Amy Berkowitz on Cheaper Pizza and Better Art

Amy Berkowitz on Cheaper Pizza and Better Art

An interview with Amy Berkowitz, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Amy Berkowitz was born in New York City to a statistician and an art dealer. She lives in a rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco with two human beings and a truly spectacular cat named Thurston. She’s the editor of Mondo Bummer Books and the author of Listen to Her Heart (Spooky Girlfriend, 2012),Lonely Toast (what to us press, 2010), and Tender Points(forthcoming). Some recent poems can be found in Dusie #15. With Thurston’s help, she hosts the Amy’s Kitchen Organic Reading Series.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them… ?

I say I’m a freelance writer, which is true.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Self-promotion. I don’t like doing it. And I think gender is a huge part of that. As women, we aren’t socialized to promote ourselves, but to doubt ourselves before we speak and apologize for what we make. Of course this extends beyond the literary arts, but there are so many examples right here; look no further than the yearly VIDA count. My own press, Mondo Bummer, also consistently gets more submissions from men than women.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Go for it. Why not? The stakes are low. It doesn’t take much of an investment to be a writer. A couple nice pens. If the writing thing doesn’t pan out you can always use them for filling out forms and making lists.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Luther Vandross’s Never Too Much is a beautiful song, and there’s a lot to love about the video. First, it’s shot in early ‘80s NYC, which reminds me of my childhood. I like how everyone is walking around listening to his song on their stereo or Walkman and tapping their feet; it’s this playful imposition of diegetic sound. Don’t miss the roller skater at 1:46. Also, if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll notice the song is basically about skipping work to be with the one you love, and that’s a message we can all relate to.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I actually wanted to be a writer, which seems funny, because I don’t know how common it is for people to become what they wanted to be. I admired (and still do!) our downstairs neighbor, a children’s book writer named Stephanie Calmenson. Her life struck me as glamorously bohemian, by which I mean she wore long skirts and silver jewelry and had a futon instead of a couch.

How much money do you have in your checking account?


What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Overthrow the patriarchy, duh.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

This question is huge and hard to answer. I’ll approach it by asking myself to imagine my life without any art in it. Okay, so what would go away. Start with the obvious: art museums, art, artists. Poetry, every poem I ever read, every poem I ever wrote. My friends who are poets would only have the non-poet elements of their identities, which would make them administrative assistants and dishwashers. What would we talk about? Teleconferencing and soap? The library would just have books on back pain and political theory and the dummies guide to SEO marketing. If visual art and literature go, music and film do, too. And if I can’t listen to music on the way to work and go to a movie at the Roxie after, and all I can do is work and eat and sleep and see my boring friends, well, I might as well kill myself.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Listen to music.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a collection of lyrical essays about pain, trauma, and gender called Tender Points. The 18 tender points are the famously vague diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia. The project is informed by my experience with this chronic pain condition but also by a lot of other things, from Twin Peaks to the Winchester Mystery House.

Also, Mondo Bummer has three chapbooks in production. One of them is going to be bound with yarn spun from the wool of the very alpacas described in the book! We’re hoping to have at least one or two of the new titles ready for SF Zine Fest (at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, August 30th and 31st—come say hi!).

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

My favorite writing will probably always be writing that’s like speech. That speaks with that same common language and urgency. As much as I enjoy a wide variety of poetry, I have a strong affinity for poetry that opens itself to people who aren’t already poetry connoisseurs. I definitely don’t think poets have any obligation to compromise their work just to make it accessible, but for me, that openness is part of my practice.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Few people expect it, but in 2015, Turlock becomes very trendy! A booming downtown boasts a tempting array of fusion restaurants, artisanal butchers, and sleek waxing salons. Luxury condos are erected overnight, providing ample accommodation for the droves of wealthy ex-SF residents drawn to this burgeoning metropolis, now called The Paris of Stanislaus County. A handful of major tech startups relocate to this Central Valley hot spot, further attracting fancy people to move there.

Meanwhile, rents drop dramatically in San Francisco, allowing artists, normal people, young people, old people, very strange people, people of all races and ethnicities, disabled people, poor people, families, Thee Oh Sees, and everyone else who was previously displaced by gentrification to rent a sweet old dilapidated Victorian home at a reasonable rate. The city is revitalized, pizza gets cheaper, art gets better, life gets a lot more fun.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Going to a reading in Oakland and running to make the last BART home. Or walking around San Francisco on a rare warm night.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

With 50 words I can write an answer to the question below. With 50 dollars I can buy four more vintage astrology mugs to round out my vintage astrology mug collection (still looking for Leo, Libra, Taurus, and Virgo).

What are some of your favorite smells?

Coffee. Bonfire smoke, especially when it gets in your hair. Also when I see fennel growing on the side of the road I like to break off a little bit and rub it between my fingers. I like the smell and I also like showing off my limited plant knowledge.


Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.