Big Bruiser Dope Boy’s debut poetry collection, Foghorn Leghorn, cannot be sold on Amazon.com. Something about the cover, they said, something about the beloved, Southern-fried Looney Tunes chicken taking a big load on the face, something about that being too problematic for our nation’s youth who are otherwise looking to buy dildos and erotic fanfiction ebooks. So, if you want the brooding, complex poetry that haunts these pages, you gotta find it somewhere else. No two-day shipping on this hot piece of poetry, no algorithmically generated recommendations to clutter shit up. This is poetry in, poetry out. Fuck you.
So when I saw that the Bruiser himself was shipping out ARCs, I figured I could use a lesson in poetry. I don’t know much about poetry. I heard he writes sonnets. Sounds like poetry to me. It came highly recommended by people I know and respect. And getting a copy felt transgressive, dangerous, because this collection – and its author – are shrouded in mysterious circumstances. Kind of. The Dope Boy himself has no qualms if you know who he is. I know his name. He’s posted some selfies on Twitter. So why bother with the moniker? Why not go all in, wear a mask, refuse to do interviews? But there are all kinds of dumb questions you could ask. Like, what’s going on with that name? What does Foghorn Leghorn have to do with anything? How important was it this collection clocks in at exactly 69 pages? Fine questions, all. Probably. I dunno, I didn’t ask any of them.
Honestly, I felt kind of intimidated. BBDB is the real deal. He’s a poet among “poets,” is the sense I get, having read this collection. He’s not the hot new Instagram star or the small lit mag buzz generator, but he is writing some real shit. People like to say “uncompromising,” but I’m not sure anyone sets out to compromise to begin with. I’m sure there’s better words. So I googled “cool adjectives” and found a page and read their definitions and picked a few that I think do an ok job describing this collection:
I’m self-conscious about all this because the general vibe for me is, and was, that BBDB’s not gonna put up with any dumb shit. I traded in the above dumb, easy-peasy questions for other, perhaps dumber, more poorly articulated questions, hoping that Big Bruiser could do me a solid and drop some wisdom for us all about poetry and Adventures in Babysitting. And I think he did a very gracious job, and I thank him for that.
I envisioned this interview series to be primarily about music – and I’ll do my best to get to that – but it would be an obviously missed opportunity to ask you about the role that movies play in Foghorn Leghorn. From “Mrs. Doubtfire 2” to “69 Remakes,” lots of the poems in this collection leverage film as a vessel for this, like, dark imagery and complex juxtaposition. Was this something you set out to explore for this collection from the beginning?
I didn’t set out to explore anything for the collection. Some of the poems in there were written 8+ years ago. None of the poems were written with the concept of a book/collection in mind. There was no “I’m going to do XYZ.” 3 poems in the book (though “69 Remakes” and “Mrs. Doubtfire 2” are longer poems) refer to/use movies. I like the way you describe their use. It’s just one of the tools in the toolbox. Mentioning a movie alone doesn’t do much, like mentioning a car. They’re these things in the environment that can be used in a variety of ways, with some imagination.
I guess I considered Rodney Dangerfield a movie star, but that doesn’t make sense now when I think about it. I like the comparison to a car, it’s how you use it as opposed to what it is on its face. Do you view this kind of reference differently from, say, more classical literary allusion? Is there an expectation for the reader to draw lines through these to make sense of the work as opposed to relying on “accepted canon?” Is there any expectation on the reader at all?
I hadn’t thought about it, so I guess I don’t view it any differently. Same as I don’t view the repetition in “69 Remakes” differently than classical instances of anaphora. There is this sense, though, that movies are regarded as junk culturally, especially the commercial, non-auteur offerings from the Hollywood system, which I think now includes many “indie films,” compared to other forms. But that doesn’t mean they are remade/referred to with any less reverence than a classical text. Adventures in Babysitting is a classical text. Homer could’ve written it.
In response to your question about expectation on the reader, I think probably the only expectation there would be on the reader is that they read.
A good number of the pieces in Foghorn Leghorn are sonnets, which feels uncommon in contemporary, indie poetry. What draws you to the form? Do you set off to write to the structure, or do you start with an idea and mold it into a sonnet?
I like how the limitations/demands/conventions of the form generate unexpected choices. I have knowingly written in the form and also taken material that was not written to be in a sonnet and edited it into sonnet form. But that’s not quite it, and I also feel like “starting with an idea and molding it into a sonnet” and “setting off to write to the structure” are maybe the same thing? You can have a memory/experience/idea, and it can happen concurrently with the notion of a sonnet, and then the words that come from the idea assume, fall, or get squeezed into the form.
When you say “happen concurrently with the notion of a sonnet,” do you mean actively experiencing the world through the lens of poetry in your day-to-day, or just in the process of “sitting down to make poetry?” Do you make a distinction between the two?
I don’t mean the former. I don’t know what that would be, to experience the world through the lens of poetry. I think poetry can change the way you experience and your worldview, and also be its own experience, but I don’t see it as a lens between the world and a person, mediating experience. I just mean that when you’re writing in a form, the content, in other words the memory/experience/idea/language/“what it’s about,” can happen concurrently with the form. Your discursive mental movement takes the shape, is governed by that form.
How did Foghorn Leghorn come about? And what was the editing/selection process like?
Sam Pink was enthusiastic about the poem “Your First Real Boyfriend” when it was posted on the New York Tyrant Magazine website. We were messaging each other and I thought about how I had enough work accumulated to put together a book. So on a Saturday afternoon I went through years of poems and came up with pretty much what would become the order. All of the writing and most of the editing had already been done, so that made it easy to focus on sequencing. I picked the work I thought would have the greatest impact on a reader. I sent it to Pink and he gave me notes. He told me it was 95% done. A few cuts of lines and a couple whole poems cut. Decided to break “69 Remakes” into thirds and spread it out.
If some big Hollywood producer decided to be cool for once and actually produce one of your proposed 69 Remakes, which one do you think would resonate best with general audiences?
Probably the 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain remake.
What’s your history with writing like? Do you ever feel any particular constraints associated with poetry as opposed to, say, writing a song or memoiric essay or a play, for example?
I started taking writing more seriously when I was 18. Poetry first and then fiction. I think it all depends on you and what you want to do, and if that includes imposing constraints or not. Then there are the constraints of language itself, which I don’t ever not feel.
Do you listen to music while you write? While you read?
Not really ever. It’s distracting to me, whether it’s rap or ambient, lots of words or no words at all.
Do you similarly not listen to music while reading, due to the distraction factor?
Yeah not really. It’s easier for me to read with music playing than write with music playing, but words/singing make it hard.
You’ve tweeted out a couple of links to Harold Budd’s music. What’s your relationship with ambient music like?
I like Harold Budd a lot. My friend showed his music to me. It calms me while also making me feel a little creepy/uneasy. I don’t listen to a lot of ambient music. I really like Dominick Fernow’s stuff I’ve heard. My relationship to it is I enjoy listening to it sometimes.
You’ve tweeted about enjoying Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography before. Are you a Springsteen fan?
I think he’s great. I don’t know if I’m a fan but I think he’s amazing.
I don’t know much about Springsteen. What am I missing out on?
I don’t know. You can listen and decide what, if anything, you were missing out on.
Zac Smith lives in Boston, MA, where he likes to walk his dogs. His stories have appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Lit, Philosophical Idiot, Soft Cartel, and other very sweet online journals. His twitter is @ZacTheLinguist