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Intermittent Visitors: David C. Kopaska-Merkel

David C. Kopaska-Merkel is a prolific science fiction poet whose work often appears in 7×20 and Strange Horizons, among other places. He edits Dreams & Nightmares, where he also has a blog. Many of his books can be purchased from the Sam’s Dot Bookstore and from Smashwords.

 

1. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Would you think less of me if I admitted I rarely listen to advice? It’s true. But one can’t help hearing things. One piece of advice I’ve received, that I almost never remember to use, is to read my work aloud to myself before submitting it. It’s a shame I don’t do this more, because when I have done it I felt it made my poems more concise and gave them more punch. It’s even more odd that I don’t use this technique with every poem, when you consider that I have been writing technical presentations (about geology) since 1981. For most of that time I have practiced aloud and reaped the benefits. My talks have gone from incoherent to less incoherent.

One piece of advice I have taken and use all the time is to put away a piece of writing when I finish it. Best to put it away for a least a day or two and then read it again. It allows one to be a lot more objective about the strengths and weaknesses of a poem. And it often makes obvious what needs to be changed and how.

 

Can you say a little bit about the genesis of On the Brink of Never?

What is there to say? I was just enchanted by all the hoopla about the Mayan prediction of the end of the world. The idea that the world contains people who believe this kind of thing is mind-boggling. I had the same thoughts about the Y2K “disaster,” although in that case at least there was some small reason to be concerned. I published a chapbook at the time called the “Y2K Survival Kit.” We were driving across country and I heard a DJ offering to give away what he called a Y2K Survival Kit: a roll of toilet paper and a book of matches. That called for a chapbook! This time, somebody in my writing group, the Musers, I honestly don’t remember if it was me, suggested that we do an anthology of apocalyptic poems in conjunction with the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. I guess we all felt about the same way about those people who believed the prophecy was accurate. We sure will have egg on our faces if it turns out to have been correct!

Some of the poems are set before the Apocalypse, some during, and some in the aftermath. The rest is history. Most of these poems had been written before we decided to publish the chapbook, and some of those had been published in one place or another. Armageddon is a popular theme, no question.

 

doing double time

 

1. poetry on paper money

Do you remember I bought you
      that little designer cactus?
the flowers were faces and the roots were
motile—
when you left I forgot to water the plants.
The cactus pulled up stakes and went looking on its own
now the damn things are everywhere
and that ain’t funny.

 

2. shorts impede communication

sharpening files she discovered evidence
of hanky-panky at the Texas plant,
Burial of drums
and bribing of inspectors
with the usual tight pants and bulging
      briefcases.

The company had bought protection,
Lawyer’s privilege, paper shredding, blackmail, and bribes;
When the file-clerk threatened to defect
The boss’s son cut her up.

They sealed her in some drums—
buried her and all the files
where the sun don’t shine.

 

3. a nasty habit

But the kid developed a taste for it,
hacking apart low-life scum and finally
some nuns—a real mess.
He went from asset to liability
to asset again in 0 to 60
out by the abandoned mine
where the walking cacti went to earth back in ’06.

 

4. when it hits the can

A mind-blowing smoke if you can catch them,
but when the gas-tank blew it took the mine with it—
methane makes a dandy charge,
and some of the drums shot more than a mile high.
They never found the kids who’d been tokin’ cactus near the entrance,
but it’s amazing what you can dig out of a 55-gallon can.

 

Originally published in “Beam Me Up” podcast, 2009.

 

Southern writers often seem to get lumped together into a single category, as though geography were all that’s needed to understand their work. Can you comment on what it means to you to be located in Alabama, both for your own work, and for its reception outside the region?

I don’t really know what people think about Southern writers. I assume that there really is prejudice, and there are assumptions, about Southern writers. I don’t recall facing this personally. Perhaps I’m not important enough in the literary scene to even be thought about in that context. I suppose there is some similar geographic prejudice among those who read science fiction poetry. However, in this smaller and more close-knit group of fans who are writers and writers who are fans, I think who you are is more important than it is in the much larger world of mainstream fiction. That said, I have to admit that I often think to myself, imagining people are judging me for my geography, “but I’m not really a Southern writer.” I know I really should be thinking something a lot more like “does it matter where I live?!”

As for the effect on my work of where I live, it certainly has influenced the backdrop of my writing. The flora, the topography, the climate, those show up in my work. Write what you know. I know kudzu. I have not lived in a desert, but I love them, and have spent time there. So that shows up in my work too. I don’t think that I particularly address southern themes. If I wrote mainstream poetry, most of the poems would be about what I see, what I do, what I see other people do. I write science fiction and fantasy poetry and, although people are people, in this genre a lot of what we write is about strange settings, strange events, and unusual technology. I don’t try to pull insights about the human condition from the contents of my mailbox, although I admire people who can do that successfully. Instead, I imagine the mailbox on another world and go from there, or something along those lines.

 

Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

For me, writing has had its biggest effect on my ability to communicate. At least, this is true for fiction and poetry. With regard to science writing, there’s nothing like trying to explain something to teach you that you don’t understand it yet!

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.
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