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Interview: Karl Koweski Speaks With Gabriel Ricard

Kleft Jaw: Define your existence in one paragraph.
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Gabriel Ricard: A ho-hum mental patient, who has led a very charmed life for the most part. That was the first thing that popped into my head, so that’s what we’re sticking with. You could probably expand on that thought to some degree, but I’m trying to remember the “less is more” adage, as I get older.

KJ: Who is your favorite 80′s era wrestler if you were forced to discount Koko B Ware? If you were a wrestler what would your finishing move be called?

GR: It would probably be Ric Flair, although Roddy Piper and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine are right up there, too. And I won’t pretend I wasn’t, and probably remain, a Hulkamaniac. But even now, if I want to watch the absolute best in-ring work that has ever existed in my lifetime, I’m going to watch the Flair-Steamboat matches from 1989. No one in wrestling history was better in the ring, better on the stick, and just better at every single component that makes an icon in that business, than Ric Flair was in 1989.

KJ: The character Gabriel ain’t worth two shits in The Walking Dead. If you found yourself neck deep in the fucking zombie apocalypse, what sort of skills would you bring to the table?

GR: I saw the first season ages ago, and then I decided that I was just too burnt out on zombie bullshit to want to keep going. I know a ton of people who love it, and I always kind of feel like I’m clearly missing out on something. But I wound up finishing the first season with a strong dislike for virtually every single character.

At any rate, in a fucking zombie apocalypse, I would probably bring my minimally exceptional fucking skills to the table. In a regular zombie apocalypse, I would bring a drinking problem, zero issues with killing zombie children, and a quick death, which would be ideal, in terms of having one less person using up resources.

KJ: Jeb Bush invites you to read at his presidential inauguration. What poem do you read and why?

GR: I would probably just steal selections from Jewel’s poetry book, claim them as my own, and brace myself for a long night, spent holding a sobbing Jeb in the shower.

KJ: There are three thousand collections of poetry sitting before me, what do you feel differentiates Clouds of Hungry Dogs from every other volume?

GR: I probably have half of those on my desk, too. I am forever open to novels, short story collections, or poetry collections to review for Drunk Monkeys. We also have a fantastic book critic named Brad Sides working for us. But I’ve been writing fiction, poetry, and scripts since I was 12. That’s where my true interest ultimately always go. Reviews and essays are fun, but I like telling stories.

And I think Clouds of Hungry Dogs stands out because it’s a poetry collection, but it’s also a collection of stories that are very different from one another. I look at Clouds as a single universe, and I think of all the poems as stories and personalities that exist within that universe. It’s kind of like one of those Robert Altman films with a huge cast, and tons of stories bumping into each other. It’s like Short Cuts, or even Nashville. I love how well each poem stands on its own, but I really get a kick out of thinking of the book as a series of stories that create a larger narrative.

In that capacity, in those terms, I don’t think you’re going to read anything as interesting as Clouds of Hungry Dogs.

KJ: What is your writing process like? Who are your influences? Who are definitely not your influences?

GR: My writing process involves a lot of complaining, and occasionally putting things off until the absolute last moment. I tend to work throughout the day, from around 9 AM to 10 or 11 PM, and because of the freelance writing I do for money, I tend to juggle four or five things at once.

For example, if you kicked down my front door right now, marched into the room, and screamed at me to tell you what I was up to, I would have a few different projects to discuss. I’m answering these interview questions, dealing with some Drunk Monkeys business, watching Inherent Vice for a review that will be on the Kleft Jaw blog, working on a new poem, and writing an entry for a journal I’ve been keeping for the past fifteen years. I really don’t recommend this process for everyone. It turns on me sometimes, and it is probably the biggest reason why I suffer from burnout so much these days. But I just can’t focus on the one thing. I have never been very good at that, and barring some sort of newfound, near-future medication love affair, I never will be very good at that.

Bukowski is not the influence people seem to think he would be for me. I love the man’s work, particularly his novels, but the only reason why I discovered him at all was because people kept reading my stories and poems, and telling me that I must be a huge Bukowski fan. I had the same problem with Kerouac. Honestly, my biggest influences are in music, and in people like Dorothy Parker and Anne Sexton. Kerouac and Bukowski are guys whose work I really admire, but my influences are sometimes very far removed from what I actually write. I’m not sure if that makes sense.

KJ: To the person who reads your poetry collection, what would you like to see the reader take away from your volume of work?

GR: Well, I’d probably like it if they were someone who ran a publishing house, and walked away from Clouds with an interest in publishing another book.

Past that, I hope they’ll maybe have a little more empathy for the people around them. I’m a big fan of character-driven work, and that is definitely reflected in Clouds of Hungry Dogs, in the movies and albums I love, and in the stories, poems, and novels I’ve written. I am fascinated with people, and even in my most intensely introverted moments, I’m interested in how they’re getting by, what they’re doing. I’ve always believed that asking those questions in a non-confrontational sort of way is good for maintaining empathy, and for remembering that everyone you meet during the day has their own story, even if you are the star in the cast of the story of your own life. I’m not trying to attach some noble sense of purpose to Clouds. I’m just personally drawn to books that make me aware of the other people on the subway train, so to speak. And I suppose I want to accomplish that impression with this collection.

KJ: How much does cinema affect your literary endeavors?

GR: Probably more than it should. I’ve had more than a couple of people tell me that my poems, short stories, and novels occasionally read like they were written by a frustrated screenwriter. I’m sure that has never been a compliment, but I like to pretend that it is.

I’ve written stage scripts, as well as a bunch of screenplays over the years. Only one stage play has ever been produced, a few times actually. I think I wanted to be a filmmaker, long before I decided when I was twelve that I wanted to write for a living. Things didn’t work out that way, although I get to act sometimes, so that’s nice.

Film is one of the most consistently positive things in my life, even after I’ve seen three or four really disappointing movies in a row. In the same way that I often try to replicate the mood or ideas that music gives me in my own work, great movies often give me a lot of ideas to try and run with. And those ideas are not about writing the same thing. It’s this need to understand why I’m responding to a certain movie so strongly, and then publishing my findings in a poem or short story.

I also kind of like the challenge of taking some strong imagery from a movie, and trying to create my own interpretation of that imagery, which comes complete with its own visuals, in something I’ve decided to write.

KJ: What are your goals in this life? What direction would you like to see your next life go into?
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GR: Goals are easy to come by. No one is ever going to accuse me of lacking ambition. The problem is more about finding the time/energy/discipline to do something with that ambition.

Right now, I’d like to keep things going with Drunk Monkeys, Kleft Jaw, and Cultured Vultures. I’d love to not only see my book sell really well through KJ Press, but everything else offered through their bookstore, as well. I’d like to get my novel Bondage Night at Darling Carla’s ready for publication through KJ Press in early 2016. I definitely want to do more readings, get a radio show going through the network we’re going to set up at Kleft Jaw, and find some time to do more acting.

That’s the next several months, as far as I can think. It would be nice to get back to the new novel I started writing in early 2014. I would love to mount a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which has been a dream project of mine for ages.

I’m trying to get better at not going too far into the future with things. Doing so is where a good portion of my anxiety comes from. I don’t even want to imagine how I would manage my time in the next life. I feel like I have way too much to do, even in the moment I’m saying this.

KJ: Tell us about your small press commitments.

GR: I run the Film Department at Drunk Monkeys. We do neat things like host a film club, in which people can join us on Twitter to watch something on Netflix. We also do a Fact or Fiction column, where everyone on the Film Department staff kicks in with a “fact” or “fiction” answer to a statement about film (like “The Godfather is underrated”). I’ve been with Drunk Monkeys for over two years now. I love it. I’m so grateful to Matthew Guerruckey for everything he does as founder and editor. I owe a goodly portion of the fortunes and opportunities I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years to Drunk Monkeys.

As far as Cultured Vultures go, they just recently picked one of the poems that is in Clouds of Hungry Dogs for their Poem of the Week selection. I don’t do a ton of stuff over there. It’s mostly just writing news stories. I really dig the cut of their jib though. They’re putting out a ton of really great material on pop culture, and they’re starting to build up a pretty formidable library of fiction and poetry.

And then of course, there’s Kleft Jaw. Frankie Met and I have this weird connection, in that we both worked for Jonathan Penton and Unlikely Stories at different points in time. I was briefly working with Frankie at Red Fez, and then he left to start Kleft Jaw with Dustin Holland. Kleft Jaw published my work in every issue, and then I think he invited me to join the staff with issue five. I suppose that was about a year ago.

And Kleft Jaw is everything I ever wanted in a literary magazine. Between the radio show, the books we release through our publishing press, and the magazine we put out on a fairly consistent basis, you’re looking at some of the most creative, passionate writers in the world. I am so fucking proud to be part of that. I am so proud that Clouds of Hungry Dogs is coming out through their imprint.

Purchase both Gabriel’s and Karl’s books here. Remember to include both items in your cart, and to use the “kockcloud” promo code while checking out. The code will get you both books for the price of one!

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