The Obscene Mechanics of Love: Q&A with poet Angelo Nikolopoulos

Join us on Thursday, June 14th  as NYWC does LGBT Pride Month right with a special inter-generational Writing Aloud reading, sponsored by SAGE. Members of our workshops for LGBT elders and homeless youth will read along with our headliner, poet Angelo Nikolopoulos. WARNING: It will be awesome.

The host and curator for this event is NYWC leader and poet David Winter. David leads a long-running workshop for LGBT elders atSAGE and another for seniors at the 14th Street Y.  Recently, he posed some questions to headliner Angelo Nikolopoulos about humor, obscenity and pride. Here’s what Angelo had to say:

DH: You use a lot of humor in your poetry. Your sense of wit seems to complement the seriousness of your work, rather than undercutting it. Could you speak a little bit about how you balance these two aspects of your creative process?

AN: But a joke is a very serious thing!

Jokes aside, many of my favorite writers are humorists and satirists. Fran Lebowitz, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde come to mind. I admire the use of satire as a weapon of criticism—the literary wink before the sucker-punch. It’s refreshing.

Also, I think we turn to literature because we want to be moved in some way. I was going to say emotionally or intellectually moved, but is the distinction necessary? I believe that writing should produce feeling of some sort, almost like an undifferentiated, internal swelling, and humor is one of the many ways to do this, to engage your reader.

A less MFA answer: humor makes life bearable. Many things do, of course—money, sex, food, youth—but a sense of humor is that one unshakeable thing that remains after everything else has wilted in the sun.

 DW: You were a high school English teacher before committing yourself full-time to creative writing. Have your experiences as a teacher influenced your writing, or your decision to write?

AN: Sadly, the only effect teaching high school had on my writing was putting it in a three-year coma. The experience was personally rewarding, and I loved my students, but it was mentally exhausting. My creative tank was perpetually on low.

Sure, I could have written in the summer, but there are so many other important things to do! Like living my life and making wonderful mistakes. Given the choice between writing beautifully and living beautifully, I’d probably choose the latter. If you’re lucky, you get to do both I guess.

DW: In NYWC’s writing workshops, the leader always provides an optional prompt to help the writers get started (a word, a question, a photograph, etc.). Where in your own life do you encounter the prompts for your poems?

AN: I’m an incredibly slothful person, which means the closer I can find inspiration to my apartment (or bedroom) the better. I’m like a poet localvore. I take short walks along the Hudson river, nap a lot, and watch movies.

Making art, I think, requires a lot of wasted time. I stand in the kitchen, watching the water boil. Until, finally, something says Hey stranger. It can be a scent in the air, an overheard conversation. For me, it typically involves a memory, which I’ll torture until it’s barely recognizable. It all goes into the artifice-blender.

But don’t listen to me. I’m the worst mentor. I don’t keep a journal; I don’t have a daily hour devoted to writing. I’m too laissez faire about it, really. Like all good men, the poems eventually materialize on their own, I hope.

DW:  Your first book, which I look forward to reading once it is published, is titled Obscenely Yours. Could you say a few words about what the concept of obscenity means to you?

AN: To talk about obscenity you have to talk about shame. Someone who behaves obscenely is said to behave shamelessly. Have you no shame? the Mother says. For most, shameless behavior provokes repulsion; it offends our moral codes (e.g. You can’t do that!). But I think it’s interesting. How would you behave if shame was removed from the equation?

But the book is mostly concerned with the impulse to give yourself—physically and emotionally and entirely—to another person, whether that’s a lover, a stranger, or an imagined other. What does it mean to want to be loved, wholly? There’s something obscene, I think, about the mechanics of love—that desire to be taken.

DW: Do you have any advice or thoughts that you would like to share with other queer writers, particularly during Pride month?

AN: Pride meant a lot to me when I was younger—the floats, the sense of community, the naked torsos. And I’ll still take any opportunity to celebrate. But what are we celebrating?

Last pride month in New York we were celebrating the passage of the Marriage Equality Act. We gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn, and it was historic and beautiful and all that wholesome stuff. But the more I think about it—call me crotchety—I start to question our priorities. Marriage equality is great, of course, but it’s also strangely heteronormative. What if you’re a queer person who doesn’t want to get married? Why join the marriage-club (a very flawed club) when we can start anew? What are the implications of calling yourself a regular person who just happens to be gay? That troubling str8-acting, masc-only phenomenon. I think it’s important for queer people to be asking these questions. It’s almost as important as wearing SPF during the parade. Trust me, kids, you’ll thank me in ten years.

Angelo Nikolopoulos is the recipient of the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize and a graduate of NYU’s Creative Writing Program. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2012, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, Cortland Review, Los Angeles Review, Meridian, New York Quarterly, North American Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His first book of poems, Obscenely Yours, is the winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award and is forthcoming from Alice James Books in 2013.

Writing Aloud: Special LGBT Pride Edition

Thursday, June 14, 2012
15th floor of 305 7th Avenue,
(between 27th Street and 28th Street)