Poetry Spotlight: Alex Dimitrov

Alex Dimitrov graffiti

Alex Dimitrov’s first collection of poems, Begging for It (Four Way Books 2013), made our Anticipated Books of 2013 list after we published his poem “Evening” in Memorious,  and I’m pleased to say that this book was absolutely worth the wait. (Although, yes, there is a  James Franco poem on page 19.) In these insistent but easy-voiced lyrics, Dimitrov moves between the territory of a young immigrant’s observations of America and a young man’s boldly thoughtful queries into love and sex.  The opening poem, “Heartland” sets the stage with these opening lines:  “In America, I stopped to listen for God. / What about these men with their wolf tongues ….”

The voice guiding us through this book is that of a twenty-first century flaneur who doesn’t differentiate between pop culture and the literature that has shaped him, who guides us into encounters with such varying figures as James Franco and Brigitte Bardot and Roland Barthes, who leads us into bedrooms, guides us across bridges and avenues, and who postures a worldliness that pleads itself back into earnestness when he shows the loneliness of even the most self-reflective figure in the city, in the modern world. And through all of this wandering Dimitrov maintains an admirable control over the line with a leashed cadence that balances tension and movement. This voice is the best of guides.

You may recognize Dimitrov’s name from the New York Times article on the queer poetry salon, Wilde Boys, that he founded in New York. Dimitrov’s poems have been published in The Yale Review, Kenyon ReviewSlatePoetry DailyTin HouseBoston Review, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize. He is also the author of American Boys, an e-chapbook published by Floating Wolf Quarterly. Dimitrov is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and frequently writes for Poets & Writers. He answered a few questions for us about Begging for It.

What’s the earliest poem you wrote for Begging for It?

I wrote “The Underwear” in Marie Howe’s workshop in the fall of 2007 at Sarah Lawrence College. I remember sitting in her office, we were both on this red couch, and I was totally terrified that I had written this very expository poem. And she showed me Cavafy’s “The Bandaged Shoulder” for the first time. I’ll never forget it. It’s as if she gave me permission to write the poems I needed to write then by pointing me to something else. Marie Howe does these kind of things. And they work. She’s incredible.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Wilde Boys, the queer poetry salon you created in New York.  How has that experienced influenced the writing of this first book?

It hasn’t. I think Wilde Boys has certainly shaped the literary community but not my writing.

What’s the first book that you ever fell in love with?  And what other literary loves have influenced you?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of the first books I remember falling in love with as a child. I loved it so much that I wanted to learn French. I was probably five or six and I asked my parents if I could go to this French institute in Bulgaria and take private lessons, and everyone thought this was crazy because I was so young.  But after hearing French, I just thought, why would I want to speak anything else. And so I began taking French lessons.

What is the most surprising source you found for a poem in this book?

“To the Thirsty I Will Give Water” is a poem I wrote after reading a news report that this man had driven his car into the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. I was also reading Montaigne essays at the time and decided to put the story and Montaigne’s writings together, like two different types of gay boys that might go to the same bar and find each other.

Your poem “Evening” first appeared in Memorious. Can you tell us a little about the making of that poem?

“Evening” started as an email to someone. And then I never sent the email but pulled lines and phrases from it, and I actually drafted the entire poem in the same template in Gmail that had the original email. That’s what’s vivid about the process to me—that it came out of wanting to say something to someone. Which is what poetry is. One person saying something to another. We’re lucky as poets that we get to create using language because language has the ability to house immense intimacy. The direct address language is capable of still excites me. There’s nothing like saying something to someone. Alone in a room or in front of everyone on the internet.

Would you tell us about the making of your book trailer? How did access to visual image and sound allow you to enter into conversation with your own book?

I’ve started to photograph text off of my computer screen with my iPhone because I like how neo-nostalgic the images look. Sometimes I put them through filters on Instagram, sometimes I don’t. I was interested in very clean screencaps at first, which I used in my echapbook American Boys, but now I’m more interested in putting the images through several layers of separation, via various technologies. Usually it’s very personal text, like my text messages or emails or tweets—and I like how those layers of separation depersonalize the text. At least for me that’s what they do. So having been doing this for a while (and you can see some of these on my Instagram), I decided to make a book trailer that is a montage of various clips and images from popular culture, my personal archives, pornography, avant-garde films, my tweets—all recorded with my iPhone off of a computer screen, so you get those beautiful waves of static, which are also neo-nostalgic to me. The nostalgia of the future. I’m interested in the past and the future. I always want to put them together. I don’t know what to do with the present.

For original poetry, fiction, interviews, and art song, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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