by Bükem Reitmayer
Romcoms, for the most part, are popcorn movies—sugar for the masses. What my dad calls chick flicks. But the romcom is one of the most enduring film genres, surviving each generation’s evolving tastes and affections. That endurance can be attributed to its simplicity: Boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl have best friends, boy and girl overcome obstacles to love. Then, ideally, a Taylor Swift song plays over the credits.
Poetry has a kinship with romcoms. They address similar issues, they revel in tradition, and they are most successful when they are playful with the tropes of those traditions. Vancouver-based writers Dina Del Bucchia and Daniel Zomparelli are unabashed romcom lovers who took their affection for the genre and their literary acumen, and wrote a collection of poetry that “trace the attempt to deconstruct as well as engage in dialogue with romantic comedy films and the pop culture, celebrities, and tropes that have come to be associated with them.” Rom Com is available from Talon Books, and the two authors met up with me online to discuss their book.
CA: How did it come about that not only a book of poetry based around romantic comedies would be written, but that you’d write it together?
DDB: It started with Daniel not being able to write anything after the publication of his first book, Davie Street Translations. And then he suffered through the singular heartbreak of a break up and the grief of his mother’s death. He wanted to get back into writing again. So he asked me if I would work on a project with him, which was to write a series of poems about romantic comedies. I said yes, like it was a climactic romcom movie proposal.
We started on January 1st of that year and wrote in a variety of different ways until December 31. Everything lived in a Google doc and we wrote poems back and forth, responding to each other, reacting to other poems. Sometimes we would sit together with wine and watch movies and just write the roughest rough drafts you could imagine. Other times one of us would have a concept and start a list poem and encourage the other to contribute.
DZ: This is correct. I basically asked Dina to hold me. I’ve never really had writer’s block before, and that was a weird feeling. I’m thankful Dina was into this project.
CA: When you read “A Series of Romantic Comedies That Could Never Be Made” at your launch at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, I got stuck on the line, “Parker Posey plays the best friend.” My first thought was: Judy Greer should play the best friend which made me think how fans of romcoms are so attached to their casts. What is the ultimate romcom cast?
DZ: Judy Greer came up over and over again, and I feel like she didn’t make a large enough presence in the book, but she wouldn’t have worked for that particular poem. In that poem I tried to make romcoms that I couldn’t imagine on the screen, which is also why there are queer plotlines as well. Also, I just love Parker Posey.
My ultimate romcom cast would be entirely made up of comedians. I would want to see Chelsea Peretti and John Mulaney and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and Margaret Cho all on the same roster. Oh, and my boyfriend so I can just stare at him the whole time. The soundtrack would just be the “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”.
DDB: Daniel’s cast is great! I don’t know why everyone wants Idris Elba to be Bond. James Bond is a gross old sexist, racist relic that we cling to like he matters. Burn that shit to the ground. Idris Elba should be a romcom lead! Mindy Kaling needs to be in this as well. Somehow Cher is involved. Jason Mantzoukas for sure is in there. Jon Hamm should be there. Gabourey Sidibe! Any of these could be romantic pairings that would set my heart ablaze. But also, I would like a soundtrack that’s entirely Leonard Cohen songs. Also, maybe it’s a musical. Do any of those things go together? Probably not. Do I care? No. Hollywood is not at my beck and call. This is my fantasy and I need it like I need air to live.
DZ: Jon Hamm in sweatpants. That is my dream romcom.
CA: Speaking of soundtracks… In Rom Com, “Soundtrack” refers to “that song that means we’re going to be together forever”. There’s an inevitable hopefulness in romcoms that, arguably, doesn’t exist in poetry. Why do you think different mediums that often discuss the same subjects have such different outputs?
DDB: I think in some ways different mediums have different goals, or are expected to have different goals as a part of our culture. A romcom is supposed to give hope that you will find love, that it will be with a person who is perfect and that the love you find will transform the bad things in your life into spun gold and gumdrops and sunshine. Poetry is not as popular as romcoms. And there are articles written about how romcoms are a dying genre approximately every six months. I think there is a cultural expectation that poetry will be about sad feelings, dark thoughts, just in general a deep introspection of the most distressing parts of humanity. If poetry was a person you would ignore their texts. That is the cultural expectation…
CA: So then, what role, if any, has the romcom had on your own love lives?
DZ: For a time, I think romcoms altered my brain to see life as one series of dramatics turn into another, or that large gestures was how love was shown. It took some time to unlearn. Now I see that love is shown just by existing or listening.
DDB: I didn’t learn anything about romance. I have always been drawn to the comedic parts of romantic comedies much more than the romantic parts. Those are the parts that stay with me, that I remember. I quote jokes or hilarious lines from a movie because I can’t get enough of them and I make fun of the classic, “You had me at hello” type stuff. Laughter is a great feeling, a high that you can experience multiple times a day. Unlike love, which sometimes isn’t the most fun feeling and can bust you up in a different, damaging, difficult way.
CA: In “Jennifer Lawrence” you write, “Jennifer Lawrence taught you what love is, from a laptop glaring in the darkness”. Lawrence has avoided the romcom, with the possible exception of Silver Linings Playbook. It makes me wonder if this poem is a romcom you wrote for her.
DZ: Jennifer Lawrence and that romcom are interesting to me for several reasons. Her persona as the best friend makes her a romcom character in real life. And then when placed in a romcom, she is playing someone dealing with mental health issues. And those mental health issues are sometimes brought into a light that is a reminder that sometimes families and institutions are ill-equipped to properly take care of those dealing with mental health. But the Hollywood lens romanticizes these disorders, without even meaning to. As someone who deals with an anxiety disorder, I wanted to replicate this idea of seeing someone as a romcom character and obsessing over it. It becomes a cycle of rage, of viewing happiness and mental health portrayed in this goofy way, but it slides over the parts that suck. Like, being at home in your bed for a week because you’re certain you’re going to die at any moment for no logical reason isn’t fun and cute, and how are you going to meet cute when you can’t even leave the house. I’m rambling here because I still think it’s an interesting concept of love when dealing with mental health issues, and it’s a topic I love returning to. I want to see art delve more into this concept. I also think Jennifer Lawrence is great.
CA: The book is very precise in its narrative and structure. I’m curious about what ended up on the cutting room floor, to make a really bad film analogy.
DZ: We took all of our poems and thought about what a romantic comedy entails plot-wise. It took a lot of adjustments to get it right. Much of the poems that didn’t make it were more like failed experiments.
DDB: We also took some of the writing that wasn’t working in other poems or other sections and incorporated that into a long poem at the end called “Blooper Reel”. But the actual garbage that had no real place is just in the trash.
CA: Was there an overwhelming desire to structure the book like a romcom? And by that, I mean, were there occasions when you had to ignore the conceit for the sake of the text?
DZ: Definitely. Some times it was just better to have one poem go after another. They paired nicely and while it didn’t work for the overall narrative, it was worth it to diptych those poems together. Everyone loves a nice diptych.
CA: Well, then what’s the best romcom ever? The worst?
DZ: Best: Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Worst: 50 First Dates.
DDB: Moonstruck is the best. I defer to Daniel on the worst as he is the true romcom connoisseur.
CA: If you had to recast romcoms with poets, who would star?
DZ: Speaking only to their poetics and writing: Ideally I would have Jen Sookfong Lee as a lead for Forgetting Sarah Marshall (she writes poetry too, don’t look at me like that). Her work is strong and complex and her characters are always a bit awkward and charming. This question is a bit difficult because I’m trying to remove the author from their work.
DDB: Just Anne Carson in front of a green screen for all the parts in everything ever.
DZ: Leonard Cohen as everyone in Love Actually.
DDB: Charles Simic as himself but also playing all the parts in Love Actually.
CA: So then, if you each could be one romcom character, who would you be?
DZ: Mark Ruffalo’s character in 13 Going On 30, or I’d like to play the blue and white lycra outfit Julia Roberts wears in Pretty Woman.
DDB: Cher in Moonstruck. She is perfection in that movie. Or Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids. Just to be a total dick. That would be fun.
CA: On the back of the book, you note who is compatible with this book (those equally versed in literature and pop culture, or a cool, sad person). Who isn’t compatible with this book?
DDB: Someone with no sense of humour. They will probably hate this book and toss it into a bonfire. Maybe people who super proudly announce that they don’t watch television as if that’s an admirable thing to be proud of.
DZ: People who are not compatible with this book: 1st year medical students, my high school Drama teach, my ex-boyfriend, homophobes, giraffes pretending to be humans.
CA: What is it about romantic comedies that allow themselves to be compatible with a book of poetry, and in that manner, how did the traditions of CanLit inform your writing, if they did at all?
DZ: Everything should be a book of poems. Everything can be translated through poetry. I know that sounds flighty and poet-like for me, but fuck it. If you like something, write poetry about it. I don’t care if you love pictures of hot dogs, write about it. I’d read your weird hot dog book.
DDB: The other day I was thinking about other things I love and then suddenly got really excited about the poetry book about dresses that is in my future. I can’t wait to write that. But Daniel’s right, anything you’re interested in has the potential to be a book of poetry. Or at least one poem.
If the traditions of CanLit informed this book it was not due to conscious effort. The thing about CanLit traditions is that they are just in you, like your own blood or a strange virus.
DZ: Agreed. Dina and I read so much Canadian poetry that it would be a Christmas miracle if that didn’t somehow shape our poetics. I know of a couple poems that were informed by the work of my favourite poets, but I won’t name them so that they don’t feel embarrassed by being associated with me.
CA: Actors from our favourite romcoms move on to new pairings, while some (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for example) stayed together. What’s next for you guys? Would you ever partner up again? Would you partner up with other people?
DDB: We have our podcast, Can’t Lit, that we’ve been doing since May 2014. We are going to continue doing that, interviewing writers, making cocktails, talking about books and making jokes. We have some things in the works. Some event based stuff and potentially other writing projects. We go out for drinks and inevitably think of new projects all the time.
I will continue to partner up with Daniel until, due to an emotional misunderstanding, we have a terrible falling out. Then we will eventually come to our senses and have to apologize in the rain and become work besties again.
DZ: I am still waiting for our Sonny and Cher breakup moment.
Dina Del Bucchia is the author of Coping with Emotions and Otters (Talonbooks, 2013) and Blind Items (Insomniac Press, 2014). Daniel Zomparelli is the Editor-In-Chief of Poetry Is Dead magazine and author of Davie Street Translations (Talonbooks, 2012). Together, they make up the duo behind Can’t Lit, a podcast on Canadian literature. Rom Com is their collaborative poetry book forthcoming from Talonbooks, fall 2015. They were recently described as a “two-headed poetry monster.”