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Starving Artist Interview #6: Brandon Holmquest
February 23, 2010, 1:43 am
Filed under: interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

In MP3, Brandon Holmquest was interviewed about Calque, the translation journal he edits with Steve Dolph; he also generously contributed some translations of Nadaist Manifestos for the issue. His literary activities since include a translation of Manuel Maples Arce’s City: Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos forthcoming very soon from Ugly Duckling Presse; and a book of his own poems, The Sorrows of Young Worthless, right behind it on Truck Press. (And hey, hey, what’s that you say? Brandon will soon be joining us on this here blog.)

BEHOLD: Holmquest on hunger, theft, cigarettes.

Brandon Holmquest

If/when (now or in the past) you have used the term “starving artist”** in relation to yourself, how literal are we talking in terms of actual starving? What would you count as part of the territory that comes with being a “starving artist” and what would you disallow?

I myself have never used the term in a self-referential way. It has occasionally been put forth by someone else, usually in jest. This is one of those terms that don’t get used that much anymore, however accurate they may be, like “bohemian” for example. I have used the snooty, Joycean term “inanition aficionado” on at least one occasion, but again I was joking.

That said, we are talking about some actual starving. I was on what I called the one-meal-a-day plan for years. When I came to Philly the first time this morphed into the one-hoagie-a-day plan. I would eat one substantial thing in the middle of my nocturnal day, and supplement that with something like bread and olive oil as necessary.

None of this ever seemed like that big a deal to me, though. Having been homeless a couple times as a teenager, a whole hoagie everyday was material wealth to me. In the homeless days I used to cadge pizzas out of dumpsters and day-old donuts from delivery guys. Or just go hungry.

What would you say is your general level of starving as a starving artist? By that I mean, when you look around you, or think about starving artists in history, how would you place yourself in a kind of spectrum?

I wouldn’t place myself very high on the historical continuum, cause you’d have to be an idiot to starve to death in this country, an idiot or a suicidal germophobe. Khlebnikov died of hunger, so he’s a ten, and I suppose John Updike or some talentless New York hack like him would be a zero. I have known very few people who I’d classify as starving artists in my own life. The overwhelming majority, all but a handful of people, have had at least some money. I think a five might be as high as a contemporary American could even get, in the worst-case scenario.

What’s been your most profound moment as a starving artist in terms of suffering? Has this shaped how you view your art or how you view the world & humanity?

Oh, I don’t know…a couple of rather dark moments involving hallucinations, begging or theft jump out at me, but nothing that remarkable, really. As far as my views go, those have been so shaped by the overarching class system into which this all fits that I’d say it’s that class system that has shaped them, rather than any temporary symptom of said system, such as hunger. I try not to talk about this stuff in public because my friends always read it and think I’m talking about them, which I am, and get offended. I will say this: middle class people have a property line in their heads and God help you if you cross it.

What has been your most profound moment as an artist in terms of what you would consider success?

I like to give readings. There have been a few moments, while I was reading, when I was super-aware of having the undivided attention of the entire room and using that attention to good effect, rather than just liking to have it. Other than that, the various moments when I finished a given poem or group of poems and knew that I had done the thing well.

How much pride do you take in being a starving artist? Ultimately, do you think it’s worth it?

I take no pride in it whatsoever, anymore than a dog takes in being a dog. But, like a dog, I enjoy being what I am and hope to be it well. Yes it’s worth it, though I make a point of telling anyone who asks that, if they can do anything else (not if they want to, but if they are capable of it) then they should go and do that thing because sooner or later they will walk away from this in favor of that other thing and why waste time?

As a starving artist, do you enjoy NOT being part of mainstream America? Do you restrict your American cultural consumption calories, and if so how?

I’m in mainstream America every time I leave the house. I think that all the beautiful work that’s been made in this country has the most meaning when it’s included in a whole that also contains American Idol, the Vietnam/Iraq War, McCarthyism, etc. I limit my intake of mainstream culture only because so much of it is so dumb that it bores me. But I do dig things that are popular, such as The Wire and Mad Men, and I like to share people’s guilty pleasures with them from time to time.  

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your journey, or your future, specifically to other starving artists out there? Moneysaving and moneymaking tips especially welcome.

If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be working in a bread factory right now. I mean an actual bread factory, a specific one, where my grandfather and father worked. Or I’d have gone to war someplace. That’s what people do when they’re from where I’m from, so I’ve never compared this to a middle class life and found it lacking all kinds of comfort I “deserve.” I compare it, daily, to working class life in middle America and count myself so goddamn lucky that I’m doing this instead. As for tips, everyone should start smoking immediately, even the well-fed.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Love what he says about class, about the one-meal-a-day thing (been there myself). Love what he says about everything, basically. Yay. Especially Updike. Brandon, you’re my Starving Artist Hero.

Comment by Leeyanne

Well done my son. Stop smoking!!!!!!!!!! Love Momma

Comment by Lorie Smutzer




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