I read the first half of Dust Bunny City (Disorder Press, 2017) at a party, while I was sober. Men were playing darts, making tiny dart holes in the rented apartment walls. I watched them throw darts and cheer and try to teach me how to play, and then drunkenly play with the dogs in the house and then went back to my reading. Even though I was sober, which is new for me, I was with my old man which made the atmosphere good for reading a book like this. Dust Bunny City is part people watching, part love and loving someone when they are gone for a time, part drinking, part city/working class life. One of my favorite stanzas from the book are from Reunion Featuring Tulip:
it’s easier to write a poem about a tulip tree
about homecoming fucking
about eating breakfast on 218th street
about a stranger out on the street coughing
about how we try to be gentle, but can’t
get it right.
It is a book by and about people who love each other and that experience being in the world told through poetry, prose and imagery-- Bud’s prose captures the simplicity of the day to day in loving a person and Rae’s imagery does much the same-- her line work is chaotic yet also has an easiness to it, in how it depicts the characters and moments in the book. I got the chance to interview both Bud and Rae about their collaboration, and if they had any plans for projects together in the future.
My first question is for Rae-- the illustrations are beautiful and some are even haunting to me. How long have you been illustrating? Is it the only medium you work in? I saw somewhere (on Twitter, I think) that the manuscript was written first and then the illustrations were added later. What was that process like for you? Had you read the poems and stories before you illustrated them, or was it the first time?
Rae Buleri: I specifically didn't read the poems. Bud would say "remember that time on 175th street". I thought it was a good idea to just draw from my heart without trying to directly illustrate from each poem. I love how it flows together. We are so in-sync. Makes me so happy how it came out.
I went to art school at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and always had a sketch book on me. I always loved drawing even when I was kid. I didn't like playing with dolls or makeup, but I did LOVE to color and draw. It's always been a part of me. I got a little lazy with it when I moved to NYC for my first Textile Design job. I was so worn from work, that I didn't make art as much. But we had been wanting to do a book together and it inspired me to draw draw draw. Now I am back in the game and we are already working on another book with words and drawings.
I used to paint abstract art, but that has been a while. I feel happiest with the drawings, but I think I am going to try to incorporate color next time.
Bud, how long did the overall manuscript take you to write? I loved how the pieces formed a larger narrative about the wife on a trip. I feel like I need to give this book to my husband when I take trips, even three days is hard for us both haha! I couldn't imagine three whole weeks.
Bud Smith: Dust Bunny took months to complete because I'd write something and then I'd see some of Rae's drawings and I'd get a different idea about a piece, and the whole thing kept changing, for the better. Then once I thought it was done, Disorder Press said it was okay if I did the layout on the interior of the book, so that became another thing that stretched out into happy weeks of tinkering while I tried to learn InDesign and in paying that close of attention to how things looked, it made me try harder to tie everything together writing-wise. The art influenced the writing, and it was slow goings but the most fulfilling work I got to play around with yet. Collab fucking rules.
I really love that process you described, both Bud kind of revising based on the illustrations and Rae specifically not reading the poems but drawing from memory. In what ways do you feel like memory influenced the narrative structure of the book? For example, Dust Bunny City isn't just poetry. It's like a series of experiences in three different forms-- prose, the flashes of images, and the poetry, that create this larger story. Bud, why did you decide to write it that way, bouncing back between prose and poetry? Was it written chronologically, or more so in pieces and then threaded together later?
BS: Dust Bunny City was written chronologically, but I don't know why I bounced around with stories/anecdotes/poems, etc. I guess maybe life has no plan, so it felt good to make this little book that had no plan. I like that it's scattershot and whatever because that feels closer to irl.
RB: I totally draw from memory. I like to draw without looking at the page. It's technical name is "Blind Contour." So it really helps me to escape and not think too much as I draw. I try to draw a person, but then I think about how that person has all their thoughts, bubbling in their head, so then I draw those thoughts. Those memories. And it goes on and on.
BS: The thing about memory is that it changes every time you try and recall what really happened. And it's even worse if the thing you're trying to remember is something edging towards bullshit at each party you're at. If you tell and retell your life enough times, who knows what it really is. And as this book was edited, the true memory got hazier and hazier and the editing was just a ball bouncing crazily down a hallway, smacking off piece to piece and connecting the pieces together, as they knocked together.
I read the poem '103rd Street.' What was the deciding factor in naming the book Dust Bunny City?
BS: When we lived off 173rd street, there was this wind that always blew in off the Hudson River and so we called our neighborhood, Windy Heights instead of its proper, Washington Heights. There was a constant stream of dust and soot that blew in our window and everything we owned was always covered in dust. The city is beautiful in more ways you can name and just as ugly in more names you can't name either. It couldn't have been six months before we were calling the city Dust Bunny City instead of New York City. The piece you're mentioning 103rd Street is about a man literally screaming about how fucked up society is, but people are drunk and gathered around him and he's a kind of entertainment to them. They're out for a night of fun on the street he probably sleeps on. Fun/not fun!
When you were laying out the book, did you and Rae ever disagree over the final details in the book or how it was laid out?
BS: I don't know how, but we didn't argue about anything. Rae would be like, "okay, let's do this" and we'd do it and then I'd say "alright, now how we are gonna do this, what do you think?" and the thing just happened without ego or worry. I guess we save the screaming for things more important than books.
This book feels as much about romance between two people as it does between the people and the city. How long have you both lived off of 173rd St (or the place that inspired it-- I'm assuming here, forgive me if I'm wrong!), and how has it changed since you lived there? What do you like most about it?
RB: We did live right off 173rd Street for 10 awesome years. And we've been in Jersey City now for just a year, and Jersey City is like a vein off the heart of NYC. It was so inspiring to live in NYC, always going somewhere. And the best is you walk or take the subway, rather than sit in a car. And still city-livin' today, our favorite thing: Talk. Talk. Talk.
Daytime is the greatest with the hustle and bustle of the day to day. I love rushing to work, rushing to a party, walking fast. Then as the day dies down. Night time is just as exciting. One of our favorite things we talked about and try to explain in Dust Bunny is the night time and when the neighborhood goes to sleep, but the sound of the city never really does sleep. It's much quieter late night, but there is this soft hum of electricity, of cars driving by quietly, planes flying over head in the distance and rarely any voices. I love that time of night. We grew up in a suburb of New Jersey, by the sea shore. Beach childhood so wonderful, but always looking to the city and how to grow.
Everything Neon (Marginalia Publishing, 2014) is your full-length poetry collection-- Bud, how was the process of writing for Dust Bunny City different for you?
BS: I wanted Everything Neon to be more like a photo album, or a mix tape, think I was feeling nostalgic for haha, like the day I was having even though it was still that day. Everything Neon takes place in much of the same physical locations as Dust Bunny City and Calm Face (House of Vlad, 2016), where Everything Neon was kind of hello to that neighborhood, Calm Face was the freak-out there in the middle of surviving through it, and Dust Bunny City was leaving it, saying goodbye. I wrote those books to be read together and maybe one day they'll be collected together in a big ol' volume. Writing Dust Bunny City wasn't much different from writing Everything Neon or Calm Face, except I was lucky enough to get to make this book with Rae. Collaboration can be the hardest thing, or the easiest thing. You never can tell what it'll be. With Rae it was easy as pie.
Rae, who are some illustrators or painters that you particularly love, that inspire you?
RB: Some illustrators/painters I really love are Ralph Steadman. Amazing line drawings with so many feelings and moods happening. Kids book Illustrator Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Excellent use of mixed media. Andy Warhol. Needs no explanation as well as Hieronymus Bosch (had to spell check that one) and lastly William de Kooning, also an excellent painter of moods and feelings.
I have a tattoo of the Very Hungry Caterpillar on my foot! That's awesome. Did you both grow up near each other?
BS: Oh how badass, you have that caterpillar, that's wonderful. You'll never get old that way. We grew up a town apart, Bayville and Toms River in NJ but didn't meet until after Rae was already done with college and I should have been done with college but had already committed to being a dumbass forever, instead.
Oh that's neat, though. My husband and I lived only two miles from each other in Colorado Springs when I was a teenager (he was, too, but was enlisted by that time), but we didn't meet until he'd moved to Denver years later, and I was in another town for college. When you think of the butterfly effect of things it must have taken for you two to meet, it makes that chance pretty magical. My last question is, can you both tell us a little about your next project?
BS: The next project we are going to do together is a big book about dogs. There's an excerpt of some of it at New York Tyrant here.
I wanted to ask if the dog from Dust Bunny City is real and if they are happier out in the suburbs, haha. I love dogs.
BS: Yes! The dog from Dust Bunny is a mixed mutt, Pug and Boston terrier. So Rae drew her twice, once as a pug and once as a Boston Terrier in that piece 'Some Dogs I Know.' That pup is still down there in the suburbs and still eating bugs she finds under rocks and bumbling blindly around the house woo-wooing. Her name is Bubby.