What goes into an irreverent pop culture reference? Do you ever stop and think "That's too obvious," or "That's too obscure?"
What goes into an irreverent pop culture reference, for me, is just being obsessed with something and wanting to include it in my work. There was a time (read: like, a year ago) where I worried a lot about whether what I was doing was too obscure or weird or not Poem-y enough, but a lot of me putting this book together was me letting go of all of those things and just writing about things I was obsessed with and thought were interesting/funny. I’m sure, for instance, the nuance of my whole Hoobastank “thing” is/will be lost on some people, but that’s fine because I put that stuff in there for me and the other five people on Earth who will find it hilarious.
What made you decide to publish The Poet Confronts Bukowski's Ghost through Philosophical Idiot?
Oh boy. Am I allowed to say this? I don’t know, I’m going to say it. Whenever I first started talking to Brandon last year, one of the first things that happened was that he read the title poem of the book and fell in love with it, and I was like, “Cool, it’s actually the title poem of my manuscript nobody wants!” and shortly after that we started casually talking about him publishing my book through PI this summer. So that’s when the idea started cooking. But it was a lot of internalized ethical hoops for me to jump through, and that was just when I considered him a good friend and I wasn’t even editing PI yet. I still felt very beholden to other people’s opinions about my work, and I didn’t want to wonder forever if my first book was only published as a favor. So I said no, even though B persistently and genuinely wanted the book.
But that was a year ago, and in that period of time, I’ve grown up a little bit and I’ve also learned a little more about the process of putting a book together with a small press. And I reached a point where I a) felt good enough about my work that I didn’t feel like this was the only avenue I could take, and more importantly, b) I genuinely did not want anyone but B and I to touch this thing. At that point, publishing it under Philosophical Idiot felt a lot more like a conscious choice on my part than something B was “letting” me do. I’m stubborn. I need to feel like I’m coming up with stuff on my own.
Publishing the book under a press that I am co-founding has definitely been a step outside of my comfort zone in that I have had to stand by and show up for my own work without the “safety net” of knowing a third party had already read and approved of it. But in terms of the content, the editing, etc., it was the best possible decision I could have made for my weird little book.
How great of an influence are song lyrics to your poetry?
I don’t see much of a direct connection, like, nothing I can point to in my work, but music and lyrics are deeply important to me so I know they’re an influence. I also write music myself, though I think my approach is quite different than it is with poetry.
If you met Charles Bukowski's ghost, what would you say to him? Would it go down exactly as it does in your poem?
You mean would I violently squeeze his balls as a way of releasing my rage at the old guard of old dude poets? Probably not. I’m not that cool in real life. I would probably try really hard to impress him and prove I wasn’t offended by his inevitably offensive behavior and then every time I took a shower for the next 3-6 months I would think of comebacks and badass things I could have done and hate myself for not doing them in the moment. For all of my rage and frustration I still crumble at the feet of old poet men sometimes, and that sucks. I’m only unwaveringly fierce in my poetry.
Side note: how fucked are you if the coolest version of you is the one in your poems? Asking for a friend.
Only as fucked as the rest of us. At least, that's what I tell myself.
How did you come to James Swanick for the book's cover? Did you provide him with any directions or just give him free reign? What was your reaction upon seeing it for the first time? (Sorry for the triple threat, here.)
He’s one of my oldest friends! We’ve actually known each other since freshman year of high school. He’s smart as fuck and knows my poetry really well from reading it constantly over the past ~9 years, so I basically sent him a pdf of the book and I told him I wanted something relatively minimalist. He sent me two options. One was the cover art that everyone is familiar with, and the other one was an image of an ox skull with pomegranate seeds coming out of it, which I actually used on the back cover. I was blown away when he showed it to me, but I was more blown away by how much thought he had put into the designs. He was sending me full paragraphs, like, essay-length explanations of all of the symbolism he saw in the art he’d made, and even had some other potential options prepared in case I wasn’t happy, and those were also incredibly symbolically dense. I really felt “seen” through that whole process; it was cool working with someone who I could tell my work resonated with and who knows me really well.
How much attention have you paid to the book's reception so far?
I definitely check Createspace 79,000 times a day to see how many people have bought my book on Amazon. That’s one of the pitfalls of semi-self-publishing your work. There’s no middleman for obtaining that information. But I don’t really care so much about people buying the book as I do them loving the work, and since there haven’t been any reviews are anything yet, there’s been little for me to obsess over. There’s also the whole thing where I have little to no frame of reference for whether or not my book is “doing well.” I’m still just amazed that people (even people I know) are buying it and messaging me to let me know they love it. I made something, and other people are consuming that thing. No matter what else happens, that’s wild.
But yes, at any given time, I know exactly how many books I’ve sold through Amazon because I check the damn thing every hour. I’m only human.
Do you write drunk and edit sober?
Writing drunk is fucking awful. I really don’t even drink much anymore, but the last thing I want to do when I’m drunk is write poems. I think my slogan is closer to, “Write in the notes app on your iPhone at 3:47 AM, edit three months later when you finally remember you have a bunch of poems sitting in the notes app on your iPhone.”
What are you working on now?
I already have 40ish poems toward a second full-length that I’ve been excited about since before I even announced the first full-length. It’s going to be a little different than Bukowski’s Ghost. A lot more autobiographical. A lot more “vulnerable” and straightforward. Definitely something I would have made fun of in like 2016, which is how I know I’m evolving in exactly the right direction.
How did you arrange the poems in The Poet Confronts Bukowski's Ghost? Do you see the sections as four separate chapbooks bound together between two covers or a cohesive collection?
The order/sections were something I really agonized over. I didn’t want to put the poems in chronological order because that didn’t play to the strengths of the work at all. I didn’t want to divide the book into sections at first, either, because I felt like that was too limiting in terms of how it directs the reader to think about the poems. In my own mind, I have these really world-salad-y, kind of Pepe Silvia type justifications for how I divided the sections and why each poem belongs there, but ultimately I see it as a cohesive collection that’s broken up semi-logically into sections as a palate cleanser.
How do you feel the advent of digital and self-publishing has affected literature?
Alright, so a lot of people bitch and moan about self publishing and digital publishing because it’s created this saturation where there are undoubtedly a ton more people publishing and running publications now than there probably were in pre-internet days. But I think that’s an awesome thing. There is, essentially, unlimited space for people to create and circulate the kind of work that resonates with them. Honestly, I’m skeptical of people who have this attitude of like, “How do we know our work is good now if any person can get published these days?” Anything that kills the monopoly of old white dudes waxing poetic about all of the women who have been collateral damage to their tortured genius is fine by me.
You were pretty sick at your reading, in both senses of the word. In retrospect, how does it feel that you got up on stage and presented even though your health was dunking on you?
Due to a lot of personal things that have been going on, I really had built up my book release show to be a redeeming moment for me. Given that I was sick, it was definitely not that. And once it became apparent that I would still be ill and miserable on the day of the reading, I was extremely depressed about it. I was in a bad place because it was the thing that was supposed to make all of my personal strife worth it, and it wasn’t going to turn out perfect.
However, in hindsight, it feels really awesome to know that I pushed through that self-pity and represented my book as best as I possibly could have in the moment. Everyone really kicked ass that night, and I had a lot of fun.
Kat Giordano's Twitter:
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Thanks a ton to Kat for agreeing to being interviewed by a silly jerk like me and her awesome answers! Please buy her book and read it and then leave reviews on Amazon, bonus points for kind ones.