Thursday, March 13, 2008

How NOT to Interview

Excerpts are taken from Dan Schneider’s interview of Phillip Lopate, published on-line at

1. State that you haven’t read the author’s novels and accuse him of ill intent.

Quote: “You have written two novels: Confessions of Summer (1979) and The Rug Merchant (1987). I’ve not read them. What were they about, and were they well received? Did you simply see them as being written to get an “in” to the publishing world, and once done, you left the form behind?”

2. State that the author is not very good at writing, and base this on the one poem you found on-line.

Quote: “You wrote two poetry collections, The Eyes Don’t Always Want to Stay Open (1972) and The Daily Round (1976). Yet, nothing more in three decades plus. As with fiction, was this a form you simply did not master, so dropped it? I could find only one poem of yours online and it was not a good one.”

3. Criticize other writers, although it is irrelevant to the interview.

Quote: “Then there is Toni Morrison. She’s a writer with talent, but her novels become unstructured messes, and her winning the Nobel Prize was just PC.”

4. Assert that creative writing programs are corrupt and insinuate that the author, as a writing instructor, is part of this system.

Quote: “I’ve met, literally, thousands of talentless people who are wannabe writers, but not only do they lack talent, but they regard themselves in low esteem because they were suckered into programs they thought could turn them into Emily Dickinson or Norman Mailer. Have you ever felt like you were part of a corrupt system?”

5. Make long-winded speeches and arrogant comments.

Quote: “the failure of ‘published’ literature today lies more with the failings of publishers, editors, and critics to do their jobs well, more so than with the bad and generic writers who are published. My point is that bad writers have always been with us, but the cronyism, favoritism, and grants-giving NEA cash cow has led to a system of writers and editors who dare not say negative things about another writer’s work lest they find their own publication chances minimized, if not extirpated. Do you agree?”

Quote: “This leads to bad art being championed—such as the horrid poetry of a Charles Bukowski or even Pulitzer Prize winners like James Tate, or Poet Laureate Donald Hall being alibied for. It also leads to the monochrome or drip paintings of Abstract Expressionists being hailed as comparable to the works of a Goya or Rembrandt. Ultimately, this leads to young wannabe artists saying, ‘I can do crap like that in my sleep, so I must have real talent, too,’ and a downward spiral of art being created. Do you see this trend, as well?”

6. Make generalizations about critics and the literary community and then expect the author to respond to this diatribe.

Quote: “Why do almost all critics and wannabe artists today find it impossible to distance themselves from emotion-based subjectivity and towards intellectual objectivity? Is it merely self-interest because of the fellatric way the publication world is set up?”

7. Be nonsensical.

Quote: “another noxious claim is that ‘all art is political.’ Aside from its logical absurdity, one can substitute the words ‘about poodles’ for ‘political,’ and the statement is just as true, or absurd. If one does not deal with politics in one’s story, poem or painting, then one is actually making a statement about the condition of poodles in the cosmos by ignoring their plight. No?”

8. Ask the author to label other authors as the “the worst”.

Quote: “Who are some of the worst published writers, as well as the worst filmmakers, around today?”

9. Suggest that the many years someone has spent teaching was a form of “penance”.

Quote: “You spent many years teaching in the public school system of New York—which many of your essays document. Was that a sort of penance for the writing mills? Or did you feel that the earlier you could reach potential artists the easier it would be to encourage the truly talented, and weed out the kids who would waste their lives and become the embittered drifters that I’ve seen at too many cafes and bars that host open mics?”

10. Coin a neologism and then ask the author to comment on it.

Quote: “In that same vein, about the dumbing down of America, in general, and literarily, in specific, I coined a neologism—deliterate, in opposition to illiterate. By deliterate I mean the willful choice to not read great nor compelling writing. To avoid the classics in favor of reading blogs. To write emailese rather than proper grammar. Basically, I claim that deliteracy is far more a problem than illiteracy is. Do you think such a distinction is merited? Have you seen such in your years as a teacher?”