“Together and by Ourselves”: An Interview with Alex Dimitrov

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Alex Dimitrov’s new book of poetry, Together and by Ourselves, is just out from Copper Canyon Press. It’s exquisite and I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and purchase a copy.

Dimitrov is also the author of Begging for It (Four Way Books, 2013) and the online chapbook American Boys (2012). He is the recipient of the Stanley Kunitz Prize from the American Poetry Review and a Pushcart Prize. Dimitrov has taught creative writing and literature at Bennington College, Columbia University, and Rutgers University-New Brunswick. He is the Senior Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, where he edits the popular online series Poem-a-Day as well as American Poets magazine. In 2009, Dimitrov founded Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon which he ran until 2013 in New York City, where he lives.

Amidst traveling and reading abroad in Paris and London, Dimitrov was generous enough to allow me to interview him for MQR. We discussed his new book as well as future and past projects such as Night Call — a multimedia poetry project launched in February of 2014 in which he read poems to strangers online and in person.

I felt as though many of these poems could also be films. Do you see any of them this way?

Many people have said that to me. I think my poems do tend to be cinematic. It may have to do with studying film in college and my love for French and Italian cinema, like Godard and Antonioni. An image in a poem for me is an opportunity to create a mood or an aura, rather than to faithfully describe a thing or place, which feels almost impossible.

When did you write the poem after which the book is titled? Did it change what you were working on at the time?

I wrote the title poem, “Together and by Ourselves” in the summer of 2013, when I was giving a lot of readings from my first book. Usually by the time a book is out, I’ve started on the next one. I had started a novel, but then the long poem in this book, “Days and Nights,” really took up my energy for about a year or so, and I started to see that poem as a kind of novel, and as a kind of synthesis of the book itself. I’m still going to write a novel but I’ll never stop writing poetry.

I wanted to have a Night Call with you and I regret not doing that, especially because I know many of the poems in this collection were used in that project. Did these poems change in anyway after you read them to strangers/people in bed? 

Night Call was such an important and personal project for me. Reading new poems to strangers in their most intimate space, whether that’s their bedroom or their living room or their kitchen. A lot of places wanted to write about it and contacted me and I said no to all of them because it really wasn’t about getting press or attention or selling anything. It was in the dead of winter. I was very depressed when I did that project. I was in the middle of something life-changing and traumatic and I just really needed to be with people in the most intimate way. And poetry was what I wanted to bring us together. Poetry is always what I lean on.

What’s your favorite poem in this collection? What’s your favorite poem in this collection to read to people?

I think “Days and Nights” is my favorite poem in this book. I was writing it while I was doing Night Call and I would really just force myself to get up in the morning and write two lines, three lines, five lines every day, and just keep adding to it. I say force myself because I was in a bad place emotionally and I had a hard time doing anything. That poem became like a life vest. I had to keep adding to it, I had to finish it. I knew that I wanted to write a long poem but I didn’t know how long. And so I made a promise to myself that it would be as long as it needed to be in order for me to feel better, until I got out of my depression.

In terms of the poem I like reading most out loud at readings, it would have to be “Nights with People, Days Without.” There is something about the rhythm in that poem that I just got right, in a way I never have before or since. I also think that in it, I approach thinking about language and personhood in a way that feels most true to me, thus far.

What are you reading now? Listening to? Watching?

I’m reading Middlemarch by Eliot. I spent an entire day reading it in front of her grave. I’m listening to Lust for Life, the new Lana Del Rey record. And the last thing I saw was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Sienna Miller in London. It was heartbreaking.

What are you currently writing? 

I’m writing new poems for a third book. And I’m also going back to that novel I mentioned. And Dorothea Lasky and I are writing an Astro Poets astrology book for Random House.

What’s next? 


Lead image: Alex Dimitrov reading at The Poetry Cafe in London.

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