Doug Paul Case lives in Bloomington, where he recently earned his MFA from Indiana University. His poems have appeared in Court Green, Salt Hill, Rattle, and Hobart. He is the poetry editor of Word Riot and the publisher of Gabby.
Geosi Gyasi: When I first viewed your website, I saw this quote: “I’m not a poet, I just crush a lot.” Could you elaborate on this?
Doug Paul Case: The phrase is a riff on the censored version of Big Pun’s hit song “I’m Not a Player,” which came out in the late 1990s, when I was in elementary school and too young to understand what it was about. But now it reminds me of categories / definitions / the art of naming, and feels appropriate to my writing process in two ways: that I usually don’t feel comfortable calling myself a poet (which is ridiculous, really, because I write them and therefore am) and that I only seem to have the need to write if I’m experiencing lust or love.
Geosi Gyasi: I observed, again, on your site, that you’re a compulsive reader. Are you?
Doug Paul Case: Yes. I’m currently reading Dorothea Lasky’s ROME, Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN, Wayne Koestenbaum’s HUMILIATION, and Charles D’Ambrosio’s ORPHANS. I like to keep a mix of genres going at the same time.
Geosi Gyasi: Your debut chapbook of poems, “Something to Hide My Face In” won the 2013/14 Robin Becker Prize and is forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press in February 2015? I am particularly struck by two words: “debut” and “prize”?
Doug Paul Case: While I’ve had poems published in a number of magazines, this is the first time a group of them will be published on their own, and I’m quite excited to be working with Ron Mohring at Seven Kitchens on this project.
Geosi Gyasi: You are the founding editor of Gabby, a new journal dedicated to talky poems. Could you tell us how the journal came about?
Doug Paul Case: Talky poems (loosely, poems that eschew what we commonly think of as “poetic” language and highlight the poetics of everyday speech) are my favorite kind of poems, and at times it has seemed to me that they have a particularly difficult time finding homes in literary journals, getting passed up—I’d imagine—for more traditional work. When sound play and simile are stripped from a poem, you’re usually left with a bare-bones narrative, and I’m very interested in exploring how poets can work with just that, how focus and pacing and line breaks can add style and depth can enhance that narrative into, yes, a poem.
I wish I could say there was a grand reason for my deciding to start the journal, but really I just decided one day that if I wanted to see more talky poems getting the attention I think they deserve I was probably going to have to do that work myself. And so I am, gratefully with the blessings of contributors like Denise Duhamel, Ross Gay, Carrie Murphy, Heather Christle…
Geosi Gyasi: As the poetry editor of Word Riot, do you encounter any good writing? What kind of work do you expect from writers?
Doug Paul Case: I’ve been the poetry editor of Word Riot for about a year now, and I’m continuously surprised by and pleased with both the number of submissions we get and how consistently strong those submissions are. Because our submission response time is so fast (usually in 3-4 days), I always find myself nervous that I won’t find enough poems I love before the next issue’s selections are due, but I need to stop because that’s never actually a problem.
And I know virtually every editor says this in interviews, but I really don’t know what I’m looking for when I’m reading submissions. While I’m looking for very specific types of poetry at Gabby, I try to keep Word Riot’s aesthetic pretty eclectic. There’s only one question I ask of every poem submitted: Could another writer have written this (better)? If the answer is no, there’s a strong chance I’ll accept it.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have influenced you most?
Doug Paul Case: This is a tricky question for me because I think it’s impossible not to be influenced by everything you read, whether positively or negatively, and it’s a kind of magic, letting “influence” happen…in any case, I hope I’m learning most from the poets I admire, especially Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, Michael Dickman, Maurice Manning, Aaron Smith, and Jericho Brown.
Geosi Gyasi: How many hours do you put into your writing a day?
Doug Paul Case: While I read every day, most days I spend very little time actually writing. I only seem to write poems in bursts, and I have to wait for them. I won’t write anything for a few weeks, and then suddenly I’ll write four at the donut shop. They take me by surprise.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you put real life people you know into your writing?
Doug Paul Case: Yes.
Geosi Gyasi: Which of these do you think is more important when writing: style or plot?
Doug Paul Case: Style, of course! Very little “happens” in my favorite novel, C.E. Morgan’s ALL THE LIVING, but her prose is gorgeous and necessary. It shows me something in a new light.
When I write I often find it difficult to rely on plot—especially in shorter poems!—and instead spend my energy focusing in on particular details surrounding plot: the tattoo on someone’s body, the fleeting feeling of joy, the odd color of the teakettle, etc. Style is about deepening the plot’s potential for meaning, and that’s when poetry happens.
Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering where you got the idea for “What Makes You Beautiful”? Did you have to fall on a personal experience to write, “Driving Home, I Imagined the Man I’d Just Met, Alone in His Apartment, Washing By Hand the Glass from which I’d Drunk”?
Doug Paul Case: A majority of my work is at least partially autobiographical.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you arrive at titles for your poems?
Doug Paul Case: I often start with the title. They sometimes give me the feeling of a poem waiting to be written. Calling. And every poem is different, of course, but as a reader I appreciate placing titles. I enjoy entering a poem knowing a little something about its world and what I’ll encounter there. Tricks do very little work for me; I would much rather be prepared for what the poem has to offer, to experience it fully from the start.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the relationship between you and readers of your work?
Doug Paul Case: I like to think of my reader as my date for brunch, slightly hung-over and ready to gossip.