How Mitch Cullin's novel in verse began as a college assignment and ended up being optioned by a Hollywood producer.
Not Quite Black and White
"I was at the University of Houston and I was stuck in these poetry classes because I just couldn't get into the upper-level fiction classes because they filled up and juniors and seniors had priority there. So I was taking poetry classes and not really being a poet. I was always looking for a way to kind of do fiction as poetry because I really wasn't good at doing pretty poetry things or typical kind of stuff, so I just said to a professor there, I said, 'What if you did like a whole novel as a poem?' And he said, 'It's been done and it's hard to do it well and really it's better to keep the poem as a little photograph of the world.' And he shouldn't have said that because I thought, 'Okay, I'll just go home and write a big long poem.' I didn't actually mean for it to turn out so long but the truth was part of me was just literally doing something that I would turn in at the end of the semester to say, 'Ha ha ha to your little pretty poems' and I just kept working on it and working on it. So why pick a character that's really despicable and does these things? I don't know. I really don't. I do know that in Matador, Texas where my grandparents live, somebody was poisoning dogs there and I was driving through and visiting. It was in the late Eighties and this was going on and I remember my grandmother convinced that it had to be -- there was a black part of town they called the Hill, they also called it Niggertown -- and she was just convinced it was somebody from there doing it and it turned out it was like the son of some upstanding church-going person. And that always just stuck in my head as kind of interesting. So I kind of took that. I knew people in Guthrie [where Cullin grew up] who would do awful things to animals like shoot cats and it would always horrify me. I have a real fear of guns and I think in some way I was dealing with my fear of guns and why people like guns. I'm still not sure I know why but in one aspect I think I knew people who were really great, affable friends of mine who would do these awful things to animals and that always stuck in my head, not quite black and white." -- Mitch Cullin on how he came to write Branches, a short novel in verse recently released by The Permanent Press, which also published Cullin's first novel Whompyjawed in 1999. Branches has been optioned by producer William Finnegan. One of the actors Finnegan is considering approaching to star as Branches, a murderous but upstanding sheriff in a small West Texas town, is Tommy Lee Jones.
On Tuesday, May 30, at Jazz Louisiana Kitchen (214 E. Sixth), at 7:30pm, 12 to 15 local poets who have participated in poetry slams during the 1999-2000 season will slam till they can't slam no more to become one of four people comprising this year's Austin Poetry Slam Team, which will head off to Providence, Rhode Island, for the National Poetry Slam in August. "We consider it the Easter service of the Austin slam," Slammaster Mike Henry says of the Slamoff. $5 admission.