BY PETER LABERGE & AUDREY ZHAO
We know the Fall 2015 Issue has been out for almost three months, but we're still returning to Alex Dimitrov's poem from the issue, "Cocaine." Learn more about it, and about Dimitrov himself, through the conversation we've shared below!
To kick things off, let's talk about “Cocaine." What would you say was the inspiration behind it? How did the poem come about?
Alex Dimitrov, Contributor: “Cocaine” was written over two summers, 2014 and 2015, when I spent some time in LA. I was with a friend who also lives in New York but happened to be in town visiting family. We were driving down Wilshire and then a year after that we found ourselves on the exact same route, driving down Wilshire again, passing the same things, same week in the same lull of summer, and maybe it seemed like not much had changed in our lives except our haircuts. There was this illusion that the past year hadn’t even happened. But of course that wasn’t true. And I sort of slipped into that strange question of what is time, really. And why had I stopped talking to certain people and why had certain people stopped talking to me. The Lauren Bacall quote found its way in the poem because she had just died and I was watching her films while I was staying in LA. It’s hard for me to get over the fact that all of us have to die. The earth and the sun and the things that keep us alive too. And if that is true, which it is, why do we continue? So in a moment of happiness, being with this person who has really helped me in the last few years through many transitions, I still couldn’t stop thinking about those realities and I felt disappointed with myself. Then I was on the roof of the Mondrian one night having a drink and seeing another friend’s band play and the same thing happened. Moments where you feel time so deliberately that it’s paralyzing, and yet you still have to go home, brush your teeth and go to bed. It seems impossible and then we do it.
To expand on the last question, do you have any specific traditions, writing practices, or habits that you feel influence your work?
AD: Like many writers, I like to take walks. I have a chair I’ve had for close to nine years that I like to sit in. Simple things like that. I’m surrounded by relics in my writing space. The gold crucifix I’ve had since I was five, and which I still wear at times, is always in the room. So is another chain with a very small aquamarine crystal (my moon is in Pisces) and a clear quartz. A red wooden crucifix a man put into my hands one day when I was walking down the street in Buenos Aires. We didn’t say anything to each other, he just put it in my hands. Polaroids a friend took during a difficult time in my life, which he made easier to get through. Water from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A strand of my hair my mother gave me that was cut during my first birthday. A piece of art I stole from an ex-boyfriend. An icon that was blessed and prayed over for a month in an Orthodox church in Moscow. A postcard of Prince that a poet friend gave me when I was going through another difficult time. A photograph of Jasper Johns another friend sent me on my first birthday in New York. Dirt from my favorite street. An unsent letter (because I don’t have an address) I wrote to a person I met once who told me about three big things I never thought would happen in my life, and they did in the next five years. We met once and for half an hour years ago.
As you can tell, I like relics. But there is nothing on my walls. I don’t hang things up.
Rolling it back to the early days, what got you hooked on writing? Did you come into poetry from another genre? Do you remember a moment when you first began to identify as a poet?
AD: I don’t remember the moment when I identified as a poet, but I remember not being able to relate to many people growing up except for the writers I was reading. I wished that those people were alive all the time and then, as I got older, I sort of realized that they are.
Recently you’ve been working on your second book, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press and in which “Cocaine” will appear. First of all, congratulations! That’s so exciting. Do you see the book as a continuation of your first, Begging for It (from Four Way Books), or do you see it as going in a sort of new direction?
AD: It’s not a continuation. I’m not sure I want to say much about this new book other than it being different, a departure for me. Everything I thought was stable and real in my personal life shifted over the last three years. I also began to question what the personal life really is, in relation to writing; why and to who does it matter, what exactly are all these things we wake up to and go to bed surrounded by. What does it mean to be a person? The questions are large and our lives are small. If there’s a sentence I would use to describe the new book, that’s it.
While writing and editing the book, you’ve spent substantial time in both New York City and Los Angeles. In what ways do you think these places appear in the book, and in what ways do you think the overall presence of place influences your work?
AD: I think at one point I panicked because I thought I could no longer write in New York. But the truth is I’ve had to make some adjustments. I’ve had to accept a lot of uncertainty. In terms of places, New York and Los Angeles are there, yes, but there are also spaces like airports and hotels, the in between nowhere places, that are somehow parallel in my mind with some of the life questions I keep revisiting.
How do you think poetry fits into today’s world, and in which direction do you think it is heading?
AD: Poetry is ancient and it has outlived and survived all the wars and all the trends and will outlast us all. It’s the human spirit as it lives and dies and struggles. Where is it heading? I don’t know. Somewhere a lot more important than where capitalism is taking us.
One could argue social media is so popular because people yearn for connection to others. Because you are very active on social media, people may feel as if they are catching glimpses of your life. How much of your self do you think is reflected through social media, and how does that compare to the self given voice through your work?
AD: It would be foolish to think people know something about my life from what they see on social media, wouldn’t it? I know we all know this, yet at the same time we look for insights into someone’s life when engaging with them on these platforms. I’ve been less active while writing this book because I haven’t felt like social media has helped with the questions I’m interested in asking right now, as a writer, or the life I want to live as a person. I like Instagram because it serves as a kind of repository of ideas for me. You can see where poems like the ones I wrote about JFK, Jr. and Lindsay Lohan started. I mostly post on Instagram because I’m interested in remembering what I was looking at or what I was reading and when and where exactly. It’s a bit like a writer’s graveyard. My friends find this a bit annoying but I usually post a photo and then delete the app from my phone right after because I don’t care to engage with likes or comments, etc. For me Instragram feels like a creative space. And I want it to stay that way, which means a certain amount of not paying attention. Like how a poem happens: purposeful inattention. As far as my social media being personal, if someone is interested in that side of me, read the poems. Maybe it’s there.
If you’d like, shoot us a question to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.
AD: I always want to know what people have for breakfast and dinner. Also, what they think about when taking a bath.
Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). His recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review, Sixth Finch, Colorado Review, Best New Poets 2014, and Indiana Review, among others. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal. He lives in Philadelphia, where he is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Find him online at www.peterlaberge.com.
Audrey Zhao is a senior at Marin Academy, in San Rafael, California. She was a poetry mentee in the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and you can find her work in Words Dance. Audrey’s interests outside of writing include texting back in a timely fashion, booping dogs’ noses, and coffee (yes, she is That Hipster complaining about hipster coffee in hipster San Francisco coffee shops). Her favorite chess tournament is the Mechanics’ Institute’s Tuesday Night Marathon.