The concept of a return is typically applied to investments, you purchase a stock or invest in a money market and anticipate a return on your investment. However, this concept can easily be applied to a child's investment in their father, a wife's investment in her husband, a vacationers investment a wild wild west show, a man's investment in his car, and so on. It is when these returns begin to diminish that our quality of life suffers, as well as the lives around us. Chicagoan turned Alabama resident, Karl Koweski's latest chapbook, Diminishing Returns, touches on this concept and many more. From the first line ("I walk the road, feeling the eyes on me:") to the last ("but a rectangular patch of dirt"), Karl utilizes a simple and straightforward approach to beautifully illustrate the far reaching universal truths of his life. However, he never lets a good punchline get by him.
Recently, Karl took some time answer a few our questions about returns, and his role at Zygote in my Coffee.
Orange Alert (OA): The idea of Diminishing Returns in a broader sense is quite compelling. For me this seems to be a larger theme through out the book and not simply the title of the first poem, whether it is in family relations, intimate relationships, or the quality of the modern novel, our return on invest seems to be decreasing. Was this the intent? Is it truly diminishing or has our perception just changed?
Karl Koweski (KK): I gotta admit, when compiling poems for a chapbook, I'm more inclined to just throw poems at the wall and see what sticks. In terms of subject matter, I'm all over the place. While David and I were vetting poems for Diminishing Returns, the theme arose immediately. It's a concept I've been unable to escape from. I'm 32 years old, much too young to be bitching about how much better things use to be, but that's the view I'm developing. It's my perspective, but I think few people can deny the world's losing cohesion. The nightly news constantly reinforces the point. The polar ice caps are melting, our freedoms are eroding. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Everyone has their hand out, it's getting to the point where more people are losing their houses, than buying houses. And Britney Spears is getting chubby. These are the things I've conditioned myself to ignore during the course of day to day living. Then I sit down at work, open a 75 cent bag of Doritoes and find only seven chips inside. Diminishing Returns is my reflection of the fact that the large package of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups use to have four cups. Now it has only three despite the escalation in price.
OA: Your pairing of "Where My Shadow Should Be" and "The Cat's in the Cradle..." is striking, but perhaps a needed social commentary. How has your approach to writing changed since you became a father?
KK: Life informs my art and there's nothing more important in my life than my children. With the birth of my first child, Gloria, my approach to everything changed. Writing wise, I know every hour I spend writing is an hour I'm taking away from my kids. Usually I can manage to squeeze a couple hours a night in between their bedtime and the time I go to sleep. When you know you only have a finite period of time, it helps you focus on the story, poem or novel at hand. As far as subject, one of my biggest fears is that I'm not doing enough as their father to prepare them for a world that aims to hurt them every chance it gets. The best way I know to deal with my fears is to write them out. The best way I know to try to wrap my mind around society's ills continually bombarding us whether it's on the nightly news or happening down the street is to write it out.
OA: Sunnyoutside is a quality press, I love the type setting of the titles of each poem and your photo on the cover is a perfect tie-in with a few of your poems. How important to you is the presentation of your work? Do you believe that fonts and imagines can add to the readers overall impression of the content?
KK: Thanks! David used a type called "Underground Engraved" for the titles. He'll be glad to hear the compliment. Presentation is very important. I take my work seriously and I'm proud to see it printed in such a professional manner. I've been fortunate to work with some of the best publishers in the small press. Guys like Kevin Sampsell at Future Tense. Bill Roberts at Bottle of Smoke. Andrew Lander at Showcase and now David Michael McNamara at Sunnyoutside. All four of them are true craftsmen. You can't go wrong ordering any of the books in the Sunnyoutside line. I ordinarily don't interfere too much with the design aspect. I prefer to stick with the writing. I think sometimes poets get wrapped up concocting fancy covers in the hopes of off-setting the mediocrity of the words within. I trust the publishers to do right by me and after seven chaps, I haven't been let down yet.
OA: You mention Buk & Kerouac as "former" influences in "My Literary Domestication". Who or what are some of your current influences? What inspires you to keep going?
KK: Current influences include Arthur Nersesian, Jonathan Ames, Russell Banks, Denis Johnson, Steve Almond, Umberto Eco, Nick Tosches, Nick Hornsby. Buk and Kerouac were always more of a lifestyle influence than anything literary. Inspiration is something I find from within rather than from without. Writing has never been a choice for me.
OA: How are things going with Zygote in my Coffee? Are there any big plans or events in store?
KK: There's always a whole lot going on at http://www.zygoteinmycoffee.com./ Besides the biweekly online journal featuring some of the best established and up-and-coming writers in the small press, we'll soon be releasing the fourth print issue of Zygote. Nothing in the small press compares to the content and design. We've also added a second co-editor, Aleathia Drehmer. In December, Zygote will hit the 100 th online issue and we're going to celebrate this milestone with a commemorative print edition limited to 100 copies featuring the work of twenty writers. Also on the horizon, Tainted Coffee Press will be printing the winning chapbook of the Outsider Writers Jack Micheline Memorial chapbook contest.
OA: What's next for Karl Koweski?
KK: I really don't know. I just completed a crime novel. I'm doing a last soft edit on that and fishing around for literary representation. I'm six thousand words into a second novel titled "Knuckle Society". That's taken up most of my writing time. Mostly I just keep trying to keep the pen moving. I'll probably have another poetry collection out within the next six months. Perhaps a short story collection. All I can say is check out my myspace page for the latest info.
OA: Coffee? If yes what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite spot?
KK: I like coffee, but I'm not the coffeehouse sort of person. Usually I'll just drink a few cups in the morning at work and that's usually Folgers or Maxwell House or whatever's available. A few shakes of sugar and a dash of french vanilla cream. That's good enough for me.
OA: Do you ever listen to music while you write? Who are some of your favorites currently and of all-time?
KK: I actually don't listen to music while I write. When I'm working on a story, I need to hear the cadence of the dialogue in my head and background music disturbs the flow. Any other time I listen to the sort of music I grew up with. Iron Maiden, Danzig, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails and Guns and Roses. I like The Cramps, Dropkick Murphys, Ike Reilly Assassination. My favorite band would likely be Monster Magnet.