Jeff Kass

Author of Teacher/Pizza Guy

1. We read that you wrote down ideas and the starts of many of these poems when you had free moments while teaching and delivering pizza. This brought to mind Charles Bukowski writing poems in his head on his mail route and Adam Driver's character in the film Paterson who constructs poetry as he drives his city bus route. I guess our question is, do you become particularly inspired by daily life and that sparks the on-the-job creativity OR would you be writing furiously if you had time to devote entirely to that endeavor?


The answer is Both And ... In general, yes, I get inspired by daily occurrences in everyday life to create poems and stories. That act of creation, in fact, helps me slow down the chaotic world and reflect a bit more, to try and understand why any given happening is important or what it means. For instance, the first poem in the book is about a splotch of blue paint on a sidewalk at the school where I teach (I attached a photo). Something about that paint-splotch struck me, its vibrant color in the midst our often dreary, not particularly-architecturally-inspiring, school environment. The more I thought about it, the more the paint splotch became a metaphor for me as a teacher as I navigate the school year and my positive energy grows more and more depleted. The same is true for my students. So, when I'm asking the paint-splotch if it will retain its vivid splash "come surly March when wind and rain slice their knives and it's been week after week of waking before dawn..." I'm really asking the same of myself, and of my students. This is the manner in which many poems come into being for me, something strikes me, I kick it around in my head for a while, and when I finally sit down to write,I do so with a spirit of discovery, that the process of writing the poem will help me understand better what it all means, why this idea has been kicking around inside my head.


All that said, if I had time to fully devote myself to the endeavor of writing, yes, I would 100% be writing furiously. 


2. I think it is safe to say that the majority of our members and followers are not big poetry readers. However, your poetry is accessible and the kind of work that someone who "doesn't like poetry" would enjoy, appreciate, and find beautiful/poignant. I know that Teacher/Pizza Guy will appeal to our members, but are there other poets you might recommend to our members/followers whose work has similar attributes?  


Absolutely. I grew up as a poet in the Poetry Slam community of the past quarter-century and there are a number of writers from that community, or connected to it as mentors/friends, who all write terrific poems that are accessible to all kinds of readers. I've never actually understood why anyone would want to write something that takes some kind of secret code to decipher. As I said above, we live in a fast, chaotic world. If I can get a reader's attention, even for a few minutes, I don't want to waste that person's time by giving them something so hard to understand, they just say, ah, screw it, and move onto something else. Here are some contemporary poets I love and I suspect your members will love too:


  • Patricia Smith

  • Patrick Rosal

  • Kevin Coval

  • Nate Marshall

  • José Olivarez

  • Jon Sands

  • Martîn Espada

  • Ross Gay

  • Tony Hoagland

  • Jeff McDaniel


3. After so much time spent handling and delivering pizza, did you ever find yourself hating pizza or getting sick of it? ...if it is even possible to get sick of the world's perfect food :) 


Absolutely not. I love pizza as much as ever, though I will say my standards have gotten higher. Having worked in a pizzeria, I now know what pizza is capable of. I won't settle for a basic cheese and pepperoni anymore–okay, I will if that's what I have a hankering for or if it's the only thing available, say, at a staff meeting–but what I've come to understand is that there are so many possibilities, that one can get quite creative and concoct some true masterpieces. The flavor of the sauce matters, but also, of course, the quantity of the sauce and how evenly it's spread. I love white sauces on pizza and can even go with a no-sauce, garlic-butter-based option and be more than content. Of course, cheese is crucial, and there are so many more options than just "pizza cheese" or straight mozzarella. I can put feta, parmesan, cheddar, even–I know, don't hate–swiss or gouda, and make it work. And, toppings, well, when you work in the store, you know what's possible: pickles, lettuce, bacon, ground beef, veggie sausage, numerous genres of peppers, pistachios, almonds, salami, man, you can experiment, cut and paste, and just see what happens. It's like falling in love all over again, not to mention, when you make a pizza for yourself, well, you can slice it any shape you want (see the poem I'd be lying in the book for more details on this particular insight.) I guess, ultimately, working in the pizza shop gives me a greater appreciation for well-made pizza everywhere. 


4. On social media, we preach kindness and good tipping when it comes to pizza delivery. Your book touches on this, but what should people who order pizza know about their delivery drivers and the jobs they do that they should keep in mind when interacting/tipping delivery people?  


Pizza drivers tend to get paid very little. I was making $5.25 an hour, plus tips. Sometimes, business is slow. If you make only, say, three deliveries in an hour, and somebody tips a buck, someone else tips two, and someone else stiffs you, you've only made $8.25 for that hour. If you have 3-4 hours like that in a night, that's a shitty night, and a lot of nights are like that. Remember that the driver not only has to find your house, which may be tricky even with a GPS, but also generally has to load up the order and make sure everything the customer ordered is exactly how they want it, including sauces, drinks, salads, breadsticks, etc. Often the driver also has to prepare the salad or a milkshake and likely has additional responsibilities: taking phone-orders, washing dishes (forever), mopping floors, cleaning ovens, etc. – all work that needs to be factored into a tip. Customers should tip at least 15% if the order is correct and arrives on time, just like they would in a restaurant; more if the pizza is really good or the order was special in any way. Sometimes people don't understand percentages. They'll order 40 pizzas for a party, have a $400 bill and no clue about how much work goes into that delivery and think they're being generous when they tip ten bucks.


5. If you could have a pizza dinner with any three people from history, who would you choose to eat with and why? 


This is a really tough one because there are so many people I'd like to eat pizza with: Carly Simon to see if she thinks I'm vain and that her song is about me; John Steinbeck so I can ask him how he came up with that crazy ending to Grapes of Wrath; Daredevil so I can count on his heightened senses to help me make the best possible order; Herbert Hoover; Lou Gehrig. Ultimately, though, I guess I'll go with the following: Julius Caesar, obviously, so I can ask him what he thinks of Little Caesar's pizza and their whole cartoon caricature of him; Michelangelo, but not the real one, the Ninja Turtles one, so we can bond over all the crazy things we've done (and villains we've battled) to acquire pizza; and, last, the late great Biggie Smalls, just so I can hear him say something like, You need to eat that pepperoni, Homie.