Aesthetics Over Everything: Alex Dimitrov & Richie Hofmann
Last year around Valentine’s Day I did an event with Richie Hofmann in support of his book, A Hundred Lovers. There were so many beautiful men in the audience. I loved it. And I’ve known Richie for a decade. I like his poems. I like his style. And most of all I like that he’s always been kind to me (and clocked from afar what I’ve been doing in poetry). So when I woke up hungover the other day after New Year’s, I thought, you know what, I want to talk with Richie Hofmann. He just makes me feel like myself. And that’s my only resolution for 2023. To be myself.
AD: I just woke up. I guess I drunk tweeted “You're all lucky gay people invented art” at 11:56pm last night. My first tweet of 2023. Why does that feel so right, honestly. But anyway. I'm hungover. I forgot what I was going to ask you. Let's just start with what you're doing. Where are you and what are you doing and are you still wearing only white APC button-ups? I feel like the last two parties I saw you at that's what you were wearing. And I felt very underdressed because I was wearing like, a baby blue John Elliott shirt with holes in it. Which is to say, I think we’re very different poets but equally devoted to aesthetics.
RH: Devoted! That's the word. Sorry I was out buying candles when you first wrote to me. Now I'm back in my apartment. I'm writing you from the bath (little luxury). I love that you remember my clothes. I'm really particular about clothes and I do love those white shirts. I have a fetish too for coats, hats, scarves, gloves (one reason among many I can't really live in California). Sometimes I think we are different poets, but a lot of the time I think we have much more in common.
AD: I do think we have a lot in common. And I've also been buying candles. After years, I finally figured out my candle. Diptyque's Narguile. I can't burn anything else now (and by the way I almost burned down my apartment in January of 2018 because of candles…long story but…I was writing my last book). I hate it when I get obsessive like that because ritual is both bad and good. Like recently, I had to stop saying fuck in poems because it was getting ridiculous. I felt like a teenager. But the first few times were so exciting. What are you repeating these days? Your last book was so quietly erotic. I knew exactly what kind of sex you liked after reading it.
RH: What kind of sex? I love that. “Fuck” is really hard though, because the vocabulary is so limited. “Have sex” (no), “make love” (ew), “hump” (that could be interesting, but only if you’re really good). I guess I’ve used “fuck” a few times in poems, but as with the real thing, less is more.
I’m obsessive and I write a ton. Men’s shirts, men’s apartments—these are significant motifs to me. More humiliating is the frequency of words like “love,” “pain,” and “dark.” Before it becomes a book, I’ll probably end up cutting nearly everything. That feels so good.
There’s a lot of fragrance, so much smell in A Hundred Lovers, and I know I have to focus on other senses in my new work. I can’t become the poet of smells! I’ve always thought one way to get good at making art is to learn what you’re good at and then not do it.
AD: It's totally that. Learn what you're good at and not do it. I always say, your mistakes, your fuck ups, that's your style.
So many of my poems are interesting to me because I'll write something that, when I'm writing it, I'll be like, oh you'll cut that later. It's fine. But then it ends up being the most interesting thing in the poem. The thing I thought I shouldn't say. The thing that isn't “literary” or might offend someone (who cares!).
And of course I don't cut it. You can't operate out of fear. I think there's been a lot of fear everywhere in America but especially the arts in the last however many years. And I'm just not going to fuck with that. I'm going to do my thing whether people like it or not. If you want to be a loser and cancel me, go for it baby.
RH: Yes, lots of fear, trepidation, silence. But all an extension of the broader culture. Reactions are instant and facile. It feels like people are less generous with one another. More polarized and pre-sorted. People of remarkable idiocy have tens of thousands of followers. The group-thinking, the petitions, the conformity, the bad faith. We’ve all made weapons of our sadness.
But, thankfully, poetry moves in centuries and not in days or weeks. So one has to do one’s thing. Which has not been hard for me. An early mentor told me when I was 19, “You have two options in life: you can pretend to be someone else and fail, or you can be yourself and fail.”
Also, we have been flirting for a decade.
AD: I agree with everything you’re saying. And it’s true we have been flirting for a decade. I actually tend to flirt only with people I admire. I know it’s a little unorthodox. But let’s not talk about poetry anymore. Obviously I like to write it, but I don’t like to talk about it. There’s something pathetic about it. Tell me what pants you wear. Actually, tell me what you’d wear every day for the rest of your life if you had to. And what fragrance. I’ll go after you.
RH: There are these pants from COS I’m obsessed with—black joggers that zip at the ankle—they don’t have them anymore, so I try to find them online all the time to get as many pairs as I can. I don’t know what I’d wear forever—black cashmere probably, and sunglasses. I don’t wear fragrance everyday, but when I do wear a scent, I like Philosykos best. My friend Kara is a fragrance expert; recently, she and I spent an afternoon sniffing at Ministry of Scent in San Francisco. We smelled so many perfumes we felt sick. She knows me really well and recently smelled Tangerine Boy and said, this is so you. And of course she was right, so I bought a bottle.
AD: I was in London this summer and ruined every single pair of pants in a matter of days. Then walked into a COS and got an amazing pair of black ones (they're in this insta pic of me in front of a pink door in Paris).
I got a second pair a few days later when I realized they were so amazing but ruined those too. So I only have the original ones now. I ruin stuff a lot. I'm not very careful when I go out. My favorite pants are my AG sateens. I've been wearing them in baby blue and this dusted pink and camel. Diptyque's Eau Duelle Eau has been my fragrance since 2018 maybe. I love vanilla. After years of not letting myself love it I finally said, fuck it. This is who I am. It might be basic but it’s the truth.
Tell me what the most beautiful place on earth is. Then three cities where you'd like to own an apartment. Where would you never live?
RH: Omg what are you doing to these poor pants, Alex?
I tend to like everywhere I visit. The most beautiful place I’ve probably been is Koh Rong Sanloem, an island off the coast of Cambodia. I love to swim.
I’ve always wanted to live in Vienna. I spent a part of my childhood in Munich, where I fell in love with Mozart. Maybe my purest love, the longest, too. Actually, you published my poem, “Birthday,” in tribute to him. I’d love to have an apartment in Vienna—eating cake, listening to classical music every night. My paradise.
I don’t want to live in the countryside. I don’t like the dark. I distrust animals. I can’t really drive a car and I’m scared of being alone.
AD: I didn't know you swam! I've been running on the beach here every day in Miami but no swimming. Not yet anyway. And you know, I've never been to Vienna. But I'm not drawn to it. Or Berlin actually. I think Rome is the most beautiful city I've been to. And I would like to learn Italian and live there for some time. I might actually go to Geneva to visit a beautiful man at the end of this month. One who came to our reading last Valentine’s Day, by the way.
And I remember publishing that poem. It was good. You know, I hated that job at the Academy of American Poets. They treated me like shit and didn't care that I was a poet. It was so strange to work at a poetry nonprofit and experience that. But the past will never happen again, will it! Onto bigger things, baby.
Also onto Fuck Mary Kill. Alex Dimitrov, Keanu Reeves, Ernest Hemingway.
RH: It might have sucked for you but I did look forward to seeing your selections every morning.
I’d fuck Keanu (one time thing), marry you (lots of fucking) and kill Hemingway.
Fuck Marry Kill. Me. Bernie Sanders. River Phoenix.
AD: I can't believe you’d kill Hemingway. I'd kill myself. But actually not today!
Okay yours is not hard at all. I'd fuck River. Marry you. And kill Bernie, I guess. So I know you put him in there because I was such a Bernie bro, and I was. But I'm so over following politics now. I just want to find the perfect white t-shirt and write a great poem. I think both of those are so hard to accomplish in life. You know, didn't Keats say we only write one or two great poems. Lightning doesn't strike that often. If at all.
What do you think is a great poem you've written? I realize this is an insane question. If you want to change the adjective to good, fine. Or like...what's a poem that just felt fucking great and you still like to read it out loud. In a way, that's how I measure it.
RH: I legit thought Hemingway wouldn’t mind.
Politics is ugly. And you’ve traded Bernie for Elon, right?
I usually like best the poem I’m working on now—don’t want to be stuck in the past. I’m proud of poems like “French Novel” and “Book of Statues” that have found their way to people who don’t typically read poems. I love that. “Book of Statues” will be in my next book, about queer childhood and evasions of death.
You change from book to book, in your way. Though I still remember and love the poems in Begging For It. They must feel distant to you now. Is it like that for you? I often read older poems I wrote, but I can’t quite remember who wrote them.
AD: Yeah, nothing I’ve done in the past interests me. I don’t like to look back. The itinerary is the imagination. And that’s the future. I have so much stuff I’m going to do. I’m always working on a lot.
And yes, I love Elon. I want to own a pink Tesla and save the environment! I was listening to Grimes, “Be A Body” in a pink Tesla this past summer and it was one of my happiest days. Making out with these guys driving down Collins. I always forget simple pleasures are everything.
And yeah, I guess I do change from book to book. Aesthetically every book is a shift. I would bore myself if I didn't do that! This fourth book I’m working on is so different from the last one. It's my god book. A lot of filth, a lot of religion, a lot of Miami and New York. I like what I'm writing right now which makes getting up easier.
But anyway. No more writing talk. If we were to have dinner anywhere tonight where would you take me? I would take you to the Surf Club here in Miami and we would have steak. New York was so beautiful this past fall but so many people pissed me off. So I don't want to have dinner there! I might move to London or Paris.
RH: I’d take you for steak-frites and red wine at L’Ardoise in my little neighborhood in San Francisco. The food is good, and so are the hot French waiters. They have one of those thick velvet curtains at the entrance that separates the bistro from the outside world, and we could be in a foreign country together. We could be anyone. Immortal soirée.
Also: Don’t get a Tesla, Alex, they’re hideous! You can do so much better.
AD: I think they’re beautiful! Plus. The environment! On that note…I need to call an Uber.