A Correspondence With Mike Topp
By Ben Myers
I’ve been a fan of Mike Topp’s work for many, many minutes.
Indeed, it was this very site that lead me to his precise, economical and witty poetic satori. I liked them and set to work investigating further. Well, it turned out that he has published scores of his indefinable across small presses, the internet and in publications such as McSweeney’s and Exquisite Corpse.
Mike Topp writes about the minutiae of life — or perhaps he writes about the minutiae of minutiae itself. Either way, he observes, captures or comments on the same inane shards of nothingness that join together to form individual existence. He seems to take delight in the things that keep many of us awake at night: oblique realisations, the absurdity of love, the absurdity of everything, declarations that are so senseless and outwardly meaningless that they merely serve to highlight the futility of the things people actually pretend to care about — work, money, life, death and so forth. Topp is a satirist who is swifter than Swift, more surreal than Brautigan; a kind of slogan-drunk marketing man who has turned his hand to poetry.
He is the author of numerous collections of writing dating back to 1984 including
Own Your Own and Happy Ending (Future Tense Books, 2005 and 2002), I Used to Be Ashamed of My Striped Face (Elimae, 2001) and Wild Wives/High Priest of California (a flip book with Sparrow, published by Beet, 1997). His latest book Shorts Are Wrong (Unbearable Books, 2007) features new work alongside previously published collections Basho’s Milk Dud and Six Short Stories & Seven Short Poems and some fine illustrations.
Biographies that accompany his work offer a series of conflicting facts about Mike Topp, a shape-shifting literary enigma leaving a trail of false information of man born in different eras. He is the point where fact meets fiction, the poem meets the short story, absurdity meets reality, the epiphany meets the pen. Even his name is as clipped and economical as his delightful work.
And it is work that is not so much flash fiction, as flash-bang-wallop fiction. It’s writing for Ritalin kids, the bemused and the not-yet-cynical. Twisted mantras for the TV babies. Poems as pills to be swallowed. Pills like this:
by Mike Topp
God rains his love down on us every day. But we don’t feel that love, because our ego is like a giant umbrella that we hold over our heads. What we need to do is put that umbrella away in the ego’s umbrella stand — then we will feel God’s love. Ego’s umbrella stand, in black walnut or mahogany. $7,500.
I love that story. But there’s more to Topp’s work than flimsy furniture. In fact, most of it is meditative and Zen-like yet with the dry, deadpan delivery of a comic facing down a dead audience. Stories like this:
The Light Bulb
I think man got the idea for the light bulb from those cartoons when someone gets an idea.
Theoretically if you took all the blood vessels out of your body and laid them end to end you would die.
Or, of course:
Not caring which was fact and fantasy I decided to contact him, partially to find out who the true Mike Topp is, partially to tit about on e-mail as means of prolonging facing the real world.
I mailed the madman of modern American letters. What follows is the correspondence, conducted February 2007.
Hello Mike Topp.
What makes you laugh?
Hello Ben Myers.
When my sock gets caught in the wheel of a wheelbarrow while I’m
loading gravel-mixed-with-corduroy in Wales in 1942.
Or is that too obvious?
No, I know exactly what you mean.
If it was more socially acceptable, would you eat human flesh?
I’m not really against eating human flesh, viz:
More Ways To Cook And Eat Celine Dion
Medallions de Dion
Celine Pot Pie
When you think of England what do you see?
Cor blimey guvnor,
I used to see crooked teeth and perfect hair; now I see perfect teeth and
Myself, I like a nice blond tooth on a lady.
I was wondering, how come there is always enough news to fill the newspapers every day?
Two monks were arguing about whether their train was moving. One said:
“Our train is moving.”
The other said: “The train on the tracks next to us is moving.”
The Sixth Patriarch happened to be walking down the aisle. He asked
them: “Would I look good in short shorts?”
Sunday was a big day for me. I broke wind in front of my girlfriend for the first time.
We’ve been together over six months — and they say chivalry is dead.
It had actually been planned for the weekend before, when she had pointed out that it was a bit weird that neither of us had done such a thing, and I had responded by saying ‘OK, I’m going to fart this weekend, just you watch me.’
And though I nearly shat myself trying, for various reasons it never happened.
Then, yesterday, eating breakfast, apropos nothing I suddenly yelled out,
“This is history!” and let rip there and then.
It wasn’t the greatest of farts and she was in the middle of telling me something quite important so now I can’t help feeling like perhaps she wasn’t as impressed by this ice-breaker as I had expected her to be.
With that in mind, which US state would you least like to get a puncture in?
(Your answer must include reference to an Eddie Murphy film.)
All the best,
Congratulations on the milestone you’ve reached with your girlfriend. It’s especially touching as it wasn’t planned and sounded very spontaneous.
I wouldn’t like a flat in Rhode Island. If I got one there, I’d leave in 48 hrs.
“Puncture” there, “flat” here. “Drinking fountain” here, “bubbler” in Rhode Island.
PS: I think more children should play with elves, but that’s out now.
Mr Fang –
I suspect I should ask you something about literature as this point, but I can’t think of anything and I just spilled a vile cherry drink on an ex-Tamil Tiger so I’m a little distracted.
Oh, wait, now I can:
Have you ever experienced a violent dichotomy?
(If yes, is it true the feeling is akin to eating twelve rancid clams?)
One day I found a pea the size of a golf ball. The next day I found a golf ball the size of a pea.
(like laughing and sneezing)
Super Nana (French for “fabulous babe”)
PS: I have a bad blog: red-boldface.blogspot.com
What’s next for ‘Mike Topp’? Do you have any books coming out?
(I use ‘these’ because I’m only 76% certain you exist)
I have a book coming out this spring from Unbearable Books (in conjunction with Autonomedia) called Shorts Are Wrong. It will be available on Amazon. Here is a blurb from poet Eileen Myles:
Just when I think Mike Topp’s poems are funny, they’re wise. Just when I
think they’re wise, they’re bad. Just when I think they’re bad, they’re
great. Mike Topp’s book is exactly like the world.
Thanks Mike –
The book looks fantastic. It looks a dream translated onto paper. Well done.
At the moment I’m actually just finishing up putting together a collection of similarly writings that have appeared on the old-time internet. I’m just trying to find someone to put it out, which is a lot like trying hit the toilet at 4am without my glasses on.
Anyway. I think we’re nearly done with this.
But please consider this:
What would you like carved on your gravestone?
It’s freezing here,
On my gravestone:
8 Stuyvesant Oval
New York, New York
I Used to Be Ashamed of My Striped Face, my first big collection, brilliantly debuted on September 12, 2001, when the world was ripe for irony, humor, etc.
I’m excited that my new collection Shorts Are Wrong has art by Will Yackulic, David Berman, and William Wegman.
It’s so cold here that my hair feels like it’s on fire.
OK, so let’s finish with a bang and be done with it. I’ll send the piece for you to dust in spastic magic, then I’ll forward it on to the drunks at 3AM.
Here we go:
Do you work for a living?
10-4 over and out –
PS – The day before yesterday I baked a loaf of bread. I threw in some raisins and cranberries and suddenly, without planning, it was the world’s biggest fruit scone. I suppose it’s all about perception, really — a table’s not a table, it’s a chair etc….
Hey there Ben,
I work for a living — managing editor in publishing 9-5. I have guest-edited some magazines, published John Cage, Raymond Pettibon, Miranda July, Thurston Moore, Nick Tosches, Eileen Myles, Jessica Diamond, William Wegman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ron Padgett, David Lynch, Richard Prince, Patrick McGrath, Ida Applebroog, Amy Yamada, Gregory Crewdson, John Baldessari… I could continue to name-drop. I was managing editor of Artforum around the turn of the century. Now work at Madison Square Garden. I get to see Don King when he visits with his entourage, with Mr. King twirling American flags.
PS: I bake Cape Cod cranberry fruit-nut bread once a week for the wife.
Congratulations you have endured a series of ridiculous daily questions and have passed the test. The chocolate factory is all yours, Charlie my boy!
Last night I awoke at 3am and looked out the window to see police chasing a man along the street (there were three murders in my neighbourhood at the weekend — a rarity for the UK). Then when they caught him it immediately started delicately snowing for the first time since the last time. It was like a textbook idyllic chocolate box scene, all those flashing blue lights, barking dogs, out-of-breath policemen and silent snowdrops falling across London.
Goodbye for now –
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Ben Myers is a novelist, poet, music journalist and regular contributor to 3:AM.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 18th, 2007.