Mike Topp has been variously described as a "disablingly funny writer and a miniaturist of nervous precision," "richly irrational" and by Gary Lutz as "a writer’s writer’s writer." I just think he's very, very funny, and makes some tremendously subtle and deep observations about being human while at the same time being childish, crude and silly, in the spirit of the best Taoist poets. This is a rare and successful combination and I hope it brings many more people to his work.Some of his one-liners seem, at first glance, to be simple and ridiculous, like bathroom stall scrawlings:
A rolling stone can gather moss if it is rolling very, very slowly.
When I asked Alan Greenspan the other day
if he had any idea what fuels the economy
he said - "Shame" - I believe is how he put it.
But there's usually something there, something on the edge of the silliness, just underneath it - something important.
I was just, you know, I wasn't bothering anyone.
Mike loves mustard, wears very well-tailored suits, and lives in a large Eastern metropolis. He is the author of Happy Ending and Shorts are Wrong; his newest book, Sasquatch Stories, comes out soon from Publishing Genius.
Three Questions: One-liners, poems, haiku, one-paragraph stories - much of your work is overwhelmingly short. Do you spend more time editing than you do writing? How important is this kind of precision to you?
Mike Topp: I probably spend more time editing than I do writing. Precision is important, even if it’s arbitrary. Sometimes, for example, I tell myself a thing has to be 21 words, or 24 words. When something is so short, you try to get it right. If it’s done correctly, you open up an immense world and all kinds of levels.
His wife came home early. She hid in one of the drawers.
3Q: I was interested to read that you are an open-water swimmer. I also enjoy long-distance (but relatively slow) swimming, and have wanted to try one of the Alcatraz or cross-Golden Gate swims here in Northern California for some time. Do you have any advice for dealing with the cold water, or for not getting smacked by other swimmers, or other general swimming suggestions?
MT: The best way to get involved in open-water swimming is to find a group of other people you can swim with. That’s a great motivator, and a good way to meet people you might not ordinarily meet. You can get over feeling cold and it’s inevitable you’ll get smacked. I have some friends who swim year-round at Coney Island. They swim for a half hour a day in January with no wetsuit — it’s crazy. But if you’re interested, you should first try to find a master’s class. I have two or three friends and we do all the nycswim open-water swims in New York every summer.
3Q: You've made reference to painting and museums in several of your written pieces, and have said that you enjoy wandering museums and reading about art. Do you paint, or have you studied art practice or history formally? Do individual pieces of art influence your writing? If so - which? Why?
MT: It’s a beautiful world, the world of art. Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve gone to galleries three and four times a week. After I started going to galleries all the time, some dealers, like Holly Solomon, would let me poke around through stacks of drawings. For a while I worked at Franklin Furnace, an alternative exhibition space for performance and video in New York that was established in 1976 by Martha Wilson. I also guest-edited a couple issues of New Observations, and published David Lynch, Richard Prince, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sherrie Levine, Ida Applebroog, among others. Then I worked at Artforum as managing editor for a while. I always say I get a lot of ideas from looking at art, so I think it’s important to look at all different types. Last week I saw the new Matisse show at MoMA. I don’t paint or draw or take photographs, but I like to look, as they say. I also collect art and photography books, as you can see here.
3Q: When I first started getting the Stuyvesant Bee via email, I was mad. Incensed, almost. Who was sending me this crap? What the hell was I even looking at? Who had put me on this list? That's the question - who put me on the list? You probably don't know. I'm enjoying your work a lot more, now, though, so please don't take me off the list.
MT: (The Stuyvesant Bee) started out as a print product in 2004, but once I stumbled upon the idea of doing it as a PDF newsletter, well ... I had all those email addresses lying around ... Oh, btw, I have a new book coming out this year from Adam Robinson’s Publishing Genius called Sasquatch Stories. The cover is by Tao Lin and there is a drawing by David Berman.