FIRST BOOK: VICTORY
VICTORY by Ben Kopel, H_NGM_N BKS 2012
1. Tell us about the title, VICTORY, and the epigraph to the book:
“You can’t win, you can’t draw,
sometimes you can’t even lose,
but to even train up to such a fight
Where did you encounter it, what does it mean to you, or how did you decide on it?
The title was a gift from warriorpoet Dean Young. He gave it to me after reading an earlier than early draft of the manuscript in the Spring of 2008. When he said it, I just kind of knew it. There it was: one word, three syllables. Seven letters— I took it as a sign.
It’s a sign and a promise and a prayer and it came from a friend and who could ask for anything more?
RE: the epigraph: It’s the first four lines of the poem “Comment On Business Jacob, The Angel Wrestler”, from Dugan’s collection titled POEMS FOUR.
The Business Jacob… poem that proceeds it ends ‘No thanks, / I don’t fight punks.’ ‘Nuff said.
In the end, I placed it at the front in order to give the ending away early.
2. How would you describe VICTORY in a few sentences to someone who doesn’t regularly read poetry?
This is what I’m aiming for and my aim is true:
“I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.” –Woody Guthrie
3. Can you give us a rough idea of how long it took you to write all the poems in the book?
Emotionally: about twenty-seven years, give or take.
Physically: about five years, give or take.
4. How/when did you come to the realization that your manuscript was finished and ready to be sent out?
There was a darkness in my life and upon exiting out into the light I knew I had to do something to get back to where I was from. Back to somewhere better. VICTORY is my fight song, that chunk of courage I had hidden away. I figured then was as good as any time to sing it on out there. Admitting that it was ready was admitting that I was ready.
5. What was the process like trying to get it published? How long were you shopping the book before H_NGM_N picked it up?
I started sending it out in November to about four different contests/reading periods/etc. That spring, Nate called me up and told me he wanted to take it on and I said yes.
6. Are there other poets, poems, or books that you feel like VICTORY is in conversation with? Either in terms of style or inspiration?
Oh man, this could go on for days. I’ll try to keep it brief and lucid.
The self is a cloister full of remembered sounds / And of sounds so far forgotten, like her voice, / That they return unrecognized. –Wallace Stevens
VICTORY is full of voices, both real and invented. It’s informed by everything that was in the air around me during its inception. The people I talked to. The albums I played into the ground. The movies I watched on repeat. The television show that were muttering in the other room. And the poems. The poems. The poems. No input means no output. I tried to catalogue all inspirations and appropriations on the ‘Acknowledgments’ pages. I put everyone in the same block: heroes next to friends next to family next to mythology. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I haven’t forgotten the songs that saved my life.
7. What was it like working with H_NGM_N and Nate Pritts after they accepted the manuscript? What kinds of things needed to happen on your end from acceptance to print?
It’s been pretty great. Working with a small press allows for so much freedom and I felt I had an insane amount of input in the final product. Also, I like the fact that the book in their catalogue share the same size and design aesthetic. It’s nice to feel like a part of something bigger. Oh, and I think it should be noted that the H_NGM_N crew was very kind to allow me to divide the book into seven sections. I know that’s not normal and probably would have been shot down at other places. But, Nate and co. were willing to actually take the time to consider the book from my perspective first and foremost, and that is something generous in the world of publishing.
8. How have things changed now that you’ve got a first book under your belt?
Well, it’s still early. I’m excited to see what people have to say about the little starfaced guy.
And I’m excited to imagine what whatever is next will look like. I’m writing new poems here and there, but it’s a slow train coming. I feel like I’ve been entrenched in Victory City for a few months now, and it’s helping me to remember that, YES, I am proud of this book and excited about it joining the conversation.
9. How has it been promoting the book now that it’s come out/about to come out? How is the publicity work split between yourself and the press?
I think I’m getting the hang of it. Nate and the H_NGM_N folks have been really good about being clear on what they will be doing to get the book out there. I also understand that a lot of legwork on my part is necessary to make sure people know that the book is available and enjoyable. Luckily, the internet exists. Even better, friends exist. I’m very blessed to be surrounded by so many supportive people in and out of the poetry community who have been willing to help get the word out about VICTORY. My dreambrother, Clay Achee, is a filmmaker and directed some promo videos we’ll be releasing weekly through Facebook. Some really generous people have offered to do reviews. I’m told I need to start a Tumblr. I’m reading in a goth bar bathroom in Chicago during AWP. I did an interview with a freshman named Randy aka RanDaddy for the newspaper of the high school I work at currently. So, yes, I’m feeling freaking-enthusiastic!
10. Do you have a piece of advice for poets still shopping their first book?
Always defend the skies of your youth and the rest will be fine.
11. Can you recommend a first book by another poet you’re loving right now?
Boy, can I!
I’ve been teaching Emily Pettit’s ‘Goat in the Snow’ to my high school kids for almost a solid month now, and we keep finding new ideas to talk about and poems to write. Every time I look at it, it’s a different book, and that’s something rare and special.
‘Fuckscapes’ by Sean Kilpatrick is really scraping itself into my skull. I’m having to take that one in in gashes and gasps. He’s got a killer sense of distortion.
I’m extremely excited to read Gale Thompson’s ‘Soldier On’ whenever Tupelo Press puts that one out into the world that’s been waiting for it. Same goes for the joygasm inducing beauty that is Christie Ann Reynolds’ ‘Last Call For The Horizon’ from Coconut Books.
Nate Slawson’s ‘Panic Attack U.S.A’ was totally my album of the year for 2011. He beat me to so many punches. I wanna read this book out loud, into a megaphone, on a bus, to everyone.
Rachel Glaser’s story collection, ‘Pee On Water’, is full of feelings.
My label-mate-brother-in-arms Adam Fell’s ‘I Am Not A Pioneer’ is willing to be cruel to be kind to be honest to be believed.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have gotten sneak peaks at both ‘The Portable Atlas’ by Dan Hoy and ‘The Constitution’ by Brian Foley. Someone needs to publish both of those books like yesterday.
12. If someone asked you “why is poetry important?” what would you say to them?
I’m not sure if I’m as interested in poetry being “important” as I am in it being “great.” I was recently talking to Amy Lawless, and she made this great comment about loving poets and poems that address the world with nothing to lose. My favorite comic book character was always Daredevil— The Man Without Fear. He’s the most ecstatic hero of all because, being blind (radioactive waste, ninja training, catholic guilt, etc. etc.), he could never actually see just how fucked his situation was. So he always fights at full force, no matter how unlikely the odds. For me, poetry is at its greatest when it risks getting the shit kicked out of it by the bad guys. It takes risks because it knows it’s doing what it’s there for: reminding us that we have choices! That there are possibilities! Let’s be interested and invested in the poems that get up off the floor, stare at the camera, and stutter something funny and brave and true.