When Rich and I decided to move Sudden Denouement into the world of publishing, we were most fortunate to have the brilliant light that is Dustin Pickering to lean on. He is editor/co-founder of Transcendent Zero Press, along with Z.M. Wise, a distinct and powerful voice as well. Thankfully, Dustin gave of himself freely and has been instrumental in our evolution. We are grateful to have been given the opportunity to publish his forthcoming collection of poetry. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Dustin and ask him some questions about his process and his poetry. Anyone who is not familiar with Transcendent Zero, or his journal Harbinger Asylum should take some time to acquaint themselves.
Jasper Kerkau: You are a writer who has utilized numerous forms over the years, how important do you feel it is for poets to challenge themselves in this manner?
Dustin Pickering: As far as form is concerned, one thing I learned is that form engages the writer more than free verse. You strain your phrases to fit syllabic demands or rhyme scheme, so you are forced to think outside of an empty box. Form is structure and structure often intonates meaning better than no form—in fact, a lack of form is inherently a form itself. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Writers should be free to experiment in a variety of approaches and work with what suits them best, yet I would recommend learning form for the same reason a musician would learn music theory. It is not terribly hard, and it enlarges your toolkit.
JK: Sudden Denouement is publishing your forthcoming collection of poetry, tell us a little about it and what you want readers to take away from it.
DP: Grey Soliloquy is the story of a performer who has been victimized by an obsessed fan. He accuses her of taking his words and using them in her songs. Her beauty and charm as a woman is called into question. One thing I try to engage with in this story is the way women are objectified and victimized by society at large. I explore, as a man, a woman’s psyche. This is a controversial approach to this question—it may be called “womanfacing” if there is a term. In this series of short poems, the performer speaks her side of the story after learning her fan committed suicide. She feels guilty, yet questions this guilt and is angry. I even delve into what I consider the hidden elements of attraction and romance between men and women, seeing it as a primitive animalistic pursuit. That animalistic quality is part of the original spark of attraction and the seeking of an Other. Jordan Peterson remarks that red is a powerful attraction color because it is the color of fruit, and engages our eyes more sensually. So I embrace lust as a kind of primordial dusk buried within our unconscious. Perhaps a genetic song seeking harmony. In these poems, the performer has a secret relationship with the fan in question—it is not a real, physical relationship, but a bond that brings them together in a kind of courtship of disaster. Her mixed emotions betray her sense of failing to fully understand her situation; she identifies with the obsession. I wanted this emotional complex to reflect reality, not a moral judgment. To be clear, I condemn acts of aggression and any act which limits or violates a person’s own will. The collection does not intend to persuade or cast stones as much as reflect a psychic struggle within someone whose situation creates moral ambiguity within them. Readers will decide if this attempt is successful.
JK: What is Transcendent Zero Press and how has it impacted you as a writer?
DP: Transcendent Zero Press began as a punk band. It was named after a word in the dictionary combined with the Smashing Pumpkins hit “Zero”. Later, I developed it into a concept after realizing the depth it could convey. It is a concept that reflects the non-being of God as an agent of creation. Non-being persuades, not initiates force. It exists, and as an existent it formulates possibility. Zero is the realm of nothingness and is neither a positive nor negative association. Transcendent is a realm of surpassing the ordinary, striving beyond the Self. Yet it does not reach into an Other, it goes above. Zero is an act of stabilizing polarities by observation, attaining a state astride quantum uncertainty. Transcendent Zero is a paradox, a conceptual interlude to the realm of Being. It became the name of my publishing company in 2010. As a publisher, I have networked with countless poets and writers, learning more and more from them in the process. I have learned what a labor of love it is to create a book. Writing is only the beginning.
JK: How would you characterize your poetry, and what writers had the biggest influence on your poetry?
DP: My poetry is a challenge to whatever the status quo seeks to impose on others. Right now there is political correctness and its obscure morality. There is Trumpism and its absurdity. There is postmodernism. Post-truth is the refuge of those who deem themselves infallible, yet remain contemptuous. It’s a by-product of an age that lacks definition and purpose. This reaches across all aisles. Poetry is a social force, but that does not mean it is political in nature. It should not support an agenda, but rather serve as commentary. As commentary, it illuminates ideas and seeks the godhood of things. As such, it is balm for the troubled minds and can heal trauma. It strives for unity through analogies. A poem is a unified body that embraces the similarities between disparate elements. It makes the world whole again. It is prophecy. Richard Wilbur, who I spoke with over the phone before he passed away, wrote a poem called “Advice to a Prophet” which I take to heart. In it, he casts the visionary as one who affirms not denies, not increases skepticism but provides direction. Poetry is the grandeur of small things. It is one’s navigation to the divine. Through poetry, I seek to upset things and tip the balance while providing refuge. Poetry is the voice of Jesus himself, as revolutionary and seeker of the divine. Writers who influenced me vary. Some are not officially writers, just beings with a presence in the world that inspires me. There is Jesus Christ whose parables and sayings are not only poetry, but philosophy disguised. In fact, scholar Willis Barnstone composed a book of “poems” out of Jesus’ parables. The Kabalistic writers and mystics with their thoughts have provided me with wisdom and joy for years. St. John of the Cross inspires resilience. Plato’s allegories are suggestive in their merits. Musicians such as John Lydon, Jesse Michaels, and Rik L. Rik inspire me with their fearlessness. I’m a punk rocker at heart. Among poets, there are Plath, Lorca, Lorde, Blake, Shakespeare, Neruda, Frank O’Hara, Dante, Gluck, Rothenberg, Levertov, and Joyce. Among contemporaries, I recently read Safiya Sinclair’s book Cannibal which is a great work. I also like Kiriti Sengupta’s approach to literature. The Earthen Flute and Rituals are beautiful works. I appreciate paradoxical personalities and subtle thinkers. The Beats had jazz. The Pre-Raphaelites had opera. My poetry is primarily punk rock meets Plato. Blasphemy meets the edge of noon.
JK: As a writer and a publisher, what advice would you give writers in terms of getting their work published?
DP: Publishing is a gritty experience. You will be rejected, sometimes harshly. Be prepared. Submit to journals you believe are aesthetically similar to your own style or have your tastes. Don’t mimic except in your early phases. A poet I know, Robin Wyatt Dunn, an educated provocateur, has a writing approach that I cannot define as anything but anti-lyrical. It does not fit into anyone else’s box. That’s the writer you must be. The Nobel Prize for Literature, I read recently, is awarded to a writer who makes the marginal into the usual. To do this, you must be willing to face misunderstanding, fear, hate, and take appreciation in stride. Don’t develop an ego, yet don’t get discouraged. Be your own. Become a mystic in the proper sense. The Sufis have a word for a mystic who seeks divine favor by humiliating himself. In short, be your own and have attitude. You will have to work for that. Nothing is free, not even the Muse’s favor.