There are a lot of reasons that people write poetry. To describe the beauty in the world. As a coping mechanism. In an attempt to impress the woman they’re in love with even though she doesn’t read poetry and she’s clearly not into me. But in talking about his new poetry book Minivan Poems (paperback, digital), writer Justin Grimbol said he started writing this collection of poems about minivans as a bit of a lark.
Let’s start with the obvious question: Did you set out to write an entire book of poems about your minivan or did you just one day realize you had written enough poems about your minivan to fill an entire book?
No. I wrote the first batch as a joke. I had a reading in Minneapolis at this bar called Grumpy’s, and I thought it would be a funny gag. I got on stage looking fat and haunted and introduced myself to the audience: “My name is Justin Grimbol and I have written a hundred poems about my minivan.” And then I started in. The crowd responded well. This dude was there, and he asked if he could publish them as a book. So I got to work. I wrote a hundred more. Then combined a bunch of them. And tossed a bunch of them out. Now I have a book.
Why did you think this would be a good idea? Because while there are a lot of people who own minivans, they may not be the kind of people who’d buy a book of poetry about minivans. And they did, they may not like your kind of poems about minivans.
It might not be a good idea. It might be a really bad idea. I prefer bad ideas. And bad advice. I want to be an old man sitting on a porch, shiftless, slightly dirty, and giving out bad advice to all that will listen.
So what is it about your minivan that you find so inspiring?
Here’s the thing. I drove a minivan when I was at my sloppiest. I mean, young. I was drinking a lot, gaining weight, tenderizing the soul and cuddling with close friends a whole bunch. Sometimes cuddling was a naked thing. This led to me tossing the seats out of the back of that thing, then shoving a mattress in there. That thing was cozy. Partying happened in there. Loneliness happened. Sappy hearted drives through the countryside and stuff like that. I drove around the country a few times. Creeping my way down back roads. Arguing with my girlfriend, who ended up becoming my wife. And we argue still. Minivans are usually symbols of being neutered and domestic. For me, they have always represented young and have swampy privates. It’s a paradox thing.
Aside from your minivan, what do you see as being the biggest influence on the poems in Minivan Poems?
I read a lot of poetry. Richard Hugo is my favorite poet. He writes about remote, dusty, worn-out places. Reading his poems is like wandering through an antique store really stoned from weed. I love antique stores. I hope my poems have a similar effect. My poems are much shorter and much goofier.
What about non-poetic influences, are there any fiction writers or musicians that you consider to be a big influence on your poetry?
Fletch. I love the Fletch books. All of them. Can’t go wrong with Fletch. Man, I was reading a lot of Fletch when I wrote Minivan Poems. Quirky stuff. I Love quirky.
As for music, no, not really. I listen to it. But it doesn’t influence me much.
You kind of already answered this, but I’ll ask anyway. Back in the day, when I wrote poetry, I would often workshop my stuff by reading early versions of poems at open mic nights and whatnot. Do you do this as well?
I do. But it’s been a while. Haven’t found any good open mics in the area. Just moved to Vermont. I used to go to this great open mic when I lived in Racine, Wisconsin. It was hosted by this dude, Nick Ramsey. He’s a good guy. The kind of guy that could make anything feel cool. At the beginning of every open mic he would gather us in a circle, have us link arms, and sway back and forth while chanting: “Holy Moly Donut Shop! Holy Moly Donut Shop!” Over and over. It was very intimate.
Your preferred poetry style, at least in Minivan Poems, is free verse. What is it about free verse that you like so much?
I just like to keep things casual.
Another stylistic thing I noticed about Minivan Poems is that all of the poems are untitled. Is there a reason for this, one that’s either specific to Minivan Poems or universal to all of your poetry?
They are really short. Some are just one line. Titles seemed excessive.
So if the CEO of a car company that makes minivans wanted to either use one of your poems in a commercial about their minivan, or have you read the poem in the commercial, would you do it?
Yes. I want to get rich and ride hotrods and maybe one day write hotrod poems. Or at least not have to work much.
Finally, if someone really enjoyed Minivan Poems, what would you suggest they read next and why?
Read Seb Doubinsky’s book This Little Poem. It’s incredible. Better than pizza and laughing with a stranger and snow in the moonlight and stuff like that. This Little Poem and Minivan Poems are basically cousins. Also, read Dan Neilson’s stuff [Radiator Water: Faces & Fives]. And Justin Mank [Sigmoid Colon, The Hammerhead Shark]. Though their stuff is harder to find.