DOGBYTES Interview: Dustin Pearson

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Dustin Pearson is the author of Millennial Roost (Eyewear Publishing, 2018), and a McKnight Doctoral Fellow in Creative Writing at Florida State University. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Pearson has served as the editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a Director of the Clemson Literary Festival. He won the Academy of American Poets Katharine C. Turner Prize and holds an MFA from Arizona State University. His work appears in Blackbird, Vinyl Poetry, Bennington Review, and elsewhere. This Fall, Dustin Pearson’s shared work alongside Cave Canem fellows Marcus Jackson and Amanda Johnston at a New Works reading on October 12, 2018 at the NYU Lillian Vernon House.


Can you speak to why you chose to use animals in your debut collection Millennial Roost as a way to evoke what you’ve called in an interview with Poetry & Poets, an “allegorical documentary”?

I think the challenge of writing a book like Millennial Roost is conveying the emotional fallout of sustaining such an abuse and at an age when you don’t really understand anything. The physical abuse is easy to imagine, at least comparatively, but writing that physical abuse page for page over an entire book isn’t sustainable. Focusing on and conveying emotions both specific to a trauma and unique to a person who sustains the trauma runs a significant risk of throwing too far into the realm of the abstract to provide a powerful experience for a reader, so re-grounding the whole experience in imagery that’s familiar (Mr. Hen, chickens, eggs, etc.) but has limitless potential to be transformed by a specifically impacted consciousness or a uniquely formed  emotionality allows both the abuse and the emotion to be related in a compelling and fresh way. When it comes to making reference to an allegorical documentary of my emotions filtered through a persona, I really think the emotions in the book are mine, though how they are acted on or even acknowledged doesn’t compile my (conscious) experience, so that’s why I call it a persona, but then again, sometimes I get weirdly confused sorting who is who and what is what having written the persona so intensely and intimately over my own emotionality for a number of years, and that’s really cool. Everything is true and false and ultimately true. Reality is made irrelevant, which is liberating because it’s so often hard for me to tolerate, or at least the consensus of it we all conform to and fight against to varying degrees. I feel the speaker and his experiences are a kind of recovery. We may have merged into one person at this point. The speaker and the larger book allow me to pursue emotions in ways that I’ve been taught are dangerous, but the truth about what you initially asked me is that the throw to an egg laying rooster wasn’t something I planned, just something that worked after a significant amount of unsatisfying writing.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?

You know, I’ve gotten a real kick out of reading various volumes from the Poets and Poetry series published by The University of Michigan Press.

Name one of your influences outside of literature or art.

North American Southern Culture. North American Southeastern Culture. North American Southeastern Coastal Culture. South Carolina Culture. Summerville, South Carolina Culture. Charleston, South Carolina Culture.

As editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review, what would you say makes a great editor?

Perhaps having the nerve to be arrogant in your vision? Or maybe just an awareness that there are so many limitations to curating a literary journal, especially a print journal, that you really have to craft an aesthetic and push that aesthetic to its limits to evade putting together an issue that reads like nothing in particular, regardless of how strong the work is. I think the mark of a great editor is reading through an issue of a literary journal without the urge to rip it apart or deconstruct the assemblage, to always think of and refer to a particular issue as a whole.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to emerging Black poets?

Never doubt that whatever you’re writing at the time is black writing.

Establishing and maintaining a sense of community is a lifelong effort, so treasure it wherever and whenever you find it if it’s important to you.

Some modification of this quote from Langston Hughes: “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

Or that

Learning to love yourself / it is the greatest love of all.

When you’re not reading, writing, or working, how do you spend your time, energy, and money?

I really enjoy listening to minimalist and ambient music. I’m always trying to find a new craft that I’ll both have the tolerance and talent for. I love uninterrupted daydreaming. I love watching anime even if I’m incredibly picky. I love plotting to meet kindred spirits.

Can you take us through what your writing regime looks like? How do you fit time to write into your day?

I’m sure I don’t have one. I have a powerful mind, a quirky way of seeing things, and a good memory. I think the combination of those things spoil me when it comes to writing because I feel like I never really stop writing even when I’m not doing something that can readily be recognized as writing, so I imagine that the people who know me well would agree that I more fit my day into my writing rather than the opposite.

What’s something you tried recently for the first time?

I recently started wearing rings with turquoise inlays. I never thought I would wear a ring with a stone in it, and especially not a stone as bright and colorful as turquoise. It’s been a wonderful surprise.

What is the strongest influence your child-self contributes to your poetry?

I never really lost my ability to see and process things comically, to apply comic logic to powerful effects, and I have an incredible sensitivity to textures, smells, movement patterns, and some sounds.

What year(s) were you at the Cave Canem retreat? What are a few of your favorite memories from those times?

I attended the 2016, 2017, and 2018 retreat. I’ll sort these memories by year.

2018: Rashida, Aaron, Nicholas and I randomly went walking through the large sports field on the Greensburg campus. The field was incredibly soggy and even drenched in some spots from all the rain. There were a massive amount of fireflies in the trees and they were flashing so much that the trees seemed to be twinkling. There were also a great amount of stars out that night. The sky was super clear, and it was in that environment that we read poems to each other.

Graduation was incredible, but I’d have to write so much to do justice to saying why.

2017: Justin had the idea to go searching for the moon and invited me to come along. We found an incredible amount of fireflies and walked around the entire campus to find the moon much closer to where we started walking from. It was hilarious because we’d done so much walking. Having had enough of the moon, I said something about the fireflies having followed us, and when I pointed up to show Justin where the fireflies were, a shooting star shot over us. That was the first time I’d seen such a thing in person. I know the story must sound made-up, but I promise that’s how I remember it.

2016: I’m sure I was mesmerized the entire retreat, but there’s an incredible picture of me, Matt, Dexter, and Cortney that I most readily associate with the wonder of that first year.


photo for Dustin Pearson interview sent by Pearson