CA: The quote from my grandmother at the front of The Book of Frank is very important to me, though: “Well of course they’re staring, we’re very interesting.”
She said this to me when people were staring and whispering, probably saying, “There’s that whore Carla’s bastard son,” or whatever. I told my grandmother it was bothering me how mean people were acting, and she [gave me] this sentence, which has remained a source of strength I can always find when I need it. But I don’t want the biography part to be taken seriously when people read the book. I want them to have their own experience.
EM: I think they always do.
CA: The facts are I became macrobiotic and was getting physically healthy, but still just an absolute emotional mess. And then I met somebody who turned me on to this thing called RC counseling, reevaluation co-counseling. It was one-on-one, and you got to switch roles, therapist and patient. . . .
EM: That seems like a grid for all the switching in the book. It’s a nonliterary . . .
CA: Well, maybe. Even when I was macrobiotic I was still wanting to do drugs at first. But it wasn't until I was completely clean for a couple years that The Book of Frank started to come out of me. Drugs were more of a block to my creative powers than anything.
EM: You wanted to talk about these things in some way?
CA: I wanted to talk about them, and I didn’t want to be a confessional poet.
EM: Because it had been done? Because that wasn’t aesthetically . . . ?
CA: No, and I’m going to be very clear about this. I was not being influenced by the Language poets when they were against the personal “I,” because I actually think that they use the personal “I,” especially when they say they don’t anyway.
EM: They’re all influenced by New York School poets, but it’s like which New York School poets? Everyone was in Bernadette Mayer’s workshop. But it’s like the unmentionable, like a lineage suppression. I never had sex with that person!
CA: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.
EM: You know? But, go ahead.
CA: I think a lot of it was embarrassment, too. The Book of Frank came from me wanting to write about my past in some way but not be open about it. I just really wanted to create a fictitious character.
EM: You know, when you talk about creating a character, where I go is animation. I mean, that’s what I feel in this book, that each of these poems seems like moments in movies.
CA: Movies were queer; there’s a queer way to find yourself in the movies. Frank is a movie theater himself at one point. I want poetry to be the world film can’t access but thinks it can. Film wants to dictate images, where poems give the reader’s mind the space to create their own world, their own film.
EM: Did you see the movie Teeth, by any chance?
EM: It’s really funny. Roy Lichtenstein’s son made it, but it’s a sexy, funny teen horror movie about vagina dentata. You put a vagina on the first page of your book:
when Frank was born
Father inspected the small package
the nurse handed him
“but where’s my daughter’s cunt?
my daughter has no cunt!”
It really determines whether people will keep reading or not. I mean, for some people a cunt on page one is inconceivable. You’re in this morass. And you do it well. It’s a good poem. What’s really funny and wonderful about how you violate the mild terms of readership is that you take the thing as we know it, and then show it in all these completely excessive ways—and then you go even further. You go one step further so that it becomes something else. So, if I’m a man and this is my fear, the giant pussy, I’ll step back and make it instead the absence in my son, or else “Frank saw a giant eat a park bench with her vagina. . . .” Somehow the absurdity of the fear of the word or the power of the thing becomes something that males and females can both stand outside of, enjoyably even. That seems massively queer to me. Wizardry, kind of. Both staring at the horror and restoring magical powers to the female.
CA: Well, can I tell you, one vagina poem that upsets people, women, the most is the one about Frank eating his wife’s bloody tampons.
EM: Yes. And why are women upset?
CA: Well, they think that I’m being a misogynist.
EM: I don’t buy that, but why does he want to eat it?
CA: They felt I was being like Andrew Dice Clay. A male pig, you know? The background of that poem is that I had been visiting friends in Cornwall, where I discovered that our American neo-pagan concept of Christians taking women’s power was way off, meaning that the Druids and other male-dominated pagan groups did it first. The power of women terrifies men, especially when men want the control. But the Christians did put a serious nail into it, and we, of course, still live with this. I mean, look at Joan of Arc. She refused to say the Lord’s Prayer, practiced the ancient shaman rite of transvestism, and she was having psychic visions. She terrified the state. But my point was Frank’s eating her . . .
CA: . . . her blood.
EM: He wants it.
CA: He wants it.
CA: And she’s doing everything she can to keep him from getting it.
CA: And he’s still going to get it.
EM: Because why? Because why? Because it’s hers?
CA: Because it’s hers. It’s her power. It’s her . . .
EM: I think it’s sort of generational that women are being outraged at your use of their blood. Your poem is a war. He’s not being a pig. It’s something else entirely. The women horrified don’t know Germaine Greer: “If you’ve never tasted your own menstrual blood”—that was the key phrase. If you haven’t tasted that, well, then you’ve got a long way to go, baby.
EM: Advertising took it up as a congratulations, not a challenge:
“You’ve come a long way, Baby!”
CA: Virginia Slims.