Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews
lives in Oregon and is the author of two chapbooks, Midnight Double Feature (Sweat Drenched Press) and elsewhen (Ghost City Press), both published in 2020. Recent work can be found, or is forthcoming, in Mannequin Haus, Streetcake, and PUNK: An Anthology of Poetry (Kissing Dynamite Press, 2020). You can find him on twitter: @kmcale81
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I became a poet by accident. My ambition was always to write a novel, but, apart from a few short stories languishing on a hard drive, I didn’t do much towards that goal. In 2013, though, I did take a 5-day writing course focusing on contemporary work with Kevin Killian, Vanessa Place, and K. Silem Mohammad. It was really exciting, and it gave me the courage to follow my wilder ideas. On the final day of the course, everyone had the opportunity to read their work in front of an audience. That morning, I came up a handwritten cut-up piece – similar to a couple of the works in the chapbooks. I felt I was onto something, but I wasn’t sure what that something was. I showed the piece to Kevin Killian, and he encouraged me to read it. The response was really positive, and it was mainly the poets who were into it. That’s when the penny dropped, and I realized that what I’d written was in fact a poem. In 2016, after I finished my degree, I began to develop my new style of writing further.
2. How did you start developing your style of writing further?
As much as I liked the immediacy and rawness of these handwritten cut-ups, I felt, visually, they were limiting. That’s when I had the idea of pairing up the cards with collages. From there, the visual aspects of my work began to grow and develop into what they are now. As far the writing itself was concerned, I began to use more constraints and source texts etc. along with the cut-ups. I also took the radical step of typing up some of the poems.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
After that first piece was published, I didn’t submit any other work for three years. One of the main reasons I waited was that I felt a need to do more reading. I thought it was important to understand how the kind of poetry I was doing related to other writing. I started to dig more into Conceptualism and Flarf and Language poetry and so on.
For uncovering new writers and journals and connecting me to the writing community, Twitter’s been invaluable. That’s how I found Steven Fowler’s Poem Brut series and discovered work that wasn’t a million miles away from what I was attempting. From there, I began to get into concrete poetry and asemic poetry and other visual traditions.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
It depends on family and work commitments, but generally I write for an hour or so first thing in the morning. In the evening, I work more on the visual end of things – usually in short bursts. That’s also when I respond to emails, send out submissions, etc.
5. How did you decide on the order of the poems in Midnight Double Feature and elsewhen?
Midnight Double Feature is a homage to b-movie double bills, and as those movies would be paired up according to theme or genre, the poems in each ‘screening’ had to be matched up that way too. MDF is split into – and I use these terms very loosely – a sci-fi double feature and a horror double feature. Originally, it was only the horror one, but Sweat Drenched asked for the chapbook to be expanded, so I turned the chap into a double double feature. ‘time’s wound’ was always meant to be the last poem, so the horror double bill became the second half of the book.
elsewhen was a lot more straightforward: I wanted the chapbook to flow from beginning to end like good albums do.
6. What subjects motivate your writing?
I never have a specific subject in mind when I sit down to write. Mine is more of a stream-of-consciousness, improvisational approach. I usually start with a line or an image or a phrase in a source text and just go from there, trying to realize the ideas that suggest themselves. For the visuals, the approach is more or less the same.
7. Why “B-Movie Double Bills”?
The idea evolved out of ‘time’s wound’. That was written for a Twin Peaks anthology, but it couldn’t be accepted because its collages would’ve violated the editor’s artwork agreement with the publisher. For a while after that, I had I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but somehow I got thinking about another David Lynch work, Eraserhead, and that’s synonymous for me with midnight movies, and the idea for the chapbook grew from there. These poems are visually a little darker than some of my other work, and they touch on doubles and doppelgangers and I/You in different ways, so the concept felt appropriate thematically too.
8. You seem to be heavily influenced by David Lynch’s work.
I like his films, but apart from that one poem, I don’t see that much of a Lynch influence on my work, to be honest. I think it would be more accurate to say ‘time’s wound’ and the concept for Midnight Double Feature are just examples of me drawing on influences outside of poetry – which I do often. I’m into all kinds of cinema and music and visual art, so that’s going to be refracted through my work I guess. Despite its theme, I see more of the later plays and short texts of Samuel Beckett in ‘time’s wound’ than anything by Lynch.
9. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?
I really loved those early Irvine Welsh novels, and A Clockwork Orange, and, a little later, Hotel World by Ali Smith. They’re all really inventive in structure and/or language, and beautiful in non-traditional ways. I often come back to them.
The writer I read when I was young who had the biggest influence on me, though, was William Burroughs. I read Cities of the Red Night when I was 19. I got it secondhand and knew nothing about it prior to reading, and it just blew me away. I felt Burroughs was rewiring my brain as I read it. His idea of the cut-up is more relevant than ever, I think. Reading a poem on a phone or a tablet is becoming our default way of reading, and if you read a poem in the body of an email, for example, it could be framed by payment reminders and cat pictures and ads for gambling sites, and that’s going to subconsciously impact your reading, create new associations, complicate the text further. I think that’s really interesting. That’s part of the reason I started to include images and bits of advertising around my words, to highlight these visual aspects of the cut-up. The information and contexts we willfully ignore.
10. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I’m a big fan of Rae Armantrout. Her work is great, so spare and precise – the complete opposite of many of mine! I also love Will Alexander’s poems and essays. Purity & Compression is one of the best collections I’ve ever read. His stuff is just a better world, really. Another poet I really admire is Mary Frances. I think hers is the best visual poetry out there. sea pictures is incredible. Very beautiful. Makes you look at the world in a different way – as all good poetry should. I read a lot of non-fiction too. I’m a huge fan of Paul Theroux’s travel writing.
Honestly, though, really there are loads of writers I admire: Dodie Bellamy; Derek Beaulieu; Clark Coolidge; Anne Donovan; Paul Hawkins; Jim Leftwich; Sharon Mesmer; Daniele Pantano; Vanessa Angelica Villareal; Ali Whitelock. Plus many many others. There are a lot of great writers about these days.
11. Why do you vary handwriting and type in the poems?
My rule at the moment is that any poem I write in one go – like ‘Slough’, for example – gets left in its original handwritten form. Any that require drafting or editing I type. For the chapbooks, I felt one handwritten poem in each was probably enough – especially as my handwriting looks like that of a doctor at the end of a long arduous shift.
12. Why do you use blocks of text rather than inserting lines of text into the collages?
There are a few reasons, but, primarily, it’s to do with how these poems were composed. A number of the pieces in the chapbooks are earlier works, and those were composed by hand on index cards, hence the block look. I quite like that look. They’re like windows or the kind of speech/thought bubbles you find in cartoon strips. Also, when these were written, I was more interested in the juxtapositions and contrasts between the text and the visuals rather than creating a complete visual harmony. That gets back to the cut-up ideas we talked about earlier.
Probably the most important reason for it, though, is to show the more generative side of my work. What I do with the index cards is Oulipian in its own way. The cards give me arbitrary line lengths, and they also function much like the lines in Raymond Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems. When I’m working on them, I can re-sequence and re-group the index cards to my heart’s content, make and re-make each poem. Of course, when it’s published in a journal or chapbook, it’s hard to convey that the version you see is just one of any number of versions of the text, so keeping the handwritten index cards, laying them out on the page the way I do is an attempt at showing that they aren’t fixed singular things. ‘outer malad’ is a good example. On each page, you can read each card of in turn, or read left-right across the adjacent cards, or read the left column of cards first then those on the right. It’s not ideal, but it gives the reader a few options at least.
13. There are a lot of pop culture references in your collages and in the poetry?
In the poetry, it’s usually just a shout out to influences or to people I admire. People who don’t often crop up in poetry: Lee “Scratch” Perry, Aphex Twin. I always enjoy it when other writers do that kind of thing. ‘coda’ is a little different, though; that’s maybe more of a direct comment on pop culture.
14. Once they have read each of these two books what do hope the reader will leave with?
I don’t have any particular message for the reader. People are free to interpret them as they wish. I just hope they like the chapbooks. Feel them worthy of their time and attention.
15. Tell me about writing projects you are involved in at the moment.
I have a poem in Kissing Dynamite’s Punk anthology coming out soon. It’s called “(Don’t be told) there’s no future”, and it’s an erasure of both the British national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’, and the Sex Pistols song of the same name. But that might be the last new thing from me for a while as I wasn’t able to write that much in 2020. In the last couple of months, though, I’ve managed to get back into it, and I have a few pieces I’m happy with. Hopefully they’ll be out in the new year. I’m also considering starting my own journal. It’s definitely something I’d like to do at some point. Not sure I have the time to run one, but we’ll see. I hope so.