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10 Questions for Peter Krumbach

Would you like a cigarette? I'd prefer Talking Mule, 1979 Burgundy. Texture and hie of Bethlehem rust. Notes of must, slate, and pre-coital rouge when tongued to the roof of the mouth. Bold finish, lingering up to seventeen seconds, diminishing to uvular frog. 3.5 stars.
— from "Police Interrogation of Food Critic B.W. Ball," Volume 61, Issue 1 (Spring 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The very first is the one I can’t remember. My grandmother taught me how to read and write when I was about 5. That, along with the fact I was the only child, led to creating imaginary characters who’d find their way out of my head onto the page. The first piece I do remember was an assignment in 3rd or 4th grade to describe a friend. Although I had real friends, I chose to conceive a fictional one, a girl who flew in from Tibet and whom I was meeting at the airport. I still recall the sensation of floating, as more and more fantastical details kept pouring out. I wrote and wrote, lifted into a land where everything was allowed. The next day the teacher asked me from what book had I transcribed this weird text. When I said I’d written it myself, she didn’t believe me. I remember feeling both sad and excited…

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Difficult to tell. There are hundreds of poets, essayists, novelists, journalists, playwrights, comedians, and artists of all stripes who’ve given me tremendous joy. I don’t think I know which one of them influenced me the most. Perhaps it would be more apparent to an outside examiner. I do think the aspect that appeals to me is what could be described as ‘playfulness.’ My favorite authors find it even in the grimmest scenarios, either through unexpected observation (similes, metaphors), misdirection, convention subversion, and other literary disobedience. When I look at the books stacked all over the house, it hurts to reduce the names to only a handful - Mark Strand, Jamaica Kincaid, Russell Edson, Derek Wolcott, Lydia Davis, James Tate, Vijay Seshadri, Victoria Chang, Paul Violi, Charles Simic, Mary Gaitskill, Thomas Lux, Donald Barthelme…

What other professions have you worked in?
Photographer, truck driver, museum docent, painter, messenger, landscaper, volatility trader, translator, card-counter, broadcaster…

What did you want to be when you were young?
An 18th century seafarer, possibly a pirate (I grew up in a landlocked country – Czechoslovakia - and read Robert Louis Stevenson). This is curious—as I grew older, I strived to be and do more and more things. I can’t quite recall the point where it reversed, and I began wanting to do less and less. Maybe when I painted. I always admired the beauty of the huge, clean, freshly stretched canvas. I’d stand in front of it with my knives and paint, thinking: “There’s no way I can improve on this.”

What inspired you to write this piece?
It began with a dream that could have been informed (and then warped) by the horrific and the banal that pummel us on daily basis. I try, with various degrees of success, to follow the logic of the unconscious. One of the rewards in the process of creating, at least for me, is to see the reader finding their own interpretations, all of which are correct. Who was it that said, "To explain a poem is to tell it again, only worse"?

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
The best music for writing is silence. However, before I sit down to write, I often put on jazz or baroque music, depending on the mood. Miles Davis, Tomaso Albinoni, Gerry Mulligan, Georg Philipp Telemann, Hank Mobley. You get the picture…

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Typically, I draft new ideas in the morning and edit late at night. The more tired I get, the more clearly I see the flaws. Also, there’s this strange thing—although I love the writing process, I suspect that I fear it, too. Why else would I delay it on so many occasions, finding excuses not to start? The best motivator for me is a deadline. Tomorrow is an editing session with a fellow writer and I’m supposed to bring five new pieces, this journal closes their submission window in four hours, I promised to send a friend a revised version before they leave town.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Once every two weeks or so, I head to the local El Pollo Loco to meet my friend, a wonderful poet, Michael Mark. I bring a sheaf of my first drafts and he brings his. For a few hours we gripe about our respective circumstances, then edit and critique each other’s work. We’ve been doing this for several years. Another reader I trust is Ron Salisbury who, I’m happy to say, has been named Poet Laureate of San Diego a few weeks ago. He’s been publishing and teaching poetry for decades. And then there’s Alison Lanzetta, a fabulous writer whose voice alone allows me to levitate.

What are you working on currently?
I’ve been continuously revising, reshuffling, and sending out my first full-length manuscript. As I understand it, each of these book competitions receive 500 – 1,500 entries and only the winner gets published. Do I like my odds? It’s better than lottery, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

What are you reading right now?
Books on my kitchen table today: Spellbound by Sara Miller, The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Heaven and Earth by Albert Goldbarth, Falling Awake by Alice Oswald, Singular Pleasures by Harry Mathews, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, You Never Know by Ron Padgett, The Most of It by Mary Ruefle, How to Tell If You Are Human by Jessy Randall, Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras.

Books on my nightstand: The Miner’s Pale Children by W. S. Merwin, Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte, Bender by Dean Young, A Year with Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky.


PETER KRUMBACH was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, but has spent most of his life in the U.S. His writing has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Copper Nickel, Michigan Quarterly Review, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. He lives in California.

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