An Interview with Andrew Demcak
J. Michael Wahlgren

Andrew Demcak is an award-winning poet whose book Catching Tigers in Red Weather won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award. Since then, Andrew has published another full-length poetry collection with BlazeVoxx books entitled Zero Summer.

Wahlgren: Your poetry seems to possess extreme plays on words, (if this isn't a play on words, already); explain your process of calling a poem complete.

Demcak: My writing process is 3-fold: 1. Pull scraps of cut-up poems from a bag, see if the words on the scrap inspire me to write a line, 2. After all the lines have been written, determine which ones "are" the poem and which "aren't," and delete the "aren't the poem" lines, 3. Edit by putting remaining lines into a form (usually with a syllabic line and varying internal rhyme structures); this becomes the whole editing process. It is in this last phase that I play around with things like puns. I "hear" a poem continuously as I work on it. I add things which I think "heighten" the language -- what I mean by that is: I use devices that call attention to features of words and deep language structures. I sometimes have a completed poem (by my standard -- I am tired of working on it; it's done) or I continue to kick it around for a few weeks while it is still "wet" -- a final draft is one that feels like it has solidified or fossilized. It becomes unchangeable, fixed. If I can't add or subtract anything from the poem, it is completed.

Wahlgren: You integrate a lot of situations & characters, as if snippets of a moment or lapse of time. Where do these sources originate? Are you very perceptive? How do you deal with the personal?

Demcak: All my poems are cut-ups of other poets' work. The very nature of the cut-up is fragment. That is why my images jump around so much. But that is not to say that I don't allow them to do that -- it is completely by my command and by my choice. Sometimes when I work on a cut-up my own story begins to emerge from the poetry fragments -- then I continue to write the lines bending them in the direction of my story. Sometimes the words themselves decide another story, which I also bend towards that subject by editing my lines. How perceptive am I? I suppose I am as perceptive as any poet, but I am particularly keen at observing language.

Wahlgren: I noticed Catching Tigers in Red Weather has poems dedicated to poets who are dead. Do you dedicate poems based upon style or topic? Which takes precedence?

Demcak: My dedications are completely subjective. It could be that I think the dead poet would have liked this poem, or maybe it is in the style of that poet. I also like to dedicate poems as a way of saying "Thanks."

Wahlgren: In Zero Summer, you take on the role of Weldon Kees. Do you feel as if the poet is an actor, replacing the scenes of other's lives?

Demcak: In a way, poets of the past are like actors, or characters. Ginsberg meets Whitman in the grocery store. I was just imagining a suicide note that Weldon Kees might have left. Or the events that led up to writing of a suicide note.

Wahlgren: Are you a pop-culture poet?

Demcak: I am a pan-cultural poet, "Pop" being just one part of the whole. I am fearless in terms of subject matter. I will write about anything.

Wahlgren: When submitting poems to magazines, do you preview the magazine's style & look for certain parallels between your poems & the magazine's content?

Demcak: Yes and no. I think magazines/e-zines which feature only one "style" are boring, like The New Yorker, for example. When people can identify work as "The New Yorker style" of poetry, that would be a time to stop writing; the work would have been homogenized to the point of anonymity. When Georgie O'Keefe was just a beginning watercolor painter, she came across a glut of paintings which all looked just like her own. She instantly stopped painting in that way, and her thinking was "Why do what has already been done?" Editors either like the way I write or they don't.

Wahlgren: Why did you end Zero Summer & Catching Tigers in Red Weather on different notes?

Demcak: Again, it was very subjective. I felt the weight of Zero Summer was in the first section because it was edgy, in terms of subject and style. It's not to say the other 2 sections don't have weight -- the third section has my usual collection of death and disease. But I wanted to play into the over-arching theme of Zero Summer which is "longing." Having an achingly beautiful lyric as the last poem felt very wistful and "Romantic" to me. It filled me with longing. Catching Tigers in Red Weather was much more structure driven. The whole book is strict formalism in action. It had to end with death. That is logical. But I ended it with a guardian angel lamenting the failures of humans. It was like listening in at a 12-Step meeting for angels. It contradicts the title of the book, and I like that kind of contradiction, the impossible vs. the actual.

J Michael Wahlgren edits Gold Wake Press. He is author of Silent Actor (BeWrite, 2008)