Bryan Tomasovich  

Ouisconsin: The Dead
  in Our Clouds

An interview with the author

Arranged by Jayson Iwen

published by Emergency Press



Emergency Press: How do you think Ouisconsin will be categorized by its audience, and what are your feelings about this?

Bryan Tomasovich: Esoteric, I'll bet. I cover a fair bit of Wisconsin history, and although I find that many Americans find Wisconsin interesting, they don't find it to be relevant. Think about a circus. Interesting in that odd, quirky, wild-game way. But not often connected to what matters in, say, politics, economics, culture, religion, etc. They are wrong, but then again I'm glad that a place such as Milwaukee - the epicenter of that freakin' Wisconsin charm I just described—has, on the most part, fallen off the map 'cause if people really knew what a damn fine place Milwaukee is, well, it would be over-run. The only thing that saves Milwaukee, and the whole of Wisconsin, from being more popular is the biting cold and the snow. I can get attached to a place just as well as the next guy, yet…I'm not one of those people who says his hometown is the best town in this whole damn world, or that the U.S. is a model for so-called developing countries. In other words, if, after living in New York, I really thought the best that people can do was happening there and not Milwaukee, I'd admit that. I wish I still lived in Milwaukee, or any where in Wisconsin. Can't though, and that's another story. So, esoteric, 'cause it's set in Wisconsin, and I'm not even spelling Wisconsin the way one expects. It's the old French spelling, which I tear apart in the second section of the book, with X-rated language.

Then again, people outside New Jersey read Paterson by William Carlos Williams. Not the same people as those who love his poems about chickens and plums. Usually writers looking for instruction in the area of form. Just a bit ago I said Milwaukee stays low-key 'cause of the snow and cold. There's one more thing. Hollywood. Up until the movies, Milwaukee was leader in the States in entertainment - especially theater, panorama, those kind of things. Also had a tendency for progressive politics. But then Hollywood came along and no one needed a giant panorama—the cruxifiction of Jesus on a 300+ circular canvas. Now, Mel Gibson takes care of Jesus for us. All this to say that Milwaukee since the 20's or so has been on par with New Jersey, and look at the reception of Paterson, then and now. All about the same. How long did it take for Paterson to sell, say, 1000 copies? I'll bet it took a whole year. And what if Williams was a first-time author? Oh, boy, look out.

The book will be categorized as esoteric for where it is set. It will, like Paterson, and work by Olson, Pound, H.D. also be a work that, 'includes history'. I had to do that for this first book, or any to come, I suspect. I can't stay long with poetry that goes on about the poor sap who is also the author without placing one's misery or great expressions of joy or angst in context. Historical context, even if the politics of the day. Something that provides relief from what Olson called, "lyrical interference."

Last thing. If one thing matters in my book, it's the long look at immigration. A look at my family becoming American, for the last 100 years…and this small event fit into the history of Wisconsin, the U.S., Native American nations, overseas, etc. I started writing this book quite a few years before the 9/11 attacks, and was finishing the first or second draft right about that time in the fall of 2001. Now when we look at what has happened with immigrant rights, and then consider what just in this country has gone on with just about every new wave or group that has chosen or been forced to move here, we see a lot of the same rotten violence and other injury directed at so-called, "Arab-hyphen-looking" people. Jesus, we're not getting better, but worse. Of course, with Bush in office, he raises the bet, if you will, so that some human rights abuses are purely original, so to speak…if there even is a historical precedent, his office has blown it right out of the water. A lot of us know exactly what terrible state we're in, right, know it better than I do, but I'm glad that somehow my book is there to celebrate the good that comes out of immigration, and suggests ways to cope with the bad that comes out of it. And nine times out of ten that bad life lasts for a generation or more. Then the next thing one knows, after years of bitter bullshit, the grandchildren or great-grandchildren somehow, usually, find themselves getting the education, jobs, and all that you need to know or at least possess so you and maybe your neighbors are doing more than surviving. And then what? Start buying things that draw you away from your history. Start blaming the new immigrants, 'cause by now you can ignore that you have any link to immigration. Just an American. Ever happen to you? That as a kid, or even an adult, someone when faced with their genealogy described themselves as an American? Someone like Don DeLillo knows what that means. Not the people who say it. My great-grandparents from Slovakia, they didn't speak a lot of English, especially my great-grandfather. So, I have a Ph.D. in English. Lot happens with time and money spent on public schools. Now do I pick on people who can't speak English very well, 'cause I'm somehow a better American? All this is the reason I asked Emergency Press, 'cause I know you give away some 10% of the sales of each book to a non-profit that somehow works in an area that your books focus on, to donate some money from the sales of Ouisconsin to the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

Emergency Press: What effect would you like Ouisconsin to have on its readers?

Bryan Tomasovich: Have I told you yet that I was born between the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy? May of '68. I want us to move out of that kind of crisis. That awful time of hate and crisis. I want, too, for those just as interested in form to recognize that I've done my job to write a poem that includes history, and added some of the imperatives of my time. For instance, much of the study I did about ways people connect these days to their ancestry was on the old (I'm talking mid-90's) geneaology list-serves—so I try to replicate some of the discussion that goes on there. The concerns expressed by people reaching for some conclusions about their identity are roughly the same, but there is a whole new medium—a whole new way to make, validate, commuincate, and store knowledge (and feelings) that goes on via the Internet, and I mean to record some of that, with an utmost respect for the poets that have come before, and will come after.