Stories & Beer | Sunday, April 10th | 4 p.m. | The Iron Post | Free

One of the awesome things about co-hosting a reading series like Stories & Beer is asking a bunch of writers who you really like to read together.  This time around, I personally feel like we have a crazy-eclectic group of writers coming together at the Iron Post to rock the Stories & Beer mic.  Here's the rundown:

  • Two UIUC faculty, one of whom, Alex Shakar, has a book forthcoming later this year, and the other, Michael Madonick is a great writer despite being very stodgy and generally boring to listen to.
  • Sara Gelston, a current MFAer
  • Matthew Gavin Frank, a returning UIUC alum who has published a million books in the last two years or so
  • Carter Edwards, the author of one of S&B host Aaron Burch's favorite story from the most recent issue of Hobart(and also producer and director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company);
  • Patrick Somerville, the author of The Cradle and The Universe in Miniature in Miniature (who has all but promised to do his "bear tapdance thing"). 

So to get you ready for this go 'round of Stories & Beer, I interviewed one of this weekend's featured readers, Matt Frank, about writing, bird shit, medical marijuana, murder, divorce, and the Morrow Plots.

So, in addition to Sagittarius Agitprop and Barolo, you've published a whole shit ton of books since you last came to town for a reading. What's up with that?

I'm writing like crazy. Revising like crazy.  Louisa, my wife, has been giving me all sorts of shit about it, but in an encouraging way, I guess. I blame my OCD. I blame the great Michigan backyard in which I write. It's rife with all kinds of birds-- even through the winter. I write a paragraph, then look at the birds. They inspire me. If they sing, I write an appropriate subsequent paragraph. If they shit, I write another kind of paragraph.

I've really started enjoying the process of doing research, trying to find-- whether in poetry or lyric essay--the hidden connections between seemingly dissimilar things, in an effort to make a larger, implicit statement about, perhaps, humanity— who we are, right now, right here on Planet Earth.  For instance, I now know that Charles Lindbergh has a grasshopper fetish.  Really.  He used to trap them, keep them as pets, use them as vehicles for practical jokes (in the Army, he would trap grasshoppers beneath his comrades' bedsheets).  I started wondering how this odd fascination impacted his other fascination with flight-- how they were related. 

Anyhow, such weird connections form the bases of these new books (POT FARM, my hazy and often inaccurate nonfiction account of my work on a Northern California medical marijuana farm, and the hidden social hierarchies within it; WARRANTY IN ZULU, poetry that engages the ways in which the South African museum and art scene changed after the fall of apartheid in 1994, and collects all sorts of fringe observations and imagery along the way; THE MORROW PLOTS, poetry that engages the odd collision between The UIUC Morrow Plots as National Historic Landmark, and as a popular 1920s and 30s body dump-- I accessed old archives of the Urbana Daily Courier which detailed various discoveries of mutilated bodies in the Plots.  If no one claimed the bodies, the University did, using them for "experimental purposes"-- it's a whole lotta murderous Illinois poetry; and my nonfiction book-in-progress, NEWTON AND PULLED PORK RETURN US TO EARTH, which is set in the mountain villages of Oaxaca, Mexico, and is memoir, lyric essay, and travel writing that deals explicitly with notions of connection between seemingly dissimilar things, odd juxtapositions, triangulation writ large—involving the mosaic shuffling of personal narrative segments with researched segments informed by regional, but interdisciplinary interests; by Oaxaca’s folklore, botany, religions, art, history, politics, et al., and I situate personal narrative within the larger contextual discussion and secret histories of the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Charles Darwin, Davy Crockett, Benito Juárez, early slaughterhouses, ancient Aztec astronomy, Kurt Gödel and his Incompleteness Theorem, the ortolan, crickets, moths, bats, swallows, grasshoppers and the frightening Mexican myth of the duende.

I'm becoming more curious, is what I'm trying to say. 

Wow.  It seems like you're doing a pretty decent job of keeping up with your insanely diverse thoughts and interests.  Your wife must absolutely hate you.  How do you carve out the time to keep up with yourself?  And when's the divorce scheduled?  

In spite of the birds and bugs, Darwin, Lindbergh, and torsos among the corn, Louisa, strangely, still likes me.  So no divorce is scheduled.  Besides, our calendar's already full of too much other shit.  Like this reading on Sunday.  And Purim.

How lucky you are.  So about the reading, last time you were in town for the U of I's Carr Reading Series, you donned a mexican wrestling mask while reading one of your poems.  As an attendee of that event, and as an encourager of the antic, this brought me great joy, in part because it was such an unexpected thing to see at a poetry reading. So, as someone who does a lot of readings, why do you think that things like fun seem so out of place at poetry readings?

Hell, I've seen some poetry readings that were great fun.  It was at his poetry reading that Michael Van Walleghen decked a long time heckler-- knocked him out with one punch.  That wasn't fun for the heckler, and maybe not for Van Walleghen either, but how exhilarating!  James Dickey, drunk off his ass, used to step out from behind the podium after reading his first poem, and shimmy into the audience-- boorish, gut-first-- bellowing, "I can feel the love in this crowd.  It's time for me to RECIPROCATE."  I've seen Patricia Smith sing, and Norman Dubie discuss picking his nose and eating the booger, and Beckian Fritz Goldberg give a manifesto on vodka before reading a poem called "Vodka."  

Maybe some poets forget that a live reading can breathe a new, or alternative, life into the work-- a life that doesn't necessarily exist on the page.  Maybe some poets forget that, while the practice of poetry is indeed a wonderful, essential, affirming, and thereby serious practice, the reading of one's work, directly to an audience (which is a rare chance at an immediate dialogue between poet and reader) should be all of those things, plus entertaining. 

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You should definitely make it out to this one, folks. And remember, Stories & Beer is a free service provided to you by your friends here at Smile Politely and HOBART: another literary journal. So don't worry about paying cover, just spend your money on beer.