Patrick Barney: Tell us what The American Book of the Dead is all about.
Joseph D Reich: Boy, that would be a tough one, but as best as I can see or imagine it is an alienated and disenfranchised soul on the road (out of psychosocial crisis or just pure necessary need and desire); a certain sort of social and cultural manifesto for all those who feel like they can’t relate or never have been able to connect with the expected norms and mores and routines and rituals of the status-quo; a long epic and lyrical, confessional poem written in stream-of-consciousness and satire about the postmodern ‘absurdity’ and excesses of America, screaming these thoughts and beliefs and ruminations and sense of desperate, nihilistic isolation and trepidation from the deepest depths of the tormented heart and soul.
PB: What do you hope the reader takes away from it?
JR: I hope like everything else the reader is empowered or can say right there and then in the moment “that’s me, dammit!” and perhaps supports and encourages them to get through their everyday pain and suffering; I hope this takes them to a whole new emotional and spiritual place, a pure pristine escape from the everyday mundane, something like what maybe that one great rock & roll song did to you, bee-bop, jazz, blues, ragtime, or that one maddening and sensitive symphony when you feel beaten or defeated by this thing called living.
PB: Talk about some of the decisions that went into the craft or technique of your poem.
JR: Really, honestly, not a whole heck of a lot. I really don’t think about those types of things when writing and really try to let my mood and memory and musicality take over if that makes any sense at all? This was written all in a certain breadth somewhere between a sense and state of crisis, as well as comfort or self-actualization, as often, to be brutally honest, rhythm and cadence and musicality and how it presents on the page is as important to me as substance, and if there is any meaning, hopefully it will come out in the long-run.
PB: What should good poetry do?
Escape! Escape! Escape! And motivate you to write something even greater or more intimate and creative and experimental. It should help you to forget about the cruelty and brutality and hypocrisies and routines and rituals of everyday living, which plague or cause conflict in our everyday existence and being, a certain sort of liberation if you will.
PB: Which writers have influenced you the most?
JR: Pretty eclectic but to list just a few mostly out of pure style and beauty, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Anais Nin, Toni Morrison, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Breton, Proust, Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams, Moliere, Dostoevsky, Mayokofsky, Zukovsky, Turgenev, Sigmund Freud, EE Cummings, TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Sonia Sanchez, Charles Simic, August Kleinzahler, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Gil Scott-Heron, and believe it or not the rappers when rap was actually good, such as Chuck D., The Beasties, Third Bass, Eminem, Cypress Hill, Lauren Hill, Talib Kwali, Tupac, Biggie, you name it…
PB: You mention several philosophers in your poem. How have these thinkers, and philosophy as a whole, informed you as a writer?
JR: I don’t know, I’d like to kind of consider them like osmosis and whatever penetrated me for the better (in the here and now and near to remote future) like a good wine or a really bad wine which goes down fine, and may believe that you don’t get it all, but when you put them down in the long-run, somehow feel elucidated and transformed if that makes any sense at all, like who can say they really completely get all of the elucidations and contradictions and transcendent truths of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein and Spinoza and even Camus and Sartre, but as long as you get an aesthetic feel and flavor, a sort of aftertaste if you will (which helps to stimulate or even change the thought pattern) that’s the stuff and taste in my opinion which really counts. I think those greats subliminally and subconsciously influence the mind without even really knowing or being aware of it, like a good high or not quite remembering everything you did the previous night.
PB: Do you think the written word can ever achieve positive cultural or political change? Why or why not?
JR: Yes, without a doubt, but we got to get the fuck away from all our instant-gratification gizmos and contraptions of the present day; the youth have to learn to cross the freakin’ road without looking down at their smart phones, which in my opinion has sort of brainwashed our culture and psychosocial environment, and even may I dare say, collective conscious. I think we have a tendency to have convenient amnesia or have become slaves or blind sheep (or forgetting will and volition) to the media and social media, and take for granted or should never forget how you felt when you put down “On The Road” or “Huckleberry Finn” or for that matter “Crime and Punishment” or “Howl” or “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” I believe man’s greatest failing or shortcoming weakness is his complacency or things that he/she takes for granted, and forgetting all those small things and little brilliant keen details that may have once made them content or happy, even if for just the moment or an interlude or short period of time, like first love, first sex, first kisses, first embraces, first highs, and traveling, but if you ain’t got some sort of person to look up to to help to influence you? It wouldn’t hurt either, honestly, if perhaps every once in awhile, the big conglomerate book stores who have monopolized the market, might consider putting those more provocative books or ones who push the eclectic and creative boundaries up on their shelves without their prerequisite protocols of just literary agents and those big publishing houses.