This interview focuses on Chelotti’s new book x.
Jasmine Dreame Wagner: Tell me about your choice of title: x. Is “x” a variable, a value that could and might change within the context of a system? Is a poem like a mathematical function where, in the act of writing, you can search for and define a feeling or a thing? Or is “x” a Roman numeral? Does it refer to a street address, something secret you are counting or counting down from?
Dan Chelotti: At first, x was a mistake. Before McSweeney’s ever saw the manuscript, I was unhappy with the title, so I took the title off and replaced it with an “x”—a variable—and asked my friend, one of my most trusted editors, for some suggestions. My editors at McSweeney’s asked this friend if he knew of any books worth looking at, and he sent them my book. Next thing I knew, my editors were in touch asking if they could publish x. I agreed, and it took me a couple days to tell them that “x” wasn’t the title. They went on to mount some serious arguments in favor of x, and it didn’t take them long to convince me. x is any and all of the things you mention, or it has the potential to be any of those things. When my editors started fighting for x, I reveled in the potential for questions like yours—that “x” would be pushed around by the reader and turned into a Roman numeral, or a variable, or a street address, or a million other things that I haven’t thought of yet! Actually, the process through which a reader will take on the title is not all that different from the process I used to write this book: I would be on a walk or a drive thinking drifting thoughts, and I would say, Hey, I can make a poem out of leftover sushi; I can make a poem out of anything. In the same way, the reader can attribute all sorts of poetic meanings to x. It’s easy to proliferate a list of things it could be (an old lover, a warning label, a treasure map) but at it’s heart it is a little glitch that appears in the system that can’t be accounted for—a mistake that, if you can accept it, will take on a life of its own.