In this third and final installment of poets/reading series interviews, I speak with Douglas Piccinnini (photo, right, by Stephanie Thompson), founder of the CROWD reading series. Topics include starting a reading series to bring poets to you, Douglas's secret past life as a jock, and how readings are different than rock concerts.
A secret life as a writer and musician
RC: So you're the founder of CROWD reading series. What made you decide to start the series, and did you have a certain goal in mind?
"Maybe just a selfish way to bring people out to Bushwick"
DP: At the time I was volunteering at Ugly Duckling Presse and I was living in Bushwick and to my knowledge there wasn't a whole lot going on in the neighborhood. I was living in off the Morgan stop, and I had just started graduate school, and I was really curious to meet and find out what other poets and writers were doing in the city, and it was kind of maybe just a selfish way to bring people out to Bushwick in Brooklyn and get the experience of listening and meeting a lot of different poets. And in that time-frame it also constituted me going to two to three, maybe four readings a week, as I still tend to do now, and seeing what's out there and trying to present as diverse a slice of what's going on in the poetry scene as possible. Whether that's in New York or across the country—we've had the opportunity to bring poets from Chicago and California if they're traveling through.
RC: What do you think is the purpose ideally of a reading series, bringing poets together. What do you think about the nature of that arrangement, poetry being such an internal art perhaps, and the idea of a poetic community?
DP: What I get the most out of going to a reading are the conversations that follow—it's less of like if you were in a rock band and playing a show that was going to launch your career or something like that. It more creates a dialog among the audience members and hopefully the poets themselves, or the readers themselves.
RC: Do you see different schools of poetry now?
DP: I guess it's tough to say if there are schools now, other than those individuals who go out of their way to announce themselves as being part of a school, like say people associated with Flarf, or conceptual poets who announce themselves as conceptual. But there are trends, I guess, that happen.
RC: Have you ever had any bad experiences hosting?
DP: I wouldn’t say bad, maybe learning experiences—I think I can be my own worst enemy as a host because I for one don’t necessarily like or enjoy the process of introducing someone by way of a bio, or doing a mini-introductory essay that is often heard at readings. I guess people have different expectations of what should be said for a reading. I’d rather the audience have the experience taking the work at face value without hearing me talk.
RC: Are you saying that some poet disagreed with your approach, or didn’t like it?
RC: So when were you first interested in poetry and in being a poet and were those separate things that happened?
DP: I don't remember the first poem that I read, but I knew that I had somewhat of an affinity with language, and with music, which I think informs my work a lot. And for the most part I played sports as a kid and had this secret life apart from being a jock as a writer and a musician.
RC: What kind of sports?
DP: Ice hockey and baseball for the most part and soccer sometimes. But I was always playing sports as a kid and often in the circles of other athletes, poetry and music weren't necessarily the hottest topics of conversation.
RC: I want to talk a bit about your two chapbooks, Soft and Crystal Hard-On. Are these kind of in dialogue with each other, is there kind of a duality?
DP: To a minimal degree. I guess I get myself into a little bit of hot water with Crystal Hard-On because "hard-on" is a huge blinking sign for most people. But I think that both books can deal with a politicized sexuality in some sense but also aren't limited to that agenda, if you want to call it an agenda.
RC: I've been reading from Soft and there's a kind of laconic style that I feel like is making an argument. Do you want the reader to be able to follow the argument, or do you want there to be a little ambiguity as the reader moves through?
DP: I think there tends to be ambiguity in poetics across the board, and it plays in favor of the reader. With Soft being a long poem I guess it's kind of the aftermath of the rigidity of the chapbook Crystal Hard-On in terms of how aggressive some of those poems can be. So after all this kind of knifing with Crystal Hard-On, I wrote Soft afterwards. And not to say that it was a direct response to the kind of wartime highly divided political factions of left-wing and right-wing, but it was a kind of attempt to think about transcendental ways of being or ways of thinking about the situation. To clarify that a little bit, for the four months prior to writing Soft I had been listening to recordings of Leaves of Grass and Walden, so I'd been listening to these works and trying to take in the language and also the rhymths. So I don't know if that's directly evident in Soft, but I think it was a turn away from some of the more acute language of Crystal Hard-On.
RC: I noticed that you founded a new press, is this right?
DP: This is correct, Tea Party Republicans Press.
RC: (Laughing) So tell me a little about this, how you came up with this crazy name, what kind of works you're publishing, and how this relates to your own poetic projects.
DP: It was partially the response to Tea Party Republicans kind of taking over a title and essentially using it in a way that's not—there was a certain kind of subtle manipulation of the title and how it reflected history, so I was thinking it might be interesting to take that title back, from the right so to speak, and publish poetry that might be potentially subversive. It's playful, and there's no specific political agenda with the Tea Party Republicans Press other than to present work that's provocative to contemporary poetry—so far, a book called Sorites by Lawrence Giffen and Eating and Speaking by the Australian poet Astrid Lorange.
* * *
Excerpt from Soft:
A hornet climbs the air. Gold fuse.
Closet of crutches. Branches torn
by the storm. Down stiff gutter.
Roosters as they were. At home.
Chimes bring sun. The ground
with light, averaged gravity.
The controlled kind, toward calm.
Ivory studded with iron. Pulp.
The air as sweet. Bright flower.
My pores open. Common someone.
Hotels. Pools. Banquets. Cold trays of fish.
Depictions of. Balsa. Pine. Cherry.
Announcements. A test grammar into pointing.
Coasts appear wrung with garlands.
This liquor in verbatim. Colorful stone.
Wafers upon the lake ice. Thinking
to then. Children’s voices. A flood
between the blossom time and fruit.
Douglas Piccinnini is the author of Crystal Hard-On (minutes Books) and Soft (The Cultural Society). He is also the founder of the CROWD Reading Series and, with Josef Kaplan, co-editor of Tea Party Republicans Press.
Rob Crawford is the author of Brilliant Families, forthcoming from Counterpoint Press. An editor at Overlook Press, he attended Phillips Academy Andover and Yale University. His writing has appeared in Golden Handcuffs Review and Publishers Weekly, and he lives in Brooklyn. @rcrawford7