Ben Fama is a NYC poet with past lives in many modes. Among his many endeavors it is rumored he has indulged in: street car racing by the ocean, fostering anarchy in the mountains of Virginia, and building literary communities in NYC. Delighting in ephemera, cosmic wandering, and electronically diffuse identity struggles, he has developed a necessary and ambitious series of literary investigations into contemporary culture and internet-age mysticism. He is the creator of the Supermachine reading series in NYC (and its precursor, the Supermachine zine in VA). He is the author of Sun Comes, Aquarius Rising, and New Waves. His newest project, currently awaiting release, is titled Mall Witch. In this brief interview Fama discusses magic, Brian Eno, and Tumblr. Max Brooks, a reader for the minnesota review, conducted the following interview.
Max Brooks: Magic frequently appears in your work. Do you relate more to the magician or the audience member called up on stage? Are you making magic or are you watching it happen?
Ben Fama: I feel like the audience member, but the one hoping not to be called when PT Barnum is scanning the crowd. Magic for me, and the possibility of seeing the future, really just stuck with me in Aquarius Rising and then in New Waves after that. It’s also been said that a poem can act as a spell. I’ve been turning it over in my head for about 8 years. Stan Brakhage said metaphors can change the future, and I believe they can, though those metaphors rarely come through Poetry. It’s usually other channels of speech—political ones or other modes of rhetoric.
Brooks: Your poems remind me of Tumblr. In your collection Aquarius Rising images, moments and slogan-like declarations are all collected side by side like in a collage; there are pieces of time and people often without much context. Also, there is a moodiness and loneliness that seems popular on tumblr. How do you relate to Tumblr?
Fama: I love tumblr. I have a tumblr sticker on my refrigerator and I have been to tumblr hq. I think it’s really an avant garde mode of expression, and that what’s happening there is indicative of greater abilities of expression, where the primordial slime of art is coming from smart phones and computers, rather than studios, and from younger kids rather than degreed MFA artists used to critiques. I’m into the ‘connect and forget’ bliss that happens IRL in more liberated situations (ie the dinner party), and online when surfing around, and the effect that it can have as represented in text is something I go for.
Brooks: Many of your sentiments and favored images seem informed by mystical, even ancient, elements. What is mystical in your life?
Fama: The mystical is that which stands apart from a reality that constantly unveils itself. But also, the mystical “I” is that which stands apart from a reality that constantly unveils itself. I like the second part better, because it is the “I” of poetry.
Brooks: When we first met we talked a lot about Brian Eno. How has Brian Eno effected your life?
Fama: Thinking about his life’s work is in itself another life’s work. He taught me to get “beyond thinking” (Eno’s words). Do the ambient albums alleviate anxiety by removing them from the mind or filling the mind with something else? Does it just get in there and rub it a little bit?
Brooks: There’s a kind of dream logic patterning your poems in Aquarius Rising. Do you see the power of dreams as an aid for readers to help them understand how their own minds work? Or do dreams serve as an effort to get readers into a dreamier state? Do you want to seem dreamy?
Fama: I love spacing out. I mean really. I’m working this job that supplements all of my real life, my publishing and art life, and I get to spend a lot of time looking out of the manhattan patios and rooftops and even down past the hudson to the small tenements and steeples over beyond Jersey City.
Brooks: What destroys your poetry?
Fama: Netflix, oyster and champagne happy hours, reading better poetry.
Brooks: You have been working on projects in NYC for sometime now, from your Super Machine reading series to your recent group project Mall Witch. Is there a well-connected community of writers you work with? Do you see yourself within a community with any centralized writing efforts?
Fama: The writing community in New York is really strong and supportive. After being here for only five years I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Well maybe Los Angeles.
Pieces of Ben Fama’s work and interviews with him can be found at:
Max Brooks paints nothing professionally, partakes of the highest quality macaroni, and writes like a young Tom Clancy.