As a freshman at Dover Area High in rural York, PA, I remember a school-wide walk out. The demonstration was in protest of the Bush Administration, and its leader was a senior student with just seven credits left until graduation. That student was a poet named Dustin Nispel.
“It was important that the students who participated realized that even though they weren’t of voting age, that they could still make an impact and a difference on their community and voice their opinion,” he says, when I interviewed him in York’s downtown Poetry Garden. I share this anecdote not because Dustin is a political poet, but because it illustrates his commitment to community and personal agency, even as a highschooler.
A few days after the walk-out, half of the school was stuck in the gym for a day—the largest in-school suspension roster ever. Dustin’s punishment was more severe; he was kicked out. While this only added to his disillusionment, he finished school and received his diploma a year later.
Our high school, like the high school of many writers, is where we both wrote our first poems. Mine was in English class; Dustin’s was in Social Studies. He completed a unit project by writing a poem about Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass.” Dustin’s first attempt at poetry was encouraged, anchoring his interest in the literary arts. “My teacher said it was really good and I should keep writing…and I’ve been writing ever since,” he says.
That was almost fourteen years ago. Now the co-host of Culture and Main’s First Friday series, a multi-slam champion and place winner, and the next to be published by Poemsugar Press, Dustin is a spoken word artist who knew early on that writing was a means to something more. He explains, “I always wanted to do something unique and special to develop myself as a person. Writing… allowed me to connect with myself on a more personal level.”
He also found that like-minded artists in the area could teach him what he really wanted to learn: how to write better. Even as a teenager, Dustin attended local readings, workshops, and retreats as frequently as possible. He says, “I just always worked at my craft. Whenever there was a workshop that I could afford I was there. I wanted to be the best I possibly could.” It was clear that the poets around him could help him, teach him, and give him encouragement that every young artist starves for.
During what Dustin calls his “developmental stage” as a writer, he sought out every resource York County had to offer. He was eager to put himself in creative situations, to interact with creative people of all kinds.
His first York city event was an open reading at Yorkarts called “Poetry Brew,” hosted by Rich Hemmings. Dustin was nervous, but at the same time felt welcome and invited. He read a poem during the open mic. “At the end of the show, Dana Sauers (Gettysburg’s Poet Laureate at the time) came up to me and said ‘You have something. You need to keep coming out, keep reading.'”
John Terlazzo, another York-based writer, helped Dustin in ways that transcended writing. He says, “I was doing as many of his workshops as I possibly could. He gave me the inspiration I needed for writing and meditation. He even encouraged a vegan diet. I was already on the spiritual development path, so when I met John and went to his retreats, I was able to channel a lot from him spiritually and for my writing.”
Later, Dustin joined a group of poets called Word Wide, led by Shayne Tanzymore. These poets traveled to Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Philadelphia to compete in spoken word readings and slams. Surrounded by these energetic, confident performers, Dustin was equal parts intimidated and inspired. “I learned from that how to feel comfortable performing out of my element…Now I perform best when there is something on the line.” These slam competitions pushed him to memorize his work as well as develop tenacious self-confidence. He says, “What sets me apart from other poets is that I can adapt to a coffee-shop crowd, or I can go to a slam competition and take the championship. The way I perform my writing is always with audience in mind. I want to be a bridge to the audience.”
With almost fifteen years of writing and ten solid years of performing, Dustin is now poised for the release of his first book of poetry, “The Tower,” which he’s been editing with the help of Carla Christopher (York’s former Poet Laureate and current Arts and Cultural Community Liaison) over the last year.
Dustin is a spoken word artist, so turning these works into poems on a page is like taking a sculpture and trying to draw it on paper. How can these foundational elements of spoken word (voice, speed, emphasis, volume) be justly translated to a book? He worked side-by-side with Carla, saying “It was a brutal editing ordeal with Carla. She’s very good at what she does. I had to make some serious changes, even to the point of rewriting entire pieces.”
Even now, as he’s putting together a book of his own poetry, Dustin is continuing to work with and be inspired by the people around him. One of these inspirations was the sudden loss of his best friend, a major supporter of Dustin’s poetry, at the age of 21. Another is the work of his bandmate and long-time friend, Bobby Yagodich (also a Dover High graduate), who has designed the art for Dustin’s book. As far as influences and inspiration, the list goes on to include:
- Kahlil Gibran (“One of my favorite poets of all time.”)
- A Perfect Circle (“Anything by Maynard honestly.”)
- Tarot readings (“I’m actually a certified tarot reader. I don’t really market it…I just use it to help people when I can.”)
- Edgar Allen Poe (“…Even Edgar Allen Poe died in the street, drunk.”)
- Meditation (“It’s a way to develop myself as a person, as well as a poet.”)
- Saul Williams (“I drove from York to Providence RI in 2012 to see him perform at a little hole in the wall pub. It was just really amazing. I gave him a copy of my CD.”)
“The Tower” is slated to be released on August 16th at a York’s central arts establishment, The Strand Capitol. Dustin has asked some of the writers who have impacted his work and development to perform at the reading, including Carla Christopher, Rich Hemmings, and Shane Tanzymore. Bobby Yagodich will perform music and display original artwork from the book. The event is truly the culminating result of hard work and community.
Moving forward, Dustin plans to tour in support of his book, working towards his ultimate goal of becoming a self-sustaining artist. He’s also planning on leading some of his own workshops for younger writers in the community. As a poet and community member, Dustin will continue to influence others, helping them to learn to value their own voice and the impact they can have on their community. “My actions do weigh on my country and my community,” he says, “It’s important for people to become active–in any way–in a community, to develop that sense of unity. Because without it we don’t have shit.”
Chances are you’re dating. At the least, you know someone who is—perhaps someone who regales you with stories from OKC and Tinder dates gone terribly wrong. But a computer-mediated quest for love isn’t your only option. Speed dating, enter stage left.
Defined as “an event at which each participant converses individually with all the prospective partners for a few minutes in order to select those with whom dates are desired,” speed dating has been around since the late 90s. These highly-structured events allow singles to learn about each other beyond the loud, anxiety-inducing bar scene that often seems to be our only hope of finding love.
Lancaster, PA has not been immune to this “round-robin” style dating system—last month, the connectors and community mavens of Lancaster Transplant presented “Ask Me: A Night of Awkward Speed Dating.” Approximately 30 singles gathered at the Fulton Street Arts Cooperative to meet, mingle, and rotate through fifteen unique stations. Couples were challenged to remove a bra and belt from a fashion dummy using only one hand. They washed dishes side by side at an industrial art sink to simulate domestic chores. At the blind contour drawing station, couples drew while looking at one another, without lifting their pencils from the paper and without looking down at their drawings.
And if you’re wondering why we’re writing about a speed dating event on a website geared towards the literary world, it’s because The Triangle was right there in the mix. At station 15 we helped couples learn about each other by creating collaborative list poems. A list poem is exactly what it sounds like—a poem made up of a list. Using randomly selected prompts, couples worked together to do some creative brainstorming on lists like: things you could contribute to society if we lived in a post-apocalyptic world; odd traditions/rituals that may be exclusive to your family; new Yankee Candle scents; things you have (or have had) in your pocket; and songs and movies that were formative during your adolescence.
Witnessing couples working together (we sat at the table to facilitate) was an interesting experience. In addition to being able to tell which pairs immediately clicked—and which were hilariously awkward—we watched couples learn beyond what our prompts asked for. What style of handwriting does he have? Does she take over the paper and call all the shots? Does he listen? Do they swap their shared worksheet back and forth or negotiate a scribe at the beginning of the activity? Who can spell?
The resulting list poems blew our minds. It was proof that creativity lives in all of us, no matter if we identify as poets, accountants, bartenders, or tantric educators. Thank you to Lancaster Transplant for inviting us to participate in this awesome event, thank you to Fulton Street Arts Cooperative for the space, and thank you most of all to all of the singles who came out last month to write poems and get real, real awkward. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
The poems below were written by speed dating participants, with The Triangle adding titles, line breaks, and punctuation. Although in some cases we may have removed words, we did not add any words to the pieces.
Drawers: What Are They Good For? Absolutely Nothing.
A List Poem by Shalom and Drew
My drawer is full of batteries,
100 Q-tips from a broken box,
flashlights with nothing to shine on,
pennies and nickles—
because no parking meter accepts them—
family photos that didn’t make the fridge.
Tribe Name Has-No-Friends
A List Poem by Stephen and Marija
My family has a tribe name
and every Christmas we get together,
arm wrestle, get drunk, play Catan,
throw the game at each other—
we celebrate the next coming apocalypse.
We Met At Jackie’s Party
A List Poem by James and Drea
app that makes your smartphone dumb
app that invents other apps
app that expells baby strollers from the market
app that is a pocket knife
app that prints money
app that turns down the volume on your neighbors
app that brews beer
app that pitches a tent
Do You Like Snakes?
A List Poem by Jenny and John
I was held hostage by a possum.
A camel licked my face.
Squirrels are the bane of my existence,
my father has a farm,
a goat named Jenny chased me down.
I accidentally picked up a snake,
a tiny snake
found its way into my desk.
I went swimming with dolphins.
In NC roaches
count as animals.
Been There/Done That
A List Poem by Mike and Joce
Mini pony hamster spaceship (the meaning of life—the greatest story ever told) Sean Hennesy a banana dental floss (an important speech) drugs more drugs phone number of someone you don’t like pager # of said drug dealer (the world’s information).
The Worst Things That Have Ever Happened
A List Poem by Dylan and Rachel
I lived in a barrack in Texas.
I lived in the middle of nowhere Kansas,
I had by 21st birthday in Denver, CO,
I lived in a BIG house in Bolivia,
I lived on a bridge for a year.
I would like to live in the Swiss Alps.
I would like to retire to a log cabin.
A List Poem by Tony and Stacey
What Daniel Radcliffe Smells Like
A List Poem by Jay and Brittany
Avocado, mint julep,
Harry Potter, sweaty armpits, acrylic paint,
petunia, moldy roses, bachelor sink,
lovers quarrel, make-up sex,
locker room, gym sock,
depression, defeat, sad day.
Hunter is a person. But, he’s more than that. He’s an illustrator, a cartoonist, a visual performance artist, a life-lover, a prankster, and a friend of the U.S. postal service. For $25.00 a month, you can get a unique piece of his art shipped to your house. In January I received a rotating star-chart, which gives fictional constellations with etymological descriptions. In May I opened a box to find a scallop-shell which, when opened, contained a tiny flash drive with 30 live-recorded songs, all written and recorded in public spaces. Back in March I got a little book simply titled “Cherry.”
Cherry is a book full of important boating lore and instruction. It consists of advice, insight, and observations about certain water-borne phenomena. Seemingly conceived and written on the boat itself, amid a world of inspiration, Hunter has penned a charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and (at times) whimsically deep, probing manual for new boaters. Here are some specific points about the book:
1. It’s beautiful and easy to read. The soft matte cover is delicate and fun to touch. The image is of Hunter’s new dinghy, “Cherry,” which wraps around from the front, to the spine and back cover. The boat, and the water it rests on, look like tranquil places to be. the cover sets a comfortable mood for the reader, who may encounter the book with no idea what to expect beyond a good time. The title text is not a font, but scrawled by the author’s own hand and photocopied, so as to give the entire thing a very personal and off-the-cuff sensibility.
2. It’s funny, in a borderline-absurd way. For example, one chapter (each chapter is two facing pages) is called “Jetskiers: Parenting Gone Bad,” in which the author explains: “Jetskiers are born to parents who (and perhaps no fault to them) forgot to tell their kids about other life on the planet. They like it rough, fast, and in your face. Ages 16-45.” A few words later, the chapter ends with a grim, hilarious frankness, accompanied by a crude sketch of a gravestone, with the message: “Many Jetskiers die.”
3. It is charming and awkward. In a chapter called “Floating Sticks,” Hunter shares an illustration of a floating stick, a cross-section of a floating stick, and a Freudian, Icebergesque depiction of the “unseen stick” that lies below what you see on the surface. His jokes are often oblique, and sometimes take either a moment or two of figuring, or a simplification of the mind that makes you feel dumb in happy, innocent way.
4. It is deep and coyly wise. In a chapter simply titled “Where are the palm trees going?” Hunter explains that this particular tree simply “…intends to speak with the god-lady…slang for the night-sky.” As a reader, it is hard to feel like the words weren’t meant for you. It is hard to not feel like a tree growing towards something greater than trees. “Anyway, up they go,” he writes.
5. The illustrations are childlike, more-than-sketchy, and a perfect compliment to the scrawled smartness of Hunter’s concise words.
Hunter’s funny, charming art builds a childlike wonderment for the world and how it works. But, is it lit? You may just have to sign up for The Best Mail on Planet Earth and begin receiving his monthly gifts yourself. Let us know what you think!
Visual Interviews are where we send a writer a disposable camera and a list of ideas to photograph along with a few short questions. Once the camera is mailed back, we develop the photos and arrange them collage style to give you a unique glimpse into the life of the writer we’ve selected. Check out past Visual Interviews and stay tuned because we have Lindsay Hunter, Adam Robinson, Wendy C. Ortiz, Alissa Nutting, and Megan Milks coming up over the next couple of months!
Brad Listi is an author and the founder of The Nervous Breakdown, an online culture magazine and literary community that includes TNB Books, an independent press specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. His debut novel, Attention. Deficit. Disorder., was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He is the executive producer of The Nervous Breakdown’s podcast series, and the host of Otherppl with Brad Listi, a twice-weekly podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading authors.
Interview curated by Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton. Photographs and text by Brad Listi.
Hopefully you know it by now. (But if you don’t…) But Is It Lit? is our homegrown series of articles about local/regional, funny, weird, lovable, and most of all downright literary things. Literature is everywhere–let’s talk about it. This post marks the 5th of our series, and it comes from a guest contributor, poet, and dear friend of the Triangle, Samantha Sweigert.
A few weeks ago, the Triangle was in Annapolis, Maryland, experiencing the literary-scene there for the first time at Ahh Coffee‘s monthly open reading. A few days before, our friends Sam and Aaron were also in Annapolis, where they came across a bourbon bar called DRY 85, the menu of which was loaded with literary (as well as whiskey) goodness.
Photo copyright of the Baltimore Sun
Sing all of the slurred praises you like about vodka, rum, and gin; when it comes to lit-saturated adult sipping drinks, whiskey is as poetic as they get. Whether it’s bottom-shelf, crowd-funded Old Crow; a dark colored, honey tinted bourbon bearing the name of some moustached distiller; or a smoke-filled bottle of summin’summin from the mother country; each could write down its own pages. Whiskey has my writer’s heart, which is why on a two-day Annapolis, MD adventure, the fella and I were inarguably intent on visiting DRY 85, a prohibition style modern speakeasy with more than one hundred selections of whiskey and bourbon. Pick your teeth up off the floor.
After a healthy serving of some of my first rye whiskey, I was singing Punch Brothers music in my head and developing an old-saloon worthy plan of snatching the bar menu for my bookcase at home.
1. Quotes. The first page of this book of a menu displays a quote from Senator Morris Sheppard, often called the “father of national Prohibition,” which says, “There is as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Obviously Mr. Sheppard had very little faith in hummingbirds and the slow burn of a good whiskey, but I appreciate the uncommon simile.
2. HOW-TO. I hate being the one who has absolutely no idea how to order a drink/pack of cigarettes/fancy plate of pasta listed in Italian, and luckily, this publication saves anyone that unique embarrassment by listing the ways a drink can be ordered along with a description.
Neat: a straight pour at room temperature.
Cube: one ice cube. Opens the flavors.
3. Alphabetical Listings. All one hundred and fifty something versions of whiskey available are sprawled out on the next couple of pages along with their alcohol-by-volume. Some of my favorite draaank names are as follows:
Dad’s Hat Rye
High West Campfire
Hudson Baby Bourbon
Whistle Pig Rye
4. The adjectives, though. Each whiskey, bourbon, rye, or special blend is tagged by a quickly eloquent paragraph describing its notes and flavors. If you know anything about whiskey, you know it’s all about those notes. These few lines accompanying each drink title were my favorite part of the experience. I sat there drinking my rye riddled with subtle hints of honeydew and banana while I scanned the rest of the booklet. Each bottle had something to tell me, a little context for the notes. Where had it come from? Were there flowers involved? How many years had it aged in a hollowed out piece of wood? I could have read the whole thing cover to cover. This little trinket really got me:
Busta Rhymes released Pass the Courvoisier in 2002. Sales jumped 30%. Instantly, cognac was cool again. However, the little family grower who works his vineyard and distills truly world-class, small batch juice simply doesn’t have that massive marketing budget to catch the eye of influencers. So, we support the little guys.
Gilles Brisson Grande Champagne 1er Cru VSOP – 40% ABV – France – 12.
Seven years old. Subtle, smooth and profound. More like our KRS-One to your Busta Rhymes.
If whiskey-menus can be literature, what else could? You tell us. Email us (thetrianglepa [at] gmail dot com) with ideas or your own BIIL write-up!
In Lancaster’s Chestnut Hill Cafe, a coolly comfortable shop on the city’s west end, author and Franklin & Marshall College professor Nicholas Montemarano tells me this is the place he often comes when he needs to get back to the basics. “If I hit a wall or something…if I need to get away from my computer…when I need to go back to writing longhand, I’ll come here,” he says. There’s the old cliche, a stereotype that truthfully applies to a fairly large number of us, that writers only write in coffee-shops. Normally the impetus for this is the atmosphere, the noise, the bustle, the setting which allows one to be within and without. For many, it’s the complimentary Wi-Fi. But for Montemarano, it is an escape from his computer, a return to the foundation of pen to paper, which he uses to break through a writing block.
And it’s been this way for twelve years now. Montemarano began working as a creative writing professor at F&M in 2002, shortly after the publication of his first book, a novel called A Fine Place (Context Books). After four years of commuting between Philly and Lancaster, he moved here. “It has really changed a lot. The arts community has grown tremendously,” he says.
Since receiving his MFA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2000, Montemarano has published three books. After his debut novel, his short story collection, If The Sky Falls, was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2005. Last year, his novel, The Book of Why, was published by Little Brown. When we sat down a few weeks ago to drink a cup of coffee and chat, Montemarano said he has also finished writing a new collection of short fiction.
His work, and especially his latest novel, tends to pull its tension and structure from plots and themes structured around death. I asked him whether or not he knew where this fascination stems from. He says, “It’s THE subject. This weird situation we find ourselves in, where we appear here, suddenly we’re alive, and then eventually we’re not. It’s the most mysterious, interesting, strange, and—it can be—anxiety-producing thing about life: that it ends.”
In Queens, where the author spent his childhood, his family lived in a neighborhood “surrounded by cemeteries.” He says with a laugh, “The joke is that there are more people buried in Glendale than there are living.” He grew up right around the corner from the same cemetery Harry Houdini is buried in. This setting became the childhood home The Book of Why‘s main character, self-help writer Eric Newborn, who “has this sort of death-obsession as well.”
“So, for sure, I think I have a preoccupation with [death]. Every day, when I open the Times, I turn first to two sections: Obituaries, and Books. Those are the two things I’m really interested in,” says Montemarano. I asked him if this lifelong rumination, this literary grappling with death has made him more anxious or prepared for his inevitable own. He says, “The thing that has moved me very slowly in the direction of death acceptance would be just simply getting older. Having a kid, life experiences—these things have moved me ever so slightly towards the side of acceptance of death. There are a couple of ways to look at death: there’s the anxiety of no longer being, or being here; that doesn’t really bother me as much anymore. The anxiety, for me, is separation from those you care about; that’s the anxiety of death… It’s more about separation and suffering, that’s what is a little bit harder to accept.”
Something that seems to bring all people towards a closer acceptance of their mortal fate is the practice of empathy, an act that Montemarano describes as the real joy of writing (or reading) fiction. In a recent article, the author says, “The most important reason I write stories, and read them, is to practice empathy.” I asked him to expand upon this idea of practicing empathy. He says, “That’s an opportunity we have, as writers. You get to try on the skin of other people through your made-up characters. I know that, for me, if at any point I start to feel that I’m standing above my characters, or I think I’m better than them or something, then I know I need to revise. I need to be able to feel empathy for them, no matter who they are.”
The problem with empathy, however, is that you can never fully know how another person, be they real or imagined, truly feels. We can interpret what we learn and observe about others through our own emotions and experiences, but it is never the same as living as that person. Trying on someone’s skin is not like actually having that skin, and Montemarano acknowledges this, trying hard to gain as complete an understanding of his characters and plights as possible.
For example, he’s currently writing about a character with Parkinson’s Disease. “I don’t know what it’s like to have Parkinson’s,” says Montemarano, “so I’ve been researching, reading books, memoirs.” For years, the author volunteered for hospice and spent time alongside patients who suffered from the disease. He says, “You have to try to find ways to more deeply inhabit that character’s skin.” Because, at the bottom of it, empathy is about recognizing that despite our myriad differences, people are fundamentally the same, which makes the anxiety of death a little bit lighter to carry. “Because,” as Montemarano says, “we’re all in the same boat, and I don’t want to live forever.”
Be sure to check out Montemarano’s latest novel, The Book of Why, and feel free to comment below or email us at thetrianglepa [at gmail] dot com with any questions or ideas for future articles.
List Of Things You Can Say To Someone On YO:
List of Things You Can’t Say to Someone on YO:
-Yo is new.
-Yo is empirically cool.
-Yo is the first tweet of the typical frat bro.
-Yo never leaves a brother hanging.
-Yo is available on the app store or google play.
-Yo is purple; Yo is simple.
-Yo is sweeping the nation.
-Yo turns 20 days old tomorrow.
-Yo is pointless.
-Yo is a waste of time.
-Yo is a waist of time.
-Yo is a waist of thyme.Yo iz a waist of thyme. Yo iz eh waist of thyme. Yo iz eh waist uf thyme.
BUT IS IT LIT???
Let us know what you think.
And THANK YOU, DJ. Follow him on twitter @davidramsayjr.
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