13 Questions with Joseph M. Gant

by HST UK on January 20, 2012

Joseph M. Gant is a glassblower by trade. Though he holds a degree in Scientific Glass Technology, his life’s study has encompassed many variables. A long-time student of Tibetan religion and culture, science buff, musician, and lover of world literature, Joseph is ultimately a writer. His work has appeared across the spectrum of small press zines and academic journals. He currently lives in the Philadelphia area where he edits poetry for a handful of publications and works on his novel.

Joseph talked to us about his most recent poetry collection Zero Division, and answered 13 of our best…

HST: What lures you to writing that is of a dark subject matter?

I’m not sure. The earliest novel I recall reading was King’s “The Dark Half.” When I was in 6th grade we took a field trip to see a dramatic performance of a number of short stories. “Fall of the House of Usher” was one piece performed. The next week I had read nearly all of Poe’s fiction and verse. That was the material I was exposed to early, as well as Lovecraft and horror-style RPG books. While I’m not really a “horror genre” writer, those roots have stuck with me.

HST: Let’s talk a bit about ‘Sex and Murder’, for those who are unaware, please explain the formation of the magazine and also answer me this – what was the intention behind the magazine’s name?

I didn’t birth the magazine. I was a contributor from the first issue and was asked to be the poetry editor by issue 6 (or so). Douglas Allen Rhodes formed the magazine as a place for writers whose prose and verse is too extreme for mainstream horror zines. “Splatterpunk” is our forte.

If I may speak for Douglas, the magazine’s name is simple— it sums up what we are looking for. By that, I mean we don’t just seek porn and senseless violence, but we do welcome it within the context of a well-crafted piece. Also, the name stands out like a neon sign amongst other similar publications. That alone has garnered us a lot of publicity and submissions by very talented writers.

More importantly, the magazine has grown into a book publishing house. S A M Publishing is the label we publish under. We are open to novels, chaps, and even graphic novels. I’m quite proud of how far Douglas and I have taken this thing, having already placed an anthology under our belt as well as some forthcoming poetry collections and novels.

HST: As humanity descends further into the economic abyss, are we likely to see a cultural reflection of society’s ugliness. In this case, could the mainstream, especially in the publishing realm become infinitely more horrific?

I think economic abyss is merely symptomatic of a greater societal breakdown. Horror writers tend to be some of the most “grounded” writers I’ve worked with. I don’t really see a trend in publishing moving toward darker matters. People write what they write— I’ve written some of my most optimistic verse while in the depths of depression and likewise penned some truly disturbing shit while playing with my purring cats. I tend not to comment on the social or political too much. All of my material comes from an internal space, and I strive to keep the nonsense of others out of it.

HST: Many of the poems in your collection Zero Division seem distant, observing a skewed world through a jaded, almost apathetic perspective – do they represent your own feelings about life?

Yes and no. At the time of writing those poems, I was in a very dark place. I had bottomed out via drug addiction, had lost nearly everything I owned and was dealing with psychiatric issues. My compassionate nature had taken a backseat. Many of the poems speak from a place of confusion and apathy. However they were cathartic to write. In writing Zero Division, I was exorcising many demons and putting into verse the despair in which I was entrenched.

Zero Division is not an endorsement of a way of thinking or of viewing the world but more a reflection of what I was experiencing at the time. Many of the pieces contain light and optimism, but the overall tone is one of nihilism. The title itself was born of that very viewpoint. In mathematics, when solving an equation or differential, when one reaches a step where a number or variable is divided by zero, the process halts— there is no solution, no further progress can be made. The poems in Zero Division don’t offer any solutions, they merely point to the problems.

HST: Did you have a musical soundtrack that accompanied the writing of the poems from Zero Division. For some reason the song that most sprung to mind was Devo’s cover of the Stones’ classic ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’?

If you were to ever see me, I would have an mp3 player on my hip and headphones on my head— always. During the time when I wrote much of Zero Division, I was primarily listening to three albums: Nine Inch Nails, “The Downward Spiral” Marilyn Manson, “Mechanical Animals” and A Perfect Circle, “Mer de Noms.” My musical tastes are wide and varied, but I listened to those three obsessively during that period. I think anyone familiar with that music can see it in the poetry.

HST: Waste seems to be a problem in modern society, be it the waste of time, where we find ourselves confined in technological bubbles, or waste, as in resources such as clothing and more pertinently food, with supermarkets dumping so much food that could be redistributed among the unfortunate and the desperately hungry. What do you waste?

I’ve wasted a lot of brain cells. Also, I’ve wasted time and ambition. I beat myself up constantly because my drug/alcohol use took years away from me. Now that I’m fresh out of rehab and almost a month sober, it’s hard to look back at the time and opportunities I wasted.

HST: You work as a glassblower. Talk to me about this, as it is a trade I know nothing about – how did you become involved in this industry?

I grew up in Pennsville, NJ. Close by is a college, Salem Community, that was developed in great part to teach Scientific Glassblowing. South Jersey is the heart of the world’s laboratory glass manufacturing industry, and growing up there, everyone and their brother blew glass— mostly pipes, meth labs, etc. The program I entered focused on flamework techniques to create custom glass pieces like condensers, extraction apparatus . . . mad-scientist type shit. The course also involved a lot of chemistry and physics as many glassblowers go on to work in research labs or universities as key parts of the teams doing experiments in those fields. It’s a very specialized field and unfortunately a dying art. However, I was able to carry those skills over into making bongs and dildos for a brief time. I haven’t been at the torch in a few years, but it’s something I itch to get back to if even to do sculpture and glass knick-knacks. Though there is serious money to be made in glass dildos; more so than bongs.

HST: How did you become interested in Tibetan culture?

What a follow up to dildos and bongs!

As a child I was always fascinated with world religions and the shamanic practices of indigenous peoples. When I was nineteen, I discovered Zen. By that I mean I discovered books on Zen. Much of what I read about Buddhism really clicked on a very deep level, but I felt removed from any community, and my studies were desperately academic. I took a job at a retail book store. There I met a Westerner who was a few years older than me. I learned he was a translator for a Tibetan monk residing in Philadelphia to minister to the Mongolian community there. We made fast friends, and when he learned I was looking for a practice group, he invited me to the Sunday meetings with his lama. I took to it like I was coming home. Within a month’s time I had been to see His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. After five years of study on the Sutra path, I was given the rites of initiation into Tantric Buddhism by two renown Tibetan lamas. It’s been an interesting journey, but my addictions often interfered with my involvement in the community.

While I’ve never been the poster boy for proper practice, I still study Tibetan religion and culture, having devoured a small library’s worth of texts. Zero Division, in fact, carries a strong tone of the doctrine of Fierce Compassion— like the kick in the balls you give to the guy with a gun to his head; sometimes we must be wrathful to be compassionate. If that makes any sense.

HST: If it’s ok, I’d like to rewind quite a bit. When did you first encounter poetry, and what was it that made you decide to start scribbling your own poems?

Easy. I was fascinated by language itself early on. Even if I had nothing to say, I would make word-doodles. I played guitar as a teen and wrote horribly trite lyrics. When I realized I couldn’t sing, I turned my focus more toward literature. My taste and style became more refined in that arena. I always wrote to one degree or another, but it’s only been in the last three years that I began to take it seriously, hence Zero Division and my other projects coming to life.

HST: Our paths have indirectly crossed through Gloom Cupboard. I started the zine, you were the Poetry Editor, we’ve since both moved on, and the zine continues to flourish. What was your time like as editor of GC?

I greatly enjoyed being at Gloom Cupboard. It was one of the first online zines I read regularly and submitted work to early on. Seeing my work there was always a pleasure and being asked by Lena to be poetry editor was a huge honor. My time there exposed me to a climate very different from Sex and Murder Magazine, which was my only editorial experience up to that time. I felt I did some good work there. I learned to integrate my tastes (all editorial processes are subjective) with the established flavor of GC— creating paths without stepping on toes. I also learned to assert myself a bit as I brought my own slant and some new writers to Gloom Cupboard. I wish I had stayed on longer, but the chaos of my life at the time forced me to greatly cut back the work I was taking on. Again, it was a great experience for me while it lasted. I still submit work there often.

HST: In your role as editor, what are your biggest submission “no-no’s”, common mistakes that writers make, be it with poetry or fiction that will immediately result in rejection?

I never reject outright because of a flaw in a submission; there is often great work to be read in a shitty submission. That said, I do have some peeves. The internet has made it very easy to submit work blindly. Likewise, email has made for a very informal venue of correspondence. I would never imagine spending my time, postage, and ink on a poorly formatted snail-mail submission. Coming from “that era” I ask that folks actually read the guidelines for submission. I get turned off if I must contact someone for a bio or if my requests regarding attachments aren’t followed. Simply put, I don’t care if one is sending a hundred blind submissions each day, trying to break into publishing. But, read and follow the guidelines for the magazine, even if you don’t actually read the damn magazine.

Also, addressing anything to Joseph G[r]ant will not win any points. Seriously. I’ve gotten it (Grant) enough from doctors, law enforcement, and illiterate pharmacists. I don’t need it from the literary community.

HST: I’m intrigued about what your next writing project will be. Especially given that Zero Division is a substantial collection of well over a hundred pages. When I finished my first full length collection, I found myself in limbo, pondering what next – what are your own plans?

After the manuscript for Zero Division was accepted by Rebel Satori Press, I didn’t lose my stride; I continued to write along the same vein as the poems in the collection. I have more than one hundred new poems ready for compilation in a new collection. I have however refined my technique and pulled my subject matter closer to a core. So, it’s safe to say a follow up collection will appear in the near future. I’m also writing more prose— short and flash fiction. I hope to start pushing that material with the same vigour I do my poetry. And it goes without saying, I write my perpetual novel: the one that seems to go nowhere but back to its own false start.

HST: As I write these questions a neighbour is currently drilling on the other side of my bedroom wall, this noise irritates me more than anything – what petty thing grinds your gears the most?

Sand inside my motion-lotion.


If you are interested in answering HST’s 13 Questions then email us: aprilmaymarch777@yahoo.co.uk

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