Saturday, June 9, 2012

Interview with Wolfgang Carstens, author of "Crudely Mistaken For Life"

     Wolfgang Carstens is a busy man; poet, publisher, editor, husband, father, social commentator, intelligent anarchist, etc. He's a prolific and powerful writer whose poems in Crudely MistakenFor Life (copyright 2010, Epic Rights Press), are, in a word, unforgettable. I was curious to find out what motivated Wolfgang to put together this particular collection, and he graciously took time to answer some questions regarding CMFL, his writing process, and what's next on his literary horizon.

      Q: What prompted you to write Crudely Mistaken for Life, and why Death? Why the preoccupation with that particular topic?

      A: Crudely Mistaken for Life was written during a time when Death starting hunting down my family and friends and picking them off one by one. For an entire year, I was either returning from a funeral or preparing for one. At some point, I went numb and the words just started gushing from my fingertips like a broken faucet. Even on the day that Crudely Mistaken for Life was released, my great friend, Todd Moore, passed away.
     Death isn’t something I dwell on, yet it’s never far away from my thoughts. Death is what gives life perspective and value. As a poem from Crudely Mistaken for Life explains:

only the dead

the living complain
about birthdays
only the dead are thankful
for every year above ground;
the living complain
about aches and pains
only the dead are thankful
to feel anything at all;

the living complain
that death devalues life
only the dead are thankful
that death gives life value;
the living complain
about becoming the dead
only the dead are thankful
to be part of the living;

only the dead celebrate
the living,
only the dead celebrate
the dead.

only the dead celebrate
every sunrise,
every kiss,
every hug,
every orgasm

     Q: Crudely Mistaken for Life is filled also with moments of appreciation for life, as in the poem, “Lines for Betsy,” your chronicle of a ride on a runaway horse, which has a killer ending (no pun intended):

the living don’t appreciate
those rare moments
when the monotony of life is broken
by the sheer energy of being alive

only the dead could appreciate such moments
their pounding heart
as it threatens to burst from their chest;
the flesh separating as the blade slices
through their wrist;
the cool wind as it whips through their hair
to the skull beneath

chilling them to the core.

     Would you say that your collection is a cautionary tale to those of us who are still corporeal, an homage to those in your life who have passed on, or both? Why/why not?

     A: My most prominent memories are those moments when the monotony of life was shattered by the sheer exhilaration of being alive. These moments teach us that by living our lives to the fullest, we can live every day with that same intensity.
     Crudely Mistaken for Life is intended as a wake-up call. Don’t wait until tomorrow because tomorrow never comes. There is NOW and there is a GRAVE. There is a steel beam waiting to drop on your head. You’ll never know where or when it will hit. As soon as you close your eyes and start stumbling through life like a sleepwalker, you’re already DEAD. Don’t take anything for granted. Wake up!

Life is

too short
to waste
on the wrong jobs,
the wrong relationships,
the wrong ideas.

soon enough
you’ll be planted
on the wrong side
of the grass.

if you’re looking
for a foundation stone
upon which to rebuild
here it is:
remember that you must die.
be ruthless
in the choices you make,
in the company you keep,
in the pursuit of happiness.

live to the point of tears.

(you haven’t much time)

     Q: You, Rob Plath, and David McLean all write with some authority on Death. How do your ideas and poetry styles influence one another? 

     A: David McLean is one of the most unique poets of our generation. McLean’s work illustrates that even pop culture can be used in a way that’s timeless and memorable. His book, Hellbound, for example, consists of forty-three poems about Clive Barker’s popular Hellraiser movie franchise. I don’t know anyone except David McLean who could make a book like this work.
     I’ve learned many things from reading the work of Rob Plath—most notably that you need to write like “an ogre is banging at the door,” to be brutally honest, and to just get the poems out. Don’t be a dictator, man, unload those poems in whatever way you can: beer shit, autopsy report, grocery list, hate letter, etc.
     Another poet whose work inspires me is John Yamrus. John Yamrus (to borrow something from a recent critic of his work) is not only doing things nobody has ever done before, he’s doing things nobody has ever thought about doing. Yamrus gets the reader involved in his work, creating these intimate moments between writer and reader—making them a part of the poem. There is something magical surrounding the work of John Yamrus.
     Until I read books by Henry Denander, I’d always considered the question, “Which books would you want to have if you were stranded on a desert island,” to be a dumb one. When I read Denander’s poetry, it helps me remember those small details in my own life that I’d forgotten because I thought they were insignificant. Denander’s books inspire me to write poetry!
     Since we’re talking about influences, I’m also on record as saying that William Taylor Jr. is one of the finest poets of this (or any other) generation and that Todd Moore has written some of the best poetry the world has never seen.

      Q: A good portion of your poetry is dedicated to family members; your father, your grandmothers. How do you think they would react to your portrayals of them, of yourself, if they had a chance to read your collection?

     A: Great question! I think they’d be mortified.
     Brutal honesty has always been the cornerstone of my writing. I’ve never shied away from any topic and when I hit bone, instead of backing away like some writers do, I sink my scalpel in even deeper. The very notion that what I’m writing about is making me uncomfortable is a great indication that I’m on the right path. I’ve heard about famous writers who say their writing improved when their parents died because they didn’t have to worry about their reactions anymore. I also know great writers who won’t write about certain topics (like past relationships, for example) because they fear how others will react. I say, “Fuck that! Open the femoral artery and leave some blood on the page!” The very act of being too afraid to really live is the main theme in my book. You better wake up while you still can.

      Q: Being an editor, a husband, and a father of five is a lot of work. When do you find time to write? Do you find that these other roles interfere /inspire your writing? Why/why not?

      A: Most of my writing happens inside my head. When I pick up the pen, it’s merely a process of transcription. An idea may stew in my brain for days before it comes out. When it does, it happens very quickly. I carry a notebook around with me, jotting things down when I can. Every scrap of paper, it seems, has something written on it. In my biography, I say that my “poetry and prose are printed on the backs of unpaid bills,” and this is quite true. I write on the backs of bills, on any white space on the front, and on both sides of the envelope. I’ve even been known to write on walls.

      Q: You are a poet who is clearly inspired by the immediacy of your environment. How do other influences (literary, political, ecological, etc.), shape your work?

      A: The main influences on my writing are my experiences, memories, and my family. I rarely pay attention to anything else. It was Schopenhauer who wrote that it’s not only important what you read, but also what you don’t read. You need to figure things out on your own. I can’t honestly think of any one writer or thinker that has directly influenced my thoughts or my writing style. Another great quote by Schopenhauer was that inspiration was having something important to say and knowing who you were saying it to. I would also add that you should always strive to say it well. These three things are something every writer needs to figure out on their own. If you ape another’s style or themes then really what’s the point in writing anything at all?

      Q: What kind of reaction/feedback are you getting from Crudely Mistaken for Life, both good and bad?

      A: The reaction to Crudely Mistaken For Life has been overwhelmingly positive. I haven’t received a bad review yet. What I really love about CMFL reviews is the strong emotions my book evokes. I find reviewers who are normally quite reserved dropping F-bombs and saying things like “Live. Motherfucker. Now.”
      A number of great things have happened with CMFL. It was placed on the “recommended reading list” at Small Press Distribution, portions were nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and selected poems have been translated into numerous languages. My book is presently stocked in numerous public and academic libraries around the world—including Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard. Additionally, my book was recently adopted for classroom study in a North American university.
     Crudely Mistaken for Life is presently stocked in hundreds of bookstores around the world. You can buy the book in Japan, for example, or Sweden or practically wherever you live—and that, to me, is really cool. The readings have been phenomenal, and that, I suppose, is where the hard work gets done.
     Saying all of this, Crudely Mistaken for Life hasn’t even surfaced yet. What has happened is only the tip of the iceberg—I’m proud of this book—I want EVERYONE to read it—and I’ll continue promoting it until the day I die.

      Q: What is your next project?

      A: My immediate project is a collection of short prose poems and stories that center around my roles as husband, father, madman and son. There’s a fair amount of humor in these new works and I’ve received great responses at readings so far. Selected material from the new book has been published by ERP, Pigeon Bike, Lummox Press, and Ebullience. What I love about my new book is that it adds new dimensions and concrete images to my previous body of work. These new pieces are very different from Crudely Mistaken for Life.
      I can’t say with any certainty about when the new book will be released because (as my editor, David McLean, will attest) I tend to sit on my books like eggs—making sure I’m completely happy with the final product before it sees the light of day. Right now, it’s a matter of arranging the material into the best possible story it can be.
     Here’s a sample piece from the new book:

      There’s been a team of electricians in our house all week trying to determine why the power in our bedroom keeps going out. After stripping away the drywall, they discovered that a bad connection had started a fire in the junction box above our bed. Explaining the situation to my wife, she just shrugged her shoulders, then said “That’s ironic. I could’ve sworn there hasn’t been any fire in our bedroom for over a decade.”

      Anyone who wants to know more about me or my books can learn more at or through the ERP website at

Crudely Mistaken For Life, copyright 2010 Wolfgang Carstens, Epic Rites Press, 978-0981184463, 93 pages, $20. Available through or

Photos courtesy/property of Wolfgang Carstens and Epic Rites Press
Poetry/Prose excerpts copyright 2012 Wolfgang Carstens
Article content copyright 2012 Marie Lecrivain

1 comment:

  1. WOW , This interview makes me want to take a deep,deep breath,savor it and then pick up a pen and write!

    Marie, your interview style succeeded in bringing out the core of this poet : A keen comprehension of life's value springing from it's dissolution. Way to go! :)