Being Grateful for it All: A Conversation with Brad Casey

Brad Casey’s bio on Instagram describes him as a “gypsy zen degenerate.” Published by Metatron, his debut collection, The Idiot on Fire, is a compelling tribute to contemporary love in all its different forms. The poems that make up the collection are immediate and fast-moving in a modern, sex-drugs-rock’n’roll sort of way, but reveal a languid wanderlust. Casey is also the editor-in-chief of the Toronto literary magazine The 4 Poets, a biannual publication that features (as the name implies) four writers per issue.

I stalked Casey online after hearing him read from his first collection of poetry, The Idiot on Fire, at its Montreal launch last spring. We sat down—virtually, over Facebook Messenger—to discuss The Idiot on Fire, his work with The 4 Poets, and the intersection of the two. Our conversation was lightly edited for clarity.

Q : Every poem in The Idiot On Fire is addressed to a different “subject of love,” a specific person in a specific location. Do you feel like you were writing to or for or about these people (or maybe some combination of the three)? And what kind of “love” are you referring to?

A : Well, this was my process in writing the poems: I would sit at my desk and think of a specific person and would write pages of 2-line poems free form for hours. Then I’d go through text messages, Facebook messages, love letters, whatever conversations touched us both and I’d pull 2-line poems from those too. Then I’d take all these poems and rearrange them into one long semi-narrative. So in the end, every piece in the book contains both of our voices combined into one.

It was all very intuitive so I didn’t think too much about it during the process, but thinking back on it now, each poem is about a different kind of love. There’s romantic, opposite sex platonic, superficial/romantic, maternal, brother-sister and same sex platonic/romantic. Each love I was exploring was the love I shared with that person and all the pieces together, I think, display the complexity of the subject. I included a different place for each of those people because I felt the geography also had an effect on the sentiment.

Q: That’s interesting. How do you feel the geography affects the sentiment? I noticed that the locations in the titles are mostly mentioned in passing. One of your only references to Toronto is “i’m disenchanted / by toronto” and your only reference to Montreal is “montreal / is beautiful-gross / like rats / having sex / hanging out / in depanneur cafe / drinking coffee / and eating a croissant” (which is weirdly accurate, by the way).

A: If the locations aren’t referenced directly, there’s an indirect connection. New Mexico, for example, is officially nicknamed “the land of enchantment,” so there are numerous references to plants and the mystical in the New Mexico piece. The experiences mentioned in the poems are always linked to the locations, like spatial memories. Even if, for example, in the Waterdown piece, there are mentions of Austin and Rome but no direct mention of Waterdown, it’s being in Waterdown that blooms all those memories together.

Q: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s not that there’s no awareness of place, but it seems like the geography is more of an emotional backdrop, like what you’re saying about spatial memories. The idea of time is a lot more concrete, though. You mention the super blood moon and David Bowie’s death and the Bataclan shooting and Art Angels by Grimes, which are all very recent. Is time, or positioning your book as current/topical, something you were thinking about at all while writing, or did these details just arise naturally as you were free-forming?

A: Very much so. In fact, originally, each piece had a specific date attached to them, but my editor talked me into removing them.

I do think that time/space dictates the context of your relationships with others. Someone you love and have fond memories of today might hurt you tomorrow, and then all those memories are re-contextualized to create a different narrative. I heard an interesting idea the other day: That when a romantic partner cheats on you, it’s not the act of sex with another person that constitutes the cheating, it’s that they’ve acted out against the narrative you’ve created together.

To be honest, I had to fight a little with my editor Ashley (who is the best and I’m glad she fought me on these things) to keep in a lot of the dated events. I think a lot of poets try to create work that is “timeless,” but I felt like the dated events contributed to the narrative. Bringing up something like the Bataclan shooting, on the surface, provides a backdrop of what was happening in the world during this phase of the relationship, but it also highlights the dangers of entering into these relationships, which have the capacity to turn ugly, chaotic or dangerous.

That being said, I’m not concerned with writing something timeless or being considered a poet, which is very freeing.

Q: I’m glad you brought up Ashley! I saw you read from The Idiot On Fire at the Metatron launch in the spring in Montreal and it was so great. Your poems, obviously, but also the sense of community surrounding the Metatron “family.” I was wondering if you could tell me more about your experience being a part of this.

A: Of course! I run a literary magazine called The 4 Poets. When we started, we went to Expozine in Montreal and I bought so many books there, one of which was A Little Death Around the Heart by Marie Darsigny, which was published by Metatron in 2014, and it floored me.

I contacted Ashley asking if we could meet and talk about small press stuff. It turned out that Metatron and The 4 Poets shared very similar mission statements. After that meeting, we started working together in a symbiotic way. I try to help them as much as I can and I like to think that they do the same. Plus, Ashley is one of my favourite people and I have massive love and respect for Guillaume and Jay.

Anyway, they eventually asked me to submit a manuscript and luckily, I had just hit a writing breakthrough.

Q: It sounds like it happened in a very organic way. Would you say there’s a big difference between Metatron’s process and the way you function with The 4 Poets?

A: Our philosophies are similar. I can’t officially speak for Metatron, but I think we both try to engage and nurture a literary scene in Toronto/Montreal/Canada by helping emerging writers who don’t fit into “CanLit” or academic Canadian literary presses. We’re both influenced by music, DIY culture, visual art, photography, etc, so we try to include the influence of those cultures as well.

Q: There’s definitely a multidisciplinary feel to The 4 Poets. There’s cover art by awesome artists like Alexandra Mackenzie, you did a photo supplement, there are videos of live readings on your website, etc. How did you get started?

A: I came up with the idea for The 4 Poets while running one day. I had been submitting work to magazines I didn’t read or like and was met with nothing but rejection. I thought about other friends of mine who weren’t being published but had strong voices and thought that I should just publish myself their work and my own. Our publisher Swimmers Group took an interest right away and I’m grateful to Sebastian Frye (who runs SG) for believing in the idea so early and for helping create our aesthetic.

I don’t like how writers only get a poem or two in literary magazines. It doesn’t really showcase their practice, so I wanted to do something different. We publish 4 writers every magazine and give them 20 pages to do whatever they want. They don’t even have to submit writing or poetry, as long as they view what they present as their work.

We’re in the middle of putting together issue 5 of The 4 Poets right now. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to do this, but the community here has reacted enthusiastically. All our launches have been so full. As long as people are excited about it, or until someone else comes along with a more exciting format, we’ll continue working with and giving a platform to artists and writers.

Q: Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to add about The Idiot On Fire or Metatron or The 4 Poets or yourself or life?

A: Hmm. Such an open question!

Though The Idiot Of Fire is a small book and a small project all things considered, I feel very lucky to have been given opportunities to express myself, either directly or through communities of artists I love and admire. I know not everybody is so lucky and I implore anyone who has stories that are underrepresented in the world of literature and words and art right now to reach out to me, as I’d love to do what I can to help find homes for the work of others, especially if it’s honest and compelling and original and important and true.

And I feel very lucky to be alive! Today, I rode my motorcycle to my favourite cafe and I’ve been at my computer talking with you, a complete stranger, for the last couple hours, and you seem genuinely interested in my work and though I’m quietly struggling every day to pay rent and deal with disappointments and other people’s expectations and my own expectations of myself and other people and there are people and parts of myself that I miss and I work on being a patient and empathetic and loving individual every moment all the time and it’s not easy. Still, that’s pretty good! I’m grateful for all of it.

Emilie Lafleur is a Montreal-based writer. Currently studying English and Creative Writing at Concordia University, she enjoys connecting with people by checking their horoscopes instead of actually interacting with them. Her work has been published on Metatron’s Omega and is forthcoming in Spectra Journal.

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