Narrative seems like a straight people thing - "Davie Street Translations" Book Launch

Faded - Daniel Zomparelli

Drank your outfit on, drank the
walk to Celebrities, drank to
Odyssey, but you drank a sailor
outfit for this invite only

and drank your way out of embarr-
assment, drank your way into tongue
the bartender at Numbers in your cell-
phone, drank your way into

Pumpjack, drank your way
into bathroom-stall latex sex, drank
your way into Denny’s, drank your
way into his home, drank your way

into sleep, drank tears, drank into your
car, drank your way home, drank your sleep
drank your ass out of bed, drank the
morning, drank forgotten, drank you.
from Davie Street Translations
(Talonbooks, 2012).
Reprinted with permission.

It seems appropriate to follow a book launch interview with Daniela Elza with one with Daniel Zomparelli. And that's not just because their similar first names saved me time while altering the interview template. If Vancouver poetry has a "heart" (and here I mean both a connective centre and a lifeblood), Daniel, like Daniela, is certainly an important part of it (a ventricle, maybe?). A key organizer for the Vancouver poetry scene, Daniel's chief project is Poetry Is Dead, the little-magazine-that-could that's about to launch its fifth issue. Over those five issues, especially in the "Vancouver 125"-themed fourth issue, Daniel and his team have done a yeoman's job at promoting both Vancouver writers and a critical discussion about the city.

To give you a sense of just how busy with poetry projects Daniel is these days, here's his upcoming weekend: Friday, March 30th - Launch Issue #5 of Poetry Is Dead. Saturday, March 31st - Attend the first day of the "Arte Factum" Chapbook Exhibition (which Daniel is curating) at Project Space. Sunday, April 1st - Launch Davie Street Translations:

Apocalypstick presents Davie Street Translations
Sunday, April 1st, 9:00 PM
The Cobalt
917 Main Street, Vancouver
Featuring: Reading from Daniel Zomparelli, special guest performances by Raye Sunshine, Jaylene Tyme, and Vera Way, and more!
$5 (or free with book purchase)

Davie Street Translations is Daniel's debut book of poetry. On first glance it's easy to summarise the book's themes as "Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll", though you should probably replace "Rock n' Roll" with whatever you call what Lady Gaga and the Pussycat Dolls sing ("Poplectroskank"?). On second glance, though, there is a whole lot more going on in Daniel's exploration of Davie Street. Davie Street Translations is filled with playfulness, humour and wit that push up against, and trouble, the undertones of urban alienation and suburban violence that anchor many of the poems. Oh and there are lots of form poems. And Pumpjack references. And formal poems with Pumpjack references. Put it all together and you get a collection of poems that are in turns funny, salacious, and sobering, and well worth a read.

Daniel and I corresponded about his book and book launch via email, and the results of that exchange are posted below. He may or may not have been wearing a shirt during our correspondence. I'll never be certain.

Daniel Zomparelli topless: Funny? Salacious? Sobering? You decide.
Rob: As your title suggests, and as "Faded" demonstrates, Davie Street Translations (DST) is very much set in, and bound to, Vancouver’s gay community. It is also in close dialogue with a number of local writers (Brad Cran, Gillian Jerome, George Stanley, Billeh Nickerson, Garry Thomas Morse... even our city’s finest bard, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, gets a reference in there). The importance of these communities to your writing also seems to be emphasised by your decision to put the acknowledgements section at the front of your book.

Obviously, DST’s content would be dramatically different if you didn’t live in Vancouver, but I wonder how much you think its “spirit” (its tone, its arguments, its core feeling) is dependent on the city. Beyond the particular names and locations being different, how do you think your first book would have turned out if you’d written it in, say, Toronto or San Francisco or small-town BC? What, if any, elements of this book do you think would have existed no matter where you’d lived and what communities you’d entered?

Daniel: I hope the book is dependent on the city. There are a lot of jokes or references that only a Vancouverite would get. I purposely went for the local. Around the time of working on DST I was reading a lot of poetry that was desperately trying to be the every-poem, reaching as broad an audience as possible. I figured, go the opposite. Write about gay-male culture specific to a particular city. I think there are definitely elements of this book that are relevant to gay cultures across North America, but that is because there are generally a lot of similarities of gay culture around the world: the “camp,” the fascination with female singers, the drag queens, etc.

I think if I wrote it in a different city, the book would maintain a lot of the same themes and tone, it would probably just complain less about rain, Lululemon and bad drivers.

Rob: In what ways do you think DST fits into a tradition of queer writing in (and about) Vancouver? In what ways do you see it as an outlier, or as a book that is taking a tradition in a new direction?

Daniel: I’m not sure there is much of a tradition of queer writing in Vancouver. A lot of the strategies I used in writing these were based off of heterosexual writers. If there is a tradition of queer writing in Vancouver I think it’s narrative driven and sexualized

Rob: A number of the poems in DST, especially those that deal with gay bashing, reference the Vancouver suburbs. What would you say the book’s position, or argument, is regarding the relationship between Vancouver-proper, the suburbs, and the Lower Mainland’s queer community? Does the book’s position differ in any way from your own, as a real person whose mailing address (last I checked) was in Burnaby?

Daniel: I don’t live in Burnaby anymore, that’s just the address of Poetry Is Dead, but I know the suburbs well. The suburbs can be very homophobic and there are many accounts of gay bashers being from suburbs. There are cases of gay bashers specifically traveling down to Davie Street just to gay bash. Vancouver is actually one of the worst cities for gay bashing, and there are so many cases that are not even reported.

The book definitely points at that through many of the poems. When school boards are constantly trying to remove education, books and positive information about homosexuality from schools, we are teaching children that different means wrong. It’s exactly like that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie where Santa acts like a total dick and no one questions it. Think about it. Totally the same thing.

Rob: DST features a number of form poems. I find this to be common for first books, as the poet tries out a number of forms both to demonstrate their dexterity as a writer and to see how the forms “fit” with them. What surprises me about your book is the sheer quantity and range of the forms you cover (from sonnet sequences, to glosas, to centos, to erasures, to visual poems, to palindromes, to...). The forms you cover are both traditional and modern, and I wonder how you came to all of them. Did you take a course on form poetry, or did you find the forms through personal reading, or? Now that you’ve tried out so many forms, are there any in particular that you found “fit” best, and that you think you’ll write a good deal more of in the future? Any forms you haven’t got to yet, but want to try next?

Daniel: I found these poems through personal reading. I have an inability to stick to things. I get too bored. I like projects. So I set this book up as a conceptual project, where I had pre-established which forms I had to write for which specific topics then went out and produced them. From that project I wrote hundreds of poems, and the better ones found their way into the manuscript for Davie Street Translations.

So with this book was a project where I produced literally hundreds of poems in every form I found. I went from personal lyrical to surrealist free verse to rap to procedural to found, etc. I even wrote a poem called “Crushes on Straight Guys” using Eunoia as the inspiration. It was an awful poem, but the effort was there.

I can’t really say any of forms fit best with me. I feel awkward writing lyrical confessional poems because I am a conservative Victorian lady at heart, so at least I know what I don’t want to write. I don’t like sticking to one style of writing. I can’t say if I’ll even stick with poetry. In three years I’ll probably be a largely unsuccessful mime.

That being said, right now I love concrete poetry. It feels nice. Real nice... like silk.

Rob: Can you say a bit more about establishing set forms for specific topics, and give us some examples from the book? What drew you to making certain pairings between form and subject?

Daniel: Some of the things that I set out to do was: document graffiti or text on Davie Street and turn into visual poems, write down text found in cruising spots and turn that into found poems (I failed at this), collect any free published medium around Davie Street and turn into cut-up poems (these became the "How To Sell" series).

Some of the pairings just fit, because they were visual based, so they turned into visual poems, or they were based on clips of text, so I turned them into such. Same with the Craigslist poems, turning into found poems. It was harder to choose how the stories would be converted into poems. The drug alphabet poems were initially just supposed to be one long sound poem, but it made more sense to be placed into the alphabet poems. Some of the pieces were sonnet forms with specific restrictions, like the drag queen sonnets were actually supposed to have grey text in the centre that represented their male identities, but then the poems were too complicated and were terrible from a lyrical perspective, so I just turned them into simple sonnet forms.

Rob: I noticed a similar design aesthetic between DST and issues of Poetry Is Dead. Is this a coincidence? How much involvement did you have in the design decisions for DST?

The book cover was designed by Easton West (the Art Director of Poetry Is Dead), and I produced all of the art inside. The layout also includes PID’s typeface (also designed by Easton West). It was a mix of Talon’s good people, me and Easton for the design of the book, so that’s why there is many similar aesthetic styles as PID.

Rob: I’ve got to ask about that author photo. What inspired you to take/select that shot? Does it hold special significance for you?

Daniel: That photo was taken by a friend of mine, Rob Seebacher. He’s a photographer and always takes out his camera. I went to his house after work one evening, still in fancy work clothes (which my friend Alex Leslie refers to as “Husband Material” clothing), and after many glasses of wine he thought it would be funny if I held his lamp and took a photo. I liked it so I put it in. The other choice was a photo of me shirtless (not naked as the photo implies) in a park. I, like most people, prefer me with clothes on.

Here's the author photo from the book. Compare with the shirtless photo
posted above and find out if you are like most people.

Rob: Ok, last question. I have a suspicion your book launch on April 1st will be unlike most literary events. Without giving away any April Fools pranks you may be throwing in on top of the announced lineup, what can people expect from the launch?

Daniel: The thing that can be expected, with drag queens performing all night, is an intense amount of dick jokes. Isolde N. Barron has a foul mouth, but thankfully the Cobalt is 19+. If you don’t like dirty words, firstly, don’t get my book, but secondly, you can come to another launch of my book with Alex Leslie slated for May 5th. She’s a better writer than I am so you should go to that too.

Once it's released, copies of Davie Street Translations will be available for purchase from the Talonbooks website and local bookstores. Or, better yet, you can pick up a copy at the book launch on the 1st!

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