Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Midwestern Irish Comedian Explains Humor, Time, and Space: An Interview with Michael Poore

Janine Harrison
When you descend the staircase into his "man cave," you'll likely note the collage of cartoons hanging on the wall before his desk first. Cartoons of John Scratch from his debut novel, Up Jumps the Devil. Cartoons of his wife, his step-daughter, his pistol-sporting grandmama sitting upright in bed. Once a cartoonist for the Ohio University Post, Michael Poore has drawn these images himself. On the adjacent wall, you will see unlikely characters who've been demonized--literally, eyes whitened, horns added--figures ranging from Albert Einstein to the Brady family's faithful maid, Alice. His past Twitter profile pictures. On a bookcase shelf on yet a third wall, you'll observe a stack of overdue videos (much to his wife's chagrin and, oh, by the way, I am she) on topics as diverse as the history of the U.S. space program to noodling. You have now entered his writing world.
My husband's fiction is reputed for its humor. I decided to ask him not only about its use but about other modes that dominate his literary landscape.
Q: You have been referred to as a "humorist." Please discuss your use of humor in writing.
The Midwestern Irish are a peevish and intemperate lot. We're born smartasses.
Then consider our subject matter: Earth in the 21st century. I mean, if you peek out your front door and cast a clear eye on your own neighbors and buses and text messages and cats with Facebook pages and those huge machines that suck up leaves and the way people wear pants and work puzzles, doesn't it make you want to slam the door, pull down the shades, and sit in the corner giggling to yourself, "My's all just a big sick joke."
This has been the Irish perspective--an outside-in perspective--for centuries. The world gives us absurdities, and we take that as a challenge. The world gave us priests, we responded with faeries. The world gave us Germans, we answered with Joyce. Computers came along; we exported the wolfhound, a greate and fantastickal beest.
I'm serious. A straight approach to anything requires consistency...and I can't seem to find that pulse. I'm a big fan of Pinterest because of the elaborate and inconsistent portrait it paints, re: its many creators. It's a kraken of braids and threads of commercial interest. Baking, books, LOTS of wine and sexual imagery, church stuff, witchcraft, hats, caves and woods and dark stars and cow embryos...if this is what our psychology looks like, what response is more appropriate or searching than comedy? In Tagalog, in fact, the word for "comic" and the word for "underworld" are the same (I made that up, but it's still sort of true).
Q: Please discuss your dual fascination with time and space. How do you feel that these elements interact within literary and genre texts?
I am most interested in what I'm writing when I'm dealing with time. What fascinates me most is the way time gets away from us in tiny hour, a day, then ten years. How our lives divide into chapters, and how we become different people, and step into and out of roles and ages.
I'm especially drawn to the idea that parts of our past become distant enough that they are like foreign countries, populated by people and situations that have unraveled. I think that's the history teacher in me...I see our lives as histories, with battles and art forms, inventions and treaties, dark ages, a Renaissance if we're lucky, or a long and delicious decay. Our childhood becomes our personal mythology, our memories become a cosmology that collapses on itself.
My favorite stories span years and years, and my favorite device, the truest device, I think, is the story-within-a-story. That draws on the literary side of my palette, I suppose. It's character-driven. On the other hand, you can't very well write a fifty-year span of time without having a lot of things happen (a story, to semi-quote Michael Martone, is a bunch of stuff that happens), and that lends itself to plot. Which people like to classify as "genre."
The trouble is, with so much time, in that kind of story, you wind up with a lot of...ordinary plot. And that can be tedious. Which is where that Irish comic fascination with the absurd and the grotesque come in. Like the character in Shadow of the Vampire who plays an actor playing Dracula: the character has invited Jonathan Harker to come to Transylvania and sell him property in London so he can move there and drink English blood, and he is distraught over how to provide for his guest. He speaks with sadness and uncertainty about how to go to market and select cheeses or when to have the bedding changed...mundanities which become gripping and exquisitely human because they are being fearfully discussed by a man who hasn't been human for four hundred years. Here's this dark creature, terrified by the prospect of, you know, shopping. And at the end of this speech, you're thinking, "Damn, man...having guests is dangerous!"
I think this kind of lens attracts readers, even literary readers, in this day and age. Rather than reading from a "normal" perspective looking out at the grotesque, we identify more personally with monsters. Looking, as monsters must, from the outside in. And I would argue that our racing media culture has made us a world of outsiders. Our screen names and avatars inhabit a dreamworld on the other side of a looking-glass where we can never actually go. That's an absurd and grotesque reality, and it favors grotesque fictions.
That's why my characters tend to be people like the Devil, or a man who is always getting struck by lightning, or ghosts or taxi drivers faking their deaths. These are comic situations, and their heroes are outsiders. Horror and eternity are easier to come to grips with than the ordinary absurdity of our real, daily 21st century lives. So that's where we begin as a writer. Start with some kind of Frankenstein...and have him slouch toward Walgreens with his secret hungers and his debit card.

No comments:

Post a Comment