Interview with Robert Fitterman
Author of No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself
Interviewed by Robert Torres
Your book, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself, is not an ordinary book of poems. It’s more of an anthology of sadness. How have people received it both as a book of poems and as a comment about our culture?
Well, that’s an interesting and involved question. I think the reception has been varied. It’s varied in that the book is all appropriated, and so for some people—they’re very interested in what this kind of pool of subject mater, this zeitgeist of feelings is all about. Other people, their reception has been less positive, saying that it’s exploitation of people who are sad and lonely. I think that’s a comment that comes up a lot with appropriation art.
How does reading these things anthologized in a book affect the way we read them when we’re used to reading them as one-off online statements?
Well, that’s what the whole reframing project is all about. It’s about taking things out of the context you’d usually find them in. You have to think about them in this other context. This context, poetry, has always been the place we go for feelings, so what would it look like? This was sort of the genesis of the project: What would it look like to reconstruct or compose those expressions in a poetry context?
Reading these posts so regularly—both online and in poetry—how does that affect how seriously we take messages about depression, isolation and suicide?
Poems have always been written about depression, sadness, suicide, etcera. One could probably read this on that level, which is great. [No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself] borrows its form from a poem by James Schuyler, The Morning of the Poem, and in that poem, Schuyler is very sad. It’s very singular, it’s about his own sadness. It’s a homoerotic, sad, detached, depressed kind of poem. But I don’t think I’m really interested in that. I don’t think that’s what the poem’s doing. Instead, it’s trying to experiment with how we all have these feelings. Not only do we all have them, but today we have a new way to think about our own subjectivity. I didn’t write any of these, and the person reading these may or may not feel like he or she actually did write these sort of things. Typically, we all wrote these. We have a limited pool of expressions and articulations of sadness and loneliness. That’s what I’m interested in. It happens in this meta way while also thinking about poetry as a container for emotions.
How much of yourself did you put into the book? What kind of mental state did you find yourself in while compiling it?
Contrary to what a lot of people might think, I think there’s a lot of myself in it. Some of that self, I’d be interested in redefining as the person who collects the material, the person who arranges it, the person who edits it. In this particular book, all of this material is edited or massaged in such a way that it speaks through one singular character—maybe mid-20s guy, probably straight, probably living at home or unemployed. There’s a lot of editing to make it work in this kind of structure—whatever my own interests might be—not only sadness and loneliness, but articulations of sadness and loneliness, and how they’re mediated through us by pop songs and advertising and whatever ways in which we think we receive original ideas. I would say there’s a lot of me. In terms of how I worked on it: it was very difficult. It got to the point where I couldn’t work on it for very long at once. I think readers have a similar experience: it starts funny and playful but turns dark pretty quickly, as was my experience writing it.
The book is very repetitive, which goes back to the idea of it being a zeitgeist and a representation of how limited our ability to express sadness is. Was there any kind of trajectory you were trying to create for the book from start to finish or from section to section?
No, on the contrary I worked against trajectory. I was trying to make it feel very much in a moment, almost like a rant, so in my mind, there’s no beginning, no middle, no end. The few stanza breaks that occur were really there to echo the Schuyler, so they have no other temporal or rhythmic quality. There’s no arch.
In a recent essay for Vice, you argued poetry’s political power comes from its ability to explore new modes of thought and to push artists of all disciplines to find new methods of expression. What do you think is the most significant avenue you expand in creating No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself?
For a decade or so I’ve been committed to a couple of ideas that in my mind intersect with sociopolitical issues that I’m concerned about. Primarily, most of my books are appropriations. I’m interested in ownership about this kind of material from the web. I’m interested in reflecting the language that’s on the web. I’m interested in collecting language. Further, in this book, I’m really interested in ways in which we can start to renegotiate or rethink our ideas about this kind of author. As I said in other contexts, I’m all in favor of subjectivity, I just think it doesn’t have to be my own. I’m really interested in print collective subjectivity as a new way to think about these emotions, this affect. Does it have to be me—singular author—articulating my feelings to a reader? Those reimaginations, those reconfigurations between the reader and the author and this new inundation of text and language that is everywhere, to me, really speaks of a contemporary moment and, to me, speaking to a contemporary moment is a political act.
So you think it’s more important in our current cultural and political present to put yourself forward as a filter for these messages rather than as a creator of your own?
I’m not just a filter. A filter would be a very specific way of putting it, which I like, but I would say as a thinker, as a way think about how these messages are disseminated. But filter is interesting, too, because filter would suggest a lot of new ideas about what can the author do, and what is the author’s role in this kind of culture where text is king and we have all this language and technology? What is his role? To ignore that, to have one kind of supreme voice is one option that I think is very old-fashioned. To find yourself, to use your word, as a type of filter, or a kind of way to facilitate and negotiate is interesting.
Robert Fitterman is the author of several books including No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself and Now We Are Friends. He is a faculty member at the creative writing program at NYU.