B. Diehl is the author of the poetry collections Ballpoint Penitentiary and Zeller’s Alley. His work has been published by Hobart, BOAAT Press, Literary Orphans, Words Dance, Maudlin House, CLASH Media, and other venues. He is also one of two editors of Philosophical Idiot. When he is not doing writing, editing, or breathing in dust at his warehouse job, he is usually hanging out with his cats.
You can find him on the web at www.mynameisb.net
1. Tell me about Ballpoint Penitentiary. Where did the majority of the subject matter come from, and what motivated you to put it out under your own imprint? What sets it apart from your last book, “Zeller’s Alley”?
Ballpoint Penitentiary came together so fast. I wrote about 90% of the book in 2015, before Zeller’s Alley even came out. Basically, Zeller’s Alley got picked up by a small press I sent it to, and it took the press nearly a year to release it. During that waiting period, I was dying of boredom and anxiety. So I just kept writing.
Most of the subject matter for Ballpoint Penitentiary really just came from what I was going through or reflecting on as I was writing the book, which is why the whole thing seems unfiltered and reads almost like a diary. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and my grandmother died, so a lot of that stuff is in there.
As for what sets it apart…I don’t know, really. It’s just a better book. Zeller’s Alley is the book I wrote before I knew how to write. Ballpoint Penitentiary is more emotional, less subtle, more personal, more everything.
2. You ran a successful reading series called I Hate Poetry, which is ending very soon. Why did you decide to end it now, and where do you plan to focus your energy now, and would you consider hosting another reading series in the future?
I decided to end it because I guess readings just aren’t really my favorite things. I love the idea of having some kind of community, but events depress me if I attend too many. I see a lot of people leaving right after they perform, not bothering to listen to the other artists. I see a lot of authors begging people to buy their books but then not buying anyone else’s. Seeing stuff like that at events makes me wish I had stayed home. I’m going to focus more on writing and publishing for a while because those two things make me feel most alive. I don’t think I’ll ever do another reading series, but I’ll still host or read at or just hang out at events sometimes.
3. What do you see in the near future for the poetry scene in the NJ/PA area?
I’m not sure, really. I feel like there are so many genius poets in NJ and PA that just aren’t getting acknowledged. Sometimes I’ll go to an open mic and hear a total stranger read, and I’ll be like, “Ah, this person is amazing. I gotta get one of their books!” Then I’ll find out they have never been published. There are poets way better than me who have never gotten a single poem published. It’s crazy. I think the poetry world will keep expanding. New people will enter all the time. Hopefully that’s a good thing. I think it can be.
4. Your lit zine, Philosophical Idiot, has really taken off. It seems like the “anything goes” concept is appealing to a lot of people, however, what is it that you wouldn’t want to see? How often do you and Kat butt heads over submissions?
We’ll read almost anything. We don’t like stuff that’s edgy for the sole purpose of being edgy. You can be an asshole. That’s fine. We’ll publish your angry rant about bologna sandwiches or whatever. We just won’t publish your blatant hate speech.
Kat and I agree on a lot of things. However, I’m quick to pass on submissions that “seem too complex” or “aren’t clear enough.” Kat is way smarter than me and never has trouble understanding anything. Even if someone’s writing isn’t 100% clear, she is able to fill in the blanks as she’s reading it. Whenever you see a really long technical piece published on our site, it’s safe to assume that Kat accepted it and had to explain to me why it’s good. I’m a sucker for the short and simple.
5. There has been a lot of debate as to what defines a poem these days, with the “Insta-poets” and “Tumblr poets” gaining more popularity. What do you think it would take for more traditional poets to be recognized, and what is it that motivates you to write?
Those Insta-poets and Tumblr poets are selling thousands of books. Rupi Kaur is selling millions. I personally don’t love the stuff these poets produce, but I won’t say it’s not poetry. Of course it’s poetry. And people aren’t “wrong” for loving it. Literature is a lot like music. Remember when nu-metal was popular? Hardly anyone listens to that stuff now. Everything is always changing. Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur sold over 3 million copies. One day, a “traditional” poet’s book will do just as well. Will this happen in our lifetime? Probably not, but we’ll see.
What motivates me to write? That’s another thing that’s always changing. Right now, it’s this interview. Tomorrow? I don’t know. I hear it might snow tomorrow.
You can find “Ballpoint Penitentiary” on Amazon right here.
1 thought on “An interview with poet B. Diehl”
Love the honesty.