Gays Reading

Kaveh Akbar (Martyr!)

January 23, 2024 Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Kaveh Akbar Season 2 Episode 35
Kaveh Akbar (Martyr!)
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Kaveh Akbar (Martyr!)
Jan 23, 2024 Season 2 Episode 35
Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Kaveh Akbar

Jason and Brett talk to Kaveh Akbar (Martyr!) about his transition from poet to novelist, listening to your dreams, how language is a sense memory, parallels with the musical Pippin, and much more.

Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections: Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City.

New York Times Review HERE

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

Jason and Brett talk to Kaveh Akbar (Martyr!) about his transition from poet to novelist, listening to your dreams, how language is a sense memory, parallels with the musical Pippin, and much more.

Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections: Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City.

New York Times Review HERE

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason + Brett:

How are you today? Hi, I'm really good. How are you? I'm pretty good though. I'm like so tired. I cannot wake up for the life of me. And it's funny because. I had a dream last night, which in this episode, we talk about dreams and I talk about how I rarely remember them, but I woke up this morning and remembered my dream and in my dream, there was something about like the tap water and how, how once someone stopped drinking tap water, they were like more awake and felt better. And I was like, Oh my God, is it the tap water? Is this why? So literally we talk in this, yeah. conversation about sort of listening to our dreams and what our dreams might be telling us. I was like, did my dream just tell me something? So did you fill up with tap water? And how fortuitous. Um, yeah, I'm still drinking the tap water because I think it's fine, but I maybe need to try not drinking tap water. A few books I wanted to shout out because we've like, yeah, not really done that. I've already shouted out the book, But on January 2nd, Mercury by Amy Jo Burns came out and I shouted it out long before anything happened with it. And now it's the January Barnes and Noble book club pick. the New Times. just picked it as a highlight of the week this week. It's great. Mercury, Amy Jo Burns, highly recommend. Also, came out on January 16th, I know we both read, The Curse of Pietra Houdini by Derek B. Miller. That I really enjoyed and I'm still thinking about. I will say there's like a bit in the middle where it maybe dips a little bit, but I, just was so glad to, to get to the end. Not, I'm not, I wasn't glad to get to the end. I was, I was, I was glad to read the whole book because by the end I was really moved and really enjoyed it. So that's The Curse of Pietro Houdini by Derek B. Miller and that is out now. And one of the best covers, I think, so far this year. It's a beautiful cover. Also, also, our recent guest, uh, Christina Cook, her book is out today, Broughtupsy. Which is so fantastic. So congratulations, Christina. Also out today, which I haven't actually read yet, but it's on my list and everyone who's reading it, I know has really enjoyed it. But that's Family Family by Laurie Frankel. And I'm chomping at the bit to read it. It looks so good. Yeah, it looks really good. And I think, you know, could tie in really nicely with an episode we have coming up next month. So I might try to read it in advance of that so we can talk about that then. Also out today is Crystal Heffner's book, Only Say Good Things, which is getting a ton, a ton of press. Uh, for the obvious reasons. Yeah. And we have her next week on the podcast, which she's lovely and I can't wait for y'all to hear her conversation. And I'm loving all of the feedback we've been getting from our first two episodes this season. You know, it's great because we, it's, there, it's a lot of like lists and so I'm sorry to everyone who's TBR is, growing. There was an author in a book that I shouted out in our first episode who added us on Instagram and we've had a bit of a lovely back and forth and I said to her, I'm so excited to read your book and please let me know, If I pronounced your name correctly and she was so sweet. She was like, No, don't worry about it. You were very close. It's fine. I was like, No, pronouncing names is very important. And it's important to me. And just like important in general, we all should be pronouncing people's names, accurately. And so I was like, I don't want to say way off, but let me say the book is not. The book is OJ, and OJ means listen up in Spanish, which, fantastic, and it's by Melissa Magojon, so OJ by Melissa Magojon is a book that I am very excited about. No, it looks great. And again, gorgeous cover, gorgeous cover. And I'm gonna be on a crusade to correct anybody who says it incorrectly. Well, listen up everyone. I'm sure you'll be correcting me or as I won't even try it. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, Jay, I'm, I'm a big person who butchers names and I'm aware of that. I know that. And I try. I try. I try. Yeah. But I do. Trying is good. I do. Uh, also one other big release that came out today. It was also our guest. Oh, well, yes, we have it. We haven't introduced our guest yet. Before we introduce our guest whose book comes out today, if you like what you're hearing, share us with your friends. Add us on Instagram at GaysReading, follow us or subscribe to the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. We are everywhere. And if you can give us a five star review, especially on Apple podcasts, that would be great because that's how people find us. It really helps. And the more people listen, the more we're able to do this and it's, it's great. Um, we also have. a ton of bonus content on our Patreon page, which is only 5 a month. It's cheaper than, than a weekly coffee, or a daily coffee. Well, yes, it's cheap, but it's cheaper than a weekly coffee. Yes, yes, yes. It's significantly cheaper than a daily coffee, but it's even cheaper than a weekly coffee. There's some really great stuff on there. Um, and we also give, uh, listeners a chance to get a preview of what's coming, um, a month before everybody else, what we're, who's, who our guests are going to be. So that's cool. And of course, if you're interested in getting any of the books that we talk about, we have a bookshop. org page. All of this stuff you could find, in the links in our show notes, at the bottom of the episode. On today's show, I'm so excited to have Kaveh Akbar on the show. His book, Martyr, comes out today. got, it's so good. It got a rave review in the New York Times, which we'll also post a link in the show notes. It's just a book that has been on my mind and it's so thoughtful and beautifully written he's so smart. He's so thoughtful. We can, we can sit here and talk about him, or we can, you know, let people listen. Kaveh Akbar's poems appear in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Paris Review, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry collections, Pilgrim Bell and Calling a Wolf a Wolf, in addition to a chapter. book, Portrait of the Alcoholic. He is also the editor of the Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse, 110 Poets on the Divine. He lives in Iowa City. And without further ado. I'm Jason. I'm Brett. And enjoy this episode of Gays Reading

Brett Benner:

Hello!

Kaveh Akbar:

everybody,

Jason Blitman:

it going?

Kaveh Akbar:

it's going? How are you guys? Look how you guys are in such scenic environs, especially you, Brett.

Jason Blitman:

Brett is that's a screen.

Kaveh Akbar:

I was gonna say is that it

Brett Benner:

It would look real until I move and then all of a sudden, it does

Kaveh Akbar:

It does look real.

Brett Benner:

I'll take it off. I'll take it off.

Kaveh Akbar:

No, I listen, I was very impressed. And I don't think I would have recognized that it was not real unless you had pointed it out.

Jason Blitman:

I just

Brett Benner:

I didn't,

Jason Blitman:

it because

Kaveh Akbar:

No, I appreciate that. Because it was putting me to shame a

Brett Benner:

did you say it's, wait, did you say it's offensive to you?

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

Why is it offensive?

Jason Blitman:

I'm teasing.

Brett Benner:

Oh, that's not, now I'm really, look at, now it's really, I don't even know you

Kaveh Akbar:

up disappeared for a second.

Jason Blitman:

You can leave it. It's

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, you can leave it. I'm impressed. I'm, I like it. It's like you're in this little rustic pastoral cabin or something.

Jason Blitman:

I'm appreciating the hair and the flannel and the books. You're like really leaning into author right now.

Kaveh Akbar:

Thank you. I appreciate it. It's it's cold in Iowa is the trick. And the, it's like the part of the house that doesn't look like an eight year old lives in it. I don't have an eight year old, I am the eight year old.

Jason Blitman:

Keep airs.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, this is where, it's actually, it's like a coffee table in the middle of yeah it's, if you could see, I'm not gonna pan, I'm not gonna do the pan because I'm a little bit it,

Brett Benner:

And then, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

I love that you just said, I'm not going to do the

Brett Benner:

I know what it is, the

Kaveh Akbar:

I know, I I wasn't gonna do the polar all around, yeah, it's just there's dirty dishes and it's not a great,

Jason Blitman:

do you see this?

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, that's incredible. Oh, you've really spent time with me.

Jason Blitman:

I like, and then I was going through it last night, prepping for today. And I was getting very emotional. I'm obsessed with it.

Kaveh Akbar:

That's incredible. Thank you. That's a profound gift. That means

Brett Benner:

Jason, I marked mine too, just so you

Jason Blitman:

Brett

Kaveh Akbar:

Yo, that is like the most, I'm still at the point where I'm not, I haven't spoken with lots of people who are not like married or, have an investment, Who have an investment in my happiness in some way, who have engaged with the book, like it hasn't become a public thing yet. So I haven't. And so

Jason Blitman:

So here are my notes.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Yeah. No, that's great. That's great.

Jason Blitman:

kidding. Could you imagine? I don't always talk about how emotional I got reading a book. I often do'cause I'm a very emotional person, but

Brett Benner:

You talk with your hands.

Jason Blitman:

I do talk with my hands. I just

Brett Benner:

call those poetic hands.

Jason Blitman:

As we're diving in, I, quick question. I guess it's not a quick question. Are you a musical theater person?

Kaveh Akbar:

No, I'm a music I am a music person, but no I didn't leave my house when I was in high school, so I couldn't go to practices.

Jason Blitman:

Musical theater has music in it that you could consume without leaving

Kaveh Akbar:

Sure. But you would have to go to the store to buy the CDs

Jason Blitman:

Fair. I'm going to send you some content after this on the musical Pippin. Are you familiar with Pippin at all? Does that

Kaveh Akbar:

I've heard of it, but I don't know anything about it.

Jason Blitman:

Okay. The musical Pippin is about this young guy who is a little lost in life. He literally sings a song at the beginning of the show called Corner of the Sky, and he's longing to find his corner of the sky and see how he belongs and how he fits into everything. In this world, he's a part of this traveling troop of players, and these players on this whole journey of him trying to figure out where he belongs, by the end, they try to convince him to do this incredible act, and he realizes that this incredible act will kill him, and they say you have to die and become one with the sun in order to live your most potential,

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, wow.

Jason Blitman:

I was like,

Kaveh Akbar:

Book Sally.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, I was like, am I reading a contemporary Iranian

Kaveh Akbar:

Retelling of Pippin.

Jason Blitman:

Anyway, so

Kaveh Akbar:

No, that's incredible. Is this is it, sorry for being a total dumbass about this. Is it, can I watch this on YouTube? Is there like

Jason Blitman:

Know what? The original cast was, or like one, an early cast was recorded. Yes. So I'll send you a link.

Kaveh Akbar:

I would love that. I would sincerely love that.

Jason Blitman:

super poetic and very metaphoric. And I think for someone who is not a musical theater person, but who's a poet and who likes music and it's very seventies style, I think you'd be into it.

Brett Benner:

it's very

Kaveh Akbar:

quite amazing.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

70s. It's the perfect thing to get stoned to beforehand.

Kaveh Akbar:

Sensational.

Jason Blitman:

So for our listeners, can you, have you worked a, like a log line, a one liner

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh,

Jason Blitman:

or three liner for martyr?

Kaveh Akbar:

I haven't, but maybe you guys can help me with that. No. First of all, thank you for having me here. I'm sincerely grateful. I looked at the list that you have had on the show recently, and there are so many people that I admire and getting to be in their company and in your midst is such a, it's such an occasion for gratitude. So thank you

Jason Blitman:

thank you. We're so

Brett Benner:

Right back at you.

Kaveh Akbar:

The,

Jason Blitman:

fuck around on gaze reading. We spend

Kaveh Akbar:

no, that's sensational. For real that's you don't know how gratifying that is. No bullshit. Like it's again, I'm very, I've only ever written poetry books before this, which is a whole other thing, so to see, the little tabs. All the pages throughout the book that you guys just showed me is incredibly gratifying, sincerely. Yeah, Martyr is the story of a young man who is in early recovery and pretty lost in the world and becomes obsessed with martyrdom and begins studying martyrdom and this leads him to a woman who's performing her own dying in the Brooklyn Museum an artist who's performing her own dying and he goes to interview her thinking her a kind of contemporary martyr, right? He goes to interview her and yeah, I don't know adventure ensues.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah,

Kaveh Akbar:

How would you just, see, this is what I'm saying. I haven't done this and they haven't, you know, I haven't been.

Jason Blitman:

All right, here's my, if I were you, this is I'm

Kaveh Akbar:

Amazing. Amazing. Yeah, please.

Jason Blitman:

Okay. Cyrus, Cyrus is a good poet when he writes. And he can either keep being the sad, sober guy in Indiana who talks about being a writer, or he can go be one. He is inspired by the work of martyrs, and when he learns of an artist in the Brooklyn Museum who is doing the work of a modern martyr, he goes on a quest to ask her why.

Kaveh Akbar:

That's beautiful. That's extraordinary.

Brett Benner:

really good.

Kaveh Akbar:

Legitimately, can I borrow that? Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

to give anything away because that's the

Kaveh Akbar:

That's the hard part. You don't have to worry about giving poetry away, right? You don't have to worry, there are no Spoilers in poetry, or at least, there's no spoilers in the kind of poetry that I write but but yeah I'm a petulant toddler about spoilers. My spout they are the opposite. They'll look up the Wikipedia for a movie before they go and watch it. You know what I mean? I know. I know. It's like true sociopath behavior.

Jason Blitman:

I used To be a reader who read the last page

Brett Benner:

my

Kaveh Akbar:

I'm

Brett Benner:

did that.

Jason Blitman:

once many years ago. But now I don't even like to read a description. So literally

Kaveh Akbar:

the same way.

Jason Blitman:

all I got for martyr was the cover and then dove right in. So on page one, when it says, it like says the date, yeah, 2015, I was like, Oh, this is a contemporary novel.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Oh, did you think it was like a historical

Brett Benner:

I did. I actually did too.

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. I hadn't considered that. Yeah. It's I guess because of the sort of Byzantine miniature on the cover. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

and it says very little, which is great,

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. That's the yeah. I think that they went through a lot of covers before this one. And although this was Linda Huang the brilliant artist who did this cover. This was her first one.

Brett Benner:

but I love the cheekiness of it too. With having a novel written in

Kaveh Akbar:

A hundred percent. Yeah. It's

Brett Benner:

it completely

Kaveh Akbar:

irreverent.

Brett Benner:

tonally what you're going to

Jason Blitman:

Everything from the exclamation point to the bubble, like it's, we've been talking for 20 minutes and we were only talking about the cover. Like

Kaveh Akbar:

No, it's amazing. I could talk so

Brett Benner:

What are you doing today? Hope you didn't have anything else planned.

Jason Blitman:

Okay, so would you say that your own experiences were the catalyst for Cyrus?

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, absolutely. The book in terms of my drafting, it actually began with Orchidette, the artist.

Jason Blitman:

Mmm.

Kaveh Akbar:

in the very, very earliest drafts of this book. It was, I had this idea in mind of artists doing like a sort of Marina Abramovich esque artist

Brett Benner:

a good. Yeah. Yeah.

Kaveh Akbar:

of her own dying, and I envisioned a kind of, not Marley and Me, what's the thing, what's the book Tuesdays with Maury, like a Tuesdays with Maury esque book where, I've actually never read Tuesdays with Maury. So

Jason Blitman:

But in concept, a person

Kaveh Akbar:

Like that idea of you have this like oracular dying person who's here's what I have learned and I quickly realized in writing that, and in that version, the interlocutor. The person to whom the artist was speaking was just a cipher, just a foil for her to, and I realized that was pretty narratively uninteresting, just there was nothing. It was just like, all right, Wednesday, I go back and talk to her, and so I realized that the person on the other side of that exchange had to be as interesting as the artist to me, in order for it to work propulsively. And so I started writing towards the character that would become Cyrus. Is now the protagonist of the novel. Although it's an interesting thing because in the U. S. I feel like the, the copy and this around around the book is very much like Cyrus Shams is lost and da, right? But in the U. K. version it's a female figure on the cover and the copy is all like, is about, I think in the UK it's much more being sold as a book about the artist

Jason Blitman:

Interesting.

Kaveh Akbar:

yeah, I think it's interesting too, because the first half of the book is very Cyrus heavy,

Jason Blitman:

after reading it and doing research on you, I think is when I just learned about your sobriety and learned about your own personal experiences, and in fact, you were on a podcast where I heard you say a quote I'm going to misremember it, but it was something about one of your professors or one of your parents or somebody said something to you that you said in this podcast. That is a quote from the book. It's Oh, this is very personal for you.

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. That sort of thing. That sort of thing happens all. Yeah there's nothing in this book that is completely fabricated whole cloth. I'm, I don't think of myself as a particularly imaginative person. I think of myself as a particularly. bewilderable, perceptive person, so I, people say things and I, I'm like, Oh, that's weird, and I hold onto it for eight years and then it comes out the mouth of a character, it And yeah, there's there's very little creativity in the book, it's from, I don't want to like, be like, this literally happened and this literally did, but.

Jason Blitman:

of course not. But but what I'm hearing is that you didn't necessarily go in with the intention of writing a version of you in Cyrus.

Kaveh Akbar:

No not one to one, he's he's my age. When I started writing the book, he's an Iranian immigrant to, he immigrated to America when he was a baby, he's an addict and recovery, he's a poet, he went to. school in the Midwest, all of these things.

Brett Benner:

influenced by.

Jason Blitman:

He's very similar.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, all of it. Yeah, all of these. And, I have the absolute on my foot, there are there are pretty or the scar. It's not like a fresh wound, but,

Brett Benner:

It's not like he's named Saave Markbar.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. There, there are differences to constitutionally and also just like biographically. But but yeah, I think that just being able to wander through this experience using Cyrus as a sort of avatar to be able to Talk to Lisa Simpson and talk to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and talk to this artist in whom I'm very interested, you know it's a cool thing that you get to do in fiction.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. And so something that you're alluding to in this conversation is that there are these dream sequences throughout the book where Cyrus in turn gets to talk to or hear from these various characters in his life. You say something very profound about dreams. Dreams give us voices, visions, ideas, mortal terrors, and departed beloveds. Nothing counts more to an individual or less to an empire. And I find that so compelling because I think that, you mentioned in the book that we write off dreams because they're not quote unquote real. But we can still take things from them. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration behind including them in the book?

Kaveh Akbar:

yeah. Thank you, first of all, for that and for reading. I don't know how you guys feel about this, but I love hearing about people's dreams. And I know that it's, I know that it's the thing that you're not supposed to do in fiction. Like it's not lost on me that like people roll their eyes when you're like, Oh yeah, it's a book full of dream sequences, I'm abundantly aware. And I think that there's a lot of the book actually, that is me pushing back on. The impulses or me pushing back on the self centurious impulses that I've attained over the years, the title martyr with an exclamation point is writing this book, I was scared about writing as being a Iranian American man with a name that is very legibly ethnic sounding, writing a book about martyrdom and secular martyrdom as a contemporary American and, being like, having a character contemplate whether it is ethical to try to kill a conservative Supreme Court justice or, like these questions coming out of my And right, or not inert, right? And I was scared about that. And so calling the book martyr with an exclamation point was like a way of getting out in front of that in some way. I was just like I'm not going to try to dance around this. This is what it is. And and I think that the dream sequences are akin to that, I like when people tell me about their dreams. I'm interested in it. I asked my spouse all the time, did you dream when we woke up when we wake up and, and and sometimes they tell me about them and I'm fascinated by them, but I am aware to that in fiction. For dreams to work, there has to be some narrative element to them, and so there are these tiny little breadcrumbs of narrative revelation throughout some of the dreams to you know, things that Cyrus doesn't have access to entirely in his real life, and you wonder how he knows them especially in the dream with Rumi. As the dreams progress throughout the book, you more and more of these narrative breadcrumbs are dropped in and and the dream with Rumi actually gets to be quite expositive regarding his life outside of the dream world as he's processing these revelations and foreshadowing. But so yeah, A, it's a fun game to play. I literally did I'm a terrible sleeper, and I literally did this my whole life, where I would imagine, when I couldn't sleep, I would imagine dialogues between Michael Jordan and my Aunt Shahla, who I hadn't seen in a few years, and I'd just be like, what would they say to each other? And I would just have my sock puppets talking to each other and then, I would start to fall asleep and then my brain would take over and it was just like I got to cast my own dreams,

Jason Blitman:

a fascinating concept.

Brett Benner:

But I

Kaveh Akbar:

can do it.

Brett Benner:

and they also talk about, any kind of dream research will talk about what your dreams are saying anyway, and what dialogues, what you're trying to work out or how many times, you'll think about things or it could be in the back of your head and suddenly in the middle of the night that's inserted itself somehow in your dreams or whatever you were working out during the day. So I found it particularly fascinating to use it as a device for this character to continually. Explore this part of what is going on in his mind.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. And he comes to certain conclusions or revelations in the dreams. And again, I'm trying to be cognizant of not spoiling things, but you see him tiptoeing towards certain revelations or ideas that become apparent narratively late in the book that are foreshadowed in various and sundry ways within the dreams.

Brett Benner:

It's also very, it's a very visual thing. As I'm reading it and I'm using the Lisa Simpson example, but because it's you even go into the description about when she turns the dimensions of her going from, 3d to two and all of that. I, you could see that if it was in a film or something or a TV show, I could, I was picturing all of that happening. And it's hilarious because it's so absurd and yet it all made sense, completely made sense.

Jason Blitman:

Do you remember your dreams?

Kaveh Akbar:

Sometimes I do. Not all of them, but yeah, I try to, like I tried to, especially when I am woken up inorganically, I have a dog and my spouse wakes up every, like I stay up late and my spouse wakes up early. And so there's two or three hours when my spouse wakes up. Before I do where they're sort of talking about and usually I'll wake up like a little and usually that's when I'll remember the what I was, because I'm still a little gummy with the dream, in my head, and you guys remember your dreams.

Jason Blitman:

I, I fall asleep easily. I don't always stay asleep easily. And I'm, so in turn, I, my, my sleep can be restless sometimes. And I don't always remember my dreams. I don't, I'm, I think I'm more worried I'm not always getting to the REM cycle.

Kaveh Akbar:

Sure. Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

But it's funny that this, that we're talking about this right now, because last week, there were two nights in a row where I woke up and I remembered my dreams, and it's a relatively rare occurrence for me.

Kaveh Akbar:

They good? Were they memorable? Were they anxiety dreams?

Jason Blitman:

one, more anxiety. The other one was good. Yeah. Yeah. Totally. Definitely. It was like a solid 50 50. Brett,

Brett Benner:

I had a, I do remember them sometimes and this is weird, I'm not going to go into the dream, but I had a sex dream the other night, which I like, I'm so old, I never have those anymore, but it was very bizarre and it was taking like people from very disparate parts of my life and putting them all together. And I remember a time standing there and I

Jason Blitman:

an orgy. Orgy.

Brett Benner:

no, but not. Yes, but nothing had happened yet but Chip has had, my husband has had nightmares at times. And suddenly he started, he starts to speak like, it's almost like a volcanic eruption where I understand it's about to happen. And he started to say no, stop it. You're a burglar. And he said, burglar. And I said, who's a burglar? And I just wanted to engage it and see. And he went, the person, he's a thief, he's a thief. And it literally, his voice almost sounded like a child. And,

Jason Blitman:

You're taunting him in his dream.

Brett Benner:

No. I just wanted to see where it was. And so he said, he's a thief. And I said, and I remember I reached my hand over very gently and put it on his shoulder. I was like they're gone now. And he was like, okay, and it was over. But I said to him later, I said, do you remember, he said, yeah, I was having a dream and someone was in the house. I said, do you remember me talking to you? And he said, no. So I find all of it fascinating.

Jason Blitman:

I, a boyfriend in college, has spoken asleep once, and this is going on many years ago at this point, but I remember the one thing he said in his sleep, it has stayed with me forever, and is the most nonsensical, but also maybe poetic phrase. It was, inside is bright, outside is prime.

Kaveh Akbar:

outside is prime.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, that that was what he said. Inside is bright, outside is

Brett Benner:

He was standing outside the Amazon warehouse.

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, sure. That inflates it.

Jason Blitman:

wasn't even a thing then, but yeah, it's interesting that just sleep and dreams in general is really

Kaveh Akbar:

we spend so, not to sound like I just took a bong rip or something, but it's nuts that we spend so much time in this place that we like to socially conditioned ourselves. It's not interesting to talk about, like we spent our lives there ostensibly, and

Jason Blitman:

know we talk about work a lot. We spend just as

Kaveh Akbar:

holy shit. And nothing happened. Like work is defined by the fact that it's the same shit all the time. You know what I mean?

Brett Benner:

And trust me, as you get older, all you dream about I can't wait, like nine o'clock comes and I'm like, all I think about is like getting in the covers and like getting under there because as you get older too, you're, it seems like the, your circadian rhythms all get, they all change. And so I don't have if I get seven hours now, that's an amazing night's sleep. It just doesn't happen any longer.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, sleep is a big piece of this book, which is

Brett Benner:

it is.

Kaveh Akbar:

There's a moment where a character in the book is speaking about a lover who now comes to them in English and it, which is a language that said lover never spoke in their actual life. And the way that is a kind of loss or a kind of death. And that's something that. Every immigrant that I know speaks about that experience, of like a grandmother, my dad talks about, having relatives talk to him in English, who never spoke English in their lives and just. The weird sort of imperialism of dream to, the primacy, the way that a language like colonizes, just even your dreams is so fucking insidious and scary and strange and, and that is a kind of benchmark like real American, this is defined by the fact that people talk to you in your dreams in English or something

Brett Benner:

And they say that learning a language I take French, and they say that's when you know you're actually learning the language as you start to dream in the

Kaveh Akbar:

That's a dream in it. Yeah. A

Brett Benner:

So I keep going to bed thinking, I'm waiting for someone to give me a billet comme un téléphone. I'd be like, oh my god, it's working! All this money I've paid!

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah,

Brett Benner:

It's still I'm like baguette

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

so upset. You've said two things now that have that could have gotten me on journeys to other things I wanted to talk to you about. So the one is long past, but I'll come back to it later. But the new one is here and now, but about language and memories, you talk about sense memories. And I think we often think about like smell memories or taste memories as being very impactful. But you talk in the book about language memories and language as a sense is there something that comes to mind in particular for you that's an example of that?

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, tons of yeah, of course, there's a, the Cyrus's father in the novel, opines at one moment with about how, compared to what like a monkey who can say water bird with her hands, in sign language, we're the gods of language, right? Any other one of our senses is not particularly that acute, our vision isn't, right. Yeah. Nearly as good as much of the animal kingdom are hearing or smell or, none of these things are particularly prodigious, but Language like we're several orders of magnitude ahead of the next, and yeah, there's an interesting thing that has been happening lately where my dad was late in life to get a cell phone or an email address, right? We didn't have. We didn't have internet at home until, or my parents didn't have internet at home until long after I left the house for college. And and so they were late in life to getting email and texting and all that. But now he has an iPhone, his own iPhone, which is like something that he's only had in the last, Two or three years, something like this. And he will text us and, he speaks fluent English, but he speaks it with a very thick accent. And so we're, and he never, he doesn't read books, and so there's lots of words that we realized that. He's been saying this word when he means that word all of these years, because he spells it right. So like the part of your face that I'm tapping right now, that for our listeners, like the part of your face that has your teeth and lips and stuff he spells M O U N T, and he has been like saying mount all of

Jason Blitman:

Hmm.

Kaveh Akbar:

Like, you know, What are these words that are coming out of your mouth? Which again, in his accent, I'm just like, all right, he's right. But there are all of these words that He has just thought are synonyms, like mount is like what you do on a horse, so that's part of your face, right? And there are all of these words now that I've learned because he's typed them that he thinks are sort of synonyms. And it's very charming. And so like the world is now full of these sort of like false synonyms for me. The more that he texts and emails me and stuff like this, the more I discover these.

Jason Blitman:

It's also interesting just to think about context and how context matters, right? Because to say, to put something in your mount or

Brett Benner:

He hit me in my he

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

he hit me in my mount. Well, that can maybe mean a couple things,

Brett Benner:

Well, I really could I know I'm saying suddenly gets very awkward.

Jason Blitman:

but I hadn't thought about language as a sense memory or as a sense and then thinking about it as a sense memory. And I, my name is Jason. Very few people in my life have nicknames for me. I know the people that call me Jace. I know the people that call me Jay. I know the people who call me JB, right? And that is a sense memory. If someone says it out of context, who's not that person, it makes me think of those people.

Kaveh Akbar:

And it's not reducible to like it's not like when someone says Jase you're like J A C E like it's grammatic like it's entirely contained within that. Syllable, Is what makes it feel sensory to me and not of the intellect. It's not it's not your intelligence that is ah, yes, that is a construct out of these four letters that, etymologically refer, it's just this like block of granite in your brain that you're associating with this other experience.

Jason Blitman:

No, it's really bizarre and interesting.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Yeah. Brett, do you have false nicknames? Peace. Or

Jason Blitman:

not, he can't talk about them in public.

Brett Benner:

No. Sure. Sure. Sure.

Jason Blitman:

did they call you in that sex dream, Brett?

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. I

Brett Benner:

No, I

Kaveh Akbar:

imagine they're just like Garcon.

Brett Benner:

Very good, and I kept saying my mount

Jason Blitman:

No, that's what they were saying.

Brett Benner:

Yes. That's what they were saying. Yeah. My mouth. No, I my, it's funny because my, yeah, I have nicknames. I, people call me bready, which is and fantasize me. But my dad, weirdly, my dad used to call me that he'd be like, Hey, ready? So listen, but very close friends of mine, my business partner calls me bready all the time. I've been called Brettster. I've been called asshole. No, I've been, and then And then a lot of people, because my husband and I, we have two kids he's daddy and I'm papa. And so my kids obviously call me papa but a lot of a lot of my friends or a lot of people that I'm close to will call me, will refer to me sometimes as papa. And I correct them and say, no, it's daddy, but that's, again, that's back to the dream.

Jason Blitman:

It depends on,

Brett Benner:

Yeah, it depends on the circumstance. It depends on where we were, but it depends on who they are. Yeah, but it's. It's an interesting thing with language and with also with words and how we're named and how we respond to that name. It's fascinating.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

I have to jump a minute the whole idea of the martyr to me. I just find this fascinating. And I was having this conversation in the car with my husband. And I was explaining this concept of this young man who really wants to have a kind of noble death. And he said, it's that's such an interesting idea versus the American idea of having a noble life versus having a noble death. And just that whole idea about, we push in America, live for something and make something of yourself and try to make your mark before you're gone. And this whole idea is with the martyr idea of making your death count for something or making that splash.

Jason Blitman:

It's interesting'cause I, my interpretation too is that if you die for a quote unquote good reason, then it means that you've lived, you having lived, mattered.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

So it, it takes dying for your life to have meant something.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. And, yeah, obviously these are endlessly fascinating ideas to me. I wrote a novel about them but to go to your point specifically, Brett, the idea that that the longer you're alive, the longer Empire can extract resources from you, if everyone dies noble, beautiful deaths at 27 or whatever, right? Then Empire can no longer, that's not true. Look at, look at what they've done with the legacies of artists who have died, but but it becomes harder to extract labor, right? Labor capital, or, and it stands to reason that Empire would want you to stay alive and work on a chicken farm for 25 years before allowing yourself to die, right? But I think that Cyrus is Cyrus and I, it's this funny thing where, again these were obviously ideas that I was Obsessed with right It's tied with kinds of depression and ties into kinds of grandiosity as well. And and, if I am going to die and if I am going to be. The, if I am going to carry myself towards that end, then how might I make it useful? Then how, that's the thing that everyone talks about, suicide is so selfish because you're just like distributing the pain that you had to all the people who loved you. That's the line that people say about suicide to dissuade suicides. And so how to achieve suicide without. The selfishness was something that I was really thinking about pretty intensely for a second. And and I think that is manifested and is everywhere apparent in this book, right? And Cyrus is, he's very sort of self obsessed, it's hard for him to see past himself. It's hard for him to accept the love that's given to him freely. And. But he still doesn't want to hurt people, he still wants to be good, whatever that means.

Jason Blitman:

In the book you really talk obviously a lot about dying as a concept but you also talk about the difference between wanting to not be alive and wanting to die, which is a big concept. And you go on to say no to a new day would be unthinkable. So each morning you say yes and then step into the consequence. So that I think is really compelling because it's okay I'm not going to die today. I'm saying yes to the day. And in turn, I need to navigate whatever is thrown my way. And I think that's, and if needing to be selfish or needing to be selfless or needing to navigate that that's where that comes into play, which I find very interesting.

Brett Benner:

it's also coupled with recovery to me too. All of those kinds of ideas are directly tied into recovery and one day at a time and all of it. And even though I don't want to get out of this bed. I'm going to do it because I need to keep going.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. That's extraordinary. I, you guys, I can't tell you how gratifying it is to hear these things coming out of your mouths because it's just so much the articulation of what I have just been, in the minds of for the past. But especially this past half decade, thinking about this book, it's just yeah, if I'm not supposed to kill myself, then what the fuck? Can I like, this is tough, and if anyone knew how tough it was, they would never expect me to look at my inbox or they would never expect me to pay my taxes or, feed myself, like they would, I would just be like, people would be throwing confetti at my feet for just like getting out of bed if they understood, but it's that, but for every, like everyone, there's so many people who feel that,

Brett Benner:

That's

Kaveh Akbar:

who. Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Yeah. And

Jason Blitman:

and to take it back to Brett, you're what you brought up about martyrdom. If it if in order to be a martyr, it has to be because you have Faith in something. And so what do you have such faith in that is compelling? You, it like can't be for the sake of dying. It has to be for like

Brett Benner:

it's a chicken and an egg. What comes first? Like

Jason Blitman:

complicated

Kaveh Akbar:

yeah. Yeah. And to be clear, in the context of this book and in Cyrus's thinking about it, and in my thinking about it, I think that we were both are both particularly interested in secular martyrs or, the idea of, I am. A martyr, so I'm gonna go on these crusades to the Holy Land and kill all the Muslims or I'm a martyr and I'm gonna, whatever, that's not the sort of martyrdom that I'm really particularly interested in.

Jason Blitman:

well, and when I said have faith in something, I meant I think lower lowercase f faith in something.

Kaveh Akbar:

exactly. Or lowercase something to yeah, the idea that like, justice is an occasion for martyrdom or great love or beauty or art or There are all sorts of different. Divines that people have conceived throughout history that are not like a capital G God in heaven who gets mad when we masturbate, you know what I mean? There are lots of different kinds

Brett Benner:

he does?

Kaveh Akbar:

Again,

Brett Benner:

so pissed off at me right now.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, again this is a, I think that everyone has to figure out the divine of their own understanding I mean for some people have found a lot of sucker in kind of God but

Brett Benner:

Nope, no pun

Kaveh Akbar:

I do. Retributive easily angered God has never particularly done it for me,

Jason Blitman:

so you talking about I think fighting the fight as a martyr or, whatever that as a concept earlier, the thing that I wanted to bring up, you had talked about your pen as a sword and. Cyrus wants to write an epic, a book, something about secular pacifist martyrs, people who gave their lives to something larger than themselves, no swords in their hands. And I would argue, and I'm asking, would you not call a pen a metaphorical sword?

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. But I think that when Cyrus says that, my sense is that he literally means like no sword, no gun, no. Or c4 or

Jason Blitman:

And I imagine it's almost because for his, he like, needs to say it for his safety, frankly.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, 100 percent 100%. And when you say he needs to say it for his safety, what you're really saying is I Kaveh Akbar, who wrote this book, whose name is on the cover of the book needs, if I'm like, I want to write a book about martyrs who like walk into cafes with dynamite strapped to their chests, right? That's a very, that's a very different sort of Publishers Weekly, review, saying, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

you're like no, martyr exclamation point. Cute little art

Kaveh Akbar:

Look how much fun we're having. It's a funny thing. I'm, I was born in Iran. And there's this funny thing culturally with Iranians, Persians in America, where a lot of Iranians will call themselves Persian for a lot of different reasons, Iran as a phrase is, about 100 years old, right? And it refers to a civilization that's thousands of years old. But but also after 9 11, you heard a lot of Iranians referring to themselves as Persian because of just like the sonic proximity to Iraq. And because when you say Persian, you think of rugs and fuzzy cats and nice, and nice things. And when you say Iran, you think of the place, and so there's this weird sort of I don't know. There's like a kind of flinching anxiety. Present in all of this thinking to write that is born of a kind of socialization into a subject position. Which again, is one of the 50, 000 things floating around my brain. And one doesn't have one lobe of one's brain for thinking about this shit and one lobe for thinking about, romantic love and one lobe for thinking about Erykah Badu and one lobe, it's all just in this, Mushy gumbo. And so hopefully that effect comes out.

Jason Blitman:

No, it really does. I'm just looking at my notes and I'm like,

Kaveh Akbar:

You're good. You're

Jason Blitman:

so much book to talk about. I want to talk about

Kaveh Akbar:

No, thank you. This has been incredible. For real. I feel like we could just do this all day.

Jason Blitman:

I think there's, there's so much to digest. And I've talked about this book on not your book. I will talk about this book on many occasions, but another book that I've talked about on many occasions is Erica L. Sanchez's Crying in the Bathroom.

Kaveh Akbar:

Sure, sure.

Jason Blitman:

and it is the only other book to my knowledge That's a memoir in essays, but it's the only other

Kaveh Akbar:

I'm sorry. I'm

Jason Blitman:

I'm saying that to the people who don't know that book.

Kaveh Akbar:

forgot that we were on a podcast. I thought we were

Jason Blitman:

I'm very happy to keep trying to just talk to

Kaveh Akbar:

she had written

Jason Blitman:

it's the first book that I'm aware of that I read where it's written by a poet and it's perhaps their first among their first forays or my first experience of theirs. Not in,

Kaveh Akbar:

YA

Jason Blitman:

she did write a YA novel, yeah. I am not your perfect Mexican daughter. Just, again, say it out loud. So many of my little tabs are these like gorgeous sentences because I just feel like poets, you guys know how to fucking do it. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna throw some of them at you and we can talk about them. But, one, you mentioned, in the context of the butterfly effect, and how, it's oh, don't step on the flower, or your gran if you go to the past, and you step on a flower, then your grandfather will never be born, but in the present, we mow our lawns, and you say, nobody thinks of now as the future past, and I was like, wow, that's profound.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, it's true, though, we have all of these sort of cartoons or whatever these movies where you go to the past and nobody blow on a dandelion or nobody, make a coffee, and it's we're all doing that shit, we're, we're all, squishing spiders and stepping on ants

Jason Blitman:

And so it's just this really nice reminder of the choices we make today will have an impact going forward.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. And again, I feel like sometimes I can come off as like the sort of didactic zealot. But I am constantly thinking about when I notice things like that, incongruities in my beliefs Or my behaviors, right? I'm like what, why is this here? You know what I mean? And like, why, what, why might there be a societal investment in my not perceiving right now as a part of history? You know what I mean? Why, what is the societal investment in my understanding now as the sort of inescapable status quo? And only people in the past could have acted to change, the material conditions of their reality. You know what I'm saying? Like they're I don't mean to, put my thumb on the scale too hard, but I do think about things like that, right? Why do I feel like I can mow my lawn and, I'm too busy to vote for my city council elections on a Tuesday because I have office hours or whatever, and what is the societal investment in my not perceiving this as being as important as not stepping on a clover in Take a time machine to the past.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

I'm just curious. How do you deprogram just to because you are someone who thinks hard and you are someone just listening to you speak. There is a lot. What's your downtime like for you? How do you cope?

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. This is, it's a, it's her ismally, it's like the horizon, you march towards it forever and you never actually get there. I think that translating. intellectual awareness into emotional reality is not my strong suit. There's plenty that I know to be true about the world. There's plenty that I know to be true about myself. That that it's hard to actually feel is true, right? And so working on that alchemy for me has to do with Recovery, recovery work, every communities are a massive part of my life. I work with newcomers in recovery. I have elders in recovery with whom I speak often.

Jason Blitman:

This whole conversation started by me saying I wanted to throw your own words back at you, and Brett asking that question in the order in which he did. Let me answer the question for you using your words.

Kaveh Akbar:

Sure.

Jason Blitman:

in the book, you say that art is where what we survive survives. And so I would imagine that deprogramming, some of what you might do is create. And you also say that art is a way of storing our brains in each other's. And so what I, how I will interpret that to answer Brett's question for you, as you, is that to

Kaveh Akbar:

No, this is sensational. I love this. Yo, you had a better elevator pitch than I did.

Brett Benner:

I'm telling you,

Jason Blitman:

To create art in a time where you need to purge what you have survived and share that with those who can help you shoulder that burden.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah, that's beautifully put. And think that what art can do is provide the texture of individual loss to a collective grief too, right? So you, you have this big number, it's like this ticker on your Instagram feed or whatever every day that's like a death count. And it's like this inconceivably large number, if it was like one more, one less. My brain wouldn't be able to register it right but then you encounter art or a photograph or you know something from an individual perspective of one of those and you're like oh shit, all of those numbers were as human and as individual as this one narrative that's being presented to me right.

Brett Benner:

Okay, now I'm going to jump again really quickly because, but to a point you were making before about grief, I just had finished reading Western Lane by Chetna Maru. Which takes place on a squash court and this young girl and her two sisters and her father but what, really what the story is about is how this family is dealing with their grief over the loss of their mother, right? And that reminded me in this, because I was so affected especially by Cyrus's father, but both of them, how he's coping with not having a mother and never really knowing that relationship, but also his dad just, it killed me. I just think you captured it so incredibly well of how the people move through something that's so devastating.

Kaveh Akbar:

No, it's, again, immeasurably gratifying, and thank you for making yourself open to that too, it's not a passive thing to receive literature so well and so I'm grateful for your actively being open to it sincerely. Yeah, it's, I think that a big question that this book is asking is, And that I'm interested in just broadly speaking is what to do when you've survived past your peak. Whatever that peak might be, right? Whether your peak is, the woman that you love holding your newborn son that you've always wanted, right? And then she dies a few months later and now you're just left with this son and you do your best to take care of him. But, like you're, inevitably never going to be as happy as you were or whether it's a kind of narcotic peak, right? Like I for so much of my life if it wasn't like turned up to 11 on the like just most ecstatic white light rapturous pleasure. end of the spectrum or like negative 11 in terms of just immobilizing white light pain, whether literal or, I shattered my pelvis in a bicycle accident 12 years ago. And didn't go to the hospital until the next day. And when I went to the hospital they found that I had a two month old healing fracture in one of my vertebrae. So I just been like walking around for two months with a broken back without, it was like, I, it had to be the most just eviscerating pain to even make it through. Or again, like the most like rapturous ecstasy, right? Nothing in my life today, I've been sober for 10 and a half years, nothing in my life today. Feels like that, everything is like negative seven to seven, and and figuring out what to make of that, figuring out the difference between pleasure and joy, figuring out what to make, how to find a life meaningful when you've tasted the 12 and know that you're never going to get to taste the 12 again.

Jason Blitman:

S So to that point in the musical Pippin, but I'll send you later there's literally a

Brett Benner:

You are bookending the shit out of

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh, this is so

Jason Blitman:

there's literally a song called Simple Joys. And they go, he goes on to just sing about, appreciating the little things, simple joys have a simple something that say, time is living's

Brett Benner:

Simple voice. Simple joys of a simple voice that say,

Jason Blitman:

Time is living's prize, which I find

Kaveh Akbar:

Living's prize.

Jason Blitman:

Which,

Kaveh Akbar:

That's a bar. That's a bar. Pippin.

Jason Blitman:

right? So I go Steven Schwartz. So

Kaveh Akbar:

See if that's the person you wrote Pippin.

Brett Benner:

Stephen Schwartz, who is most likely known for Wicked now. But yeah.

Kaveh Akbar:

Oh

Jason Blitman:

Yes, this is my husband and I were listening to this in the car and we were both like so taken by time is living surprise as a turn of phrase that we were googling it because we were like, this must be a phrase that he just put in the song. But no, that's where it came from. And it like, meant so much. And I felt that so many times reading martyr, All of this to say you talk about the simple joys, the small moments, and Cyrus getting better about noticing the small moments and your phrasing is something about grateful for the texture and specificity that they lend. Which I think is what can help us get to the seven,

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Yeah, a hundred percent.

Jason Blitman:

It doesn't need to be a thing. It's the texture that builds you to that thing.

Kaveh Akbar:

A hundred percent. I think that's beautifully put. I think that's a beautiful notion. Yeah. There's a whole chapter in the book of just Cyrus tying his shoe. That's the chapter with the gratitude that you're speaking about. And, again in. I studied, I, I've trained or whatever. I've called myself a poet since I was 15. And that's all I've ever really thought of myself as. And then for the past half decade, I've been reading two novels a week and trying to watch a movie a day. It ends up being like five movies a week, but just trying to like force feed like foie gras narrative into myself to try to like really like figure out how this works. And I understand that A chapter in a book is supposed to have a scene and it's supposed to, and that's a chapter where he literally just ties his shoes, and, but that action, what you're describing, right? Is hopefully emblematic of that, right? Like the fact that he's trying to notice the kids holding the blunt up to the copper bust of JFK's face, and notice, notice these things and also think about the ethics of gratitude, but. Because I'm, just pathologically obsessed with, endlessly reprocessing my own subject position within all of these conversations, but but yeah, no, that's beautiful. I can't I'm not kidding you. I'm going to at some point in the next 18 hours, I'm going to watch it.

Jason Blitman:

I will send it to you. Don't, I know you will. It's, I think you will appreciate it. Also, especially for what you just said. How you what you just said and how you're consuming content. That's such a fascinating thing to hear. It's oh, my God, it's already so late for us. But you just took us on a journey. Like,

Kaveh Akbar:

I'm sorry. Yeah, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

Jason Blitman:

about the

Brett Benner:

You're like our Don Quixote.

Kaveh Akbar:

Just tilting at windmills. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

So consuming that much content daily and weekly is incredible. And so I think smart as you are, as you embarked on your own journey, I think that it as a consumer of martyr. It certainly feels fresh and doesn't feel like somebody was watching, a million things and, compiling it into one. Are there things in particular that have affected you?

Kaveh Akbar:

I was consuming all of that and have been consuming all of that purely klepto, maniacally, like in a very masonary way. Like I. You know that thing where someone asks you like, what are your favorite books or what are your favorite movies? You're just like, damn, turns out I've never watched a movie in my life. It's just like all of that stuff. Just, yeah,

Jason Blitman:

I also just watched a thing on Instagram with Fran Lebowitz. And someone said, can you pick out your favorite thing at the Met? And she was like, favorite thing? I'm a, I'm an adult. Children have favorite things.

Kaveh Akbar:

that's so good. I love Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

I know. It was like such a friendly voice thing to say, but so I'm gifting that to you. You could say, I don't have a

Kaveh Akbar:

That's what I'm going to use in perpetuity

Jason Blitman:

right?

Kaveh Akbar:

but yeah, it was a thing where I just didn't want to assume the hubris of, oh I can write poems so I can write a novel, like I, I didn't want to just assume that I could do the impossibly difficult thing of writing a novel. And I hope that, like I wanted to write like a novel, not like a miasma of language that then I call a novel, like I wanted to write a novel where And characters grow and change and stuff like that. But yeah, so a lot of what I was doing was, watching movies and being like, okay, this is what Jane Mansfield is doing with her hands. This is what Humphrey Bogart does with his eyes when he's not speaking, right? And then and then just like making characters in my book do those things, right? This is how

Brett Benner:

This is what the rock does before he lets go of that ledge.

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. I spent a lot of time looking at the rock. But honestly though just like even in like shitty movies, understanding how Just people get people through the narrative how writers get people through the narrative beats of like how they get the rock through doorways or how they explain the rock has money to get on the plane to go to the jungle and fight the dinosaur, whatever. Like that sort of stuff is not something you ever think about in poetry, right? Like how they had the money to go do X,

Brett Benner:

How you drop your, how you lead your pipe to

Kaveh Akbar:

Yeah. Yeah. how you lead. I thought you said something else first, but Yeah, I yeah just understanding the sort of like mechanical, the subtle mechanical beats, like in poetry, someone will say. Someone will be talking about something that will be like one time da. And that can be a signifier that moves you into another temporal setting, right? Like one time, and then they talk about a former lover and what you were doing, and like figuring out the narrative equivalence of things like that, figuring out how to cut from thing to thing so that it feels propulsive and not non sequitur, figuring out what. People hang on their walls and how rooms are decorated, just this sort of stuff I was just I have literally thousands and thousands of pages of notes of just what's on tables and what's on walls and what people are doing with their feet and what kinds of shoes people wear in certain, in this,

Brett Benner:

That's fascinating. You're almost like an actor

Jason Blitman:

you're slightly avoiding my question, which is fine,

Kaveh Akbar:

what was it, sorry, remind me of it,

Jason Blitman:

is there content that you were inspired by?

Kaveh Akbar:

oh, I'm sorry yeah

Jason Blitman:

but I was actually gonna, I will, what I will say then, what I'll say now is, I almost don't want you to say what was inspiring to you because I don't want there to be any sort of comparison, but perhaps what I will, how I'll reframe the question is, was there something that you consumed that surprised you?

Kaveh Akbar:

So Tommy Orange is there they're sort of indirectly catalyzed the book, or scaffolded it, you know, in that we had this very disciplined weekly page trading relationship, that Kept us both accountable during seasons where one or the other one of us might not have been as diligent about Hitting our ten pages a week, And we both wrote, you know a thousand pages over that time, and then cut it down But it was that was a huge part and then there's this book by Nicholson Baker called checkpoint that I read When it came out, so I don't know if I was in high school or what? I mean it was not it's not a book that I read recently, but it's a book about a man who's considering assassinating George W. Bush, who was then the President of the United States, and it was a man who Was like a principled leftist, you know, who was like this guy is just killing all of these innocent Iraqis and Afghanis and and It may be the right thing to do is to just try really hard to assassinate him you know in the net ethical good done by something like that might outweigh The heinousness of you know, having to use a gun on a human being right? and I remember reading that and I was again I was young but I was like, holy shit, you're allowed to say this and, like, the NSA won't come to your house and, like, shoot you in the kneecaps? You know what I mean?

Brett Benner:

No.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. No. Yeah.

Kaveh Akbar:

And, you know, he's like a old white dude, but, I also love his work just broadly speaking, or I would have never encountered that book probably because it wasn't a particularly famous one. I remember reading that and just being like, holy shit, like, this is insane that you can do that. I think that a lot of people, um, talk about risk in contemporary writing and they talk about things like writing about. doing lines of this or that, or, you know, eating ass. And like Ginsburg was writing about that stuff in the fifties, you know what I mean? Like we've all done lines of whatever and eaten, you know, but it's like that stuff doesn't, I mean, I just mean like that's not going to like surprise any literate. audience, you know what I mean? Any audience familiar with contemporary literature, that's not going to be shocking to anyone, you know? But what felt really, really shocking to me was this book about assassinating a sitting president. We have very different subject positions, Nicholson Baker and I, but there was a way in which I was like, if he can write that, I wonder what I can write, you know? Um, and that, that thought never really left me.

Jason Blitman:

That's cool. And I think answers the question as I was intending. So thank you for sharing that. And we're so excited. This has been so special. The book, I just it's been sticking itself in me for days now, not in an inappropriate way.

Brett Benner:

Not in a, not in your, not in your mound way.

Jason Blitman:

It did not mount me.

Brett Benner:

It's a beautiful book. It's a really, and I'm so excited, yeah, and it's it's gonna be so exciting for you. I'm so excited for you to have the experience of people experiencing it as you go on this journey, and as it goes out into the world. Really congratulations on all of it.

Kaveh Akbar:

Thank you guys so much for spending such generous time with it. You guys really, you guys really thought about it

Jason + Brett:

Kaveh, thank you so much for being here. Amazing. Amazing. It was such a pleasure to sit with you, to listen to you, to talk with you. our listeners go check out Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar. You can get a copy in our bookshop. org page or wherever books are sold. It's out now. Again, rate us, review us, share us with your friends. And we will see you next week for Crystal Heffner. Yes, we will.

Brett Benner:

Woo. See you Tuesday, everybody.

Jason Blitman:

See you Tuesday!

Brett Benner:

I feel so sated.