Zack Haber is a poet and a person who lives in Oakland and curates The Other Fabulous Reading Series in Berkeley. I got to know this goofy, friendly, and honest poet because he goes to a lot of readings. His writing is clean in a way that gets to the heart but makes you smile. His first book is To Carry You Being.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them … ?
I tell them I’m a writer and a substitute teacher.
What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?
Thinking too much about myself and what I want and not enough just doing the stuff I want and not enough thinking about what I can do for others.
If someone said, “I want to do what you do,” what advice would you have for them?
Find a community of writers. Read people’s work and help them out. Use the library. When writers and brilliant people you meet tell you “You have to read such-and-such book!” make an effort to go and read a few pages of it and see if it’s speaking to you. Don’t feel like you have to read anything. Learn to love the process of writing and learn to love when your work speaks intimately to yourself and some other people. Don’t worry about how many books you’re selling or how many people came to your reading. Worry about poetry. Poetry is more important than numbers! Take risks. Don’t be afraid to write that which embarrasses you. Keep the stakes high.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
The kind of sarcasm that heals:
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
I love my only living grandparent, my grandma Bea. She will walk down the street and talk to EVERYBODY.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I admired Michael Jordan and I wanted to be a basketball player.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
Aimless wandering inside and out.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
You’re gonna have to do better than just interview me for SF Weekly to get the answers to those kinds of questions, Evan!
What’s wrong with society today?
I might disagree with this at another time but I think a lot of it has to do with us being afraid of the unknown. Everyday we wake up and we don’t know what will happen. We don’t know what our friends and family and lovers are thinking. We hardly know what we ourselves are thinking! And we’re inching closer and closer to the biggest unknown: death! So instead of admitting to ourselves that we don’t know what the fuck is going on, we act like we do. A lot of decisions we make are based on assumptions that we usually don’t think to question. We think learning is about pinning down truth instead of experiencing perspectives. We value knowing over listening and learning. Many of us act with a set of stereotypes about people based on race, nationality and/or gender because it’s easier to stereotype than actually learn about someone. I think this attitude is making us miserable and we need to admit and embrace that we don’t know what’s going on. It’s a more difficult life but also a more fun one.
What is your fondest memory?
I don’t know.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I don’t know!
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
A lot of things. No more nation-states. Direct democracy. No more wars. A health care system that is not really a part of capitalism. Complete restructuring of the prison system so that it tries to help people instead of just being cruel and demoralizing. Housing for all: I am not speaking figuratively when I say there is literally enough places for everyone in the U.S.A. to sleep in and yet there are people freezing their asses off sleeping outside in the winter. Complete restructuring of our education system so that school is fun and interesting and students are actually made aware of their history.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
I don’t know if I can explain it right now; I just know it when I see it. Art is like a language because one can say things through art that they couldn’t say otherwise. So art is necessary just like Hindi and English and Chinese are necessary.
When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?
When I have sex I like to have sex, and I don’t like to listen to music usually, but sometimes I do.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on this interview. I am working on a series of poems but the process behind them is a secret. I am working on an experimental novel about wiggling. I am working on a poem for Alexandra Naughton’s wonderful zine/lit mag Be About It. The theme for the next issue is “Pull” and I’m working on a poem called “Pull” and I hope I finish it and I hope she accepts it!
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I want to write things that make me feel ways I’ve never felt before. I like writing that does that.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
One time this guy tried to rob me in Chennai right after I finished peeing on this big pile of trash. When he was about to start hitting me or intimidating me adrenaline took over and I started screaming about how I was seeing God. Then I dumped an entire bottle of water over my head. He got confused and I walked away.
What are some of your favorite smells?
I like the way people I like smell.