Hi everyone! Today I am excited to bring you another author interview with Bryant Loney here on the blog! I was fortunate enough to be sent an eARC of Loney’s latest book In the College At Night in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Loney’s book on his website or on Amazon today, and be sure to support him on Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads!
Cierra: was writing a poetry book something you had always planned/wanted to do?
Bryant: Not exactly. I wrote my poems between novels in college as a way of expressing some of the drastic changes I was going through—living away from home, venturing through the dating scene, having so much free time and not knowing how to productively manage it. The novels deal with specific characters in particular circumstances, sure, but the poems, they’re all me. That was different, and I didn’t want to necessarily share that level of intimacy outside the occasional social media post. But in 2017, random Internet people seemed to be connecting with my words on a deeper level than I was anticipating, and in the fall of last year, I noticed a pattern among my poems. College is a confusing time, and my poetry centers around this disorientation. Perhaps, I thought, in gathering these poems into a collection, I could highlight my journey and emotional maturity as a person going through the adjustments demanded by campus life. Then maybe, ten or twenty years from now, I can look back and witness how I changed for the better.
C: Did your writing process differ between the production of this poetry book and your works of fiction? If so, how?
B: For sure. Unlike my novels, my poems are almost always directly about my life, so it can be disconcerting putting myself out here like that. I can hide behind Matthew in Sea Breeze Academy or Jay in To Hear the Ocean Sigh, but with poetry, readers tend to presume the narrator is the author—and so I have to be conscientious of that, of how I’m displaying myself. Sometimes, it’s not in the best light, and that’s okay. For this book, I wanted to be genuine regarding my college experiences, and that meant bleeding onto the page without gratuitous adjustments to make the blood into a pretty picture or whatever. It’s blood: sticky, raw, vibrant, there, me.
C: While I was reading In the College at Night, I tended to pick up a theme of happy nostalgia and even wistfulness from some of the poems. Are the majority of the poems inspired by personal experience? Are some anecdotes you picked up from the people around you?
B: I fast forward a bit at the end, but without explaining too much, yes, these poems are inspired by personal experience.
C: There tends to be a connotation of poetry that elicits thoughts of writing that is esoteric and cryptic. Did you have this mindset when it came to writing this book? Did your mindset about writing poetry change at all after the book was done?
B: I think it’s because, as you said—the notion of poems needing to be esoteric and cryptic—that really turns young people away from poetry at an early age. Bernstein, Olson, O’Hara, and Cage are fine, certainly. But I think young people—people my age, twenty-one—appreciate poets who are straightforward in their writings about being and living in this new generation of technologies and methods of communicating self-expression. I don’t understand why social media poetry is so loathed by literary elitists. Audre Lorde famously claimed that poetry is not a luxury; when thousands of new poets are competing for the attention of their post-millennial Instagram or Tumblr followers, they must be both clear and candid with their thoughts. This doesn’t mean there is no time for metaphors and imagery, for instance, and yet by directly telling their audience the feelings rather than having them sacrifice the time to semi-interpret what is being said, these poets are more direct and unambiguous with their opinions on the daily topics that bother them enough to write in the first place. The meaning is not spoon-fed, though it is less expressive than it is anecdotal storytelling—of which many readers seem to relate and prefer.
I believe good poetry is an idea, an image, a memory, a metaphor—and it strikes a thought that can only best be written, and then only best outside the restrictions of prose. The poem must originate from an embodied concept that does not rely simply on the human condition and further social commentary for the mere sake of it. Poetry is personal, yes, that much is clear. Yet it is the taking of the writer’s footprints in the snow and then their placement onto the page—no matter how arranged or formatted—so that the poem becomes more than a collection of conversation pieces or platitudes. Poets must determine the importance of their lines by their reflection of these organized values, hopes, and statements. A poem must contain at least one of the three; without, the page might as well be empty.
C: What is your favorite poem of the book and why? If you are comfortable, would you share the background of how it came to be?
B: Right now, I’m happy with “White Tee” and “White Tee (Reprise),” which were written a year apart at two different frat parties hosted by the same house. “White Tee” centers on the darkness and the aura of loneliness that will sometimes suffocate these gatherings of college kids—the emphasis being that, you know, we’re still kids, with lots to learn about ourselves, our bodies, and how we treat the bodies of others. Meanwhile, “White Tee (Reprise)” is the reverse of that, in which the events are by no means upbeat and cheery, but everyone is in a bit of a better place. We change, we grow, and hopefully, in the process, we learn to cope with the craziness in a way our hearts recognize and need.
C: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
B: My books have always been emotional diaries of sorts. The cliché writing advice is to write what you know, and for me, that meant whatever mental state I was in at the time. I can open a copy of To Hear the Ocean Sigh—my coming-of-age novel published in 2015—and see exactly what I was feeling in high school regarding interpersonal relationships, sex, drugs, and death. I can flip to any page in Take Me to the Cat and see my concerns over childhood, memory, faith, and my experience with father figures and divorce. It can be scary, and this poetry book only amplifies these fears of mine. Interiority matters, surely, and yet in the process, some innocence is lost.
C: What do you hope people remember about this book?
B: Through my writing, I am hoping to find and spread truth. Instead of shying away, I now welcome the thought of the people closest to me reading my work. In a way, I want them to see my progress, and not just as a writer but as a person. In writing these poems, I discovered that what is happening within me now is more important than whatever has happened to me. I want to criticize what upsets me. I am ready to seize the truth.
C: Is poetry a one-time project for you, or is it something you’d like to revisit?
B: I would definitely like to produce a sequel of sorts in the coming years. Our aesthetics as writers are shaped by the attitudes and viewpoints in which we surround ourselves, and these further serve to shape the way we perceive our poetry in addition to the world. These viewpoints may often contradict each other—to be healthy, they should—and it is this that so often seems to drive us away from alternative opinions rather than us seeking them out. In our opining, rarely do we actively want or encourage statements that negate or dare to deny our own. This would make us feel alienated from the conversation, after all. Perhaps from ourselves. And yet this produces boring discourse, boring selves, boring poetry.
Most important to me is what Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire notes in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “problem-posing education,” in which “people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation.” By instead looking to foreignness and inquiring within, our minds may take shape and our poems may find a voice that is together complementary yet different from our own. I look forward to exploring this disparity in whatever collection comes next.
C: What is one thing you want your readers to know about you?
B: I watched a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants a few weeks ago. It was delightful. SpongeBob memes are the glue that holds our generation together. But I wish more people would just watch the show instead of tearing out one-liners. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Anyway, here are the must-see episodes: the one with the hash-slinging slasher; the one where Sandy goes on vacation and the worm turns into butterfly; the shockingly morbid one where the health inspector dies and they try to hide the evidence; the Plankton-turns-good episode (the F.U.N. episode); the pizza delivery one; the camping episode with sea bears; the one where SpongeBob and Patrick raise a baby clam—oh, and don’t forget the band geeks episode. Gosh, I love that sea sponge.
C: Anything else you’d like to add?
B: buy a typewriter if you can. My poetics were founded on a middle school education of limericks, haikus, cinquains, and rhyme schemes, but it was the purchasing of a 1937 Royal DeLuxe near the end of high school that brought about my love for the free verse style of written word recreation. There is a permanence to the typewriter that is inspiring, and with the machine always on my desk, I am consistently reminded of my drive for creativity. When you own a typewriter, there’s no excuse for writer’s block.
Well there you have it! There is a glimpse inside the mind of debut poetry writer Bryant Loney! I’d like to thank Byrant for taking time out of his busy graduate student life to create these thoughtful and amusing responses to my questions. I’d also like to thank Verona Booksellers for working with me and giving me the opportunity to work with Bryant on yet another lovely work of literature. Thank you all for reading, until Sunday!