Poet John F. Buckley tagged me to take part in The Next Big Thing, a series in which authors interview themselves about new or upcoming books. All participating authors use the same set of questions. Here, I converse with myself about a forthcoming anthology I edited.
What is the title of the book?
Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. I can’t take credit for the title. Billy Collins suggested it.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
It all goes back to 2011, when I wrote poems about The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bob Crane, who is best known for the 60s sit-com Hogan’s Heroes and for being the victim of a murder that was never solved. They were my first television poems. (Two years earlier, I wrote a poem about the Riddler, my favorite Batman villain. I know him because of Frank Gorshin, so the poem could qualify as dealing with TV, but the character predates the Batman TV series by decades.) In addition, a TV icon, Rod Serling, has had a huge influence on me.
In early 2012, I had the insight there were anthologies of poetry about movies and music, but as far as I knew, none about television, a medium that for more than a half century has influenced our lifestyles, tastes, opinions and politics. I did my due diligence and discovered I was right.
I proposed the project to Roxanne Hoffman, who runs Poets Wear Prada. She was enthusiastic about it and said she’d like to take it on. I sent the first invitations to submit on April 6. I knew I was on to something, because I began receiving submissions right away. Some poets, like Ellen Bass, Amy Gerstler, Lewis Warsh and Hal Sirowitz, wrote brand-new work specifically for the anthology. Others, like Ron Padgett, Timothy Liu and Diane Wakoski, sent me unpublished poems.
The anthology contains 128 poems by 129 poets. One poem is a collaborative effort by two poets, Martin Ott and the aforementioned John F. Buckley. For the record, my poem “The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Unaired Episodes” is my contribution. It’s scheduled to appear in Gargoyle this summer in advance of Rabbit Ears.
Which genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Since the anthology is about television, you’re essentially asking which actors would play the actors who play the many characters the poets cover in their work. In other words, who would play Adam West, who plays Batman? To put it another way, who would play Batman as played by Adam West? We’re venturing into post-modern territory.
By coincidence, a genuine actor is a contributor to Rabbit Ears. The TV and movie actress Grace Zabriskie, who is a serious poet, contributed a poem about an episode of Big Love in which she appeared.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is the first anthology of poetry about television.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The submission period ran April 6 – September 30, 2012. As I accepted poems, I arranged the contents mentally. When I actually sat down to work on the manuscript, it basically put itself together. I was truly surprised that it took less than a month to prepare a draft.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Absence inspired it, the absence of a poetry anthology about something that has such a massive influence on our lives. Unlike the majority of poets, I’ve never worked in academia. My background is in media relations, so I have hands-on experience with television producers and reporters. My career played a significant role in how I viewed (no pun intended) submissions about TV news.
That said, I doubt I would have thought of an anthology of television poetry if I hadn’t written my own TV poems.
As for my current TV watching, I like Morning Joe and Hardball with Chris Matthews, both on MSNBC. At the other end of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show and That 70s Show.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Rabbit Ears: TV Poems is coming fall 2013 from Poets Wear Prada, a New Jersey-based press that published my last two collections of original poetry, Europa/Nippon/New York: Poems/Not-Poems and Thrum.
Roses are red
violets are blue
go for it!
[this is a blatant ploy to see if anyone is paying attention ~ we who are coming out of our coma]
Due to a bit of a snafu, WWAATD sorta disappeared and then even though it reappeared, we couldn’t get in to post anything.
But that’s fixed now – fingers crossed – and we’ll start posting soon.
The Philadelphia poet CAConrad in interview after interview has made it clear that he not only wants poetry to be his life, he wants his life to be poetry. He articulates this personal mission at length in his latest book, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics (Wave Books, 2012), and urges the reader to sign on as an active participant.
“Poetry collection” is an insufficient term for this work; poems as poems constitute only a part of it. Yes, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon is a poetry book, but it’s also a self-help guide, a portfolio of performance texts, a political manifesto and a textbook for a course you will attend for the rest of your life.
“(Soma)tic” (parentheses included) is a portmanteau of Conrad’s invention, a blend of “soma,” an Indo-Persian word for “divine,” and the Greek “somatic.” The essential goal of the (Soma)tic exercises, consequently, is to locate the divine within the flesh.
The 27 exercises of A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon are by turns deceptively simple (devote particular days to eating foods of a single color), cathartic (write down some of the most painful events of your life), transgressive (imagine grotesque ways you will die in 10, 15, 20 years) and virtually dadaistic (build your own marsupial pouch and spend a few hours in it). Your next assignment is to write a poem after the completion of each (Soma)tic.
As someone who has spent most of his life as a serious guitarist, I find the musical aspects of (Soma)tics particularly interesting. In the exercise which calls for eating yellow food on one day, red food on another, etc., Conrad writes that he listened to Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” for 18 consecutive hours in preparation for his day of blue food. By choosing “Blue Velvet,” Conrad re-contextualized even further a square, middle-of-the-road oldie that was re-contextualized by David Lynch in 1986. Conrad, toward the back of the book, elaborates on the importance of sound to the (Soma)tics in an interview with the poet and scholar Thom Donovan. The interview is essential reading in order to understand the origins, nature and principles of the (Soma)tic exercises.
I’m a poet not a / motivational speaker, Conrad declares in “Myrrh,” the last of seven short poems that follow the second (Soma)tic. I have to disagree with the latter part of the statement. In the early 90s, I attended conferences for my job and had to listen to motivational speakers, each more insipid than the previous one. I can’t tell you how much I wish at least one of them had instructed the audience to go for a Radiant Elvis MRI [(Soma)tic 13] instead of telling us idiotic things like “seize the moment” and “be the captain of the ship that is your life.”
A spirit of generosity informs Conrad’s book. His tacit message to the reader is, “You’re a big part of this, too. Let’s make things happen.”
I had an insight after reading A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon. It’s not enough to be a poet. As a poet, one must aspire to be.