Smile Politely

PygLit tidbit: Five questions (+ one!) with Janaka Stucky

By way of introduction, let me just quote a question I asked to three guys on our editorial staff who have seen Janaka Stucky perform: 

SP: According to a trusted source, booking Janaka Stucky was a direct result of an experience at Mission Creek Festival where he reportedly “rocked your shit”. Can you define the phrase “rock your shit” in relation to Mr. Stucky’s poetry? Can you put into words the feelings evoked by said rocking? I understand none of you are yourself poets, but as writers, I know your attempts will be of interest to our readership. 

SPEditor1: Just speaking for myself, as someone who really isn’t INTO literature or readings — his approach was just captivating. He gets up there, recites everything from memory, arms outstretched and shit, eyes closed — just unconscious, almost. 

SPEditor2: I was a lit major and have been to so many readings. I’ve forgotten about most of them. Janaka Stucky is one that I won’t forget. When Caleb and Matt told me that he’d be at Pygmalion I was really excited — not so much for myself, but for the people who don’t know who he is that will see him perform. I wish I could have that first time experience again.  

SPEditor3: [abstaining] I think we all feel the same.

Armed with this knowledge, I jumped right in to asking Mr. Stucky a few questions. 

Smile Politely: Your book, The Truth Is We Are Perfect is published by Third Man Books, Jack White’s press, and Pygmalion began as a music fest, so you gotta expect me to ask. In my Googling, I’ve seen press releases that namecheck you at the Newport Folk Festival 2014 where Third Man Books’ first publication previewed. Is that all there is to your “meeting Jack White” story, and will you tell us if there’s more to it?  

Janaka Stucky: I’ve been a fan of Jack’s music for a long time, and while I sometimes dreamt of publishing his lyrics through my own press, Black Ocean, I never dreamed of being published by him. He’s a generous and tireless advocate for the arts. I met him for the first time at Newport, and was amazed he went out of his way to attend our poetry reading, from the audience, on one of the smaller stages–with everything else that was going on that day. Later in the evening, backstage after his own headlining set, I was standing in a circle with just the other poets while models, movie stars, directors and other famous musicians milled about nearby. Jack came over and congratulated each of us individually on our sets–this just minutes after he cranked out his own a scorching set in front of thousands! I don’t want to say any more about him personally, but this should give you an idea of what kind of guy he is. 

The Pygmalion Fest staff have been talking you up left & right, sending me links of you reading that set the bar pretty high.  If that makes you the heavyweight, who in the lineup do you think is the contender?  

Any time I go on stage I’m my own contender–my greatest opponent is myself in terms of whether I succeed in creating an interstitial moment in which we are temporarily autonomous and free, or whether I’m just another poet reading work. I enter each reading with the intention to perform my poems as a rite, pulling us all through a collapsed star of language so we can emerge having glimpsed something extraordinary and as a result seek out more intense modes of existence… But in terms of my place in the lineup I wouldn’t consider myself the heavyweight! If anything, I’m the contender with a new book. Matejka and Evenson are heavyweights to me, and I’m excited to see the other readers–particularly Ladan Osman and Marcus Wicker. 

Per the vimeo, can we expect musicians backing you up this time, or are you flying solo?  

I often perform with musicians because I love the challenge and the added dimensions. I got to collaborate with Duke Garwood at a festival in London recently and that was really magical. It wasn’t in the budget to bring a 7-piece band with me this time, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 (Thinking there might be a spare musician or six not occupied at the moment of the reading, but I get where he’s coming from — ed.)

That reading style is pretty intense — do you have any particular preparation ritual?  

I write from a trance state, which I enter through ritual, and to do justice to the poems live I also try to perform from a semi-trance state. Ritual and the creative process are really fascinating to me. I actually started an audio and video podcast with my partner, the photographer Adrianne Mathiowetz, called We Were Visionaries, in which we interview other artists about their rituals and creative process. So, yes I do have certain ritual preparations to put me in that state, but to share the specifics would be violating a cardinal rule of any good magician. 

And lastly: coffee regular or double double? 

You know here in my native Boston, home to Dunkin Donuts, “coffee regular” basically means twice as much sugar and cream as you would ever want. I like mine milk no sugar, or black as the ocean.

Despite several of our LitFest authors reading at coffee-related venues, Janaka Stucky will be reading instead at The Krannert Center on Friday, 9/25 at 10:00 p.m. , for free, between Jennine Capó Crucet and Marcus Wicker. 

(Editorial comments were made by the editor who is the author, therefore fully aware of all content — ed.)

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