Grit, Humor and Lost Teeth in “Hardcore”

Like the cover art — a bloody molar dripping blood as if just extracted — Hardcore by Mik Grantham is a journey into the gritty and messy parts of life that we often don’t want to talk about. The collection contains poems about abortion, loss (including teeth — I actually dreamt I lost a tooth after reading this book), and grief.

Hardcore is an unveiling of the personal, the intimate, the painful. And, while Grantham’s poems are unapologetically honest and dark, they are also deftly imbued with humor. In reading this collection, one feels in conversation with the author, perhaps while strolling the levee alongside the Mississippi River in the Lower 9th Ward where many of the poems are set. Like any good journey, the author doesn’t just leave us with the messy parts. The second half of the book shifts towards a theme of hope and love. Along the way, Grantham doesn’t make you guess or wonder what it’s all about or search for hidden meaning. The poetry is direct, wrought with feeling, and often finishes like a punch to the gut, leaving many of the lines to linger.

In the final poem, “at the bottom of the world,” Grantham writes about a visit with her grandmother, Ema (for whom the book is dedicated), just a few weeks before her passing, and we are left with this final image:

ema looks at me

her arms are resting

behind her head

she is smiling

she is relaxed

she sighs

i had a good shit

Ultimately, in Hardcore, Grantham shows us that while life can be gritty and difficult, there is often something to be thankful for, even if it’s just the simple pleasure of laughing at what we used to take for granted.

Mik Grantham is a poet, writer, and founder and co-editor of Disorder Press, which she runs with her brother. Her work has appeared in New World Writing, Hobart, Maudlin House, The Nervous Breakdown, and Fanzine. She currently lives in New Orleans. Hardcore (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2021) is her first book.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Grantham via email about her new collection.

The poems in Hardcore include a lot of loss, healing, hope, and eventually finding love again. Was writing this collection a process of healing and finding meaning for you?

I used to be really bad about saving my writing in a document. I had all these untitled word documents on my old computer with one poem written in them or notes for a potential poem I told myself I would write sometime in the future. The spring before the pandemic (2019), my friend Bud Smith came to visit me and do a reading here in New Orleans, and I started to show him some of the poems I was working on. I was pulling up all the different documents, and he was like, ‘Mik, are any of these saved? You should really save these somewhere in case your computer ever crashes.’ Unfortunately, I never saved them, and that computer died right at the beginning of the pandemic, right when I lost my job and had time to sit down and face all those unfinished poems.

A few of the poems I had in my email from various lit journals I’d sent them to, but mostly I was starting from scratch. And you know, that was refreshing. Every day, I would wake up, take a long walk on the levee with my dog, and then come home to sit at my desk and write. I was looking at my past from my place of compassion and humor instead of bitterness and angst. So yes, healing happened, but also I learned a big lesson in saving my writing!

With a bloody tooth and teeth (having them and losing them) prominent throughout the collection, I must ask, what was your inspiration for this book?

I lost a tooth a few years ago. I was driving into work and was running late (as usual) and flossing my teeth (kinda gross, I know) when my top back molar just popped out and fell into my hand. It freaked me out! Ever since then, teeth had been on my mind, particularly how I’d fill that space and get a new one. I had dreams of losing teeth and then dreams of losing other things. I was constantly rubbing my tongue against the smooth gum where the molar once was. The empty space in my mouth felt like the emptiness in the pit of me that I was filling with alcohol and sex and whatever else felt sort of real or close to love. To me, the teeth in the book represent a few different things: my childhood, the end of a relationship, the abortion. I believe that when we lose anything, there is a part of us that wants to always go back and make sure it’s gone for good. 

You write with sharp insight, wit, and humor about intimate and painful experiences. Even the last line in the final poem is such a witty and humorous way to end a poem about your grandmother’s death and a fitting end to the collection. How do you find and maintain that balance in your writing?

Thank you so much for saying this. My intention with my writing is to make you laugh and connect and maybe make your heart ache a little. Preferably all at once. This is the feeling I want to have as a reader. The poems in Hardcore were cathartic and maybe a little self-indulgent to write. But I try not to take life or myself too seriously, for better or worse. Having the ability to laugh at myself is how I cope and protect myself from letting everything that happens to me become the end of the world. I think my grandmother would appreciate the last line in the book too. She didn’t want her death to be a sad thing.

Your poetry is personal, dark, and humorous. How would you describe Hardcore as a collection?

My intention with the poems in Hardcore was that they would tell a story about a period in my life. It’s about the fallout of a relationship and stumbling around New Orleans. There are dog walks on the levee and breakfasts. There is coffee drinking and tequila drinking and dancing, and more coffee and mimosas and Mardi Gras. It’s about waiting tables, forgetting your underwear in the doctor’s office, and abortions, and losing your teeth, and then losing your grandmother, and then falling in love with the best person you couldn’t even dream up if you tried.

For me, Hardcore has a narrative with an almost story arc feel to it. Almost like having a conversation about life and its ups and downs. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Exactly this!! I want readers to take away whatever they want from the book, really.

The last time I laughed this much while reading poetry I was reading Jennifer L. Knox’s work. How do you find the humor in the tragic or depressing? Do you stop and search for it, or does it come to you naturally?

The way I see it is this: shitty things happen all the time, but they don’t need to define who I am. Tragedy can just be something that happened to me. I can let go of it, and the way I do this is through humor. I try to not take things so seriously. There is something so freeing about being able to laugh at yourself and all of your missteps. Maybe it isn’t always easy in the moment to find the light amidst a tragedy. Or maybe it’s like a defense mechanism, this need to be the first to laugh at myself before anybody else.

In addition to being a poet and writer, you are the founder and co-editor of Disorder Press. How does running a press and editing influence your writing and vice versa?

Well, first off, I have gotten to meet so many amazing artists through running a small press with my brother, Joey, and those folks have been a huge inspiration to me. I feel honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to work with each of our authors. Community is essential to me and integral to my creative process. Before the pandemic, I hosted a monthly reading series here in New Orleans called Disorder Salon. It was a great way for people to gather and connect with each other. I strongly feel that we need people and friends to encourage us to be brave and challenge us in our creative projects. This is how I grow, as both a human and an artist. Starting Disorder Press for me was the beginning of cultivating my literary community in New Orleans, and it’s been really cool to see how it has expanded over the years and reached more people. 

You wrote many of the poems in Hardcore while waitressing. And the thoughtful note you included with the book was even written on a guest check, which I thought was fantastic. How do you find and nurture creativity and writing when balancing the demands of life and work?

I used to work at this restaurant in the French Quarter where the chef was one of those who felt like it was his right as the chef to berate you, simply because he was the head chef and you were the waitress. I was working the dinner shift the night after I had hosted the first Disorder Salon. When I got to my waitressing shift the following day, the chef was in one of his moods. Slamming stuff around, calling people names, asking me if I was an idiot because some food was run to the wrong table, or he didn’t like the way someone grabbed plates from the pass. The degradation I felt at work was such a stark difference from my experience the night before, being surrounded by a community that shared so much love and respect for one another. It was a strange feeling, sort of like I had a secret life. I liked that, though, and that night when I was running around taking orders or getting screamed at, I told myself I would write funny poems about this restaurant. I made little notes on some guest checks while I hid in the bathroom during one of the chef’s temper tantrums, and I saved a receipt from one of the tables in which a guest called me: unfortunately waitress. In Hardcore, “Work Story” and “Unfortunately Waitress” are both about that time.

What other writers and poets do you love to read or have inspired or influenced your writing?

I’ve been reading a lot of mystery novels because I think it would be fun to write a mystery, and I’ve been more inspired to write fiction than poetry lately. I just finished a Swedish one called Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It was a quick little read. I am lucky to be surrounded by a beautiful community of talented artists in New Orleans, and I find myself inspired by their creativity and passion every day. My partner Max is also a big influence on me and my writing. He is a musician and one of the most prolific people I know. He is always working on some sort of project, and it’s contagious to be around that kind of spirit.

What’s next for you? Is there another book or project or reading you’d like our readers to look forward to?

I just opened a cafe with two of my best friends! It’s a dream come true. We’re called Lowpoint, and we serve coffee and snacks on a little corner in the 9th Ward. When I first moved to New Orleans, I worked at this tiny coffee shop called Solo Espresso. I met almost everyone I know and love here working at that shop on Poland Avenue. During the pandemic, Solo closed. It was a loss to our community. I asked the old owner if I could take over and open my own coffee shop. Long story short, another old employee and I and one of our close pals took over the space! We have been open now for just over a month. Once we get on our feet a little more, we will add some shelves and create a small press bookstore. Nothing could make me happier than giving someone a good book to go with their coffee. The coffee shop has been occupying most of my time lately. I’m probably more tired than ever, but it feels great to serve our community this way and provide a welcoming environment for the neighborhood to come hang out in.

By Mik Grantham
Short Flight / Long Drive Books
Published April 2021