“I don’t ever want to write anything that I feel anyone else could’ve written.”
How to Fall in Love in San Diego (Finishing Line Press, 2017)
Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?
I was lucky enough to have great teachers, instructors, professors, and mentors most of my life. In third grade, Ms. Angela Dotson was one of those. She encouraged my interest in writing and computers, and she published my first book. And by “book,” I mean, a one-page story I had written, which I had split over about seven pages and illustrated. And by “published,” I mean typed up, laminated, and bound in plastic comb binding! Education and educators play a huge role in determining who we will become. I’ve been a writer ever since.
Could you share with us a poem (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
Of course! The chapbook has two beginnings. The actual first poem, “Tinder Profile,” serves as a short meditation or prayer. Then there’s the poem which really introduces the speakers of the chapbook and invites the reader into the text’s world with the first, “How to Fall in Love in San Diego.” “Tinder Profile” reads:
I am not a good lover; although, I suggest it
in every love poem is the absence
of a black man face down on pavement:
pimple on his left cheek grazed to hot pink.
It serves as a reminder, like several of the poems in the collection, that all is not settled in America’s Finest City or the United States or anywhere really. “How to Fall in Love in San Diego” begins in the San Diego most tourists see when they visit, the Gaslamp. The poem instructs to “Eat blackberry brie bites / between two fingers / at a crashed Hilton party / between the harbor / and Convention Center,” where you can “dance to an all-white Otis Redding cover band in Hawaiian shirts.” That’s San Diego! And it’s simultaneously not San Diego at all.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced you?
I love the chapbook as a form, as a medium for a collection of poems. I will argue that Dancing Girl Press publishes some of the best chapbooks of poetry that I’ve ever read. Shout out to Kristy Bowen! Go look at their catalog. It’s amazing! Angela Veronica Wong, Kaitlin Dyer, Khadijah Queen, Karla Cordero, Jessie Carty, and Meghan Bliss all have chapbooks there that I recommend. I just put in an order for Lillian Kwok’s chapbook after reading some more of her work in a literary journal. I’ve read at least thirty different collections from the press and have never been disappointed. Outside of the Dancing Girl Press catalog, there are a lot of chapbooks from Black Lawrence Press that I love, particularly the chapbooks by Ruth Baumann, Kamden Hilliard, Mary Biddinger, David Rigsbee, and Sandra Kolankiewicz. Diane Goettel and Kit Frick pick fire! Hari Alluri’s Promise of Rust and Emily Pettit’s How are chaps I love and return to, but honestly the chapbooks that probably influenced me most are chapbooks that I’ve published as editor at Etched Press. Specifically the last few: Susan Elliott Brown, Catherine Kyle, Kirby Wright, but all of them really. We’re about to come back from hiatus, and there have been really strong submissions. It’s great publishing work that I love but never could have written.
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about your writing?
I think it comes back to that phrase, “love but never could have written.” I want my own writing to be that for someone else. At least, I hope it is sometimes! I don’t ever want to write anything that I feel anyone else could’ve written. Sometimes I do, but hopefully I discard all of those poems.
What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?
This idea of the anti-love poem. I think the sequences really took shape when I wrote “Dating You Would be a Full-Time Job with Little Security and Sub-Standard Benefits.” That poem was actually an exercise to write an atypical love poem which started off with an insult but ended tenderly. How could I write a poem which could recover from that title? What kind of relationship would that reflect? The obsession then evolved from there into, “what’s love look like in San Diego?”
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece, “Find the Source,” is about six years old and actually comes from a workshop in my MA program at East Carolina University. It’s a program that I highly recommend. It’s probably one of the best programs for students who want to teach English or Creative Writing at the community college level or go on to an MFA or PhD program because you get to take studio creative writing classes in multiple genres, study contemporary, modern, or period literature, as well as focus on form, craft, and themes of creative writing. It helps forge well-rounded writers because you can get experience teaching and working on award-winning literary journals. I remember this particular piece came from an exercise or prompt about point of view. I believe we were reading Mark Halliday. I can’t remember what poem, but a line inspired the idea to write a poem in reverse.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the backstory?
Hands-down, “I Should Doubt Taking an Uber to the BART Station.” The best birthday that I ever had was my 29th birthday celebration which I celebrated with one person, Mary Katherine Lewin. I’d known her for about one month at this point, but I knew she was special. We’d talked about what would comprise a “perfect day” previously in a bar. Well, lo and behold, less than two weeks later, she proceeded to craft my perfect day for my birthday which involved Darkwing Duck, teaching poetry to the youth, pancake breakfast, and more. It took us across the city, to the east bay, and beyond. There’s a moment in the poem about quantum entanglement, but it’s not a theoretical scientific phenomenon. It’s me realizing what real love is.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
It’s actually a poem that’s not in the print copy of the chapbook, but is available in the forthcoming eBook/Digital Edition. It’s called “Ecstatic in Tijuana.” It’s a single poem which is almost half of the length of the entire chapbook. When I finished that poem, which I wrote a significant portion of in Tijuana, I knew that the chapbook was complete. The problem is that I didn’t finish it until I was already sending back a second set of galleys to the publisher, ha! So that’s why it’s not in the chapbook.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy? What is it?
My favorite revision strategy is taking a series of poem drafts, combining them in one word document, printing them out, then starting from the bottom and reading to the top, deleting every line that doesn’t sound great on its own. What lines remain, I’ll put together what might be tangentially related, and then I’ll visit this web app that I put online for writers (mostly my students and friends) at http://revisepoetry.com/. Then I’ll use those lateral revision strategies to see if I can make anything happen.
What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I had such a wonderful experience with Finishing Line Press, and I’m greatly indebted. Leah Maines, Kevin Maines, Christen Kincaid, Elizabeth Maines, the editorial assistants, and all of the team were all so kind and patient. I’m a notorious procrastinator and busy body. I’m always doing a lot, helping other people with projects and then catching up on my own. There was a slight delay in the chapbook release, but it was because I missed an e-mail with a final set of galleys to approve. Everyone was so understanding. I also asked if I could do two unconventional things. One was design the cover, and two was produce my own eBook version to come out later, because it’s just something I find fun and know how to do. They were onboard. It was very much a collaborative process. Such a joy to work with. I highly recommend.
What are you working on now?
The main project I’m currently working on is a multimedia performance poem in the tradition of Roger Guenveur Smith’s “Frederick Douglass Now” and Anna Deavere Smith’s “Twilight Los Angeles” about the context of the murders of young Black men in the U.S. killed by those who are upholding the law. There’s also a lot of smaller projects, like an immersive theater experience and a script for a radio drama that I’m planning to release as a podcast.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Just read a wide range of creative work and think about it critically. Imitate the work you’re reading. Find people to talk about writing with who are passionate about it like you are. Plan projects, work on projects. If you do these things and are passionate about what you want to accomplish, everything else will take care of itself.
Kevin Dublin is author of the chapbook How to Fall in Love in San Diego and editor of Etched Press. He enjoys making video adaptations of poetry and working with young artists and writers in the community. His words have most recently appeared in Rogue Agent, Menacing Hedge, SOFTBLOW, Poetry International, and Sunshine/Noir II. He holds an MFA from San Diego State University and spends summers teaching at Duke Young Writers’ Camp. He currently lives in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @PartEverything.