Alex Dimitrov is the author of Begging for It, published by Four Way Books. He is also the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. Dimitrov’s poems have been published in The Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, Poetry Daily, Tin House, Boston Review, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize in 2011. He is also the author of American Boys, an e-chapbook published by Floating Wolf Quarterly in 2012. Dimitrov is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and frequently writes for Poets & Writers.
THIS IS NOT A PERSONAL POEM
This is not a personal poem.
I don’t write about my life.
I don’t have a life.
I don’t have sex.
I have not experienced death.
Don’t take this personally but
I don’t have any feelings either.
The feelings I don’t have don’t run my life.
I have an imagination. I’m imagining it now.
This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
This poem stole that line from John Ashbery.
This poem wants you to like it,
please click “like.”
This poem was written during a recession.
I’m so politically conscious
the word “politics” is in my poem.
This is not a New York poem.
There’s not enough room for all the wars in this poem.
Gay marriage is now in this poem.
Have you liked this poem yet?
It was written in 2011 in New York and posted 11 minutes ago.
Would you sleep with the poet who wrote this poem?
Would you buy his book? Click here.
This poem loves language.
This poem has slept with other poems
written by poets who love language.
All poets love language.
Let’s talk about language while people die.
This poem cares a lot but wants you
to think that it doesn’t really care.
The speaker of this poem may have been
born in a former Communist country.
It may or may not matter.
I had an orgasm before writing this poem.
I have my sunglasses on while reading this poem.
Everyone is going to die
please don’t take it personally.
The world. The world.
The world is blood-hot and personal.
I stole that line from Sylvia Plath.
Put your money on this poem.
I love the money shot.
This is not a personal poem.
This poem is only about Alex Dimitrov.
When was this poem composed? How did it start?
This is my favorite poem I’ve written. The first draft happened on August 12, 2011 before a Wilde Boys salon with CA Conrad and Dorothea Lasky. Conrad had asked me to record a poem for his Jupiter 88 video journal and I wanted to write something new. I was at this store in the Lower East Side, waiting to try on a shirt, and the cashier said, “please don’t take it personally,” to the guy in front of me, who had been rung up for the wrong amount. That exchange between them triggered something and I thought, “well yeah, everyone is going to die, don’t take it personally.” And that phrase more or less became what sparked the poem and it also found its way in it. So I started writing all this down in the Notes section of my iPhone, and I was in the dressing room, it was very hot, my friend Rachel was waiting for me and there I was, practically standing with my mouth open like I’d been drugged or something, typing out lines that were coming to me when I was supposed to be trying on this shirt. And you know, I was thinking about what it means to try on anything—a personality, a life, a boyfriend. And what does it even mean to write a personal poem? What does it mean to be a person at all? In any case, I didn’t try on the shirt. I typed out all of those questions and then came out and just bought it (I like that shirt a lot actually, it has these nice white sleeves but the body of the shirt is black. It has an 80s little boy charm). Then I went home and drafted the poem in two hours. Half an hour after I finished writing I recorded it for Conrad. And you can watch that video of me reading it here.
The poem is dedicated to CA Conrad because he’s a witch and his invitation to record something for Jupiter 88 is one of the things that inspired what I wrote. It’s a radical act of magic any time a poem happens. With this one that felt especially true.
How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?
I changed maybe four or five lines after the first draft. This poem came to me almost entirely as itself. Which rarely happens. And when it does, you know something is…working.
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
Sometimes you struggle with a poem for weeks and weeks and the poem never happens. And you abandon it. And as a result of having struggled—what I mean to say is, that struggle isn’t for nothing—something unlocks, a blockage clears, which allows you to write into something else entirely. Not the poem you were trying to write. But a different one. That’s what happened with “This Is Not A Personal Poem.” I had been trying to write a love poem, and I wrote something new, in a different voice, something that surprised me.
How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?
I don’t know, but thank god for my iPhone right? And thank god for the internet. I had to google those Ashbery and Plath lines on my phone, in that dressing room, to make sure I was remembering them correctly. And then I was led to a different line of Plath’s than the one I had originally intended to use. A better line. So, the internet helped me write this poem. I would like to thank the internet.
Was there anything unusual about the way in which you wrote this poem?
Well I don’t really expect to make art while I’m shopping. But this is America. Anything’s possible.
How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?
Craig Teicher accepted it for publication in The Literary Review in the summer of 2012 and it was published in early 2013. I’m grateful to him. Like I said, this is my favorite poem I’ve written.
How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?
It depends on the poem. The last six months I’ve been writing what I feel are different poems for me and it’s taken a while to figure out that voice. It’s taken a while to even come up with titles for those poems. So I’ve been letting them sit and then I read them over once in a while and add something here or take away something there and then let them sit some more. But I’m very impatient. So I’m surprised that I’ve been able to do this.
Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?
There’s so much more than fact and fiction. Everything in between the two is more interesting. And fact and fiction don’t really exist as pure entities. So who cares.
Is this a narrative poem?
No, it’s a personal poem. Everything in it is true. It came from my real life.
Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?
I was listening to Elvis Presley and collecting jpgs of Paul Thek paintings.
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
Well sure, I’d like Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber to read my poems.
Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?
No one saw drafts of this poem. Sometimes I send drafts to Jameson Fitzpatrick and Soren Stockman. They’re both studying poetry in NYU’s Graduate Creative Writing program right now and I think they’re fantastic poets. But it’s more for the purpose of sharing. We share poems with each other. It’s not a workshop or anything. I can’t wait for both of their first books whenever they come out.
How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?
It’s like when Warhol started painting the electric chairs, you know? Something different happened.
What is American about this poem?
Everything I hope.
Was this poem finished or abandoned?
I don’t know but it was a party and it didn’t really care who came. Ashbery came and Sylvia Plath and Alex Dimitrov. That’s what I love about this poem.