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Custodial Poetics: an Interview w/Corey Qureshi

NOTE: Please see this recent announcement about changes to the press's current fund-raising, directing more money to relief in Gaza in addition to what we raise for the Community Action Relief Project (CARP).

On October 12th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-order's for Corey Qureshi's new chapbook, What You Want. As stated in the dedication, the book is for anyone who has had to figure things out without credentials. The poems are about work and being thrown into things, seeing clearly while the situation blurs, and persevering against a set of useless rules. These are poems that ask, "Where are the poets when it's time to take out 400 pounds of garbage??" Driven by catharsis and critique, fleeting relief and hopeful dream, the poems articulate subtly shifting moods and textures, speaking with a voice that is full of nerve and music.

Recently, Corey and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

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DMP: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Corey! To begin, could you tell us a bit about your background & experience as a writer?

CQ: I've been writing on-and-off since a preteen. In high school and early college dropout years, I split my energies between poems, prose, and transcriptions of tape-recorded mess. I was obsessed with writing about being on drugs (via obvious influences), especially while on drugs.

I took a long break from writing to play drums in bands, and was mainly reading for a few years. I made a friend online (jamal rashad, a great DC poet) who encouraged me to take up poetry again. Since then, 2018/19, I've been writing and performing as much as I can. I'd say I've done a good amount of readings in Philadelphia over the years, especially "post-COVID".

I've published a lot of short fiction and poetry online and in print. I also regularly contribute reviews of visual art and theater shows to local publications Broad Street Review and Artblog. I occasionally review books for whatever literary outlets will have me.

Whenever I’ve felt especially jaded about rejection and/or how long it takes for writing to be made public, I’ve made book(let)s of the writing I wanted to share with people. This eventually became BOXX Press in 2020, though I have an archive of handmade literature dating back to 2018.

DMP: So how did What You Want come about? What was the process of writing it like?

CQ: When I came back into poetry as mentioned, I was hyperfocused on work, labor, and being exploited. All my writing was about or set in the context of work. This was definitely influenced by my experience as a janitor and landscaper in various scenarios for about six years. When you're a laborer, people rarely care about your opinions on art and literature, unless it's some fetishized proletarian anthology coming out of a workshop or nonprofit. I wanted to express something beyond that, a custodial poetics.

Though not every single poem draws from janitorial experience, they all gel pretty well. They span/were accumulated between 2019-2022. I knew I wanted a poetry collection about working, but I didn't want to make a forced attempt at a manuscript. It's funny to look at now, because I feel so different poetically and personally from who wrote most of these pieces. But they still resonate.

DMP: What is one of your favorite poems in the book and why? How do you see it relating to the other poems here?

CQ: I love "job" a lot. It's one of my few conscious attempts at an elegant, floating lyrical mode. Also one of the few of all of my poems I have memorized in my brain.

I think it is a more general/abstracted take on the positions one puts oneself in to afford existing. Other poems in What You Want take on specific scenarios that arise out of what's put forth by "job."

DMP: Who are some of the poets whose work has been important to you? What do you think they have given your own work?

CQ: I really love and will always point people towards Rilke, Rae Armantrout, Rumi, Wanda Coleman, Robert Duncan, John Ashbery, Carl Phillips.

Rilke, Rumi, and Duncan pointed me to what I feel like is a mystical form of lyric. Spiritual concerns with love and beauty. Armantrout and Coleman grounded me in different ways of interrogating material concerns in the ever-decaying USA. Ashbery and Phillips showed me ways to play with my poems, in and outside of formalism.

DMP: Lastly, what do you hope that readers take away from reading this book? What kind of energy and/or vision do you hope it puts into the world of its readers?

CQ: I want people to know writing can be a cathartic place to purge issues we have with our material existences, not just our internal/emotional lives. While we can't spend all of our time complaining about and then expecting decent working conditions, it's important to be aware of and make others aware of what needs to be improved. It's important to know we deserve better. Especially non-desk working, non-degree holding writers. We deserve a place in literature.

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Corey Qureshi is a writer and musician. He wrote two chapbooks: Trying (2023, Bottlecap Press) and Company (2023, self). He produces BOXX Press, a publisher of small poetry booklets. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and child.

What You Want is available for pre-order now and will ship in early November. And when you buy a book from Dead Mall Press, you are doing much more than just purchasing a product! With each sale, $6 goes to Corey, and $3 goes to the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) of Philadelphia. The remaining $3 will be given to Medical Aid for Palestinians, an amount I will then personally match that amount for a total donation of $6.

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