Interview With Daphne Gottlieb (November 2003)

Photo: David Huang
Photo: David Huang

San Francisco-based writer Daphne Gottlieb’s work has appeared on Nerve.com and in numerous journals and anthologies. She won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Press Special Recognition Award, and was short-listed for the 2002 Lambda for Best Lesbian Poetry. She also co-organized the first conference of women spoken-word artists in September 2002, ForWord Girls. Letsdoitontheroad.com caught up with her while she was getting ready to embark on her 20-city tour to promote her latest book of poetry and film criticism, Final Girl, published by Soft Skull Press. For her most recent adventures, visit her website daphnegottlieb.com.

How did you start planning this tour? Any advice for planning a tour?

Daphne Gottlieb: I’ve toured for every book I’ve had published (and sometimes for no other reason than a good offer!), so it seemed natural to tour with this book as well. I’ve been really lucky and awed by Tennessee Jones at Soft Skull, who has put the lion’s share of this
tour together for me. He’s done an amazing job, and it’s been a huge luxury to have someone else do the huge amount of work that this entails.

Every time I’ve toured, I’ve done it myself. Having done that, my advice would be to talk to folks who have recently been on the road–where were they treated well? What did they love? Assess your financial and personal capabilities–how long can you afford to stay on the road for? Personally? Economically? Emotionally? Make reasonable decisions about what’s reasonable for you: How often can you perform? How long can you drive? How often do you need a day off? Choose your tourmates carefully, and make sure they have the same priorities that you do.

How many times have you gone on tour? Where/when?

DG: I’d gone to a few regional festivals like the Albuquerque Poetry Festival, and I’d had the good luck to be included on Sister Spit’s fall ’98 tour. I toured the country with Thea Hillman in ’99, and hit up the southwest with Eitan Kadosh, Eirik Ott and Eirean Bradley in ’00. In ’01, I made another lap around the country on the Ignition Tour (with Eitan, Alexis O’Hara and Tarin Towers). In between, I’ve hit SXSW, Bumbershoot and some cities occasionally, for festivals and the like. I’m about to leave for 2 months on the road–the first 6 weeks by myself (aided and abetted by a cast of local guest stars: Maggie Estep, DC’s Mothertongue, Atlanta’s Cliterati and more) and then 2 weeks or so up the west coast with Hal Sirowitz.

What’s the best/worst thing that ever happened to you on the road?

DG: The worst thing was probably being hit in the head by a van door on the Ei-Ei-Oh-the-Humanity Tour by a sleepy tourmate. I got a concussion and felt like hell. I was too ill to be scared, I think.

The best thing is always the unexpected generosity and kindness of strangers–the sudden intimacies of kinship where it’s not foreseen–and the sporadic joy of driving along the highway to something too loud, driving too fast, while the rest of the world goes to its day jobs.

What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about being on the road?

DG: My favorite thing is the people (as described above). My least favorite thing is disappointment and loneliness–the missed connection, the show where no one comes, the emotional and physical fatigue and/or getting sick (and, not surprisingly, these things seem often to coincide).

What are three things you absolutely cannot go on tour without?

DG: Felicity the Road Whore, my pink satin stuffed bunny, my cell phone, my pillow–you need your pillow. It’s home away from home. It smells like you; it’s the right height and the right firmness. Ohhh yes. (I’m an insomniac so this is VERY important.)

Do you write when you are on the road?

DG: Not much more than livejournal entries. I’m too busy trying to make sense of everything and keep my balance and take care of myself, when I’m not getting where I’m going, catching up with old friends, performing or trying to sleep.

What’s the strangest place you’ve ever performed?

DG: You know, I had a couple of really entertaining answers to this (an ersatz sex club, a gas station parking lot, etc.). And this is the “wrong” answer–since the venue wasn’t what was odd, but unanticipated and heartbreaking–but the most surreal place I’ve ever performed was my mother’s memorial service. Never expected to. Never wanted to. And told everyone I wouldn’t speak, even though she was my best friend. And the night before the service, a poem came tumbling out of me. And I read it. And made it through without bawling like a baby. Barely. It was one of the somehow cruelest and most redeeming moments of my life: to do something so crushingly hard and so absolutely useless that meant absolutely everything.

What have you learned from going on tour–about yourself or the world at-large?

DG: Not to speed in Texas with California plates. Not to be bullied by tourmates. That pork is a vegetable in Texas. To eat and sleep regularly, even when you don’t think you need it. That there are amazing people all over the country. That there’s a huge country in between the coasts. That time zone changes matter when trying to make it to a reading on time. That everything they say about ugly Americans is probably true. That sometimes it is absolutely justified to steal your host’s apple jacks when they make bacon at 2am and don’t give you any. That hangovers at altitude are brutal. That there’s unexpected beauty, wisdom and joy where you least expect it. That 24 hours later, things can be and will be–inevitably–completely different.

What’s the first thing you do when you get home from touring?

DG: Kiss my girlfriend and hug my cats.

When will the next ForWord Girls conference be?

DG: There’s been talk about doing it again in the spring of ’04–I’d love to do it again. My hands are tied until I get back from touring, but I’m going to send an email out right now! We need to get on this! 🙂

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Author: schenelle

High school teacher of English and journalism. Co-author of Using Informational Text to Teach literature series.

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