Meg Pokrass: On Something One Might Find Inside One’s Bellybutton

An interview with Meg Pokrass, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Meg Pokrass‘s literary agent, Peg Mokrass, would like you to believe that Meg Pokrass is a leading American writer of the flash fiction form. Regardless of this controversial idea, we can safely say that Meg Pokrass is the author of four flash fiction collections and one award winning prose poetry collection. These include: Bird Envy (Harvard Book Store, 2014); Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011); Cellulose Pajamas (Blue Light Poetry Award, 2015) and My Very End of the Universe, Five Mini-Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form (Rose Metal Press, 2014). Her new collection of flash fiction, The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down, is forthcoming with Etruscan Press in Spring in 2016. Meg’s stories have appeared in more than 200 literary magazines, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, storySouth and numerous anthologies, including Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015). Along with BBC Culture’s Jane Ciabattari and NaNoWriMo’s Grant Faulkner, Meg is a co-founder and co-host of a popular, ongoing SF reading series, The Flash Fiction Collective.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

First off, I hope you don’t mind if my literary agent, Peg Mokrass, helps me answer some of these terrific questions? Peg Mokrass not only represents me in the lucrative profession of flash fiction writing, she is very good at explaining how I really feel. So, to answer your first question… and I’ll start…

MEG POKRASS: When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a writer. It’s the only thing I don’t really need to lie about. It is obvious anyway because I have no money and dress in stained clothing. Oh, and I have yellow teeth. Sure sign of an extreme caffeine addiction. Writer, but I hardly need to say it.

PEG MOKRASS: I tell them to mind their own business.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

MP: I have a literary agent. She tends to want to take over…

PM: I suppose it is obvious… Meg is a flash fiction writer, and we all know what that means. Keeping her word count below a thousand. Deep down, the poor woman has a yearning to emulate Proust or Tolstoy, to the let words flow from the pen (well, metaphorically speaking) in waves as unending as the Seine lapping against its banks or the grass undulating across the steppe, as electromagnetic perturbations extending from the singularity to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. This would, of course, sit ill at ease with constraints of the literary form in which, for better or worse, she has made her reputation.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

MP: I’d ask them a key question: I’d ask them if they are independently wealthy. If they say no (truthfully) well… I’d tell them to learn to enjoy wearing used clothes, and working very strange jobs. There is a good chance for caffeine addiction. Yellow teeth…

PM: Take a long hard look in the mirror. Is that really the face of a flash fiction writer which you see staring back at you? Have you considered real estate? chartered accountancy? lion-taming?

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

MP: Gosh… I don’t know how to answer this one. Peg?

PM: Self-evidently, my client is successful — otherwise we would not be conducting this interview.

What is your fondest memory?

MP: Finding out that I had landed the world’s only flash fiction literary agent, Peg Mokrass. I remember yodeling, singing songs from The Sound of Music, dancing with my dog… At that time, my dog had not yet found a literary agent, so I tried not to rub it in.

PM: Fishing — with my father, the general. Getting up at 6 in the morning, putting the worm jars in the boat, rowing out in the middle of the lake as the sun came up, putting the little squirming creatures on the hooks while he cast off into the still waters, watching him struggle with some big bass or carp, extracting the hook from its lip…

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

MP: Peg’s family history is a bit sketchy. So, I’ll answer this one myself. My great grandfather, Moses Mokrassovitch. He came from Malyenkograd, a  little village in western Ukraine. His father was the  undertaker and had a rabbit farm (I think it was a kosher one), and expected him to go into the family business. Moses did not see any future for himself in rabbit-farming. He ran off to Odessa, stowed away on a ship which he thought was bound for New York but which actually landed in Shanghai. He joined a travelling circus where he was employed as an elephant handler and bearded lady. After several years in the Far East he abandoned the circus in the course of an American tour, having fallen in love with my great grandmother, a sword-swallowing trapeze artist. His varied life included spells working as a welder in a shipyard, a coal-miner, an insurance salesman and a dog-catcher. He was most proud of this last job, having been voted into it by over 80% of the population of the share-cropping Mississippi township where he and his wife settled and raised their twelve children.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

MP & PM: Yuri Gagarin. An astronaut.

What’s wrong with society today?

MP: The novel is shrinking. As are attention spans. What was the question again?

PM: My client and I disagree. I’m appalled by the fact that not one flash fiction writer has yet to receive a Pulitzer Prize for a 6-word masterwork.

Would you ever perform a striptease?

MP & PM: Yes, of course we would!

Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

MP: I’m too modest to talk about it, but Peg knows exactly how I feel.

PM: Yes. We feel that a good strip is frequently spoiled by the tawdriness of the musical accompaniment. Rather than the customary can-can, we generally prefer something a bit more rousing: The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Beethoven’s Ninth, the Halleluha chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Of course, nothing beats Wagner for a real thrill: dressed as Brunnhilde I charge around the room and Meg watches. And later, we reverse roles.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

MP: I’ll watch and listen to an amazing, still unknown singer, Sarah Rocker, on YouTube.

PM: I like to watch rattlesnakes mating on YouTube because it is hard to find them mating in the real world. They are private.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

MP: I use anti-fungal applications — I’d rather not go into the details.

PM: Xanax.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

MP: Twenty on a good day. Nineteen on a not-so-good-day.

PM: My client is a hussy.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

MP & PM: Small-statured women with large hips (a bit like us) should take over the literary scene.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

MP: Yes. Art is what survives after we silly mortals die.

PM: Yes. A three letter word beginning with “a” — rhymes with tart.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

MP: I’ve always felt that sex was an excellent time to catch up on those little things which one often overlooks in the course of a busy day: compiling shopping lists, dental flossing, plucking my partner’s nasal hairs (depending on position, of course, the first being accomplished more readily when I am being taken from behind, while the latter easier in a missionary attitude)

PM: I like to direct.

What are you working on right now?

MP: We are working on this interview.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

MP: My master scheme is to reduce the epic novel to the size of something one might find inside one’s bellybutton. It is a challenge. I’m experimenting by drying long, wet novels on regular dry — hot and hoping that they may shrink to fit a growth-impaired toddler.

PM: I’m encouraging Meg, because she is on the cutting edge of small.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

MP: I would like all of the wealthy, greedy, grubby-handed realtors here to become flash fiction writers.

PM: I’m considering going into real estate. I’d like nothing to change.

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