Smile Politely

Five questions for two poets

On Wednesday, March 18th, Stories & Beer presents poets Rich Smith and Hannah Gamble, who will read poems as part of a current tour. The event will take place at 6 p.m. at the Blind Pig on Walnut. To get everyone suitably excited, we thought we would ask the poets five questions on their craft and what drives them in it. 


Smile Politely: What have new media (social and otherwise) meant for your work? 

Rich Smith: As a medium — not much. In life, maybe foolishly, I harbor a distrust for DJs. So I tend not to “remix” the writing of others. And, at least for now, I’m still the kind of poet who likes to look out the window, so I don’t play around much with using the internet like paint, either.

The internet has windows, though, and I look through those and write about what I see. For instance, in All Talk I have a poem about the dating website, OKCupid. Recently, I wrote about the poem for the Poetry Society.

Mostly I use social media as a marketing tool. I’m not too good at Facebook or Twitter, but I think I’m good at Instagram. You can find me on there as richsmith4. Four was my soccer number as a kid. Man, I wish I could make my living writing captions for photos.

Hannah Gamble: Mostly it’s meant that I get to keep in touch with all of the nice people I meet at readings and conferences. Via internet we can say nice things about each other to big groups of people, and we can see when people say nice things about us. We can Google ourselves and see when people think that the bear in one of the poems we wrote “might be a metaphor.”

SP: What does a good piece of writing/art have that a bad one doesn’t?

Smith: There’s a Japanese word—I’m forgetting it now—for a certain quality of weirdness or wildness within a piece of art. In poetry, I think that element emerges from what people sometimes derisively call “a voice.” So, that. 

Gamble: What Rich said.

SP: What sort of influences do you carry around with you from realms outside of poetry?

Smith: Always the language that courses through my friends. Always pillow talk. And rug talk. And headrest talk. Always overhead conversation at bars in small towns. The other day I heard an old man at a bar say in a flat, steady voice, “It’s rainin’ like a cow pissin’ on a flat rock.” It was not raining. He was not drunk. To quote Millay: “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” 

Gamble: Sketch and stand-up comedy (Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Louis C. K., Molly Shannon, Anthony Jeselnik, Nick Kroll, Kristen Wiig, Rob Delaney’s tweets) my family (goofballs, earnest, hurt, thoughtful, sensitive, interesting dressers, hugely/variously talented), of course music, my Chicago dear-ones/ bandmates Andrew Morrison and Matt Engers (kind, physical, talented stimulators of the visual cortex, beautiful singers, creative spellers/ phrasers, curious), Chicago poet and protector Anthony Madrid, who is one of my harshest and most loving critics.

SP: I suppose with that previous question in mind: what are you reading/listening to/considering these days? 

Smith: If I could wake up every morning and read three new limericks by Anthony Madrid, then I’d be happy. Sarah Galvin’s book, The Three Einsteins, has been helping me write sex + humor poems. I’ll never be as good at it as she is, though. God she’s so funny. If you want to believe again in the whole project of poetry, then buy that book. 

Heather McHugh’s book of selected poems, Hinge & Sign, has been a constant. Just put down Olena Kalytiak Davis’s book, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems, and I’m trying to say something smart about it. I love it. Hard to say much beyond that. Coincidentally, the next book I read was Matthew Rohrer’s Surrounded by Friends. 

Every morning for the last three weeks I’ve listened to this song by Jessica Pratt on repeat for an hour. For the most part I’ve been in an FKA Twigs and D’Angelo seduction spiral, which has helped me through the winter. During the bleakest months I revisit Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me, and that helps, too. 

Gamble: Reading: Brandon Brown’s book of poetry essays Top 40; The White House by Chicago poet and Danny’s Reading Series host Joel Craig; forthcoming book from Edward Mullany (collection of 3 novellas).

Listening to: Follow me on Spotify! (“Cockiness” from ASAP Instrumentals Vol. 1, “Tunak Tunak Tun” by Daler Mehndi, “Epitaph for my Heart” from the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs)

Considering: What if I just designed headwear and stopped writing poems? Unisex fashion is the coolest. My dog is the cutest. Bollywood/ Indian Dance music.

SP: Any weird or totally normal things you’re looking forward to on this reading tour?

Smith: King Spa. After this tour’s over, me and Hannah are going to put our feet up in the salt sauna and do some naked talking with strangers. 

But mostly I’m looking forward to getting real familiar with Hannah’s and Kyle’s work. I love reading their poems over and over, and so now I’ll get to hear them over and over. That’s a special thing for me. 

Gamble: I love being a houseguest: seeing what kind of tea and toothpaste people have.


You can read a sample of Hannah Gamble’s poetry here, a sample of Rich Smith’s poetry can be found here, and find more info on the event here.

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