writing: how does pop culture shape language?
BAE: I gravitate towards pop culture more than I’d like to admit, in both reading and writing, and even in conversation, though I sometimes feel I overuse it, like I’m dating the material. Then I remember being young and reading old shit like Dostoevsky and having to look up words I didn’t know. My younger readers can just google who the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is, or who Danzig is, or what the connection between identity and the “I’m no Superman” part in the theme song to the hit TV show Scrubs is. If I left out all that kind of stuff I wouldn’t be true to myself or my writing, I guess. We gotta stay true, Andrew. Burger King Kids Club for life!
AB: Listen, all cards on the table, I hate Burger King. BUT. When I was a kid growing up in lower class America, those French toast dipping sticks with the sugar-water maple syrup were CLUTCH. Which Burger King Kid were you channeling with Bad Poet? And why was it Kid Vid?
BAE: Of course you hate Burger King, Andrew; real poets prefer Panera Bread. To answer your question, I’m probably the Burger King Kids Club kid who’s in the wheelchair because I rely on too many crutches to get through life.
AB: I love talking about music and writing. Of the writers I follow on social media, you are pretty open about your interest in pop music: Lorde, Paramore, and especially Carly Rae Jepsen—there’s even a piece in Bad Poet called “not even a new carly rae jespen song can save my soul now.” Is there an influence of pop music in your writing? Or do you lean away from influences when writing?
BAE: I’m sure pop music has some influence on my writing, though I couldn’t possibly pinpoint how or why; it’s just what I enjoy listening to these days. I can’t help but admire a brilliantly sharp and simple pop song—or country song or punk song etc. etc.—and I feel the same way about literature, I suppose. There’s a certain cadence to a good pop song, like it should feel almost like an adult nursery rhyme, which is why I think more adult books should read like children’s books. Carly Rae J might be my favorite poet. I also might have brain damage. *shrugs*
AB: You also run House of Vlad Press, and it’s a solo affair, yeah? Wanna give any shoutouts to upcoming books you have planned, or insights in the process of being a big-shot publisher?
BAE: Yeah, HOV is all me. I do pretty much all the editing, design, formatting, promoting etc. etc. in bed while surrounded by empty Diet Coke cans, candy wrappers and insurmountable grief. *lights cigar with one dollar bill* Out later this year: Wallop, a coming-of-age oogle road novel by Colorado’s Nathaniel Kennon Perkins; All Must Go, a story collection by Chicago’s Kevin Stern, which is like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio meets Home Improvement; and Hot Young Stars, poems by New York’s Sophie Jennis, which is like the literary version of a Sephora employee applying makeup to your soul… *puts cigar out on arm while staring off into nothingness*
AB: So: prose, poetry, a book full of tweets. How soon can we expect a philosophical book of aphorisms in the vein of Human, All Too Human?
BAE: Not very likely, but lookout for a book of philosophical aphorisms inspired by the career of Rob Zombie, called More Human Than Human.
AB: Has working on Bad Poet incited an interest to keep digging into poetry? Maybe a Florida-centric epic that’s like Paradise Lost but with more beach bros?
BAE: Yeah, it’s called Gazing off into an Empty Strip Mall While Wearing My Cargo Shorts and Puka Shell Necklace, Drinking a Bud Light Lime: Collected Broetry.
AB: Finally, if you could pitch Bad Poet as a tweet—so 280 characters—what would it be?
BAE: Bad Poet is the pursuit of empty validation; it’s confronting dead squirrels on the sidewalk; it’s smoking weed laced with dog hair; it’s creepily stalking 7-Eleven parking lots at night while wearing a trench coat and drinking a Slurpee; it’s blood & sugar & sex magik *winks*