The first time I stumbled upon Greg Zorko’s work was this past summer with the launch of Peach Mag. The folks at Metatron (also the publishers of his book, Ghost In The Club) shared the poems on their Facebook page. I had been spending a lot of time working to find specificity in my own poetry and questioning what I was trying to say through my work. Even though I began as a playwright, the conversational tone and directness of intention that once came so easily to me was being clouded by a pressure to adhere to “poetic” expectations. Maybe I was protecting myself, maybe I was just trying too hard (probably, also, to impress). But reading his poems “ok yeah like” and “Diet Coke” were real “a-ha” moments for me. They were a reminder to me that for a poem to have truth, it doesn’t have to be hyper-stylized. Sometimes our uninterrupted internal dialogues have profound emotional effect. Sometimes saying something plainly works because it’s courageous. I chose to interview him because his work is immediate, unapologetic, straight up, and, for that reason, memorable—and I want to see more poets who are choosing to be straight up getting published. We talked through Google hangouts just after the holidays.
Suzanna Derewicz: Greg, can you talk a little bit about how you discovered your writing style? Why do you do poetry?
Greg Zorko: It’s hard to say how I discovered my style because I feel like it is always changing and I want it to keep changing. I think the way I write is partly influenced by my short attention span. When I read a poem, if I’m not drawn in by every line I can quickly lose interest.
Part of the reason I write poetry is because it is flexible; letting me be as brief and direct as I want to be. I felt when I stopped trying to write poetry I thought of as “profound” or “important,” I actually started writing poems that were profound and important—for me.
SD: Pairing things down to the essentials is difficult for many writers. Crafting language in a way that reveals meaning without obscuring it is challenging, yet it feels so natural in your work. I think directness, in poetry especially, requires the reader to be fully present and receptive; to be in the moment with the poem. It doesn’t give them a place to run to. I find that often poets can manipulate words in a way that prevents them from really engaging.
SD: You’re born in 1990, I’m born in 1990. There’s an undeniable connection to the Millennial in your work. There are references to Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Pokémon, Chia Pets, Play-Doh. We’re living in a time when the pop culture that we experienced growing up is achieving nostalgic status as never before. Things that were once part of our present are now the younger generation’s idea of history. Do you find that there’s a need to immortalize some of these talismans in your work? Do they serve as catalysts for getting you deeper into the emotional life of your poetry?
GZ: Maybe. More than anything, I think they are the things I grew up with. They are my culture. I think it would be weird for me to ignore all these artifacts when I’m creating. I think they help make the work concrete, grounding it through objects that perhaps other people within a certain age bracket can recognize and relate to.
On the other hand, I’m kind of resistant to the concept of Millennials in general.
SD: Do you mean as a term used to group an entire generation?
GZ: When people talk about Millennials, they’re not really talking about a whole generation of people born in and around a certain time.
SD: I know when I think “Millennial,” I think about myself—still trying to figure things out and carve out a place for myself. I think most people have that idea of what it means to be a Millennial. A 26-year-old who has “found” their place, started a family, bought a car, has a dog, landed a salaried job—this is less what people associate with the term, even though this hypothetical 26-year-old and myself are technically both children of the ’90s.
GZ: Exactly, there is in fact a whole set of values and behaviours that people attach to the word. So much has been written about Millennials that I feel the Millennial is almost like a character type in a novel or something, a stereotype.
There is this assumption that if you’re a Millennial, you are still figuring things out, and once you do “figure things out,” you stop being one, I guess.
SD: I read Ghost In The Club on an hour long transit ride from the suburbs where my mother lives into the city, snapchatting a couple of poems that caught me and spoke to me. People replayed them, screenshotted them, and asked me who wrote them. They wanted to know where they could read more. Often these were friends stuck in precarious jobs, living with their parents, disillusioned by love yet seeking it, and not necessarily artists. People were surprised, excited, and intrigued because it turned their idea of poetry on its head. It’s poetry that is texting crushes and poetry where T-Pain makes an appearance.
They were a reminder to me that for a poem to have truth, it doesn’t have to be hyper-stylized. Sometimes our uninterrupted internal dialogues have profound emotional effect.
These poems speak to people in the same colloquial way that the music people listen to does. This is closer to work whose audience isn’t primarily other writers regularly writing and reading poetry. Would you say you try to make poetry accessible for others through your language, as much as you use the directness of language to make it meaningful for yourself? Have you ever considered publishing your poetry through a snapchat, alternate form of social media, or interdisciplinary medium?
GZ: I want the reader to know what’s going on in a poem. I don’t want them wondering what it’s about. I use language that is simple to understand because that is the language I use to communicate with people.
I get a lot of inspiration from pop music and how the lyrics of the songs I love can often be very simple. They’re memorable and direct. I wrote a lot of the poems in Ghost In The Club while listening to records.
Things that were once part of our present are now the younger generation’s idea of history.
One of the ways I dream about presenting my work is on record—making a vinyl record where I’m reading poems with my friends, chatting about anything and messing around on instruments. I think I would only press around 50 records; it would be a small thing.
SD: Would it be done this way to give a quick wink to your writing process? Or is there something about having to be in the room, listening to the whole record at once that draws you to that medium?
GZ: I like the act of sitting down and listening to a whole record, yes. But more so, I really like the concept of sides. I was listening to Adele a lot when writing this book, her newest record. The two sides are so perfectly arranged. Sometimes, you just want to listen to side two, which has more ballads and is the side I find to be more emotional. I guess I’m just attracted to that way of organizing things.
SD: I see a little bit of that in a way your book is divided into two sections or chapters—“Small and Manageable Feelings” and “Ghost in The Club.” Your book has an A side and a B side.
SD: You’re from Upstate New York and currently living in Wisconsin. How did you discover Metatron, a Montreal-based press? When did the collaboration between yourself and this Canadian publisher begin, and what was the process like?
GZ: I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of Metatron, but I came across them online several years ago. I really liked what they were trying to do, the kind of writing they were publishing, and the way they hustled to promote work. They were fresh and exciting. I submitted a manuscript for the first Metatron Prize and it was shortlisted. Then awhile later Ashley contacted me about working together on a book of poetry. I had started a new manuscript at that point, which became the basis for Ghost In The Club.
Metatron means a tremendous amount to me. My life has changed in a lot of positive ways through becoming involved with them. When I think about reading in Canada for the first time, and the friends I have made there, I get very emotional. I just have a well of great feelings for the whole community. Whenever I see someone from the Metatron family share work, it makes me very happy.
SD: The poems in your collection often have pedestrian titles. For example, “kale” is about a memory the speaker has of their partner dancing and “lawn gnome” is a poem after the end of an entanglement. What’s your relationship to titles? What inspires your titles and why did you name the collection after the poem “Ghost In The Club,” and not after one of the other poems in the collection?
People were surprised, excited, and intrigued because it turned their idea of poetry on its head.
GZ: Honestly, many of the titles came from me looking around my apartment. My eye caught some object and then I gave the poem that name. I guess I don’t believe too much in the importance of titles where my own work is concerned. I like to have a little bit of fun with them. “Ghost In The Club” is actually the most recent poem in the book. I posted the original poem on my Tumblr during the editing process. Jay Ritchie, who edited the book, saw it and asked if it could be included. Then, everyone at the press latched onto the title.
SD: I love when unexpected things like that happen.
You have an East Coast US tour coming up—how important is it for you to tour? What’s your relationship to the stage and to reading your work in front of a crowd? I like asking this because poets, or those whose work lives primarily in print, have different opinions about reading their work. How does putting your work in a space where you can watch an audience connecting to it in the moment benefit you? Does the way a piece sounds off the page inform how you write?
GZ: I think for this book, the quickest way of seeing whether the writing was working meant reading in front of other people—something I only started doing maybe two years ago. I would write a new poem, take it to an open mic, and test it out. If it didn’t work, I would take it back for edits or get rid of it. I love reading live. I love seeing people’s reactions, and I do think that it helps me to address those places where a poem doesn’t sound quite right. If I could tour 365 days a year, I would. I love travelling and meeting new people, exploring different literary or artistic communities, and discovering new writers and introducing myself.
SD: Are there any contemporaries who you are excited to read? Have you read anything that’s really influenced your work this year?
GZ: Jay Ritchie just announced that he will have a new book coming out with Coach House Books, and I’m really excited for that. Also, reading Sara Sutterlin and Frankie Barnet has made me especially excited about reading and writing. I’ve just quit school, so I’m getting back into reading for pleasure again. I feel like there is a lot of space for me to grow now.
Greg Zorko was born in 1990 in Upstate New York. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the author of Ghost in the Club (Metatron Press, 2016). He has performed around the US and in Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @Zorknogg and on Tumblr at zorknogg.tumblr.com.