Interview: Tony Trigilio


Tony Trigilio’s newest book, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood), Book 1 (BlazeVOX Books, 2014), was released back in January. Here is an interview that delves into the author behind the work.

  1. What is currently inspiring you creatively?

I’m re-reading the recent books by two poets I’m bringing to read at Columbia this semester: Chad Sweeney’s Wolf’s Milk and Peter Davis’s Tina. They’re both as irreverent as they are serious, and I really appreciate their conceptual range and their enormous sense of play. I also just started reading Jamaal May’s book, Hum, and I love it. I’m inspired by the architecture of May’s poems, and by the way he balances a commitment to innovative language with a commitment to concrete social/political experience. I’m a musician, too (drummer/percussionist), and I’ve been obsessing lately on the wonderfully bizarre avant-garde music of Eugene Chadbourne. Right now I’m listening to his performances with percussionist Warren Smith, from the CD Odd Time. The last few weeks, I’ve also been listening over and over to music from the bands Van Der Graaf Generator, Einsturzende Neubauten, and Can. I play in the band Pet Theories, and my friends and bandmates Brian Cremins and Allison Felus are probably chuckling if they’re reading this, because they know I’m always listening to Einsturzende Neubauten and Can!


  1. Who was the first poet (s) that held an influence and importance to you?

I don’t really go back to him much anymore, but my discovery in high school of Dylan Thomas made me want to keep writing poems — and made me want to write entirely different kinds of poems, in different kinds of voices, than I had been writing. His poems completely changed how I heard language on the page. Basil Bunting does the same for me today. I discovered James Joyce at this same time, my senior year of high school. Joyce was a touchstone influence on me when I started writing. Later, as an undergraduate, Denise Levertov’s poems were a huge influence: they taught me just how slow and patient my vision has to be if I really want to see. Around this same time, as an undergraduate, I discovered Henry Miller. His autobiographical novels and essays encouraged me to think seriously about what it means to make art in capitalist, utilitarian America. And he was the first writer whose work truly gave me “permission” to try to be an artist in this culture.


  1. Could you talk a little bit about your process?

It’s often different for each project or each book, but in general I tend to compose first in a moleskin notebook. I usually do first drafts in a phonetic alphabet that a friend and I created back in junior high school. This helps me hear the words as much as possible in the early stages of drafting. (If I’m playing around with a first draft on the train, this also prevents the person sitting next to me from eavesdropping at such a rough/raw stage of the writing process.) But for my multi-volume Dark Shadows long poem, I compose first in our regular everyday alphabet. I’m not sure why I’m doing this differently with the Dark Shadows books, but it’s something I started doing and I don’t want to break the rhythm I’ve created for it. No matter what I’m writing — or in what alphabet I’m writing — I usually type the poem on the computer by the second or third draft. From there, I play with it on-screen, revising until I feel I need to see a hard copy. I print out a hard copy and then make revisions on this, which then leads me back to the computer to get the revisions down on the screen. I repeat the process until the poem really starts to see, feel, and think more concretely than I first imagined it could.


  1. What did you do today?

I woke around 7am. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed right away, so I texted my wife, knowing that her classes didn’t start for another 45 minutes or so. Her last two days of class at the high school she teaches at were canceled because of the extreme cold. I texted to see how it felt for her to be back at work. Then I got up and meditated for 20 minutes, with our cats, Simon and Schuster, hanging out next me. After I meditated, I brewed coffee and made an English muffin with soy butter and Raspberry preserves. Then I read some of the New York Times online. I checked my work email and responded to a few things that were time-sensitive. On the Red Line to Columbia, I played around with a new poem (I don’t think I got anywhere with it, but maybe in a few days I’ll be happy with what I did on the train). Later, at school, I met with one of my thesis students. This was the first thesis meeting of the semester, so we spent most of the time working on some general parameters for the manuscript. I had a meeting scheduled with another student at 1pm, but this student had to cancel. We exchanged emails to work out an alternative day to meet next week. I spent the rest of the afternoon on administrative emails and phone calls relating to the undergraduate and graduate poetry programs. In between calls and emails, CM Burroughs stopped by the office to chat. After CM left, I worked a little on this interview. Later, David Trinidad dropped by — he came to the office as I was working on this question, and we talked about how fun the CPR interviews are. I took the train home around 5pm. My wife Liz and I ate lentils and rice for dinner. I made peanut butter in our blender. In a few minutes after I finish writing my response to this question, we’re going to start watching the new season of Justified, which just arrived from Netflix. Later tonight, I’m going to prepare for a meeting tomorrow with a thesis student. Then I’ll work a little more on the poem I was revising on the train


  1. How long have you been writing?

Ever since I can remember. It’s tough to recall a time when reading and writing were not important to me.


  1. What’s your favorite poem as of today?

Always a tough question, but I’ll list the top three that came to my head right away: Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”; George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous,” and Harryette Mullen, “We Are Not Responsible.”


  1. What drink would you say best accompanies your poetry?



  1. Could you attempt to describe your poetry in a sentence?

I try to write poems that are grounded in concrete sense experience and the social world, and that are conceptually experimental, emotionally vulnerable, and fun.


  1. What can we expect from you in 5 years?

Five years from now, I hope the two manuscripts I’m currently working on will be finished and in the hands of readers. I’m about one-third of the way into Book 2 of The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). This is a gigantic experiment in autobiography. I’m writing one sentence for each of the 1,225 episodes of the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows and shaping each of these sentences into couplets. Book 1 was just published by BlazeVOX Books in January 2014. The other major project I’m working on is a collection of poems on Betty and Barney Hill, a New Hampshire couple allegedly abducted by a UFO in 1961. I’m about two-thirds finished with this manuscript, and I have a working map in my head of what still needs to be done with it.


Interview by

David Moran