The Art of Craft Beer & Poetry: An Interview with Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo

Courtesy Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo
Courtesy Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo is best known as the co-creator of Bank Heavy Press, recently named one of the top 5 presses to know in Long Beach.  He, along with his co-creators (and now a bevy of editors), continue to run the press.  This press has included chapbooks and periodical journals that can still be purchased from here.  As Zack continues to traverse his poetry universe in a hopes of finding the next project or great craft beer, he co-hosts the monthly reading series at Gatsby Books in Long Beach called Bank Heavy Poetential Famous Reading held on the last Thursday of each month.  The next reading is September 26, 2013, featuring J.L. Martindale.  In this conversation he talks about how he picks poetry for his press and his latest project with PJ Santos, Insomniatic Umbrella Press.

Denise R. Weuve: I like to start the conversation by asking how Long Beach, as a community of writers, has formed the poet you have become?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  It has definitely had some influence on me. Some of my favorite poets are from Long Beach, and before I even knew who they were, I was reading their work. With the abundance of readings and critiques and/or encouragement I’ve received from some of those I look up to (i.e. Joan Jobe Smith, Clifton Snider, Jeff Epley, and Karie McNeley. I could go [on] for days), I’ve been able to play with my writing and try different things to really explore my own voice. I thank a lot of people for that.

DRW:  I would say many in the Long Beach scene feel the same way, particularly with the support of Joan Jobe Smith through her co-edited magazine, Pearl.  For many of us it is our first acceptance letter.

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Ha Ha. I wish Pearl had indeed been my first. Though it was my first rejection.  But, it was my first time submitting work as well.

DRW:  Don’t feel bad, they were my first rejection, but I’m stubborn and immediately sent back and got my first acceptance from them as well.

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  I think that’s great!  Honestly, any poet/writer can’t let rejections get to them.  You’ve got to build a skin to that and keep sending stuff out, even to those who reject you, if you’re really into the mag.

DRW:  So you feel a great deal of support from these fellow writers?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Greatly. Jeff [Epley] specifically jolted my reemergence into the love I had of poetry when I was in middle and high school. He showed me that what I had been writing (even the horrible shit upon shit in notebooks) was working toward something greater. And he was my first poet who I sent work back and forth to, and that began before Bank-Heavy even started.  Now it’s been years.

DRW:  I’m glad you brought up Bank Heavy.  Can you talk a little about Bank Heavy Press, which was recently sited as one of the 5 Small Press Publishers in Long Beach You Need to Know (LB Post).  What was the motivation behind starting this with your co editors Karie McNeley and Corie de Silva?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Oh man, I can’t believe we’ve been at it for almost three years. It’s amazing that we were included in that, we still think of ourselves as just a few poetry addicts trying to publish what we like and hopefully have an audience.

DRW:  That has to be the best motivation to publish: addiction.  Some addicts search for crack, others poetry.

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  It was the story of stories; I had an idea bubbling for a long time about starting a press. And, finally at a workshop I mentioned it to Karie & Corie, and long story short, here we are today!

DRW:   Is there a current project for Bank Heavy you want to plug?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  There always is. I swear Karie said it once in another interview, “The press never sleeps.” We’re currently finishing an issue featuring an artist (confidential) and writings by Chiwan Choi, as well as a split chapbook with Zach Locklin and Charlotte San Juan. Both projects are looking good, or as we always like to say “Fucking Snazzy!”

DRW:  Let’s talk about your new project, Insomniatic Umbrella Press.  I believe you are doing this with PJ Santos.  How will you be merging art and writing? Will it be the way Regardless of Authority does it: getting separate pieces of art and poetry and matching them up in a thematic sort of way?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  I’ve been stoked on this project, and the ideas that have poured from PJ and I both are just too much to handle. Unlike Bank-Heavy, Insomniatic is only focusing on one to two projects a year. Here’s the fun part, each project is it’s own unique artifact/art/writing piece. The two of us are the artists creating the “vessels” of the poetic interpreting the poetry and creating a unique format that we believe enhances the poetry. So look out for some pretty crazy stuff. We like to keep things top secret, but I can leak our first two projects, Karie McNeley and Paul Tayyar.  We wanted to think outside of the planet.

DRW:  As an editor, when do you know you have read a great poem? Seen a great piece of art? Know it has to be part of your world?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Oh man, it’s not easy to get to those. Honestly, it is a lot of reading. Trench-warfare for the editor, digging, is being shot at, high casualties. Then as the dust clears and I read, or see it, I just know. Usually on the first read I can tell if it is going to be in. And they [the poems] usually bombard me in astonishment. For example, we (against all stated and posted submission guidelines) received a postal submission, and well it’s pretty fucking amazing, so it is a rare exception, but I was just flabbergasted. It was quality, and creative and just bloody brilliant.

DRW:  How far into a piece do you have to read before you think, maybe?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo: Usually the first few lines. I always read all the way through, but those first pivotal lines are the attention grabbers. If I’m bored by the fifth line (longer if their Bukowski-esq lines) it’s more than likely a no go. I love poetry and I want it to speak on the page, if it’s not speaking then I feel it’s failed its job.

DRW:  I have to say I could have guessed that from your writing.  I notice that your poems grab quickly. For example, “Resurrecion’s” first line Jesus works at the tacos y maricos. I thought who doesn’t want to see where this poem goes?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo: Thanks! It’s not a conscious move, but I guess it happens to come out that way. And with a little help of editing.  I just want to be slapped in the face from the first line, and I guess it translates into my own writing.

And to think that [“Resurreccion”] was my “kicker” poem in that submission. The one I thought was okay, but good enough to be thrown into the submission.

DRW:  That happens to us all.  I have actually sent an editor a poem he requested, and two other poems as filler, he ended up taking what I thought was the C level filler poem and giving back the one he originally asked for.

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  It seems to happen a lot. Poets under estimate themselves.

DRW:  And your poem, “Morning Chili” does the same thing, and I noticed that the magazine Zygote in my Coffee celebrates the “slapped in the face” type of writing you were speaking about earlier.

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo: I’d been reading their mag for sometime before I finally submitted. I liked quite a bit of it. The editors there have [quite some] good taste.

DRW:  They have published quite a few locals, Kevin Ridgeway, Thomas R. Thomas, Daniel Romo, and others

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo: Yeah, they love us LB folks

DRW:  How do you see the poetry scene changing in Long Beach?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo: Well, it’s a slow progression. People are not the most accepting of change. I have noticed that more and more younger folks (my relatively young age and younger) are popping their heads into readings to listen, or participate. I guess the one part [of change] I’d like to see happen quicker (I believe it’s already started) is some unison between the slam and “written” people. Poetry is meant to be shared, and spoken, but to a point if it doesn’t present itself on the page better than it was performed then well boo. But the same goes toward a poem not coming to life for an audience. So there’s weight on both sides. In other words I think that the two non-warring, but non-participating sides should just get the fuck over it and hug.

DRW:  Hug it out, as it were?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Exactly.

DRW: Okay, here come the Rapid Fire Five

1.  What art other than your own would you like to attempt?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Yikes! Craft beer! There’s an art in brewing. I’ve done it once, and I’d like to experiment more.

DRW:    2.  What writer do you constantly go back to as a reader?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Whoa, jease. I still always fall back onto Clifton Snider, or Walt Whitman. I never get sick of either ones writing.

DRW:    3.  Where is your favorite place to write?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Outside. A beach, a mountain, a riverbank. Hell, if I could I’d do it between sets while I surfed.

DRW:    4.  What is the hardest part of being writer?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Editing. It’s fun to write the initial creative impulse, but it’s real work to go back and make it open for reading to an audience, to make your initial thoughts and feelings jump into another person and relate.

DRW:     5.  And finally what advice would you like to leave fellow writers and readers of this article?

Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo:  Read in abundance, write in abundance, live life, and always end it with a good beer. My recommendation Beachwood Brewing; local amazingness.

DRW:  Excellent advice.  Thank you for your time Zack

Interview conducted by local poet, Cadence Collective Contributor, and creative writing teacher Denise R. Weuve.

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