Know Your Vibe: A Conversation with Dan McKeon of Pretty Cool Poetry Thing

I first met Dan “Dooski” McKeon during the summer of 2016 in Buffalo, a red-hot and happening time for young people in the city’s literary community. Foundlings Press had begun publishing issues of its journal that April, we at Peach Mag had announced that we’d be launching an online journal and reading series in August, and Pretty Cool Poetry Thing, Dooski’s project that they’d started with a couple of friends, had begun circulating poetry zines printed on...index cards.

I’d seen Dooski give readings and was taken with their style—funny, chatty, and unpretentious—and for months we managed to orbit in the same spaces without introducing ourselves. Then, in July, something happened at Natalie Shapero’s reading for Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Silo City Reading Series that would finally set our friendship in motion: I traded them a couple of Peach Mag buttons for a copy of their new chapbook The Neighborhood, which I’d wanted to review for “Peach Picks.” We later published their poem “The Square” in Season 2 of Peach and again in our Season 2 Yearbook, and hosted them at s02e03 with Jamie Mortara, Jakob Maier, Eve Williams, and Oli Wiggins. Years later, I’m still taken with their style.

Pretty Cool Poetry Thing had the same spirit, and I was bummed when Dooski announced last year that they were retiring the project. But then they confided in me that a relaunch was in the works, and as of earlier this month it’s here: Pretty Cool Poetry Thing 2.0, a literary journal with a mission to push poems into new terrains using the affordances of digital space and technology. Every month, the new PCPT team works in tandem with a poet—really a collaborative partnership unlike anything I’ve seen—to code their vision to life. (Check out this month’s “New Theories of the Everyday” by Julianne Neely, a poem in the style of a digital advent calendar that “grows” over the course of 15 days.)

I interviewed Dooski over email to learn more about Pretty Cool Poetry Thing 2.0, the possibilities of interactivity in digital publishing, and the chameleon that serves as the project’s mascot—and Holy Spirit. –Rachelle Toarmino

RT: You relaunched! Wtf? Did you miss us?

DM: Yes, I tweeted back in November something like “miss y’all” with a little frowny face. I think that was sort of the “what if we came back, haha jk…unless?” moment for me, personally. Since we ended with the Animal Crossing Zine, the idea of coming back became a tiny little thing in the back of my mind—a haha-jk-unless that refused to stop haha-jking until I unlessed.

RT: Tell me the origin story of Pretty Cool Poetry Thing. Where did the idea come from? How has that idea evolved into this new iteration?

DM: So, Pretty Cool Poetry Thing’s origins are a little confusing even for me because it was never a thing until I found myself in the middle of a thing. It started completely differently from where it went and where it is now.

Originally, back in 2016, I wanted it to be this sort of decentralized regular poetry reading that’d move around to different spots and cities. My friends and I felt like many of the readings we were going to in Buffalo were more about cults of personality than poetry, and we wanted to make an alternative. The zines were a part of the readings. Each zine had a poem from each reader in it and we’d sell them at events to help pay the poets. We printed them on index cards because, you know, it was cheap and fast and easy to carry. Aidan Ryan, future Mr. Rachelle Toarmino, actually solidified the index card thing as a good idea to me; he made an off-hand comment at a zine fair about how novel the idea was, and I was like “well this guy dresses like he knows stuff!” Anyway, the first reading we did was at the Hostel Buffalo-Niagara and a friend did the cover. That was another part of it: I wanted each zine to be special and have someone involved in the reading do a different cover. At the time, we called it A Pretty Cool Poetry Thing, almost as anti-branding. It didn’t have a clearcut name; it was just a neat little thing. It all was very much an idea from someone who had never planned events before and the idea of doing this regularly with different people in different cities was a huge endeavor for little ol’ me.

The second reading was at the Little Box, a DIY house venue in Rochester, New York. I had met Rose Guilfoyle a few months beforehand, and I’d say we were sort of on our way to becoming friends. She did the cover for that one; she drew a chameleon, dropped the A, and just wrote Pretty Cool Poetry Thing, which was sort of this magical happenstance that set the stage for everything that followed. Rose became the illustrator for the rest of the covers and sort of my bud through all of this. There weren’t any readings after that and the whole thing pivoted to being just about the zines. We made it mail-order, originally through Etsy but then as a subscription thing through Patreon. I remember bringing my printer with me to Rochester and we'd print and assemble those bad boys and became good buds! And I got to formally meet Bart the Chameleon, who gently bit my finger and sort of became the mascot and “ethos” for PCPT. (Aidan was also the first one to call it that.)

Time went on and it became a lot for me and Rose to keep up with. Assembling and shipping was a drain. We both accidentally stabbed ourselves with an awl assembling one of the issues, inadvertently making two Blood Zines. So, we decided that after the Animal Crossing Zine, we’d call it quits.

The Animal Crossing Zine was one we kicked around for a long long time—like, probably one of the first ideas we h