Poetry Mukbang With Montana James Thomas

Poetry Mukbang With Montana James Thomas

Jun 24, 2024

Montana James Thomas sits down with Meg Superstar Princess in the back of a Lower East Side pest control shop to mukbang feast and discuss his disgusting, delicious new poetry book Concerning the Dinner, out now with Everybody Press.

Meg Superstar Princess: Montana! Tell me about Concerning the Dinner.

Montana James Thomas: Well, it's basically a big collection of poems, some of which I've been working on for up to five years. My last project, Pomeranian, was way more narrative, way more prose-y and a lot more outside of myself. This is more personal and also more New York and way more freeform and kind of angrier. I'm really excited.

Meg: Your book has titles like Beer Battered and Slathered in Sauce, Marc by Marc Mocha Choca, and it really reads like a delicious feast. Is the book a bit of a mukbang?

Montana: Food is a throughline in the book. It's kind of like a shameless theme that I went with. I think there's something fabulous about juxtaposition. And what I love about mukbangs is like, just the massive amount of different foods that you have to eat all at the same time. It's disgusting.

Meg: You begin [the book] with Julia Child’s quote, "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate, you know, someone's fingers have been all over it.”

Montana: I think with that quote, there’s a sexual kind of lightheartedness to it. But it's also kind of dangerous and creepy to think that like, the better your food looks, the more it's been played with.

Meg: The literal food mukbang laid out in front of us right now has definitely had your hands all over it.

Montana: We have some delicious Nathan's hot dogs. We have red, white and blue jello. We have Dunkin Donuts, just glazed with rainbow sprinkles. We have some gorgeous little fruit tarts. We have corn, which is my favorite food in every way because it's the only food that is through and through American, past and present and future. Then we have sushi because I love sushi. And because it's really pretty and because they're easy to eat with your fingers.

Meg: Why did you decide to write about food? How did the process of making Concerning the Dinner work?

Montana: I studied fine arts, I did not study writing, which I think makes me a better writer and a worse fine artist. I would use a lot of food in the video, installation work I made. I guess it fell into place because I had a lot of work about food. And then it became a vehicle to discuss people, seduce people, critique people, celebrate people. Food is just a nightmare.

Meg: Let's take our first bite.

Montana: Okay, you do hot dog. I'll do corn.

Meg: The way you write has a really unique voice and almost like a sing-songy sort of tone to it. It doesn't rhyme, but there's a rhythm, sharp and soft. Who or what are your biggest inspirations when it comes to writing and poetry?

Montana: To me, poetry is inspired by music and TV. And by music and TV, I mean art history. For example, I kept going back to Azealia Banks, who raised me artistically, sexually and mentally. What I connect to in her writing is the playful use of contractions and pseudo-archaic language. Like, in “The Big Big Beat,” she says, “Shining diamond, all of your facets/ You've so many faces, bet your evil smile'll convince anyone who sees.” It's a very modern, fast paced, New York perspective of contracting words, which in turn creates a kind of whimsical almost pastiche, period, fairy tale quality. It’s another way to hold the contemporary and the ancient in the same hand, so that really influences me in terms of the rhythms you're speaking about. Thematically, the disturbing bright colors of Martin Parr’s photographs of food, Roald Dahl’s book Dirty Beasts, La Grande Bouffe was a huge inspiration. It's a Marco Ferreri film where these bourgeois men go to a country estate and proceed to plan the most extravagant meal to eat themselves to death.

Meg: Goals. Some pieces in Concerning the Dinner remind me of a horror version of Roald Dahl. Regarding Azealia, what poem from the book would you say is your “Big Big Beat”?

Montana: Well, it's a cross between “Big Big Beat”and [her song] “Wallace:” My poem, “Suntan of Love” because of little turns of phrase, where I, for example, say, “He shot her a songbird for to pluck bare and eat up.”

Meg: Fake Shakespearean speak. Let's try the sushi before it goes bad.

Montana: I'm gonna go for the avocado roll. No soy sauce. Giant amount of ginger.

Meg: Delish. At the release of your book, Pomeranian, I had to listen to you read from the hallway of KGB bar. It was more packed than most parties. Talk to me a little bit about the New York City poetry scene, or at least what it's like to be a poet in New York.

Montana: Right now, rock music, God and poetry are back in. I think it's becoming really saturated in a way that annoys a lot of people. But [New York] is my home. I've always been here. Even when I wasn't part of a poetry scene, I've been here writing poetry. Poetry has the ability to not be exclusive, it's like music. It's like a song you can listen to over and over again. Taste reigns, rigor is paramount, for sure, but no need to get all art world about it.

Meg: Yeah, leave that to the people that are writing essays or whatever.

Montana: But I think right now I don't fit into any real scene. I have a hard time even thinking about it that way. I just love my friends.

Meg: Do you write knowing it's going to be consumed, or do you write and then edit for consumption?

Montana: Honestly, this is something I have been working on because I don't keep a diary. Writing is something that I'm so excited about that I want to share it. A lot of my editing process is less an act of perfecting for consumption, and more an intrinsic part of self erasure and restraint in form. If you listen to Amy Winehouse, for example, in “Tears Dry On Their Own,” she goes, “And in your gray/ In this blue shade/ My tears dry on their own.” However, in the version that they released post mortem, she says, “In this cool shade.” And I connect with that more because there's this lack of giving that only poetry can fully master. She’s heartbroken, but the shade she’s in is cool, which is just categorically true of shade. Shade is not blue, but it's also chilly. But it's also: I'm cool, like I'm a cool person.

Meg: There's a shield there, maybe a velvet rope?

Montana: A little bit like sunglasses more than anything.

Meg: Something that sets you apart from a lot of other young New York poets is that often we are writing about ourselves. We are heavy handed and identity obsessed. You create vivid, emotional and sensory experiences, and rarely say “I.” I'm curious about how you managed to weave narratives without screaming about yourself.

Montana: I, first and foremost, think that nobody gives a shit about you. They care about themselves. And I don't know who needs to hear this, but poets aren't celebrities. We don't need to talk about ourselves like that. Poetry is about describing and connecting. It's karma that brings you back into the description of the world. That lemniscate will exist with or without you explicitly talking about or explaining yourself.

Meg: In “Beer Battered and Slathered in Sauce,” you break the fourth wall, which is rare for you.

Montana: Let's do a fried moment. Let's eat something fried.

Meg: You write like, “I don't want to be anybody's novel sober evening. So please, by all means, get blackout and I want to bomb AA so let me taste it on your mouth too.” It's one of your most direct and aggressive moments. Is that because it's about boys?

Montana: Yeah, it's about boys. I was feeling like, “Yes, I wish I was dead. Why don't you just eat me alive?” In another poem about a boy I position myself as if I’m food in a pan being cooked by him, and I'm admiring him from this perspective. I saw this really hot guy on TikTok who went to Chipotle and got every single ingredient in one bowl, and then wrapped it in a tortilla and ate it. I thought to myself, This is what men do all day long with everything. They're consuming every part of the world. It’s frustrating, but also like, do your job and eat me? I mean, Beer Battered is really about wanting to kill myself. [Laughs] You know? I want to get hit by a bus. I ended up at the AA line and decided to keep it in there, maybe to punish myself for being so indulgent.

Meg: You tend to use anger with humor. Maybe it’s absurdity?

Montana: It’s violence.

Meg: Let's try a new bite.

Montana: I made some spaghetti-o jello, which was a ’70s party food. We've got our classic red white and blue jello and our spaghetti-o jello.

Meg: These taste disgusting. You talk about boys eating you up in poems. Who do you want to eat?

Montana: The thing is, men have to eat. I can describe men, but they have to eat to feel. I actually have to describe in order to feel. Like this morning when I saw that video of the guy eating Chipotle and this guy would never know what I mean by, “You look so dreamy in a striped shirt.” The way to man’s heart is through his stomach. And that is a point of suffering for me, for anybody who dates men. But also it's a relief because I don't ever actually have to tell him that, right? The same way I'll never know what the fuck he's doing with his Chipotle. I’m just jealous of the Chipotle.

Meg: I'm getting a stomach ache. Besides boys and food, what other types of consumption does your book touch on?

Montana: Partying, socializing. The scenes in New York are also something that I'm very much... I like them. Like bitch, I've been here doing what I want, do whatever you want. I think it's fun. If you're in New York and you're not doing that, that’s like... suspicious.

Meg: Anybody, everyone, should complain, but still participate?

Montana: Yes. It can be disturbing to witness the amount of shit and commentary and the hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of meals that people are ordering up to their tasteless expensive apartments. It's a form of superficiality from Californians coming to New York. They can never understand that in order to get your money's worth out of New York, you have to be suffering. Even if you make a ton, the weather is shit and it smells like shit. Californians come in and they're like, “Let's put the tables in the middle of the street and sit down all day.” And I'm like, “No, we're moving. We're out. We're walking.” Like Dimes Square, albeit on its deathbed, everyone loves to hate it. For better or for worse, it’s not really my interest. I don't care. It's just fun to look at, it’s fun to roll your eyes. It’s fun to see people roll their eyes. Just seeing an insufferable rich couple in the West Village enjoying a meal while letting their dog shit all over the sidewalk.

Meg: You're enjoying the culture?

Montana: I'm just observing. I'm literally just describing.

Meg: Some of the poems feel like nursery rhymes and a bit magical. As children we read these stories to learn big rules and lessons. Is Concerning the Dinner your adult retort to those lessons?

Montana: Yes, I'm doing the opposite. My main critique of this world is on everyone's inability to be comfortable with failing. The purpose of life is to fail. It's the only thing that can happen. All of these social scripts we have, I like to turn the story on its head and then end it. Like, all is lost at the entrance. All these rules you think you know and I'm not talking about post-truth. I'm talking about eternally, that there's something beautiful and touching in the inability for any of us to ever succeed or to know the answers. A source of rage and a source of tenderness is grappling with the understanding that, “No, you're wrong. I'm wrong. We are going to fail.”

Meg: While we eat French pastries, I'm reminded of your line, “Am I the funniest girl in the French court?” What inspired the royal, kingdom references throughout the book?

Montana: Limitless amounts and displays of wealth are breathtaking. I, like everybody, was raised on Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. What she was able to do and what resonated with me at a young age is show, “Well, this is happening now. But if we just were to put on costumes, it's all theater.” We wear costumes and then we're kings and queens doing all of the same things. I also am just fascinated with Royal Courts throughout history: the clothing, scandal, architecture, delusion. In that order.

Meg: Tell me about your book's finale, “Big.”

Montana: That feels like the emotional hilltop I end up on at the end. And it's really about me deciding — I hate saying the “about” — but I guess it reflects the experience of seeing yourself outside of yourself. And then wondering what to do with that, which for me was to stop drinking. But the last poem, the title poem, “Concerning the Dinner,” for me it felt right to have everyone exit like they're exiting a loud restaurant, like you just get something in the corner of your ear. The book is behind you, but it actually is pretty closely transcribed from a Brittany Broski video in which she's doing Club Penguin or something. I don't know, I was falling asleep and heard her say something, and I wrote it down and then I went to bed. Now it’s the title poem of the book.

Meg: So what is the journey you think you went on? Specifically in regards to your relationship with consumption? Not just with drinking, but the entire story of the book?

Montana: My relationship with consumption, even though I don't drink now, is actually exactly the same. I'm just without that. But my relationship with myself is almost entirely different. I ended up in this place where I think the last poem I wrote for it I felt like I could finally paint a picture of myself and describe the world in the same gesture without some incoherent urgency that made it sloppy followed by a ton of sad hungover morning editing. But that said, a lot of my favorite ones I began when I was incoherent and sloppy. I don't know, it's here now. I'm excited for it to be out and out of my way.

Meg: Even if you've written these poems on a binge or sloppy, you now have meticulously arranged them and organized them and you're delivering them and it's beautiful on the plate. Fingers all over them.

Montana: Thank you, Julia Child. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

The purpose of life is to fail. It's the only thing that can happen.

Photos courtesy of Montana James Thomas