Daniel Nester is the best professor I never had.
Wait… That sounds inappropriate.
What I mean is this. While I have enjoyed Nestor’s poetic events (and our visit to a thrift store back room where a hushed voice asking “Do you like kitsch?” prompted the purchase of this), I have never taken his class. As if that weren’t disappointment enough, Nester and I have had other unfinished business lingering too, until now.
In his new book, How to be Inappropriate (Soft Skull Press, Nov 2009), Nester includes a story about foot licking. When I first heard it read aloud, my laughter caused petechial hemorrhaging when, in a violent fight for oxygen, forceful inhalation sent a snack chip straight down my throat. Having left the room in a choking fit prior to the story’s conclusion, I can finally learn how it ends. Consider this a cautionary tale. Beware the deadly humor.
And now, it is with great pleasure I introduce journalist, essayist, poet, editor, and teacher, Mr. Daniel Nester, as he talks about How to Be Inappropriate.
DN: A writer friend of mine, the super Denise Duhamel, put out word to me that she was guest-editing an issue on humor and poetry in a peer-reviewed, scholarly-type article called HUMOR: The International Journal for Humor Studies. And as I thought through ideas for what I might write and submit, the notion of doing a straightforward, close reading survey of instances of references to and depictions of the fart and the act of farting in English language poetry. So I put out word to my email friends and lists, got some on my own, and put together a sort of “fartspotter’s guide to poetry.”
BD: Fabulous. And is it safe to say that you are an expert in poetic farts? Have you encountered strong competition in this area and, if so, has it been credible? (My husband would swear that I’m an expert – even in my sleep – but don’t you believe it.)
DN: I don’t know if I am an expert, but I can rattle off a few for you. Here’s Alexander Pope’s, from the fourth book of his Dunciad:
And now had Fame’s posterior Trumpet blown
And all the Nation’s summon’d to the Throne
That one was from a tip from Doug Butler, my colleague at Saint Rose. Here’s another from W.H. Auden’s “Doggerel by a Senior Citizen“:
Then Speech was mannerly, an Art
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.
There’s just so many good ones. A couple in the piece in the book are stretches references to wind breaking, windows rattling but they all seem to be fart references, at least to my mind.
BD: I’m curious about another area of your experience: medical writing. Do you find that this type of professional writing has suppressed your penchant for silly bodily functions, thus leading to an outpouring of biological fetishism – as in the buildup of methane gas within the lower intestine – if only expressed in books?
DN: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say I was the best medical writer, but I when I was doing it a lot, I was OK. And what kept me going were those times there was a reference to bodily functions or just plain medical strangeness. The closest my medical writing and my so-called creative writing meet was a piece I wrote about ExtenZe, a so-called “male enhancement” pill that affects that certain part of the male anatomy. I tried to see if any of the science held up, or if there were any references to the pill’s efficacy in peer-reviewed medical journals. There were none, of course: the pills are bunk. But it was cool to conduct my own little patient reported outcome thingie.
BD: So, can you describe one of the more touching moments in How to Be Inappropriate? Is there inappropriate touching, perhaps?
DN: I think there’s probably inappropriate touching, sure. One piece talks about how my wife and I went through some trials and tribulations in the fertility/IVF world to have our first kid. There’s a lot of references to the “collection rooms” there. It’s largely sincere and, I suppose, touching. I also write with a straight face about leaving New York and leaving the New York poetry world, which are comedic unto themselves, but my account is told with an acidic tone.
BD: As you know, I used your 2008 foot licking reading here to prove Foucault’s theory, that in all the ways we try to avoid talking about sexual behavior or fetishism, a discourse is thus created. This post earns thousands of hits from fans of foot licking, licking feet, sex foot, sex feet, feet sex, foot sex, footsex and so on, making obvious that foot licking is alive, well and openly discussed. Do you find Foucault’s therory to be true in your own writing, or do you feel you often take a direct approach?
BD: How much inappropriate behavior do you encourage in your creative non-fiction classes? Do you have any particularly inappropriate assignments planned for the upcoming semester?
DN: It’s not that I encourage inappropriate behavior in either myself or other writers or my students. It’s that I teach and encourage others that we shouldn’t shy away from it. I am of the mind that the most embarassing details in a story or poem or what have you are often the most interesting and honest. So I guess I’ve talked myself into a circle, that I do encourage others write inappropriately. But it’s not being inappropriate for the sake of it.
BD: If you could write your own interview question, what would it be and how would you answer it?
Me#1: Hey, Dan, what?s up?
Me#2: Call me Daniel.
Me#1: What, do you have a stick up your ass?? Why are you so formal?
Me#2: It’s not like that. I hate the way the familiar form of Dan melds into Nester, thus making it one word. Like Dannester.
Me#2: It’s also, like, my “writing name.” People don’t say “Davey Sedaris” or “Johnny Keats” or “Bill O’Reilly,” do they??
Me#1: They do say “Bill O’Reilly.” That’s what he goes by.
BD: One last question, Daniel. When Maisie, your wife, allowed you to lick her feet for the video teaser above, did her toes curl because it tickled? Was there another reason, perhaps? Or is this line of questioning simply inappropriate since Maisie isn’t here to speak for herself?
DN: It did tickle her, yes. She’s very tickling. The sound on that footage is riddled with giggles. She wouldn’t mind me saying this.
A lot of people, I think, would be grossed-out by that footage, but for me, it was about how my lovely wife was willing to have her feet licked on film in order to promote my book. That’s love.
BD: Thank you so much for visiting, Daniel, and for talking about your exquisitely inappropriate book. It has been a sincere pleasure.
DN: Thanks a lot for talking.
How to Be Inappropriate can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere. Release is set for November 2009.
Author photo by Gregory Cherin, suitable for framing or rubbing against denim.
Daniel Nester’s first two books, God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His third, The History of My World Tonight (BlazeVOX, 2006), is a collection of poems.
For more information (or T.M.I.) about Daniel’s full body of work, visit www.DanielNester.com. Also, be sure to catch his book tour readings at a city near you. (Just leave the snacks at home unless accompanied by a friend trained in the Heimlich Maneuver.)