Aspiring towards the creation of some sort of publishing house, and publication, Virgogray was born. It wasn’t until four years after which that the manuscript of “Vegas Implosions” would arrive in my mailbox in a manila envelope. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, snail mail at its best. Chris D’Errico, from what I gathered was a writer and musician from Las Vegas. Keen, I thought. To any who have read Chris’ Vegas Implosions, you will note its remarkable wittieness of word, its observation. Since that time, the original chapbook is out of print, though I may still have a couple of copies tucked away for reference. Vegas Implosions has been re-released and includes the new text, “The Exterminator Chronicles” which bisects the original manuscript and adds a couple of poems ta’ boot. Vegas Implosions is highly recommended to poetry readers everywhere, but also for more than the love of poetry. Chris D’Errico’s poetry is enjoyable, light and enlightening. I have interviewed Chris before on the radio blogcast show, “Virgogray Anonymous Midnight Radio Show,” and have even met Chris in person a few times in Las Vegas, which I must say, has always been enjoyable. What readers and even poetry goers may find is a real person, a man sharp enough to match his poetry, though garrulous and kind. It is now, on the eve of his newest release, Ministry of Kybosh, that I share with you an interview I performed with Chris via e-mail in late summer 2012.
MAC – Chris, it has been a while since we’ve spoken in interview format. The last time I saw you was after our visit on Fremont Street. How are you? How is the Las Vegas weather?
CD: It’s summer in Las Vegas, so it’s scorching, but I like it. “At least it’s a dry heat…” as the saying goes. Like Pete Townshend sang in the Who song “Goin’ Mobile,”—“I’m an air conditioned gypsy.” Then it’s monsoon season so we get flash floods around the valley. It might downpour like the apocalypse for 7 and ½ minutes and the winds will kick up so anything that isn’t bolted or rooted down will wind up somewhere it shouldn’t be. I don’t know if it’s actually hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, but I don’t want to know. Luckily, I don’t live out on the sidewalk. Despite this area being especially hit hard by the busted and still struggling economy, I’ve managed to be OK health-wise, live in a house, have people who still don’t mind talking to me, and I’m still “gainfully employed” so I’m actually very fortunate—spoiled, really, at the moment, anyway. Thanks for asking.
MAC – What have you been up to in regards to your poetry? As you know we are getting ready to release Ministry of Kybosh, but what else are you up to?
CD: Well, I’ve got some shitty work habits, Michael. But I like to give my poems some time for themselves. I’ll bed down with them for a while, and then cut them loose. See other poems. It may seem a heartless way to treat poems, but usually they don’t seem to mind. If they do come back to me, we kiss and make up and maybe make plans for a life together. We’ll sit and have coffee and we’ll chat about the bad traffic on the freeway, our favorite songs, the government, baseball, the price of gas, how it’s hard to find a good tomato in grocery stores these days, etc. It’s my fault. But, you can’t get rid of poetry once you start feeding it; it’s always whining, always needy. If it would just stop talking back I could call it finished, get some time for myself, catch up on my sleep.
MAC – What are your views on publishing and poetry in general?
CD: I pay more attention to the small, independent presses, online or otherwise, so that’s where my perspective mostly comes from. I have no issues with online publications, but I still prefer a book made of paper and ink to hold in my hands, regardless of how it gets to me. What’s most important is the poetry, of course, not the delivery system or production means. But I think that if a poet has the ambition to publish, the process certainly matters. Poets want to think the publisher wants them because they actually give a shit about their writing; publishers want that to be reciprocal. Obvious stuff. If it’s a business wager we’re making together then let’s be real, open and communicative about it. Based on mutual respect, joy and passion for the art and craft, and some transparency on the business side of things. Poets and publishers/presses have to find a way to make it, everything costs money, poetry isn’t a big grossing business, so whatever works in mutual consent, I guess. Whatever the stakes, those that are honest and do it right deserve credit and support.
Then there’s the academic regime, which I’m not a part of, but which apparently generates its share of controversy. I hear about the supposed nepotism, careerism, MFA students hoping to get professorships, professors hoping to get tenure, “people with debts to pay and legacies to support” as the poetry critic David Orr (who I’m not a fan of myself) put it. But, in academia or elsewhere, that’s often what happens—people move around in little coteries and sycophantic fiefdoms with their self-appointed gatekeepers. Artists naturally promote the like-minded. Hey, poets and publishers all want to be read and to make a buck (or a few cents, or maybe break even) if they can, get their opinions heard, critiqued, accepted, respected, at least tolerated and even celebrated in some small way. And much poetry and whatever else gets out there in the process. So here I am giving an interview for VGP. Pay attention to Me. I’m a Poet. I’ve written Books. I’m Important. So thanks for your time and attention. It’s actually amazing to me how anybody gets anything done, with all the other responsibilities, distractions, and annoyances of day-to-day life.
MAC – What role do you think the poet has (if any) in literature and in culture, popular or otherwise?
CD: That’s a big one. I’ll bite. Allow me to meander along in ambiguities and redundancies.
In a society were even basic literacy doesn’t seem to be exalted as much of a high virtue, it’s obvious that the role of poetry and the poet is marginal at best in our culture, our economy, and society at large. Maybe poets aren’t fit to be politicians—too imaginative. Don’t generally make proper aristocrats—might say the wrong thing, get kicked out of the party and down the ladder. How about a non-conformist, anti-establishment revolutionary? That’s romantic. Some poets teach. That’s practical and industrious. Pay the bills; take out the trash, like anyone else. Poets can use poetry to educate, help bring awareness about something or other, or simply entertain for those that get off on that. I don’t see too many tailgating parties or people sleeping outside the door to get wristbands for tickets to poetry readings or book releases—it’s not a blockbuster in a mass medium. A poet may save a baby from drowning, but it won’t be from reading poetry—it’ll be because the poet’s a good swimmer. Poets don’t do much for the economy, not a big seller, too little demand (but seemingly butt-loads of supply). Doesn’t that give it another kind of power? Isn’t poetry something else besides commercialization, commoditization and consumerism? I’ve heard opinions that diminish poetry’s importance, validity or relevance “outside the economy” because, hey, anyone can find something to do besides poetry that is unprofitable and obscure, so what, why bother. Bah, humbug. Also many poets have made comments about how poetry doesn’t do anything, doesn’t change anything, is the least important of the arts, etc.—and maybe shouldn’t care either way. Art for art’s sake, I suppose…
Of course, people talk about this stuff and make all sorts of idealized stances (I do too), often within a class conscious, socio-economic framework, playing into the arguments over art and commerce, or whatever else. (I’ve heard the “I’m rich in meaning and better than you—Oh yeah? Fuck you, I’m not superficial, I’m a utilitarian with purpose” type argument, for instance.) Real or illusory, successful or not, I like the idea that poets are or that poetry is (or can be) resistant and antagonistic to the status quo. But why do we idealize, fetishize and obsess over our “roles” in culture, and/or our location on the socio- political and economic ladder in first place? In the end, I don’t have much of an answer without most likely reducing it all to posturing, polemics and platitudes. As I heard another poet say, “To rise above all the ambient cultural noise!” OK, that sounds good.
Still, I think that poets and readers have their own views and agendas and so poetry will be used for whatever purpose we have in mind, whatever the presupposition and interpretation; so there’s relevance and cause and effect—there’s a dialogue, there’s value and meaning. Readers of poetry are not just receivers of the poet’s verdict; readers are active participants in a way that I think makes poetry especially poignant and dynamic. And that things go unheard does not mean that those things would be better left unsaid. So what if few are listening?
MAC – I was recalling how the Vegas Implosions manuscript first came to my literal doorstep. What was it that made you pursue to work with Virgogray Press?
CD: I didn’t have much to go on because apparently you hadn’t published much before on the VGP imprint, but the website was intriguing. Basically you were new and independent and that attracted me because I imagined a possible kinship. Honestly, going back to some of the things I touched on earlier about the “poetry biz,” I was also initially attracted to the fact that you didn’t charge up front for reading or contest fees! You weren’t pushing the old “pay to play” routine. You were willing to read and judge manuscripts on your own dime, bless you. I wasn’t worried about whatever your editorial credentials were or weren’t, I believed in the manuscript I sent you. I figured it was probably in your best interest to work mutually and reciprocally with the poets you do accept, and then actually make some effort along with the authors to sell some books. I imagined that there might be decent chance that VGP might actually read the manuscript of an unknown with a twisted mind, and give me the time of day. You did, and I’m glad. And it’s been a kick to see VGP grow over these short years, and publish a lot of interesting, challenging work from many fine poets.
MAC – Vegas Implosions is poetic scenes, perspectives on Vegas. What was your writing process for the collection?
CD: Like a lot of poets, many of those poems and poem pieces were disparately written over the course of a few years, without the idea that I would assemble anything into a book collection. Not a native, it’s me living in the desert, in Sin City, and wondering and riffing on what the hell am I doing here, who am I, what the hell is this place. At some point I realized that I had a possible series going, so I went with it. Like I saw Vegas itself—collage and pastiche, cartoon-esque at times—sloppy with effusive weirdness and meandering and facetious and imperfect and that’s me, too. Like the way many poets write, maybe the narrator of each poem isn’t really me, but some tripped-out caricature of me. I mean, not all of it is clearly some fictionalized character, and I wasn’t so self- conscious of that even, but that seems to be the way much of it went. OK, it wasn’t really me taking unauthorized breaks on the clock at work, hiding in my work truck, daydreaming and sitting inside toilet stalls, scribbling in my notebook, reading and writing poems—essentially getting paid to write poems instead of the job I was actually employed and expected to do. So basically I was a professional poet when I wrote that stuff. No, I’m kidding, of course, I would never do such a thing. Really. Viva the working class hero. Reliability, initiative, diligence, hard work, responsibility, et cetera. I can exterminate like nobody’s business. Rats, mice, bugs, pigeons all fear me. I’ve got a great work ethic, honest. But maybe the guy who writes those poems has some different ideas on those matters.
MAC – In the second edition of Vegas Implosions, readers were introduced to “The Exterminator Chronicles” series of poems, a set of funny, ironic and insightful poems waging war against the pest population of Las Vegas. Shall the exterminator return?
CD: Well, there’s a bit of the exterminator in everything I do! Yeah, I think he shall return in one form or another, but I have to admit that since I actually do still work as an exterminator for a job, it can be a drag to then think about it and write about it when I’m not on the clock, you know. I just want to get home, take a shower, relax and forget. I’ll see. The exterminator is still on holiday in an undisclosed location, but he’ll come out of hiding because he must eradicate vermin and help the people. Unless he mixes up the two—humans and vermin— which is possible, maybe even probable. That could get hairy. Could be a whole other voice, yapping away under his frontal lobe. “God’s lonely man” like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver. “Here is a man who stood up.” Or, my favorite “I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people.”
MAC – Marc Olmsted is a poet we’ve had the fortune to work with, we recently published a collection by his wife, Suzi Kaplan Olmsted, Elektra’s Mouth. Tell us about your association with him.
CD: Marc is talented poet and teacher and a fascinating guy. I was interested in the American Beat poets, which is right up Marc’s alley, so I took a few workshop classes that he taught and it was a lot of fun and very informative. Among other things, he talks about breath, focus and detail, objectivity, imagery and how authorial commentary and intrusion can be an unnecessary distraction for the poet’s process and for the reader. Good stuff. Don’t know if I pull it off too well, myself. Later, I sent him my Vegas Implosions book and I think that’s how he found out about VGP—which, of course, later published a book of his poetry and also Suzi’s.
MAC – Give readers a preview of Ministry of Kybosh.
CD: Of course, it’s Ministry of Kybosh and Other Poems. It’s a mixture of prose and lined poems, etc. Here’s one of the Other Poems, called “El Diablo”:
There he is stuck behind a counter, zit-faced
Counting numbers, stats, beans and lemons
There he is crushed by time’s stringency, office-hours
Skin like finely crafted boutique leather
There’s our precious little boy, a total original
Quiet in the supermarket, smooth before the kill-switch
He is all these things, waving his black magic wand
Make you turn from your own self, swindled
With his Undeniable Proof, hidden wings and hint of horns
With his scrubbed-clean hands on the wrecking ball
He’s an old enemy, a newbie knee-jerk nihilist
A box-eyed, easy answer-man, there he is
In a white room where hands mingle with light whispers
The kind coroners use to illuminate a corpse
He is the farmer tilling his soil while blackbirds sing
And worms prepare
For a feast as wives bite their fingernails and argue
With their husband’s fair-weathered friends
He is the driver of the meat wagon
He is the guy that gets out and changes the flat
When a tire pops on the road during the night-shift
He is the night-shift