Jeremy Czerw loves to feel useful and appreciates your kind attention. He studied poetry at SUNY Buffalo, where you can always find a parking space, and later moved to New York City, where they're hard to come by. His poems are slated to appear in issue 3 of Disaster! and the Outside Voices 2008 Anthology of Younger Poets. Other work can be found at Chuckles the Bank
At what age did you start writing poetry?
JC: My first memory of writing poetry is winning a prize at the Schenectady County Public Library for my poem "Chips." I think I was 6 or so. This was a salient experience for me because I received recognition (I think my picture was in the paper), I did not receive any money, and I cheated (inadvertently--my dad insisted on helping a little.) What wonderful lessons for a career in poetry! I don't know anyone who does this for money, all poets are ravenous attention fiends, and I feel my entire approach to writing is simply a more elaborate form of cheating, albeit with the purest of intentions. It was a pretty good poem, so here it is, as best I can remember it.
Chips, chips, potato chips
Oh I love potato chips
I like to taste them on my lips
Chips as tall as ships
They will give you big fat hips
Chips, chips, chips
After that I took a little break (about 16 years), decided I would become a novelist, and conveniently sidestepped my complete inability to think about writing in terms of a plot, characters, dialogue, etc. Then I got rather depressed about my future and concentrated on just reading my way through the University at Buffalo library, reading a lot of social science books (the more outdated the better), biographies, all kinds of novels and history books, and lots of stuff about American politics. Somewhere in there I sat down in the library for a few days with a Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara and instantly fell in love with that breeze, that arch eyebrows kind of marvelousness. And thought to myself that being a poet was really one of the most wonderful things you could be, and I began to think I would like to do that, too.
What's the one thing that pisses you off the most?
JC: A lot of things piss me off, and it's a good thing for my writing. Maybe other people can write and not be angry, but I work better when I'm pissed off, and trying to find a way to be funny and angular and peculiar about expressing that in poetry. Politically, the 2 party hegemony in this country angers and saddens me a great deal. But a lot of poets talk about that shit all day, and know more about the issues than I do, though I try my best to stay informed. I'm just as angry at myself, literally every minute of the day. Why, I'm not really sure. But I find the concept of self-esteem toxic, and really like to beat up on myself and then throw down a challenge, like, okay fatass, get in there with your ignorance of foreign languages, your half-baked ideas, your arrogance and fear of failure, and write a masterpiece. It's more fun than just being a passive American moron in front of the TV for 6 hours a night. It's harder, but more rewarding.
Do you ever find yourself craving the life of a pirate?
JC: I constantly crave piracy! I'm a pretty serious Simpsons fan, and I love to make stupid voices like the Sea Captain. Other than that, my actual knowledge of the pirate lifestyle is limited, but I like boats AND rum, so I think it may work out. By the way, I'm thinking more of traditional, centuries-ago piracy here. Being a pirate in today's world seems more criminal and less glamorous, and I doubt I would like it. I also fantasize about a wandering-about-the-world type of life, perhaps because my life has been the complete opposite of that so far. But again, going back to the whole Northeasterner thing, I really, really like boats, and being on the water in the summer is very much appreciated among people who live with snow and cold for so many months of the year. When I think about pirating, I'm sure it's always warm and breezy and you don't really steal things--simply reappropriate them to adventurers in honest need.
What's your favorite poem?
JC: Impossible to answer! How about I'll tell you about 2 poems that did
very specific things to me, and got me thinking about being a writer
1) 10 Things I do Every Day, by Ted Berrigan. When I read this, I
knew once and for all that you could be funny and moving and concerned
with the world and your place in it, in the time it takes to watch a
television commercial, and that poetry is a seriously kick-ass way of
passing the long years between learning to talk and dropping dead.
2) Dear Mr. Fanelli, by Charles Bernstein. It's from his book With
Strings, I believe. It's a letter to the station manager of a New
York City subway station. Here in New York, the Transit Authority
posts these placards with the name and contact information for the
manager of each subway station, asking you to get in touch with any
concerns or questions. It turns out, as you read the poem, that the
speaker has quite a few concerns and questions, relating to modern
art, mass transit, fear of death, etc. This poem is incredibly fun to
read out loud. It definitely captures a sense of comical neurosis
that I have, and it's probably the poem I've read that I most wish I
had written myself.
They're 2 of my favorite poems because having read them makes life
more interesting. That's why.
Who are your literary influences?
JC: I'll do this in 2 parts: things that made me a word/book person, and things that made me want to do poetry.
The top 3 things that made me a reader were the complete works of Beverly Cleary (she wrote the Ramona children's books) and Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, et. al), and the short stories of Jean Shepherd, best known for the adaption of A Christmas Story, the movie about a kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas.
Beverly Cleary answered a fan letter I wrote her as a fifth or sixth grader--I read pretty much everything she wrote, over and over and over again. I still think she's terrific. She writes with a wonderful understanding of how children create a full reality with the force of imagination, something I really relate to. I was the type of kid who had extensively developed imaginary friends, and would constantly blend things from my real life into my fantasy play with them. So that was an important example of how to use your imagination and not worry too much about dull things or dull people, which was my take on formal schooling as a kid.
Roald Dahl plays with language for the sound of it, and combines that with a terrific sense of narrative and character. A wonderful lesson in sounds and rhythms that I constantly revisit.
Jean Shepherd is a major writer for me, and I think he will eventually be rediscovered and more broadly read. His stories appeared mostly in Playboy, I believe, long before I was born. My father had the Penguin paperbacks and would read them to me as bedtime stories when I was young. Those are some of my best memories. His prose style uses a very long sense of the line, or breath, if you can think about prose that way, and he is un-fucking-believably funny. That's had a lot of impact on how I talk and how I write and edit poems over the years, especially the length of the line or cluster of words in my prose-poems.
So I took that background of really liking stories and great prose stylists (later on, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson would be important that way) and then got interested in reading and writing poetry. I went to SUNY-Buffalo, and got interested in Robert Creeley and Charles Bernstein because they both taught there. I always liked Creeley, but didn't get to take a class with him. I took Bernstein's class and found myself completely over my head intellectually, in class with a lot of undergraduates who had a good reading base in poetry, and a lot of graduate students who had very impressive and polysyllabic things to say, of course, and just hated it. I was not ready for the types of experimental poetry we were reading. I felt ashamed of myself for not "getting it."
So I kind of gave up on the contemporary poetry scene, but I liked a few of the visitng writers we had in that class very much. Gillian McCain, well known for her book Please Kill Me, about punk rock, is a fantastic prose poet who read at Buffalo when I was there. I think her poems sound like a conversation between nervous answering machines and well-dressed strangers, with the most wonderfully off-kilter rhythms, this marvelous anxiety. And she is also a very beautiful woman, I have to admit, and I developed a crush on her instantly. Her poetry books are called Tilt, and Religion. I read them all the time. Michael Gizzi and Kit Robinson also visited, and I loved both of them. I still read them a lot, too.
How would you describe your poetry to someone who isn't acquainted with your work?
JC: I would describe my poetry as an attempt to throw the language of consumerism back at people in a different context, in order to think about what that sort of communication does to people. I work with cliches a lot, and a lot of overheard language from TV and advertising, the gossip magazines like People and Star Weekly, stuff like that. I take that language and try to make it crash into skeletal narrative ideas I get, often about someone attempting something ridiculous. There is also a simple desire to entertain. I like being entertaining. Sue me.
What is in store for the future of your verse?
JC: As for the future of my verse, well...I am going to read all the Whitman and Charles Reznikoff I can get my hands on this year, continue pecking about my Rimbaud (in English, alas) and try to make friends with other poets. I also want to read a lot of Larry Eigner, Gregory Corso, Alice Notley, and see if my friend Celia will explain Wallace Stevens to me. While I do all that, I'll be reading some more about the Middle East and some books about early American history and urban planning. I will also continue to fish other people's used celebrity gossip magazines out of the trash. From that, I hope to get some new ideas and write less. I write too much at the moment, and need to get down to about 30 minutes a day, and spend the rest of my time reading. And getting more rejection slips!
(wheat to mud)
I believed in people I hadn't met
dreamt of failing eyesight
my favorite parkways
calm before city
third and fourth drink
Not the Kind of Lamp You Rub in Front of Company
The fields beyond the feeding
mall-walkers are brown, palely
brown yet with an inward glow
like that of someone with a
secret talent for birding, or
model railroading, or
convincing others to
undress at parties
the future will
arrive by any means
a marching band of great
corpulence atop the rush to
judgment separating our
critical faculties from the
puffed amiability of certainty
I can see us now, in a rattletrap
farmhouse, canning things in
the spirit of the season
a bunch of
heavy dudes got together,
hashed out their troubles,
and decided porcine redundancy
would no longer be aesthetically
supercharged, foreign, ameliorative,
chromatic, incompetently encapsulated,
or nonstick, the endless shampooing of
one foot in the woods a Chinese rug
colorfast as a social disease,
and limber as the calves of God
an estimated 1.2
million people are killed in road
crashes every year the mad
emotive music tears at my heart
rip it open:
I want to cleanse it
in an icy wind
for a bust of New
York City to package
spices falling off
the backs of container
kind of tripe
still, last night
I did wishing no,
that's my business
and I don't wish it now
I will take on as my
wishes the trinkets
of rich men bored of
schadenfreude and I
will release from my
cream dirigibles hopscotched
past the congestion
of palm-laced freeways
they will reorganize the
space in between buildings
so there are places for the
children to play outside
the shame of morbid obesity
motor vehicle causes
are the leading causes
of death in the United States
for every age from
2 to 33 years old
porcules open, musicians,
whether they creak or not
porcules open, ladies,
safety is hot
porcules open, gents,
concerns you too
porcules down, elders,
your time is nearly through
as a poet of the barnyard
she was useless, divided
into a great number of rooms,
none of them really suitable
for a giant-ass television
the sun is off me now,
the sky begins to color
up, the Lexus swings
itself into a parking
space and I unclasp
my handbag, fumbling
for excuses to continue
my education with
the sky spiraled out of the future and into our lacquered
Reinventing the shower stall interrupts an extremely
Paint with your friends’ involvement, eager for what Yankee
grammar this way comes
Boating enthusiasm is contagious among male despots
Neither that small roller skate dabbed with blood or
Other words for context include Puritan, pot luck, Mayflower,
and white womanhood.
anal porpoise waltzes into a bar, Chinese cheat at mall rat
Accomplish the Chrysler Building sit up and beg
fathomy lichen grotto maneuverable steward
enemy MIGS dinged up reactor
Someone better wash that intake manifold before your father
Sometimes the lost palindrome of Canadian war
This steelworker’s built like a brick shithouse
A parched, Loganberry terrier
Asleep in wheatgrass
gravel briny gravel labia
Another context for birds is Jew, LSD, and Chicana Power
The best explanation also prevents future crime from occurring
Female decorators make do with queers
Sit in a farmhouse and wait for acclaim to ring the sleigh
bells on your door
It’s faster to get someone else to do your sex for you
the sky spiraled out of the future and into our lacquered
Dehydration Boosts Stars' Confidence
It's easier, in the end,
to put sand in your mouth
than to spit salt water back
at poems with oceans in them
you know damn well were
written in a cornfield, on a
tractor higher than the tops
of the cornhusks with views
of few lighthouses, scant
beaches, little illegal gaming
and not much in the way of
Everything happens for a
reason in oceans like that
and it's never any good
Fill the crumbcatcher
with miniature liquor
bottles and bury it
beneath the irrigation
system of least resistance,
button her dungarees, and
get back to the henhouse
in time for drug-dealing,
polishing old sluts from
Bethesda to come down
and take the cake, before
the mistakes of our better
selves catch up with us