Interview: Steve Subrizi

Header image for interview with Steve  Subrizi.

We talk to Steve Subrizi about Twitter, flash fiction, music and Kickstarter. Steve’s short fiction appeared in Issue #33 of Neon.

I was intrigued by the final few lines of your short piece “Angel’s Glow”. How did you find out about the strange phenomenon you describe there? Was the story built around that idea, or did other elements come first?

The first thing I remember writing in my notepad for “Angel’s Glow” was the line about the all-black Oakland A’s uniform. I was at work – I work as a doorperson for a music venue within a bar and restaurant – and I saw those uniforms on one of the bar TVs, and it inspired me to list some other subtly gloomy images that may go unnoticed in the light of day: a tangled flag, an accidentally-killed plant, and a few others that didn’t make the cut.

Those just hung out in my notepad for a while, and then I came across an article on Mental Floss about Angel’s Glow, the phenomenon that was discovered in the wake of an American Civil War battle, which I describe at the end of the poem. I had recently had a bad argument with a friend over my drinking habits that resulted in my decision to take a break from alcohol, so I guess that hangovers were already on my mind and therefore became the construction paper on which I crazy-glued these images and this phenomenon of grotesque healing.

Your stories and poems are brief, but still complete and self-contained. What are your feelings about phrases like “flash” or “micro” fiction? Do you think that it’s true that attention spans are becoming shorter?

I have a pretty short attention span, so I have always been drawn to short poems and stories, but I really fell in love with prose poetry and flash fiction while interning for Rose Metal Press. To anyone who shares my love of these forms, I especially recommend Rose Metal’s field guides, Sean Lovelace’s How Some People Like Their Eggs, and Carol Guess’s Tinderbox Lawn. But their whole catalogue is really special and great.

It seems possible that our attention spans are becoming shorter, but what’s more certain is that the ways in which we pay attention are changing; as a member of the last generation who can remember a time before the internet, I can attest to that much. The phrase “information superhighway” comes to mind, a phrase that I think I last heard sans irony in the ’90s. Information is everywhere, available to us in an instant – “no duh!” Maybe that’s why we feel the need to shorten the ways in which we communicate it. If one considers the Facebook post or the Tweet as descendents of the open letter, then it follows that literary forms consisting of one to two paragraphs or one to two lines should gain in popularity. I think it’s pretty punk rock.

You mention in your bio that you’re a member of a band. Could you tell me more about that? How does your music interact with your writing?

I write songs – usually alone, but sometimes with Kirsten Opstad. We write breakup songs and call ourselves The Crazy Exes from Hell.

A couple of years ago now, I went through a phase where I kept trying to set my poems to music. I usually picked my more “lyrical”, less narrative poems, and I would recite them over pretty basic chord progressions. There were a few such experiments that I think came out okay, but I wound up returning to keeping the two disciplines fairly separate.

For me in my own work, there isn’t as much gray area between poems and songs as there is between poems and stories. On the page, I tend toward surrealism and absurdity. I know there is plenty of room for those tendencies in music – I love Leonard Cohen and David Berman, and I envy both of their work greatly. But for now, I use my music as the space in which I get more “real” with my audience, if only because it’s easier for me to get reality to sound “good” there, having a guitar handy and all. I enjoy the freedom of saying something like, “Who the fuck is that guy?” over and over, and that is the sort of move that’s harder to get away with on paper.

Tell me about your Twitter-based chapbook. What gave you the idea? And – in so far as you can quantify – has it been successful?

I was sitting in my apartment waiting for somebody to come and fix the doorknob, and I just started writing these one-sentence poems. Naturally enough, I wondered if I could tweet any of them. And then I got really excited, and pretty soon I had set up @fieldsofteeth.

Fields of Teeth has been going on and off for about a year, and maybe in part because of that “on-and-off-ness,” it doesn’t have very many “followers” or “likes”, so I wouldn’t call it successful by measure of popularity. But if nothing else, it continues to satisfy me as an exercise. Lots of Twitter users tweet very poetically, and I find “Weird Twitter” beautiful in its free-spiritedness, but I personally feel a lot better having gone that extra mile and actually polishing those odd little blurbs before I follow that urge to make them public. This way, it becomes slightly easier to convince myself that I haven’t been wasting my time.

You’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund your first studio album. How is it going? What are your thoughts in general about initiatives like Kickstarter that allow fans to fund the production of things they enjoy?

The Kickstarter is going fantastically! I may have accidentally committed a wise stratagem by launching it just before my birthday. In any case, it’s almost two-thirds funded, so I’m cautiously optimistic that I will be working at Steed Sound with Jon Corey come March.

All I can say is that I desperately wish that art were not as undervalued as it is, and the Kickstarter model strikes me a good enough antidote. It lends a very helpful element of transparency to the whole enterprise – I don’t know how often people realize that it can be expensive to make art. The “pay-what-you-want” thing scares me a little, but so far, enough people have chosen to pay me what they can that I don’t feel as if I am begging, and that is a pleasant surprise – a change of pace, even.

If I have one thing to say to the people of Kickstarter, the readers of Neon, and you, it is this: “Thanks for paying attention to me!”

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Steve Subrizi lives in Massachusetts and has performed his poetry at dive bars and lecture halls across America. His work has appeared in such places as The Scrambler, Muzzle, NOÖ Journal, and Monday Night. His e-chapbook, Newly Wild Hedgehog, is available from NAP. He plays in a band called The Crazy Exes From Hell. His website is www.stevesubrizi.com.