Interview with Poncho Peligroso, Nov 5-6 2010 – by Carlos Rowles

Poncho Peligroso is a white male American human who was born in 1990. He dropped out of high school and went to college at 16. From 2004 to 2007 he was an active competitive yoyoer. In Fall 2008 he attended Prague Film School. In Fall 2009 he had a nervous breakdown and withdrew from college. From November 2009 to February 2010 he read a lot of books. From March 2010 to May 2010 he wrote a 50,000 word rough draft of a memoir, feeling the entire time like he was too young to do so.

From May to October 2010 he wrote 'the romantic', his first collection of poetry. He returned to college in August 2010. He is currently working on a massive sprawling overambitious hypertext postmodern road novel entitled Double Jack Vagabond as his thesis at Bard College at Simon's Rock.

'the romantic' is approximately 10,000 words and covers such themes as loneliness, alienation, ambiguous homoeroticism, technology, cocks, and the difficulty of expressing romantic love in a worldview defined by existentialism, determinism, and rationality.

Carlos Rowles: Right now you’re in a production of Tartuffe - who are you playing?

Poncho Peligroso: I'm playing Orgon. It's exhausting work to intentionally cultivate an air of paranoid anxiety and have a controlled panic attack for hours a day while usually I attempt to do the exact opposite just to make it through the day. As rehearsal's been ramping up – we open on November 11 – I've lately been returning from days of rehearsal and immediately passing out.

CR: In a recent interview Tao Lin claimed that he's not attempting to comment on or capture the zeitgeist. Do you feel the same way about your work?

PP: Yeah. I'm too disconnected from the zeitgeist to know how to capture it or comment on it. The best I can hope for is that I become the new zeitgeist while I continue to comment upon myself in the hopes of figuring out what the fuck I'm doing and attempting to justify my existence on this planet.

CR: There's an echo of the early T.S. Eliot in some of your shorter poems. Are there writers that have distinctly influenced your work?

PP: I've heard that a couple of times but I haven't read Eliot in about eight years now. When I was in middle school I read a lot of his work, but I can't consciously remember much of any of it now. The most well-known writers who've influenced me are probably David Foster Wallace and Tao Lin, though I don't think I've stolen too much from either of them. The main thing I got from both was just a recognition of thoughts that I'd already had but hadn't seen in other literature.

DFW's complexity matches the way my mind works sometimes, and Tao's minimalism is another mode of thought that also occurs. Both broke my perception of what was allowed, what was valid, in literature. DFW expanded my theoretical upper limit. As a child in Texas, I was often made fun of by my classmates, told to 'stop talking nerd', and forced to consciously slow down my speech and choose smaller words just to be understood, even though 'hence' is monosyllabic.

Reading DFW was enlightening just in that it made me realize that there were other people who thought the same way I did, and that the structure of thought was never as linear as most literature made it out to be. However, there's a kind of duality in his work, which is that he writes extensively about addiction and distraction and all the things that modern society provides us to keep us from dwelling on some nameless baseline human emotion. He wrote that he structured Infinite Jest as a sierpinski gasket, and that, of course, necessitates a massive empty space in the middle before the fractals take hold on the edges.

So even though he covered the nameless human baseline better than any writer before him, there was an intrinsic irony in Infinite Jest that the maximalism that he used to illustrate the nameless baseline was, in itself, a distraction from it. There was brilliant, vivid documentation of people performing horrible actions to distract themselves from it, but he somehow never quite touched it because of the extravagance of his method.

However, Tao, and all the Muumuu House writers like Ellen Kennedy, Brandon Scott Gorrell, and Zachary German, use the minimalism of their writing to distill that nameless thing. Tao mentions this most explicitly at certain points in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, when he starts talking about the similarities with the Buddhist concept of emptiness.

I feel like the Muumuu house writers, in their work, distill and portray that nameless thing better than any other writers I know of. A lot of critics have attacked them for this, calling them meaningless and mundane and absurd, but I think there's great truth in meaninglessness and mundanity and absurdity. So much of literature and especially the reviewing of literature seems to ascribe meaning in places where I'm not sure it's really warranted. Even in supposedly realist writing, there's a certain elevation of things, just to keep it literary, but the Muumuu house writers have no middle-ground extraneous elevation or amplification. They exist only at extremes, either in the painfully mundane or the clearly impossibly hyperbolic. Brandon Gorrell, especially, moves between poems that are repetitive lists of mundane actions to insane consoling power fantasies of destroying the world with his flesh.

So there's that emptiness which DFW never quite managed to touch, and which the Muumuu house writers revel in but are critically shunned for, frequently, for the simplicity of their work. My mind works too rapidly to manage the pure, stark minimalism of Tao or Zachary German, but I want people to face that emptiness. That's what I think 'the romantic' is about- struggling to find ways to express human emotion, which is overwhelming and unreasonable and full, in the face of a worldview defined by meaningless, mundanity, and absurdity. It takes a lot, and that's why the styles of the poems in the book range from minimalist pure descriptions of events to a 2.5 page single-sentence paragraph.

CR: Are you pursuing a traditional publishing channel?

PP: Not yet, though I'd like to. I wrote the book almost by accident as a side project, and only finished it very recently. I'm currently focusing on my thesis project, which I've thought extensively about publishing directly to iPad, because it's designed to take full advantage of the e-book format. For 'the romantic', though, I'd quite like to have it published tangibly.

I've put a lot of effort into making it a pleasure to read straight through as a unified whole, and I feel like a book is more conducive to that than any web publishing format. But for the moment, I mainly just want people to read it. I'm not sure if I'd get more readers if I gave it away for free online or if I had a tangible object to sell. I'm looking into it, but this is all very new to me.

CR: There's an interesting dichotomy in your longer poems between the surface texture, which is very casual and could almost be taken directly from IM or email, and the overall imagery which can be quite complex. Is that an intentional strategy?

PP: That's more of a byproduct of the way my mind works. In the longer poems, I can't sit still. I've had people recommend that I split them up into multiple parts for how disparate chunks of them are, especially in 'i want to do nothing but have unprotected sex with you forever' and 'determinism is the only philosophical concept that i worry about on a regular basis'.

I've read poems that focus on one thing for a very long time, and, honestly, it gets boring. My main impetus as a writer is just the want to get images that I have in my head out of my head in some format that allows other people an approximation of my thoughts so that I can feel like I've actually communicated with someone. If the imagery in my head is complex, I'll get it out any way I can.

Frequently the first drafts of my poems are much, much more overwrought. I then focus on getting the images I want in as few words as possible, which makes the resulting image much more memorable and iconic if I can get it in a few words that the reader will be able to easily remember later on as they remember the images those words provoked. Occasionally I manage this to my satisfaction, with such gems as 'rampaging mutant boners' and 'NO DONGUNISM'. I'm incredibly fucking proud of that for how I managed to package commentary on the environment, politics, sexism in the sciences, and the futility of certain forms of activism in a poem about rampaging mutant boners terrorizing the world.

It's the same method I'd use to describe anything that I witnessed or thought of to a friend in chat, except I'm going off images that I haven't actually seen in reality and I get to edit it after the first attempt to convey it. I just don't think adding complexity in presentation to a complex concept is fitting or necessary. I mean, I describe a nanobot grey-goo apocalypse in almost the format of a chatlog, and I describe being angry at a dear friend in an extremely complex 900 word sentence. It all depends on what I'm trying to convey, and how I've thought of it beforehand. It doesn't seem like a grey goo apocalypse would be very complex- like anything, events would happen that would cause more events to happen, and, as a narrative, it's very simple even if it involves hypothetical science fiction technologies.

Something like being angry at a person, though, is extremely complex, because, like anything else, it happened because of events before it that caused current events to happen. But when we're angry we tend not to think of cause and effect, or what may have led a person to do a thing. It's much easier to rationalize your anger at another human than it is to rationalize an arbitrary end-of-the-world scenario brought about by technological hubris. I could have given the same treatment to the nanobots, and shown in much higher detail the cascading events that led to that specific apocalyptic scenario, but I felt that each individual step worked on its own, logically progressed to the next, and was satisfying in that way.

I feel like I'm going nuts. It's 3:25 AM and I have rehearsal for Tartuffe at 11:30 and I'm halfway through a liter of Mountain Dew right now. That's a poor decision.

Anyway, short answer: no. It just happens. My thoughts tend to get away from me and I just try to type fast enough to keep up when they happen to be interesting.

CR: The long poem titles make me think of song titles by emo bands. Emo also works with that duality of confessional and confrontational modes. Are you influenced by music, any bands or genres in particular?

PP: I don't listen to any emo. I have an extremely limited group of musicians that I listen to, comparatively, and tend to listen more for lyrical content than anything else. My three favorite bands, just going by how much they're played in my iTunes library, are The Brother Machine, a band from Austin, Texas, that I have known personally since I was 14, The Mountain Goats, which have John Darnielle's amazing writing behind them and constitute some of my favorite poetry in any form, and Guster, whose albums 'Lost and Gone Forever' and 'Keep It Together' helped get me through a period of severe depression in my freshman year of college. They're all very literate, but united more by honesty than anything else. The long titles I think came from a desire to say exactly what I wanted to say, more than anything else.

There are a few more obscure titles, but I oftentimes prefer the obvious and clear to the lyrical. I feel like sometimes just being extremely transparent and honest immediately about things can be so disarming that it's funny and sad at the same time. The other day I bought a pack of sugar-free energy drinks from a store and walked up to the cashier and said, "Hello, I'd like to purchase these nutritionless stimulants." They laughed. I just think long, clear titles have the potential to be extremely funny and sad. Sad because of their content, funny because people don't usually expect so much from a title.

CR: One thing about your manuscript that's very appealing is the way each poem stands on its own, but taken together they form a coherent vision. Were you writing with this intent or did it just emerge?

PP: This emerged over time. As I began writing the poems, I was still focused on prose, and saw poetry as something of, like, a palate-cleanser between bursts of thousands of words. In fact, 'part 20' of my memoir alone is longer than the entirety of 'the romantic', but as time went on I kept writing more and more poetry and eventually shelved the memoir, though I plan to return to it in the future.

When I was writing the memoir I was constantly searching for the beginnings and ends of stories and chapters in my life, and this granted me a strange awareness that I was going through some kind of unified thing in my time away from university and my eventual return to it. I collected all the poetry I'd written into a single document when I returned to school, and kept adding to it as I wrote more during the school year.

There are actually recurring characters in the book, I feel, though they're very vaguely defined, but you can definitely spot them and see their influence on chunks of time, and when I slapped the boy who appears throughout the book, I felt a sense of finality to it and decided to end things there, chronologically. Once I'd done this, I went about ordering the poems in the book so that they'd have a satisfying tonal arc. I wanted to begin with the most conventionally romantic poems, ebb into insane loneliness, which then overflows into the apocalyptic middle section, calms down into the minimalism and reality of the later middle, and ends on the tone of extremely clinical understanding which collected all the thoughts I'd had in the creation of everything before it. However, I also had the chronological aspect, as I ordered the manuscript by the months in which I wrote it, even though I rearranged the poems so many of them are in different months from when they were written. I even moved some poems earlier to introduce the vaguely defined characters of the book sooner. I compromised my intended tonal arc and chronology by putting the epilogue of the book's 'narrative' at the very beginning, before the chronological aspect is even introduced.

Most of the content of the book had similarities due to me being me and writing it all in a fairly short amount of time, but it took a considerable amount of editing to get it from simply a collection of disparate poems into anything cohesive.

CR: The way you describe the arc of 'the romantic' is a bit similar to Joyce's 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.' Is Joyce relevant for what you are trying to do?

PP: To a certain extent, yes. Portrait had been an influence on the structure of the memoir, I was working on when I began 'the romantic' in terms of how I tried to use prose that reflected my relative maturity level at the time of writing, making the extreme subjectivity of the work clear, and making clear the fallibility of memory, thus painting me as an unreliable narrator to my own life. In 'the romantic', however, the arc is of course much more compressed because instead of an entire life- or the first 20 years of a life- I was portraying only about a five-month period.

I feel more certain about 'the romantic' being truthful because, in attempting less of a pure narrative, it makes no claim to objectivity, and is a more accurate and literal document of my internal monologue, fantasies, and concretely documented online conversations than a memoir could hope to be. It's honest in its implicit admission of being purely subjective.

CR: At the end of 'Portrait' Stephen Dedalus leaves for Europe to begin his life as a writer. What does the narrator of 'the romantic' do after the last poem ends?

PP: Fortunately I already did the 'go to Europe to find myself' thing, except I went to film school in Prague with big dreams and returned a paranoid wreck that understood why Kafka wrote what he did much better than before. It depends on what you consider the 'last poem' in the book. The book is somewhat cyclical, as after the final poem in the book's linear order ends, it loops around to the epilogue, which is the very beginning, and the first two poems. So I have the finale of the book, read in linear order, designed to have a sense of closure and completion to it, even though what happens next is illustrated very literally in the opening/ending.

After the final poem in linear order, 'the narrator' makes a conscious decision to stop interacting with the kinds of people that drove him to the position of loneliness and alienation that he was in at the beginning, such as the boy with the matching jacket, and instead to try and interact with people who he actually enjoys the company of. The narrator stays in the same place, but makes a decision to change his behavior in the future, and does this first by telling his feelings earnestly to someone he cares about in a positive and understanding way.

CR: Your work is saturated in the culture of email, social networks and IM - not only with specific references but in the general tone and structure. Is this something that comes naturally to you as a writer or are you consciously trying to explore these themes?

PP: This definitely comes naturally to me. Work on 'the romantic' actually began mostly in chatlogs. I'd been given a typewriter by a friend and after withdrawing from college in November 2009 I began writing a frenzied memoir in March 2010. In late May, I had around 200 pages of content, wildly uneven and unedited, which was all maximalist prose with a structure of nested memories that was probably unwisely revealing.

The earliest poem I wrote for 'the romantic' was 'lucy', from around the time that I began the blogoir. I was up late working on the memoir, talking to Lucy online while working on a piece of the memoir in which she appeared as a character, and she asked me to write her a poem. I composed that in the chat window and copied it into a word document. I just found minimalist poetry refreshing after months of maximalism. Several of the other poems were originally composed in some form directly into emails or chats or even facebook walls. I notice I write differently depending on what format I'm writing in- to me, the entire style of the memoir was dictated by the solid thwack on every keystroke of a 1937 Remington Rand, whereas 'the romantic' is dictated stylistically by sleep deprivation and interactive glowing rectangles. Several poems in the manuscript are edited version of things I wrote in chat logs or emails or facebook walls. 'epilogue, part two' is an email i sent, as is 'just realized we're in the same room'. 'baby, you got it all', 'you broke the heart of the man who saved my life but you always seemed cool to me' and 'the oil spill will ruin the gulf seafood industry so now is the time to indulge' are all taken from facebook status comment threads. 'i have not had any sexual contact since november 1 2009' is a chatlog, as is 'feed me, woman'.

What this comes from, I think, is simply the place I was in when I began writing. I mean that literally. Having dropped out of college and returned to Texas, only a few of my friends were actually in town and I spent a great deal of time utterly alone. I went weeks without interacting with people aside from my parents except to awkwardly purchase food or skittishly avoid eye contact in a bookstore or the chinese restaurant next to the bookstore. I felt paralyzed. I would stay up all night chatting with anyone who'd share my insomnia. I just started saying weirder and weirder shit as I felt more alone, and had this vague sense that I would never see anyone who I was talking to ever again, and this led to me to say things that were surreal and uncomfortably revealing, and I was fortunate enough to have a friend say at just the right moment that something I'd just written- I think it was what ended up being 'feed me, woman'- seemed poetic. I was writing constantly but I was focused on telling the story in my memoir, and when I wasn't writing that I was constantly chatting and emailing and posting on facebook. The aesthetic of the thing came from feeling incredibly alone and amplifying myself in a desperate attempt to communicate with anybody at all.

CR: It seems that 'the romantic' came to life literally in the margins - as a diversion from your memoir, and also a lot of the poems started in ephemeral formats like email, chat or Facebook threads. Yet the emotions and experiences you portray are universal. Is your narrator an Everyman?

PP: I hope not. My narrator's me, and if I'm an everyman then holy shit I feel bad for everyone else that I'm representing. But I think it's just that the email and facebook and chat are almost incidental in the work. I never set out to include these things, they just came naturally as what I was interacting with most at the time of composition. I expressed whatever things seemed universal- loneliness, a desire for connection, sex, fear, anxiety, all those things- in a modern way because I am a person who feels things but happens to use the internet on a daily basis. I honestly feel that emails and chats and facebook threads are less ephemeral than face-to-face interactions.

When I interact with someone in person, if I talk to someone or kiss them or fight them or anything, the memories will fade and distort over time. I am incapable of being objective about the unrecorded past. However, email and chat and facebook are all stored in the cloud, and every interaction is there to stay. So when I reminisce about my past, I can just search my inbox or my chatlogs or hit 'see friendship' on facebook and find exactly the interaction I was thinking of, online. I have instant digital gratification for my nostalgia which oftentimes makes me realize just how much my memory is flawed when I see how the objective document of a digital interaction diverts from how I recalled it. I don't know if I'm an everyman. I think about the past, as that is the only place I have existed up until now, and I worry about the future because I have not existed there yet and have no way to anticipate what may happen. The digital element just adds a level of accessibility to the past that wasn't there before unless you obsessively documented your life as it happened. I don't know if I'm even answering the same question anymore.

CR: Do you consider yourself part of any literary group or movement?

PP: Not really, or at least not of anything prominent. I joked at one point with a group of people about banding together and arbitrarily declaring ourselves a 'movement' even though the people I asked had very little aesthetic similarity to each other. This fell apart quickly. The closest thing to a group I feel like I'm a part of is a loose-knit group of writers who I found mostly through Twitter and Facebook. I met Liam Adams on twitter, and he's told me that my writing inspired him to start writing again, and I in turn loved the work that he produced after he began writing again. I also met Marshall Mallicoat and Steve Roggenbuck online, and I've communicated extensively with each of them and loved their work. I don't know if we're a group or a movement of any kind, but I enjoy their work and to my knowledge they enjoy mine, and I like interacting with all of them. WE'RE BROS!

Carlos Rowles is a writer living in the New York area. He is currently working on the second volume of a trilogy.

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