BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Brandon Amico is a poet that will make you believe in poetry again. His debut collection of poems, DISAPPEARING, INC., is forthcoming in March 2019 from Gold Wake Press, which you can preorder. Lynn Melnick said the book is “an important book, a collection of poetry that so fully immerses itself in our particularly insidious, yet seductive, capitalist moment that it writes both of and from it. With poems on consumerism, social media, and other contemporary headaches, Brandon Amico twists our notion of the American dream as he shows us just how twisted it’s become. Commerce, branding, and the endless supply of information and misinformation have become relentless, and Amico skillfully mirrors that overwhelm with his deft use of rhythm and line. Disappearing, Inc. shines a light on our current entanglements in a way only poetry can, revealing them as both a mask for, and a contributor to, loneliness and longing.”
In his poem, “The First Technology,” Amico writes of loneliness and relationships with a modern edge that makes me uncomfortable, knowing the ways we surround ourselves with social media and our phones are only hurting us:
“I dial into a conference line on mute to feel
loneliness pinball for a time. Each mouth rests
around opinion, a fruit, teeth testing its flesh.
So many people I can go to and be alone:
every conversation a cage or key in our tradition
of toggling, editing—freedom and its decay.
Easiest when I diversify my loneliness. Invest in the
mainstream and rivers counter-currenting.”
I was lucky to speak with Amico about happiness, fears, favorites, and more below.
Describe your favorite meal.
I'm sad to share that I never really learned cooking and food preparation as an art form or a form of self-therapy; to me, eating was always something I had to do, a box I had to check, rather than an opportunity for expression or creativity that I know it can be and is for many others. That doesn't mean I don't find pleasure in food, of course—but my favorite meals tend to be simple affairs. I love Italian sausage either baked into a casserole with ziti, cheese, and veggies, or as part of a stir-fry along with a metric ton of vegetables served over rice and with a ginger-based sauce.
What have you been listening to lately?
My wife just introduced me to The Airborne Toxic Event, so I'm checking them out for the first time! 2018 was a year where I tried a lot of new music—either things I missed out on before or artists I wouldn't have looked into. I was largely inspired by Hanif Abdurraqib's book of largely music-focused essays THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US, one of my favorite reads of the year. So between all this the year was full of Fleetwood Mac, Chance the Rapper, My Chemical Romance, and Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion. It's also a fair assumption that at any given point in time I'm either about to listen to or have recently listened to Modest Mouse, The Beatles, or Arctic Monkeys.
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
1. The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia: The first time I read this book was in high school when I was actually getting serious about writing, and I was a long time between rereads until jumping back in recently but something (or more accurately, somethings) about it always stuck with me. The characters aren't ones I particularly identify with, but they are vivid, as is the setting and the palpable, pulpy (pun intended, for those who have read the book) emotion throughout. And they way it ceaselessly upended the conventions of the novel's form was a great early lesson that rule-breaking, when done for a good reason, is an opportunity in literature.
2. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück: Similarly, in undergrad this was an eye-opening experience for me. They are so many aspects of a poem that you can hone in on, consider, or look past, but this is the first time I remember coming upon a collection whose voice(s) was (were) so commanding and integral to the very poems themselves. They are imbued with assurance, rage, and pathos unlike anything else I had read (and still, I don't know of a collection that matches Glück here), and if we as a species are truly committed to discovering some kind of perpetual energy machine I suggest we look at these poems first, as they really do have an energy to them that transmits like electricity.
3. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: Those who know me even a little bit have likely observed my relationship with humor; it's a language all its own, and also a perfectly acceptable ends for me. It's how I process, often both the good and the bad. This book is very sad, and very worrying in regards to the insights it sheds on our near geopolitical/socioeconomic/technological futures, and all of this would make the reader miserable if it wasn't so incredibly funny along the way. It's not the flashiest or the most well-known dystopia out there, but I'd be surprised if the near future looked more like another's portrayal than it does Shteyngart's in this novel. He has an incredible way of isolating the core of how our nation and society function (or dysfunction), and extrapolating on how those cores will flourish in the future.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
This is a hard one, but maybe Golconda by Rene Magritte. There's both order and discordance, clarity and opaqueness. This piece does speak to me in that I similarly feel fractured and a little off of where I should be in today's world. Not by result of any of my choices, but that something inherent about me or my mind is incompatible with the framework of the 21st century as we have been gifted it.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
This one, just imagine it's a cat doing this.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Are we talking the biblical apocalypse, or just how humanity is likely to end? In thinking of the latter, it's hard to look at the current isolationist, nationalistic, and fear-based movements around the globe alongside the reality of our weapons technology and think the world will end any way but through a nuclear war. We can always hope, of course, and do what we can to prevent it from happening, but that seems the most likely scenario. As for how I'd want to die, well, I don't want to—I've said before, and I stick by it, that if there's one thing I want people to know about me after I've passed it's that I desperately did not want to die. But if I have to go, being smothered by a pile of cuddly golden retriever puppies doesn't seem like a bad one, all things considered.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Can I trade in three films for one television series? Because I could probably watch nothing but 30 Rock for decades and still be pretty happy.
What’s your favorite animal?
The tardigrade. Look it up, kids. Those things can live in space. It's comforting to know that after nuclear winter there won't only be cockroaches and Twinkies left, but also tardigrades.
What's something that surprised you recently?
I might actually...like gravy. It was one of those foods that I knew I did not like for years, as I was a somewhat picky eater as a child, but this past Thanksgiving I dipped a bit of my turkey in it and...enjoyed it? I don't know what I remembered it tasting like that told me it wasn't for me, but it appears my taste-memory lied to me on this one.
What do you carry with you at all times?
My phone. No joking or snide commentary here—I honestly do carry it pretty much everywhere. Certainly this worries me sometimes, but it really is the way I communicate with 98% of the people in my life, and if it's not in arm's reach I do feel like I'm either going to be left out or will miss someone's time-sensitive message. I think the latter fear comes from my years of working in public relations, where immediate response is necessary in your day to day work; if you're unreachable for 15 minutes, that could be the time when that reporter you've been trying to get to respond to you for months finally gets back to you, and they've got a deadline of 30 minutes, and you need to connect with the client and turn around something in that time...most of life doesn't work like this, but it's hard to shake the ingrained need to be available at all times.
What are you afraid of?
Dying. Every fear is the fear of death, just through different means.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
Not much of a ritual guy (except around Christmas, when I want to watch the same six or seven holiday movies and listen to the same jingles every single year, driving my family insane), but I am a habitual snooze-button-presser. And I have a habit of, after the first couple alarms have forced me to open my eyes, scrolling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram even though my brain isn't fully online yet and my eyelids feel as heavy as garage doors. There's about a 45 minute window between when my alarm first goes off and when I can physically extricate myself from bed.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
They largely happened in 2018: I married my best friend and sold my first collection of poems to a publisher. Also, being a stepfather is, and I swear I'm not saying this just to be cheesy, but it's hugely rewarding and challenging.
Having a good relationship with my stepson and presenting another positive male role model in his life is hugely important to me—the omnipresence of toxic masculinity around the internet (especially throughout YouTube and gaming circles which he frequents) is worrying, and making sure he's aware that his actions affect others whether he intends them to or not (and how they do so) is a priority. But every day with him is rewarding, and unique. Not even kidding, while I was writing this very response my stepson called me from my wife's phone and proclaimed "I'm a potato." Then he hung up. Not sure what to make of that, really, but its happening is now a fact of my life that is as irrevocable and immutable as the tides, or Tom Brady's greatness.
Additionally, I feel pretty comfortable in the stepdad role due to my affinity for dad jokes, so there's also that. I'm pretty proud when I get both my stepson and my wife to groan and say "Oh my GOD" simultaneously to one of my puns.
Define happiness for you.
Waking up and seeing my wife, and knowing that there are people out there that care about me and will be there if I reach for them. And usually waking up includes noticing one of our cats is lying on my back/stomach and the other is literally spooning with my spouse, that's pretty adorable and awesome as well.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
Write my second book, and tour for the first. In March, Disappearing, Inc. will launch from Gold Wake Press, and I'm working on putting together something resembling a tour, doing some readings in the southeast and the northeast where I grew up. Once those are through, I'm hoping I'll be able to put more time into entirely new work, as I've been playing around with some new styles/subjects for poems and have been very excited about getting deeper into them.
Brandon Amico is a writer whose debut collection of poems, DISAPPEARING, INC., is forthcoming in March 2019 from Gold Wake Press. He is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Grant and the Hoepfner Literary Award for poetry, awarded by Southern Humanities Review. His poetry can be found now or soon in journals including The Awl, The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Booth, Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, Diode, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hunger Mountain, Kenyon Review, New Ohio Review, Sixth Finch, Slice, Waxwing, and Verse Daily, and his reviews have been featured by 32 Poems, AGNI Online, The Los Angeles Review, Mid-American Review, The Rumpus, and Southern Humanities Review.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente