Hoping to devastate and ravish (3 Questions for D.W. Lichtenberg)


Last week, I introduced you to D.W. Lichtenberg's inside-up poetry collection, The Ancient Book of Hip. Intrigued, I asked Lichtenberg our standard "3 Questions" -- and I should have known the answers wouldn't be business as usual.

I found myself feeling rather motherly toward you by the time I got through your book, so I have to start with how are you? Are you eating right and taking care of yourself? How are you doing with the balance of corporeal life and poetry?
I am all right. If you want, you can call or email my mother, I am sure she will be happy to hear from you, to hear that you are interested in my well-being. And maybe that is the point of the book. A lot of people who see me read or have read my work come up to me and use the word "endearing". I like to use the word "real". I am eating all right. I'm a vegan and my grandfather is constantly on my back about getting enough B12. But I've got no complaints. My poetry (and my prose... I don't like to separate genres too much) is all right. I had to look up the word corporeal. While I may seem like a sad, lonely sort of guy, I'm doing all right, I'm doing okay. (That's a line from a poem in my book ;) I was recently doing a Q & A about my book with a college class. Someone asked if I thought comedy was important in poetry. I ended up answering, I think, with an explanation of my balance between poetry and the real world. One thing about my poems that I can say for sure: they are vulnerable. As vulnerable as anything I can possibly write (maybe that's why you felt motherly towards me). In my ordinary life, I mostly shut out that vulnerability. As soon as I let it in, I am practically on the verge of tears (even now as I write this). In my real life, I am kind of a cold person. I'm friendly, but often cold. I don't like to bother other people with my problems. In my work, the comedy and the vulnerability comes out. When I become vulnerable, I become funny. That's my balance, I suppose.

That intro...first I thought it was a set up for an urban Spoon River Anthology, then I thought I was being punked, then I wondered -- well, I just wondered. Tell us what you were thinking and why this isn't the usual billboard "This Way to the Book" introduction.
This collection consists of the majority of the poems I wrote from 2005 to 2008. And a few from 2009. I mostly lived in New York City at this time (now I live in San Francisco). While I did not really identify with the culture of hip whose hotbed was in Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn that I lived in), I was a fan of it. And while a huge portion of New Yorkers seem to despise the hipsters, I admire them for their solidarity and willingness to artify a neighborhood of Brooklyn that's now the artistic center of the city. So what if they're white, often supported by their parents, and ultra-bandwagoneers? They are not the wave of people that outpriced the residents of Williamsburg. It's the wave of bankers that followed them that outpriced the residents.

But wait. I didn't answer your question at all. I liked observing the phenomenon of hip. I felt like my poems were very grounded in the fact that I was an observer and not an active participant. I was lonely. I am lonely. What can I say? The introduction is pretty much just a big joke, as is the title and the cover. Judging by your write-up of the book, you got it. You got it. You got it!

There are at least seven workable novels set up in The Ancient Book of Hip, you've obviously got the voice thing happening, and I personally would like to hear more about your great-granddad. Where are you headed from here?
I have written one novel, when I was 19. It's damned good, and it has been sitting in my mother's basement for years untouched. Nobody was interested in it. I remember one literary agent, probably the only one that got through the manuscript, told me he admired the idealistic and naive nature of the characters. Told me the voice was true, pure, great and everything. But because there was really no plot, and it was just a bunch of interesting conversations between two suburban 18-year-olds in the summer before they went off to college, he didn't think it was sellable. I'm not so sure myself. I think sometimes you can read a book and fall in love with a character, to the point that you will follow that character anywhere. That's generally my approach to writing. I could give a damn about language. I'm interested in people.

Where am I headed from here? I haven't really written in six months, since my father died in a sudden accident. The only good thing I've written was a poem about my father. Besides that, I've only been retroactively working, looking at old notebooks, old poems, old anythings, working the hell out of them. When I can't write, I revise. I hope one day I will be able to generate new material. Before I stopped writing, I was writing a novel about two people that are the subject of a psychological study. The test is studying the effects of a new product that was developed and then abandoned a military weapons company. They invented something you can put in your throat that lets you breathe under water like a fish. The military had no use for it, so a university (duh!) optioned it and put a married couple in a tank of water, where they lived when they were not at work, to see the psychological effects of living under water. It's called "Tank". It will lack a plot. It will lack commercial viability. It will lack everything except a consideration for the real emotions of people, hopefully a consideration that will devastate and ravish.

Click here to purchase The Ancient Book of Hip or visit D.W. Lichtenberg's website for excerpts. There's also some great bits on YouTube from Opium Magazine's Literary Death Match.

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