Damn Your Eyes by Matt Clifford will officially release October 26, 2017. To request a PDF for review, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Damn Your Eyes:
Edited by Michael J. Hetzler
Interior photos by Chris Eason
Back desciption by Brice Maiurro
Interior Design by Sara Khayat
Cover design by Jona Fine
Matt Clifford is spiking the Kool-Aid.
A caustic, yet vulnerable, thirty-something brat.
He builds a box just to escape it.
Self-deprecating, but he’s taking you with him. Matt Clifford is Denver, but he’d never admit it.
This book is equal parts Matt and Clifford, but only sometimes. Matt is a full-time poet who sunlights as a tax accountant.
His poems are, at once, collective and separate.
Damn your preconceived notions.
Don’t be so reliant on a backcover to tell you what to think.
This book deserves to be read.
Damn this book.
Damn your eyes.
ABOUT MATT CLIFFORD
Matt Clifford is a coastal transplant, city-ruining culture suck, snorting stardust off angels’ halos like a tax accountant and decorating the loft of his mind with student loan art. His poems don’t make sense, his band doesn’t even play real songs, and he can’t grow facial hair.
Please join the Paper Plane Pilots in welcoming Matt Clifford to Los Angeles for the release reading of his latest book of poetry, Damn Your Eyes (Paper Plane Pilots, 2017).
Urban Social House 5220 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027
Rene Franco is a an artist, filmmaker, and writer. I have had the pleasure of knowing Rene since we were fourteen years old. Even then, Rene was an activist. Inviting me to read, think, and protest any injustices.
Now, ten years later, I am so honored/pleased/ecstatic/am I dreaming/happy to announce that his book, Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State was published by Paper Plane Pilot Publishing the first week of November. Cover design by Laura Khayat.
Rene, though he won’t admit it/doesn’t understand why I always say this, was one of the first people to force-feed me literature.
During our Chemistry Honors class (which I failed and had to make up that summer. Okay, I got a D+…long story) we talked the whole period (and somehow didn’t ever get in trouble?) about the books he left for me in my locker. (How do you not remember this?!) Then he moved away to San Francisco to study film/art. He ran an art gallery from his garage in San Francisco. Then he came back home to Los Angeles and worked for just about every major art museum in the city.
We worked on many stupid class projects together. Other than that, our talents had never melded together perfectly to create. When Rene approached me with his ambitious idea, we laughed about all it was trying to accomplish. I smiled and said, “Okay, Rene. Let’s do it.”
I wholeheartedly took on this project, excited to finally combine our talents into something relevant and tangible.
Now, I am pleased to share this timely interview between editors, Michael J. Hetzler and myself and author/artist Rene Esteban Franco:
1.) What part of Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State was the most difficult to write?
The world of hackers and whistleblowers is incredibly complex, a Borges labyrinth of insider terminology that is deliberately meant to be unfriendly so as to keep undesired attention away from it. Immersing myself into this world required more painstaking research than I ever imagined. Much of it simply was for my own understanding of this subculture as I realized that it wasn’t crucial for casual readers to understand every aching complexity of the hacker world. Deciding what was essential and how to present it was by far the trickiest thing to accomplish.
2.) What was your goal with this book? What effect did you hope for it to have?
Over the course of working on this project I talked with many people who essentially said “Yeah, that’s an interesting issue, but I don’t see surveillance as a super important topic.” Or they would say “Yeah, it’s scary but I don’t really have anything to hide.”
These general assumptions regarding mass surveillance were what led me to seek another inroad to confronting this.
Ever since the Snowden leaks of 2013, the questions and qualms brought forth have loomed over me. I was obsessed with researching it because I believe, as Snowden and many other journalists and activists do, what the NSA is willingly doing is an existential threat to the little democracy we have left. And yet, there seems to be a fundamental lack of interest in engaging with this issue. It seems too large, too present, too much someone else’s issue. By taking away some of the off-putting technical language and personalizing the issues in a narrative fashion I was hoping to present an alternative means of creating a dialogue around the ramifications of everyone’s complicitness with the surveillance state.
3.) How does your artistic and cultural background inform your writing?
I approach every project according to the medium that best suits it. This is a means of remaining open to whatever the process will dictate is the best “end” goal for the project. In this case, I didn’t start out with the intention of writing a book. It was solely supposed to be a short film. However, over the course of researching this and adding in supplemental backstory to the hacker I realized it could not all be contained in a condensed 15-minute film.
4.) You work with various forms of media. What can you do with writing that you can’t do with film/visual art?
Writing allows for a directness that I am not comfortable with in other mediums. I can directly address an audience (such as using the second person) and craft a narrative that is much more didactic and implicates the viewer as well as myself in the process.
5.) What were the advantages and disadvantages of your multi-media approach to this book?
The loss of control of the narrative was something I realized midway through the process. Because, surely, there will be people who only read the book and not see the video and vice versa. And to my mind they may only take away half the intended meaning from one of those forms but that, I’ve realized, is okay too. It’s far outside my control to see what anyone will take away from either experience and trying to assume otherwise is silly.
6.) Did you expect your predictions of the election to come true?
Absolutely not! I was just as shocked as every other liberal in America by the whitelash unleashed by this election. I was listening closely to every poll and every projected estimate all day throughout Election Day and this was not at all what I assumed would happen.
When I started this project, the election was not a factor at all. I was focused on the issues of privacy and surveillance but through the narrow lense of this hacker who is obsessed with Julian Assange. As the election became a spectacle I couldn’t ignore anymore, I realized it was a crucial part of this narrative. Still, even in speculating what a future Trump presidency would look like I only intended that to come across as a metaphor for the consequences of continuing to ignore the mass surveillance apparatus that currently exist. But it’s no long speculative. A racist, sexist, petty demagogue is about to control the most sophisticated surveillance arsenal ever constructed. And that should scare everyone.
7.) Who were your influences for the writing of this book? (artistic and otherwise)
I am eternally in debt to the work of artists who did much of this research ahead of me with access that I could never have. They include Hito Steyerl, Trevor Paglen, Simon Denny, and Laura Poitras.
For the writing portion I’d say Junot Díaz and Leslie Jamison’s book The Empathy Exams.
As for the video there were tons of video artists and filmmakers who shaped my approach from Jordan Wolfson, Cecile B Evans, Doug Aitken, Chris Marker’s La Jetee, and Francis Coppola’s The Conversation.
8.) What aspect of the book are you proudest of?
Probably the part I had no role in: the publishing! I would have never been able to do this without an incredible set of editors who were crazy enough to try to meet my seemingly unrealistic deadline.
9.) Who do you hope reads this book? Why?
Is it too much to hope everyone does? Namely because we are all implicated in the systems (surveillance, patriarchy) that the hacker travels throughout the course of the book. And I understand that it may not be comfortable reading for most especially in the manner that it parallels reality up until a very key point. But we need dystopias. Relevant ones not ones that cast our villains in an unrealistic manner. The real horror at the moment isn’t going to come from Skynet or HAL. It’s going to come from ourselves and our lack of indecision to do something to stop plausible dystopias before it’s too late.
10.) What’s next for you?
I’ve always aimed to try to make relevant political work. The election of Trump only confirmed my need to continue to make more, only at a much quicker pace. Which is why for the next year at least, I’m attempting to make one completed artwork a month that protests a specific component of Trumpism. I want to make this administration my muse as perverse as that may seem. I refuse to see alternatives because to look away from it would be immoral in my thinking.
For a review PDF of Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State email email@example.com. To follow Rene’s art, writing, and film, watch out for Wandering Savage‘s posts on Paper Plane Pilots.
In November of 2016, the Paper Plane Pilots had the honor of publishing Feasting on Sky by Eric Morago.
I initially met Eric during my undergraduate studies. The writing circle at my school announced a reading featuring Eric Morago. After hearing his poetry, I bought his book and proceeded to follow his writing for the next four years.
Eric’s poetry had a large influence on the growth of my writing. I had initially sought a degree in creative writing to develop my fiction, but after hearing Eric read, I realized that I gravitated toward contemporary poetry.
Thanks to Eric, I am now not just a poet, but a publisher of poetry working with some of my major influences.
Now, four years later, I’m pleased to present to you an interview with Eric Morago on his latest book published by Paper Plane Pilot Publishing, Feasting on Sky:
SK: What was your main goal with Feasting on Sky?
My last book was more of a collection about love and longing, and with Feasting on Sky, I wanted the narrative to evolve and take risks. My goal, working on these poems, was to explore subject matter that was uncomfortable to confront, to shine light on some of those guarded parts of myself that I keep hidden from the everyday world. As someone who struggles with anxiety on an almost daily basis, there’s often a lot of shame associated with admitting it, but in my poems, I find I can take ownership over it.
SK: What type of poetry do you aim to write? Who is your demographic?
I set out to write poems that communicate to the reader, and audience, what I am thinking and feeling in way that allows them room to infer their own meaning. In doing so, I hope my poems reward with multiple readings. I consider my style direct and sincere. As for my demographic, I want my poetry enjoyed by the “everyman,” by those who wouldn’t expect they’d like hearing/reading a poem, so I strive to make my work, as Billy Collins would say, “hospitable.” I try never to alienate my readers with ambiguous imagery or obtuse language, yet still strive to explore complex themes.
SK: You write a lot about mental illness in this book. What effect do you hope to have by elucidating this topic?
I hope to empower others who suffer from some form of mental illness and to start a dialogue about how it’s more normal than not to feel a little abnormal.
SK: Who are your main influences as a writer?
I tend to gravitate to poets who write clearly and with a razor’s edge honesty. I enjoy reading poems that are bravely imaginative and offer surprising imagery. I like poets that make me laugh as well. There are so many poets I could name that have inspired and influenced me over the years, but if I had to name three who have had the biggest effect on my growth as a writer, I’d give credit to Charles Harper Webb, Ron Koertge, and Mindy Nettifee.
SK: What role does your humor play in this book?
Humor plays a large role not only in this book, but also in my writing. I think humor is the perfect vehicle to drive a reader through complex emotion. Humor is healing. When we laugh, we open ourselves to the bigger truths of the universe, reflect, and release.
SK: What does performance provide that unspoken words can’t? Is there a particular poem from this collection that you love performing?
Performance allows a poet to really bring a particular piece to life. Not all poets are skilled in performance, nor do they need to be. But, if a poet knows how to read well, they can captivate and engage an audience with more than just their words on the page. As far as a particular poem from the book that I love performing, it changes based on how I’m feeling on that particular day and on the audience.
SK: What do you think poetry can achieve that other forms of writing can’t?
I think poetry, as a writing form, can offer a more concise and intimate look into an experience, and benefits from the musicality of language more so than other genres of writing can.
SK: What do you particularly love about the literary scene in Los Angeles?
What I love most about the literary scene in Los Angeles is its diversity of voices, and how vastly rich this city’s poetry is with its history and culture.
SK: Do you have any social media links you would like to share?
Sure. If people want to stay up-to-date on what I’m doing in the poetry world, they can like my Facebook author page . You can also follow me on Instagram where I usually post pictures of my dogs, Legos, and sometimes my writing life.
SK: What’s next for Eric?
I’ll be setting up readings throughout Spring for Feasting on Sky, but will also be starting an exciting chapter in my life as the new publisher and editor-in-chief of Moon Tide Press. I am very grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to giving back to so many deserving writers (and readers) of great poetry.
If you are in Los Angeles and would like the chance to see Eric perform in the coming weeks he will be a feature at:
Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach with the Redondo Poets on Tuesday January 17th at 8 PM.
Eric Morago is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominated poet who believes performance carries as much importance on the page, as it does off. Currently he hosts a monthly reading series, teaches writing workshops, and serves as an associate editor for the online literary journal, FreezeRay Poetry. Eric is the author of What We Ache For (Moon Tide Press) and has an MFA in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach. He lives with his wife and three dogs in Los Angeles, California.
Sara Khayat was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is editor-in-chief of Paper Plane Pilot Publishing. Her latest book, ¶: unspeakable poems, is an experimentation with strikethrough and language (nouns that become verbs, verbs that become nouns in different contexts). She always chose truth over dare at elementary school parties. Proof of her writing can be dated all the way back to old kindergarten findings and floppy disks. Her mind is full of wildflowers, ladybugs and grey matters. Give her a shout and she’ll give you a whisper.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the beautiful and talented Dani Blue…and here is what she had to say!
What is your main inspiration when starting to write?
When I feel that it is time to sit down and write, something has happened. I heard something, seen something, or had an odd reality check. There’s a ton of emotions scrambling to get out so that I can move on and stamp it “lesson learned”.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is committing to a story. I’m sad to admit that I’m a commitment phobe. Although, I’d rather convince myself that I’m not. I’ll work hard and spew loads of energy into a short story.
Do you believe your personality and writing style are similar? Why or why not?
Yes! And it’s something that I used to despise and wanted to run away from. For awhile it was hard to separate the two. Combining my writing style and personality once was a way to glamorize myself to myself–more than others–and I didn’t like that. Now I embrace it, balance the two, without writing Stephanie’s fairytale volumes 1-3.
When did you decide to start writing?
I started writing when I was in middle school. So around 12-13 years old.
Is length important to you when writing a piece?
Usually l don’t consider length unless it’s required for an assignment.
What do you do when you get writer’s block?
In the past, when I would suffer from writer’s block syndrome, I would completely abandon a story. Literally I’d get up, go make a sandwich, maybe even make another one and forget about the story. I’ve found that ranting in a freewrite helps and gets me in a place to continue.
Do you get inspired by any specific authors? If so whom?
Most authors that I’ve read have in some type of way inspired me in one way or another.
What is your favorite book/line or section from that book?
Alright, I absolutely admit my favorite book changes from time to time. Right now it’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s a crazy journey that begins and ends several times in several ways.
Do you like or dislike books being made into films?
If I love the book–meaning I’ve read it more than once and it’s packed away in my book collection in my mom’s garage–then I’m not the happiest person when it turns into a film. It’s really not the same. But I will still watch it and then buy it on blu-Ray.
Where do you see yourself going in the future?
Hmm, the future. Honestly, my future is quite unclear at this point. I packed all my things and drove up to Seattle with my boyfriend in a two week timeframe. In a month I could be the president of a small island. I am planning on continuing my education and I’m positive that great things are ahead of me.
Where do you see the publishing world going in the future?
It seems that the publishing world is expanding more and more everyday. Self-publishing doesn’t seem as frowned upon. Big publishers should watch out.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Washington is beautiful. The scenery here is absolutely awesome. By far my favorite place to write.
In terms of your writing, what do you feel poetry represents to you in your life?
At this moment, writing and especially poetry holds more importance than ever, because I’ve come to know that what I can fashion with pen and paper will almost infallibly better express whatever I can physically say. I cleave to writing because it is a way to consecrate certain ineffable moments, a way to actualise ephemeral memories and give life to something quotidien, and a manner of manifesting the most honest part of myself. The process itself varies depending upon the nature of the poem; that is to say, writing can either feel very methodical or like a verbal purge akin to exorcism. I think my best poems are those which have gone through both of these stages in their creation.
Who do you find your favorite writers to be?
Pablo Neruda and his epicurean verse will never cease to take my breath away. His anthology Ode to Common Things vitalizes the mundane and always gives me the sense that even alone with just a chair and table one isn’t quite alone. His last collection World’s End is one of my favorite anthologies for the way it harmonizes exquisite lyricism and harrowing tragedy within a vast thematic and historical scope. I’m relentlessly astonished as well by Emily Dickinson’s finesse with form; her poems are splendidly crafted with attention to form that enhances rather than dilutes the poignancy of the piece. As far as novelists, some of my favorites are Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Mary Shelley, C.S. Lewis, and Ayn Rand.
How do you feel the internet affects poetry?
Certainly it allows writers to claim a platform for their work, and I think there’s something special in designing a space that you feel compliments and best showcases your pieces. The volume of writing blogs and websites is enormous, and though that sometimes makes each poem feel like a drop in a virtual ocean, I believe it’s better to consider the proliferation of online publication as a wealth of perspectives and voices. It’s also a very dynamic venue for dialogue between the poet and the reader, which print publishing doesn’t always offer.
That said, there’s also a risk that comes with sites like WordPress that allows readers to “like” or “rate” poems, which is that the author fixates on the empirical to feel artistically validated. A sort of pandering can occur, a desire to feed into a certain style or visual in order to achieve statistical success. A poem rated 2 stars or “liked” by no-one may have much more depth and stylistic mastery than another that gains favor by merit of cultural references or cliches, and it’s hard as a writer to not compromise one’s personal voice in the name of views or ratings. So in a way, as much as it fosters accessibility and dialogue, the internet also runs a risk of relatively devalorising certain pieces.
Is there a place for poetry outside of the classroom?
Absolutely yes, and I think that there are more adept ways to examine poetry within the classroom that would promulgate more personal interest in the art. In most high school literature courses the emphasis is on classical form and diction, and the curriculum operates on a very cerebral level. Technicalities take precedence over visceral depth and the multilayered nature of the message embodied in a poem, which often forces students to leave their sentiments out of reading and experiencing poetry. Which is in itself tragic, because I fervently disavow that any poet worth reading employed form and excellent diction solely so that a pack of teenagers could muddle over every syllable. I’m quite thankful to have had a couple teachers who called us to read with a degree of introspection and self-awareness, which made the work at hand much more relevant and encouraged at least a few to take more interest in poetry outside of the classroom.
Do you feel as if only writers read poetry?
I don’t think so. Poetry has a universal honesty and beauty that touches more than just writers. But I do think our propensity to place our deepest selves onto paper inclines us more than most towards poetry. Drawing from conversations I’ve had from other writers and from my own perspective, authors read voraciously as a manner of assuring ourselves we aren’t alone in this frenetic, dire need to put words to our bizarre cerebral entropy.
How do you feel about form in poetry?
I admire immensely writers who can implement form without losing the sense of what they wish to impart to the reader. Obviously it can bestow a rhythm and even musicality to a poem that can beautifully carry the verse and highlight the poet’s virtuosity. I think that often when people think of poetry their mind goes straight to rhyme and form, but those strict adherence to those elements aren’t what constitutes poetry at all. Poetry can just as potently echo diverse forms without aligning to the formula, and to me that feels the most natural.
Is it difficult for you to share poetry with people that you know in your three-dimensional life/people that know you out of the context of your work?
I’d really like to say I’ve reached a point of no-fucks-given about people I know reading what I publish, but I’m still acutely conscious of how they might interpret a poem and how their interpretation will color their view of me. When people are familiar with the writer I think (or perhaps “fear” would be a better word there) that there’s a natural tendency to find grains of reality within a piece. With Cityscapes for example, I have a short story in which the narrator gets baked and sleeps with a stranger, and when a few friends told me they’d bought the book I was thrilled, but also like, “Oh shit, are they going to think that that’s me?” Although a lot of my work is rooted in my life, it is often an abstract extrapolation from random seminal experiences, and though that’s true for virtually all poets, sometimes it’s easy for readers to forget. Artistic authenticity is so important, but it also renders the writer quite vulnerable.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
At this moment I’m thankful to have the platform that I do to share my work, and I’ll continue posting on PPP as well as my own personal site well into the foreseeable future. When I get back to the States I’d like to pursue print publication as well as find venues for readings. Taking a step back though, I’ve never seen writing as my vocation, though I admit that my reticence to pursue writing academically and professionally also comes from a financial concern. So instead I would be very content to know that my work has resonated with readers in a way that fosters honest reflection and imparts a sense of humanity.
Do you feel poetry still has the power it once used to?
Oh absolutely. Though it seems that our culture valorizes literature less than in past centuries, poetry itself retains its power as the mouthpiece of generations, the expression of our collective grievances and desires, and a universally accessible art.
What is your ideal career?
I’m not entirely sure because I’d like to study for a bit longer before narrowing it down, particularly so that I can ascertain my professional fortes and what I can truly see myself doing for the rest of my life. My major, Global Studies, does not really prepare you for a specific career so much as it confers a wide body of knowledge. After I graduate next year I’d like to pursue a master’s degree in France to improve my languages and gain a more acute knowledge of intercultural relations. Somehow all the professional work I’ve done so far has always related to working with kids, and I’d like to continue with that one way or another, as well as find a way to use my lingual skills. So drawing from that, I think my dream job would be teaching languages or managing childcare at a refugee center.
What steps do you think we can take to make poetry more popular?
I don’t necessarily perceive a need to popularize poetry. It transcends superficial trend, and I hesitate to say that we should try to elevate its standing to any sort of cultural deity. Poetry will be found and read by those who have need of it.
What are some of your early writing influences? People/writers/environment, etc.
When I was little my mother would read aloud to my brothers and I almost every night, and that absolutely enchanted me. She gave every character a different voice and put so much verve into every page, that I used to lay there enraptured by the sense that words were coming to life, and how freaking cool it was that someone could evoke such thrill within a reader they’ve never met. That drew me towards literature from a very young age, and I’m immensely thankful for that.
Where have you traveled to?
So far the only country I’ve seen outside of the US is France, though I hope to experience a myriad of cities and nations before finishing my studies here. I don’t know if it counts much as travel, but moving to Austin, Texas and the atmosphere I found there had a fantastic, profound influence on my writing. It was the first time I was completely on my own, which was at once terrifying and empowering, and certainly a formative time that conferred the confidence that I needed to find myself here.