DICTIONNAIRE INFERNAL is a co-authored poetry collection by Chris McCreary and Mark Lamoureux and was originally published by Empty Set Press on Halloween 2017. With the close of Empty Set earlier this, we have partnered up with ESP and are offering the chapbook as a free ebook. You can read a poem from the chapbook here, an interview with the authors below, and download the collection here and below.
Did you write this collection to any kind of music?
Mark: This is a hard question to answer, because I listen to music more or less constantly and I listen pretty widely (Bill Corbett once told me I have "big ears"). Looking at the poems in Dictionnaire Infernal I see references to Skinny Puppy, Big Black and the theme song for The Karate Kid Part II by Peter Cetera, but that was probably Chris. I'm sure I was listening to a lot of other stuff, too, but it's impossible to say what.
Chris: In general, I write while listening to instrumental music. The band Earth is probably my favorite for this. That said, this chapbook does have a sestina, “Abraxas,” that is in part a riff on lyrics from the band Baroness, who we both admire. (After the chapbook was published, I sent a message to the band’s singer asking if he would want a copy, but I never heard anything back from him. This might be for the best - it would be mortifying if he read the poem and didn’t like it.)
Describe your favorite meal.
Mark: There's the socially responsible answer to this question and the honest one.
The socially responsible one is good moules frites and a bottle of burgundy. Red wine with seafood because I’m a madman who lives on the edge.
The honest answer is a cheeseburger that they serve at a dairy restaurant where I grew up called Shady Glen where they fry a specific type of American cheese on the fry table so that it gets sort of brown and curled and bubbly, paired with a vanilla milkshake. Said restaurant was more or less the inspiration for my chapbook 29 Cheeseburgers. It’s definitely Americana kitsch where the servers all wear these anachronistic uniforms and these little paper hats.
Chris: Jenn McCreary makes great vegetarian chili. If I could cap off that meal with coffee and a salted chocolate chip cookie or three, all would be right in the world for a moment.
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
Chris: I’ve always felt an affinity for Tolkien’s hobbits, who mostly want to avoid trouble and stay at home with a book and a good snack. Maybe The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings count as two of the three books? I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was probably formative for me as well, particularly in terms of its fatalistic dark humor.
Mark: I’ve definitely always identified with Satan in Paradise Lost--he is actually an ethical person who has no choice but to fractiously rebel against his creator because that’s how he was made. He feels bad about leading the fallen angels into a conflict they are destined to lose, but he doesn’t know how to do anything else.
Like Chris, I was weaned on fantasy and science fiction books--the first book I ever took out of the school library of my own accord was Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea because I liked the cover. I felt an affinity to the main character, the wizard Ged, who winds up in a conflict with his own shadow, which he liberated in a ritual he was not supposed to be doing. The shadow winds up killing his beloved pet otak, which spoke to me at the time because my parents had just gotten divorced and my mother bought me a jet-black rabbit at the state fair that I named Obsidian that was eaten by a coyote about a week later.
Before I read “serious” books, the first books I read were comic books and I was obsessed with the X-Men, particularly the character Nightcrawler, who was the most freakish of the already freakish team. There is a graphic novel called God Loves, Man Kills in which a televangelist tries to exorcise Nightcrawler, which I found particularly moving. I have a drawing of Nightcrawler’s signature “BAMF” onomatopoeia that appears when he teleports done by his late creator David Cockrum for me at a comic book convention when I was 12 or so that is one of my prized possessions.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
“The Sphinx & The Milky Way” by Charles Burchfield (Mark)
“Torches Mauve” by Franz Kline (Chris)
What’s a gif or meme that you relate to?
Mark: I see this as akin to Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog but with more screaming.
Chris: This meme is a pretty solid representation of chronic anxiety.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
Chris: In middle school, I thought a lot about nuclear war and assumed that we’d all die in a fireball at any moment. (There was a period of several months where I didn’t want to be in a room without a radio or TV playing because I wanted to be able to hear the warning broadcasts as soon as they started.) Now I imagine the apocalypse as slow moving, a game of inches where basic resources like clean water are hoarded by the wealthy. As for how I’d want to die… I hope I’m at peace with friends and loved ones, no matter the circumstances.
Mark: Under the Baron Trump administration, faculty at Trump National Stable Geniuses University College must, in addition to their yearly self-evaluations, submit paperwork detailing how they are employing The Art of the Deal Parts 47-72 in their curriculum to Make America Great Again Again Again in order to justify their annual rations of Trump Sausage and potable water. I will forget about the deadline and be summarily executed the last semester before I retire at age 108.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Chris: The Empire Strikes Back, The Fellowship of The Ring, and Heathers.
Mark: Labyrinth, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (It was really difficult to just pick three).
Where do you find inspiration lately?
Chris: The second season of the show Fleabag is one of the best things that I’ve seen in ages.
Mark: I have been writing poems to Bill Evans compositions lately, as well as finishing up a project where I “write” poems to episodes of the old Leonard Nimoy paranormal TV docuseries In Search Of. I have done almost all of the hundreds of episodes, so I will need to find something else pretty soon.
Where did you write most of your book?
Chris: The poems in Dictionnaire Infernal are part of five years’ worth of poems that Mark and I have written together. Each April (aka National Poetry Month), we’ve written a poem a day and posted it to a blog. At the point when we were writing this particular series, one of us would choose a picture of a demon and riff on it, then the other person would finish the poem from there. I would often write my half of the poem first thing in the morning before homeroom at the high school where I teach or maybe later in the day while proctoring a study hall.
Mark: Likewise, definitely written either at home or at my office at Housatonic Community College.
What was something surprised you recently?
Chris: This summer, we went to the shore for the first time in a few years. Our kids, who are now 16 years old (they’re fraternal twins), just got up and… went to the beach with a friend, aka without us. It was a jolt to realize that, Oh, right, they’re at an age where we don’t have to watch them in the water the whole time and scold them if they swim out too far. Although of course we ended up doing some of that, too. If I turned this anecdote into a piece of creative nonfiction, I’d begin to work some sort of metaphor here.
Mark: At the risk of sounding cliché, as Chris mentions, parenting is pretty much a continuous stream of surprises. To be honest, I was pretty ambivalent about becoming a parent, but ultimately I find it to be the best thing in the world. Even at 2, my daughter is my best friend and we continue to discover surprising things about the world. I find it really easy to adopt the perspective of a small child and to see the world in that way, which is a nice panacea to the way I usually see the world.
What do you carry with you at all times?
Mark: Major depression and my iPod. Yeah, I still have an iPod.
Chris: Journal, iPhone, a 20-sided die, and an asthma inhaler.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. What works and what doesn't? What doesn't, but you keep trying it anyway?
Chris: Left to my own devices, I’m a fairly slow, fussy writer who builds from scraps and takes a long time to shape those fragments into whole poems. I’ve tried to push myself to approach the process differently, often through the use of source texts, but the idea of a larger “project” tends to fall flat each time, and I end up writing more lyric poems with Duran Duran references in them. Collaborating with Mark over the years has freed me from my own obsessiveness - with those poems, I work quickly and don’t look back. Sometimes, though, there is still some Duran Duran.
Mark: I guess I am an ideal counterpoint to Chris because I tend to work quickly and improvisationally. I identify with Jack Spicer’s adage that writing is dictation--it’s like capturing a mere segment of a steady flow of words. Most of the “writing” occurs in revision and making things more (or less, depending) lucid and readable to other people, although I don’t necessarily concern myself with this too much.
It helps to have something to focus on, so I do a lot of what might be called ekphrastic writing, though the pieces themselves are rarely that ekphrastic. Oftentimes I wind up with pieces titled for the source of the inspiration or improvisation that have little or nothing to do with the source content. I liken this to the jazz tradition of improvising upon standards.
When I try to write something specifically “about” something starting from scratch, it usually fails pretty miserably. Lately, though, I have been able to write more narrative things stemming from my quotidian life, which is definitely something I’ve had trouble doing in the past.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
Chris: I’m trying to get better at establishing healthy routines. I want to meditate more regularly, for instance, but I have a tough time really establishing it as a daily practice. A lot of my established ritual is based around preparation and consumption of coffee, ideally La Colombe’s Corsica blend with Silk soy milk and raw sugar.
Mark: Routines are literally impossible for me - despite even my conscious intentions I will subconsciously sabotage anything that smacks of routine to my unconscious brain, which is troublesome when one is caring for a routine-oriented toddler. I do my best to adhere to her strictly ritualized schedule nevertheless. The only part of my day that is really sacrosanct is reading non-work related stuff, sometimes for even just five minutes due to exhaustion, before I go to sleep.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Chris: The most difficult aspect for me was the self-imposed deadline of finishing a poem every day, but it was also liberating. Mark and I have now completed five Aprils worth of poems - 150 of them! - without missing a day.
Mark: With these and some of the other ekphrastic projects Chris and I have done for NaPoWriMo, it is challenging to write something that isn’t merely a description or a riff on the song or image that we are writing to or about.
Define happiness for you.
Chris: Taking an unnecessarily long nap with my cat Frida.
Mark: Hanging out at the beach with my daughter.
Chris McCreary is the author of four books: [neüro / mäntic], undone : a fakebook, Dismembers, and The Effacements. His review of Arrive On Wave, the Collected Poems of Gil Ott, is forthcoming in Tripwire.
Mark Lamoureux is is the author of four full-length collections of poems, It’ll Never Be Over for Me, 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years, Spectre) and Astrometry Organon. A fifth book, Horologion, is forthcoming from Poet Republik, Ltd. in 2019.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente