The Poet's Story: Interview with stevenallenmay
Hi Steve. Thank you for granting me this interview. Poet, performance artist, publisher, family man… I’m sure you inhabit many more aspects than I’m listing here. At times you’ve hosted festivals and reading series as well. So we have much to talk about.
One of your poems, sleep without paper, was recently published in Gargoyle Magazine. I’ve linked it in case readers want to take in the whole poem, which is well worth it, but I transcribe the end here:
So much we miss in our own bubble reality meaning undeciphered Babel without the Tower. The trek alone we take surrounded by everything, and yet not
and yet not.
There are some beautiful phrases, images, and devices here. Might you describe a bit how you arrived at these images and how the title ties into the poem?
Writing is a semi-conscious exercise in releasing pent-up creative energy. In one fashion or another, I have to get it out of me. Writing/collaging/etc. I have to get it OUT.
Titles often are welded on with hot irons after the poem is “finished”. sleep without paper was a mis-read of a book title that was in my house. The poem, in hindsight reflecting, dealt with how we attempt to make sense of our own misunderstanding - mishearings - etc. I seldom intentionally make sense. That comes later, if at all.
Let’s get some background. Is your last name Allen May or Allenmay?
The answer itself is a 3-parter.
I was born Steven Allen May. When I host poetry events/publish work/write poetry I do a little homage to E E Cummings (e e cummings) by combining my name. I sometimes say when I do a reading "all one word, lower case"
When I "logged on" back in 1999 - early aughts I chose to put a period between steven & allenmay and I have been sort of stuck with that decision ever since. It really was a 'happy accident'. Not intentional.
In studying your poetry collection, Plastic Sunrise, I see that you often use all lowercase letters, although sometimes have whole lines in uppercase. Sometimes you use punctuation, often not. And sometimes you have no spaces between words. Might you speak a little bit to form and how you might describe your approach, both to crafting words and lines, as well as to your approach to stanzas?
I am a product of my influences, obviously. e e cummings informed the way I approach the paper/screen from early on. I have also been influenced by LANGUAGE poets. Plastic Sunrise was cobbled together at a time just prior to the explosion of the internet. But visuality was always something that intrigued me. It wasn’t enough to have the words, but how the words were arranged on page was also something that I was eager to explore. Not that reading the words aloud could be expressed any differently, unless performed with physical accents and tics. Which I have done as well, to mixed results.
In terms of time and energy, what do you most often feel compelled to do now? I’m asking this largely as a follow up to an interview I read of you by CL Bledsoe from 2012, when you were parenting young children. I’m not sure what ages they are now, but I find it fascinating how we fill time differently when no longer in extreme-parenting mode.
Energy - yeah, that's a funny aspect. It's almost like getting a rash when I don't create something for a period of time. I have to collage or alter books — erasures/something along the lines of what Tom Phillips did with "A Humument". It's all the same swirl from the same creative energy flow that I have had since high school. That's when I started writing poetry. Before that were stick figure comics for my own amusement.
My newest batch of kids are now 17 (and graduated from high school) and 16 (and in 10th grade)
I still tend to try and say the most with the fewest number of words. I get lost reading French novels since they tend to follow a different direction. Same with some Russian novels. So - many - words.
I like flash fiction because it's challenging one to say something profound (hopefully) in under whatever the word count requirements are.
The same reason I favor prose poetry.
Oh, collage! Interesting. Is there any place you can direct us to see your visual art work?
I create them, I scan them and then I sort of paper airplane them through my saved files. Not a cohesion strategy but. (Steve graciously shared some of his work.)
Interesting description; a physical need to create. I understand. I also understand the want to build community and celebrate other poets and artists. Might you talk a little bit about Plan B Press; why you founded a small press; if that work fulfills creative needs in you as much as it provides public service.
Plan B Press was conceived in 1998 to be the publishing wing of a poetry festival that was going to be held in Berks County, PA beginning April 1, 1999. The press began by publishing poets who participated in the festival, Bardfest (now called Berks Bardfest) but when I moved to Philadelphia the focus changed and we started publishing Philadelphia-based poets and when we moved to DC we did the same thing with/for poets in the District.
All along we were receiving manuscripts from everywhere and we decided to publish the best projects that came our way, regardless where the author lived. Which dovetails into the last part of your question, publishing beyond a specific physical location provides a service - a greater good - since we concentrate our efforts on helping launch poets “writing careers” by only publishing their first through third books. There at the beginning. Nothing more rewarding for us than that.
Are there any particular upcoming publications from Plan B that you'd like to shout out?
Eve Muller's Guide to the Ruins and Hannah Grady's Horns of Monday are our next two, we are always excited. The audience beyond is always a murky deck.
Would you also describe the festivals and readings you’ve hosted? How important do you think it is to perform poetry, or hear it out loud?
The first poetry reading series that I hosted was in Lancaster, PA at a coffeehouse called the Monk’s Tunic. That would have been 1994. I have curated and hosted readings and series pretty much ever since. Most recently I had a series at a local library for a decade entitled “Hear at Martha’s”. I had a blissful experience introducing poets from across the Mid-Atlantic to the audience there.
I don’t believe that Zoom replicates the energy one gets in a room full of live humans reacting to an actual poet reading to them in person. You can feel the connection, I live for that sensation.
Plastic Sunrise is a powerful, fast-paced, multi-dimensional work that is both politically charged and intimate. It has me considering the role of the poet. What do you consider the role of a poet in society, if you perceive that they have any in particular?
Thank you for your kind words. Plastic Sunrise was a snapshot, an observation. I think that poets are the canary in the coalmine, the Cassandra that people want to ignore because they don’t want to hear the truth being said to them. Not all poets want that burden, of course, but some of us recognize that is part of the reason we have the gift of language. To use it for the betterment of all.
Many of your poems feel like beat poetry and some give nod to beat poets. There’s grit and movement to much of your poetry, referencing NYC, Philly, Texas, Detroit. Could you describe for us a bit what the road means to you and how that longing and reality impacts your poetry. It may be easier to share a poem to explain. If so, feel free.
Sorry, I didn’t mention it earlier but I was first incredibly influenced by the Beats. So, yeah, beat references are intentionally all over the place. My family took road trip vacations when I was a kid but when I was in the Air Force, I was stationed in Southern California and I drove across the country a number of times. I dream of driving or being in a car, the like, all the time.
Example? How about
The grape tao
beat like fish eggs oil and the flat highway
haze from Reno to Salt Lake (City)
retracting ocean still abounds in western
thoughts of hybrids and donkeys
cattle wire and McDonalds,
lands we drive from at 85 milesanhour blur
Can you share what you're currently working on?
Funny that you ask. In addition to Plan B Press publishing new titles every few weeks (it’s a goal), I am in discussion with a local publisher about bringing out a new book of my work, and I am starting to work out plans for a celebration of the 25th year of Berks Bardfest which will be occurring in April 2024.
I'll be excited to read your new book. Might you like to share anything about themes or atmosphere that we may anticipate?
The book is fluid in the sense that nothing has been finalized so it’s up in the air as to content, theme, etc.
Always exciting! I’ll look forward to it coming out. It’s been a pleasure learning more about you and your work. Thank you!
bio: stevenallenmay is a poet, owner/publisher of Plan B Press, collector of poetry chapbooks, blogger and collagist. He is the author of Plastic Sunrise and a number of poetry chapbooks. He looks for poems the way the Easter Bunny looks for the perfect hiding places for his eggs.
Here are links to previous interviews that, in part, informed my selection of questions: Murder Your Darlings: Interview with Poet and Publisher Steven Allen May , Day 28: Steven Allen May Discloses His Five Favorite Poetry Books | 32 Poems Magazine