Author of Zeller's Alley
Interview By Jarad Johnson
About the Author:
B. Diehl is the author of the poetry collection Zeller’s Alley (White Gorilla Press, 2016). His work has been published by Hobart, BOAAT Press, FLAPPERHOUSE, Words Dance, and other venues. When he is not writing, you can usually find him at home, hanging out with his cats and/or feeding his social media addiction.
Q. What process do you go through when writing a poem?
A. I used to have a more strategic approach. I’d outline things and have a theme, and I’d try to string everything together with some clever or crazy or funny lines that would build up on my phone over time. I’d constantly write down random lines that popped into my head throughout the day, then move them over to a Word document. I still do that, but not as obsessively/compulsively. I have a more casual approach to writing now. I just sit down at my MacBook and write when I feel like writing. If whatever comes out sucks, I throw it away. If I like it, I keep it. It’s as simple as that, but it took me years to get to the point where I’m comfortable enough to do it this way. I won’t spend 3 months working on a poem anymore. If something seems unnatural and/or forced, I just move on and write something else instead.
Q. Which poets inspire you or your work?
A. My answer to this question changes a lot. Right now, I really like a lot of contemporary poets like Amy Saul-Zerby and Joshua Jennifer Espinoza and Noah Cicero. I’ve been reading a lot of prose, too. Lately, Chelsea Martin and Scott McClanahan have been inspiring me quite a bit. For the most part, I like non-academic stuff. I like writing by people who are weird and free and just don’t give a shit about how smart they sound.
Q. Who writes better poetry? You or your cat?
A. My cat. When he wraps himself around my head at night and lulls me to sleep with his purring, that’s some good-ass poetry.
Q. What makes a poet successful?
A. A poet is successful when they stop complaining about no one buying their books. Most people do not like to read. And most people who do like to read don’t read poetry. Being a poet is definitely not something you should do if you’re trying to get famous. But if all you wanna do is write some poems and maybe sell a few books once in a while, you can totally be a success in your own way. Otherwise, download GarageBand and write some pop songs. Or become a porn star. People are pretty into porn, I think.
Q. What advice do you have for the people who want to start writing poetry?
A. Read a lot. Seriously. And I don’t just mean 2-line poems you happen to stumble upon via Instagram. Spend the money you don’t have on poetry books, then sit down and read them. You probably already know of a lot of the classic poets, so check out some newer poets. A lot of people might yell at me for saying this, but right now, I think poetry is better than it has ever been. At this point, the word “poetry” has no limits at all. Most of the poems I fall in love with these days just read like somebody’s manic iPhone drafts. I think that’s awesome. Kind of punk-rock.
Q. What is one of your favorite pieces from Zeller’s Alley and why?
A. This is another question that has an ever-changing answer. Right now, my favorite poem in the book is either “Premonition in the Parking Lot of a Waffle House” or “Summer (Post-Breakup).” The first one is one of the first poems I ever wrote that I intentionally made “too wordy.” Critics of poetry like to call things “too wordy” and say “less is more,” so I wanted to play around with that idea. It’s something I do a lot now. Seems more natural to rant a little. The second poem is just a really short thing I wrote after my publisher said I should add some shorter pieces to the manuscript. The first time you read it, you may think it’s nothing. But the more you read it, the more you realize how many different meanings it can have. I usually aim for one particular message, but this poem is something different and something very special to me.
Q. Tell us a little about Philosophical Idiot.
A. Philosophical Idiot (www.philosophicalidiot.com) is an impromptu webzine I created to help out writers I like. There is no set schedule. No submission guidelines. People can submit poetry, prose, or whatever else they have via the email address: email@example.com. If I like what I see, I’ll publish it. The site is just something I do for fun. I intentionally made it look like a 5-year-old designed it –– basically just to troll super serious zines/journals. Pretentiousness is the worst. I’ve seen people refer to their WordPress blogs as “publishing houses.” It’s all so silly. No point in acting all “high and mighty” because deep down, none of us bookish people even know what the hell we’re doing. So let’s be real about it. We may be thoughtful at times and have enormous dreams, but we’re all just philosophical idiots.
What’s your personal definition of poetry? What do you think qualifies as poetry?
If you write something and call it poetry, then it’s poetry. I see a lot of people attacking people like Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur, saying, “What you write is not poetry!” I say it is poetry and that these people just don’t like it. I’m not a fan of Lang or Rupi either, but I think people should spend more time praising what they love instead of attacking people they don’t even know on the Internet.
Q. What are the main themes that most often appear in your work?
A. Heartbreak, depression, social anxiety, shitty jobs, and technology. I try to branch out, though.
Q. How have your poems evolved over time?
A. Hmm. They’ve just become a lot more direct. Instead of wasting like 7 hours trying to think of a perfect metaphor or simile to describe say, a flowerpot, I’ll probably just say what the flowerpot looks like. The flowerpot looks like a flowerpot.
Q. What made you want to write poetry?
A. My mental and emotional problems. Also, no one was down to start a screamo band with me, so I figured I’d write some poems instead.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!