An interview with R.A. Villanueva on getting published, what a good GIF and a good poem have in common, and the right way to pronounce GIF
R.A. Villanueva sends emails that look like this:?
His use of them, like his poems, are precise and, if communicating with a GIF could be described as such, elegant.
Ron and GIF are so intertwined in my head that when I come across GIFs of particular delight I forward them to him and I imagine, if he likes them, he files them away. He has mentioned this file–though I’m unclear of his filing method–is it a folder he keeps on his desktop? And does this folder have subfolders? And these subfolders–what organizing convention does he use? Ron being Ron, with his soulful fascination of anatomy, does he assign a biology? Or is he going more traditional–Funny, Sad, and Liz Lemon folders?
This is all just to say that there’s a little yay in me that pops up whenever Ron sends me an email or text. GIFs are funny, dude. Especially when a poet has figured out how to use them poetically. I went back and forth with Ron to chat about his new collections of poems, Reliquaria, what it’s like getting published, moving to London, and the world of GIFs.
What was the process of making these poems and turning them into a final manuscript?
So—how was the submission process?
What advice do you have for writers going through the rejection feels?
Take the rejection slips and “No thanks” emails to a field and then:
Steel yourself in the certainty that publishing is distinct from writing. Go make something.
What was the first thing you did when your manuscript was accepted?
Your poems are enthusiastic with conceits about the body—can you talk about…
…a poem’s relationship to the body
…a poem’s role in the relationship of the body and the soul
…a poem’s role in the relationship of the body and earth
How does your body react to a good poem?
How does your head react?
You’ve recently moved from New York City to London. So?
London is astonishing. And yet: I miss New York deeply. I miss bagels and lox. I miss the bootleg T-shirts after concerts at Madison Square Garden. I miss the thousand small dishes that arrive before your Korean food arrives. I miss the way “coffee” means coffee and not “Caffè Americano.” I miss the teletype clatter behind 1010 WINS news broadcasts. I miss baseball. I miss bodegas open at every hour of the night.
After Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise launch party earlier this month (his is a powerhouse of a first collection, by the way; go get it), I walked back from the Nuyorican through Alphabet City up into the East Village and stopped for sisig at Jeepney on a whim. Everything was open and singing.
Here is a photo of an engraved stone outside the front door of Poets House:
It is, obviously, not a GIF but you should stare at it until the truth of it shakes.
You are known amongst your friends as a master of GIFs—why so much love for the GIF?
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem, “The Sonnet” opens with this line “A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,”— and, for reasons that, perhaps, only make sense to me, I hear in that an echo of what GIFs do. They preserve—in an eternal loop—a singular unit of experience.
Like as with poetry, that cordoning off and focusing-in on a moment amplifies and animates our encounter with that moment.
It happens whether the GIF is irreverent or absurd:
or as in the case of cinemagraphs, haunting, profound:
I’m also pronouncing the “G” in GIF as \’gi\. Are we still friends?
What are the differences between a good GIF and a bad GIF?
There are only good GIFs and great GIFs. This belief is unshakable.
What are the similarities between a good GIF and a good poem?
The interplay of seemingly disparate things. Inventiveness. Surprise. Innovation despite of — and because of — limits, traditions.
What can’t a GIF do?
What can’t a poem do?