Andrew Durbin’s My World Tour

The young poet on his new chapbook and the legacy of the New York School.
November 07, 2013

Andrew Durbin

Though Andrew Durbin has in person sometimes struck me as a drolly laconic type, as a poet he’s one who loves to hear himself talk—or, more accurately, think. And this isn’t a condemnation; rather, the pleasure and challenge of his poems arise from the glimpse he offers readers into the unusual, intricate and excessive inner workings of his mind.

Aptly enough, Durbin speaks directly to this point when I ask about his process: “In the great tradition of New York writers, I like to talk. I like to turn that talking into writing. And what I talk about the most is what I read about online and it just happens that most of what I read about, talk about, think about is what most of the United States reads about, talks about, and thinks about.”

His new chapbook Believers (Poor Claudia) puts his imaginative gymnastics on full—and fine—display in a series of long, monologue-like poems invoking some of the most beloved and hated figures from pop culture. Whether the book’s speaker finds himself on a plane contemplating Justin Bieber’s “sliming” at the Kids Choice Awards as a sort of neon cum baptism (“Smile on a Jet”), or re-envisioning an Oprah interview with Paula Deen as a full-scale Lacanian analysis (“Sighing from Above”), the absurdity of these loosely ekphrastic poems is intelligent, often funny, even tender.

“Sighing from Above,” with its Paula Deen and Guy Fieri cameos, truly centers on the speaker’s troubled relationship with a Tamagotchi angel. Just before “dying,” the Tamagotchi delivers a soliloquy, beginning “The difference between us is I can reboot whereas you cannot…” and followed by a litany of recycled language from spam emails—heartbreaking in its explicit inhumanity.

Durbin’s “talky” tone, pop culture references and engagement with the art world all place him solidly in the tradition of the New York School poets, many of whom also are or were gay. When I inquire about their influence, however, I can’t (as is often the case with Durbin) tell how much of his response is tongue-in-cheek: “All of my work is an effort to reconstruct John Ashbery’s Three Poems by other means. In terms of my sex life, I think I’m closer to Frank O’Hara.”

When he went on to cite Eileen Myles’ The Importance of Being Iceland as “central to my understanding of critical writing’s possibilities,” I felt certain that was meant seriously, but his statement on his work’s relationship to camp reinforced my instinct to question just when he means what he says: “I’m campy insofar as it allows me to be sincere and vice versa.”

Then, when I asked what—with a chapbook called Believers—he believed in, I once again got a flash of the wry reticence with which I’ve always associated Andrew Durbin. His answer was short: “Andy Warhol.”  

Andrew Durbin (contrarily) recommends: “Who reads books? Check out Brian Droitcour’s blog, Lonely Christopher’s YouTube account and Alex Da Corte’s Instagram.”