nyc, 1993

INTERVIEWER

I wish your daughter could read your poetry. But with titles like “Neighborly Cum,” you’ve presumably guaranteed that she won’t be allowed, either by yourself or her tutors. And when she does find your work, chances are, she’ll be disturbed forever. I have to ask: Why do you all but ensure that at some point in her life, your daughter will be disturbed?

DERRICK RAPEWONE

I’m not the one ensuring that she’ll be disturbed. Old Barry Life-Truths is the one who makes sure of that. If it’s not “Neighborly Cum,” it’s Return to Oz (1985, Walter Murch, dir.) at a friend’s house—or any number of other horrors one can’t slide through life without being forcibly pressed up against them for longish periods of time.

INTERVIEWER

But why add to the horror by writing a poem like “Neighborly Cum”?

DERRICK RAPEWONE

I’m not making myself understood. I’m not adding to the horror. This is like asking why I’m adding to the flood by dipping my bucket into the angry, swollen creek and reserving that water for tonight’s broths, sipped in misery among the bloated, flood-ravaged corpses of our friends. The water is there, whether it’s in the creek with the dead catfish or if it’s in my tureen—with the dead catfish. [Smiles, awkwardly adjusts his pants, smiles again, grabs a full fistful of the wasabi peas on the table between them. He has small hands.] I’m not inventing the water, and I’m not conjuring it. I’m carrying it.

INTERVIEWER

But you could leave it in the creek. You don’t need to fetch it. Let it pass on.

DERRICK RAPEWONE

You describe the water as something in transit — just passing through our encampment, on its way to nobler fates — a job at a university, maybe, or a self-employment that manages to fuse social justice with a “hip” cultural engagement? Or just broader diffusion into the ocean, for example. Sure. But as it rushes west, the water is also quite a static thing. The creek is there—sometimes swollen, sometimes “normal,” now and then quite meager—but it’s there year-round. Just like your arms, or your thighs—sometimes swollen, sometimes meager, always present. [Derrick, looking away from the interviewer’s thighs, thinks about them.]

INTERVIEWER

Your work often mentions self-loathing, and something you call “fake self-loathing.” Do you really hate yourself?

DERRICK RAPEWONE

Well, yes, I do, but this isn’t really why I use those words. I think of self-loathing as an artistic tool, a raw material — it’s a particular brand and color of paint that I buy in quantity, and use in my compositions. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a subject of mine, no more than you could accuse a painter of using “brown” or “blue” as her subject.

[Originally published in Fake Paris Review, Issue 2, Spring 1994]

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