#67: An Interview with Poet Ben Fama, by Paul Florez
March 11, 2015
Humanity’s end is nigh, and poet Ben Fama is here to chronicle the final battle between morality and capitalism in his latest poetry collection, Fantasy.
I first met Ben at a book party over at The New School. His wit and deadpan humor were so charming, I thought he was April Ludgate’s long lost twin brother (yes, that would make me his Leslie Knope). An established poet, he is the author of many poetry collections and chapbooks, including Mall Witch and Cool Memories.
In Fantasy he is unapologetic when capturing the lonely existence of a 21st century adult, and the horror and procedure that comes along with a post-Columbine society. I recently sat down with him at the Le Bain over at The Standard in New York to discuss his new book, how Snapchat is emblematic of false intimacies, and why he was thinking about Wednesday Addams when he lost his virginity.
Congratulations on Fantasy! How does it compare to the other books you’ve published?
Fantasy is most comprehensive, most varied and most formally inventive of them. It has material from Cool Memories and Odalisque, which were small edition limited release books. I received a grant from the Jerome Foundation in support of Fantasy, so I’ll be traveling a bit to promote it.
One of the main themes in Fantasy is struggling to live in a world where intimacies are the product of global technologies. Which app do you think is most guilty of this?
At this moment, I’d say Snapchat because…well, what’s that song? Love is here today / And it’s gone tomorrow / It’s here and gone so fast. The book gets at lonely 21st century adulthood, meaning a lot of longing through social media on a computer or iPhone, which is what a lot of waking life is.
Tell me about the first poem, “Sunset.” How does it set the stage for the collection?
I had to take this training course at work, “Active Shooter Training.” I was a student at Virginia Tech when the public shooting happened on campus. I tried to write about this for years unsatisfactorily. By appropriating these instructions from this workshop, which was very real and upsetting (I work for a university now and it is common to be warned, by name, of problem students to be aware of), I was able to respond with the appropriate tone. Which is to say, not with a lyrical reflection on my personal feelings, but with a tone that acknowledges that this is the world we live in now.
This actually leads to my next question. The line, “you need to plan what to do when you encounter an active shooter situation” is really haunting. It seems to embody two things for me: paranoia and protocol. Are we as a post-Columbine society paranoid or just programmed to react?
Another great line of yours in the book mentions humanity is close to burning out. How is our end nigh?
I guess it is because social reform is too slow. The people who can change things, those in power, they don’t want the status quo to change. People who are fighting for the right things, no matter how just, will be continually squashed by the interests of those in power, those with money. Money is the most powerful thing in the world.
Let’s talk about Angelina Jolie, because you go all Nostradamus on us and predict her future in Fantasy. We all love her. But is she the next stage of human evolution or a symbol of corrupt wealth and privilege…aka the 1%?
I don’t know if that disjunctive holds, she is privileged but not corrupt. She has access to all of the benefits that the privatization (of knowledge, science, technology, medicine) and is likely in the 1%. So she hasn’t evolved, she is just in position to become this type of extra-human person. It could be anyone with money and a wild heart.
Switching gears to your MFA experience at The New School. How would you describe it in one word?
Why go back to school when you’ve already authored books, chapbooks and pamphlets
I was working for the university and was able to go to school through a tuition remission.
In Mall Witch and Fantasy, you mention thinking about Wednesday Addams when you lost your virginity. As a Fama fanboy, I ‘m curious if you mean Christina Ricci or Lisa Loring? Also, what’s so sexy about Wednesday Addams?
I spent a birthday in Los Angeles recently and met the actress who had auditioned for the role that Christina Ricci ended up getting, in fact she had come very close to being cast, being one of the final three. I think that is the last time I thought of that line but I didn’t bring it up to her. I don’t know if I am asserting Wednesday’s sex appeal in my own moment of intimacy. One thinks of a lot of things in that time.
Ben Fama is the author of several chapbooks and pamphlets, including the artist book Mall Witch (Wonder), Cool Memories (Spork), Odalisque (Bloof), and Aquarius Rising (Ugly Duckling Press). His writing has appeared in The Believer, Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Jubilat, Lit, and The Brooklyn Rail, among others. He is the co-founder of Wonder, and lives in New York City.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Queerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.