Interview with J Archer Avary

Why Poetry?

I started with poetry as a reaction to long form writing. It was early into the pandemic, I was furloughed from my job with the airline, and like many people with time on their hands I dove head-first into a major creative project. For me, that was my still-unfinished debut novel. I worked on the project for several months but became frustrated because I felt like climbing an impossible mountain. Poetry provided me a fulfilling distraction: on a good day I could finish two or three, and have some finished pieces to send out to the thriving lit mag scene I had recently discovered on Twitter. (I still tell people I’m working on that debut novel, and maybe one day I will amass the drive and courage to actually finish it)

Who are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Anvi Doshi’s Burnt Sugar. I picked it up at the Newcastle library with a Haruki Murakami book and ‘a grain of wheat’ by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o, but they’re all three overdue and I’ll probably return the latter before I finish the former. I’m a sucker for anything in the Penguin modern Classics series. But sometimes brand loyalty can bring you down. I couldn’t finish ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by Sinclair Lewis, the prose was dull but I applaud the book’s prescience. I finished John Dos Passos ‘USA’ a few weeks ago. That was an achievement, dragging that 1200-page beast around on the metro for over a month. Normally I gravitate to thinner books. I read ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ by John Kennedy Toole for the first time and loved it. 

What poet(s)/artist(s) has had a major impact on your work?

I’m a relative newcomer to poetry, still figuring myself out as I grow as a poet. I was sheltered from huge swathes of pop culture when I was a kid in the 80’s. I wasn’t allowed to watch the Smurfs because somebody at church told my parents that Papa Smurf was a communist. My cultural awakening was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the realisation that punk rock existed. 

Where does a poem usually start for you?

I get a lot of good ideas in the shower, but only a chosen few survive the steam and make it to the printed page.

What are a couple of features of poems that you enjoy when reading them?

One poet I admire is Helen Bowie. Their most recent collection Exposition Ladies (via Fly on the Wall Press) was so much fun. You can tell when you read her poems how much they enjoyed the creative process. 

Is there an aspect of your poetry that you feel has evolved most?

I’m still developing as a poet, enjoying what I do, and finding new ways to express myself on the page. With age I’m hopefully gaining perspective and continue to grow and never grow stagnant. That would suck.

What was the inspiration for the poem OBJECTS IN MOTION SHOULD REALLY GET SOME REST?

I’m thrilled this one stood out to you, it’s one of my favourites to perform on the open-mic circuit. I spend a lot of time on public transit and see a lot of graffiti. Some of it’s amazing but a lot of it is shite, too. If you’re going to spray-paint your moniker along the tracks somewhere, don’t half-ass it. This poem is largely fueled by ennui, numbness, wanting to feel something in an overwhelming teenage 911 way. You mention the 3rd stanza: it’s so satisfying to me how that combination of words rolls off the tongue.

Could you bring us home and speak to that line, “pageants of grief“?

I think that ‘pageants of grief’ line is about allowing yourself to feel. Grief is a strange beast. When my grandpa died in 2017 I was physically overwhelmed by it, but looking back it was a positive experience, because it broke through the numbness. I guess my inner poet is reassuring himself that it’s okay to feel something. 

And the last line “we see horses in a field and root for them to fuck.”?

The last line brings it back to public transportation, numbness, routine. You look out the metrocar window at the passing scenery, the same horses in the same fields, day after day. Wouldn’t it be great if something happened? I know my spirit is alive as long as I root for those horses to fuck. 

Would you mind giving us the story behind another of these poems?

There’s a wind farm at Kiln Pit Hill, west of Newcastle in the foothills of the Penines. my wife and I were staying at a farmhouse airbnb with a wood-fired hot tub, the centrepiece of what was supposed to be a relaxing getaway. As it happened, that was the night Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. We watched breathless television coverage of the war live on channel 4, in shock and horror. I got extremely drunk on Leffe beer and Kylie Minogue brand prosecco and injured myself badly in a hot tub accident. 

It’s a funny story now, but terrifying at the time because I almost

crushed my testicles when I face-planted into the hot tub. Half of me was in the hot tub, the other half went through a plastic storage tub where the airbnb hosts stored the firewood (which resulted in a very awkward conversation on checkout). I was lucky, because if I would’ve landed differently, I could’ve fallen onto the wood-burning stove that heats the tub. I didn’t want to ruin our getaway with a visit to hospital, but I probably should’ve because my right hand was permanently damaged (yet through the accident I didn’t spill my drink). 

Are these poems part of a larger collection?

‘this hot tub is a bomb shelter’ and ‘prime seats in the beer garden’ both feature in my upcoming collection Total Rhubarb (out 9 January 2023 via Back Room Poetry). I wrote this slightly indulgent 3rd-person blurb about it because it’s embarrassing to ask other writer’s for blurbs. 

Do you have any other projects forthcoming, or anything, that you’d like to point readers to?

Volume 2 of Figwort Literary Journal is out Friday, 16 December. I’ve got a short story in it called ‘Code Teal’.
I would really love to sell the remaining 15 or so copies of my novella ‘The Dog Sitter’ (2021, Daily Drunk Press) so if anyone wants to chuck me a few quid I’ll gladly drop one in the post for them. Dm’s are open!  ( LOL, but no really, buy my book so i can justify publishing a short story collection soon)

Blurb for Total Rhubarb (Backroom Poetry Press)

The world swirls in chaos as a poet steps into a new life in the north of England. 

Stars dance on ice to bottomless piña coladas. Politicians go belly-up to the trough. Vladimir Putin leathers up to sing karaoke. The seasons unfold to reveal TOTAL RHUBARB.

J. Archer Avary’s exuberant collection celebrates the minutiae of Sunday roasts at the local pub, gives two fingers to vindictive seagulls, and daydreams of frolics in high-altitude hot tubs, while coming to terms with his complicated ancestry and the realities of ageing

TOTAL RHUBARB is cannibalistic hamsters, the contents of a suitcase last seen on the last train from Glasgow, it’s the ridges of a Roman Coin under the hot lights of a display case. TOTAL RHUBARB is sand in yr eyeball, white horses galloping into the wind on a miserable beach, hummingbirds beating wings in slow motion. 

J. Archer Avary rides the rollercoaster of life into the HR office where he’s set free from his stifling work pod. He takes  shelter in a hot tub at at Kiln Pit Hill with a cheese plate. As Russia invades Ukraine, the poets world is upended by a mind-altering hot tub accident, but our hero survives without spilling his drink.

TOTAL RHUBARB looks at life with a heart soft as talc, a bromide wit, from the outskirts of periphery to centre stage in the theatre of memory. Poignant, funny, and marinaded in kimchee & bacon remoulade, J. Archer Avary’s new collection is pink noise for the poet’s soul.