Surprise Is Important: An Interview With Poet Aaron Belz
I watched/listened to Aaron Belz read poetry on Youtube while I made mac & cheese. Like most things I end up obsessed with, I didn’t get it at first. The poetry had a straight-faced frankness. I heard wordplay. There were puns. People were laughing, but I felt like they were laughing out of discomfort. At around 4 minutes Belz reads his poem, “Trees”, which goes, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s no such thing as trees.” He pauses, as he usually does after a line, and then flips the page and scratches his nose. It clicks: the poem is over. That was it. The crowd laughs harder than it has yet, and I was laughing too. The element of surprise kept me hanging on throughout the rest of the performance. My macaroni noodles cooked too long, got soft. I was excited to find out how I’d be surprised next. It was a little like watching stand up comedy. It was a lot like something I wanted to share with people I knew.
There’s no ‘I’ in team,
but there’s one in bitterness
and one in failure.
Over the next few hours, I discovered dozens of his poems (for free) on his site meaningless.com; I read articles he’d written for the Huffington Post about Twitter; I added his latest book, Glitter Bomb, to my Christmas list; I put into my calendar the date and time of his upcoming reading at The Trust in downtown Lancaster (January 8th, 2015, 7:30pm at The Trust Performing Arts Center, 37 N. Market St., Lancaster); I saved ten dollars to get in.
Then, I emailed him a few questions, and he got back to me in less than 24 hours.
The Triangle: How would you describe your own poetry?
Belz: I enjoy writing it. In it I am allowed to challenge assumptions of language, logic, idiom and cliché, and cultural standards of acceptability. I can also play with word sounds so they sort of bounce off of each other. I like how meaning is given a chance to echo in other people’s poetry, and I try to do the same thing in mine.
When did you start writing poetry and why?
I started writing poetry in high school—eleventh grade. I wrote it then because it was assigned as part of a creative writing elective at the Stony Brook School.
Did you ever stop writing poetry and why?
I’ve never stopped writing poetry, but I have lowered my standards for my own work. I think the secret to my continuing to write poetry (while some of my peers have given up) is that I don’t mind becoming worse and worse at it. Poetry is exactly what you make of it on a given day, and each day is new, so I keep writing.
Where did you grow up and where do you now live?
I grew up mostly in St. Louis, and I now live in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Can you give a quick run-down of the books of poetry (and chaps) you’ve published thus far in your career? How do you feel about each of them at this moment? How, if at all, have your feelings towards any of the publications changed?
Two chapbooks and three full-length books, in the order in which they were published: Bangs (2002), Plausible Worlds (2005), The Bird Hoverer (2007), Lovely, Raspberry (2010) and Glitter Bomb, which came out in June, 2014. I suppose you could say I publish something every few years. I have some regrets about poems in the chapbooks and in The Bird Hoverer, because they seem incomplete—or like they take shortcuts I no longer want to take. Also, I feel that they cash in their momentum too soon or unnecessarily. Also, they reflect some obsessions with language that I no longer have, contain riddles I feel I’ve solved long since. I read old poems sometimes and think “I see what you did there.” But the recent two books I have no problem with. I hope the next book, if there is one, is totally next-level.
Can you write a blurb for your newest book, Glitter Bomb, as if you were one of your parents?
“Aaron is so good at writing poetry! We are very proud of him. Tell him one of his socks is on top of the dryer. <3”
Can you talk a little about meaningless.com? Are these poems a part of a collection? Were they all written for the purpose of being stored together online? Do you add to it often? Are these the best poems you’ve ever written?
Meaningless.com is a domain name I registered back in the 90s thinking I would make good use of it. It’s just a little sampler, as it has been for the past 15 years. By the way, its XML was designed by the amazing Derek Odegard of Astoria, New York. I love having friends who understand technology.
When I first heard your poetry, it seemed to be very twitteresque in its syntax and silly-ironic content. However, I can’t view your account because of an “internal server error”. What is your relationship with twitter? Have you been banned?
I took December off to reset. I think Twitter is cool, but I’m wary of becoming obsessive about it, so I need to regroup in silence sometimes. Twitter is like a game millions of people are playing, many of them quite a bit cleverer than I, so one good result of Twitter participation, for me, is that it keeps me humble.
I noticed you were doing a series of “Literary Twitter” articles for HuffPo where you would identify and describe twitter accounts that you felt had originality or literary quality. This series seems to end in early 2012. So, I’m wondering, what are some of your current favorite twitter accounts/handles/people-on-twitter?
I can think of two who consistently bend my mind: Ted Travelstead (@trumpetcake) and Uncle Dynamite (@uncledynamite). Those guys seem like they’re tweeting for the absolute hell of it and not because they want something special from me. It’s like they’re explorers not quite facing my direction.
Where do you feel poetry is headed?
It keeps mutating. Right now it’s happening mostly in rap music, and I doubt it will ever return to its salad days when the printing press was invented. I guess that’s more or less “official” poetry I’m talking about, the kind Donne and Shakespeare wrote. If we don’t get back to that, it’s fine by me. As Marianne Moore wrote, “there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.”
What inspired the poem “For Ben Affleck’s Daughter?”
I went through a phase in which I addressed and described celebrities at odd angles—personal lives, intimate realities, etc. I think this is one of those poems. It thrilled me to imagine a celebrity doing something mundane and important like putting a kid to bed (which I have done many times, as I have three chidren).
What happens in your favorite episode of “Disparate Housewives”?
Which street sign, when you see it, do you often read as a metaphor for your life?
There’s a street sign near a state park near me that says, “ONLY YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” It’s a lie, because when you think of all the forest fires that have been prevented, and you consider how few (if any) of those I have prevented, it adds up to a lot. Like the lie of that sign, I, too, add up to a lot. It’s like the whole “pound of cure” thing. Love that sign!
I saw a video of you reading at AEM’s 7th Annual Evening of Arts and Entertainment; you opened by stating you’d read “just 200 poems…”. How many poems do you think you’ll read in Lancaster on January 8th?
Twenty-five or more.