Sparing Existence and Other Coozies:
A Gchat Interview with Daniel Bailey
daniel bailey is the author of The Drunk Sonnets and HALLELUJAH GIANT SPACE WOLF. He’s allergic to the moon and other dust. Once, his head split some light through some yonder window and created Team Prism, the world’s fastest basketball team, impossible to televise, but the merch is still selling. He lives in Denver.
Front Porch: Thank you for meeting with me over this internet, Dan.
First, what’s the meaning of the universe to you?
Daniel Bailey: Holy shit. Jesus Christ. I don't know.
FP: That's okay. I was just curious what your answer to a question like that would be.
DB: Everything other than me. Not poetry.
FP: Your work has a brutal/visceral quality, but what comes out even stronger is a recurring theme of hopefulness. Is there a reason your poems often include these two things working together? Do you believe there’s a relationship between the two?
DB: I like the visceral because it actually feels like something when I write it. And feeling something must lead to hope in some way, because in the times I have not felt hope I have also not really felt any other emotion. It probably comes out of that.
FP: That's interesting. So with visceral imagery, the positive thing about it is that it's brutally tangible? It can have meaning because of how real it is?
DB: That sounds right. Basically, I love images and I love images that seem to both participate in creation and destruction. I think it's that cycle of life and death, the most clichéd whatever of philosophical thought. My poetry has no depth when I really think about it. Not that I mind that, I like beautiful images, violent images all in one place.
FP: I'm the same way. The duality of opposite things can really be a fuel source.
DB: Yeah, but I always feel pissed off at myself for relying too heavily on that duality. At some point, you try to simply write a poem, and that doesn't work, and then you just start throwing violence around.
FP: Are you a disciple of destruction/chaos?
DB: No. I can't even imagine what that person would be like. I could, I suppose. It would probably be a dude who wears black JNCOs and his favorite band is Coal Chamber. I don't consider myself a disciple of anything. I don't see any value in following anything fanatically or even fervently, because then you commit to a path and exclude the wild between all the other paths.
FP: I like that. I wish more people thought like that.
DB: I just have a hard time believing anyone is right, which is another fallacy. One that has been rehashed over and over again in the wake of WWII, etc. Someone has to be right, something has to matter, I just don't know that I could tell you what it is or if I’ll ever be able to tell. Which is why I like meandering poems, I guess.
FP: Your first book, The Drunk Sonnets, inspired a string of viral videos of people drunkenly reading poems from it, sometimes with an extra interactivity with the text (I’m thinking of the one where someone shot a sonnet with a rifle). How did all that come about?
DB: That was Mike Young's brilliant idea. I’m terrible at coming up with ways to promote books, etc., but it seems to come naturally to Mike. The first one was a video Mike made of a guy at a bar reading a drunk sonnet, and then after that the videos started piling up. I think Mike was offering a free copy to whoever made a video.
FP: Damn. That was smart. Didn't he also include beer coozies for the first few people who bought the book?
DB: Yeah, I think only ten were made. I still have one. I don't usually use it when I drink beer with coozies, though. Lately, I’ve gone for my Denver Nuggets coozie.
FP: Do you feel more Nuggz than DS these days? Are you in a different place than when you wrote the book?
DB: I feel more Nuggz for sure. I am in a way different place. I think I was 23 when I wrote that book, fresh from a breakup, had to move out, and stuck in Muncie. So I was just drinking and working, and at night writing poems, etc. Now I’m 27, done with grad school, have a full-time job, serious relationship [with Elizabeth] that isn't at all failing, and I have a dog. Which doesn't mean anything really in terms of being a different person, I’m just older now. I always imagined my life in terms of a single super-long camera shot in a film. I’m still the same character in a single shot, I just make many decisions that bring me different places. I don't view my life as scenes or chapters.
FP: So you'd say you're the same as you were at 23, you're just in a different setting? You don't think the decisions you make now are based on different things than before?
DB: I think I have slowly changed, but I don't think it's a major difference in any way, other than behavior and what surrounds me. I think a lot of people believe in this idea of transformation. It's a huge theme of literature and art in general, but I have never felt transformed. I think hoping for transformation seems like the most depressing thing to do.
FP: I agree. I've made some decisions that led people to say I've "changed," but I always felt like the same guy. I just started taking it easier on the self-destruction. On one hand, I can see why it's easier for people to just say someone's changed—"they're different now, nothing’s wrong with me." And people who say they want/need to change never do. It's unnatural.
DB: Yeah, and all it is—getting rid of the destructive behaviors and replacing them with healthier behaviors. I'm not saying I’m the healthiest dude in the world. It's just...meow.
FP: Meow indeed, dude.
The poems of your most recent book, HALLELUJAH GIANT SPACE WOLF, are generally rooted in the Midwest. What is it about the region that carries over into the place from which you write? Does your new home have a similar effect?
DB: I grew up in the Midwest. I think it's just because my mind matured, I emotionally matured, in that region of the country. Colorado hasn't had a huge effect on my writing. Here and there something very Colorado or Denver might show up, but nothing that influences the character of my writing. I've only been here a little over three years. I’ve also never really identified too much with any one place the way that many writers identify with the South. That seems to be more a fiction writer thing. I identify with outer space.
FP: It's funny you mention that. The title poem of HGSW is a big, sprawling thing. The form and length of it mirrors its title figure. Was this your intention when writing the poem or putting this collection together?
DB: I always knew it would be a big poem. I wanted to write a big poem and that one, from the moment I started, felt big. It didn't happen all at once. The writing happened in spurts over a year and a half or so, and then it was sort of cobbled together.
FP: What about it made it feel so big from the beginning? Did you have a particular aim or goal in mind?
DB: I think it was more what I felt inside me when I thought about it or worked on it. I felt an urge to harness this ridiculous creature, the space wolf, which I viewed as a god, and to use the space wolf to destroy not only mankind, but all existence. I knew that for a poem to achieve that I would have to write more than just a few lines. Turns out that 13 pages or whatever that poem is in the book is not enough—although I talked myself down while writing the poem.
Wow, I talked down the weakest terrorist of all time: a guy who was trying to destroy the world with a poem. What a hardass.
FP: The Twinkie of terrorists.
DB: It would be easier to achieve evil with Twinkies than with a poem.
FP: What made you want to spare existence, then?
DB: I just came to that conclusion in the poem. I would quote it, but that would require a spoiler alert.
FP: In both DS and HGSW, your poems read like people. Somehow the inclusion of sports teams, video games, and actors gives them a level of humanity, like each poem is talking to you as though they’re someone you could hang with. Is this the effect you were going for with these references?
DB: Not necessarily. Usually they’re just images that I think fit. Or jokes. I don't know what I was doing with the Chuck Berry, Halle Berry bit. And I don't know why the Lakers have multiple appearances. I hate the Lakers. I guess I just view these parts of pop culture as parts of reality the way that trees or rivers are parts of reality, though they will be much shorter-lived.
FP: And that's what makes it sound so genuine and unforced.
DB: Because it's self-amusement. No amusement in the writer, no amusement in the reader, I guess.
FP: Self-amusement is why I started writing and why I still do. Why I entered an MFA program. I wanted to perfect how I could make myself laugh, and other feelings. There are other reasons too.
DB: Yeah, but I love using writing as a way to both create laughter and awe, and to try and reach those simultaneously. Not awe as in "awe at the skills of the writer," but as in "awe at the world."
FP: You recently graduated from your MFA program. Most MFA graduates try to jump right into teaching at some college or university. You didn’t. Can you talk a little about your day job?
DB: I work at a short-term mental hospital as a behavioral health associate on the adolescent unit. Basically, I maintain safety and lead groups and baby-sit and do tons of documentation for and about depressed and suicidal teens. Which isn't as intense as it sounds. It can be intense, but usually it's alright.
FP: You worked in a similar position back when you were writing DS, right? Do you think this kind of work changes how you approach writing and life in general? Or is it just a job?
DB: It's just a job. I like the work, but I don’t feel that it's helped my writing in any way other than that it's probably helped me as a person. It's made me have to be more accountable for my own behaviors and emotions, which does, I guess, affect my poetry. I think mainly in that trying to create the possibility of a better world for other people I have to create that possibility for myself as well.
FP: Is that where the recurrent theme of hopefulness comes from?
DB: I don't think it's that specifically. I think that existed before I worked in this industry (in which I have no formal education). I think that is just because I’ve always felt a little annoyed at art that deals with the terrible, awful, depressing aspects of life but doesn't offer an alternative or some kind solution, however flawed or ultimately hopeless (hope against hope?) that solution may be.
FP: Do you think, then, that the solution to despair and awfulness is simply hope? I know you said it's a flawed one.
DB: Maybe. I think it's trying to give hope a face, whether it's a space wolf or some other dumb thing I thought up.
FP: Some sort of champion of hope, or maybe just an embodiment or representative?
DB: Yeah. My next book will be called KUMBAYAH GIANT UNDERWATER KITTY CAT. Elizabeth just said "Wouldn't it be little underwater kitty cat," and I agree with her.
FP: Yeah, me too. I have a much stronger emotional reaction to the small underwater cat.
Can you talk about your project New World Poetry?
DB: I’m almost out of submissions, so I might put it on hiatus until the submission folder fills up again. But I started out writing these fake translations by people with ridiculous names like “Yuroslav Gubernov” or “Pyotr Bastardov.”
DB: I just loved inhabiting these fictional world poets, and I thought about just releasing them all on my blog, or doing a little ebook or something. But I thought it would be more fun if I got others involved, so I emailed a bunch of people that I like and asked them to write fake translations. I forget how I phrased it. Maybe 10% of the people I emailed actually responded, though I think 100% of that 10% submitted. That is how it all went down.
FP: Do you have any future goals for these translations? Maybe releasing a selection in paper form someday?
DB: That would be cool, though I haven't thought that far. I also don't know much about book design and I feel there are too many poems for the short, handmade chapbooks that Elizabeth and I make.
FP: Are there any other projects you're working on right now?
DB: I have a Word document with maybe thirteen poems in it. I have a book that should be out next spring or summer.
FP: What's the book called?
DB: The book is poems. It is called Gather Me.
FP: One last question: where would you like your consciousness transferred when you're dead?
DB: Horse buttz.