My Friend Is a Poet and I Didn't Even Know It
A few months ago, my buddy Dan Boehl handed me a novel for young adults that he'd written titled Naomi and the Horse-Flavored T-Shirt. After reading it, I checked out his website and realized that he has three additional books of poetry in print, is in the process of writing a new novel called Fire Twins that he's releasing for free online, and co-owns an independent poetry press called Birds, LLC. I was impressed by this list of accomplishments because most of the dudes I hang out with cite "not drinking for a couple of days in a row" as their biggest life victory. I wanted to interview Dan because I think he's a beautiful example of somebody who is actively making things happen in his creative life instead of sitting around waiting for somebody else to do the groundwork on his behalf.
I spoke with Dan at his house/writing studio and shot some photos to accompany the interview. I thought you'd enjoy that more than looking at blank internet. If I'm wrong, I don't care.
VICE: What was the motivation for starting your own independent poetry press? Was there a certain void in the market you guys were trying to fill?
Dan Boehl: A couple of things came together for Birds, LLC to start. First, a bunch of independent poetry publishers started popping up, putting out full-length books and chapbooks, which are like zines. They set a nice example for my partners and I.
Second, my partners and I were trying to get our books published, and it wasn't really happening. Our books got close to winning contests, but to win most contests (which was how most books used to come out), a book would have to beat out, like, 300 others to win, and if it was a university-press contest, the book would have to be pretty boring, something a committee of POETS would want to put out.
But if the book was just tame enough to win a poetry contest, the press would slap a committee-designed cover on the book (one of my friend's books has a Jesus fish on it, against his will), print it, and not do any marketing.
So my partners and I decided to put out books we loved. We work very closely with poets to make their work the best it can be, design the books so they look cool (something the poets would be proud to have their names on), then market the hell out of them.
My book, Kings of the F**king Sea, is about human traffickers, and the book Partyknife, by Dan Magers, is about the lead singer of a band who does cocaine so he can exercise harder. No university press is going to put these kinds of books out. Birds, LLC does.
People are reading our books. So far, our experiment is working.
How many people are actively involved with Birds, LLC? Do you ever go to battle with one another? What are the challenges involved with running a company with your friends?
We started with five editors: me, Justin Marks, Matt Rasmussen, Sampson Starkweather, and Chris Tonelli. The editors all went to college or grad school with each other, but not all of us went to the same places at the same time. We also have four interns who help a ton.
The editors fight all the time, but we live in four different cities, so when we do fight, it's mostly through shitty emails to each other. And bathroom humor. And dude-on-dude humiliation humor. Insert penis emoticon here.
The biggest challenge to running a company with friends is real life. If somebody has a kid, gets hit by a car, breaks up with a special lady friend, or needs to find a new job, all the Birds business goes out the window, and the other guys have to shoulder more work.
The cool thing about running a company with friends is drinking beers during marketing meetings and celebrating after a triumph. And all the money. Poetry publishing is so full of money, you would not believe all the cars we drive.
Were there any self-serving goals in mind when starting Birds, LLC? I opened a gallery to show my own work, did you start a press to publish your own work?
Yeah, we were self-serving in that we wanted to publish our own books and those of our friends. Kings of the F**King Sea was very expensive to print and features full-color art by my friend Jonathan Marshall. No other press in the world would put out a book as good-looking as Kings of the F**king Sea.
I just finished editing the First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather. Sam wrote these four books during the course of ten years and without Birds, LLC, he would have sat on those books until four different publishers decided to put them out or until he died.
Instead, Birds put out Sam's gigantic, good-looking book that covers every emotion and scenario a human American man can imagine. Reading it is like watching Hulk Hogan lift Andre the Giant in WrestleMania 3, while playing indoor soccer and reading a Playboy all at the same time. In a poetic way.
Have you always been interested in poetry? Care to share the most embarrassing poem of your youth?
I always wanted to write. I wrote my first horror story when I was in sixth grade. It was about all my classmates getting bloodbathed in a hotel during a class ski trip (I have never been skiing). I didn't get into poetry until college when I got really into music.
Here's one of my poems from July 2000. It's pretty crap.
We can see lives behind their eyes
The walk and talk in a myriad lives:
The girls, they cry
The boys ask, “Why?”
And Time it flies.
Moving faster, the spirit dies.
Youthful melancholy becomes rage.
Soon, impotence comes from old age.
“So brave, so brave,”
The women rave
The men, they crave
Something beyond mundane,
And time drives them insane.
Youth is fleeting.
In the war of the sexes, no one retreating.
The women begin defeating.
Hearts stop that once were beating
For men they once were needing.
“The pain, the pain,” hearts are bleeding,
Mixed signals beyond all reading.
So, people together at the start
Time eventually drove apart.
You recently self-published a novel for young adults titled Naomi and the Horse-Flavored T-Shirt. Care to share any portions of that experience with somebody hoping to put out a book on their own? Pitfalls to avoid, etc.?
I put Naomi and the Horse-Flavored T-Shirt in print and on the Amazon Kindle. My advice: don't self-publish a young adult novel. There are too many gatekeepers in the way, keeping the book out of the hands of the kids. You have to go through parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents, crossing guards, peewee-football coaches, lawn sprinklers, and dog parks just to get a kid to read the book.
Some kids have read the book, though. I went to an Austin middle school to talk to a class that read it, and they all said they liked it. It was the best reading I’ve ever done. But the only reason those middle schoolers read the book was because I’m friends with their teacher. Otherwise, they would have never known the book existed.
Now I am writing an adult book called the Fire Twins about sexy witches in Pennsylvania who sell drugs in the year 2000. They fight meth-dealing vampires, and the whole thing devolves into an epic explosion during a kegger. I've been releasing it on the Kindle a hundred pages at a time, and in six months, 1500 people have read it.
My advice: write sexy books with vampires and explosions. That's what the kids are into these days.
Do all of the members of Birds, LLC have day jobs? Is there such a thing as a full-time poet?
All the editors have crippling, soul-sucking jobs, whenever we aren't unemployed. I raise money so Texans can go to college. The other guys have the jobs of banker, lawyer, shoemaker, sales exec. But not in that order. Also a bunch of them are poetic dads.
There are full-time poets. I've never met one of them. They wear suits and talk to presidents and talk show hosts.
Or they are college professors.
The best poet in the world right now is Anne Carson, and she rules so hard.
Do you anticipate Birds, LLC being a lifelong project?
Ask me after I get back from Paris.
Will you publish my book? It's about an aging skateboarder/artist coming to grips with the fact that he's probably never going to make enough money to retire... or even buy a nice pair of slacks.
Doesn't VICE have a print arm? If not, talk to me after I get back from Paris.
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