Tuesday, January 8, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Logan Ryan Smith

Logan Ryan Smith was born in Sacramento, CA in 1977. He was a c-section baby and thusly has a very nicely shaped head. He attended St. Lawrence Catholic School in Sacto until the beginning of the 7th grade when his family up and moved way up north to tiny Crescent, CA, where he attended Crescent Elk Junior High—a public school. There he began skateboarding, fighting, stealing, drinking, and smoking, as any good Catholic school escapee would do. At the beginning of his freshman year of high school he was once again pulled from his comfort zone and put into a new school, this time on the opposite end of the state, in Brawley, CA. Logan graduated from Brawley Union High School in 1995, weighing 145 pounds, and just reaching 5’7”. Because of a lack of a growth spurt during his high school years, Logan learned to be quiet. Very quiet. Since then, Logan put on 20 pounds, and sprouted to the towering height of 5’9”. Not much else has happened…

Oh, Logan now lives in San Francisco and is the publisher of small town—a poetry magazine—and TRANSMISSION PRESS, a poetry chapbook series. His first book, THE SINGERS, was published by Dusie Press Books in the summer of ’07. Later in that year The San Francisco Bay Guardian recognized him for his publishing efforts in their Best of the Bay 2007 issue. He also released, under the TRANSMISSION PRESS imprint, his own book, STUPID BIRDS—a collection of early chapbooks and long poems. Other poetry can be found in New American Writing, Hot Whiskey Magazine, Bombay Gin, string of small machines, the tiny, Sorry for Snake, Spell, Mirage #4/ Period(ical), The Boog City Reader, and in various other terrific mags, as well as in the anthologies, Bay Poetics (Faux Press) and The Meat Book (Hot Whiskey Press). He can always be found here: theredgummibear.blogspot.com.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

My first book changed my life in the same way it changes many poets lives in that it made me *feel* like people (other than my friends) were now thinking of me as a "poet". The second someone decides they like yr work and wants to glue it to a spine with a front and back cover, people start thinking of you differently—suddenly yr poetry is a topic of conversation. It’s nice, but in the end, I don’t know if that means a whole lot.

In other aspects, my first book, THE SINGERS, was the first book I'd written of that length. So it changed my life in that it's sort of set me up with the knowledge that I can work out a book of any particular length, whatever the book dictates.

2 - How long have you lived in San Francisco, and how does geography, if at all, impact your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I've lived in SF now since August of 1997. I came here to attend SFSU. It's hard for me to say how or if geography really has an impact on my writing. I've spent most of my adult life here in SF, after having grown up in the suburbs of Sacramento and the small towns of Crescent City and Brawley, CA. And since most of my adult life has been in the city, juxtaposing the small town life and thoughts of my youth, I guess it has to have had some effect. My environment does seep into my writing, so there are cityscapes, noise, and people everywhere in my poems. How specific that is to SF, I don't know. Not very, probably.

But outside of the physical geography of my place, I'd say SF has had a large impact on my overall writing. When I moved here I was very green and not very well-read, at all. It took me a while to really let go of my mostly ungrounded conservative concerns about writing and poetry, as well as my “ego”. I made friends with the poets John Sakkis and Brandon Brown around 2002, and they were more aware of the Bay Area's current poetry situation, and also the history of the place. They discussed the idea of the "book" a lot, and I didn't completely get it until I met Benjamin Hollander and Larry Kearney and saw how their books were always a complete unit, and not just a collection of singular, stand-alone poems. Then I read Stacy Doris and Norma Cole and other Bay Area poets writing "books". Then, of course, I really got into Spicer and Duncan, and I think that's cemented a lifelong love affair with the "book". Without the book, I don't think I could complete anything.

3 - Where does a poem of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Somehow I've conveniently answered this in the previous question! But, yeah, I am almost always writing a "book" from the very beginning. If I'm not writing a book, I have a hard time figuring out what the point of writing is. Why bother?

The whole process is very organic, so I never know the length of the book, or what it'll be about. It's always a cold start. I sit at the keyboard, I punch the keys until there needs to be a page break, and I continue until basically I get tired of it or just plain tired. Then I'll come back to it again later, sometimes looking over what I wrote previously. But on the whole, I try not to read too much of what I'd already written, and just continue. And I don't do any editing until the book hits the wall and tells me to shut the fuck up.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Until recently I haven't had many opportunities to give public readings. So far, I can't say it's affected my creative process. I enjoy giving readings, though. I mean, who doesn't want a captive audience?

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

As I stated before, the writing process for me is very organic. So, I'm not sure. I kind of have to look at my poetry as I would someone else's. I think I'm trying to find a kind of music in my poetry, but I don't know what questions that music poses or answers, if any. It could just be about the search. I don’t know.

As for theory, if I have one about poetry, it's still developing. Personally, though, I'm not interested in it.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

When I first began taking poetry seriously, and when I first started writing the kind of poetry that's lead to what I'm writing today, I think I definitely found it essential. I often sent my books to Larry Kearney to read and edit as he pleased, as well as some friends, and that was enormously helpful. However, I think you get to a point after writing for a while that an editor becomes more of an obstacle and a distraction. Once you've got some kind of grasp on what yr doing, you'll see that an editor is usually trying to shape yr voice to theirs. I think having a second or third pair of eyes, or an “editor,” works for minimalist and process or form-oriented poets, but not for me. So, nowadays when I ask someone to look over something of mine, I usually only want to know if they think it works. Usually, if someone starts doing line-edits on my books I want to kick their fuckin' teeth in. Usually. But not always.

That said, I try to always keep an open mind to what people think about my poetry, critically and emotionally. But in the end, I don't believe in perfection, so...

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Well, I started publishing the poetry mag, small town, in 2001 or so, and then the Transmission Press chapbook series began in 2006. I'd say that the process gets easier, just from repetition, but the repetition begins to get more tedious. But there's always a bit of unbridled excitement, for me, when I first begin to put together someone's book, and then even more so as I finish the book and get it into the poet's and others' hands. All the stuff in between, though, quite frankly, can be a bit of an f’n drag. But, of course it's worth it.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

That reminds me, I've been doing a pretty good job lately eating vegetables regularly, but I rarely ever eat fruit. Every Saturday, though, I drink a quart of orange juice. Does that even everything out?

But, to answer yr question, I was probably 5 the last time I ate a pear. Five or 15. Maybe 25. I don't know.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

When I was very young my dad once told me, "Don't eat the yellow snow." To this day I heed that advice, as should everyone.

The other best piece of advice I've heard is one I give myself, and that's "c'est la fuck it".

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I definitely do not have a writing routine. When I am writing I may develop a bit of a routine, though. For instance, I wrote THE SINGERS in June of '05 when I was unemployed and seriously broke and living in Boulder, CO (I lived there for a short 9 months). I made an effort to write every night, with loud music and my bottle of TAAKA vodka ($7 for 1.75 liters) by my side. And when June finished so did the book.

And then with my most recent and unpublished book, IN A STATE, I made it a point to write every Wednesday with a couple bottles of Five Oaks Cabernet ($2.50 a bottle) by my side--and loud music. I only stopped writing into that book when I realized I wasn't writing on Wednesdays anymore.

I see a pattern developing.

But, other than that, I write when I do. Once things start, then I find the groove to which me and the work will fit into.

A typical day, though, begins with me coming to my shitty office job that allows me to keep up on the blogs, emails, cnn.com, baseball news, and to answer questions like these. Which is pretty great, really.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

My writing gets stalled a lot, as I guess I tend to write in spurts. I guess I often turn to other outlets. I'm a complete amateur in everything, but I'll maybe try painting or writing some music. I will often return to certain poets, though, too, such as Lisa Jarnot, Spicer, Kearney, etc. The classics like THE ILIAD and others get me going, too. Reading a lot is often a good idea. Listening to music is always a big part of the return.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My unpublished manuscript, IN A STATE, is quite a different book, I think, than THE SINGERS, and certainly much different than STUPID BIRDS. (By the way, THE SINGERS was published before STUPID BIRDS, but STUPID BIRDS is the older book.) Anyway, IN A STATE drifts away a bit from the dissonant music of THE SINGERS. Its theme is more uniformed throughout and its voice is more direct.

I find that, for me, things do change pretty noticeably from book to book. THE SINGERS was a rather stylistic book, in that the music of it is very loud, I think. IN A STATE, I don't know, maybe is more "content-driven”. As for STUPID BIRDS, that book is really different from the other two because it is earlier work, and is definitely more influenced and reflective of today's idea of the lyric poem.

By the way, do the S's in the titles of my books lead to confusion as to which is which? Are my titles all starting to sound the same? Hmmm.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Music definitely influences my books. When I wrote THE SINGERS I often let lines from the songs I was listening to enter the poem to either be morphed or used as a springboard. Music continues to be an influence because I'll always want to achieve the feeling music gives me, that ambiance or otherworldlyness, and also that wordless, emotional connection (or communication) that's so immediate.

I'm also very intrigued by science and nature, and love reading up on new discoveries, or watching programs. I expect it to have a bigger influence on me at some point. I especially love anything about stars and space and the universe expanding or contracting. It's all so f'n mysterious and adventurous.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

My friends are the most important.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I would really like to see every ballpark in America, and the one they got up there in Toronto, too. And even though I hate the Yankees, I'd like to get out to New York this year and catch a game there before they tear the place down. I've not yet gone to Yankee Stadium.

In regard to poetry, I would have to say: everything else.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I'd really like to play centerfield for the Giants, but they just signed some guy for $60 mil over 5 years; also, my friends say that because I'm only 5'9" that I'd fit in better as a second baseman. However, I think that's bullshit. I've got mad hustle and a fiery spirit. I'd be an awesome centerfielder.

In reality, though, I'm not qualified for a whole hell of a lot. To which I'd like to say: Thank you very much San Francisco State University--oh, and: FUCK YOU. I'm in debt FOREVER!

But, you know.... Um, if this was a parallel world of options, and I had a completely different brain capable of these sorts of things, I think being a scientist, studying space would be pretty neat. I had a very realistic dream the other night where I was being sent into space in a rocket, and though I'm pretty terrified of flying, I remember that in the dream I knew it was worth the risk. Ummm.

I also kind of wish I'd gotten my degree in Classics, so I could have studied them more and also learned Greek and Latin. I might not mind teaching the classics as an occupation, even though I can’t really imagine myself being a teacher at all. I’m not fond of the university system.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I'm not good at anything else.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Dorothea Lasky's AWE was a seriously beautiful book, full of the kind of breathtaking and powerful lyricism I really enjoy in poetry. That book touched on a lot of large themes that are pretty traditional in poetry, such as love and God, but the honesty to which she met them was so grand, and so full of wild imagination that AWE is a book that stands alone, with a voice that's rarely heard in poetry.

The last great film? That's a tough one as I'm mostly let down by movies these days. I really really loved STARDUST, though. That was the one with Claire Danes and her very nicely achieved English accent. It's a fantasy movie with a fairytale type of love story and it was THE SHIT. I'd put it up there with THE PRINCESS BRIDE and THE NEVERENDING STORY.

In contrast to that, I was also really struck by my recent viewing of DEAD RINGERS, a Cronenburg movie about these twin gynecologists. It was a seriously disturbing tale of narcissism and self-destruction.

19 - What are you currently working on?

I'm pretty much done with IN A STATE. I think it has a fork in it. So, I'm mostly working on a chapbook called THE NOTES, which was written by salvaging some decent lines and stanzas that were cut from THE SINGERS. Originally THE SINGERS was very, very long and I had to cut a shitload from it, and so some good stuff got left by the wayside. I'd never done anything like it—gone back to a part of a book I’d thrown away—but I decided to pick apart the pieces that were cut away already and write into and around them. THE NOTES ends up sounding a lot like THE SINGERS, but it also has a direction completely separate from it. I don't know. I'm only tinkering with it now, though I think it's done.

I feel I'm ready, though, to get it on with a new book real soon.

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