COURTNEY BUSH is the author of the book I LOVE INFORMATION (2023, Milkweed Editions, buy here)).  In the spirit of the title, poet ARI LISNER interviews COURTNEY BUSH on herself, her reading-optional email newsletter THE COURTNEY REPORT, and how to make things true.

ARI LISNER: My first question to you is one I know you love my answer to. Or at least fascinated by. If you were on a desert island, would you be writing poetry?

COURTNEY BUSH: Ari, yes. I think that is all I'd be doing. I'd be terrified of losing language, having no people around me who were using it, having no, like, advertisements and signage to remind me of the ways it's manipulated and omnipresent in cities full of people. There's this moment in Euphoria where Fezco says to Lexi, "Damn, Lexi, you're fearless," when she says she doesn't believe in God. That's how I feel about you saying you wouldn't write poems out there.

AL: Your first book was EVERY BOOK IS ABOUT THE SAME THING. Is I LOVE INFORMATION about the same thing as EVERY BOOK IS ABOUT THE SAME THING? If not, what is it about?

CB: Yes, they're about the same thing. I said in the first one that there's no word for what every book is about, which is why books can exist, but I'm challenging myself lately to stop saying enigmatic things, so I'd say every book is "about" trying to get language to do something it isn't going to do.

AL: For those who don’t know: what’s the deal with titling 9 of the 26 poems in the book Katelyn?

CB: I just name poems Katelyn when I can't think of a title because I think it's a funny, classic name. But really, it comes from a misremembering of a Mónica de la Torre line I heard her read at Pioneerworks on December 8, 2015. The whole reading is available here on Pennsound. She read a line that was, like, "What would the man who said 'the poem's not about anything, Kristen,' have to say about a day like this?" I thought the tone was so funnily exasperated and bitchy. I remembered it as Katelyn and only much later found out it was Kristen.

AL: I have the pleasure of knowing you. I find the poems easy to read in your voice. To those who do not know your likeness: how do you want to be taken and heard through I LOVE INFORMATION?

CB: I want to sound like the man in the Mónica de la Torre poem, like an over-confident older sister who talks to you as if she knows everything. But who, like, is a weird mystic and believes language is more powerful and mysterious than everything else combined.

AL: I also found the poems to be very even-keeled. You don’t seem like you’re losing your shit. Can you speak more on that read?

CB: I'm definitely not losing my shit in the poems. The poems are places where I can do whatever I want, and I want to make power moves. Poems aren't a place to lose my shit. I have to be in control. I like the phrase "immaculate control."

AL: Is that how writing them felt?

CB: I feel calm when I write because I let language direct me. Like many of us, I keep notes in my phone of bits of language I refuse to let escape me. Strange things I hear, surprising syntax I encounter in reading or in life. When I don't know what to do in a poem, when a train of thought is exhausted, I go to the language I collect and often just drop something in. Language is smarter than I'll ever be, so creating a situation for it to do its thing, to respond to itself, feels good to me.

AL: But a big theme that comes across in the book is the phenomenon of revelation. A “second revelation”  comes in the first instance of a Katelyn poem. You also have a later one titled Poem After My First Revelation. Even the poems that aren’t explicitly about revelations feel revelatory. What does a revelation mean to you? 

CB: I call it a revelation when I learn something whole, in its entirety, without having to go through the grueling, amorphous experience, at least on a conscious level, of learning. I don't think it happens often, but it does happen. Maybe the poems feel that way because I don't like to waver in them. I like the sound of clarity and conviction, of over-confidence, so I try to use formulations that sound incontrovertible.

AL: You mention film and TV a lot: Cassavettes, A Star is Born, Passolini, Ozark, Elmo in Sesame Street. What’s your relationship to high brow/low brow? What’s your relationship to film?

CB: I love that famous quote, "God is a circle whose center is everywhere" because it frees everything up. In that formulation, Elmo is the center of God, so are advertisements and Minions and John Cassavetes and every single thing.

AL: Talk to me about the non-reality or fiction in these poems. If some of it’s fictitious, how do you graft this fiction onto your realities? Or is it all a true story?

CB: I'd say most of it is true, but I graft in information pulled from other places. In my poem about different jobs I wrote, "I illustrated a book on horse surgery with my best friend." I didn't do that, Agnes Martin did that, but I grafted it in. I like that word for it, grafting. I think of moments like that as glitches where more life pours in.

AL: I feel like you're not embarrassed of the weird shit that happens to you. Are you?

CB: No, I'm not at all. I'm just happy to be here.

AL: So have you been writing poems lately?

CB: Of course!

AL: You also write THE COURTNEY REPORT, a monthly email newsletter you make sure everyone knows they don’t have to read. I do read it and I forward it to my friends.  The tone is so enchanting. You say things like “The theme of this month’s report is doing heart hands.” and it feels exacting of your sensibility. You make things true so easily.

CB: I love that. Making things true.

AL:Part of that is your extraction and abstraction. For example, when you quote the HBO show The Big Brunch, you just quote it. “Brunch is a celebration of eating everything on your plate.” What helps you see these things? Why do they feel like they’re meant to be in the Report?

CB: I love that quote from The Big Brunch. I could see that going into a poem. My consideration of language as something "alive" has gone to a stupid place of thinking of language as an entity I'm actually friends with. She's my smartest and funniest friend. But you only get language from people, who are the converters. I don't know what a catalytic converter is, but people are the catalytic converters of language, making it perceivable in space and time. Since people are so weird, everyone is constantly spewing wild language.

AL: What’s been your favorite COURTNEY REPORT moment?

CB: A lot of people, especially women, have responded to "If you wouldn't say it to Werner Herzog, do not say it to me." I felt like I had been understood when people reached out, and I liked that moment. People say crazy shit to women artists and one day I just realized I wanted to be spoken to like I'm Werner Herzog or not at all. I mean, I'm joking but you get it.

AL: Is the whole report a poem?

CB: I don't think the report is a poem but that's just from lack of imagination. I started writing it because I have too much in my head. I used to just tweet like forty times an hour, but I wanted to see what would happen if I collected all that language in one place, expanded it when I wanted to, and could see it as a large unit. Then once I send it at the end of each month, I can put all of that energy and language to bed.

AL: There’s a lot of confidence there, and also in your website URL Courtney Bush Great Artist dot com. Where does it come from? What might you recommend for those struggling to command?

CB: Well, I think confidence makes things fun. I do think being confident is what happens when you don't take yourself too seriously but you take making art and active participation with life seriously. It's also pragmatic. I do have fears around art making, but my fear comes after the fact, and it's always that I could've gone harder, I could've been even more committed.

AL: My last question: do you, Courtney Bush, love information?

CB: Oh my god, I love it so much.


ARI LISNER is the author of the chapbook ONE SHTIK PONY (2023, Bullshit Lit, buy here), which, among its many bold gestures, makes the claim that T is the "femmiest drug in the entire world." Poet COURTNEY BUSH interviews ARI LISNER about love poems, blue, and the delusions that the writing of poetry may require.

COURTNEY BUSH: I'm glad we are doing this because there is something I've been meaning to ask you about. In an interview for Newest York, you said if you were stranded on a desert island, you wouldn't write poetry, and that you were okay with that. Is that true? Why not write a little poem out there?

ARI LISNER: My poetry felt like a direct address at that time. It was so much about its profession. It needed to go on tour. I had thought without the pursuit of love and no one to tell all about it, there would be no reason to write poems. I had hoped I could be a painter out on a loveless island.

CB: I'm impressed with how sexy your poems are and how unabashedly they are love poems. Why does it feel important to you to write about romantic love?

AL: It is so enviable to me to be able to write anything else. I love my love poems, but they are desperate for something. I get consumed.

CB: In your poems, so much feeling, romantic love, identity, are marked by a sense of humor and a sadness in its relation to products, calling them by their names. Frost Gatorade. Complicated coffee drinks. How and why you thread these themes with the ecstasy and mortification of buying things?

AL: Specificity. Calling them into the poem invokes their meaning and flavor. You know the trope-scene of being at the counter and ordering a crazy coffee and it being super normal? Then that scene being something knowable to the viewer because that’s just our world? Then the viewer watching whatever is seeing that scene and knowing that it’s also a parody of the way it is just the way it is? That’s my goal.

CB: A great example is the first section of your rendition of Bluets. The navy blue robe, the ice blue Gatorade. It's a Bluets for boys that recognizes the ridiculousness of taking on Maggie Nelson's Bluets, which is such a cultural marker. Bluets is a commodity, not unlike Gatorade. Can you tell me more about your decision to go there?

AL:There are so few things that are blue. I’ve always been obsessed with saying that but it’s also true. Blue’s always been my favorite flavor.

CB: I see you as a very social poet. I met you at your reading series at KGB. I have a lot of admiration for people who keep poetry alive socially. How does curating a reading series influence your writing life?

AL: I was meeting poets and learning all of the scene geography at that time. Those IT’S A SIGN readings are the truest curatorial thing I have ever done and I loved being intentional, local, limited by logistics and emotions and antics together to create situational magic. My intention was so pure and it feels foreign to me now. Even though I remember that time as mayoral.

CB: Do you have something I'm lately calling a guiding poetry delusion? Something you delusionally believe you could get language or a poem to do?

AL: Poems make leaps and bounds by design. Not sure if that is delusional on its face. In the ONE SHTICK POEMS, I delusionally held the belief that the language and motions of storytelling could sufficiently sustain illusion. I think those poems successfully unravel lore-making, stage-setting, ring-mastering to failure– whatever compound word I make it.

CB: What is your relationship to the "I" in your poems? The "I" feels really steady. Is that you in there, Ari Lisner? Or do you come from the "voice of the poem" side of things. If I read the first poem in your chapbook could I take from it that you have a fantasy of reading at the podium at the 92 Street Y? I never thought I had a feeling about this myself until someone asked me recently.

AL: Yeah that’s me!

CB: Okay, phew.

Follow Ari + Courtney:

Ari’s Instagram:@arisbarmitzvah

Courtney’s Twitter:@anitagrape
Courtney’s Instagram:@anita_grape_ressurection

About Courtney:

Courtney Bush is a poet and filmmaker from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She is the author of I Love Information (Milkweed Editions, 2023, winner of the 2022 National Poetry Series), Every Book Is About The Same Thing (Newest York Arts Press, 2022), and the chapbook Isn't This Nice? (blush lit, 2019). She also writes The Courtney Report, a free monthly email loosely described as a newsletter.

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