Sommer Browning on Breathing and Other Hobbies
Sommer Browning writes poems and draws comics in Denver. She is the author of the collection of poems Either Way I’m Celebrating (Birds, LLC, 2011) and three chapbooks, including The Bowling (Greying Ghost, 2010) with Brandon Shimoda. She is co-founder and editor of Flying Guillotine Press, a handbound chapbook publisher. For over five years she hosted and curated The Multifarious Array, a poetry reading series in Brooklyn. She now co-curates The Bad Shadow Affair in Denver. Her poems and comics have appeared in Typo, Octopus, The New York Quarterly, word for/word, MiPoesias, and elsewhere. Visit her Asthma Chronicles.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sommer Browning at St. Mark’s Poetry Project on a chilly Friday night this spring, where she read along with Denver cohort Mathias Svalina (of Octopus Books fame). Her reading left me feeling more human than I had felt in ages. I felt like I had witnessed not just a poet, but a human being. I felt good, and it was her fault. She blasted me with her one-liners, her smoky noir voice, her hyper-fueled, cheap motel comedy, all delivered in a crook-grinned swagger that bespoke of a very learned upbringing. “I love the Brownings,” she said at the podium. “I wish they were here.” I pictured the Brownings as gregarious and scholarly with a raunchy sense of humor, trading quips at a ski resort over powdered French toast.
I walked away with a copy of her chapbook I Wonder if Balzac Had A Good Pianist, and on the train I slumped good-naturedly over gifts like, “What do you call that patronizing moisture that collects on the outside of your glass? Condescension.” Or…
“Also Sprach Zarathustra – best karaoke song fucking ever?!”
More recently, we caught up via that electro-webby thing, and I hope you enjoy the result as much as I do.
TFT: When did you first start writing?
SB: In my late teens, when I started reading texts that affected me emotionally and intellectually. But I didn’t decide I wanted to write poetry until I was in my early 20’s. I was very in love with both plays, because of their collaborative nature, and poetry. But I was shy back then, so the collaborating part was scary. As I read more poetry and studied it in graduate school, it won out.
Why is your blog called Asthma Chronicles?
First of all because I found the phrase humorous—this should be the motivating factor behind 75% of human actions. Secondly, because of my asthma. It was quite bad in childhood. Some of my fondest memories are of not dying. An asthma attack is a primeval thing. The terrible knot winding tighter in the chest, the struggle to breathe, as if through wet wool, the scary, deep purple-blue of the fingernails, the thorough exhaustion of heaving the chest every other second to gasp for a few milliliters of air. And then the worst of it, the giving up, the awful thought—It’s okay, I’m going stop breathing, and I’m fine with that. But the body takes over when the mind breaks; and then comes the adrenaline and the world that was trying to murder you becomes a perfect, glowing, generous, pulsing love. You are six and you are high as a kite. In two to three seconds, your lungs blast every starving cell with oxygen and your heart turns into a hummingbird. I remember babbling volumes for hours. Adults on coke are so boring, kids pumped full of adrenaline are hilarious. Thinking you’re going to die and then not dying is a pretty good feeling! There’s a great deal about these hospital experiences that formed my consciousness. And because the blog was made as a place to post my drawings, and I think of my drawings as mainly unhindered consciousness, the name felt right.
Self-Heckler: [off stage] Unhindered, alright, unhindered by skill.
You mentioned you used a search engine to generate the title poem for Either Way I’m Celebrating? Have you used technology to generate poems before?
I actually didn’t generate that poem using a search engine. What I did for the reading at the Poetry Project was search the phrase “either way I’m celebrating” in Google and then read some of the results. It was funny, I thought, but also interesting to see the various contexts in which that phrase is used. People seemed to use it in lieu of giving up, when they’ve come to terms with something that didn’t go well. I found it to be a phrase of overcoming and that’s one of the reasons I chose it for the title (with the encouragement of the Birds editors–my other title was ridiculous); positivity in the face of the great whatever. And I very much mean all of the contemporary, American, laissez-faire connotations of the word “whatever,” here. Also, I chose it because I like to party.
Sorry, that was an answer to a question you didn’t ask.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Guilt is my ritual. What I mean by this, is that I feel very guilty if I’m not writing. Frankly, it comes down to that base, convoluted emotion nearly every time I sit down to write. It’s something I’d like to change about myself before I die, even though it is my great motivator.
What are you working on now?
The last slice of this Mama Celeste pizza.
If you had to ask yourself a question during an interview, what might it be?
Why are you wearing my clothes?
I loved how you “read” some of the wordless comics depicted in your chapbook, Either Way I’m Celebrating, at St Mark’s. It seemed like a spontaneous thing. How do you prepare for readings/performances? Do you view readings as performance?
Thank you kindly. I don’t want to think of readings as performances. I’m a terrible actor, and to me performing means acting. Whenever I get in front of people, when I’m reading or telling jokes or playing my guitar, I act as much like myself as I possibly can. Nerves, the learned expectations and behaviors of the poetry reading, the particular material I’m presenting, all these things hinder me from being myself, but I try. In my dreamland, poetry readings would have the same qualities and warmth as a good conversation. Spalding Gray was an out-and-out genius at this. But I love performance, so long as I don’t have to do it.
What can we expect from your work this year?
I’m working on more drawings and a longer, weird, exploration of the joke. I’m also trying to write an essay. It’s going poorly.
Who are your heroes?
Robert Benchley, Julie Doucet, David Lynch, Carson McCullers, my parents.
the wet death metal hug
the bass doubles. their elbows
wear holes through the music.
is this okay? the woman asks
pushing a moth into his ear. invisible pulses
in his coffee, the multi-driver
thins to pennies. the woman asks,
this okay? this expensive four-way
high fidelity system in the living room?
a blackbird watches from the rattling window,
knows her egg is sound. the bird’s earth,
the people’s earth. this crossover coupler okay?
the man likes where she’s placed
the two 15 inch subwoofers.
dinner’s almost ready.
the woman acts naturally, the man acts naturally.
cables spiderweb the baseboards.
the coaxial decline is too much. they agree,
on their hands and knees, power up three 33′s.
Sommer Browning’s latest collection Either Way I’m Celebrating is available
from Birds, LLC
David Moscovich founded Louffa Press to promote new, innovative microfictions in limited run, handmade editions. His stories and interviews have appeared in Word Riot, Rain Taxi, The Rumpus, Anemone Sidecar, Fringe and others. He has been playing the amplified bicycle for seven years and lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. http://www.louffapress.com
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 5 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 6 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook