Poetry News

Don't Tase Me, Bro: An Interview With Joyelle McSweeney

By Harriet Staff

Joyelle McSweeney

Week 28 of 52 interviews at Monkeybicycle features Joyelle McSweeney, much to our delight. She discusses motherhood ("I became so same, same"), genre hygiene, and her new book, Salamandrine: 8 Gothics. An excerpt from McSweeney's conversation with Edward J. Rathke:

Mb: Salamandrine: 8 Gothics is a chaotic collection that often left me reeling, but, ​somehow, it made so much sense, and was oddly beautiful despite its strangeness–or ​maybe because of it. The Warm Mouth, in particular, is a story that really crept up ​on me, in terms of emotion. At first it was almost a dance of language and oddity but ​it struck me as very beautiful even in its grotesqueries by the end. Where do you ​find beauty in the world?

JM: I’m a big believer in the Sublime, in which Beauty delivers the knockout punch. The Sublime is where plus and minus somehow occupy the same space and are simultaneous to each other. That big hoary mountain is smuggling a deep decline. The one is the zero. This is where digital space collapses and births the virtual, I think. The virtual is the Sublime. It’s killer candy. It’s synthetic lotus for all your lotus-eating needs. This is why dismay and shock and exhilaration and joy are all bio-identical with each other and can pass through the protective membranes and put on shock plays in each other’s normally separate operating theaters. The jouissance has the puissance. It’s why Looney Toons are so violent. One lump or two? Th-th-th-that’s all folks.

More specifically, I love the duplicitousness of language. The bad money of it. The things that rhyme and the things that don’t. The instant deflation from hi- to lo-. The fact that it wants to be somewhere else. The fact that credit is the same as debt. The mouse with the juice has no time for justice. Don’t Tase me, bro.

Mb: ​In many ways, these stories reminded me of William Blake, especially “The Chimney ​Sweeper.” How important is the language employed in critique and rebellion?

JM: Yes. YES. Let’s just paste that whole poem here. There’s a knockout over-saturation to Blake’s simplest verses. The language is just indivisible from itself. The Songs of Experience swallow the Songs of Innocence whole and from then on its like a GIF continually switching back and forth, one mouth aping the words of the other. Eerie delirium. Such perfect pedagogy. I love the saturation of his images, the automatic simplicity of the verse forms and rhymes, the surprises (“Sound the flute! Now it’s mute”. What violence happened between those two phrases?), and the sinisterness of the “Innocence”. And there’s that duplicity, that Sublime doubleness that error communicates: ‘weep, ‘weep!

Johannes and I OFTEN remark that the only information we had about babies and childrearing before we had kids came from Songs of Innocence and Experience.

OH, right, critique and rebellion: Rebellion is an antimotion, a reversal of currents of power, and like cancer it always starts in a single cell, and the single syllable of language doing not quite what it intended to do—and more than it has permission to do— is probably enough of a spark. The pun is a revolutionary syllable.

Read it all here!

Originally Published: July 26th, 2013