Thursday, April 29, 2010

6 questions with Tony Mancus

1) When did you begin to write poetry?

Well, let's see...I think I started in high school. I had this green 5 subject notebook that i supposedly used for class stuff and somewhere around 10th grade I got onto this big time Jim Morrison kick and thought that "American Prayer" was the coolest thing ever--so back in Archbald, in my Dad's garage there's a box with this notebook in it with all of this awkward teenage posturing and opaque rhyming nonsense. It doesn't look like I've actually made it too far from there, all things considered. Maybe a bit less rhyme-y. But for some reason the fiddling with words stuck. I remember this one party I was at a few years later and there was this guy who was in school studying writing--a real writer, you know. And I asked him what I should do to get good and he said to start small--to write about an electrical outlet, and then go from there. For some reason that stuck and I can't stop seeing things in outlets, even now. I wouldn't revise stuff then. I think through college and such, I started to figure out that revision was where the game was. I'd say that was when it really became writing, or at least I took it seriously as something of a craft. In a couple of months I've got to go and clean out that garage. It's going to be mortifying and hilarious!

2) What led you to move into the realm of publishing?

In Pittsburgh a bunch of kids I knew there were trying to get an arts collective started and it kind of worked for a bit--we had a small magazine, called Magazino. I did some editorial stuff with them, but nothing too terribly serious. Most of what we did was readings and performances. There were a few other people who were doing some really neat stuff--Ally Malinenko started up this little zine called Avenues, I think and Jerome Crooks was doing his damndest to get a press together, well before all of the small press stuff really took off. Speed and Briscoe--he published short runs of a bunch of the kids in the writing program at the time. This was late '90s and he stuck around the burgh and has continued to publish some stellar writers. FGP happened a good bit later--post grad school and started out of a conversation. I can't really pinpoint when and where it was though. Sommer Browning and I decided that we'd like to try our hands at making some books and we started off with a friend's manuscript. Melissa Koosman. Stellar writer. She's in South Africa now. But anyway, we'd decided we'd try to publish people who we admired and whose work we admired and that's pretty much where it started. When we first started we were talking about some weird and interesting publishing things, like sending people clods of dirt with grass in it and a poem, or a book published wholly on a roll of toilet paper. But for Mel's book we got some linocut materials and the idea of a bird. I cut my fingers up pretty ridiculously, but the cover wound up turning out alright and we've not really looked back since. A lot of sideways glances, but never any backwards ones.

3) Has being a publisher changed the way you, as a poet, viewed things?

My short answer is maybe. Since beginning to work with layouts a bit, I've come to find that I like really sparse work because it lends to all kinds of fun possibilities. Publishing and being introduced to other people who make books also has come to affect my idea of what a book is or what it could be. Like before I'd seen Pilot Press's books, I'd never thought about making a hinged metal cover or dealing with different types of translucent paper. They've made some terribly gorgeous things. So maybe that conversation about toilette paper and grass clumps Sommer and I had will eventually yield something, who knows. But I have come to find that my own writing is getting a bit more clipped and I'm working in smaller spaces. I can't say if this is because of publishing stuff, or what I'm reading, or if it's just the reasonable aftereffects of time and not wholly losing one's mind and finding littler compartments to hold things in.

4) Can you explain the naming of your Press (Flying Guillotine Press), it’s a uniquely named Press, btw

Unfortunately, for this I can't take much credit. Sommer is a big fan of "The Master of the Flying Guillotine" and we were tossing name ideas around and she suggested that name and we were both like, yes. Yes. And afterwards someone said that it reminded them of the Emily Dickinson quote about good poetry--that it's supposed to lift off the top of your head--or something to that effect. So it's almost literary. So close. If it were a horseshoe it might explode.

5) Has your change of locations : from North-East Pa to Pittsburgh to Brooklyn to Northern VA impacted your work?

Yeah. I think fairly significantly. There was a spot of the desert thrown in there before NY and though I've never lived in Brooklyn, I visited quite frequently. I lived in Queens--Sunnyside and Astoria. And now here I am in Rosslyn. I never thought I'd be a southerner, but I guess it's better than Jersey! Actually, I really do like it here quite a bit and when I was in college my mom went to a psychic and she'd said that I'd eventually end up in Virginia. But that might just be because I was born in September. The woman was a card reader--she read playing cards. I never had the chance to go talk to her. And I'm just jokingly badmouthing Jersey. There are some lovely places in that poorly stereotyped state. I guess each place has left its mark on me. I mean, I'm always going to be a kid from a small town in coal country--or what was left over after the coal had been removed. Pittsburgh showed me what artistic community was/is/could be and it was college and crazy. Tucson was very very very warm and the land there wants to kill everyone who enters but the monsoons and the mornings and the people were all amazing--there are colors about that place I miss, and the smells--the orange blossoms, jeez. And what is there to say about New York that hasn't already been said by a thousand people who burn all their dreams and find them crinkled and black in the sink the next morning? As for how that's affected my writing, I'd guess its the same as all of the other chosen and unchosen variables--it seems each place has its own pace and that somehow works its way into my work. It may not be while I'm there though. My head lags. So the short clipped lines might have to do with the constriction I felt in NY and the breadth of the lines I'd been writing in NY may have had something to do with the openness of the landscape in Arizona. I can't rightly say, but I don't think that people are ultimately human if they're unaffected by place on some level.

6) You are reading on May 7, 2010 at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA with your college buddy Paul Siegell. What have been your impressions of the Poetry Lab to date, and how might the event with Paul go? Do you have any surprises up your sleeves for that night?

So far, for me, every event has been different at the Lab. It's one of the most welcoming, non-postured spaces I've ever been to and lord knows poetry events can get very well postured. You're doing something that needs to be done and I'm very happy to be invited and involved. For this, I must say thank you. And thank you, too, for letting Paul and I do this reading together. I'm really excited to hang out with him again. It's been too long. A decade. That doesn't seem right at all. It's going to be great to fill in the years some. And I read in his interview that bit about Columbine. Man what a weird friggin day that was. I bet Paul will knock all the socks off at this reading. I mean he's been this rocketship for the past few years and rightfully so, and righteously so. I actually can't wait to hear how he reads some of the more concrete pieces. It's going to get awesome! As of now, there's no big surprise plan, but I'll try to get my gears running. It's late as I'm typing this, so i apologize for any undue tangents. Thanks again, Steven for doing what you do and I hope that I can hold up my end of the stick on the 7th.


  1. I'm an idiot--the album was American Prayer--Morrison reading stuff over some music. I'll blame this on the hour when I wrote these responses...

  2. Ghosts crowd a young child's fragile egg-shell mind, yo. AWESOME INTERVIEW.