When putting out a new book, I make a “media kit” to send out to book reviewers. I don’t know exactly what’s supposed to go into one of those things, but I usually include a press release and an informal thank you note pointing out why I like the book—and then I’ll include a short interview with the writer. I saw that once in a package from a record label and the little Q&A was the best part. It was much more interesting than the canned marketing-speak of the rest of their write-up.
I only ever want to include, like, four questions because people are busy. But with Andrew Weatherhead I started with ten and his answers are snappy, and they make me want to know more, and they make me think, so I thought I’d include all of them here.
A little excerpt from the book
“I wish people never stopped growing, like trees,” I said
And I was thinking of a root system that’s long and thin
But I keep waking up in someone else’s idea of the world, and I have no idea why
The pained beating of wings…
Until we’re back where we began
$4.50 for iced coffee
Tater tots, untouched, in the trash
Adam: When did you start writing $50,000?
Andrew: The earliest email draft I have of material that found its way into this book is dated July 2, 2015.
At what point did you know that what you were writing would be one long poem?
Very early on. At the time, I was reading lots of poetry but realized I was gravitating more to individual lines than whole poems or collections, or any other unit of poetic measurement. So I thought it would be cool to create a book that distilled poetry into just the best lines, forgoing all forms of poetic infrastructure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy—a random collection of standalone lines did not make for a fulfilling reading experience—so I spent years ordering and curating and nurturing the individual lines, ultimately adding the infrastructure lines I’d sworn off in the first place to make it feel coherent. Poems are wild, man.
There are 741 lines in this poem. How many are “on the cutting room floor”?
Oh my god—thousands.
With so many great lines in the book, how did you arrive at the title?
I think the specific dollar amount got stuck in my head from a Freddie Gibbs song called “Fuckin up the Count,” and it became a useful orienting mantra for the book. I was interested in this amount of money that could be seen as both a lot of money and not a lot of money: depending on your circumstances, $50,000 could completely change your life, it could be a nice windfall, or it could be a drop in the bucket. The fractal nature of wealth…
In many respects, the book is a reaction to “entering the workforce” and all of a sudden earning a steady income, something that felt completely elusive and intoxicating at the time. The book spans about five years working at various health insurance companies, an industry for which no one has a passion and is merely a means to a paycheck for all involved. I was fascinated with how my coworkers — all good people stuck in a flawed system — struggled to express their individuality and autonomy in such a conservative and stifling environment. This is what I think of when I think of the book.
This is a very emotional book. Does writing help?
How does this book add to your other books?
I think this is the cliche “book-length” poem that poets feel the need to publish with their second or third book. I think I need to do a collaboration with a photographer or a book of villanelles or something next.
There’s a lot of boxing in this poem. And a lot of boxing in Hemingway’s story, “Fifty Grand.” You read that yet?
Yes, I read that the day after you mentioned it to me at John Woods’s house. It seemed fine. I’m unconcerned with the similarities in name. You’re the only person who’s noticed that, by the way, unless people just aren’t telling me…
You’ve been tweeting all the workouts you do. Is that, like, a follow up to $50,000?
No. I wish. I don’t know what I’m doing with that…
The cover art you chose really goes for the throat, offering a more threatening context for the poem, which seems subdued. Was that what you had in mind?
I just wanted the cover art to add to the poem rather than mirror it or “summarize” it. Like, I didn’t select the art thinking “the poem is subdued, let’s make sure the cover is menacing,” but that’s the way it happened and I’m thrilled with it. It’s also just an incredible piece of art—it’s from a huge triptych called “An Unkindness” by Robyn O’Neil, and I encourage everyone to check out her work, follow her on social media, listen to her podcast, etc. She is an artist and person of the highest order.
How do you feel about people these days?
I feel good about them individually, scared of them collectively.