Chris Carosi: On Allowing People an Opportunity to Listen
Chris Carosi is from Pittsburgh and then escaped to study at the University of San Francisco Creative Writing Program between 2009 and 2011. He is the author of two chapbooks, bright veil (New Fraktur Press, 2011) and FICTIONS (The Gorilla Press, 2015). Other work has appeared in Spring Gun, Switchback (where he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize), Your Impossible Voice, and a few others. He lives in San Francisco with Rebecca. He’s @sutrogram on Twitter but kind of only follows stand-up comedians and Pittsburgh sports personalities, because he believes in a more leisure-friendly Internet between the hours of 7pm-10pm when he gets home from work and wants a drink. He works for City Lights Booksellers and Publishers as a publicist and digital marketing coordinator. If given the opportunity to have any automobile to drive for life, it would be a 1997 Cadillac DeVille. Black with beige interior.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I rarely get that question unless it’s from a relative or when I’m forced to mingle with people I will only meet once. I like to think I can tell if I am connecting with someone right away, if the conversation turns inward I’ll edge toward the idea that I could be weird — always best to just be yourself around strangers no matter what and maintain eye contact (which is extraordinarily difficult). Depends on the person if they can even appreciate that and pick up on it socially. So much trust at play in those scenarios. But usually I just start with, “I’m a publicist,” which is my actual profession and things can spread out naturally. I think acknowledging that I write and think about poetry is really only enjoyable to me. Facebook doesn’t count. At least to me. If I’m hanging with some poets, I don’t have to say shit and that’s the best.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
In terms of what I go through privately most of the time: it is a very serious challenge for me to experience that I am listened to at all or that what I say or do has any value to anyone. I say “serious” because it’s not a very unlucky fate, but that’s the area of myself I get tripped-up on most often. This comes from childhood I am sure, and also I know intuitively that most people are just smarter and better—it is 100% how I backed away from meaningful one-on-one conflict resolution into writing poems.
The good news is that once you start down the creative path you find other uses for it down the line, if you have the stubbornness or arrogance to stay with it. And people will listen. Or maybe it’s you allow people an opportunity to listen. Definitely learned to just pretend I’m okay and perhaps I can fool everyone I come into contact with, and they too will pretend because they have their own insecurities.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I doubt that would ever happen. If it’s my kid, I’ll try to subtly convince them to follow their own path. If that path leads them to be a writer, that’s great!
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
No, I don’t, and doubt I could ever genuinely experience that, but I consider myself very happy. Always act like nothing is wrong while feeling dread for both the past and the future. That’s mental health.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
Great-grandparents were immigrants from Italy on both sides. It has to be them. They started drastically new lives from scratch so I guess necessity kind of soaked up the stories from the old country, but those are stories worth telling I would think. My dad’s grandfather (“Grandpa Celli” but his first name was Donato) was a fascinating person who could barely speak English and who devoted his time to creating vast, grid-like bush gardens all summer and had whiskey for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My father just told me a story in which Grandpa Celli began his checking account in America by depositing his daily wage of one nickel. That is, walking into the bank and very seriously putting a nickel on the counter. His other grandfather (Umberto Sr.) had his whole back porch covered in thick rose lattices, so I’m proud that sort of expertise with foliage lives somewhere in my chromosomes.
My great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Matilda, had 11 children in 20 years, which still doesn’t make any sense. Names in the prior generations were also fantastic. I have a great-uncle Arcangelo, which of course means archangel in Italian. I can’t tell you how badass that makes my blood feel. We call him Uncle Arc. My godmother Sandy once threw a Molotov cocktail back at an assailant from inside her burning home. She is my hero.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I would be so at peace until it came time to find food. There would be experiments.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Yes, I would. No one would believe it. No one would like it!
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Food, rent, and public transport, and that is pushing it. But I am lucky enough to have help from my special one.
What’s wrong with society today?
Mistreatment and shaming of the poor and lower class.
What is your fondest memory?
This question makes me realize I don’t really have any that distinguish themselves from the rest — lots of small ones that are private, thank you very much — I tend to obsess over and corner the bad kinds of memories in my mind. Big fan of letting go in the present though and that’s as good a trade-off as I can manage. My goal is to earn being an old man and laugh about it all.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
None. I’m in love with someone I adore. Falling in love hurts anyhow.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
I would like to see less needless suffering and cruelty in my own country for starters, like real evidence that those full of hatred have taken necessary fucking steps to stop treating weaker marginalized or poorer people like dirt. But there’s a part of me I can’t ignore that wants to answer this question by saying I would want to escape from all my responsibility as cleanly as possible with little regret. I also can’t deny the growing pains that come with this type of change (both macro and micro). It’s truly disgusting out there. I guess the real answer would be: I want change to occur, both within me and within our world without any violence.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Art is intentional and, at its best, specific. It can be good for people to use art to engage with the space between one or more persons as much as possible, both literally and conceptually, with aplomb if you can manage it (but of course the way one intends is another matter entirely). I feel it’s necessary. Words are adequate for artistic intention but most of our perception is discerned through other means. Poetry can sometimes be like a schematic for those transactions. It’s especially useful for resistance and the whole reason for “intending” anything with words in the first place. The fact that I struggle to not use Latinate words to answer this question means that art is necessary for us humans.
What are you working on right now?
Always moving toward more political work and a more plainspoken terminology (that is, in the actual poem) when it comes to my ideas. Right now I am kind of working on poems that vocalize resistance to the ruling class as if it’s been buried deep in the ground before mankind, as if nature compels us toward it, but I’m so damn dramatic — it kind of ends up being like pagans vs. robots. So far. I usually start big, vague, and goofy and revise toward more personal, detailed, and dreadfully serious poems.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I would love to inherit the capacity to be a visual artist. In the last few years I’ve discovered a special corner of my creative consciousness where I can at last begin to approach any artistic challenge with excitement (for example, I can’t really draw and I’m not very dexterous but I’m willing to try it now) — would love the chance to go on that adventure without having to use written words. I’d be a miserable and truly insufferable novelist. I was formerly a miserable and insufferable short story writer. Poetry is a great venue to get away with failure because it doesn’t absolutely have to operate as argument or make cogent sense (i.e. it doesn’t have to be prose) and no one is going to read it.
I most admire any type of writing I can’t do, really. Kim Stanley Robinson and Alan Moore. As far as poets, I admire the ones that make me rethink the whole enterprise and my whole relationship to writing, and that’s a lot of folks, too many to list. Actually 9 out of 10 good poets I read make me feel this way now. Norma Cole is a genius and taught me to remain open and curious and fascinated. She said once that, “There are too many books,” meaning there just isn’t enough time to absorb all the wonderful literature. Hearing someone like her say that makes me glad I can even pretend to be an open-minded poet; it is a privilege to even approach that kind of lifestyle or worldview. There will never be enough admiration to go round from me, as cheesy as it sounds. Also, I listen to a lot of music and there are a lot of lessons in the clarity one perceives in songs, and like all writers I wish I was in a band. And I wish was a band.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Friends moving away.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
I love this question because it might reveal something about me. Sometimes I prefer the following scenario with people I like and also when I’m solitary: not one stray or disagreeable attitude in the group and everyone is on the exact same page as far as what the night is about. Everyone has enough cigarettes and money. No one gets injured or sick. We go to three different places on foot.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
This sounds too cute but … people. People are the worst and the best and no one will ever get it.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Fifty dollars would be spent on lunch. Fifty words, I will have to get back to you. It’s really tough to achieve meaningfulness in this life, but if you go back and count the words in this answer, you’ll get a little dopamine shot and that’s what the people want!