Poets Online Talking About Coffee: I-VIII
by Russell Bennetts
How has coffee drinking influenced your writing?
There are eight different common types of coffee and eight different types of poems—which are determined by the presence or absence of certain kinds of flavors and the production or non-production of certain kinds of images by concatenations of best words in best orders—taste sensations or mental pictures that can trigger a stimulant-aesthetic response when introduced to the reader’s body. Since some coffee flavors and some poetic images can trigger a reader’s aesthetic system to attack the transfused coffee or poem, safe coffee or poem transfusions depend on careful poem and coffee typing and cross-matching.
Thankfully, I transfuse safely by using the simple ABO Coffee/Poem Group System. There are four major coffee and poem groups determined by the presence or absence of two flavor-groups—A and B—in cups of coffee and two image repertoires—A and B—induced by readings of poems:
- Group A – has only the A flavor in the coffee (and produces B images when poems are read)
- Group B – has only the B flavor in the coffee (and produces A images when poems are read)
- Group AB – has both A and B flavors in the coffee (but neither A nor B imagery will be produced when poems are read)
- Group O – has neither A nor B flavors in the coffee (but both A and B imagery will be produced when poems are read)
It follows that:
Group A coffees are suitable for the production of A images and AB images;
Group B coffees are suitable for the production of B images and AB images;
Group AB coffees are suitable for the production of AB images only, but may be transfused with imagery from all other groups;
Group O coffee is suitable for the production of all kinds of poetic imagery; it is the universal coffee.
In addition to the A and B image groups, there is a third coffee/poem factor called the Reads Us factor, which can be either present (+) or absent ( – ). In general, Reads Us-negative coffee should be consumed when Reads Us-negative poems are desired, and Reads Us-positive coffees or Reads Us-negative coffees should be consumed when Reads Us-positive poems are desired
- The universal poem donor will prefer the Type O-negative coffee.
- The universal poem donor will prefer the Type AB-positive coffee.
What if “they” have sold out of Group B coffee?
O positive is the most common coffee and poem type. Not all ethnic groups have the same mix of these coffee and poem types. Hispanic people, for example, have a relatively high number of Os, while Asian people have a relatively high number of Bs. The mix of the different coffee and poem types in the U.S. population is:
Some readers require a closer coffee/poem match than that provided by ABO-positive/-negative coffee/poem typing generally provides. For example, sometimes if the drinker/poet and the drinker/reader are from the same ethnic background, the chance of a reaction can be reduced.
People often wonder how their poem and coffee type is determined. Well, it’s inherited. Like eye color, coffee and poet type is passed genetically from your parents. Whether your coffee or poem group is type A, B, AB or O is based on the coffee and poet types of your mother and father.
This chart shows the potential blood types you may inherit.
* Note: If you have questions about paternity testing or about coffee and poem group inheritance, your primary barista or poet should be able to provide you with an appropriate referral. Testing difficulties can cause exceptions to the above patterns. ABO coffee and poem typing is not sufficient to prove or disprove paternity or maternity.
Source text from The American Brown Cross
Why do you detest coffee?
Genetics, possibly. Both my father and my sister don’t drink it either. I consider the smell repulsive, which means I’m often repulsed on weekends when my husband makes it. He’s one of those people who are unbearable to be around until they get their coffee. Thankfully on the weekdays he waits until he gets to work. He’s a serious coffee drinker and has a fancy expresso machine which he doesn’t wipe down nearly enough so I end up having to touch coffee grinds if I don’t want them all over my kitchen. This causes ongoing grief in our (almost) 19 years of marriage. But I suppose it’s not all bad, he re-uses his coffee grounds to make fire starters for our wood stove and I do appreciate that.
But doesn’t that mean that your fire smells like coffee?
Good question. It’s a wood stove, so there’s a door so I don’t really smell the fire. Also, the fire starters are fairly small and burn up quickly. I was more grossed out when he and my son were making them. They filled ice cube trays with the grounds and wax and left them out on the porch for weeks.
Did these coffee fire starters inspire Bombyonder in any way?
I believe the coffee fire starters came after I wrote the bulk of Bombyonder. I was about to say that coffee has no place in Bombyonder, but after a quick search I realize that is not correct. Coffee makes three appearances in the book:
“There was an essay on SELF RELIANCE on my coffee table that I wanted to roll up into a tight wand to practice on him.”
“You never know, while in the café sipping an iced latte, you could see a bona fide astronaut order his coffee black.”
“I keep yelling occupied until Rauan understands and stops banging on the stall, he could climb out, he could climb over and jump down into his dangerous neighbourhood to be eaten by alligators, he could climb the ladder and lose his breath, he could climb to the next level but oh he says it’s too difficult, he could climb out the window, he throws my coffee cup at the window, he could climb up the staircase and panic if it were not for these tricky walls, he could climb outside but that’s difficult and scary too.”
So the unnamed protagonist in Bombyonder is a coffee drinker after all. I hadn’t given it much thought before, but she is an American, so it makes sense that I would have unconsciously done that. Practically every asshole in this country drinks coffee and the protagonist is a major asshole. Although in the book the term “assbeast” is used because it’s more powerful. Except in the one case that mentioned a literal asshole, in that instance asshole remained asshole:
“When I get out of this box
I’m going to chew out your
asshole like it’s Bubblicious.
Let’s open a coffee shop called Assbeast.
Ok. We could specialize in coffee made from beans pooped out by animals.
How much will we charge per drink?
Since the coffee shop is clearly an homage to Bombyonder, I say we should adhere to a strict, literal interpretation:
“a cup of Kid Rock’s semen costs a pretty poem”
I hope this isn’t too personal to share, but I did once have a dream of woman collecting Kid Rock’s sperm in a cup. Talk about an American Eucharist! I had forgotten it when I woke, but later that day I was driving when one of his songs came on the radio (All Summer Long?) and suddenly I had a flashback to the dream. Damn near wrecked my car.
Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING ME? I had a dream that No Tell Books published a collection of Kid Rock’s lyrics, but it had to be pulped because you were sued for using the Confederate flag on the cover. In my dream the Confederate flag was under copyright.
Thank god for the court system. That would have been a close one! When No Tell Books was up and running, we had a few book covers dramas. It got back to me that then-NEA director, Dana Gioia, hated the cover on Jill Alexander Essbaum’s book, Harlot. I have no idea why. It was a perfectly lovely illustration of a naked woman hugging giant phallus. I thought doods loved that stuff.
I have to go brew some tea. Speak about coffee again soon?
Sure, I would love to, but I must confess that I suspect that your intention might be to drag me through a long, arduous game of Terror in a Teapot. All this talk of my associations to coffee and Kid Rock has been a traumatizing experience. What kind of Freud-infused Teahouse did I walk into?
Tea or coffee?
I look in the mirror and think am I enough Justin Bieber? Will tea and/or coffee help firm up my buttocks? (or “Nalgas” as they same in the mother-land. Yes, Mi Mexico!). I mean my body is kind of avant-garde.
I have walked through fields of ribald Taylor Swifts. And I have picked a thousand little twinkling Beyonces. And Kim K. glared at me in terrified sisterhood. But I was tulip-and-pain crazy. The God of the dark percolating mountain crag heads. But who shall say in my nakedness, waltzing, that I am not William Carlos Williams? (depending in the rain, by chickens, etc, etc)??
El Pollo Felix makes a good chicken. I yearn for El Pollo Feliz.
And waterfalls. I yearn for waterfalls. And the husk. Yeah, the husk.
My wife looks at me. My dog looks at me. There is a chance even yet of Pineapple water. (O, how I lust homicidally for the carefree months of Aguas Frescas: Aguas de Jamaica, Horchata, Tamarindo, Blah, Blah, Blah– with a slight trace of a smartass gringo accent.)
And then again, like a death sentence:
Tea or Coffee??
(which reminds me I’m due for a trim). And the devil’s token teeth threatening to repeat off my head. I washed under my arms with Celine. Scrubbed my face and my feet with Kafka’s unfinished novels (o, how, cliché). Agua de Sandia (watermelon water) brings out the deep poetry. Like Dune and its spice worm. The worm is the spice. And the child dices up the rice. Remember when we got married in a tumult of pigeons??
Vegas you are calling me. Vegas ‘n your death chandeliers!
But, okay, enuff playing around:
Here’s something I drew while under the influence of some coffee-
Not bad, right ? Kind of disfigured, edgy, blah, blah. But now here’s something I cooked up while tripping hard on some premium Tea.
Like “chicken salad and chicken shit,” as my dad would say.
And now let me get back to my mob.
They need me. Like a box full of kittens. The hungry and the lingerie. The beady and the weasly. The Rebs and The Rions. The Lauras and the The Seans. The tastemakers. And the tea guzzlers. Guzzle. Guzzle.
Come to the Tea House. We’ll keep the light on for ya!
Laura A. Warman
First the trees, now the coffee?
I have to live with the trees, so I gave them first billing. But coffee was first. Probably before there was light. Often before light. Cowboy to cortado to go. Nectar. Blood. Whoever wrote: Der Weg stirbt didn’t drink coffee. Actually I know who wrote it. Frobenius. That’s because I read Olson when I drink coffee. Today: Beans coming out of the Pacific Rim & the Americas. Fragrant medium & dark roast blend balances 85% dark chocolate bitters & deep almond tones w/ a soft caramel & citrus sweetness… Free range, artisanal, hand-crafted, cage-free, organic, buy-local-in-every-sip I’m sure. Or blurt out the first thing, without filtering, what really hits your taste buds to the inquiring barista: pencil shavings! The reply: nailed it!
There are probably eleven words I have written w/out being under the influence of coffee. Those, I threw away. Then fired up the grinder, measured the dose, tamped with a weighted tamper, timed the eighteen Mississippi pour, frothed the milk with that tssst sound not roiling, debated with myself to add sugar (raw, cane, brown, packaged seductively in volumes just above essential, now that I don’t have the metabolism I used to and don’t hit the tennis courts with the fervor of my youth when I dreamed of not actually playing on the pro tour, but on the satellite tour, eternally trying to qualify for televised events, sans officials, ball boys/girls, endorsements, branding on shirtsleeves, my own line of cat gut, calling foot faults on my opponent, journaling in cheap hotels to at least salvage the hope of selling my memoir, which I would have tarted up to bring a gravitas to an otherwise ecru life, then getting busted for it, especially after the probable Oprah endorsement and the subsequent having to go on her show and cow tow and cry, orbiting the actual tournaments probably due to never having been given a scholarship in college, made to walk-on twice, not even as good as Chrissy Evert’s older brother, who was on our team, and echoed in bearing and demeanor her complaint of an overbearing father, and he never made the bigs, so why should I think to set the bar that high, and obviously never set it as high as the satellite tour) or just focus on the sweetness of the creme, the pleasing design of latte art, the first sip battling with morning breath or mint toothpaste, but by the third running the morning, it’s tastes, its sounds, its motions, including the distraction of chickens now apoplectic to be let out of their coop having beaks in each others’ asses in cramped quarters all night, down to the last sip, where if I didn’t add sugar, at this point I wished I did, for the syrupy grit, crust you have to pry off with your tongue amid a desperate exhaled effort amplified by the cup being just shallow enough to reward prescience, as I’m not a fan of too much milk either what with the lack of tennis these days, or jogging, dodge ball, ellipsis training, yoga, or joining what was the regular Sunday peloton in going out of our way to slow down traffic on country roads by riding three abreast, taking turns in the lead, pulling the other cyclists through gale & wet appropriately greased to fend off chafing.
I haven’t noticed any side effects.
Meet you at 7.30am this Sunday, Austin. Lance will lead the peloton. You may try to lead the peloton, but Lance will lead the peloton. We’ll discuss then, does cycling make you a better maths?
Well I lied about the peloton. Maybe that’s a side effect. Or maybe Lance taught me the finer points of saying one thing and meaning another. I thought I was quit with him when I threw my yellow armband in the trash. But Lance, I can’t quit you and your fierce competitive keep Austin weird via stealthy blood and relentless tweets in the face of all facts to the contrary. Although I infrequently cycle, and don’t measure my food, it would make for better maths if I did both, but certainly keep the ticker up to snuff and give me the chance to observe phi in nature, you know that special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part or as is often illustrated, the extended, curling inward tongue of a frog into the smallest box? Or let’s just cut to the lingua franca of the protractor-carrying set: a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420… which has always confused me, as does pi, since the digits go on and on, theoretically into infinity. How are these open-ended figures in any way handy? I always thought math was wrangling a balanced and fixed notion on a quantity, but perhaps the math folks trip us up with the equations that actually work out, so that they can grab a good cup o’ joe, stand in semi-circles and watch the big machines peta-flopping.
You have to figure that on more than one occasion this witnessing one thousand trillion floating point operations per second, in an effort, among other things to get to the end of phi and pi resulted in worship or at least a little pocket pool. In other words, perhaps math is not about solving anything. It’s about embracing beauty.
So does that mean that maths or poetry is needed in the design of chicken bridges?
When the old truss bridge collapsed with the 1950 Studebaker truck full of chickens riding it down or as the historical society puts it, the bridge: gave up on its promise to provide a safe passage over the river and chickens could be seen flapping down the Haw for miles, I think the math of engineers met it’s match or at least poetically illustrated their suspect= division. Is that part of the grand design? I don’t know, but have been told if you are going to put in underneath the bridge and canoe the Haw, keep the river to the right, not to avoid cannibals, but rocks, and the backwash and industrial detritus underneath? It was a one-lane bridge so I always imagined James Dean and teen coming of age in terms of the moniker, but the Internet set me straight. They used to place rows of Halloween pumpkins on the bridge and people around the county and some number of interlopers would come see the spectacle. There wasn’t much traffic, so after an evening of many whiskeys, one could lay down on the warm asphalt and check on the progress of Cassiopeia or Betelgeuse, which contributed statistically to a time when more people per capita died in North Carolina than any other state in the US from being run-over in their sleep. The Army Corp of Engineers gussied it all up with cement and widened it a few years back, in iambic pentameter lockstep no doubt, which paved the way for progress: a community of car-poolers, golfers, people with a pattern of ducks repeating on their britches. The annual autumnal display has moved down river to Bynum and their bridge and so the 10,000 foot view of it all is probably a dodecahedron.
It’s always the car-poolers and golfers, don’t you find?
Yeah, I guess I was a little flip and redundant and hypocritical in my last answer. I don’t mind car-pooling per se, and the notion of keeping our carbon footprints down is something that just seems required at this point. I just don’t care for 5 guys piling into an SUV and almost running me over when I go to my mailbox. In the country, taking one’s time and keeping a hand on the top of the steering wheel to be able to wave to a neighbor (any passing car) is what I grew up with. And golf certainly is a polarizing notion inside and outside the universe of golfers. It takes up a lot of geography and summons a clubby, exclusive endeavor. I golf. A lot. And have tried taking the perspective that it is me walking the labyrinth in an effort to slay the minotaur, which turns out to be myself. It’s rhythmic concentration and being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. When I golf with others who may not view the game exactly this way, but at least don’t focus on score by adjusting bad lies, proclaiming their better rounds when the present is going badly, throwing their equipment as the source of their misery, that it can feel almost transcendental. It is also the only sport that I know of where you can actually do something that a professional can do. I’ll never be able to throw a 90 mph fastball, but I have had a hole-in-one, which no golfer in the world could have bettered for that particular hole at that particular time or ever. Of course I have thrown my club. I have worn clownish outfits. And I have kicked a ball out of divot. More than once. So there you go.
Golf as mimesis?
One of instructions always handed down in trying to play better golf is: don’t think. Or as Bobby Jones supposedly said: Hit ‘em hard, they’ll land somewhere. Both easier said than done. It’s actually amazing how many thoughts can go through your head in the short time it takes to swing a golf club. So I don’t think what I’m doing when I play golf is resembling anything else. It’s hard enough all by itself. It’s why people go to the range and practice. I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 swings for your muscles to remember a shot. Muscle memory better than the brain’s directions. I do see that I gravitate to things I seem to have a natural affinity for. Those include other rhythmic, concentrated things like juggling, drumming, writing poems. All best done when remaining in the moment and not thinking of result. Also easy to say and hard to do. Coffee helps on the concentrating part. Not so helpful on the rhythm part.
Perhaps Ty Webb was a poet.
Yes. No doubt. A flute without holes, is not a flute. A doughnut without a hole, is a danish. He also taught a generation how to properly shoot tequila.
Teresa K. Miller
To where have you sped?
I remember driving with friends in high school who would joke “10 points each” when people lingered too long in the crosswalk. Someone told me that’s from a movie I’ve never seen, Death Race 2000. And then lifetimes later, but really less than a decade, my dad got struck and killed on his bike by a 17-year-old kid trying to get around a truck to win a street race, which must have had all-consuming importance in that moment.
Your reference is, I’m sure, to the title of my book published by Sidebrow—sped. My father, or the memory of my father, or the empty space in the shape of my father, is one point toward which I sped as a poet for a while.
Or, I will probably always circle that space somehow.
Or, I spent a summer as a student teacher in a special education (SpEd) classroom of 4th– and 5th-graders, some of whom were nonverbal, a number of whom were still in diapers, one of whom crawled on the floor with his tanktop collar clenched in his jaws, a ring of drool expanding toward his stomach, one of whom had terrible gas and an instructional aide sitting beside him and spraying Lysol, so whole lessons sounded like fart-groan-aerosol—and we read the same book every day, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, because the routine was comforting for the students with autism, and one day during the story a student grabbed another’s head and thrust it into his crotch, not violently, just as a misguided gesture toward friendship, and rewards aside, I realized the singular terror teaching engenders.
Or, I got a writing grant when I was twenty, and I used it to drive in a big circle around the United States to do a “study of place through poetry,” part of which involved kissing someone who wasn’t my girlfriend in a lifeguard chair in the Rockaways in the middle of the night. Now I wake up at 2am and think about the Mauna Loa monitoring station and Year Zero; I can’t imagine place in any grounded sense connected by interstates, or burning that much gas to end up where I started.
It’s not really about driving, but maybe the simultaneous speed and stillness, and how we feel bored even as we think we don’t have enough time, and my impulse to resist the guile of technology to avoid splitting apart. I find myself blurting “Cabin in the woods!” as a life plan, and my partner says, “That’s a horror film.”
But I don’t know what “it” is. In another life I would have circled that and written in the margin vague pronoun.
I enjoyed Cabin in the Woods but, like you, I have yet to see Death Race 2000. How does the lover of marginalia cope when watching movies in a dark theatre?
Or maybe, how does the interviewer return to the marginal when the conversation gets dark?
I have trouble handing over two hours to sitting still, but I’m also hesitant to write in my books—reverence for the Artifact even as I’d prefer to set the pace & place. I guess the question becomes which is more politically effective, to comment or to enact, assuming political is the goal and not just the tailing pond we’re all swimming in—whether to decry Jeff Bezos or steal his lunch money and make him write a poetry book.
Jason Snyder coined the term “aggressively earnest” to describe John Cleary, and John passed the label on to me. It pretty well sums up my approach. I told John I’d get aggressive earnestness as a neck tattoo if he got it on his lower back—I even shared the German term for tramp stamp that I learned from a farm manager in Costa Rica—but so far I’m still waiting.
Lo, No Lo or Lilo?
If this has morphed into an Experian third-party identity verification, then I’ll go with No Lo, Forever.
There’s a kind of deep, chronic relationship dysfunction where intimacy doesn’t exist except in the spray-tan form of inside jokes that have mutated into an unintelligible form of twinspeak. Maybe in the midst of my escape, my (evil?) twin said something condescending but nonsensical to the outer world, and I said it would make a good book title, and she said it would make a terrible title, so then I had to write the book.
Or maybe I’m still mourning anthropology swallowing linguistics, when all I wanted to do was diagram sentences and study creoles and labor over the translation of image & cadence & rhyme. Instead I majored in lesbian pulp novels from the 1950s, which is why I’ll soon be a millionaire.
You didn’t sign up to play Dictionary, but then again, when I signed up off-camera, I didn’t know what I was signing. You patch it up so nicely, but I keep breaking the fourth wall.
What would you rhyme with cappuccino?
Cappuccino, cappuccino. Need no pinot in Cupertino, would rather cappuccino in Reno. Yet we know, nothing beats Valentino. Maybe cheese, though.
Do you find that drinking coffee helps with your writing?
Coffee is a spiteful, vengeful thing. Coffee has given me the best passages as well as the worst. Coffee and I always start a chapter well, but within a few hours it’ll have the most abhorrent writing out of me. However, it’s difficult to forgo the advantages of spiked adrenaline just because of the disadvantages of the crash. Coffee has been proven to make people horny, excited and brave. And sometimes all three are necessary to complete a novel. Even at the cost of dehydration, bad skin, and a temper by 4pm, I haven’t left this relationship quite yet.
Which classic poems would have been better if only the poet had drunk more coffee?
Ha ha, good question! Edgar Allan Poe’s poems are great as they are. But scary content combined with hyper coffee would be interesting. That, or coffee and children’s books. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that coffee may actually be sobering compared to the amount of drugs I suspect are required to come up with such works.
How often do you write?
On a relaxed schedule, I’m writing six hours a day. The weeks where anxiety bites at my heels, I’m writing fifteen hours a day. I haven’t reached the point in my life where leisure is attractive. Leisure terrifies me. Writing is a long-term commitment, and I’ve surrendered to the fact that writing takes time, but I don’t mean to extend such time because I’m indolent or fearful. Like most things, writing is a fight of wills.
How often do you tend to re-write or edit your poems?
Up to the point of assembling a manuscript, I’m making adjustments. After writing a poem, I’m changing something every time I see it again. In fact, many of my published poems I’ve wanted to re-write. As I’m growing, my poems appear to grow with me.
Harper Lee has just announced a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Would you ever consider writing sequels to your poems?
That’s interesting because Lee wrote her sequel before To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s publishing something she wrote as a novice. It’s bold, and to be honest, it cannot be bad for her. I don’t think I can do sequels unless urged on by my readers to do so. Otherwise, I don’t like to pass up a new idea, body or world stashed in my brain for the next project.
Do you ever write in Korean?
Unless I’m translating, not really. I’ll type in Korean to my parents when I’m on KaKaoTalk (the Korean version of WhatsApp). I think it’s funny to bother them with my Konglish.
What are working on at the moment?
Thank you, Russell for the interview. I’m tinkering with a 60pp poetry book titled Child of Shame. I’ve largely focused on translating my mother’s letters from Korean to English. This creative non-fiction project is called My Mother’s Letters to my Younger Self. I’m also finishing up a 50,000-word literary fiction novel titled No, Noam. Here, a middle-aged biographer suspects murder in the case of her suicidal and beloved subject, Noam. Throughout my writing, I’ve begged for each following year to materialize with opportunities that would allow me to continue. But it wasn’t sincere for me to ask more of something from the world that I’d already experienced. Presently, I am able to write, and no matter if this is my last year doing so, I am happy for the moment.
Do aliens and Predators even drink coffee?
Is this really going to be about coffee? I don’t have anything to say coffee, except I like it, although I drink less of it than I used to since becoming addicted to Diet Coke.
Interviews first published at Queen Mob’s Teahouse