Cross Country: An Interview with Del Ray Cross

By and | 29 August 2012

OS: You mentioned that you used to live in Boston. When did you come to San Francisco?

DRC: Twelve and a half years ago. It was June of 2000. I’d been in Boston for three and a half years, and I had decided I was a poet probably two years before that.

Before that I was a theatre person. I was going to teach. I loved to act, but I never took it seriously. I had fun with it, but I wasn’t good enough at it. But then something happened when I moved to Boston: I took up an activity that I had started doing in high school. I was writing poetry, and really quickly it became my whole world. I was 29.

I have to say, I got lucky. Everything about my journey has been fortuitous. Just as I started to explore poetry again, I was working at MIT. There I met Bill Corbett. I took one of his classes, and wow, what a wonderful introduction! I had a solid base with a group of poets in Boston, who I used to meet with. It was a weekly reading group. You’d bring in your poem and read it. It was not a workshop! Just a wonderful place to share and talk about your work.

I wanted to have that community in San Francisco too, so when I moved here one of the first things I did was take one of Dodie Bellamy’s classes to acclimate myself to San Francisco. In that class was Cassie Lewis, who had just moved from Australia, and Tim Yu (and if you don’t know who he is you have to read him). I was a bit older than them, but we became peers.

OS: So you didn’t find it difficult to find a community when you relocated?

DRC: As well as Dodie’s class, Bill Corbett had given me a handful of names to contact when I arrived – the best of the best: Bill Berkson, August Kleinzahler, all these big mucky muck names. And my best luck of all was that Dan Bouchard (of MIT, who was part of Corbett’s team working on Pressed Wafer, a little heart-and-soul press that is also my publisher) gave me Kevin Killian’s contact info. As far as I’m concerned, Kevin is the arbiter of San Francisco poetry; Kevin is the man. There is no way to overstate that.

I recall that of all the people I phoned from the list that Bill Corbett gave me, I got to meet everyone, except for one mucky-muck, whose name, luckily, I can’t remember. Everyone else wanted to have a drink with me. It was really nice. It made me feel welcome in San Francisco, which is really the way the community works here. It has that culture. And although I don’t consider myself very close to the ‘scene’, in the sense that I want to hang out with them all the time, I know that we have a wonderful poetry world over here. It is friendly and generous. I wasn’t used to that. It’s a welcoming literary city.

OS: Do you keep in contact with the community by attending many readings?

DRC: No! I do not, unfortunately. But I did start the San Francisco Bay Area Poetry Events Blog, which is available on Shampoo. I started it a few years ago when I was making an effort to think like a marketer for Shampoo. I didn’t like thinking like that, and I don’t do it very well. I could certainly never do it for my own poetry. God no! But for Shampoo I’m happy to think like that.

Let me be clear though: I’d never take a dime, ever, for Shampoo. But I will do everything I can to get it out. So I decided to align the magazine with the city through the events blog. And as a result the magazine became homelier.

The Bay Area Blog is consistent and pretty much the finest in the area. I try to keep it up to date.

Simply, I don’t go to readings, but I do advertise them. I literally go to three readings a year. I’m ashamed of that – a little bit. A lot of poets feel the need to hang out with other poets, and get drunk, carouse and have sex with each other. A lot of people do that, and I’m all for that. I just don’t do it.

OS: Has Shampoo drawn you closer to a certain community? Even if you don’t seek other poets out, do they seek you out because of the magazine?

DRC: I came to San Francisco with one edition of Shampoo already done. I put an issue together just so I could say I had a magazine up and running. It was going to be my way of meeting people here. Very quickly, however, Shampoo became the only thing I thought about doing.

The amazing thing was, after just one issue, I was starting to get submissions from people beyond San Francisco, from places – would you believe it – like Australia! I was thinking: what does this mean? That’s how I met Cassie Lewis and Michael Farrell. They were both submitting! Very quickly I started getting emails from these beautiful people whose poetry I loved.

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