Ben Fama Talks Virginia Tech, Cool Memories, Barbara Guest, Dana Ward, Wonder & More at Fanzine
Cool presently: Poet and Wonder co-publisher Ben Fama is interviewed by Dan Magers about his "satanic physical allure" for Fanzine. Magers "sat down to chat with Ben on a snowy Sunday afternoon in December 2013 at Lincoln Park Tavern in Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn [and] discussed the Virginia Tech massacre, Los Angeles, and Lacanian readings of Paula Deen." They also talked about Fama's background, his poetry start in New York, and his work, which includes the pretty, new Odalisque (Bloof Books 2014), the recent chapbook Cool Memories (Spork Press 2013), and his forthcoming full-length book, Fantasy, due out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2015. His poetry is "a mixture of chillness and sincerity," says Magers. More:
DM: You wanted to say that Cool Memories, you were able to treat the Virginia Tech shooting.
BF: I got a great email from the university I work for, saying I would have to go to active shooter training. And I knew it was because of things like the Virginia Tech shooting that inaugurated this new world where at any point someone could just start opening fire. And uh, I thought this was pure gold and also so devastating at the same time.
I had to go to active shooter situational training. And I just wrote down…These guys were former cops who had both been in an active shooter situation….And it was such a dark experience. And I was with my coworkers who interviewed me and they knew. It’s a trigger. I essentially wrote down what they said, and that was the beginning of my poem “Sunset,” which is in Cool Memories.
DM: Interesting. I would have never have thought. When I first read that poem, it was in Boston Review, and I first read that, I of course didn’t make that association, that poem very much reminds me a lot of Dana Ward’s work, where he like appropriates so many different kinds of texts and he incorporates them in his poems. That’s what I thought you were doing, and I had no idea it had such connection with your personal experience.
DM: How did you meet Andrew Durbin?
BF: Andrew, who I do Wonder with now, we met when he had solicited me when he was working for CLOCK magazine, a journal that was based in Bard College, which is upstate NY. They were doing such great work, these gorgeous journals, and we became fast friends. And he was going to move to New York, I was encouraging him to move to New York. Of course, he’s in Miami right now for Art Basel. He’s running circles around me! [jokingly]….It’s the kind of friendship where you don’t need to give a formal greeting or departing you see them so much. You, um, he’s family.
DM: Why did you start Wonder?
BF: Um I actually did want to have more issues of the journal [Supermachine] but, I uh, life is…there’s not enough time to do everything… and I really wanted to do full-length books, which is why Andrew Durbin and I started Wonder…I love the journal for how timely it is…you always have to emphasize the new…and you know, I love the new, but with full-length books, not only are they new, but they substantiate themselves sort of as uh, they seem to have a longer half-life of like haunting the life of a reader more than a journal, and I think I was interested in that type of haunting, to do a full-length book. We are publishing Kevin Killian’s book. We are publishing Kate Durbin’s book.
DM: You’ve mentioned Dana Ward as someone who seems very vital to what you think about poetry. Are there some other poets who you feel are also important to you and how you think about poetry?
BF: Brandon Brown, Flowering Mall. Usually when I’m sitting down to write a poem, I’m trying to do everything but write a poem. Which is to say look at all my social media accounts to see what everyone else is doing and procrastinate as long as possible. Brandon Brown has a piece somewhere online that’s really wonderful that talks about how when he starts to write, he goes online, look, reads, looks at things. I felt an affinity for that, I think it’s not explored so much about, you know, the stimulus that starts a piece of work. I mean one can recall Ashbery’s ekphrastic “Self-Portrait” thing, but I mean I think those types of things spark almost all works, there must be some first, you know, some first idea, but um I don’t know I don’t really sit down to write a poem very often. All my work is in Google Docs so I can work on it anywhere even on my phone on the subway cause I try to take the Q because they have Internet on there. So there’s not a lot of demarcation between not writing and writing in that sense. It’s a constant state of revision and moving on and revising and moving on.
People always compare me to Dana, which to me I always want to say, “You should read more,” because that’s so easy. It feels very cheap to me or reductive…just because I write in prose doesn’t make me just like Dana. A lot of people write that way.
DM: How do you feel visual style, like in fashion or the visual arts or whatever, the “visual” plays into poetry?
BF: A successful poetic image will make you see. Andre Breton, I learned through Barbara Guest, in her great book, Forces of Imagination, says, “To imagine is to see.” Andrew Durbin in Believers has this great read of Paula Deen, a documentary of, have you read it?
DM: I was just reading it on the train.
BF: Okay. Have you got to the point where he [the therapist] does [an] intervention with the [Deen] family members?
BF: Okay, let’s talk about this.
DM: He’s another person who I uh, I feel like that book is very much in the manner of Dana Ward. And I actually mentioned that to him. He found that interesting.
BF: People always say that to us. It’s so offensive, because it’s like—
DM: There’s definitely more people in the world—
BF: This is not new, writing in prose, people always just say that.
DM: The thing that I thought uh—
BF: I mean it’s not offensive, but uh we wonder what you’re really saying.
DM: The thing that connected the two in the example you mentioned was this use of pop culture, but also infusing pop culture with this intellectualism – Paula Deen talking about Lacan – um but also the way Ward, or Durbin in this case, uses this fantasy space where Paula Deen talks through Lacan, and does it straight-faced like you know. And assumes an intelligent reader knows this actually didn’t happen. Um and so yeah, I—
BF: Yeah, his gives a breathtaking Lacanian reading to this family scene of ah, you know the id, ego and the super ego and you know a fantasized identities of Lacan…You know we have to disagree with Lacan also. Um, Paula Deen is the worst.
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