It’s time to read a fuckin’ book.
Juliet Escoria’s poetry debut, Witch Hunt, out in May from Lazy Fascist Press, is sad and funny—but only funny if you’re sad. Moving in the hollow vein of her 2013 short-fiction collection Black Cloud, Escoria navigates the tracks of symbiotic drug romance and degradation with a bleak, hilarious sarcasm. Her musings are macabre, but for a generation that regularly wonders if the kid nodded out next to us on the couch is alive or not, we find honesty in graveled humor.
“Everything I’m working on now is a fake version of myself,” Escoria tells the Skeeve at a closing El Pollo Loco on Sunset Boulevard. “Most of it’s more recent; so it’s less depressing. But I think Witch Hunt is funnier than Black Cloud.”
Juliet has just finished reading at an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) event at Circus of Books, an iconic erotic book shop on the brink of extinction, now resembling a bodega selling porn, meth pipes, and magazines from the ’90s. We retreated across the street, to a synthetic Mexican restaurant wet with ammonia.
“It’s a poetry book, which is weird. I didn’t really think of myself as a poet. I started writing poetry when I was a teenager, but I stopped because I couldn’t tell if it was any good or not.”
Escoria grew up in San Diego, California, depressed. Defying the highs and (mostly) lows depicted in her work, she’s been sober for years, having escaped Manhattan’s cocaine corridors and California’s meth-bleached boredom to focus on writing/not dying.
In 2014, Escoria married fellow author Scott McClanahan, moved to the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, a region McClanahan hails from and has chronicled extensively. “I work in the basement,” explains Escoria. “My husband works upstairs in his little bedroom. Then we travel once a month, which makes me feel normal.” She pauses. “At least when you get annoyed by people, they’re more interesting than yuppies.”
Escoria’s cool approach to poetry is unfazed by the circle-jerk formality of academia: “I was working on a novel, and I felt like I couldn’t tell what I was doing. So I just started writing poetry for fun. We had a joke to see how quickly I could write a poetry book. So I did that. I wrote most of them in two months, then it took another five of me just fiddling around with them.”
In “Relocation,” a chapter exploring the many ways people can be terrible to one another, a poem takes the form of a gas station receipt:
Lemonade, candy bars, Diet Mountain Dew, a Slim Jim. She broke a $100. The title: “THIS POEM WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY MONEY AND A FEW MOVEMENTS OF MY HAND (WHICH MAKES IT NO DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER POEM).”
Outside the Pollo Loco, now shuttered, decked out leather daddies line up along Sunset, taking photos, waiting for a party next door. Escoria lights a cigarette. “I don’t usually smoke like this.” She exhales. “My biggest problem is a lack of confidence. Before I wrote Black Cloud, I was like, You’ll never write a book. And then the mean voice in my head said, You’ll never write another book. So then I was just like, Fuck it I’m just going to write poetry.”
She laughs. “But I still don’t want my parents to read it.”