An Interview with Damian Rucci

Damian Rucci is an author from New Jersey. His latest book, The Former Lives of Saints, can be found on Amazon.

01. Tell us a bit about yourself. What drew you to poetry? How did you get your start? I’ve always been interested in writing prose but I took an interest in poetry when I was in my early teens. I was heavy into music and would always write lyrics for bands that never went anywhere. After I stopped playing music at 18, I ditched the lyrics and began to shift to poetry. The written word has always captured my heart and mind. The moment I learned how to read I knew I wanted to write books. Had two dreams as a young boy: be a New York Yankee or be an author, since I was too fat to do anything worthwhile in baseball— I’m beating on the keyboard. I got my start at the Gigantic Sequins Story Slam at the Stonewall Inn back in 2013. It was a story slam. I didn’t know what slam was, but I wrote a prose poem thing, took a train to New York City with my friend and won first place. It was my first time reading or performing anything that wasn’t music. I began to frequent a local open mic at a vegan bakery run by poet Chelsea Palermo, met some people, began to be booked for features, had one bad show and quit for two years. Wasn’t until 2015 that I came back around with fire in my belly.

02. How would you describe your work to a new reader or fan? Describing oneself is difficult. What I can say about my work is that it is different, abrasive with soul, curt with heart, and a little crazy.

03. Describe your writing process. What do you have to have to get you going? Is there a certain time of day that works? Is your desk flooded with papers or are you a neat freak? My life has been a whirlwind of chaos lately so I don’t even own a desk haha. I write when I can either on my laptop or on my phone. I carry a notepad to work with me in my back pocket and on break like to write longhand. Ideally, when things calm down I’d like to get a system. I envy the writers who can spend time at a desk. My life has been a roller coaster so I’m lucky if I can find a surface to lean on.

04. I know you have a couple of books out, which from what I've been able to read, have been phenomenal. What was the process like in putting them together? What frustrations (if any) did you have with the publishing process? Thanks man. Each book was different with different circumstances and each took different processes. In 2015, I met Charles Joseph, the editor of Indigent Press and came to him with thirty rough bad poems. I had written them during a period of addiction and self-destruction. After I was struck by a car and left that life behind, I couldn’t walk, so Charles and I would skype for hours working on poems. We talked about form, clean lines, and shaped the pile of drug poems into 12 poems musing on heartbreak and loss that became A Symphony of Crows. One of the poems that was meant to be in that chapbook was “Tweet” a satire of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The poem begins: Tweet For Miley Cyrus, I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook! It was a long and unwieldy poem (not as long as Howl, just three pages) but we struggled to shape it properly and canned it from Symphony. I read the poem at an open mic in the Highlands and received a standing ovation. I knew it had some stopping power. So I collected some of the new poems I was working on and compiled them into Tweet and Other Poems which was picked up by Kendall Bell’s Maverick Duck Press. Former Lives came out of the blue. I met Ezhno Martin in Kansas City at the Poetry Throwdown and we just clicked. Two East Coast dudes in middle America. He had just created EMP and wanted to publish a perfect bound book. He asked me to do a split, half my poems and half his. I said yeah. He helped me shape some of the poems and cut out excessive ars poetica. I’m proud of the book. I have my first full length of poetry being published this June and unlike my past three projects I am not rushing into it. I’m just writing lots of poems and seeing where they take me. 05. What are some of your favorite literary magazines to submit to? There are loads of great ones out there but some of my favorite are Indigent A La Carte, Philosophical Idiot, Eunoia Review, and Rising Phoenix Review.

06. How do you get the word out about your work? Do you find that open mics work better than social media? Social media has helped a lot. I just stay true to myself and people seem to react well to that. I don’t have a massive online following but it is growing steadily. Open mics were my bread and butter. I have performed well over three hundred times and have read in bookstores, coffee shops, basements, bars, drag restaurants, gay bars, colleges, and a couple dozen other non traditional venues. I don’t believe in waiting for the world to come to you. I think you need to hustle your ass off and bring your word to people. Not every poet wants to do readings but if you do, you have to work at it. I’ve sold every print run I’ve ever had by hand at shows. To me it’s been a whirlwind. I’m still learning each day.

07. As a poet publishing in the small press community, what would you like to see more out of small publishers? Any frustrations? Yeah for sure. Submission fees. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a submission fee for a contest if the loot is going to the pot but what is going on with all of these small press zines charging submission fees and not even paying in a contributor copy? I know it’s rough out there but charging the creator of the content FOR THE SLIM CHANCE of it being published is highway It’s maddening to watch these magazines preach diversity and do open calls for marginalized voices and then charge a submission fee. It’s a slap in the face. Many minorities are victims of this perilous economy, not to mention the entire working class who now can’t submit their poems. In a way, it kind of sounds like some sort of tactic to keep their pages middle class and white, but that couldn’t be it right? It isn’t the $3 or the $5. It’s the fact that to be successful by any measure you need to be submitting to many venues. If each charge $5 you’re bankrupting yourself for the chance someone may read your work and like it. I’ve heard the arguments about the cost of Submittable and web hosting and they fall short. It’s 2017, there are ways to bring in revenue without cannibalizing your own writers. And to the crowd that yells “it’s the same as the cost of postage” No it’s not. Have you sent a letter lately containing some paper? Doesn’t cost five dollars a letter. 08. Any advice to emerging authors? Write and read every single day. Don’t conform. Don’t buy in. Don’t get comfortable.

09. What's your most memorable performance? I have two. The first was June of this year when I was on the second leg of my tour promoting Former Lives and was reading at The Alley Cat in Buffalo NY with John Burroughs. It was a good old fashioned dive bar. The place was packed, the PA was broken, and the crowd was loud. So I knew I had no choice but to be reckless. I swung for the fences and got the bar down to silence as they watched me. One buffoon was being loud and drunk and I bitched him out, mid poem while his girlfriend Snapchatted the whole thing. Fun time. The second was the last Poetry in the Port in Keyport NJ. I had been hosting PITP for nearly two years and due to my plans of moving, I had to cancel it. The show had grown from six people to packed houses. People showed up hours before our readings just to kick it. It was beautiful. The final Poetry in the Port was October 19th. We had 20 features and over 170 people came out to this tiny coffee house Espresso Joes. People spilled down the sidewalks into the streets. Everyone was so fierce and amazing. It was a five hour show and a proper send off to a firestorm or a poetry reading. 10. What is poetry to you? My life.

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