Wednesday, September 4, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Southern Poet and Novelist, Damon Marbut

Damon Marbut, Author
Photo by: Larry Graham

Southern Poet and Novelist Damon Marbut created a book of poems, LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS, driven by events from a period in his life when he and friends deliberately lived to experience “conflict and struggle in order to best learn from it.” You may remember him from a previous guest post (“The ‘Me’ in Our Work” ) when we learned about his novel AWAKE IN THE MAD WORLD. Reviewers praise the qualities of candidness and redemption in LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS.  Mr. Marbut claims that candidness is vital, and redemption a reflection of his evolving “personally, creatively and professionally.” 

In the following interview, Mr. Marbut explains why he writes both poetry and prose, and how each supports his writing. We also learn that he lives in New Orleans, where he enjoys the cuisine.  

Don’t miss an excerpt from one of his poems, following the interview.

Q: Can you explain the title of your new book of poetry LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS: CHAOS POEMS FROM THE BRINK? What are little human accidents and how do they bring us to chaos?

Damon Marbut: The title speaks to decisions and judgment calls I made in my mid-twenties that led to a more solid foundation of being at ease with my life as a developing and evolving writer. I didn’t want to admit to myself then that to stretch out into a professional career as a writer required as much sacrifice, focus and thick skin as it has proven to involve.

During the years these works were written, I was spending very intimate and intense moments with friends and colleagues (poets, novelists, literature scholars, philosophers) where we pushed ourselves and each other to live just enough in the margins of our obligations and responsibilities to be able to create and grow at all costs. It’s a daring notion, was reckless quite often and very emotional because we knew our time together was limited and that we were given the gift of that space in our lives to not have to care about money or major bills or much else beyond writing. We saw our group as a collective resource for growth and inspiration. But we really expanded to the edges of how far we could reach, with destructive drinking for some, excessive drug use for others, sex for others still.

So the book is a documentation of that time in our lives where we knowingly created conflict and struggle in order to best learn from it.

Q: You’ve also written a novel, AWAKE IN THE MAD WORLD. What can you say in poetry better than in prose? Do you prefer one over the other?

Damon Marbut: Poetry allows me to focus on seemingly tiny and/or minor snippets of an experience or moment and write solely about it in a reduced space, which in turn lends itself to a universality of its own that ultimately gives it more size. In prose, at least as far as I see it, I take a huge chunk of existence and character and take bigger license with a story as a more prolonged expression of message. I love them both equally, as they inform one another and my approach to how and when I write either.

Q:  A reviewer sites “redemption” as key to your poetry.  Do you agree? Why?

Damon Marbut: I saw that, and I agree. I was very grateful this was stated in a review, because even though the poems have occasional heavy tones of self-deprecation and alcoholic behaviors, I knew as we were living them and writing them that it was all fleeting. We simply knew we couldn’t and wouldn’t live like that indefinitely. I felt compelled to tell the story truthfully through poems regardless of what they might say of me when read by someone who never lived so torrentially like I did in my mid-twenties. I suppose the redemption discovered in the poems could come from the fact that I’ve continued to evolve personally, creatively and professionally, but at the same time there is evident affection and longing in the book that hopefully leads more readers to seeing that the lifestyle of that era was recognized as more educational than immutable.

Q: Your reviewers praise your candidness. How important is honesty to successful poetry?

Damon Marbut: I think it’s vital. In a smaller collection I’m hoping to have published next year, the display of honesty is written a little more indirectly due to different language choices (and poetry style) I use in them, but the honesty is still there. What strikes me most about poems I dislike is that they’re trying too hard to be poems, if that makes sense. It’s the same notion as being truthful and honest in your personal life. If you don’t lie, although you might have to defend your beliefs and perspectives you’ll nonetheless never have to worry about being called on a fabrication.

I think the candidness people picked up on in LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS comes from, in part, my willingness to be vulnerable enough to come across as self-absorbed in some pieces, crude in others, and loving and inspired by others in different poems. If I wrote all of the same thing I suspect the character delivering the poems would be less believable.

Q: How do you define “successful” poetry? What do you consider the key elements?

Damon Marbut: It depends on what the poet is going for. I’ve written form poems, performance/slam pieces, confessional, narrative, etc. Whenever I committed to a certain style, whether it was for experimentation to determine what I like best for my poems or if it was just to “get out of my head” to grease the wheels a bit, I tried to do it with laser focus. And I guess that ties back in with honesty, too. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, write it for what you think it is and learn from it. Don’t write “Daddy” as your own. Plath did that already.

Poetry can be successful if it finds its market no matter how tiny it is, as there’s no broad audience that likes all kinds. Some people are going to hate me and the voice of my poems and the poems themselves. Some will love them. Anything I write that helps even a minimal amount of people feel better equipped to express an emotion or write their own works due to having read me, that’s my success. I’m not foolish to look at this as a money game. That would have killed my work at the very beginning.

Q: Why do you write—either poetry or prose?  What started you to write? Do you remember your first story or poem?

Damon Marbut: I was always an imaginative kid and had great encouragement from my librarian godmother, as well as many teachers. Sometimes the encouragement came from them just so I’d sit still in class and quit being a nuisance. “Here, Damon. You can do the lesson later. Why don’t you write me a poem about the zoo?”

The first story I recall writing was about a pair of birds who were competing in an Olympics-style event, and one was cheating and got caught and the good bird won. Maybe it was a fable. I was into having “Moral:…..” at the end of my stories when I was young. So yeah, probably a fable.

Q: From where do you draw your ideas for your writing?

Damon Marbut: It all usually starts with a voice, mine or a created one. Sometimes it’s a line, and that applies to either poetry or fiction (or even nonfiction, like the new collection of memoir/personal essays I’m working on currently). I don’t get in the way of it too often like I once did. Often I’ll write down a line of imagined dialogue or a description and let it alone for weeks or months. When I come back across it there’s a chance it can become anything, especially if my thoughts have stayed wrapped around it. For example, this nonfiction book started as a story I conceived of 6-8 months ago. 30,000 words later and I haven’t written that particular story yet.

Q: What’s next? Will you be writing more poetry or another novel?

Damon Marbut: I’m focusing on the nonfiction book for now. I’ll occasionally take a break from it and write a few poems, but with everything else I’ve got going on, including book reviews for major publishers, I should stick with one thing for a few months. Plus, I’ve a novel I finished 9 months ago that’s under review with a publisher now. And that small collection I mentioned earlier is a project. And I’m editing a coffee table book of photography right now, too. And I’ve been asked to work on an oral biography of a famous bartender in the French Quarter.

Q: Tell us something about Damon Marbut. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Who are your favorite authors?

Damon Marbut: I live in New Orleans, so I love food. I work part-time in a busy café on Magazine Street and love the people I work with. My social life more or less comes from there, otherwise I stick pretty close to home.

My favorite authors are still some of the big names like Salinger, Baldwin, Morrison, Kerouac in smaller doses than when I was younger. But I like modern poets like Dorianne Laux and Sharon Olds and a new talent who I think is going to do very well for himself, a Canadian poet named Andrew Faulkner, whose collection I just reviewed recently. I may be able to meet him, which would be terrific, as the publisher of LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS is Bareback Press in Canada and we’re going to a few book festivals in the fall once we release on September 1st.

About Damon Marbut

Damon Ferrell Marbut is a Southern novelist and poet who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is author of the novel AWAKE IN THE MAD WORLD and the collection of poems, LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS.

Damon Ferrell Marbut devastates the notion of apology in poetry with a tender recklessness in LITTLE HUMAN ACCIDENTS, poems that examine a personal evolution of sexuality and identity while treating the unavoidable step towards adulthood like a punching bag, especially in his free flowing self reflexive poems like Mornings Like This and So What.


Little Human Accidents

The nightmare keeps you up tonight,
again, one you have each time it storms.
My poetry scatters the floor
all the way to the kitchen,

like a free-spirit sex train blew through—
you leave them there for décor,
love the way my poems smell in the house,
but you can’t sleep.

On guard for me,
are you? Since you found me
beneath the furniture in the hall,
screaming, comatose, not knowing you
were there? Defending me from that?


I can turn the lamplight brighter
and read you Billy Collins,

you’re so gentle,

leave the battling of nightmares to me.


Twitter: @dfmnola

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