The Next Big Thing: Joe Milazzo

March 20, 2013

Continuing in my series of excellent writer friends’ interviews.

What is the title of your book?

The Habiliments.


What genre does the book fall under?



Where did the idea come from for the book?

A single poem; a seed poem, if you will. That poem was primarily inspired by Lonnie Johnson singing “Haunted House Blues” and “Memories of You” in his vaguely androgynous nasal tenor, alone except for his guitar and a very remote (so it sounds like) collaborator.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My father, who taught me to read. Further, or more specifically, my own recollected experience of grief—my father died in 2004—and how that grief expressed itself in dreams, dream-like states, a pervasive sense of temporal dislocation, shocking recurrences, an incommensurability of time to actual experience whose only analog was to be located in dreams. Thinking further then about grief’s perverse creative energies, the power grief has to figurate and desolate simultaneously, grief’s sway over the real and the imaginary and any comforting divide that introduces a not-easy-for-artists-to-admit-but-actually-often-necessary separation between the two.

After having written 12 or 14 of these short-ish lyrics that seemed to be plugged in to this grief-dreams complex, I then began to think about how these initial pieces established a common set of materials for further elaboration. I then began to think about the book itself as a kind of haunted house (see: Lonnie Johnson above), each poem as a room in said house, visited and revisited in the course of a “live” haunting. Hence the “shaped” appearance of the poems in final manuscript and the deployment of the titles (doorways in and out of the poems) throughout. From there—I mean, by association from ingress / egress—considerations began to spin around how idiomatic expressions offer containers for experiences otherwise uncontainable, also how idiomatic expressions necessarily narrativize, and thus impel towards closure, experiences otherwise ongoingly endless (emotionally), and from there to the whole idea of the lyric as an inherently haunted form: haunted by its own patterning of mere entities, if you will. The Habiliments is thus an invitation to readers to haunt a haunting, and, in multiplying that experience, to cancel it out perhaps… if cancellation be a form of transcendence… and I suspect that, with respect to the blot of emotions streaked through grief (anger, despair, panic, but also that undertone of affectlessness or overwhelming anhedonia in it all) well, it might.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first 12 to 14 poems were written in about a 3 month long “burst” in early 2011. I spent much of the rest of that year and the first half of 2012 at work on other projects, occasionally taking the time to generate another dream or two. This peripatesis became a gallop last summer, however, as changes in my professional life freed up more time to dedicate to writing. And The Habiliments had been increasingly nagging at me. The vast majority of book was composed from August through December of 2012, during which time I also figured out the sequence of the poems and the structure of the book itself which, as noted, is as constitutive of The Habiliments‘ meaning as any image, line, or other apparently poetic element.


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie adaptation?

These poems transpire between an “I” and a “you,” but destabilization of persona and address are something of a concern or subject of interrogation throughout. Perhaps multiple actors would have to fill each role, as in Haynes’ I’m Not There? But the actors would not be recognizably “the same” character. Or the costume wold remain constant, not the physiognomy. Actors I would definitely want: Jacques Tati; Brigitte Helm; Lee Kang-sheng; John Cazale; Gwen Welles; all the extras from Bela Tarr’s Damnation. Other characters appear (i.e., at the grocery store), but maybe they are more in the vein of cameos? Walk-ons?


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The vocabulary and sounds you hear herein may be alive, if at least in their desperation, but the meaning says, again and again, “dead, dead, dead.”


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If a poem is both a topography and a song, I am the karaoke version of a poet, and I hold a theodolite instead of a microphone.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Habiliments has not yet been selected for publication, although individual poems have appeared in the journals The Bakery, Ghost Proposal, Sway Press, Vinyl Poetry, and Word Riot. Inquiries regarding the manuscript are welcome.


Writers I am tagging.

Laura Vena, Tyler Flynn Dorholt, Anne-Marie Kinney.


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