Curtis Rogers is a Washington, DC-based poet and graphic designer. I first met Curtis when we were both at NYU and had a craft class together where, if I'm remembering correctly, we made some sort of human sound sculpture together. Curtis was then and is now whip-smart, sensitive, and an incredible writer. I hope you'll check out some of his poetry after reading this interview!
Who are you?
I’m Curtis. Never Curt. Sometimes baristas write “Kurtis” on my coffees, although I’ve been off caffeine for a bit. My pharmacist calls me Rogers, my last name. I got a lot of Mr. Rogers jokes as a kid and still do. When I’m creating profiles online often I go by mrcurtz, a nod to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. I’m a book lover and a film lover. I’m a writer and self-taught graphic designer. More than anything, I’m a dog person.
Where can you be found online?
I don’t blog anymore, although it was definitely an important part of my life at one point (more on that below). I also don’t have a personal website or any other central location online for my writing, yet. I’ve been working on one! Right now, you can find my writing online in journals such as Phantom Limb, ILK, Vinyl Poetry, and DIAGRAM. I also write frequently for my friend Jeff Berg’s blog, and share my artwork there.
As for how I would describe my work: obsessive, finicky, potty humored, potty mouthed, repetitive, droning, childproof, once-a-day, probed, defensive, strenuous, tenuous at best. A classmate once said my work “hated the reader,” which I think is true, for better or worse. Not that I hate for anyone to read my poems! But more that many of my poems follow a sort of embarrassed or evasive logic, with the reader playing Tom to the poem’s Jerry or vice versa. They are very cartoonish, in fact, in my head, although often they are also rather dark. Of course, what readers get from the poem is more important to me than how I see them in my head. I hope my poems can take readers somewhere new, if not to a hot tub on a clear night.
What inspired you to start writing/blogging? When did it happen?
When I was a teenager I was fanatic about blogging. I had a LiveJournal, GreatestJournal, DeadJournal...I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I wasn’t so much inspired to blog as I was coerced by my friends at the time. When you’re a teenager in the Florida exurbs, there isn’t a lot for you to do offline, especially if you’re as beach-phobic as I am. In fact, I first started writing poetry because of my involvement with certain communities on those sites. Now, my only blogging consists of guest posts for friends’ sites. I still write poetry regularly, but the poems stay offline until they’re published. I think both my blogging and my poetry started with a desire to connect with people similar to myself, because, like most teenagers, I felt misunderstood and isolated. As I’ve gotten older, my inspiration for writing has less to do with self-expression than it does with helping others misunderstand themselves.
Why do you write?
I write because I feel compelled to write. Writing isn’t fun for me, or pleasurable. Not really. Although I love to read, writing feels more like a hygienic practice, like peeling off a band-aid for hours at a time. I often get headaches when I write. My method involves consistent dead horse beating—a line must feel “just right” before I am willing to move on in a poem. And I have such a fascination with obsession and echo … it’s a miracle I ever finish drafts. Perhaps the real reason I write is simply because it’s how I feel best equipped to process my ideas and participate in greater conversations. I’m thinking of the O’Hara poem “Why I Am Not a Painter,” although I’m not an O’Hara fanatic. The reasons are murky, but their influences feel instinctual.
Your writing inspires me. Who inspires you?
You inspire me. To be a poet today requires enormous dedication and creativity, and there are so many poetic conversations going on at once, I get inspired left and right. A lot of the talented individuals I met through my MFA program inspired me greatly, and continue to do so. Ai, Richard Brautigan, Yusef Komunyakaa, Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, and Rae Armantrout come to mind as poets who I can’t stop re-reading, whose voices always stick in my head. I’m inspired by music of all kinds. When I’m writing a poem, I usually pick a unique song to listen to on repeat while working on that piece. Peggy Lee has been hugely influential. When I’m feeling down I like to listen to her version of “Is That All There Is?,” and when I’m feeling up I like her “Fever.” My MFA thesis was called “Is to a Fire,” referencing the former, and my working manuscript title is "Fever’s Mr.," playing off the latter. Graphic art and paintings have had a great influence on me. I’ve been a freelance graphic designer and low-grade graphic artist since high school. For a while, I used to google paintings by Yves Tanguy as part of my poetic editing ritual. I’ve written a number of ekphrastic pieces based his work. Film roles and directors, especially from iconic and cult films, have held a lot of my poetic and artistic real estate. TV characters. Video game characters. Drag queens. The list is always growing.
In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
For a few years, I’ve been wanting to go to Iceland. That would be at the top of my list. I’m attracted to cold environments, largely because I often feel like I have a mild fever (another source for "Fever’s Mr."). When I was a kid, my family lived in Barbados, but I haven’t been out of the country since we moved back. I’d like to fix that. My boyfriend has had considerable experience studying and traveling in the Middle East and parts of Africa. If this all-expenses paid trip included a guest, I would probably forgo Iceland to see Istanbul with him.
What is your favorite place on earth?
Maybe CVS. Maybe Strand. Maybe Philly.
Anything else you'd like us to know?
Speaking of Peggy Lee, I recently found out she inspired Miss Piggy. How cool is that!