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Smoking With Eugenio Volpe

Interview by Jennifer Pashley (Read the Story) September 25, 2012

Eugenio Volpe

art by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

You live close to the ocean, and I read that you are from Palermo, Italy. Tell me about your relationship to the ocean, how it plays into your work, how it makes you who you are.

Funny, you’re the second person this week to ask me it. My grandmother’s family came from Palermo. She passed away a few years ago, and I added Palermo to my Facebook profile as sort of a tribute to her. I grew up in a beach town south of Boston. The ocean was a few hundred yards from my house. The sight of it, the smells, the sounds, all became part of my wellbeing. I am an extremely visceral person and the ocean is sort of like the mother ship of all viscera. I am also an avid surfer. I do it year round in New England. I’ve lived in California. Surfed all over Central America and even Europe. If I don’t get out in the water at least twice a week, I turn into an irritable fiend, like a sex addict in a monastery (maybe that’s not a good example). I’ve got some emotional baggage, and I dump it out in the ocean whenever possible.

It might be the best example. So, I pretty much know the answer to this, but do you have any weird habits? What are they?

Are you saying that masturbation is a weird habit? If so, yeah, I’m a total weirdo. Otherwise, my worst habit is probably rendering my personal life and the personal lives of family and friends into exploitative fiction. Luckily, I am extremely charming and funny to be around so they can’t ever stay mad at me.

In my defense, I don’t think masturbation is a weird habit; I thought the masturbation / teeth brushing while in the shower combo was weird. By all means, wank away.

I remember that tweet. It was honest. I caught myself doing it subconsciously in the shower recently and was amazed at how effortless it was. I felt like Jelly Roll Morton on piano, playing bass and chords with one hand and the melodic parts with the other.

I won’t ask you which was the bass / chord. You’re on Twitter. Why the handle @mebeingbrand? What do you use twitter for?

Sort of inspired by the Cummings poem that starts She being brand/new—I think of it as me sort of branding myself and my thoughts, or rather branding my being in general, making art out of life. I use it for all sorts of things. I use it to impress Giancarlo DiTrapano (editor of New York Tyrant). He’s such a wonderful dickhead (the literary world could use more like him); it’s a real honor when he favorites something of mine. I also use it to embarrass myself. I use it to shock housewives and my Aunt Kathy. I use it to insult my mother. More than anything, I use it as a catalog of thoughts. It’s such a great tool for writers, but most are afraid or too snobby to realize its potential. Twitter could be the thing that puts Frost’s metaphorical tennis net back into poetry. Same with Facebook. I am tired of people snubbing their noses at it.

I just ended a question with a preposition. Are you judging me?

I don’t respect or trust anyone who’s always grammatically correct when speaking.

“Revived” is a tight little story. What attracts you to flash fiction as a form?

Again, I think it is the perfect medium for the internet and for people’s attention span. They can provide the philosophical/thematic potency of a poem but also the narrative draw of a story. I haven’t written that many of them in the past, but now while revising my novel, I’ve sort of been wrenching some out as both exercise and diversion.

Ok. Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins?

I don’t like either Gabriel or Collins but would have to say Phil because I’ve recently become infatuated with the song “Against All Odds.” It was the soundtrack for the film of same name starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in 1984. I used to watch it on cable as a kid and it was so goddamn sexy—Rachel Ward’s elegant neckline, her short and sexy ’80s hairdo, and perky breasts, not to mention Jeff Bridges beard and abs in the film. He was so volatile and aggressive too. The sex scenes were intense. They got my hormones going in every direction. I heard the song the other day for the first time in a while and now I feel like a born-again pubescent. Maybe it has something to do with there not being any decent waves in two months. So, yes, Phil Collins, but only by default.

I forgot that was Jeff Bridges. My adolescent memory of that movie was that it embodied what it meant to be an adult. And now, I’m going to re-watch it, because I’m not sure if you got me more with Rachel Ward’s neck or Jeff Bridge’s beard.

That was the confusion for me as a kid (and maybe still now). Both were equally sexy. That film will make anyone a masturbatory bisexual.

Who are the writers that shaped you?

Amy Hempel and Don DeLillo. Hempel for short story form and DeLillo for novels. DeLillo is our Shakespeare. Most haven’t realized this yet. He completely owns our culture and language. We all live in his world. Nobody else even comes close. He’s as philosophical as Pynchon but delivers it in a way that my freshman English literature students can understand. That takes real genius. I love Hempel because she’s as funny as any other man writing and she can do it in a way that isn’t satirical. I love George Saunders, but it’s easier to be funny with satire. Hempel’s sense of humor is far more sophisticated. I love how she puts the stereotype of woman not being funny to shame. I read a story of hers before going to bed every night, usually with my dog curled up at my feet, which I highly suggest. Reading Hempel with a dog at your feet is like reading Hemingway on the back of a bull. I’ve barely met her but have a strong hunch that she might have a crush on me. Amy, if you’re reading this, call me!

Can you tell me a secret?

A secret? Let me think—Actually, I am not even sure if I have any. As you can tell I am an extremely open person.

Well, do you ever walk around the office with your cock out, the way David Bell does in DeLillo’s Americana?

What man hasn’t? In regards to David Bell I will say this—I’d take him over Don Draper any day, in anything, fucking or fighting, drinking or neuroticizing.

About the Author

Eugenio Volpe has published work with New York Tyrant, Post Road, Superstition Review, Exquisite Corpse, Thought Catalog, Twelve Stories, Waccamaw, matchbook, decomP, Atticus Review, and more. He has won the PEN Discovery Award for his novel-in-progress and been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web prizes. He lives in Bristol, RI and blogs about surfing and Don DeLillo at mebeingbrand.blogspot.com.

About the Interviewer

Jennifer Pashley is the author of the “seriously out-of-whack” story collection, States, and has more stories appearing in PANK, Mississippi Review, Salt Hill and Los Angeles Review.

About the Artist

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist of over fifty awards. She was the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of The Year in 2013. Eleanor’s photography has been published in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has been displayed around the world consistently for six years since the age of thirteen. Last year she did the anthology cover for the incredibly popular Austin International Poetry Festival. She is also featured in Schiffer’s “Contemporary Wildlife Art” published last spring.

This interview appeared in Issue Thirty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Seven

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