Thursday, July 01, 2004

THE INTERREVIEW #1: Buck Downs's new book GOLDEN TATERS 

THE INTERREVIEW is an occasional PhillySound webzine which reviews new books of poetry by interviewing the poet about the book.

with Buck Downs on his new book GOLDEN TATERS

questions/review by CAConrad

biographical information and contact information from Buck Downs:

I was born in Ellisville, MS & raised in south Florida. Family business was bridge & box culvert construction, with some horse-racing on the side. Mom & Dad moved back to Mississippi a little over a decade ago. For siblings I have two older sisters; one is a nurse and an educator in Tallahassee, the other passed away in Feb. 1988. I have lived in the D.C. area since late Aug. 1988.

Edge Books published marijuana softdrink. in what, 2000? sure. About twice a year I get asked to contribute stuff to zines; but distribution through the U.S. mail of poetry on postcards & stuff has been my deal since like 1993. Anybody who wants to get on the list and/or get a copy of Golden Taters should drop me a line: Box 53318, WDC 20009.

Getting your mail is always something to crack the day apart with Buck. I open my POBox and stand in the busy, grumpy post office reading your postcard poems, lost in my thinking about how you're thinking about the world. But then this GOLDEN TATERS shows up! What a happy surprise, a whole Buck book!

The first thing anyone would notice is that each line on each page is a different font. I've been obsessing to see if any repeat, but the important thing to point out is how each chosen font embodies the line of poetry.

One of my favorites is your font choice for "I can still smell your ass in my hair." It looks like handwritten, cursive script, which personalizes the line, makes it (I'm serious here) sweet. It's that font that suddenly turns the line into a note left on a pillow beside the sleeping lover, or on the refrigerator with a smiley-face magnet. Also liked your choice for "MAGIC 8-BALL MAGIC," which looks like the very same font on the MAGIC 8-BALL.

Of all your font choices however, the most impressive for me was the one you chose for "wasabi swastika dumptruck." Impressive because you found something that works for "wasabi" (Japanese), and equally works for "swastika" (associated most with the Nazis of course, but also Buddhists). It worked --I feel-- because of that sharp, stiletto "w" in both. And "dumptruck" worked just fine because of the absence of "w". Which of these words were you most focused on for this particular font hunt? Were there other lines you found tough matching a font to? That, and, is there anything else you'd like to share about the fonts?

type & stuff has been entertaining to me since I started to learn a little about it late in gradschool, an education that got filled out by time spent at Pyramid Atlantic in the 90s, taking some workshops, doing a couple projects, and hanging out with some pretty sharp folks in the fields of type, printing and paper.

A lot of the way I work these days has to do with balancing the load of difficulty as much as possible across time and space so that no single task ever gets out of hand. Despite all the little ins & outs of mad process, I can't honestly say that any of it is ever 'tough'.

When I loaded up the machine I use at home, one of the first tasks I did was to create type sample sheets, for Word and for Publisher, in 10 & 12 pts. So with a reference doc in front of me that says, 'this is Rockwell Condensed, this is Felix Titling' etc., it's a pretty straightforward thing to pick typefaces on the fly. So the task itself took 30 mins., but the groundwork that made it a 30-minute task started in 1998, when I bought that particular machine.

I'd like to think that when my working process works, it works like that.

The title GOLDEN TATERS has been on my mind. Hints some possible spiritual mechanism, or maybe I'm confusing this with the golden yam soup I've eaten with the White Trash Coven of New Brunswick? Does this title have anything to do with your "homage to Jonathan Williams"? If not, please tell us why the book is an homage to Willams?

GOLDEN TATERS came to mind as a funny name, one that would have some humility & some braggodocio cohabiting the space of the name. Then I caught it in my mind as an echo of Jonathan Williams's LONG TATERS. LONG TATERS is one of a number of works that Williams has privately published and distributed to a list of subscribers, mostly long-standing friends & colleagues.

Of course J.W. is himself a great big figure in whom humility and braggodocio pretty freely play like spouses, I think, so why not?

I spent like three months just thinking, "GOLDEN TATERS, GOLDEN TATERS", & then a little more thinking, "GOLDEN TATERS homage to J.W." while doing the mostly daily process of generating and metabolizing text that normally results in a poem or two each month.

& then rereading some books by J.W., & thinking about Bartram's Tree, Blues & Roots, Long Taters, and others, I got to thinking about J.W. as epigrammist, eavesdropper, and typophile, among other roles that vary in predominance from book to book.

so 'GOLDEN TATERS homage to J.W.' would like very much to synthesize this handful of discrete roles into a singularity in itself, much as they have been synthesized in the writing life of its model.

When we heard your talk at the Zinc Bar in New York (and again recently when corresponding with Joseph Massey) you spoke about "the hopper" being the place where you pull your material. Tell us something about "the hopper" and your process with it.

'the hopper' refers to the evolving, on-the-fly poetry management system I have been working from since 2001. I am a devoted notebook-poet; formerly one of those creepy turds who would sit in the back of the poetry reading & riff on his own bullshit like a little showoff.

Copying and combining text from 5 or 6 notebooks at a time was o.k. in re: manageability, but as it grew to 12 or 15 notebooks & more, manageability pretty much dwindled to zero.

So I got the bright idea of just typing up all the notebooks verbatim, and holding off the editorial process until there was a typedraft of some length. As of now, there's about 1,200 pages of hopper in like six Word files, & it continues to get added to, edited, cut'n'pasted & so forth.

The very first of the hoppers has had a lot of material mined out of it: a failed book called *Extratutionalized*, a pretty cool one called *pontiac fever*, etc. etc. In among what was left in that hopper were lots and lots of single lines; overheard ones & misheard ones & made-up ones, & as if I can tell the difference anymore where they came from.

A sequence of those single lines seemed like a low-impact way of bringing home the idea of that synthesis, and also performed another metabolization through these huge honking files that are at the heart of my method/problem.

Okay, I really have to ask this ---what can you tell us about this section of GOLDEN TATERS? :

brother clavicle dice

philadelphia demon world

take it home a notch

throw yourself in pathology

floppy memory

dragon with a devil's-tooth crown

Of course, one of the lines that I'm most interested in hearing about is "philadelphia demon world" which flows through the other lines to the "dragon" line which suddenly becomes a song. There's so many times I want to know what's going on IN YOU with a particular line, but prefer to know what's going on in me in reading it (as any reader should be concerned). But this is one instance where I thought I'd ask you about your own feelings, thoughts.

the name philadelphia has been trying to make a place for itself in my poems for a decade now, either whole or in parts, but it has never made it to a typedraft without getting busted & sent back to the notes.

Philadelphia has a huge crypto-profile in my eighth-grade civics-class mentality, but I had no concept of philadelphia until I got introduced to it through the poetry community that lives there.

& the idea that a real live creative gang of people always contradicts the hand-me-down'ed conventional-wisdom sense of the story is a deep truth.

"philadelphia demon world" could be a franchise operation, right -- "ft. worth demon world", "minneapolis demon world", the real-life cheesecake factory of spirituality and thought that passes for intelligent life on TV and everywhere the light of TV shines. Or it could be a play on "Philadelphia Freedom".

When I'm lucky there's not a particular thing going on at all, but a number of not-quite-things jockeying for their mutation into existence.

You end the book with ---

Baton Rouge
Jones County
Washington D.C.

These were the places where the material was written, correct? How different are the Muses of each place speaking to you? And also, all three locations are obviously Southern, and there's much talk these days about The New Southern writers. What's your response to all this --but maybe a better question is, what to you seems the way to understanding the vibe of writing south of the Mason-Dixon? And probably most important, let us know how your poems fit into this.

The little ending listette of the places where you got it on in your book has a blue-ribbon literary pedigree: Notely's *At Night the States* and Joyce's *Ulysses* are sufficent examples to make that case, huh.

It felt appropriate to make fun of it a little here. Those are the three places where I've "gotten my education" a.k.a., where I've lived since leaving college. There is that point to make: education starts when you quit school.

Talking about Southern Writing makes me crazy like those dudes who collect photographic evidence of Bigfoot. Does it exist? Did it ever?

But then I do lose my nut whenever I have to talk about "poetry" in terms other than "what I'm doing". So yeah, I have no clew what the fuck is up with the New Southern Writing. But it's not like anybody else does either, so I feel like I'm in the right place where that's concerned.

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