Poet Of The Week

Billy Cancel

     April 8–14, 2019

billy cancel is a poet / performer and sound / collage artist. His work has appeared in Boston Review, PEN America, Map Literary and Bombay Gin. His new collection MOCK TROUGH RASPING CROW is out on BlazeVOX books. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Thursday Fernworthy (Lauds) and together they perform as the noise-poetry duo Tidal Channel.

Author photo by Matt Mottel

     a SKIM CITY Perched Skeleton that’s me!

have come a long way        to check my red
eye in the mirrored outside      of a condo
tower.           highly attuned to bland neutral

     tones deceptive sheen      i also roam
Deterritorialized Spaces seeking seeking
seeking.           my new coke coding makes for

     overlapping scrunched up poems      some of
which finish themselves while others refuse to
do so.           yes we were a

     fool in a basket getting
dragged about by an old guy through
another downtown’s Activity
Node      beseeching the whole set-up that
“you have reached the last days of
american space flight
& must now revert to      equus asinus”           but

     the future
is proving


Tell us about the making of this poem.

Certainly, this poem is the happy coincidence of: 1) a scratched cornea suffered in January 2016, 2) an article I read on the inhospitable design of megacities, 3) a book I read about the social history of the fool, 4) a book I read about donkeys and 5) some Chelsea gallery openings I attended in 2017.

What are you working on right now?

Two poems—“we are a post-punk Unicorn Tapestry” and “Uncool OBLIVION”—plus my twenty-five-poem performance sequence BUTTERCUP TANTRUM MUTTON ENCORE.

What’s a good day for you?

I like to wake up unfeasibly early around 3 AM, go on a run, at the same time likely recite some poems, come home, write and read through the day. Next, I’ll go on a walk with Genevieve, then after a meal out we’ll go to a show / performance that evening, a good one though, else I’m likely to capitulate without warning due to severe fatigue.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I wanted to be a poet / performer in a metropolis, whereby previously I had only been a writer in cathedral towns and backwaters. Upon arrival I was advised by well-meaning randos to gravitate towards Brooklyn. I didn’t move to New York for a job or school and knew no one, so at first I was only guided by impromptu hints and tips, and some outdated vague cultural references which I held, but turned out to work.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

So, I’ve been in the US for twelve years now and have lived in Greenpoint for about ten, in fact the longest I’ve lived in any place and I’m shocked at the relative stasis of my old haunts in contrast. The area still has some very cheap places to eat and drink, cool buildings and some interesting people about. However, the neighborhood has been almost three different places since I’ve been here and has left the age of tall boy and is now moving firmly into the age of chrome condos, unsurprisingly.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

Genevieve and I met at a house show in Bushwick in 2008; the venue folded shortly after and it’s a matter of speculation where it exactly was. We married in Williamsburg two years later and have verifiable witnesses as to that location.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

What I’ve found is an overlapping of scenes, which is testament to the richness of the culture in NYC. I guess I’m involved in some performance, music and poetry scenes and their various neighborhood, generational or institutional spin-offs. I don’t really know if I’m a full member of any of them or not, but I’m grateful they exist, which I guess is why I’m here in Brooklyn.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Michael Whalen, Ed Go, Melissa Goodrum of Other Rooms Press for their urgent, fun writing and performances. Brendan Lorber for all the Lungfull! and Acculorber reports. Birds, LLC for the great poetry they put out. Other honorable mentions are too numerous or mentioned below.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

When I first came to New York, I attended a poetry workshop by Todd Colby at the Poetry Project. It was like a baptism into New York poetry and once I got a fair suck of that pineapple I’ve not looked back. Also, years ago in the UK a wonderful poet Steve Spence (based around the Plymouth / Exeter poetry scene) gave me stellar advice and turned me on to many great poets (Tom Raworth, Maggie O’Sullivan) while steering me away from a lot of crap.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I’ve just read Stacy Szymaszek’s A Year from Today and it was so fresh, darting in and out of different poetic styles but really disciplined. I read it twice in two sittings, and anything which makes you ask yourself “now, how do I want to write?” must be great. Prior to that, I read Steve Dalachinsky’s Where Night and Day Become One, which is a wonderful cross between jazz poetry and psycho-geography; the vibrancy of the poems keeps superseding the collection’s heavy concerns of life, culture and history.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Ron Silliman, The Age of Huts. Bernadette Mayer, The Helens of Troy, New York.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

If I can read a book of poetry cover to cover I will, but logistically that doesn’t always work out. In terms of planning, I seek out specific poetry books but always throw in a wildcard (seen in proximity to my choices or recommended) as well as a golden oldie. I like to read a lot of nonfiction and reference books too, and for that I just roam a library and scoop up whatever catches my eye. I prefer physical books and I take notes all the time, which I then paste into my notebook and type out, to exacerbate the duplication.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to try an epic narrative poem some day to see if I could, because I feel that although I have good memory retention, my powers of concentration may be more or less shot, so I would be curious to give it a go and see if it could be maintained.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I prefer to write while in transit. I guess it must be the sense of motion. In order of preference, I go plane, train, ferry, car, subway, bus. Otherwise hotel rooms work, which I guess comes down to a feeling of suspension.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the downward sloping pedestrian ramp of the Pulaski Bridge; you follow it gently from the Queens side into Brooklyn about four floors high all the way down to the ground. For many years I’ve also enjoyed the “glowing onion” towers of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which throb varying shades through the night. I also like Montero’s on Atlantic Ave as I’m a sucker for old neon signs and weird atmospheres, occasionally.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the Other Dance, buzz crusher.
And what I bundle you deskill,
For every houstonized me as good midway bonus for you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

blotched father

expansive jack
     clique pen
little horace love
     embellishment sin
vampire system biggie
     superimposition rob
hoopla brooklyn
     glowing tapestry dodger.

Why Brooklyn?

I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I’ve always felt an energy from all the different facets of art being created in Brooklyn, an actual energy being emitted through the walls / off the streets / through the ground. Then when you go somewhere that doesn’t have that, you really feel its lack, physically and mentally, like a deficiency in something, that’s why.