One of the most interesting aspects of working as an intern at BookThug, is living and embodying the inspiring phrase “Literature of the Future.” Kristen and I are given complete creative freedom to push and develop our own ideas for the blog. One of the ideas we’ve come up with is a fun interview questionnaire that BookThug’s published authors can fill out. Through this, we can gauge their thoughts on interviews in general, what they about think the word BookThug, what’s occupying their thoughts these days, the stuff they’ve cut/deleted from their books, and what new projects they’re currently working on now, including any never-before-published excerpts from upcoming books.
So here are Jacob Wren’s responses, author of Polyamorous Love Song.
Puneet Dutt: Pop Quiz: Name one other BookThug book you know (not yours). Have you read it? What do you think?
Jacob Wren: I just finished reading Enter the Raccoon by Beatriz Hausner. Such a gorgeous, perverse, essential book, pulsing around and through a very dirty-profound erotic relationship with a giant raccoon-being and his skilled metal finger. A book that says more about love and sex than all the self-help manuals in the bookstore. And, of course, more about writing and what it means to write well.
Puneet Dutt: What is the most annoying question that you hate answering during interviews? (We promise never to ask it, ever.)
Jacob Wren: Actually, the questions I get asked are always really good. I’m sure there are bad questions out there somewhere but I don’t seem to be doing those kinds of interviews (at least not yet.) Just to play along, if I were to think of a question that I have never been asked, but that I also very much would not like to be asked, it might be something like: “Have you ever written something that has made your friends angry at you and can you tell us what it was.” For the record, the answer is also ‘not yet.’
Puneet Dutt: Draw us a sketch about what a ‘book thug’ looks like to you. (Recommended: drawing on a napkin or another surface would be great, and if you could just take a picture of it, that would be lovely!
Jacob Wren: I’m afraid I don’t have a camera. But I will maybe think about doing this at some point soon.
Puneet Dutt: What were you thinking about/doing just before you received this email? Or what has been on your mind a lot?
Jacob Wren: As is well know by anyone who follows my activities on line, I am consumed by an overwhelming feeling of failure, and spend a great deal of time thinking about why this might be the case. I also spend a great deal of time wishing it was less well known. (A desire I am somehow undermining by mentioning it again here.)
Puneet Dutt: Describe your currently published book(s) with BookThug to us in one sentence.
Jacob Wren: Polyamorous Love Song imagines many new kinds of artists and their continuously unexpected epiphanies as it fucks with the reader’s head, unraveling questions around what it might mean to consider art in same breath as an ethical/unethical relation to the world.
Puneet Dutt: Was there something or someone you cut out from your book that was not published? (A paragraph, killing a character, or a fact that you can share?)
Jacob Wren: There are many sections I cut from the book. I have an entire file of them. Here are a few examples (probably too many but you can choose your favourites):
A digression: Cancer is not a natural disease. Cancer is an environmental affliction created by man-made chemicals in our air, water and food. Therefore, we should not be searching for a cure for cancer. This is a red herring meant to distract us from the real culprits. Instead we should be protesting, legislating and prosecuting the corporations that produce and profit from the chemical world in which we live.
In the streets of Berlin I also, from time to time, found myself following complete strangers. I momentarily considered re-contextualizing this activity as an art practice, but then realized Vito Acconci and Sophie Calle had already done it. What is this curse to take everything I do, see, think and experience and turn it into art. I never followed anyone very far, always at a considerable distance, and yet every time I did so I could so clearly imagine myself catching up to them, tapping them on the shoulder, explaining that they had caught my eye, that something about them had sparked my curiosity (perhaps even mentioning that I had been following them for a few blocks, if I could find a way to do so without sounding completely creepy), asking if they wanted to talk. And yet, though there were many people I followed, I never once approached, never once did I speak to any of them. I sense some loose connection between this desire to turn everything into art and the inability to approach strangers. Since art itself, putting ones thoughts and feelings out into the world, is in itself a way of approaching strangers, of trying to open a dialogue with people one may well never meet.
The original title for this book was Artists Are Self-Absorbed. And then, as the book was nearing completion, I suddenly panicked, feeling I couldn’t give the book such a negative title, that sending it out into the world with a self-defeating name was almost a form of self-sabotage, and my entire life had been a series of incidents of self-sabotage and now was the time to change. To get on my own side and, hopefully, turn things around a bit. And in a way I already had another title in my back pocket: Polyamorous Love Song. It was a title I had used for a short-lived music column and it was a title that had already received much love. The idea of the column was that most love songs, mainstream or otherwise, are directed towards one person, the ultimate soul mate or new excitement, and maybe a polyamorous love song, a love song directed towards a few (or many) soul mates, might undermine some of the basic songwriting assumptions, be a small step towards a more liberating, emacipatory way of being alive. Then something else occurred to me: that this explanation might also be a form of self-sabotage. So many paradoxes piled upon paradoxes.
It was around that time I became obsessed with the idea that I wanted people to read my books long after I died, that I wanted to be one of those authors – like Kafka, like Walser, like so many others – whose work only found a substantial readership after they were gone. I didn’t want to do anything in particular to bring about this goal. I just wanted to work, to live, within the vague, unverifiable hope that it might eventually come true. And it occurred to me that this hope was a bit like the Christian idea of an afterlife, that my body would die but my work would live on in the eternal heaven of a considerable posthumous readership.
And then another thought. Maybe all works of art are some kind of polyamorous love songs, offerings sent out into the world in order to get everyone to love you. Works of art and literature are not directed towards one person but towards many. Songs in the sense of bird song, messages thrown out into the world. At times I felt that everything about being an artist is encapsulated in the tension between these two titles, between Artists Are Self-Absorbed and Polyamorous Love Song. And by changing the title it was almost like I was trying to say: look, I’m no longer self-absorbed. I’m not the same person I was when I started writing this book, when I started dreaming it. Or at least I wish I wasn’t. However, I fear I am more the same than ever.
Puneet Dutt: Where do you write from? (cities, countries, planets – anything works).
Jacob Wren: I travel a great deal and often write in trains, airplanes, airports and hotel rooms.
Puneet Dutt: Something personal about you that your readers may be surprised to know? (Day job? What do you do when you are not writing?)
Jacob Wren: I feel anyone who knows anything about me at all knows that when I’m not writing I’m making and touring performances. I’m sure there would be an enormous number of things someone might be surprised to know about me, but I am never particularly certain what things others find surprising in life (they always seem to be rather different from the things that I myself find surprising.) For something surprising about me, how about: I have never watched pornography. (This fact also somehow relates to all the sex and violence I’ve attempted to write in Polyamorous Love Song.)
Puneet Dutt: In your opinion, what should aspiring writers not do?
Jacob Wren: They should not read only the same books that everyone else is reading.
Puneet Dutt: What is the next big thing for you (goals, travel, etc.)?
Jacob Wren: I’ve always liked this quote by John Cage: “The goal is not to have a goal.”
Puneet Dutt: What’s the next project for you? (If you’re working on something now, can you share a line, a paragraph or piece with us? Maybe even a word or feeling to describe it?
Jacob Wren: I am writing a new book tentatively entitled Rich and Poor. (I also have an alternative, much longer, title: Life is very short and should not be spent crawling at the feet of miserable scoundrels.) I still have no idea which title I prefer. It is about a dishwasher who decides to kill a billionaire as a political act. Here are what might very well become the opening paragraphs:
There is the expression: you catch more flies with honey than you do with poison. But I have realized this is only partly true. Because unless your goal is to breed flies, you also need at least a little bit of poison to finish them off. Looking back on my life I now wonder: what was the honey and what was the poison? How often did I confuse the two and with what results? The standard rags to riches story is a tepid, sugary cliché, and the ways I have often used it to charm and increase my opportunities in life, and how I will continue to do so here, is one of the many poisons that harms me daily to a similar degree that I have damaged the many who have stumbled into my path. To make yourself a legend you tell your story one way, and to make yourself a martyr you tell it differently, with different emphasis. Both ways are of course corrupt but the results differ. I’ve never been good at introducing myself, one reason that I prefer everyone already know who I am before I arrive. It was never my intention to write a memoir. I’ve never understood why memoirs are so popular these days.
The Persian philosopher Tusi (1201 – 1274 AD) writes: “If men were equal, they would all perish.” We need differences between rich and poor, he insisted, just as we need differences between farmers and carpenters. I wasn’t born rich. It took me twenty years of panache and gradual calculation to build my fortune. And if I had children, which I do not, and if like me they had not been born rich, which is rather unlikely, it is even more unlikely they would be able to repeat my success. The world no longer contains such opportunities, and this generalized lack of opportunity is a condition me and my kind had some small part in creating. Or not. Perhaps we only rode the waves of our time, and, if none of us had been born, others would have done the same. But it was us and not others. Much like some people are rich and others are poor. We can say that some people are rich because others are poor but it changes nothing. The roulette wheel spins and the numbers that come up are the ones that win. If you were a left wing activist in Germany in the twenties or thirties there would be little you could do to stop Hitler. And yet it’s important to believe there is always something you can do, to lie to yourself a little, because then at least you have a shot. Miracles do happen but they are extremely rare. My situation was not a miracle. Just a great deal of charm and ambition, and being alive in an age when such things were possible. Plus precisely the right degree of luck. But of course, like all of us in these positions, I don’t believe in luck. We all believe, like any good asshole, that success is nothing more or less than the result of our genius.
The views expressed in this BookThug blog entry are held by the author and the interviewed author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BookThug.
Puneet Dutt is a MA candidate in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University and currently works as an intern for BookThug. She has completed a marathon, and when she is not working, running, or doing coursework, she is tasting the words of great poets on her tongue. The League of Canadian Poets published her poem, “The Lonesome Lunch,” as a New Poet Selection for the 2013 National Poetry Month and her poem “Salon” was published by Canadian Literature (Summer 2013). She resides in Toronto with her husband. (Follow her on Twitter: @Puneet_Dutt.)