Toby Barlow's Poetic Responses About Sharp Teeth
Toby Barlow has converted many with Sharp Teeth, his "werewolf" novel in poem form, published in January. It's been getting great reviews and I can report happily that, despite not being fond of either werewolves or long poems, the result is not only delightful but exciting, intense, oddly tender, and complex. To get more insight into Barlow's book, I interviewed him via email. (I have already received a special pardon from the International Council of Real Poets for my questions...)
There once was a man from Detroit
Who found he was quite adroit
At writing with poetical pen
About territorial wolf men.
"What? No vampires or witches,
Ghosts, ghouls, or liches?"
I asked with a fanged and carious smile.
His reply? "Wolves haven't been done for awhile."
Seems like every era has its beasts,
Reagan's unnatural youth
and that dark 80's culture of cocaine
gave birth to the Orlean's vampires of Anne Rice.
But here in this new century,
as we begin seeing things heading south
and as the seams in our civilization
become slowly unstitched,
the vibe is getting a little more feral, a little wild,
and people are starting to look 'round for the pack
they can curl up
and keep warm with.
These seem like they're werewolf days.
the dark chill howl
a shadow in the trees
I was mulling over writing a love story when
I came across an article about a dogcatcher
which then reminded me of a pack of dogs I once saw in L.A.
So I made it a love story about animals
of a kind
'cause after all, that's what we are.
We like to kid ourselves
that we're more interested in the Platonic ideals
than a plate of steak
but really, that ain't the case.
We're animals, through and through.
I hadn't been thinking about it for years
it just sort of came to me.
Though once I started
dogs had been nipping at my heels
for most of my life.
Mr. Barlow, exactly what did you expect--
Surely not fame and fortune and respect?--
When in your lonely study nightly
You toiled insane upon this slightly
Eccentric and unconventional tome
About things that in fetid darkness roam?
I thought I was absolutely nuts!
I had to stop about every twenty pages
and come up with some twisted justification to continue.
Here is just some of the reasoning that helped:
"It's a graphic novel without the pictures!"
"It's a ripping yarn with all the words ripped out!"
"It's hard boiled fiction that's been cooked down to a reduction sauce!"
"Aw, whatever, it's a story, what happens next?"
I'm glad I kept going, I'm glad I finished it,
even if it had never been published
it was satisfying as hell.
on supple pages
ink leaps out fearless
sharp teeth cut
I think adventurers like McSweeney's
have helped push publishing this way.
I was lucky.
My good karma is severely overdrawn on this one
and my angels are dead tired,
they all worked like the Dickens to get the thing done.
My best and most perfect luck was finding an agent
who people trusted. That, I think,
was the critical part.
Tom Peters, the famed management guru,
had that old chestnut about how for any project,
it's all about finding the right champion.
He was right.
No wonder he made
so much money.
Every clever reader knows Moby Dick
Is more than just a whaler and a whale.
Your poem no matter how deep, wise, or slick
Would, if just Sharp Teeth, be doomed to fail...
Again, it's a love story.
From start to finish. Tip to toe.
It's about all the stuff we carry around inside us,
all that dark animalistic stuff, the stuff we can't share,
the stuff that leaks out when we're talking to one another
about books, movies and sports.
We like to think we're these wholly independent creatures
completely capable of self-sufficiency
and yet we're not,
we're painfully dependent on everyone else
and we spend such a large part of our lives
trying to figure out how to harmonize and get along
with all the other lovely beasts out there.
It's tricky work.
Sometimes it seems like dogs
do it better.
light through cherry trees
the weight of pen on paper
All of the characters
even the villains
were just people I wanted to spend time with.
I got to read their minds and push them down paths.
And as I followed their steps across the landscape of L.A.
I got to weigh what I wanted to write about
and what I should leave on the cutting room floor.
Those long, meandering journeys with them
were by far the greatest pleasure.
Everything that followed
was just gravy.