David Brock is a Toronto-based writer. He has written libretto for operas that have been performed in Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Glasgow, and London. He is currently writing text for a black metal opera (bands and sopranos wanted). This interview concerned his upcoming book, his opera work, and the general mood of contemporary poetry.
This is your second chapbook, correct? Can you tell us about your first chapbook, Gasmask Summer, which came out with Emergency Response?
The poems were originally conceived with Vancouver writer Sean Horlor as this fashion/poetry hybrid. Our idea was that I would write a series of poems about spring-summer fashions, Sean would write about fall-winter fashions, and then we’d combine them into a pretty poetry book (McCalls sewing patterns, picture of models, etc.). Emergency Response Unit was cool enough to put a dozen of my poems into a nice looking chapbook. Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner treated me like the poet I was pretending to be.
Your new book, Black Metal Melody, is thematically concerned with heavy metal, correct? How does it fit into the jigsaw of contemporary poetry?
Well, Norwegian black and technical death metal specifically, but labeling distinctions can get dizzying and boring. I picture the imaginary bookstore shelf, and my metal writing is someday with Ian Christie’s Sound of the Beast and Martin Popoff’s metal books, not necessarily the poetry books. That might sound ungrateful, but I think about how Michael Turner’s Hard Core Logo is always in five different sections of every bookstore, and I like that idea. My hope is that metal fans will recognize the content and want to read more poetry, and that poets will admire the poems and want to listen to some Enslaved albums.
That said, thinking about “the scene” is a little paralyzing, and now you have me thinking about it. Masturbatory a concept as this might be to the more altruistic writer, Black Metal Melody is the kind of chapbook I’d like to read. I love metal and I like poetry. The poets I admire — [such as] Paul Vermeersch, Billeh Nickerson, Aisha Sasha John, Jim Smith — seem to write the poems they want to read. Certainly, the bands I like write music that they want to hear. With Pat Larkin’s art and Ferno House’s design, I think this will be a neat little book. So to answer your question: we’ll see how it fits in.
The chapbook itself, that space between zine and book, has been getting new identity in recent years with the BP Nichol Award and specific publishing outfits like Ferno and Apartment 9 in Ottawa. How is this medium fitting into the modern hyper-linked world of “innovative” publishing?
I consider the chapbook as more of a cozy throwback than anything else, though I can’t speak for the entire world of anything in publishing — my list of publications isn’t exactly long due to my previous focus on theatre. This chapbook gives me a chance to present pieces that I imagine will have future life in a larger format (the poems in Black Metal Melody are also part of a novel). I’m in debt to Ferno House for giving me the chance to see how that larger work might be received, and this chapbook feels a bit like the EP to a possible LP. This is not to suggest that all chapbooks are dry runs. Did I just put myself on the BP Nichol Award blacklist?
How do you feel the metal community will respond to your work? If metal fans read this book, I’ll feel like I have accomplished a naïve goal I had in mind once I started wondering, “Who the hell wants to read this?”
If I have any anxiousness about Black Metal Melody, it’s that metal fans will call bullshit. I attend a lot of concerts, but I’m not really living the “metal lifestyle” that these poems address (who wants a 32-year-old in their mosh pit?). The primary speaker of the poems is 17, and if people who dig metal, particularly some of the people just getting into it (or who remember when metal overtook our lunchbox of cassettes/CD collections/iPod playlists) recognize themselves in some aspect of the Black Metal Melody narrative, I think that’d be pretty cool. Metal fans are open to new things, and I hope these poems find their way into the hands of a Dimmu Borgir fan or two, who will, at the very least, add me on Twitter.
You write operas, too — for the layman or woman, can you explain how you began writing in this medium, what is involved, and your recent opening in Scotland?
The piece in Scotland was inspired by and performed in an 18th century pub called Sloans. The Sloans Project: Pub Operas will receive its North American premiere in Toronto this November in the Distillery District. Composer Gareth Williams and I adapted stories from the pub’s history and turned them into a series of mini-operas for a company called Noise Opera. The fact that the opera was set in a bar meant people could drink beer while they watched — always a good way to get people in the door. I would probably reverse your order and say [that] I do operas and write poems, too. I’m currently writing a black metal opera which brings all this stuff together.
The opportunity to write contemporary opera came up a few years ago with a program at Toronto’s Tapestry New Opera. Writing libretto for opera was scary at first as it seemed like “high art,” but — and I’m stealing this from someone much wiser than me — opera is pretty crude. For me, it works best when considering the “layperson” and leaving room for music to express some pretty big, heart-on-your-sleeve emotions: I’m learning that subtext doesn’t work as well, and that with the words that remain, there’s no screwing around with ambiguity. Sort of like with Iron Maiden lyrics.
For more info on this book visit http://www.fernohouse.com/pubs/black-metal-melody
Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Wrong Bar. A free eBook of his journalism (including many pieces published in Verbicide) called Stars Are Blind: The Burglary Years 2006-2011 is coming out on www.nathanielgmoore.net later this year.