Meat and Media: A Conversation Between First Book Poets
Kevin Simmonds & Craig Moreau

Kevin Simmonds, is a writer, musician, filmmaker and performance artist in San Francisco. His books include Mad for Meat (Salmon Poetry, 2011), Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011) and Ota Benga Under My Mother's Roof (University of South Carolina, 2012). His short films have screened at Provincetown International Film Festival, San Francisco Frameline, Hong Kong's InDBlue and Barcelona's MiMi LGBT Short Film Festival among others. He wrote the music for the 2009 Emmy Award-winning documentary Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica and Voices of Haiti: A Post-Quake Odyssey in Verse, both commissioned by the Pulitzer Center and debuted at the National Black Theatre Festival. In 2011, he received a Creative Work Fund grant to compose the music and poetry for The Noh Oratorio of Emmett Till in collaboration with San Francisco's renowned Theatre of Yugen. (
Craig Moreau received his MFA from New York University and is currently teaching at the College of New Rochelle and Columbia University and writes for The Outlet: The Blog of Electric Literature. His work most recently appeared in Lambda Literary and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His first collection of poetry, Chelsea Boy, was released in June 2011 by Chelsea Station Editions. (

Craig Moreau: As I said yesterday, I really enjoyed reading your book. Congrats on writing something so wonderful. 

I'm a poet concerned a lot with place and how it affects our writing. South East Asia and New Orleans reappear throughout Mad for Meat. What about these places inspire you to write, or, are there other places you visit that are not "writing" places but just places to visit? I.e., do you bring your poetry to every place you visit or just these special places?
Kevin Simmonds: I'm excited that we're getting this conversation started. Thanks for calling Mad for Meat wonderful. For me, it's wonder-filled. I write towards, about and from wonderment. Many, many things, people and places get me wondering or strike up wonder in me. 

My response to your first question is rather flat. New Orleans and Asia reappear in my work because I'm always trying to re-member those places. I've lived in those places and have an ongoing relationship with them through memory, through loved ones who still live there and continued visits. I bet none of those poems got onto the page, even in their earliest stage, in any of those places to which they refer. I can and do write everywhere. 

Speaking of place, there's lovely re- & dis- location in Chelsea Boy. I'm struck by "Sitting at a Hotel in Le Clair, Iowa," how the speaker (you, I say it's you) travels:

It must have been the way

I licked the envelope,
like an old woman—
she loves her coffee

and her pie, and her grandchildren's
laughter. I wanted to knit with her,
talk about Obama and the rainstorm last night—
 I'm moved by this shift in the poem. So as the amazing reporter but not-so-good interviewer Amy Goodman would say, "Talk about that."
CM: I like what you said about preserving a place's memory through poetry. As units of time, I think poetry is one of the most effective mediums available to persevere "memory" or feelings of a place. 

As for little ol Le Claire... I would describe my relationship with Iowa as "It's Complicated" in FB lingo. It's pretty, the people are nice, there's room to be free but not so much room to challenge your limits. It's a place to grow corn, not gay boys who want to write books. 

So, on that note, I guess that's a little of what I was going for in the shift you've pointed out. The stanza about is fairly "hey I'm gay and people care about that here" and the following stanza is "hey I'm gay but people don't care about that here." Its the great contradiction of libertarian Iowa—you're free to be who you are, but not free to challenge that mold once you settle into it (or discover it). 

Almost a little like in your lines in the poem "Basketball":

For when you're caught and can't
make it
you look for an open man

This poem has so much going on and really finds, without comedy, a greater metaphor in the sport. Which I find exciting and needed. But you're more of a music man, which makes this poem stand out a little and which you address in the opening lines. Could you maybe talk about how your background in music comes to play in your poetry? For example, the poem "the singing" has a definite meter and some amazing repetition (dare I say, refrain?) but the form both resists the music and pushes it along. Could you talk about the lyrics in this poem:

what we are
what is meant
to fall away
is closer still
to fall away

and how you arrived at the form?
KS: We MUST get back to FB later in this conversation ("Facebook Psalms").

Musical elements—phrasing, rhythm, timbre, range, tessitura—are most important to me in everything I do. I was a musician before I was a writer. My ear insists on music first and that is just the way it is for now. I've tried to get away from that a bit but it's physically uncomfortable. Seriously. 

"the singing" began as a song for my ORIENT project, which is about Asian-Black race relations in this country. Noteworthy about that is I never write the text for music I set. I always set someone else's text. Needless to say, that remains true: I never set "the singing" and never will. I'm done with its music—whatever's on the page is it. Funny how you referred to the lines as "lyrics." Insightful.

Getting back to what I mentioned earlier… Once again, in "Facebook Psalms," you turn up. There's a pivot from Facebook personified to you, Craig. I like when you turn up in this collection. And I hope you're fine with me saying that. 

You are the anti
Buddha, an archive
of the self.

Craig is this. Craig is that. Craig is whatever follows the article.
Craig is interpreting his self through language and words. Craig
is defining his actions through verbs. Craig is at a notable place
with four other notable people.

You successfully animate and recast popular culture and that's difficult. In this instance, without being didactic, you allow yourself to refract those of us caught up in (and maybe trapped by) the internet. What's your relationship with Facebook, Twitter and all that? How much does it influence what and how you write or approach writing? Lastly, have you ever written a Craigslist poem? 
CM: (Un)fortunately all of my interactions with Craigslist have been distinctly antipoetic. 

My relationships with FB and twitter have been great… err… mostly well. They were the only way a poet like me could market my brand and book (and thus message) and I am pretty happy with how I've done. I didn't need to pay for a website or pay for a publicist, FB had it all set up and it was up to me to do some grassroots marketing to build the fanbase. I was trying to get poetry in the hands of non-academics, non-poets who never read poetry so that was my challenge and I did everything through that lens in an effort to accomplish that mission. 

The downside is that everything is visible. If I post a picture or make a tweet all of those things become attached to the book and the brand, and are available for bloggers, book reviewers, gossip rags ect. However, grassroots marketing and branding doesn't work unless you post tweets and pictures and have something to say that is beyond your art. So, Chelsea Boy may have a larger audience due to social networking but at the cost distracting from the text as a singular object—the book was always the centerpiece but now I just threw it on a buffet table. 

So, lets talk about titles a bit. Mad for Meat has some nice music in it, which I find interesting because "meat" is such a hard word to fit into a poem. I mean, it's so meaty. How did you arrive at this title, when did you arrive at it, and expand a little on what about meat, makes you so mad? 
KS: I've never written a Craigslist poem. "Antipoetic"? Really? Haha. You put the Craig in Craigslist. I was hoping you'd managed a poem.

As you know, the title of the collection comes from the last couplet in "Inheritance." The first working title was "Cud." Still meat-based :). When I was figuring out the title, I felt that "Mad for Meat," cliché as it sounds, said it all. 

The entire collection emanates from "meat": sexual food, real food, various Biblical allusions (not so much about dietary prohibitions but meaning something substantial that a more mature person can understand). I crave—madly—all those things. In many ways, the collection is a litany of my obsessions or possessions. Things that I desire or things that I'm possessed by. My appetites. 

I'd like to consider what you said about all the social networking and how it can distract "from the text as a singular object." I'm elated you brought that up. It's a concept I never get to discuss or see / hear discussed. Personally, I don't want to know that much about a poet unless they're dead. I'm serious. 

Believe it or not, I created and activated a Facebook Fan page several hours ago (before this exchange) and then, within seconds, deactivated it. Creating and maintaining a Facebook Fan page is what all new authors are told to do. My publisher didn't ask or advise me to do it but many friends and colleagues have one. It's just too much for me. 

I do many, many things (compose, sing, make films) and my internet persona probably seems wildly schizophrenic and fairly open. I blog now and again but, apart from what my poetry says about me, I try to guard against people knowing too much about my personal life. I say crazy things all the time in private and resist making those things public by posting to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. 

Thank goodness someone can pick up my book at a bookstore and not be inundated with Kevin Simmonds hyperlinks. Chelsea Boys has a QR code (I just googled "codes that phones can scan" to get the term). What's it take you to? Wait, is that how QR codes work? Me don't know.

Back to meat. "Moo," a satisfyingly odd homage to "Howl" grabs me:


I've watched the fired minds of our millennium
bored with the pasture, fattened and branded
with the greener grass

Tell me how one so young can shake youth long enough to write with such unselfish zeal, trying to find the pulse of a generation? That's a big question, I know.
CM: Yes, the QR code in the back of my book takes you to, which is a Facebook fanpage. It's useful (mostly) for advertising events/readings—inviting and updating people who are outside of NY. In my effort to reach out to non-readers I'm reading at places that usually don't, or have never had, poetry readings. Facebook makes that easy to connect to these people and venues. But beyond the book, Chelsea Boy is brand I'm hoping to expand beyond this one book of poetry. That is, Chelsea Boy as a persona/character will return in some fashion beyond the book, which is why I'm trying to hold onto fans via the website. In the future, Chelsea Boy will be more than the book. 

Also, I feel charged with making myself available and attack-able. I'm representing a term that lots of people hate (they shouldn't) or stereotype and I'm here to tell them to slow down—their definition of a Chelsea Boy isn't the only definition (and certainly hasn't been). It's changed over time and it changes from place to place in addition to the chronological factor. So, one of the tasks I am trying to do is challenge people, and I can't challenge people if I'm not available to be quoted and misquoted and scoffed and loved. Lots of people miss the point, which I guess is my fault as the artist, but I still find it funny to read reviews of my book where all they concentrate on is my age, or what "Chelsea boy" meant to them in the good old days and how I fail to meet their definition—I can't be authentic because I stand for something outside of their established thought. I mean different. We're working with words people, and words change. Embrace it! 

I'll talk a little about "Moo" and then swing it back around to you. I don't want to start ranting and screaming ;-) . So, "Moo" is one of my favorite poems of the book, I think it gets far closer to succeeding than others in CB (some poems, I admit, are failures. That is ok, those should be displayed and read and experienced to). A lot of my poems in the book are dedicated/inspired by friends. A lot of my friends are 20-year-old gay boys living in NYC. I started to notice a lot of my peers found themselves continually in a slump—not necessarily sad—but lost and confused. And they all felt it was individual—not growing pains but something specific to their character. It was junior high all over again minus the acne. So in "Moo," I tried very hard to try to capture this 20-year-old state of mind that I keep seeing, and keep feeling for. Also, and lastly, I think this perspective is needed in poetry because a lot of the infrastructure in poetry is ageist. A twenty-year old simply can't have anything to say because they haven't lived, right? They don't know enough to have depth, they haven't read enough, they haven't seen the world, (ugh) etc., etc. This is all silly to me, for an art that often prides itself on being democratic and capturing all aspects of life, why so pretentious towards emerging artists? And, who better to capture those moments when we're stumbling and trying to figure out what we're doing, who we are, and why we're here, than the optimistic, unentrenched, naive, and desperate twenty-year old?  

Blah! So defensive. I'm very excited to talk about you now, lol. I wanted to ask you about religion and race, and your refusal to punctuate.  I love how Mad for Meat has so many meanings and "meat" does as well - the religious meaning you pointed out earlier was lost of me. And "meat" in relation to skin color (we're all made of meat) I found really fascinating on top of that. Your last poem, "Witness," I originally read as "Whiteness," probably me projecting but let's leave Freud out of this. Do you feel not using punctuation is a political statement, an aesthetic statement, or something else? Did you get lots of critique about that, how did you handle it, if so? I think not having periods, but having capital letters adds a lot to the book that I wouldn't have expected. Notably, in "Witness." It is such a quiet, powerful poem, not having those dots definitely dampens the noise and lets the choir sing. 

So, let's hear about that, and if you feel like your age comes into play in your poetry (had to sneak that in). 
KS: Sorry for the reply lapse. Long story but it ends with a performance staging gone terribly bizarre. One of my performance pieces that I'm working on / doing in an unnamed southern rural locale:). 

Anyhow, this has to be brief because the aforementioned locale has no good Internet connection except for the very slow one on my phone. And iPhone keeps autocorrecting :( (I'd never capitalize Internet). 

It's late so I'm franker: the intro to the collection could be interpreted as a disclaimer of sorts. You note your perspective and anticipate people misunderstanding or, worse, attacking your enterprise. 

I feel most connected to the poems when they engage universals, not anything necessarily "Chelsea Boy" stereotypes. I'm unsure what I'm getting at. Wait, perhaps it's the uniqueness of the nickname. Is it freighted with so much meaning that it has a vibrant life today? I suppose you must see it that way because you heard about it enough that you felt compelled to travel its distances. When you say "brand," I start wondering. 

Punctuation. Right now, I think it gets in the way. It crowds the page and is oftentimes unnecessary. Truong Tran, a smart San Francisco poet and visual artist who uses absolutely no punctuation and writes in prose blocks, inspires me. He's able to achieve music without all the notation. I'm intrigued by this and play with it. 

My awareness of age, especially mine, influences how I see myself in this world, especially as I relate to youth-driven culture. I feel very young but my work isn't youthfully observed. At least I hope it isn't. I think it takes a very vigilant, adjusted and fearless young person to write anything I'd want to consider at length. That's how I feel. 
CM: I like how you said "fearless" in your last reply. I think writing takes a lot of courage (for anyone) and is often understated. When I teach I often talk about how insane we must be to ruin a perfectly good (blank) piece of paper. What do we have to say that's going to improve upon that piece of paper? Obviously, I'm using a bit of an extreme to show a point (you can make mistakes and doodle) but I'm very interested in the choice that one makes when we write, and what led them to that choice. Very large and open question, but what makes you want to fill up a page? 

And, I'm going to press a little more on you not punctuating. I feel like there has to be something more than "it's in the way," or either I want there to be more. You think it gets in the way of the music? In the way of the meaning of the words? Does it slow down the language? Is it, for you, a way of resisting conventional form? 
KS: I seldom want to fill a page. This answer might be too literal of a response but I want my poetry to always err on the side of saying too little. I'm from the South and, from a very early age, was taught to keep things to myself. I'm still extremely restrained, clenched even. Maybe this is why I'm attracted to Japanese culture. I'm more satisfied by gesture than extrapolation. My gesture is one of multitudes. And I know it's nothing more than that. 

Punctuation is mostly unnecessary. I feel strongly about this. Do I really need a comma if I'm about to create a line break? Wouldn't a series supply more meaning and engage the reader's attention more without commas? Won't a space or two suffice? I simply don't think punctuation in a poem is crucial for understanding or experience. If I'm resisting convention, great. 
CM: Interesting how you connect your aesthetic with cultures (Japanese culture / southern culture). I wonder if everyone has a parallel culture for aesthetic. And I love / find it interesting that you feel strongly about punctuation being unnecessary. Who better than poets and their readers to feel strongly about such things? 

I think to conclude I'll ask you a little more about how religion acts as a source for your writing. One of my favorites and the most interesting was "Salvation," where the speaker sexualizes the Christ and also includes some S&M references (play?). A key part in the poem, and something that I think sort of justifies the poem, are the lines: 

Tell me you've never looked at Jesus hanging there
the way you look at any man
before you caught yourself and averted your eyes

Could you maybe talk about what got you to that point in the poem, or how you arrived at writing about this experience? 
KS: "Salvation" is from my project feti(sh)ame, based on interviews with gay men about their sexual fetishes and connections with shame. I adapted it for film this year. 

Everything about Jesus and St. Sebastian and many others, for that matter, is erotic. These men were stripped down and, well, that's hot. 

The end of the poem is the point: god is hungry then fed. And he always wants flesh. We are gods. 

Never enough time. Craig, here are a couple of moments, gestures, that I adore:

and how I wish to lay aside you, both
as ash and apple.

("O, Whitman")


In a place where many of our best have blown
the way of the red-ribbon

("Viceroy, 18th Street")


Let his cliché define your world

destined for a life standing on one leg

You decide this is a joke, and it is,
as much as you are avian. What you are

is an ornament for someone's lawn, plastic
and hollow, you bend in the wind and think
that this is what it's like to fly.

("From the Chelsea Boy Survival Guide  Lesson #4: How to Judge a Book by Its Cover")

Your poems, in this collection, are fiercely polyphonic and ballsy. Yet there's always this tender, tender spot. Those are some I felt. The last one, that longer excerpt, is doing a lot of work. As I said, polyphonic. Tell me more about that section, specifically, and speak to the "tender, tender parts."
CM: Thanks for drawing out those quotes, was nice to see some moments that you found polyphonic—probably in the sense that you identify as gesturing towards multitudes, our poetry is similar in its many-ness. Whitman would be proud. ;-)

You picked an interesting poem for me to talk a little bit more. No one ever asks about it and for a while I was more than ok with that. It was the last poem written for the collection and the poem least revised. I actually wrote it in response to a specific, and unmentionable, gossip blog that kinda tore me apart (who am I kidding, they tore me apart and ate my meat). And I was having a bit of trouble finding some ground to stand on, so naturally I started writing about it and I immediately felt better. Though, the original version was much more angry, and I hate writing from anger, so moments before it went to the printer I changed it again, once I had some distance and tried to talk more openly about the conversation between artist and critic, between creator and observer, between being tender and being snark . . . Tender, actually, is a humbling word to end on (did you plan this?). Tender, by Toi Derricotte was the book that brought me to poetry, that made me want to write, that made me cry and love words and challenged what I knew and what perspectives I could have. The title poem's opening line: "The tenderest meat . . ." is something we both can bask in. So, here's to our meat being tender. And being mad for that. 
KS: You got Whitman and Toi into the same email. And you drew everything to a close. How am I supposed to follow that? I must reread Tender. I forgot it began that way. 

Glad to know the backstory to that last poem. It ends the collection beautifully.

Hope to meet you in person. Perhaps during your reading stop in San Francisco? Or mine in New York?

Interested to see how Chelsea Boy Craig reinvents himself. 

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761