Author Interview: ‘Mr Either/Or’ by Aaron Poochigian

About the Book:

Aaron Poochigian’s Mr. Either/Or is an ingenious debut, a verse novel melding American mythology, noir thriller, and classical epic into gritty rhythms, foreboding overtones, and groovy jams surrounding the reader in a surreal atmosphere. Imagine Byron’s Don Juan on a high-stakes romp through a Raymond Chandler novel. Think Hamlet in Manhattan with a license to kill.

Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. His book of translations from Sappho, Stung With Love, was published in 2009. The Cosmic Purr, a book of original poetry, was published in 2012.

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Author Interview:

 

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

In high-school I was all about music—my band, musical theory, songwriting—but as soon as I took a poetry class in college, the rhythms and sounds of language re-focused my creative impulses. I had a sort of religious experience during my Freshman year. I was reading the opening lines of Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin—Arma virumqute cano. . . Though I didn’t know the language, I was so moved that the sky became brighter and everything became clear: I should learn the Classical Languages and spend the rest of my life writing poetry. That’s what I have done. No regrets. I guess I’m lucky in that I never had a phase when I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I write best in the morning at my favorite coffee shop. My mind is at its loosest and most open. The sentences arise on their own without any effort on my part. Writing full-time, I often have to push through afternoon doldrums with lots of caffeine and sugar. Sometimes evenings are productive for me as well but, ah, what would I do without those fertile mornings?

Yes, the words come easy sometimes but, of course, they often do not. Here’s some advice for writers—if you are committed, make yourself do it, even if you aren’t in the mood. Treat writing as an obligation, like any other job. You have to put your hours in. Breakthroughs can happen at any time, even during the dull, slow afternoon hours—don’t lose your chance to have one.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

A good question. Where do my ideas come from? Out of my curious mind and out of all that I have read, yes, those and out of daily experiences—the doppler sound of traffic passing in front of my house, the sheen the barista’s mop leaves on the floor at the coffee shop, out of the crazy junk in my backyard and backlot, out of the many, many places I have lived. You’ve got these lines from Yeats’ “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” running through my head:

A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

When writing poetry, I usually let the poem crystallize around phrases and rhythms I have put in a word.doc. I just play around until something happens. “Mr. Either/Or,” however, is narrative, so I took the time to story-board the entire plot. I then created one word.doc for each plot event and allowed myself to go crazy creatively in each file, so long as I also narrated that one plot event. I then fitted all the files together into the whole narrative and polished the transitions. That way, I found I was able to get the story told while still giving myself freedom for creativity.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

“Mr. Either/Or” brings together all of my great loves—epic poetry, genre fiction (noir and thriller), action films and Americana. I really don’t know what to call it—sometimes I call it a thriller, sometimes urban fantasy, sometimes an epic poem. I guess I see “Mr. Either/Or” as reviving the genre of the verse adventure-story (à la Homer’s Odyssey and Byron’s Don Juan). It alternates between free-rhymed iambic pentameter and the pounding alliterative verse of Beowulf, so that the poetic rhythms cue the action like the soundtrack to a film. Yes, the book has its own soundtrack built in.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

For the hero, “you,” Zach Berzinski superspy, Chris Pratt, who plays Star-Lord in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, would be perfect. I would love to see Lynn Chen from “Saving Face” playing the heroine Li-ling Levine. And, oh, for the old spy “handler,” Zero Zero One, please, please give me Jonathan Lithgow.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I do spend more time writing than reading nowadays. I’m trying to break myself of my habit of simply re-reading my favorite poets and writers—W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Raymond Chandler, P.G. Wodehouse. I find myself returning to their books as if they were so many Bibles to guide my career.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

This week I am reading “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth and a poetry collection by Adrianne Rich. I would be reading the new Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child (love that series) but I am cheap and thus waiting for it to come out in paperback.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

My favorite novel is Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” It was another major model for “Mr. Either/Or.” It taught me that the needs of the plot need not restrict wild creativity. The writer should never be merely telling the story—he/she should do that, of course, and do it well but always at the same time be enjoying him/herself creatively. Pynchon’s novel is a mad whirlwind of a thing, a boundless conspiracy theory. I highly recommend it.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

I’m afraid that I won’t be able to give anything more than boilerplate advice: craft, craft, craft. Work, work, work. Force yourself to know boring subjects like grammar backwards and forwards, so well, in fact, that you don’t have to think about them any longer. The time you spend early on studying grammar, for example, will pay off down the line, I promise, by making you a clearer and more efficient writer. Preachy, boring advice, I know, but it’s sincere as Hell.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

I’m big on Facebook—I have 5,000 friends and quite a few people following me. Facebook has been very good at fostering literary communities at the local and national levels. It’s also a good place to learn about events such as readings and giveaways. I have even gotten in the habit of posting my most topical new poems on Facebook—my profile page has become its own literary venue.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aaron.poochigian

Website: www.mreitheror.com

About the Author:

Aaron Poochigian earned a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and an M.F.A. in Poetry from Columbia University in 2016. His book of translations from Sappho, Stung With Love, was published by Penguin Classics in 2009, and a translation of Apollonius’ Jason and the Argonauts was released October 2014. For this work in translation he was awarded a 2010-2011 grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Cosmic Purr, (Able Muse Press), a book of original poetry was published in 2012, and many of the poems in it collectively won the New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varoujan Prize. Poochigian’s work has appeared in such journals as The GuardianPoems Out Loud and POETRY.
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