Poet Barton Smock on Trauma, Feminism, & Self Publishing
Sarah Marcus: You are one of my unsung poet heroes! The first time we read together in Cleveland, Ohio I felt like I was being punched in the face (in a good way) by your subtle yet incredibly direct address of violence in your work. One of my favorite collections of yours is The Blood You Don't See Is Fake. On many levels this work and many of your other books seem to be a chronicle of abuse, especially the ways in which we process or don't process these memories and our experience of each moment as informed by trauma, past or present. Please tell us about your writing process. What messages do you hope to convey to your reader? Do you have any advice for people who are attempting to write about trauma narratives?
Barton Smock: I write in the hopes that Barton Smock, author, disappears. When I visit that thought, it is no secret there that an abuse, a trauma, an event can tattoo one to the world in spirit while, on the other side of public knowledge, the abuser does not think in specifics, and has a very broad, indistinct, sense of self. Writing is my way of saying this is my hologram’s prayer mat. I address the past to relocate it, to toss it ahead, to have it in front of me so I can confirm with it a later date. I think here of the man who died painlessly two days after being placed by god or by belief into another kind of pain. I want to be that man. Words change meaning over time. One person’s chronicle is another’s repetition. Mantra. Process is purge. But the purge needs an assigned symbol, I’ve found, for it to be written and touchable in the reading. I try to be careful with what I use. My mother. Yours. Both sides of conveyance should make one gentler. If I were to give advice in regards to trauma narratives, I guess I’d say remove yourself in the manner of an abuser. But don’t disappear.
SM: How does being a feminist inform your perspective and your work? Do you think our literary community has a responsibility to promote inclusive feminism?
BS: Too often in speaking aloud, in talking to oneself, in writing…one gets hung up on the word and not the context. I like to think of my informant as a religious individual in much the same way as I like to think of my kids as godless. Feminism informs my work because it is part of my transition from word to context. I don’t know everything. I was young, once. I was old. There’s a reason I look at my daughter and worry and look at my sons and don’t. And, yes, I do think any community that values the individual must promote inclusive feminism. As in, must promote community. It doesn’t seem to me a leap. Feminism isn’t monster, isn’t closet. And responsibility isn’t how cute the sleeping child is. It’s so hard to be awake, I know, but if community is to exist, to be nourished and to nourish, then we must at least clean the hand we eat from if we want it to become the hand we feed with.
SM: Your work is mostly self-published. How did you go about making that decision? Are there any important lessons you've learned in this process?
BS: I began self-publishing in 2011 mostly as an exercise, as a way to order the hundreds of poems I feared I would lose to word documents. The exercise allowed me to follow more thematically that which I’d let wander. At the time, I was working two jobs, and my youngest son had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative disorder, and time spent submitting wasn’t something I felt I could clock. Self-publishing gave me a way to come to a standstill. Now, it’s mostly ritual…though I do try to tweak the ceremony here and there. If I’m doing a reading, I’ll put together a short book of the poems I plan to give a voice and then order ten or so copies of the book to bring to the reading as a giveaway. I know it’s not selfless, but self-publishing has taught me to foster the social anxiety I belong to.
SM: What are you working on now, and what can we expect to see from you in the future? For someone who is new to your work, where would you suggest that they start?
BS: I am currently working on a longer book of poems, tentatively titled Spirit Nerve, but some of the poems I had for it are tied up in chapbook competition submissions, so I may need to revisit the theme of said book or abandon it altogether. For someone new to my work, I would suggest checking out the title you mentioned, The Blood You Don’t See Is Fake. It’s a better representation of when I was both word and context, form and fragment. My most recent title, Misreckon (December 2014), is also, I think, both return and disappearance. All titles of mine on Lulu include a preview of each book in its entirety. I do this so that if someone says, yes, I know they mean it. Also, I write daily at kingsoftrain.wordpress.com.
Barton Smock lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares his wife and four children with themselves. His most recent work, self-published like all his work, is titled Misreckon.