Todd Colby has published four books of poetry: Ripsnort (1994), Cush (1995), Riot in the Charm Factory: New and Selected Writings (2000), and Tremble & Shine (2004), all published by Soft Skull Press. Todd has performed his poetry on PBS and MTV, and his collaborative books and paintings with artist David Lantow can be seen in the Brooklyn Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art special collections libraries. Todd serves on the Board of Directors for The Poetry Project, where he has also taught several poetry workshops, and he posts new work on gleefarm.blogspot.com.
Hi, Todd! Thanks for being my inaugural interview. Tell me, what is the last thing you ate?
I just at a perfectly ripened banana that I purchased from Trader Joe's when it was still rather green earlier in the week.
Todd, what's a poet? I sometimes think that if I were better at some other kind of art, I wouldn't have to mess around with words. It's a funny thing to do, isn't it?
A poet is someone who receives a visceral energy from words. Words to a poet are units of energy that can be combined in various ways so as to create a sensation in those people with properly tuned receiving mechanisms. H.D. examined this in Notes on Thought and Vision. She thought that just two or three people with that power could change the world. I also think messing around with words just makes good economic sense. Having lived with a painter in the past, I know how expensive and messy it can be. So the fact that I can sit and write without a dime in my pocket while wearing a delicate writing jacket and not worry about getting it stained makes me very happy.
If you were going to prescribe a ritual to jump start my creativity and/or joie de vivre, what would it be? Would it involve speaking in funny voices?
I can only speak for myself here, but coffee is my jump starter. In fact, I'm writing this under the influence of that marvelous drug right now. I also think it is important to think about a person you'd like to address with the poem you're working on. It makes it more intimate and personal and you wind up saying things in the poem that you otherwise might not have if you were just looping around in your own head all day. Epistolary poetry in particular makes me very happy for some reason. Those fake letters of Dylan's in Tarantula or Alice Notley's many forays into that mode have all made life a little more bearable for me, which is the best thing you can say about poetry, or pretty much anything for that matter.
Yeah, I love how that happens-- how discovering that someone else's sensibilities overlap with yours does, in fact, make life more bearable somehow. Humor can be a big part of that for me. Can you talk about humor as a practice or technique for you? Do you ever think, "OK, I have to be funny enough to find my way into a complex area, but not so funny that I keep everything else at a distance?"
Humor in a poem makes it very personal for me. The tone, that is. But it has to be laced with something slightly acidic and even frightening to make it really work, at least for me. That said, I think Ron Padgett's poems have the perfect amount of levity and erudition. Joe Brainard also encapsulates that aesthetic for me quite well. I think humor in this context helps me not take myself too seriously, though I do, it's just that the self has to be laughed at or with now and again or else everything just feels like it totally sucks after awhile, and let's be truthful, it does. Humor is a good masking agent!
When is your next book coming out? How do you think it will it be different from your previous books?
I'm not sure. I need to talk to a couple more publishers who have expressed interest. The new book has a slightly different tone than any that came before. But it's a tone of craft and expertise that strikes me as my most seasoned writing ever. I can come back to the poems I've written over the last 3 years or so again and again and they just unfold in so many ways each time I revisit them. It's almost like someone else wrote them! Anyway, hopefully a new book will be out sooner than later.