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Drew Pisarra Interview - Cyber Smut

Drew's poem 'Actinium' is in our Cyber Smut anthology, release date 15 September. For pre-orders visit: https://www.gutspublishing.com/books


Tell us about your author profile picture. What’s the story behind it?

When I was in high school, a friend was studying photography and asked if I’d be her model for a shoot. No doubt it was her idea to have me pose in that plastic raincoat since, personally, I rated my sex appeal as somewhere between zero and zero point zero back then. But now that pic seems both very Warholian and very Tiger Beat. “Hello world, check out my nipple!” Did we find it funny? Maybe. Were we being ironic? I’m guessing not. Yet when I went to college the following year, I recognized the utter absurdity on display here and autographed a small stack of the pics to distribute on campus. Equally ridiculous, I know. A fellow freshman posted this particular shot on her dorm-room door, then, more recently, forwarded it to me via Facebook. Immediately, I thought… I have to use this as my author photo! So here we are decades later because sometimes, you never learn.


Can you tell us more about Saint Flashlight?

Saint Flashlight is a fairly young guerrilla poetry project with Molly Gross, a board member of the Poetry Project and a lifelong friend who shares my commitment to debunking notions of poetry as an elitist artform. Over the last few years, we’ve been infiltrating verse in the public sphere in unusual ways. Our first major project was the months-long takeover of a decrepit movie theatre marquee with film-themed haiku (at what became Brooklyn’s beloved Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park). Our latest endeavour is Calling the World, a dial-a-poem experience sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and featuring contemporary poets Kwame Dawes and Mónica de la Torre as well as past masters like Pablo Neruda and Ono no Komachi. You can call 212-202-5606 in the USA if you’d like to check it out. Wherever you are, do follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


Your published works have interesting titles, how do you go about naming them?

With poetry, I sometimes work on series with predetermined titles. For example, I once did a whole cycle inspired by the movies of R.W. Fassbinder (so the titles simply nod to the source material). More recently, I’ve been writing sonnets that use the periodic table of elements as a gateway to discuss every man I’ve ever bonked. (Those 118 verses take their names from the chart, not the men.) Otherwise, I think of titles much in the way that RuPaul thinks of drag: as a form of dress-up, a way of putting a rhinestone tiara on something that needs decoration or as a way to turn a pair of black leather Louis XIV heels into a strong foundation for a sestina or a villanelle. You can build toward a title or off a title. It’s your choice!


Have you ever changed the title of something, or are you naturally good at titles?

Full disclosure: Both of my books have titles amended under advisement. The first one, the short story collection Publick Spanking, was going to be named simply Publick. But the publisher thought that one oddly-spelled word was too brief so I added “spanking” which relates to one of the stories (“Slap Happy”), a somewhat depressing tale that culminates with a young man slapping his own ass repeatedly. I liked the idea of sexualizing the word “public” by making “lick” be a part of it. The spelling also looks old-fashioned, even if it does wreak havoc in search engines. Infinity Standing Up, my recent collection of queer love sonnets, had the working title Eight Is Just Infinity Standing Up until a penpal suggested a pared-down version might be better. I agreed. It sounds a little more mysterious and a lot more enticing. In summation, I’d say I take feedback pretty well.


Have you ever written something just because you like the title?

The last poem in Infinity Standing Up definitely started with the title. Every poem in that book has a title incorporating a number of significance, be it the act of mutual fellatio (“Sonnet 69”) or the digits of a phone number (“Sonnet 917-589-9XXX”). I knew that I wanted the last poem, however, to be entitled “Sonnet #.” I liked the idea of ending with the number symbol instead of an actual numeral. But what might # signify? Is it pictograph for “pound,” a Twitter hashtag, a miniature tic-tac-toe board? Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that # was the telephone key you pushed when you wanted it – a relationship in this instance – to end. The final word in that poem coincidentally is “done.”


Do you have a favourite subject to write about?

Is anything more eternally fascinating than love as a topic, as an experience, as a dream? And if you’re not writing about love, you can write about sex which can certainly relate to love. Or you can write about sex without love but even writing about sex without love is still writing about love albeit love in omission. In which case, you’re really still writing about love and its strange sometimes partner, power. But is there anything more powerful than love? I mean, why write about power and not write about love? Love makes everything richer. It’s also chockful of clichés so if you’re writing about love, you’re likely to fail but if you’re not willing to risk failure, then you’re probably not going to fall in love either. So yes, I do have a favourite subject.


Can you tell us how you arrive at a poem?

Forgive me for sidestepping this one but I’ve begun to suspect that, for some people, the act of creation now holds more interest than the art itself. Everyone seems to relish discussing – and analysing – the when and the how behind a work instead of the why and the what. I’m constantly hearing fellow writers needlessly beat themselves up for not spending enough time at the digital keyboard or coming up with exercises and regimens to ensure a certain level of productivity each day. As if anyone is going to scold them! Personally, I tend to recoil from how-to, must-do thinking. A poem or a play or a story isn’t something that should be coerced into existence. Ultimately, we create because something inside us needs expressing or something outside of us needs to be recognized, chronicled, and shared. I don’t really arrive at a poem so much as I write until the poem arrives.


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Drew Pisarra is the author of Publick Spanking (1996), a collection of short stories published by Future Tense, and Infinity Standing Up (2019), a collection of queer sonnets published by Capturing Fire. He is also one half of Saint Flashlight, an ongoing literary activation project with Molly Gross that finds inventive ways to get poetry into public spaces.


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