For my stop on the Lineup #4 blog tour, I thought I’d pick the brain of a guy who knows one hell of a lot more about poetry than I: Lineup #4 contributor Steve Weddle. Some of you might know Steve as half of the dynamic duo behind the noir powerhouse Needle Magazine. Others from his kickass short fiction, or from his blogging at Do Some Damage. If you have any doubt this dude’s got the goods, stop and reflect that all three of those things garnered Spinetingler nominations this year. Then spend the next few minutes feeling shitty about how much you get done in a day.
Anyways, what you may not know about Steve is he’s also occasionally a fancy-pants poetry writer. (Editor’s note: Steve occasionally writes poetry. However, there is no evidence his pants are unusual in their fanciness.) So, that in mind, he seemed the perfect subject for my (quite possibly inane) questions. Without further ado, here goes.
Not too long ago, you described yourself in your bio as a “recovering poet.” Lately, though, that moniker has disappeared. Does your Lineup poem “The Balance Lost” represent a relapse of sorts, or have you been writing poetry on the sly this whole time?
I think I’m fully recovered now. I wrote that poem because I had an image in my head, the vision that closes the poem. And I got to thinking, well, how did we get there? So I went all Hilda Doolittle/ Ezra Pound and worked with that image to move to a scene that would explain it. The image could have been a graf in a story, of course. But when you have just that image as the poem, I think it kinda hangs out there and lets you focus on it a little more, you know? Like this line I’ve been working on about this dbag who is cheating and lying, etc. The line is “He knew cheating like the back of his best friend’s wife.” I like the line. I mean, it ain’t David Friggin Foster Wallace, but I think it’s a fun line. In a novel it would sound cheap. In a poem, maybe it’s too cute. It’s the kind of line that would probably work best in a song lyric. Which, you know, may mean I half-stole it from some old Foghat song I almost heard on the radio. I dunno. But I’m always working on lines, on images. And I try to find a good home for those, a home beyond scratched out on the back of the electric bill. I’m writing lines of poetry all the time, just not always poems. Come to think of it, maybe that line kinda sucks. So never mind.
Writing-wise, you wear a lot of hats: newspaper work, fiction editing (at the fantastic Needle Magazine), novels, shorts, poems. Which, if any, do you consider your native form? Or does each inform the others?
My native form would be writing characters and dialog. Not a form? No matter. I love the rat-a-tat of dialog running down the page. You picture people saying this and that and weaving in the humor and the darkness both. When I was in the MFA program at LSU, I was the token ‘Narrative Poet.’ I told stories in poems, I guess. The carnival came to my town when I was a kid. This is a papermill town that nearly rolled away when the mill closed. So the circus/carnival comes, big excitement. The parking lot for the Piggly Wiggly-Magic Mart shopping center overflows to the Otasco. And then the elephant dies. And they bury the animal behind the Piggly Wiggly. It was kind of a big deal. So, do you write a poem? A novel? A flash fiction piece? I just jot down images, characters, strings of dialog until it meshes together. Or just some sniper-shots of snark from on high and then move to something else. You know, come to think of it, Twitter may be my native form.
Your short fiction often has a lyrical quality. One that stands out for me is your tremendous “Purple Hulls,” which I wrote about as one of my Top Five Stories of 2010 at Death by Killing. “Purple Hulls” felt to me as if it sat upon the border of poetry and prose, and yet it still solidly came down in the latter camp. My question, as someone who’s never written a poem in his life, is in two parts: a) how can you tell whether an idea is supposed to be a poem or a short? And b) when the eff is “Purple Hulls” gonna be published, so other folks can find out what the heck I’m raving about?
Poem or short? Yeah, all my answers seem to keep coming back to that, don’t they? I’ve written stories that turned into awful screenplays and song lyrics that turned into terrible short stories. I think what happens is you get this thing in your head and you have to figure out what it is first and then what to do with it. Huh, I have this hunk of metal. Let me move it around. Flat. Pointed at one end. Whoa. What’s this? A stick at the other end? Well, this would make a good shovel. See, it would make a good a shovel blade but it would make a terrible carburetor. Sure, it could mix your air and fuel, but only in the manner in which you could mix pancake batter. You can’t decide you’re going to write a poem and then just grab whatever is close and make it a poem. I can’t. Maybe someone can. Maybe everyone can. Maybe those who publish poetry do that. Maybe Mark Strand does that. Maybe he says he’s going to write a poem, sits down and looks out the window, and writes a poem about whatever he sees. Maybe that’s how we end up with “Ode to Deliveryman Peeing on My House.” I don’t know. I’m not a poet. As for “Purple Hulls,” thanks muchly for the praise. I’ve got a Roy Alison story coming out in an anthology this summer and a shorter piece coming out in an anthology any day now. I’ve been toying with the “Purple Hulls” story and looking for a good home for it. It’s a bit of a departure for me in the sense that it’s kind of literary noir. But if I use that term, it sounds like “Oh, look at me. I’m a big, fancy literary writer. I’m not just a crime fiction writer. I write lit-rah-toor and my undergarments are made of feathers and silk.” My point, if I have one, is that the traditional outlets for my fiction aren’t quite the right fit. I’m not talking about a judgment on quality, more on style. Like at Needle Magazine. We get some great stories that we have to turn down because they’re horror, but not noir. And yes, I know there’s overlap. But Needle isn’t built for supernatural-horror-romance anymore than the New Yorker is built for David Goodis. Again, not a quality point – just one of the right fit.
Say there’s this hypothetical crime writer. Let’s call him Schmiss Schmeff Schmolm. This guy’s read the occasional poem that’s knocked him back, but he knows exactly jack about poetry in general. Who should he be reading?
Read The Never-Ending: New Poems (1991) by Andrew Hudgins. You know how there are those moments in your life when you’re glad you didn’t die in that car accident in 1971? Just something that might seem small that happens to you this afternoon, but where you’re just so thankful you crawled out of bed, that the bullet that caught you in that hunting accident back in 1993 missed your aorta just enough so that your Uncle Stan could keep you alive while your idiot cousin Johnny ran and got help. I mean, the sort of sunset that you see and you think, “Well, fuck, Lord. You can take me now.” Like when you’re holding the one you love and you just kind of want the world to end right there because, I mean, it’s just such a moment. You want to freeze that image, that feeling, hoping you can come back to it because it’s just so full of indescribable wonder that you can’t explain and you don’t want to break the spell and you can’t understand why this woman married an idiot like you but you’re sure if you move your elbow she’ll wake up from the spell and the beauty of that moment will be lost? Well, that’s the sort of moment piled on moment you get reading “Praying Drunk” and “Heat Lightning in a Time of Drought” from the Hudgins collection. Just beautiful wonder. That’s it. No list of ten books you have to read. Just the one. And start with those two poems. That’s my suggestion, for whatever it’s worth.
You juggle a lot of recurring characters in your fiction: newsman Alex Jackson, card-carrying badass Oscar Martello, and now the damaged Roy Alison. You figure any of them have got a Moleskine full of poetry hidden away somewhere? If so, you think they’re any good?
You know, Alex Jackson is the sort of character who would have written poems when one writes poems to impress the girls. Roy Alison would probably do something creative to try to deal with the guilt of accidentally killing his parents, but I’m not sure it would be poetry. In the story appearing this summer, “The Ravine,” he’s drawn to a young woman’s paintings. He might paint. As for Oscar, um, I’m not going to ask him. You want to ask Oscar Martello if he writes poems, you go ahead. Just leave me your Kindle in your will.
While I’ve got you hooked up to the polygraph, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you some more general questions about what’s going on in the Weddleverse (that’s right, I said it.) Where can we find your writing in the coming year? What’s the future hold for Needle? Who the eff do I have to threaten and/or blackmail for the privilege of purchasing a novel of yours?
In addition to The Lineup, my work will appear in the two anthos I mentioned earlier – the ones with the Roy Alison stories. I’m working on an Oscar novella at the moment. He’s searching for the people responsible for the death of his half-brother and Oscar is having to take care of his nephew. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill hitman story. Speaking of hitman stories, over at Needle HQ, we’re still thrilled as all hell that Chris F. Holm’s story “The Hitter” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories. You hear of this Holm guy? He’s awesome. We’ll have three Needles this year, kicking off with the Spring Issue, then the Summer Issue in August or September, which will wrap up the Ray Banks novel of awesomeness. As for my own novels, first, thanks for being so nice. And second, I’m reworking the second Alex Jackson novel, while I finish the Oscar novella and get started on the techno-thriller I want done soon. Though I gotta say, after reading this issue of The Lineup, I’m tempted to spend more time writing poems. Did you read the one about the guy who steals the Stephen Dunn collection from the hospital? That is my favorite one today. And speaking of Stephen Dunn, there’s a poem in his New and Selected collection about how this child comes back from Vacation Bible School all indoctrinated with religion and her parents want to explain their beliefs to her that it’s all hokum, but then they realize that she has Jesus now, a belief in something bigger, and they don’t have anything that can replace that. It’s not a religious poem. It’s a poem about belief and loss. And it’s the poem you should read after you finish those Hudgins poems and the new issue of The Lineup.
So there you have it. Thanks, Steve, for participating. If you’d like to read Steve’s “The Balance Lost,” as well as kickass poetry from the likes of Ken Bruen. Reed Farrel Coleman, Kieran Shea, Chad Rohrbacher, Keith Rawson, and more, go buy The Lineup #4, available now!
UPDATE: I don't know what kind of shady government agency this Weddle character's run afoul of in his day-job reporting gig, but I, for one, am scared shitless of them. This interview went live at 7:00 AM, and it looked fine. By 8:00 AM, the formatting had been blanked. By 9:00 AM, the questions disappeared. And by 10:00 AM, the text just vanished. And all without me touching it.
I tried to put it back up. Blogger wouldn't take it. To finally get it back up, I had to actually learn HTML. For real.
All I'm saying is, this Weddle dude has enemies. I, for one, won't be standing too close to him in a crowd...