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A Beautiful Child Grows Up: Queer Poet Alex Dimitrov on His Latest Book

A Beautiful Child Grows Up: Queer Poet Alex Dimitrov on His Latest Book

Alex Dimitrov
Photography: Francesca Woodman

After a night out in NYC, Dimitrov reflects on his new work, Together and By Ourselves.

The poet Alex Dimitrov and I met for dinner at a Chinese restaurant at 65th and Columbus in New York City, a few nights before Christmas, where illuminated papier-mache dragons adorned the walls and leather jackets draped over seats. He recommended the location as a nod to Truman Capote's essay "A Beautiful Child," which he references in one of his new poems in his forthcoming book, Together and By Ourselves, titled "Night Call." The essay is about a day Capote spent with his friend Marilyn Monroe getting drunk off champagne in an empty Chinese restaurant in 1955, after they attended the funeral of the actress Constance Collier. Ours was a funeral for the living, a specifically queer ritual of seeking solace in the days closest to solstice. Both Capote's essay and Dimitrov's new book examine the proximity of our public and private selves, of the living and the dead.

Dimitrov has written a book that blurs geographies--subjects separated by screens, state lines, bodies of water, bodies that might not be here anymore. His interest in the Internet and loneliness, the ways we perform selfhood, aren't contained to one project. He recently created the popular Twitter account Astro Poets with fellow poet Dorothea Lasky. The account uses poetics with an existential bent to skewer and highlight traits of each zodiac sign. He fires off tweets (he's a Sagittarius) amongst a schedule stacked with editing, teaching and writing.

Related | Hot List 2012: Alex Dimitrov

After our dinner we stumble out into the New York night and hail a cab towards a gay bar called Nowhere. On our ride we talk about how we both love the Pepsi Cola sign that lights up the Queens waterfront. Being new to the city I quiz him about the bridges, testing and debunking a theory I had that poets always know their coordinates. He mentions Joan Didion mistaking the Triborough Bridge for the Brooklyn Bridge. His tone is kind but authoritative as we glide into the bar to keep up our late-night conversation, the rest of which we continue over the Internet.

OUT:Your first book, Begging for It and American Boys, your online chapbook, tackled your childhood immigration to America and queer sexuality with candor. What are you taking on with your new book, Together and by Ourselves?

Alex Dimitrov: After those projects I took a step back and went away for a little bit, in terms of social media and being visible online. Together and by Ourselves comes from a deeply introspective space and one of its subjects is how seemingly connected we all feel, as a result of the times we live in and the Internet, yet how emotionally alone many of us are. And specifically how this sort of paradox affects romantic relationships, the relationship to the self, fear of death, our constant anxiety, and the glorification of celebrity, status, and likeability in American culture.

It's also an aesthetic departure for me. I've never written poems like these. There's a multiplicity of voices in each one (like the Internet), a stream of consciousness texture at times, and a lot of play with pronouns and tenses.

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The book cover of Together and by Ourselves is a striking photograph by the late photographer Francesca Woodman. How did you choose it?

I've admired her photographs for years and that photo specifically, of her body dangling from a doorway, referencing the crucifixion, with the head turned so sharply away from the camera. In a way the pain is on display, but she retains her dignity by the non-gaze.

There is, however, an invitation to that pain, the empty black chair to the left of her body, and in a sense, anyone can sit down and be alongside her. Poetry is also an invitation. I don't write to the air. I'm aware that there are people out there and that we're all dying and struggling with something at any point in time. The intensity of that photo appeals to me. I am interested in the nature of intensity in both art and life.

You co-created the Astro Poets Twitter account where you write horoscopes for each sign and have tweeted "Gender isn't real but the stars are." What are some ways you've seen that account bring people together?

I think astrology is a very queer system of belief and knowing. The stars are constantly shifting and exposing or masking something. Poetry is similar, it taps into both the future and the past. I think our humor on Astro Poets has certainly brought people together and also the message that we are all connected in some obvious, but many not so obvious ways, which astrology and poetry both reveal to us. And I think our account is very punk rock too. There's a rebelliousness to it. Poetry is also rebellion.

You're teaching a seminar at Columbia University this spring called "West to East: The San Francisco Renaissance and the New York School in American Poetry." Your new book also takes us back-and-forth between California and New York as locations in your poems. What are some of the influences of these places and their histories on your work?

Certainly the San Francisco Renaissance and the New York School are two movements in contemporary poetry that are academic interests of mine--that moment after World War II and before the Vietnam War is a very complicated, rich, problematic, and transformational moment in American history and in poetry. The promise of the west as this place where you go to become yourself and the east as this place you go to invent yourself. These are American myths that fascinate me, when they hold up and when they don't. There are poems in this new book that observe and critique American life in relation to those myths. How America sees itself and what America actually is, those things have always been at odds. And that space between the actual and the fantasy is one that I continue to investigate in my work.

This book seems to span several distinctly American landscapes. Will readers be able to see you on the road soon?

Yes, I'll be in California and all over the East Coast and hopefully a little bit of Europe this summer. I'd also go anywhere, if anyone out there is wondering. I can't wait to read from this book. It's a very intimate read alone in your bedroom. In person it's going to be a different kind of intimacy.

Purchase Together and by Ourselveshere.

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