These days it's an uphill battle getting your writing published, particularly if you're a poet in a society that harbors a growing, yet unexpected love affair with monster erotica.
Then, enter someone like Roberto Montes, a 25-year-old poet with a quirky personality, to restore our faith in contemporary literature, to show us we can still move in new directions without sacrificing the integrity of real art. Montes has wanted to be a writer ever since his mother explained to his eight-year-old self that writing is an occupation one could pursue. Perhaps alluding to the profound sense of self-questioning and the push to always move closer to a personal truth that most artists endure, Montes says he "still want[s] to be a writer." Ask any writer to define his career and no matter how much he has published, he will still waver when he calls himself a writer.
Montes's first full-length collection of poetry, I Don't Know Do You, will be released by Ampersand Books in March. He submitted his manuscript under the smartly ironic theme of people and how hard they must work to remain themselves.
The book's title resulted from a sort of half-thought, notes Montes. "You can add 'or I Don't Know Do You' to the title of any literary work in human history and it would fit. I don't know what that means but I find it highly industrial." It could also allude to that nagging and often disconcerting sense that the world is run by amateurs.
Fascinatingly, it seems Montes often speaks in effortless riddles about himself and his work, though one gets the sense that's just the sort of person he is.
"My poetry is unrecognizable I think," explains Montes. "I often forget what it is or where it's going."
And of his most interesting job, he says, "For a while I spearheaded a campaign to keep what's in from spilling out. I wasn't paid though. It was more of an internship."
Like many authors whose writing process is less glamorous than we might imagine, Montes breathed life into his poems over "a three-month period of structured anxiety during [his] thesis semester at The New School."
"I had an hour commute to and from work and I wrote the poems on the train," adds Montes.
On what he learned during the publishing process, he notes, "I am very new to everything but I didn't realize how much of the world depends primarily on emailing people you don't know," a fact that seems to grow truer by the day, lending a certain coldness to the process, one that mirrors the industrial-ness of which Montes speaks.
What is the most important thing we should know about Montes and his work? "I am obsessed with the concept of sincerity and genuinely believe it to be one of the most interesting and difficult constructs in contemporary poetry circles," he says, adding he may be the only one who uses the word "sincerity" anymore. He even directed his own program on how to remain sincere when judging others' writing.
Montes selects some of his most powerfully sincere lines from his poem "The Poet Speaks of Beauty." He writes:
Things are beautiful
when you feel compelled
to throw yourself into fire for them.
More so when you have to start the fire yourself.