As a very new chapbook press, we couldn’t be more ecstatic to convey the multitude of ways in which our first chapbook, Mike Lala’s In the Gun Cabinet, operates. It is a book arranged by lyric urgings, lush images of static and lips, and even a one-act play. To communicate all the mediums of the book in time for its release, we decided to show you In the Gun Cabinet three ways: a sampling of the first section of In the Gun Cabinet, an interview with Mike Lala about the chapbook process, and a stunning book trailer created and edited by chapbook cover designer Emily Raw. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, you might not have insides, and that might make you a robot. As a robot with the sophistication to process and read language, we should all be very concerned about the future of humanity. Just kidding, we should all be very concerned about the future of humanity anyway. Here’s Mike Lala with more on that . . . :


Natalie Eilbert: I described In the Gun Cabinet as a monolith of the family and the violence of memory on the buy page. (Oh and look, here is that buy page.) I’m curious though how you would describe the book? What themes of the book matter the most to you?

Mike Lala: Well, I’d prefer to shy away from describing my writing, but clearly violence, family, and memory are major themes throughout the poem. And I think it’s perhaps interesting to break those themes down into smaller parts: (inter)national, state, and personal violence; paternity/maternity, nuclear family, human family; sensory memory, episodic memory, memory (of subsequently invented or true events) triggered by media: in this case, photos or videos, particularly those of one’s own past.

One more theme that is important to me (which isn’t necessarily to say important to the book, but is a concern I at least attempted to work with here and in other poems) is the slow disintegration of the invented, mythical/literary I into a perceived or personal I, further into a shared, empathetic or retro-composite I of multiples (elsewhere “multitudes,” which I’ll exclude due to Whitman’s nationalism, which I think In the Gun Cabinet stands squarely against, pun intended).

NE: In the Gun Cabinet moves in distinct aesthetic directions. Its visual pull aligns itself with the subject matter’s pull. Can you talk about your choice for visuals? Were these selected during the process of writing the poem, or before, or after? I suppose this is a question about the trajectory and/or evolution of the book.

ML: The images were included after I wrote and formatted the text, but their inclusion made me go back and reformat a few things. They bracket two short sections that were written near the end of my time writing the whole, both of which work as “flashbacks” triggered by video and photos, so the screen glitches seemed a helpful cue toward that.

NE: Similarly, why the choice to make this a multimedia collection? What do you think the mixture of poetry, images, and theater does for the reader, especially in terms of a shorter body of work?

ML: Well in this case I think the images, as above, give cues to readers of the text, and, I suppose, concretize some of the themes developing as the text reaches a climax.

Texts that severely disrupt my thinking about how poetry does or can function tend to become those works that I treasure most as a reader and as a writer myself. One of those books in my life has been, repeatedly, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, which uses this single image of television static, through accrual, that goes from being odd, to mysterious, to severely disturbing. Of course, that book uses other images that directly pertain to her text, but that TV image is seared into me, as it upset what I thought were its own possibilities and interacts with the text on an almost psychic level.

The one-act, on the other hand, seemed like the only way to end this thing, which I suppose could just keep on going, but the length felt and feels right, and a number of sections (not included) in which I tried to explore different applications of those themes above failed miserably, beyond rescue. In the Gun Cabinetwas only successful when it stayed within a certain orbital distance from my actual life, which was frustrating to me as a writer that feels revulsion toward the personal. Nevertheless, it was glaring, and the one-act was a way, maybe, to allow all the themes previous to coalesce in a way that was capable of refusing summary but also acknowledging the importance of some sort of confluence or final turn.

NE: Who were your dearest most darling influences during the course of writing this chapbook? Do you see this becoming a larger project? Is it already a larger process?

ML: It’s hard to say because I wrote the gun cabinet over two years, while in grad school, while working three jobs, and I read a lot in that time. There’s no way I could make a comprehensive list but here are just a few of the things and people I was thinking about or now think made some kind of impact:

  • Growing up on military bases
  • The opening paragraph of Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood
  • Anne Carson’s Decreation
  • Beckett in general, but especially Rockaby and Not I
  • Military history, the interior room in the Park Ave. Armory
  • Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
  • Laura Poitras
  • Harold Pinter’s Death, etc.
  • Shane McCrae’s Blood
  • Carla Edwards’ textile works (the flags, specifically)
  • Hannah Arendt’s On Violence
  • Judith Butler’s Frames of War: When is Life Grievable
  • The Twombly paintings referenced in the text (and specifically Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor)
  • Robert Rauscenberg’s Untitled (Night Blooming)
  • A small anthology from Belladonna, edited by Sawako Nakayasu, Four From Japan: Contemporary Poetry and Essays by Women, and in particular a poem therein by Kiriu Minashita titled “Border Z / Delete.”

In the Gun Cabinet is complete as it appears in the chapbook. It’s part of a larger collection that I’ve started sending around, which considers many of the same themes in it and more, and includes discrete poems, a shorter series, and another long poem. Any new writing on these subjects will have to be something else. That world feels complete.