Saturday, March 21st, 2009...2:04 am
hosho mccreesh | the interview
of pretty good poets. Most fit into some category, offer up some personasome image of toughness, craziness, some sort of dysfunctional characteristic. Today it is easier to do that with the internet. In my search, I run across a lot of good poetry, but a lot of the time the voice could belong to anyone and despite wanting the coveted image to come through, a fakeness prevails. Perhaps one of today’s best small press poets, William Taylor Jr. pointed me in the direction of Hosho McCreesh, and listed him as one of his favorites. I picked up his seventh book, For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed sat down on my front porch Adirondack poured a glass of cheap wine and took a look at life through Hosho’s eyes. It was like seeing fine art for the first time. Not throwing out a line of kiss ass here– just fact. The voice comes out of this book as fresh but one you identify with. It is like McCreesh says,
a secret truth only our
drunken gods can
know or keep
It is seldom that a book of poetry or a writer comes around that offers to change the way we view the world. This is a writer who is not trying to be somebody else. Picking up a copy of this book just might make a difference. –Scot Young
Scot: OK in this age of self promotion, name and face recognition, you have chosen to pretty much remain faceless except by the self portrait included here. Why is that?
Hosho: god, I can’t understand why anyone would want their face out there. Celebrity–be it real or imagined–has got to be one of the most disgusting things we’ve invented. I’d be mortified if I couldn’t go have dinner with my girl somewhere without a bunch of yokels staring at us, or trying to snap photos with their cell phones. I just want to do my work & find a way to reach people who might get something from it. I don’t know what my face has to do with any of that. & the downside is, if for some reason you do get “famous,” then you’ve basically traded away your life’s peace so a few people can recognize you at the supermarket or something. I just don’t see the upside. I’m a fairly private person, and my name is plenty unique which, in itself, makes me a little uncomfortable. Besides–attach a face to your work & people might decide to like or hate it based on how you look instead of how you write…& I’d rather the work stand or fail by itself.
Scot: Who were the writers or others that influenced your writing in the beginning? Anybody now that inspires or influences?
Hosho: Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Bukowski, Yeats…More recently, Whitman, Issa, Basho, Ikkyu–the ability to say so much in such a small space–it’s very impressive. There’s tons of folks I buy in the small press…each doing different things I like. I look to a lot of different places for inspiration: music, painting…& lots of different writing & writers. It’s great to find a diamond-hard line in anything–a newspaper, a blog, a letter, or a magazine article.
Scot: Is online as noteworthy as most print publications?
Hosho: Anyone willing to invest their own time & money in publishing something, especially if it isn’t really “profitable,” putting out other peoples’ work is noteworthy & admirable. To me, it’s not so much a question of “noteworthy” or even “better or worse” as it is tangible & lasting. If, for whatever reason, a publishing venture decides to call it quits–printed material can still be found & enjoyed after the fact. If an online publication hangs it up, all the work seems to just disappear. There’s just something really beautiful about print, & typos that can’t ever be fixed, dust on a sun-faded cover. Online publications can reach every computer everywhere–so I suppose that’s the trade off.
Scot: Tell me about your latest chap—For All These Wretched, Beautiful, & Insignificant Things So Uselessly & Carelessly Destroyed.
Hosho: David McNamara at Sunnyoutside makes really terrific books. So, when he had an open submission period, I grabbed up a few of my best new ones & submitted. He liked them & we were off, working on a manuscript. David is a really precise & insightful editor, & I think he really encourages his writers to look deeply at their own work for places to improve. We had a really productive back & forth during editing & landed on a manuscript we were both really happy with. The rest was all David…who really gives himself to each of his designs. He got some really fantastic artwork from Kevin Charles Kline–& they really added another dimension to the book. The artwork is brutal, beautiful, disquieting, clinical, grotesque…and pairs really well with what the book set out to accomplish. I couldn’t be happier with the book & response has been pretty darn good too, which always helps.
Scot: Does it contain a favorite poem?
Hosho: I’ve gone over & over the book & cannot pick a favorite. I’ve resorted to drawing straws between the top 5 or 6. & while I love the poem about van Gogh’s ear, the title poem, & basicaly the entire 2nd half of the book (not a wasted word in it!) the poem that I’ve landed on is:
A WORLD FULL OF MONSTER-SPORES, OVUM BURSTING, SPERMATAZOA WRITHING, A SAVAGERY BORN OR BRED…
Think of sinister shadows.
Think of unblinking seconds.
Think of all that cannot be undone.
Think of Hitler, young & lost in Munich,
pining over a beautiful art school Jewess,
or maybe the angular young man
modeling nude for classes on the human form.
Imagine Hitler in his dorm room
too much a coward
to admit to love,
to risk it.
Think of him giving up painting.
Think of Mussolini.
Pol Pot. Stalin.
Emperors & Czars.
Kings & Presidents—
a world full of monster-spores,
ovum bursting, spermatozoa writhing,
a savagery born or bred.
Yes, but maybe they loved someone, loved something
that never knew or never loved them back.
Sure, maybe we ask too much of life.
Maybe kindness doesn’t end up mattering.
Maybe it’s all too terrifying to admit.
Maybe it just seems easier than the truth—
A measured, precise, almost beautiful brutality
inside each of our desperate, unloved hearts;
the dusty shutters of ourserlves thrown open,
& a dirty flock startled into a grey dawn;
a secret truth only our
drunken gods can
know or keep.
Scot: I noticed in this book your titles seem as important as your poetry, as many can stand alone as a poem. Brautigan did this as others. Is this a conscience effort and is the revision process the same with title as it is with the poem? I can remember as a high school kid waiting for Richard Brautigan’s next book to be released and driving across town to the only bookstore to have it. Is there anyone out there that can revitalize, be the next best poet or are those days gone.
Hosho: It’s sad to say, but I just don’t think poetry is valued on a wide enough scale for that to ever be the case gain–so, yeah, I do think those days are gone, at least in the larger sense. But the small press still has a great deal of excitement associated with it–for me at least. I look forward to new books for all the usual suspects out there–I try to support everyone who publishes the writers I collect. I’d say people look to movies & music as they are much easier media to get into. Reading books is harder than sitting down & watching a movie or listening to music, which are much more approachable. Unfortunately, what’s being said is more important that HOW it’s being said. Ideas trump language…& the written word is struggling as a result.
Scot: Outside of the arts, what does Hosho do for entertainment?
Hosho: Hookers & blow. Actually, I am awful at helming my own life…so I don’t much feel like time is mine to use. I don’t have nearly enough time with the arts as it is! I work too goddamned much. I wish someone could explain why we work 5 days, & take only 2 off? Why not 4 for 3? Maybe then our lives would actually feel like they belonged to us instead of whoever signs the checks, instead of some 25 year death march before we can finally get some rest. It’s shameful that we’ve allowed ourselves to be almost wholly defined by whatever job it is we do.
Scot: What was the most rewarding or exciting event in your writing?
Hosho: In terms of writing I’d say it’s slowly learning how to better be myself in my writing. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet, as my work thus far has been much more dark & hopeless than I really am. I think you start out with whatever it is that sits you down to writing & your work is very much a reflection of that…& as you get better at writing, the things you can write well about widen. I’ve had many conversations with justin.barrett about humorous poems…it’s just something I’ve never been able to write. & until your work reflects the whole of who you are as a person, I think it’s incomplete. In terms of publishing, I’d say the most exciting & rewarding thing has been 2008 as a whole. It was a big year for me, after quite a few years of very few submissions & fewer publications. 2008 was a breakout year for me: from 2 projects with KSE to my Bottle of Smoke book being put out in both hardback & paperback to my Sunnyoutside book to placing work with the New York Quarterly to the broadsides with Sore Dove Press and 10pt press…it’s been a fantastic year…both huge & humbling at the same time.
Scot: When you hit a dry spell in your poetry writing, who do you pick up or what gets you going again?
Hosho: There’s always work to do–& so, when I don’t feel I’m writing particularly well, I spend more time reading & more time on the organization of my work, I start putting together manuscripts, or trying to write different things. I know you’re no stranger to 6S–I’ve placed a piece with them this year & have really taken to ultra-short prose. Usually that’s enough to ride me through any slow times writing poetry. I try not to worry too much about it when it’s not there, I try not to push it. It helps to set aside some time when I feel things starting to pick back up–take a long weekend & set aside a day for writing, a few hours during the work week–whatever…making the time when you start to work out the kinks again. That helps. Traveling & simply paying attention to the world around me is usually a pretty helpful as well.
Scot: How did your first chap publication come about?
Hosho: I self-published a book, one intended to be a give-away to my family for the holidays. As with most publishing ventures, all the money is in the up-front set up, so the difference between 20 copies & 50 wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought…so I figured, what the hell, make a bunch of extras. I still treated them very much as a give away, I sent them to editors as I was starting to place more & more work. It got 1 review–a bad one, & that was it. I had extra copies in a box, getting dusty. My 2nd chap came out in Australia, & I sold a few copies of book #1 to folks who liked the 2nd book. Same with the 3rd (which I also self published). I never worried too much about it. Eventually they sold.
Scot: With several chaps out now, do you submit to online publications?
Hosho: Yeah, sure. I’ve placed some really short pieces in online publications, got some work placed with Dale Wisely at Right Hand Pointing. I’ve placed short stories with Johnny America–which is both print & online. I honestly am slacking when it comes to submissions. I used to have a pretty decent system set up: tracking subs, working in the new work, retiring the old…but it’s fallen by the wayside. These days I basically send out brand new work to keep from double-sending stuff. It’s not very efficient, but I don’t like sending one poem too many places…so it works. Someday I’ll get my shit together & send out subs weekly again.
Scot: What is the one question you are never asked but wish you were?
Hosho: I gotta be honest…this question has me stumped. I can’t really think of a question I’d like to hear. I can, however, think of all sorts of questions I am tired of hearing: “What are you doing on the roof of my house?” or “Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?” or “Are you taking your medication” or “Who do you think you are?” ”Where’s the money?” is another one I’m pretty tired of hearing.
Scot: What does it mean to be a poet?
Hosho: It doesn’t mean a thing, not one little thing. Poetry is, everyday, becoming more & more unnecessary to the day-in & day-out. Someone sitting down to write a poem isn’t any more impressive than someone going to check the mail, or driving to work every day. There’s nothing special about it. & that’s the problem: too many think there is something special about it…or, specifically, about them doing it. Being alive, living your life as well as you can live it, finding ways to make sense of the world around you, learning how to recognize & improve your own imperfections–that’s means something. Maybe not much, but it means more than being a “poet.” I really think that the work should be its own reward…as the people doing the work, we should find our own personal meaning in it & move on–whatever happens to the work after the fact should be an unexpected surprise. & by the time things do happen with old work, we should be off & lost in the new stuff. Otherwise is feels like some creepy ol’ crypt of words & poems, like literary necrophilia. Being a “poet” is all cardboard and spackle.
Scot: If you had a chance to sit down with anyone and have a few drinks—who would it be and how would it go?
Hosho: In the past I’ve said Bukowski, Li Po, Issa. I’ve got a little crush on Joan Didion, so I’d love to have a few drinks with her, bend her ear a while. JD Salinger. How would it go? Probably they’d all tell me to pack sand. So, fuck it, let’s go hog wild: I want to get fucking ruined with Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, & Amy Winehouse. Shit–try to trade drinks with Peter O’Toole–that would be a brutally long night. I have a buddy who passed up the chance to smoke crack with the dude who played drums on the theme song for ‘Friends.’ I still haven’t forgiven him–not that my friend should’ve smoked crack–but, c’mon, when are you gonna get that kind of chance again? So, if the goal is some apocalyptic night to end all nights–let’s go buck-wild. But for the most part, I’d say my best drinking days are behind me.
Scot: It is perfect weekend in New Mexico, what would Hosho McCreesh be doing?
Hosho: Eating, drinking, being merry with friends & family. Write something. Paint a bit. Maybe me & my gal drive a few hours because we gotta get a green chile cheeseburger from the Owl Bar, or carne adovada from Maria’s. Or maybe just a fat lotta nothing at all…a nap every afternoon or generally just enjoying slow, easy times. I hate having shit to do. I hate having places to be. There’s enough of that in the typical American work week.
Scot: Tell me something about Hosho that most people do not know?
Hosho: I’m much funnier than my work would suggest.
Scot: What are your next projects?
Hosho: Right now I’m working on a whole hot-ghetto-mess of projects:
I’ve placed work (poetry & an essay) with a couple of Bukowski-related projects: one called A Common Thread: The Poetry of Bukowski.net from Chance Press; & an overseas project called Buk Scene–so I’m looking forward to those.
I’ve been, for the whole of 2008, writing what I’ve taken to calling “psalms”–which are short, Japanese/haiku-like breath poems about New Mexico–expanding what started with KSE at the beginning of last year’s 37 Psalms from the Badlands–with designs on a putting them out as a much larger collection eventually.
I’m also really excited about a book of letters (circa 2002) between Christopher Cunningham & I–slated for 2009 from OA Press…what we hope will be an interesting mix of politics, American culture, ranting, poetry, discussion of craft & form, & some good ol’ existential humanism. We also have a companion collection of poetry in the works to accompany it somehow–with the titles of the poems pulled from the letters themselves.
I’ve sent 15-20 pages to a project being helmed by William Taylor, Jr., to be published by LUMMOX–it sounds like it’s gonna be a hell of a good read. I’m really happy to be working with Bill on it as I deeply admire his work.
I have a couple manuscripts in progress, slated to appear from Propaganda Press as well–though none are set in stone just yet…so I’ll keep them under my hat for now.
& it also might be a little premature to talk about (as I’ve not yet finished a decent first draft), but I’m working on what I hope will be a novella-length piece of Brautigan-esque prose, (actually featuring Richard Brautigan as a character) called CORMORANT FISHING IN AMERICA. It’s a tip of the hat (of sorts), semi-autobiographical, surreal, & feels much, much different than anything I’ve ever written…which is both invigorating & terrifying. We’ll see how it comes out. What I’ve written so far I am really happy with. I might see another broadside or two this coming year, & maybe a short story here & there…we’ll see.
I’m in a pretty good place right now–with some opportunities to publish work, but no real deadlines or rules to follow–so I’m really free to write things I am moved to write, free to experiment & push myself in lots of directions…& trash it if it doesn’t work! Now, if I could only work (my paying job) less & get a little more time to write…
Scot: I’ve got another project for you; now write your memoir in six words.
Hosho: Just keep answering the goddamned bell.
Hosho McCreesh hails from the deep, vast gypsum and caliche deserts of New Mexico. He maintains his sanity by writing poems and prose, and by smearing paint on canvas. McCreesh has published seven books and chapbooks including 37 Psalms From The Badlands (Kender Steiner Press 2008) and Marching Unabashed Into The Weeping Sun… (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2008) His work has appeared widely in audio, print, and online.
Scot Young, in another life he used to be a construction worker but for the last 19 years he has been paid to hang out with kids. He started writing poems again after a 30 year absence and has published one or two. He may be the only school principal in America to have all of Christopher Robin’s books and he occasionally teaches a poetry class to the Breakfast Club. He once sang with Kenny Loggins and wrestler Dirty Dick Murdoch, but mainly he just puts bread on the table.
Editors Note: Many thanks to Scot Young for allowing me to publish this great interview with Hosho McCreesh and my best whishes to the Outsider Writers Collective.