Tuesday, April 20, 2010
an interview with Paul Siegell, one of the May 2010 features
1. When did it occur to you that writing was an itch you couldn’t scratch?
Sometime senior year at the University of Pittsburgh I was in Jan Beatty’s poetry workshop and I remember saying something like, What the hell are we all doing? (I must have been going through a thing that week or something.) The class laughed and then I explained myself with: What’s the point of writing poetry? After a few minutes of discussion I told the class, my friends, that there was no way I was gonna stop writing poetry, but that I was just questioning it. It’s purpose. It’s value. I remember even saying, “I’m not like a crack baby about it or anything, but I’m not gonna stop unless poetry wants me to.” Class laughed again. To answer your question, I’m gonna say about two years before that night at workshop, when I was 19 and had just written my first real’ish poem.
2. As you realized your own poetic style, who were your influences along with way? (I understand that Phish is one of them)
A Clockwork Orange (“What’s it gonna be then, eh?”), Tender Buttons, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (“That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze.”), On the Road (“I first met Dean Moriarty after my wife and I split up.”), HOWL, Kaddish, Leaves of Grass, GASOLINE, and when Mrs. Rajkowski assigned Emerson and Thoreau to us in 7th grade. Washington Irving, too. Reading cereal boxes and the comics section while my dad read the New York Newsday during breakfast before school. Playing with my legos and hearing classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Dylan and the Grateful Dead coming through the wall from my oldest sister’s room. Later playing Nintendo like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda and hearing new wave bands like The Cure, Erasure, Depeche Mode and Alphaville coming through the wall from my other sister’s room. My mom watching Wheel of Fortune and This Old House, and my dad watching the news. She cried when Family Ties ended. He went nuts when the ‘86 Mets won. Cubism, Picasso, Cezanne. Kandinsky. All the museums my dad took me to on birthdays. PITT poetry pros Jeff Oaks, Jan Beatty and Lynn Emanuel. Billboards and road signs along the highway. Thot it was so funny when Sal Paradise raised the flag upside down. Lyricists like Robert Hunter, John Barlow, Tom Marshall, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon. Traveling. My friends. Reading tons and tons of poetry being written and published by tons and tons of amazing poets right this very second. Stuff like that.
3. Can you explain your “concrete or visual poetry” development? What was your first piece? Which came first the image or the poem?
Fifth grade, Mrs. Grossman’s class. We where doing a poetry section for a week or so and at the end everyone had to write a poem. My 10-year-old head had nothing. Everyone else was scribbling away, acrostics and whatnot, and I was sitting there waiting for recess. Mrs. Grossman came over and asked me to name an animal. Last name’s Siegell so I said a bird. She said: Great, fill the page with the outline of a bird. I drew a bird. Then she goes, Write in as many types of birds as you can think of all the way around along the outline. So I did. When I was done she said, now erase the line. Boom.
4. What has your experience in Philadelphia been like?
I get mine wiz wit. Plus hot peppers.
5. What was the first book of poetry you ever bought?
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Then HOWL.
6. You are reading at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA on May 7th. I understand this is going to be a “reunion” reading. Care to explain?
Tony Mancus and I were in a few poetry classes together at the University of Pittsburgh. One thing I’ll never forget was the break between classes that he, myself and another poet in our group, Jerome Crooks, shared on 04/20/99, day of the Columbine killings. The three of us sat on a bench outside the Cathedral of Learning, did what we did and sat there, stunned. Sharing our thoughts on what we couldn’t believe.
We’ve stayed in touch over the years via email, as a nice handful of that group of poets have, but other than his incredible, true-hearted poems all over the Internet, I haven’t sEEn Tony since graduation, 2000. I am very much looking forward to catching up with him in person, meeting his fiancee and introducing him to mine.
Thanks again for putting us together, Steven! It’s going to be a great night for poetry and friends, new and old.
Paul Siegell is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). He is an editor at Painted Bride Quarterly, and has contributed to The American Poetry Review, Coconut, Rattle and many other fine journals. He has also been featured in two national music and culture magazines, Paste and Relix, as well as elsewhere exciting. Kindly find more of Paul's work (poems, poemics, reviews) at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL.