On his new book ' I Don't Know Do You,' advice for emerging poets, & why you should never take yourself too seriously
BY LIZ AXELROD
Roberto Montes’ "I Don’t Know Do You" was named one of the Best Books of 2014 by NPR and was also a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from the Publishing Triangle. This says a lot for a first book. But there is so much more here. Montes’ poems speak eloquently on the trials and travails of living in our modern society, of growth and change, of politics and poetics, and mostly of love in its many forms and formats. I consider myself lucky to call Roberto a friend and colleague. We graduated together in 2013 from the New School’s MFA program. Lucky ‘13--I like to call it. Our graduating class of twenty-seven poets has already made great inroads, at least seven of us have books out or forthcoming; and we’re all forging forward in our own ways while learning how to navigate the strange and exciting world of Poetry and Publishing.
Please go out and get "I Don’t Know Do You" (if you haven’t already). Read it with your Lunch Poems. Like Frank O’Hara, Roberto Montes’ poems will light up your nerves, quite deliciously.
“…I surprise you with a poppy field
in bed. You Surprise me by waking up
on fire. For the rest of our lives
we put toasted poppy seeds on
each other’s tongues. It feels
like I am rolling down a secret hill.
I am happy. The sky stands up.”
― Roberto Montes, from “Why We Should Get Married”
“...Ah daddy. I wanna stay drunk many days”
on the poetry of a new friend
my life held precariously in the seeing
hands of others, thier and my impossibilities” ― Frank O’Hara from “Poem”
I am so happy to bring you this interview with Roberto Montes for National Poetry Month:
"I Don't Know Do You?" was your first publication out of Grad School, can you tell ushow the book came to be? Was it formed while you were pursuing the MFA or did it come after?
The core of the book was formed during my thesis semester at The New School. I was incredibly lucky to have Mark Bibbins as an advisor and I will always be in his debt for the amount of time he put into making the manuscript as strong as it could be. The actual writing of the poems took place on the F train from Jamaica, Queens to 14th Street, Manhattan. Writing on the train is a habit I have yet to kick.
Your book offers an enticing blend of observations on love, lust and human nature, often mixed with wry humor, and often spoken with a great deal of self awareness and a small amount of insecurity. This mixture works wonders for the reader. We become enmeshed in your worlds and they invite us to make them our own. The poems mix hope with questions for the future.
Can you tell us some questions that poetry has begun to answer for you, and are there new questions you hope to seek answers to with your writing in the future?
Poetry has always raised more questions than answers for me and I do not foresee a time where this will ever not be the case. Perhaps it’s a bit sentimental to say that. Nonetheless, whenever I read poetry of real genius (like Carrie Lorig’s The Pulp Vs. the Throne) I find that the schemas I use to understand the world more deranged than focused in any new way. This, to me, is fundamentally necessary and beautiful. Poetry does not provide a narrative for you to subscribe to. Poetry erodes your confidence in narratives as a means of experiencing and understanding the world. I do not think there is anything on this planet that can do that with anywhere near the same ferocity and grace. I cannot speak for other planets.
Many poets say that after they publish their first book to some level of success, it takes quite some time to get back into the writing process and begin working towards the next book. Do you have a writing process that you follow? What are you currently working on?
Success is a word that makes me uncomfortable because it implies a reliance on a framework that could differ wildly from person to person. I would agree that the shock of publishing a book has an effect on writing though; it definitely did for me. The biggest thing is, at least in my experience, that there are so many elements of publishing that are very important but have nothing at all to do with poetry. It forces you to view your own work in a way you may have not viewed it before.
Additionally, many of the seeds of traditional success in publishing are more or less randomly distributed. Since randomness is incomprehensible to us, you are at great risk of seeing patterns in the reception of your book that are not really there. Those patterns can consume you, easily, and sometimes in a single gulp.
My writing process is more or less: write. I am lucky to find myself on trains 1.5 – 2 hours a day/5 days a week so I have a decent amount of time to spend writing. Also, I vastly prefer writing poetry on my cell phone than on a computer or by hand. You CANNOT take yourself seriously while writing on a cell phone which is critical (at least for me) to encourage actual writing and not just thinking/worrying about writing.
I’m currently working on the final touches for a chapbook, Grievances, that’s coming out at the end of the year with The Atlas Review TAR Chapbook series.
Do you have any advice you can give to aspiring poets on getting started and navigating the poetry world?
This may sound insincere but the only thing to do is write. The poetry world, in terms of institutions & grants & fellowships & etc., is incredibly fickle. A poet who is incredibly popular/successful one year can be ignored the next. The only thing with any permanence is the poetry itself. I find this to be endlessly redeeming, personally, but I know that it can come across as cruel to some.
And lastly, for National Poetry Month: what are you reading? What poets would you recommend to Luna Luna's readers?
Liz Axelrod received her MFA from the New School in 2013. She writes poems, book reviews, essays, fiction and anything her pointed pen finger deems relevant. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Publisher’s Weekly, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, Counterpunch, Nap Magazine, Yes Poetry, The Ampersand Review, and more. Her Chapbook "Go Ask Alice" was chosen as a finalist in the 2015 Finishing Line Press New Woman's Voices Competition and will be published in March, 2016. She is an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College, a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine, and co-host and curator of the Cedermere Reading Series in the home of William Cullen Bryant. Find her here: www.yourmoonsmine.com