Replica of truth
Sacramento, CA 95817
SN&R veteran Josh Fernandez talks about not being boring, not leaving the house half-naked and his debut poetry collection, Spare Parts and Dismemberment.
This book includes some personal information that wasn’t included in the resume and cover letter that got you a job at SN&R a few years ago.
What do you mean? Like the part about oral copulation? Why would I say that in a cover letter? Is that what you look for in a cover letter? If that’s the case, maybe that’s why you’re not in any position of power. Or is that why you moved out of town?
How were the poems in this book selected and organized?
We—me, the publishers and editors—were very clear about wanting to start the book with a kind of brutality—drugs, hatred, confusion—because that’s how my adult life began. I wanted this book to be, in a sense, autobiographical. So I wanted the book to show this struggle of a lost person finding some sort of salvation—not God or anything like that—but with humanity. With each page, I think there is a little bit of humanity introduced. By the end of the book, there is supposed to be a little bit of light. Not a lot, but enough to provide a little bit of warmth.
Have they been tampered with or worked over by editors or teachers? If so, to what end?
With this book, there was a lot of back-and-forth. Some of the poems were a bit of a compromise. If I would have had my way, some of the poems would be quite different. One of the poems, “The Last Thing He Said,” is very different than the way I wanted it. I still don’t understand the editorial decision to change it, but it’s changed. It’s interesting to see it there, in a book, though. It’s like remembering your jock friend from elementary school—the one who used to stuff you in a locker for being a “fag”—and you see him 15 years later and he’s turned into a slutty woman. Or something like that.
How do you write a poem?
The poem writes you, man. Just kidding. I thought I would try to say something profound and poetic. I guess, really, you just have to be interested in writing. Like, really interested in writing. There are some things that a short story cannot say. There are some things an essay cannot say. That’s where a poem comes in handy. It’s like boxing. A good uppercut is really something to watch. But little jabs are important, too. … Or, I guess, you could just bite off the opponent’s ear. I forgot the question.
It’s this: How do you go from an image, or a memory, or an event, or an imaginative analysis into a full poem? What are the steps you take?
It all comes to me at once, usually. In my head. And then I’ll race to the computer and try and get it all down. Once it’s there I usually realize that it’s not worth any extra work. But there’s the rare time I find a little nugget of truth in there. And then, like any writing, I’ll sit down with it and try to carve out some meaning. Or sometimes it will just start with an intriguing image that comes to mind. For instance, I had this one image in my mind for a long time of a person who was really drunk, banging on the floor until his fists turned into flowers. I loved that image, but it didn’t make it into the book.
In what ways, if any, are you affected by other people’s opinions?
All I am is other people’s opinions. I have never been a leader. I am not a person who will ever forge a path or do something groundbreaking. It’s comforting to know that. People’s opinions matter to me. The reason I am wearing shorts today is because it is acceptable to do so. Some days I could go without pants, but I won’t ever emerge from the house naked from the waist down. I’ll wear pants because I don’t want to be arrested.
What most satisfies you and most disappoints you?
I am a lazy person. I guess that both satisfies and disappoints me. My ideal version of me would be someone who writes and reads constantly. You know? Someone who looks good in bow ties. I watch Jersey Shore and wear basketball shorts, which is disappointing. But it makes me happy.
How do you avoid being a poseur?
I don’t at all. I’ll always be a poseur and I’ll never be satisfied with who I am. The day you’re satisfied with who you are is the day you turn into what the kids refer to as a “douche bag.”
What question are you afraid of being asked?
I’m afraid of someone asking me if all the things in my poems are true. But since I brought it up, the answer is this: I made everything up, but all the poems are true, if that makes any sense. I had a professor, Doug Rice, who referred to this kind of writing as “dream memoir,” where everything is true in a spiritual sense, even if the chronology and minutiae are made up. So the truth exists in a space that’s false in our physical world, but it’s a perfect replica of truth everywhere else. …
My wife calls me a great exaggerator, because I tell stories to get the point across, not to win a court case. What I’m trying to say is if I ever offer you legal representation, decline my services.