I*Hate*You*James*Franco (Sundress Publications, 2012)
You seem to be a jack of all trades: poet, author, publisher, and artist. How do you balance serving each of these?
Sometimes it’s difficult, especially since I work a full-time, 40 hour a week day job (in a library) in addition to my own creative work and the press. Admittedly, there are things that take more of a priority over my time at any given moment, and sometimes my own work gets pushed to the bottom of the list while other things take precedence. I’ve been striving more toward balance lately and setting aside specific days to focus on particular aspects of what I do, and that’s helping a lot.
I was introduced to your work through I*Hate*You*James*Franco, and fell head over heels in love. Where did the inspiration for it come from?
In 2011 or so, I was constantly seeing a lot of people on social media talking about Franco and his antics. The series actually began as a sort of joke and not at all seriously—my own musings on what a lot of other poets & friends were saying about Franco, his identity as a celebrity poet and other foolishness. They were very informal and blog-like and suddenly I realized I may actually have something…about my own anxieties as a writer, about celebrity, about working in a medium that in general, the world sort of just doesn’t care about all that much.
This chapbook stars a well-known celebrity. Did you have any fear of Hollywood? What kind of reception have you gotten for the chapbook? And how did you go about tactfully writing about a living icon?
The only hesitation that I had about releasing the work was that I had previously been the victim of online harassment/bullying in the poetry world and didn’t want any sort of repeat of that by crazed Franco fans/supporters… lol… but then again, outside of the fact that they are poems addressed to a celebrity, they are only tangentially about him, and actually, aren’t really that critical (of course, how could they be, I don’t actually know him, right?) I don’t think much about “Hollywood” as this all-powerful force, much less fear it, it’s just really just a bunch of actors and writers and producers, people trying to make art (although with much more popular interest than poetry obviously). I am, however, critical of the poetry establishment so quick to pander to celebrity in general, whoever that may be. Actually, the reception has been really awesome and no one has come after me… lol…
What are your goals with your publishing company? Are you aiming to reach certain audiences?
I feel like poets and poetry-readers are such a small demographic when you look at the larger literary world. And feminist, women centered poetry probably an even smaller demographic. That said, our books (like my own aesthetic tastes) vary in style from the more innovative to more traditional, so probably appeal to a larger number of readers in different factions and corners of the literary community.
When it comes to your own personal work, how do you choose which publisher to submit your work to? For instance, how did you choose Sundress Publications?
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve sort of stumbled into great relationships with presses, sometimes just through happenstance, sometimes over the transom. I’ve always sent my work to presses that I admire or feel would have an affinity to my work or shared interests. Sundress’ cornerstone journal, Stirring, had been one of the first online journals I ever published with way back in 2001. In 2003, they invited Wicked Alice, the online journal I founded, to join up with Sundress. I was excited when they started publishing e-chaps and decided to send them the Franco poems which they accepted, and later, my full-length book major characters in minor films (that contains the Franco pieces) , which they wound up publishing earlier this year.
Your latest chapbook, Apocalypse Theory, seems very interesting in a sophisticated Mad Max kind of way. Where did the inspiration come for this?
I’d been watching a lot of Supernatural and plague/ zombie movies and this is sort of what came from it. I’m a horror / sci-fi fiend, so I suppose it’s only natural. That particular series is one part of a larger manuscript that deals with apocalyptic themes, including 1950’s Cold-War logic, monster movies, zombie-girls, and the atomic bomb.
Would you consider yourself more of a mandatory scheduled writer or a spontaneous writer?
I definitely TRY to be the first, but definitely end up behaving more like the latter. After a full-day putting out other fires, the writing sometimes gets pushed aside, and what was once supposed to be orderly progress becomes a furious mad dash as deadlines (external or internal) approach.
I read in an interview that you take a lot of inspiration from Plath and Eliot. Do you have any contemporary authors or poets you admire or recommend?
There are so many, both poets I’ve published and poets I’ve never even met, that I admire and that inspire me. Lately I am digging on Catie Rosemurgy, but some of my other favorite non-dgper-s are Matthea Harvey, Jenny Boully, Selah Saterstrom, Daniel Pafunda, Maggie Nelson, and so many more.
Do aim your art toward one audience and your literature toward another?
My best projects are those that include both written and visual elements, so in that respect, they probably have the same audience. But I do feel like art is something that is more easily packaged for general consumption, definitely something that appeals more to the mainstream eye than poetry. For example, I’ve actually made far more money from selling artwork and paper goods than I probably every will selling poetry. I don’t think it’s something I aim for, but perhaps the art winds up having a wider sphere of appeal than the writing by its nature, even though I think the impulses that lead to both are the same across the board.
I was blown away by your art collections posted on your website. Do you do all your own covers and artwork for your chapbooks? Where do the clippings or images you sometimes use in your art come from?
The dgp covers are a mix. We approach cover art trying to involve the author as much as they are willing to be involved. In many cases, I design something specific based on my own impulses or ideas they’ve given me to work with. In other cases, another artist (usually a friend of the author) is pulled in to provide artwork which I then do the text layout for. In some cases, we are able to get a print ready file from an artist or designer. I think these approaches allow us to always have variation in our catalogue and to keep things from always looking the same.
I do sometimes harvest some of my own visual work for covers if it seems to fit, as well as design new pieces from scratch (which actually sometimes touch off entire series of work in a similar vein if I like the results.) I like to tear up old books and advertising for a lot of my work, use vintage illustrations and diagrams I’ve found online. I’ve just finished up a series of collages involving old Victorian cabinet cards from my mother’s side of the family and some creepy vintage animal masks. Lately, I’m trying to incorporate other mediums into my 2-d work like watercolor and acrylics along with paper.
Do you intend for your art to be a social statement? Could you tell me a bit about Strange Machine and Radio Ocularia?
I don’t think I intend to make social statements from the outset, but sometimes they just sort of happen. When I was writing my second book In the Bird Museum, I was very much thinking about the ways that women are always treading that line between knowledge and danger. I always feel that if I were to try to write something with social implications, I’d end up being too didactic, but I always feel like all my work is feminist in its nature, whether it’s dealing with beauty and the grotesque (as in girl show) or women in relation to pop-culture and artmaking (major characters in minor films).
Radio Ocularia was written in relation to a series of visual pieces I had done involving anatomical illustrations, so those came about first and the text was a response to those. I had been thinking about illness and vulnerability and the ways in which the body fails us. Strange Machine, which is part of that apocalypse manuscript is all based on Cold-war hysteria and the atom bomb, and like RO, is being written to accompany a series of collages. The visual and written is actually sort of evolving in tandem and I hope to finish them by the end of the year.
Your website says that you are from Illinois. How do you feel your background or roots influence your writings?
I think so much of my writing is rooted in a certain ruralness, even though I’ve sent close to the last 20 years living in a city. Landscape plays a role in so much of my work, as does the “Midwest” as a concept. I’m similarly rooted to Wisconsin and its woods since I spent much of my childhood summers there. At first I was definitely writing more about my childhood in the country than I ever was about currently living in an urban landscape, but now I tend to go back and forth.
Does your family have a history of being creative or are you the “misfit”?
While my extended family is pretty much non-artists, my dad is a big reader, so I suspect my literary tendencies can be linked to him. My mom used to paint a lot of porcelain figurines when I was a kid just as a hobby and I remember always begging (unsuccessfully) to get my hands on the paints. I was actually always more drawn to words than images when younger, so my sister is the one with the visual art education. I moved back and forth between writing and theatre but only started working visually in the last decade or so.
What advice do you have for writers in college looking for a break?
Don’t go into it with a preconceived and faulty idea of waiting to be hit with the “legitimacy” stick. Know yourself, know your work, build your audience and don’t wait for the break, just do what you need to do. That, and “Fake It Til You Make It” which is a valuable piece of info in all things.
A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book, chapbook and zine projects, including major characters in minor films (Sundress Publications, 2015), the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013), and girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Her work has appeared most recently in Split Lip Review, Hound, and Whiskey Island. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and curating a chapbook series devoted to women authors. Her next full-length collection, salvage, is due out from Black Lawrence Press in 2016.