Thursday, April 05, 2007

Writer's Corner

Ben Kopel

Even with all of the outlets for poetry these days, it is still challenging to break into the published ranks. There are so many young writers out there consistently submitting to the various magazines and journals that there needs to be something unique or somehow captivating about your work to make it standout. For some poets that can be found in the structure of the poem, or maybe the title, or maybe it is simple the subject matter, but there is nothing like a powerful opening line. When I read "Tonight" by Ben Kopel, it was the opening line, "My heart is in the yard like snow." that caught my attention and lead me to seek out more of his work and eventually contact him. "Tonight" was originally published by the dust congress in 2/07, but Ben has allowed me to include this rewritten version:

Ben was also kind enough to answer a few of our questions on great first lines, music, and more.

Orange Alert (OA): Who are some of your biggest literary influences?
Ben Kopel (BK): I can honestly say that the discovery of 'Actual Air' by David Berman, the release of the first Hold Steady album, and taking classes from Randolph Thomas and Laura Mullen while in undergrad at LSU had the biggest impact on me as far as the whole 'where I am as a writer today' thingamabob. Other than that it's a clusterf### of references and stolen lines to and from: The Beats, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Berryman, Hubert Selby, Patti Smith, Frank O'Hara, Claudia Rankine, James and Franz Wright, The Simpsons, The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Brautigan, Kathy Acker, Dhalgren, The Minutemen, Terry Gilliam movies, Lost in the Supermarket/Clampdown, e.e. cummings, J.D. Salinger and Paul Westerberg, Paul Westerberg, Paul Westerberg.

OA: How has the internet (blogs, lit mags, publishers, etc) affected you as a writer?
BK: My experience with the internet and poetry colliding has been pretty great so far. Being able to, at any time day or night, find poems you've never read in a million different places is pretty awesome.

I've seen some pretty cool Flarf poems. Googlisms make my day a little bit better. There are some wacky blogs out there. It's also nice that, through blogs and press sites, a lot of the time it's pretty easy to get into contact with writers you enjoy and want to start up correspondence with. Bill Knott's blog is great. He's got all his poems [and he's written a ton of poems] up there.

Oh, and if you don't mind, I wanna plug this site [http://www.alsopreview.com/thecollections/stanford/stanford.html ] – it's all the poems by Frank Stanford from his out of print books. It's probably my favorite thing on the internet right now.

Online journals are great. There are so many that actually take the time to make your poems look cool up there on the screen. Also, email makes submissions a lot less daunting.

OA: Why do you write? Is it a release, is it leave a legacy, or does it simple just flow out of you?
BK: I write because I want to be in a band.

OA: I love the opening line of “Tonight,”, in your opinion how important is the first line of a poem?
BK: I think the first line of a poem is really important.
Here are two of my current favorites:
"Let's spit the two of us let's spit //on what we loved" –from Poem to Shout in the Ruins by Louis Aragon
"My soul is in my cervix…// But even as I say it I realize it can never be." –from Wisherly by Matt Hart

OA: Do you listening to music while you write? If yes, who are a few of your artists? Who do you listening when you are not writing?
BK: I'm just gonna answer this one with the tracklist of the last mix I burned for the car:
I Believe by R.E.M.- Favorite Thing by The Replacements – Make A Scene by Chris Bell – Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric – Rain by The Beatles – Alright by The Lost Patrol- Wig Wam Bam by Sweet – Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals – (Antichrist Television Blues) by the Arcade Fire – Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? by Bob Dylan –Soul Kitchen by X – Donna Sumeria by Mission of Burma – The Love You Save by The Jackson 5 – Cassavetes by Fugazi – Absolute Beginners by The Jam – Lady Cab Driver by Prince – Anything You Want by Spoon.

While typing this up I've been listening to that first Cheap Trick album.

OA: What is next for Ben Kopel?
BK: I'm going to scrounge up some lunch and walk to class. And I need to call home. Today is my parents 30th wedding anniversary [March 26].

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite kind of coffee, and what is your favorite coffee place?
BK: You know that episode of Pete and Pete where Little Pete is interviewing his Dad on the radio station run out of the garage and the first thing you hear him asking his father is "So…you don't like the taste of coffee, but you drink it anyway?"

That's about where I stand on that issue.

OA: What is the last great book that you have read?
BK: Pastoralia by George Saunders really took off the top of my head. Dean Young's new book, Embryoyo, is aces. So is Necessary Stranger, the new Graham Foust book. F### You-Aloha-I Love You by Juliana Spahr was really something special. I can read 'And of Clay Are We Created' by Isabel Allende every single day and never get tired of it. I've been on a big Neil Young kick as of late. Especially Zuma. I have a new favorite Beatles song. It's 'Polythene Pam.' Oh, and I have a copy of The Master and Margarita that's been staring me down for the past couple months.

Ben Kopel is currently living in Iowa City, where he is pursuing an MFA in poetry. He is from Baton Rouge, LA, home of the 50-foot magnifying glass and that escalator to nowhere. In 2006, he released a chapbook titled 'Sister,' co-written by Zack Arrington (to purchase a copy you can contact Ben directly). He recently had two poems appear on Thieves Jargon, and he has poems forthcoming in Diagram, Underground Voices, and Forklift. He also maintains a blog called Suburban Field Recordings.