George Albon on Being Willing to Sound like the Crankiest Crank
A San Francisco resident, George Albon‘s most recent books areFire Break (Nightboat Books, winner of the NCIBA Award for Best Poetry book of 2013) and Aspiration (Omnidawn), both from 2013. Earlier books include Brief Capital of Disturbances (Omnidawn, 2003), Step (Post-Apollo, 2006), and Momentary Songs: They That Are Delivered From the Noise of the Archers (Krupskaya, 2008). He’s had work in Hambone, Zyzzyva, New American Writing, Talisman, Try, and elsewhere. His essay “The Paradise of Meaning” was the George Oppen Memorial Lecture for 2002.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?
I usually just mention my day job.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Finding days to write.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Never stop learning and questioning. It’s an endless discipline. Also, chuck the TV.
Do you consider yourself successful?
I have a place to live, a loving partner, and a spottily realized vocation. It would be churlish to complain (not that I don’t).
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My Granma Loucks, great-grandmother on my mother’s side, a southern Illinois Cherokee who we think lived to be over 100. According to the family, she lived out her days on the back porch, watching the starlings in the yard and smoking her pipe.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old?
Muhammad Ali. He was the coolest person on the planet.
Would you ever perform a striptease?
It’d be more like a strip-quease.
What’s wrong with society today?
First, the income gap.
Secondly, the onslaught of electronic disembodied mediation and spectacularization. As if The Powers had devised a fiendish way to make people stay stuck inside rotted commodified states, oblivious to what is going down in their lives and in the world. On this issue I’m willing to sound like the crankiest crank. My partner, a pediatrician, sees this effect on kids every day: they’re anxious, housebound, skittish in the face of lived experience. I guess you’re supposed to have an “ironic” relation to all this, but I can’t muster that kind of irony.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Only two or three times.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
Very generally, increased collective attention to real problems: the assault on the poor, the criminalization of minorities, the fate of the planet.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I think certain made things — not necessarily “art works” — expand your sense of what an environment is. The best of these realizations can expand what you do in life. I know this sounds very idealist, but I’m convinced it’s true.
What are you working on right now?
For the past several years I’ve been writing a ten-section book in prose called Café Multiple, though the subtitle describes it better: Life, Work, Love, and Poetry. One of these ten sections is itself composed of four essays, about the lyric: Aspiration, Practice, Immanence, and Migration. These four have occupied at least the last few years, and Immanence remains to be written. Then I can go back to the 5 or so sections (fortunately not sub-divided like the lyric one) still to be written.
With this big elephant in the room my time for poetry is about nil, and so I’ve only been writing very short acutely-occasioned poems. These comprise an open-ended project called Sill.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
Last year I read Eileen Myles’ novel Inferno and her book of art writings The Importance of Being Iceland. The writing in both books is fully realized — hard to imagine it more realized — and yet it feels so completely seat-of-the-pants. I don’t know how she does it.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
For a start, how about taking things back to the time before all the administered hipness? For example, the Mission district, which used to be one of the most fabulous and vibrant environments you could ask for, now feels like a chromium suburb of the tech industries.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I didn’t see it, but a friend saw a quite elderly man walk into a porn theater on Market Street with a copy of my first chapbook in his hands.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
What are some of your favorite smells?
The ozone when it comes down. Beach balls — one of the few plastic smells that have some Proustian pull. Also, certain body smells.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
It would be nice to spend a long afternoon with a few people no longer here: Blake, Dickinson, John Lennon, Malcolm X.