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Tailgating at the Gates of Hell – Putting Buffalo on the Literary Map

Author: Katie Coleman 

He doesn’t hold back. Says outrageous things. Makes shameless drug and sex references. Justin Karcher’s just-published Tailgating at the Gates of Hell is a refreshing and captivating book of poems showcasing his experiences in Buffalo.

Karcher-tailgating-Book-Buffalo-NYKarcher’s style is witty and image-driven, with blasts of self-deprecating humor and tragedy delivered through bold honesty. “I want to put Buffalo on the literary map,” Karcher said. “My poems are kind of a punch in the balls. I want to show that Buffalo has a voice worth hearing.” Over the past five years or so, Buffalo has seen an exciting resurgence in development and growth, but Karcher said he hasn’t really seen that carry over into Buffalo’s literary arts. “It’s very important, as our city rises and experiences resurgence, that the cultural output of the city is mirroring that.”

Karcher’s poems are a series of miniature epiphanies that he has had, and said we all experience on a daily basis, whether or not we realize it. Before publishing Tailgating at the Gates of Hell, Karcher put his poems through the grinder by performing them extensively, and publishing them in journals and literary magazines.

I sat down with Karcher and asked him a couple questions about his writing process. His answers are just as fascinating as his poetry.

KC: What are the biggest influences in your writing?

JK: The entire book is one narrative influenced by a lot of suicide, drug overdoses, and PTSD. The past couple years, I’ve been punched in the face by death, so I’m always thinking about it. There’s also a lot of subtle reminders of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and current events thrown in there.

And poof suddenly it’s like I’m a pill-popping paleontologist
Strolling a strange country’s rusty, dusty desert.
Off in the distance trucks are squealing
Like horny tyrannosauruses on the extinction interstate.
–from “Virginia Isn’t for Lovers Like Me”

KC: What kind of release does poetry give you?

JK: I can compare it to an orgasm. It’s definitely cathartic. My writing process is very barbaric, like a self-inflicted autopsy. There’s nothing off-limits when I write poetry, and a lot of my poems put me in a negative light.

Sure, I can lie to myself,
Convince myself that the world hasn’t ended, but it’s
The little Apocalyptic things in life that mean the most,
Like the two craters in Siberia that just ripped open the earth
Or the bro I made love to at the abandoned campsite last night.
His permafrost beard was equator long and tasted like
The Battle of Stalingrad.
–from “Speaking with Endangered Tongues”

KC: Can you talk about the process of writing your book?

JK: This was about taking something personal and making it universal. I read the news a lot, so I took current events and asked myself, ‘How does this affect all of us on a day-to-day basis?’ It was also about spinning national failures into something more intimate.

When Michael Brown was shot dead,
Causing 3 million gallons of crude oil
To pour into the nation’s bloodstream,
I was busy digging around the basement
Looking for the Ramen noodles I had buried years ago
When Michael Brown was shot dead,
Causing 3 million gallons of crude oil
To pour into the nation’s bloodstream,
I was busy digging around the basement
Looking for the Ramen noodles I had buried years ago
–from “A Cross-Dressing Ghost Orchid in Bloom”

KC: What do you want people to take away from your book?

JK: My going theory about people is that they’re not open enough. I think there’s a general feel of fakery and acting among people. I really want to peel back the onion as deep as it can go. America needs to be cut open to see what makes her tick. To do that effectively, you have to teach people its okay to perform an autopsy on yourself. That’s what I did with Tailgating at the Gates of Hell. Or tried to do.

It’s all exciting because I’ve never pissed my pants in Virginia.
–from “Virginia Isn’t for Lovers Like Me”

Tailgating at the Gates of Hell does a great job of giving Buffalo a new voice, one that’s just as raw and real as its people. Karcher’s lack of fear is what makes his writing so powerful. I found myself cracking up, learning, and questioning all at the same time. It can be purchased at area bookstores, as well as on http://ghostcitypress.tumblr.com/gcp003. Karcher can be reached at karcher.justin19@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @justin_karcher.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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