Thursday, November 29, 2012

Meet Thomas L. Vaultonburg, Poet

Thomas L. Vaultonburg founded Zombie Logic Press in 1997. He has published four volumes of poetry, Concave Buddha (1991), Detached Retinas (1997), Flesh Wounds (2011), and Submerged Structure (2012). His poems have appeared in over 200 publications and anthologies, including Exquisite Corpse, Caliban, and The Paris Review. His latest project is a children's book titled The Toughskin Rhinoceros Wrangler Company, co-created with artist Jenny Mathews.

1. What motivated you to start Zombie Logic Press?

When I first started publishing poetry in 1989, there was a vibrant small press scene with hundreds of different zines, and it was a snap to get your poetry published, but the internet virtually ended the small press movement. Also, the best one could really hope for at that time was to publish a string of chapbooks. There was no digital publishing, and full-length books were not the norm. By 1997 it was difficult to find interesting places to publish, and since publishing a chapbook was almost never a money-making proposition, I decided forever after to just go ahead and publish my own work. That way I had total control over the content, design, and distribution of my work. And that's why I formed Zombie Logic Press in 1997. Of course now it's a million times easier to publish a book, but back then it was still somewhat of an effort.

2. What topics most intrigue you as a poet?

I almost never take on the eternal questions like truth, justice, or beauty. I'm a big fan of poets like Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski, and I learned from their writing that sometimes the best you can do as a poet is capture one simple moment in life, and then not try to take it all that seriously. Generally I have no conscious editorial process as to what I will or will not write about because almost every poem I have ever written has come to me fully written in a flash, and I have no idea where it came from or why.

3. How has being a lifelong resident of Rockford, Illinois influenced your work?

I posted this question on Facebook to see how my friends who are artists and also lifelong residents of Rockford would approach this question because in general Rockford is made a laughingstock in the national press as evidenced by being rated Money Magazine's Worst City in America and being labeled the 9th most dangerous and 4th fattest city in America. But I live three blocks from the hospital I was born in and having that type of long view on a place allows me as a writer to really see how things either change or don't change over time. I like Rockford. Not just because I want to be contrarian about it, but I legitimately like downtown where I live on the busiest street in town, surrounded by other artists, writers, and filmmakers who do their best to create in a place that doesn't seem suited to that task at all. I'd like to think Rockford, of all places, needs what we do, whereas if I moved to Chicago I'd just be one of hundreds like me. I really had to sleep on this question because there is also a simultaneous impulse to be bitter or negative because Rockford is a place where you can find all the negative you want, but I don't find that adding shade to shade is particularly productive in a place like this.

4. What were the main differences between writing your latest book--a children's book--and writing your previous books of poetry?

The main difference is compression of language. As a poet I always feel pressured to really condense a moment or an emotion into as few characters as possible, which is why I don't find the current social media model of 140 characters distressing. But when I write for children, I don't feel if I go overboard a little bit they'll lose interest because children don't read editorially: all they want is to be entertained. Poetry is said to be the hardest form because even a small mistake can mar a poem, and serious readers and editors of poetry will immediately spot that mistake or misstep and tune out. That's enormously stressful when one is trying to write a poem. Children won't tune you out if you don't adhere to to the rules, so you can go ahead and break the rules. The only rule is just be fun. I like that.

5. How long have you been creating Tiny Drawing Poems, and how do you personally experience the connection between poetry and visual art?

Almost not at all. I'm not a visual person, I have no spatial intelligence, and I can't even draw a stick figure, which is why getting the chance to work with an artist like Jenny Mathews of Tiny Drawings is such a blessing. She draws and I write. I'm not sure where and when I got the idea or why I didn't get it before, but one day I said why not combine the two, and we realized independently in our work we had themes that went well together. And since then it's been a blast because she can literally draw anything, and I have fun challenging her to draw something ridiculous like a grown man in a bird's nest and fifteen minutes later there's the drawing. I'm amazed by that.

Thanks, Thomas!

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