Dennis Cooper

The transgressive writer on simple poetry, complicated porn and the philosophy of rimming

Arts+Culture Q+A
Dennis Cooper
Author Dennis Cooper Bruno Werzinski

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Taken from the November issue of Dazed & Confused:

Dennis Cooper is one of contemporary America’s greatest literary outlaws. He’s been putting out idiosyncratic and gloriously confrontational fiction and poetry since he came up through the LA punk scene in the late 70s, and has also done stellar turns in magazine publishing, book publishing, criticism, theatre and curating, performing and making art. A tireless supporter and serial recommender of new writing, art and music, Cooper’s generous and much-followed blog has become one of the most reliably winning corners of the internet. This month sees the publication of The Weaklings (XL), 
his first full-length poetry collection in nearly two decades, 
and it is super, super good. Shot through with classic Cooper tropes – gay boys, teen ennui, sex and death – it’s like a whittled-down wander through his world, with the harrowing murdery gnarliness turned down a bit and the tender touchingness turned right up. We phoned him in his adopted hometown of Paris to have a chat about it all.    

Dazed Digital: Do you think of your poetry as a honed-down distillation of the fiction? A lot of the same sorts 
of things come up...

Dennis Cooper: Yeah, maybe. My poetry’s a lot less complicated and confrontational than some of the things in my novels. 
I think of them as separate. I’m not really very confident in my poetry; it’s not like how I am with my fiction. I feel like I understand what I’m doing as a fiction writer, but poetry’s a big experiment: I don’t feel like 
I really understand the form very well. And also poetry almost always comes out of some kind of emotion, and it’s just about representing emotions. 
My fiction is really constructed and has all these kind of complicated things I do to make it work. I guess The Weaklings could be seen as a way into the world I write about. Maybe it’s a way into the nice part of me, the tenderness in my work. Sometimes with my fiction, people don’t tend to see that so much.    

Dazed Digital: There’s a lot less blood and guts than we’re used to in your fiction.

Dennis Cooper: Ha ha, yeah. You can’t really do that in poetry. Well I guess you can, but it’s very rare that people actually try to do that in poetry. I’m always trying to do a lot more in fiction than the poetry. The poems are basically pretty simple.

Dazed Digital: They’re a bit gentler than much of your other writing. Are you mellowing with age?

Dennis Cooper: Me? Mellowing? Oh, I don’t think so. Hmmm. No, I don’t think so. I mean, everybody seemed to think my last novel was pretty intense. I just don’t want to repeat myself, so yeah, I wrote some things that were more extreme when I was younger. I don’t really have a great urge to do it again necessarily. But I definitely don’t think I’m mellowing.

When I was younger I always used to send poems to The Paris Review and they rejected them: I could never get published in there and I always wanted to

Dazed Digital: Would it horrify you if you were?

Dennis Cooper: It just doesn’t seem conceivable to me, so I don’t really worry about it. 
If I was mellowing, I guess it would concern me. But I’m definitely not.

Dazed Digital: Does it irritate you that people are still intimidated by aspects of 
your work?

Dennis Cooper: That comes with the territory. I know that stuff’s difficult. I do it because it’s difficult, for me and for the reader – I’m interested in negotiating that. The thing I’ve realised is that there’s no way around it. You can do complicated things with structure or language or effects to try to get people to read the difficult stuff, but there are people who just 
don’t want it in their heads. 
They don’t go to books for that, and are just not interested. I don’t like the stigma: I don’t like the fact that when people hear my name they immediately think of serial killing and all that stuff. A lot of people won’t read the books because they think it’s going to be like that: that bothers me. But if people read the books and don’t like them or are offended, then it’s like, well, what did I expect?

Dazed Digital: You’ve said that you hope the sweetness of your work might be appreciated a bit more in time.

Dennis Cooper: Yeah, and it’s definitely the case now compared to when I first started publishing books.

When people hear my name they immediately think of serial killing and all that stuff. A lot of people won’t read the books because they think it’s going to be like that: that bothers me. But if people read the books and don’t like them or are offended, then it’s like, well, what did I expect?

Dazed Digital: Last year you did one of The Paris Review’s big author interviews. did you feel vindicated by recognition from ‘the establishment’?

Dennis Cooper: That was really huge for me, yeah. When I was younger I always used to send poems to The Paris Review and they rejected them: I could never get published in there and I always wanted to. I always thought of it as the most serious literary magazine, at least in the US. So when they interviewed me I was crazy honoured by that. 
I was like, ‘Wow, they’re taking me seriously.’ Interviewing me in the same context as all these unbelievable writers over the years. It kind of legitimised my work, and I was really happy about it.

Dazed Digital: I loved the way you managed to get an in-depth philosophical discussion about the act of rimming in there.

Dennis Cooper: Ha ha! When they agreed to interview me, they actually told the interviewer that they wanted me to talk about rimming, so obviously they wanted something controversial in there. They wanted that! ‘Ask him about rimming!’ I don’t know. 
I think about that stuff a lot because I write about it a lot. I didn’t mind talking about it; it was nice to be able to talk about it and explain why I do that, and not have people just think that I’m obsessed with rimming or something.

Dazed Digital: What do you make of the alt lit boom of recent years?

Dennis Cooper: I’m a huge fan of alt lit. That’s all I read. As far as American fiction goes, right now is the most exciting time of my whole life in terms of new stuff, innovative stuff and really exciting new writers. And most of them are coming under that rubric of alt lit, which has become a rather vast category. I’m a huge supporter of a lot of those writers. In terms of the younger writers’ willingness to be experimental and their believing in fiction and poetry enough to be really innovative about it, I really respond to that and I feel a great connection to what they’re doing.

I’ve always said I wanted to make a porn film, and this guy said he could finance it through the gay porn industry, so I wrote this script. 
But then it turned out to be completely impossible

Dazed Digital: Your blog’s still going great guns. Does it infringe on your other writing, the way you’ve become this big curatorial hub on the internet?

Dennis Cooper: Well, even when I was younger I edited this magazine Little Caesar, and I’ve always curated and stuff, so it’s not completely out of the blue. 
It reminds me a lot of doing zines when I was in my early 20s. It’s turned out to be this thing that a lot of people really like, and the community around it is really interesting. If I thought about it too much I’d probably stop, because it’s really too much work for what it is: it’s a huge amount of work. I just try to keep doing it, and it becomes automatic or obsessive or something. When I was first doing it, it took me a while to figure out how to write a novel at the same time, because it takes so much time to do that blog, it’s like a job. But I have six projects I’m working on right now and a novel, so it seems to be working out OK. And I’m also making a porn film with someone.

Dazed Digital: What’s up with the porn film?

Dennis Cooper: I tried to do one like six years ago – I’ve always said I wanted to make a porn film, and this guy said he could finance it through the gay porn industry, so I wrote this script. 
But then it turned out to be completely impossible: nobody would give money for it because it’s definitely not a normal porn film.

Dazed Digital: Is it violent?

Dennis Cooper: Not really. It’s just really complicated. I’m trying to do a lot of things that porn doesn’t do normally, like complicated structures and emotions, like people crying all the time and stuff like that.

Dazed Digital: Is it an all-male cast?

Dennis Cooper: Actually, no. There is one woman in it.

Dazed Digital: Does she have sex?

Dennis Cooper: Ummm, not in the traditional sense. But there’s a lot of sex that’s not in the traditional sense in it. If we can get some money to make it, it’s going to be great.

The Weaklings (XL) is published by Sententia Books in November

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