(Photo by Maggie Padua)
What is your most recent book?
My most recent—and my first full length book—is A Short History of Monsters. It’s out from the University of Arkansas Press and was chosen by Billy Collins as the winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Prize. You can order it online from Target, though most folks would probably prefer to order it through their local independent bookstore. If you don’t have a bookstore nearby, you can also get it at Barnes and Noble online, as well as through the usual corporate behemoth. It’s poetry.
When was it released?
What has been the response/what has surprised you most about the response?
Well, the first surprise was that Billy Collins chose it. His work does have a sense of humor like mine, but mine, I think, is much more dark. Of course, one has to remember that even though a writer’s own work may dark, grim, or wildly humorous, that same writer might be moved by a wide variety of work. Some of the writers who inspired me early on were Hunter S. Thompson and Samuel Beckett—two very different writers, at least on the surface. Right now, with poetry, I enjoy a range of poets from Terrance Hayes to Frederick Seidel, Mary Karr to Jill McDonough.
Similarly, what’s surprised me with the response to my own book is the range of people who enjoy it. For a long time I’ve heard from readers who usually avoid poetry that they love my poems. As for people on the academic side, it was always people who already knew my work who responded enthusiastically. But, now all sorts of people are getting into it. Though I suppose it’s all really part of a process of my work slowly getting more and more exposure, with one of the first big boosts being from Michael Simms’s online journal Vox Populi. He started publishing my work regularly about six years ago.
Please share something not obvious or known about the book.
It’s probably not obvious that these poems were not written as a result of reminiscing about New York in the 90s, but were actually written back then. A Short History of Monsters is my first completed manuscript, pulling together my earliest published poems. I’ve finished about three other poetry manuscripts since then, and have enough work for at least two more. Also, there was a period after these poems were written when I really wasn’t writing at all. For at least eight years, all I wrote were a few music reviews, and that’s because a friend had asked me to do them. All he needed were short pieces, maybe 800 words each, but I struggled to get them done. I was working a full-time job, then, but I’d gone through periods before when I was working full time and still got writing done.
I gather I was just too comfortable. My wife Heather Davis and I had just gotten married, and though she was still writing I wasn’t, and not until we left the city and moved out to small town America did something click. We were out in this very conservative town where people proudly displayed their Confederate flags and Ban Illegal Aliens Not Guns bumper stickers. Somehow, we didn’t see this until we were already living there and the 2008 presidential election season went into overdrive. That’s when we met a lot of the friends we made there, and also when we realized what we were up against living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I started writing again, and Heather started writing even more than she was before.
I began writing essays, non-fiction in addition to poetry. Heather started work on a novel. Together, we started our blog, Shenandoah Breakdown. After having disappeared from the literary scene after my time in New York, I started getting noticed again. Four years later I was asked to be a featured reader at the Split This Rock poetry festival in DC. Still, it took another six years after that before I finally got my first full manuscript accepted. But then I’m rather slow when it comes to sending my work out. I always prefer moving on the next poem or essay to submitting the one I’ve just finished.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a couple of books of memoirs/essays. They’re about living out in rural America, racism, parenthood, being from an immigrant family, having Tourette’s syndrome, ADD, etc. Yeah, there are a lot of different subjects I go into, but that’s the way my mind works and that’s what I try to get down on the page whether it’s a poem or prose. I try to almost tangibly express and demonstrate the travelling the mind goes through over the years as well as in just a matter of moments.
Again, I’ve got a huge amount of work to go through. Just as I’d rather write a new poem than submit what I’ve just finished, I’d also rather keep writing than compile and organize what I’ve already done. There’s probably some unflattering term for this sort of tendency. I imagine that in a few years, though, there’ll be a drug that helps with this. I wonder if I’ll be able to afford it…
Jose Padua’s first full length book, A Short History of Monsters, was chosen by former poet laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and is now out from the University of Arkansas Press. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Bomb, Salon.com, Beloit Poetry Journal, Exquisite Corpse, Another Chicago Magazine, Unbearables, Crimes of the Beats, Up is Up, but So Is Down: New York's Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, and others. He has written features and reviews for Salon, The Weeklings, NYPress, Washington City Paper, the Brooklyn Rail, and the New York Times, and has read his work at Lollapalooza, CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, the Public Theater, the Living Theater, the Nuyorican Poets' Café, the St. Mark's Poetry Project, and many other venues. He was a featured reader at the 2012 Split This Rock poetry festival and won the New Guard Review’s 2014 Knightville Poetry Prize.
After spending the past ten years with his wife (the poet Heather L. Davis) and children in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, he and his family are back in his hometown, Washington DC. Padua also writes the blog Shenandoah Breakdown.