For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
It’s great when people I don’t know write to me, over Facebook or Twitter or email, and say that they strongly respond to a particular poem. I remember one person told me that he enjoyed the stripped down, accessible nature of my poems and that it provoked a visceral, emotional response in him. I love that. My best friend Rachel recently told me that one of her friends described my poems as Romantic, as being in dialogue with Romanticism. I love that too. It’s really important to me that my poems connect with people on a personal level.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers' lives for the better?
So much. I love Henri Cole’s new book of poems, Touch. Owen Jones’s new and first book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. I like Nico Muhly’s last CD, A Good Understanding. I’ve been raving about Riccardo Tisci’s last collection for Givenchy to everyone. Anthony Goicolea’s photographs. Terence Koh’s recent work. I’m so into Dorothea Lasky’s poems. This one, “The Poetry that is going to matter after you are dead” is one of my favorites and you can hear her read it here.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
Leigh Bowery. He should be more famous than he is. I’m sure many of you guys know about him, but for the people who haven’t had the pleasure to know, he was a performance artist—and all around star, dandy, queer goddess—in the 80s and 90s in New York and London. My friend Mark Bibbins, whose poems I also love, introduced me to him by showing me the documentary Charles Atlas made about Bowery, The Legend of Leigh Bowery. Everyone should see it. It’s crazy and inspiring.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
When talking about her early years in New York, Madonna said something like, “If you can’t say ‘I’ll die if I don’t do it,’ you should not do it.” I don’t really see the point of being alive if I can’t create, if I can’t make something out of life. For some reason that translates to writing poems. If my creative work has even the minor possibility of bringing relief or pleasure to me and other people, I’m going to keep doing it. Many days I’m paralyzed by the thought that I have all these graduate school loans as a result of my MFA degree, and that we live in a world that doesn’t value the arts and artists as much as it should, and values poets even less so. But being a poet and living in New York with my friends are the most important things to me. I’m not really interested in living another life, even if that other life is easier or more stable and secure—whatever that means. I don’t really feel like I have a choice, is I guess what I’m saying. I have to live this life. I have to be a poet.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Off the page, it would be talking to someone who’s had an experience with a poem after hearing me read it. I wish there was less of a barrier between the poet and the audience at a poetry reading. I wish we could talk about what poems actually mean to us, and how they help us live. I’d love to just pass my poems around before a reading and ask people which ones they’d like to hear, even if their responses were based only on the titles. The visual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres said that, “For most of the work I do, I need the public to become responsible and activate the work.” I think about that a lot. How can I do that with poems? I want to. I really believe that poetry can enrich people’s lives, especially today when consumer culture is constantly pushing us toward soundbites and the same ten words, toward instant gratification and not thinking or reflecting about our emotional and intellectual lives and what’s actually happening in the world. It’s the culture of emoticons. I hate emoticons. We’re not encouraged to express or think about how we really feel and investigate those feelings. We’re encouraged to rely on easy and empty symbols, words, images, etc., that have become a norm and fail at any kind of real or meaningful communication. And every day I have to fight, quite consciously, like everyone else, against all those negative impulses we’re told to give into. Poetry helps me do that.
Have you ever written anything that you'd like to take back?
Not yet! But I’d like to sleep with Owen Jones, whose book I mentioned earlier. I’m probably going to regret telling you that. It’s ok, he lives in London so I can’t run into him on the street. I’ll have a new crush by next week anyway.