Thursday, October 30, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Martha Silano

Martha Silano is the author of four full-length poetry collections, most recently The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and named a Noted Book of 2011 by the Academy of American Poets, and Reckless Lovely (Saturnalia 2014). She is co-editor, with Kelli Russell Agodon, of The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice (2103). Her poems have appeared in Paris Review, North American Review (where she won the 2013 James Hearst Poetry Prize), Cincinnati Review (where she won the 2013 Schiff Poetry Award), American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Martha teaches at Bellevue College and serves as poetry editor of Crab Creek Review.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The main thing that changed: I got a little bit of exposure. For instance, one of the poems from What the Truth Tastes Like appeared on Poetry Daily, and I was invited to read at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble in Manhattan. It also helped me make a life-long friend, Susan Blackwell Ramsey, who read my poem “Sausage Parade” and reached out to me via email. Did it make me more confident or less anxious about putting together my next book? Did it mean the whole poetry biz  thing got a lot easier? Not at all.

My new work differs in that it is less personal. When I wrote my first book I was single, childless, in my early 30s. Many of the poems are about food, my childhood, friends, failed romantic relationships. I was struggling with being musical and metrical while at the same time saying things that mattered, that seemed important. I was less facile with crafting and revising. When I re-read my second book, Blue Positive, my instinct is to grab a pencil and start crossing words out. If I had the chance, I would tighten up those poems. In my newer work I’m taking more risks with subject matter and points of view – a poem about toxic furniture, an ode to Frida Kahlo’s eyebrows, a poem in the voice of Mona Lisa. I am less interested in my own life and way more interested in the lives of copepods and northern flickers. But I remain steadfast to the belief  that poetry is music first and foremost, and remain most interested in poems that take advantage of sound—especially assonance, consonance, and internal/slant rhyme.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Characters don’t pop into my head and start talking to each other, or to me for that matter. First lines of poems do. I tend to be plodding and wordy when I write non-fiction. I think I was drawn to poetry in high school because it elicited feelings; I wanted to feel more. Novels could do this too, but poetry did it in a concentrated way – it was like the poet was talking directly to me as my friends did—intensely, as we used to say. It gave me a jolt to have all that concentrated emotion washing over me. I enjoyed that, so I started imitating the poets I was reading—Dickinson, Frost, the Beats, whoever they were publishing in The New York Quarterly back in the late 1970s.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It depends. An idea for a poem might incubate for twenty years or more before I write a single draft. Other times I have an idea and immediately begin writing.  First drafts are often written in very sloppy long hand – they are shaggy, messy things that don’t become poems until I start typing them up on the computer – adding detail, rearranging, cutting, figuring out the shape/stanza pattern, checking all my verbs to make sure they are strong, making sure I’ve got just the right word both meaning and music wise, improving the metaphors, etc.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
There is no usual way for a poem to begin. Sometimes I rely on writing prompts. Sometimes a title or first line pops into my head. Other times it’s an image, something I read or heard. I usually figure out a book’s trajectory once I have a pile of about twenty poems. Knowing the theme of the book helps me to write the rest of the poems, but the new poems also influence the theme.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
There are aspects about public readings I enjoy very much, one of which is acquainting myself with bookstore owners, then buying lots of books to show my appreciation. I love listening to and getting to know my co-readers, and, if no co-readers, having dinner beforehand with kind people who are interested about my kids, my teaching schedule, and my quirky writing practices. I am a social person, so I like all that comes before and after a reading, even weeks before a reading, when I am emailing back and forth with the organizers. The hardest part of the reading is ... the actual reading. Especially if it’s a solo reading.  Short group readings are a lot of fun. With solo readings, I am not sure “enjoy” is the right word. I work very hard to make it seem like I am naturally eloquent, brimming with interesting anecdotes and quotes, but in truth I have spent hours writing down everything I plan to say and whittling it down to a key-word outline. It’s an exhausting process, and I am usually completely wiped out when it’s over. 

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
No, I am not trying to answer or address any theoretical questions when I write. Not that I know of, anyway.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the writer’s role is to be a role model, a mentor, and an inspiration.  The goal should be to make the world a better place for all, including plants and animals. Admirable poets are compassionate, empathetic, ethical, and view their subject matter from all sides. A poet simply cannot set a bad example with lazy word choices, clichés, tired tropes. It’s a tall order. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you, as Auden says in The Dyer’s Hand, enjoy fooling around with language.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Difficult but essential. My editors at Saturnalia BooksHenry Israeli and Sarah Blake—have been amazingly generous with their editorial suggestions. It is humbling and exhilarating to work with talented individuals who take a keen interest in poems I’ve been looking at so long I neglect to see room for improvement. I am grateful for their vision, for their willingness to be forthright. Their insights have made a huge difference.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Sometime in the mid-1980s, I was watching a videotaped performance by Robert Bly.  He was in his Iron Man John phase. At one point he asks the audience a question: “So, you want to be a poet. Do you have fifty years? Because that’s how long it’s going to take.” 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Writing poems is what makes me feel most alive, most like I am in the act of doing what I have been given to do. Critical prose  - you mean literary criticism? Usually I need to be solicited to write that kind of stuff, and on deadline. Otherwise, it has to be something I am really, really fired up about, reacting to passionate, wanting to say my piece in response. Otherwise, it’s all poetry all the time.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Writing is like physical exercise for me. If I miss a few days, no biggie. But if weeks go by? Not good at all. There is no typical day for me. Sometimes I write first thing in the morning. More often I take time out in the middle of my working day to scribble out a draft in longhand or pull up a poem on my screen and tinker. Or sometimes I write late at night, when the house is finally quiet. Sometimes there are too many papers to grade, or submissions to read, to give my full attention to the idea(s) simmering in my brain. It gets put off till the next day or week. Sometimes I write four poems in a day – a result of meeting up with a writer friend, swapping prompts in a coffee shop or around a kitchen table, setting a timer. Then there are the trips to writing retreat centers and artist colonies. I try to go away for at least a week, two or three times a year. In these places I am able to start or finish a book, dream big, research and revise even bigger.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? 
I turn to the Poetry Daily archives, the Poetry Foundation website, poetry books by those who inspire me (I own hundreds), my old notebooks and unfinished drafts, how-to manuals, and my own book, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, co-edited with Kelli Russell Agodon. There’s an exercise for every day of the year, but I randomly choose one that peeks my interest, then start to write with lowered expectations and a mindset that I’m just playing around, not really writing.  

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? 
Vanilla.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All four, but especially nature, science, and visual art. Recently, my subject matter is pretty much solidly the natural world. I am sort of on a mission to save the planet one poem and one species at a time.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
If I hadn’t read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I don’t think I would have been brave enough to enroll in Biology 101 in college, which would lead to me signing up for Plant Taxonomy, Animal Ecology, and the daunting “bio units,” including Plant Morphology and Oceanography. Oh, and Organic Evolution. Dillard was the one who gave me the crazy idea that I could dive in.

Not sure what kind of voice I’d have without the Beats, especially Ginsberg, whom I first read in high school. Also Bly and Stafford. And Snyder! I am glad I read Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Turgenev when I was in college. I almost majored in philosophy – Socrates had a profound effect on me. But before that, so did Holden Caufield. And Laura Ingalls Wilder. And Katie John.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Hike the Coast-to-Coast trail across England. Go to Florence. Go back to France. Eat more baguette, salami, and brie. Drink more Blanquette. Visit more caves. Spend more time in the Everglades. See more manatees. Watch my children grow up. Enjoy old age with my husband (we joke that we will sit around watching videos of our kids). Write a book of essays and/or a memoir. More long jogs on the beach!

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Honestly, it’s lucky this writing/teaching writing thing worked out, because truthfully no other occupation appealed to me, except maybe wildlife biologist or park ranger. I love reading autobiographies of astronauts, but no way am I cut out for space travel.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing came relatively easy. I kept at it because I was mostly okay at it. I never got a 32 on an English test (can’t say that about math). I was better at it than mowing the lawn, watering the garden, or calculating the slope of a line. I stuck with it because I’m not particularly logical or strong. I didn’t grow up ambitious or determined. I took the easy way out.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I liked A Sand County Almanac. Also, Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Francine Prose’s Blue Angel.  I am not sure about the word great, but Cheryl Strayed’s Wild had me in its grip for a couple of weeks last summer – I was “in” after the first few sentences and didn’t pop out till I finished the book in tears on a train in France.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I am finishing up a book of poems titled Mission Boulevard, and also working on poems directly and indirectly related to our current carbon emission crisis. These may or may not become part of a book titled Life in the Anthropecene. I plan to continue with these two projects right after I type this period.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fence magazine #29 (spring-summer 2014)



SECOND LANGUAGE INTERFERENCE

When learning a third language, one often accidentally uses the second tongue, even if it’s barely rooted. In that moment of interference—there is a box in the mind that springs open. occupied. Two spiders per web. The dark matter of conflict. There is a shifting, making space for the stranger getting onto your subway car. You are a subway car. Or the language is in you like a mind. (Jennifer Kronovet)

By now, you’ve most likely figured out that one of my favourite American literary journals is Fence magazine, and their most recent issue recently arrived at my door: Fence magazine #29 (spring-summer 2014). I have to say I was charmed by Trey Sager’s editor’s note at the opening of the issue, titled only “EDITOR,” in which he discusses the process of a small handful of editors with varied tastes and biases, working together to produce various issues. The piece ends with:

Our conversations about what we want to publish have included shared enthusiasms and interests in work from different categories spanning (at minimum) race, age, sexuality, gender, class, level of artistic success, languages, and aesthetics, and how to find stories therein that are challenging and new and explosive and relevant. But I’ve also come to a temporary conclusion that a roster of diverse stories is what’s most important to me. Why? Because that means we’re reading stories on their own terms, that we’re not beholden to a reductive or singular idea of what “high quality” is. I also believe that a diverse group of stories necessarily results in a diverse group of authors. As a democracy, the give Fence fiction editors are each other’s fail-safes. We help check each other’s underlying motives. The subconscious is some deep shit.

Probably ours is not a perfect system, but the latest result is the fiction in this issue, a diamond of a gamut. More or less I’m still following the same Sherpa as before, only now he’s wearing an Iron Maiden tee and quotes Charles Olson, “Limits / are what any of us / are inside of.” Where’s he taking us? Up the mountain, of course.

Everybody carries some water.

Part of that broad scopes includes the caveat that, once published in an issue of the semi-annual Fence, that same author can’t submit again for two years, providing any reader the opportunity to discover at least a couple of very interesting authors previously unknown in every issue. I’m always happy to see new work by Brian Kim Stefans, Jenny Zhang, Evie Shockley, Cara Benson, Jacob Wren, John Pluecker, Sampson Starkweather, Barry Schwabsky, Katie L. Price and Laura Mullen, for example, but was also quite pleased to be able to discover the works of writers such as Dawn Marie Knopf, Jennifer Kronovet and Sandra Simonds; Simonds’ sequence, “The Lake Ella Variations” is worth the price of admission alone. A fragment of the thirteen part sequence reads: “The song of the lake and the song of the human / make / the electric chair. // The song of the hand and the syringe / make / the bread-maker. // The song of the wheat flour and sticker-book / make / the bed.” Sager makes the case for a strong array of fiction in each issue, but it is always the poetry that strikes me first (perhaps my own bias is simply coming through). It is through journals such as Fence that make me optimistic of the state of literary culture, and some of the possibilities of the poem, opening every issue to a series of striking short lyric poems and/or sequences, such as this, the opening of Dawn Marie Knopf’s sequence, “selections from THE ARIAL CRITIQUES”:

The boundary gathers all along the length of the same. If I recollect with any
accuracy I felt it just after we passed the Interstate Shield but you likely dumbed

down the controls for my sake, my simple mind. One side is on this side
and one side is on the other side. To cross Stateline is to re-establish

our conversation. Over our second course in the third town in the great land
Perpetua I continue with what I saw.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kate Hargreaves

Kate Hargreaves is the author of one poetry book, Leak (BookThug) and one book of short prose Talking Derby (Black Moss). She has been published in literary magazines across Canada and the United States, and was the recipient of a Governor General's gold medal for her graduate school work at the University of Windsor. She works as a book designer and office administrator for Biblioasis and plays women's flat-track roller derby for the Border City Brawlers under the name Pain Eyre. Follow her on Twitter for roller derby and writing: @PainEyre

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Not a tremendous amount, to be completely honest, in terms of my day-to-day. My first book came out and I celebrated the launch and the next day I went back to work. It was a slightly surreal feeling to know that I had a book and that people were reading it, but the biggest difference was probably within the roller derby community in that people from other leagues started recognizing my skater name from having read or heard about the book, which is always a surprise to me. I find myself feeling more apprehensive about how readers will react to the poems in Leak. It is a project that has been in the works a lot longer, so I've had more of a chance to sit with these poems and pick at them, but also to grow more attached to them.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually went into my undergrad swearing that I would never write a poem. I wanted to be a journalist, I think? I also was at least somewhat interested in writing short fiction, but certainly not poetry. I had this impression that poetry was dry and pretentious and only written by dead white men and that it had nothing to do with me. After taking a writing class with Susan Holbrook, I realized that I had just been reading the wrong poetry. After seeing what poetry could be, not least of all that it could be playful at the same time as being powerful, I got on a poetry writing kick that hasn't really ended.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

If I don't have a deadline imposed by someone else? Absolutely ages. I'm extremely slow to get going on writing. Once I get started, I tend to write at least a first draft relatively quickly, but just getting out of the starting gate is always a huge struggle for me. I'm terrible for backspacing over my writing instead of continuing and editing it later. Once I do have a draft, it usually looks relatively close to how a poem will look in the end, but I do go over the poems several times and make pretty drastic changes. I'm not much of a notetaker, and I'd rather write and scratch out and try again then cobble something together from scraps.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Usually a poem will start with a line, which may or may not end up in the final piece. Sometimes just a word or one image. Then I will jump off from that point and see what I come up with. I tend to have preoccupations with different subjects or styles or ideas that I need to get out of my system, so I might produce a handful of related material to work through those nagging ideas that later ties together into a more cohesive project.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy readings as much for listening to the other writers as reading live myself. It gives me a sense of the writing community in the area to participate in events like local poetry open mic nights, and also, purely selfishly, gives me a kick in the ass to get writing in order to have something new to share. I also like testing out new poems on an audience, not only to gauge their reactions, but to see how the poems work or don't work aloud to my ear.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

A lot of the writing in Leak, and a lot of my preoccupations when it comes to writing in general, are influenced by theory I encountered in university, a lot of disability theory, gender theory, performance studies, etc. I'm not sure that I am trying to necessarily answer any questions specifically, but more to take the ideas about bodies and what they should/n't be and do and see how these play out poetically.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
If writers can make us think critically about something we wouldn't have otherwise, they are doing one kind of work. If they can produce words that give us pleasure, they are doing a different kind. The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Absolutely essential. I find I have a particular lack of insight when it comes to my own writing, and I am always extremely grateful for any editorial suggestions. With the editors I have worked with, I found myself stetting very little and often marvelling at the degree that changing one or two words could improve a poem. I don't understand when writers refuse editorial feedback on their work, because I believe that what I write can always be improved and I may not be able to make those improvements without an outside perspective.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Write shitty first drafts. Having a shitty first draft is okay because at least you have something written down with which you can work and create something better. I tend to get caught up on the first draft of things and edit too much as I write, which sometimes leads to me giving up when things aren't working out the way I'd like them to. I'd like to be able to write more shameless shitty first drafts.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Moving from writing almost exclusively poetry for quite a few years to writing Talking Derby, which was prose, was difficult. I had trouble not getting caught up in the language to the point where I would lose the narrative of the vignette, which was confusing for the reader. I was so focused on making the language echo the chaos of the action it was narrating that I lost the narration part.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I wish I had a better writing routine to describe, as I don't write as often as I'd like, between work, roller derby, cross-training and all the trappings of adult life and responsibility. I've been trying to write something, anything, even a line or two, each day on my lunch break. A typical day involves waking up bright and early, dragging myself out of bed, eating a quick breakfast and getting ready for work. On the weekend, things are a bit more relaxed, and I replace heading to work with cleaning my apartment, grocery shopping, hitting the gym, or sometimes taking off for a derby bout out of town. In between these things, sometimes on my lunch break, I try to get some writing done.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I can't write, I read. I feel like if I can't produce something myself at any given time, I am at least learning something by reading work that I respect and enjoy. It helps me to get into the groove of writing to read language that makes me excited about words and what they can do.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Candles that smell like baked goods. I can't cook or bake, and I can't eat most baked goods because wheat gives me hives, but I want my apartment to smell cozy so I stockpile autumn candles that smell like cinnamon latte, salted caramel, pumpkin cupcake, etc., and burn them year-round.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I listen to a lot of music, but I can't listen to music with lyrics when I'm writing because I tend to get drawn into the lyrics and become distracted. That said, sometimes a song or a lyric when I'm driving or walking somewhere will trigger me to come up with an image or a line that ends up in a poem (as long as I don't forget it before I have a chance to write it down).

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Many, many, but specifically when I was writing Leak I was reading the work of: Sylvia Plath. Anne Sexton. Sina Queyras. Susan Holbrook. Nicole Markotic. Jenny Sampirisi. Nikki Reimer. (& many others).

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Skydive. Write a book of short stories.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
As writing is by no means my full-time occupation, I suppose I already have. I design books (mostly covers but also some typesetting and gift book design) and do office admin for Biblioasis, which is a pretty good gig in that I get to be creative and surrounded by books at the same time. Had I not gone in a literary direction at all, I would have liked to become an ASL interpreter. I've been learning ASL from a very patient friend for the past few years, as well as meeting and interacting with the local Deaf community, and it has been a great experience.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I grew up in a house where reading was everywhere. There were hundreds of books, I learned to read when I was three, we went to the library weekly, I ended up working at the local library for four years in high school and at an independent bookshop for two years in undergrad. I suppose everything sort of led up to me doing something writing-related, and although I thought I would be a journalist because it seemed more pragmatic, I ended up not really taking to that field when I was in university, and stumbled onto poetry instead.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I'm currently finishing reading Julia Serano's Whipping Girl which is really insightful and a great education. The last great film I saw would probably be Malificent, which I was completely prepared to hate going into the theatre, but I ended up being really impressed.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I am slowly picking at a couple projects right now. One is a potential series of short stories. I came up with a character who I can't seem to kick, so I'll see how that turns out. The other is a poetic exploration of how we talk about bodies in the context of exercise. As an amateur athlete, I spend a lot of time training and cross-training, in gyms and exercise classes and even at home. I am always amused and sometimes baffled at the way we talk about bodies in the context of fitness and exercise, so I'm playing with that idea to see if anything comes out of it.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Monday, October 27, 2014

All Lit Up Fall Preview: rob mclennan on Stan Dragland,

As part of the All Lit Up Fall Preview (week two), I did a short write-up ("publisher's picks") anticipating Stan Dragland's The Bricoleur & His Sentences (Pedlar Press, 2014), a book I've since received and am nearly half-way through reviewing [see the original post, along with other recommendations, here]. And did I mention that all of our Chaudiere Books titles can now be ordered online through All Lit Up? You should totally start doing that. My little write-up reads:

rob mclennan, publisher at Chaudiere Books, picks …

The Bricoleur & His Sentences by Stan Dragland (Pedlar Press, available now)

One of the fall titles I’m excited to get my hands on is Stan Dragland’s The Bricoleur & His Sentences (Pedlar Press, 2014). I’ve always envied Dragland’s ease with literary criticism; how he articulates the interconnectivity of reading, thinking, literature and living in the world in terms deceptively simple, deeply complex, and incredibly broad. I’ve envied his sentences, and even attempted, unsuccessfully, to replicate them. For years, one of my favourite books has been his Journeys Through Bookland and Other Passages (Brick Books, 1984), a title I’ve probably read at least half a dozen times, even taking to travelling with it on extended tours. According to Wikipedia, “bricolage (French for ‘tinkering’) is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process.” I can’t imagine a better description for the literary criticism of Stan Dragland, a deeply committed reader, thinker and critic. According to the press for this new title, he explores the work of writers such as Walter Benjamin, Margaret Avison, Michael Ondaatje, Phil Hall, Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Colleen Thibaudeau, and readers familiar with Dragland’s work will recognize more than a couple of names from earlier works. I look forward to it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristin P. Bradshaw



Kristin P. Bradshaw is a language-based writer and artist who works with poetry, collage, photography and soundscapes. Her current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, uses of language in art, and the tension between immediate and emergent encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing. Her poems have appeared in journals such as the New Orleans Review, New American Poetry, Chase Park, and No: a Journal of the Arts, and a letterpress chapbook and audio CD, “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation,” is forthcoming from Tiger Food Press/Percival House. She holds an MFA from Brown University, an MA in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and now teaches in the Liberal Arts department at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Burning Deck Press released her first book, Apologies, in October 2014.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book took over fifteen years to get out into the world (as a book), and over that time, I lived in Providence, New Haven, New York City, and Portland, Oregon. After graduate school, I struggled to find decent work and to get much traction. I wrote a good bit, put together flimsy copies of inkjet printed chapbooks. Later I turned to recording sounds, then photography. I listened to a lot of music (or maybe a lot of the same music over and over again), which is something that hasn’t really changed in my daily life. Right now, some of my most recent work includes more “apologies.” And then apart from “poetry” in book form, I have a separate set of visually based works that meditate on the iterative process of seeing, writing, and thinking. It feels different in that I can work with smaller chunks of text, and therefore I don’t have to wait while my work accumulates into a full series. Technically, I also end up using different computer programs for design purposes, and different machinery (letterpress) in order to fully actualize the work (poem-image-print).

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My cousin is an avid reader, and he gave me a number of books when I was a pre-teen.  One was an anthology that covered poetry in English generally (so Dickinson, Shakespeare, Milton, but also Henry King and James Wright), and the other covered contemporary American poetry including a Denise Levertov poem that I adored. While I read novels, essays, plays and history texts throughout high school, I returned to these anthologies often.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m not sure it takes all that long to start a project, but it seems to take forever to finish. Of course, this is not the case for short individual lyric or aphoristic pieces, which come rather quickly and decisively, but for the pieces that make up a series the process seems rather protracted. I used to work more from notes (usually in a notebook and from scraps of paper, envelopes, etc.) and compose on a manual typewriter. Now I compose mostly on a computer.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem can begin with a phrase or word, just a fragment of something, or it can begin with a full line. I usually work with the idea of a book or series in mind from the beginning. When I write occasional pieces, they are often short lyric-like poems or quasi-aphoristic text blocks. Sometimes they go on to live in another series, but some are candidates for being employed as part of a matrix for a printmaking or sound project. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m interested in exploring the idea of what a public “reading” can be, what it might look like other than a person reading into a microphone or from a lectern. I’ve always wanted have a reading of a short series entitled “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation” and place a laptop at the lectern (or better yet, in a chair, with a glass of water nearby, and a microphone) and play the accompanying sound project “the difficulty nature” instead of giving a live/spoken reading. Or, what would it be like to record a selection of texts/poems and play them in a loop while “the audience” milled around, sat in chairs, conversed, drank and ate, as if it were an art opening. Audience members could sit and listen to the loop, or chat, or allow any combination of these things to occur at once.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I have some ongoing curiosities. My current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, artists’ uses of language, the tension between immediacy and emergence in encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing.  

For me, in poetic compositions, writers interact with language, sometimes in an attempt to make sense of the real, even if through the unreal or dreamlike, and in some cases to describe visual or aural connections to language, with or without the desire to express sense or meaning or to “pin” anything down. I understand poetry/poetics in multiple ways, as an open genre that accommodates lyric and narrative elements as much as it accommodates fragmentation, collage, systems, and chance. This openness also allows writers to engage the spirit of inquiry, and I think the questions are myriad. The critic Marjorie Perloff has suggested that the contemporary unit of poetry might be the page rather than the line. Following that thinking, I’m curious about where poetic expression might exist—on the page, in LED displays, in paintings, or in any number of screens and devices. This multi-planed understanding of poetry as visual, auditory, verbal and written allows me to incorporate both traditional approaches to writing and to explore the move from the line to the page, and from printed material to digital platforms.

Poetry is a medium through which practitioners of all levels may ask: what can a poem be? and how can a poem or act of poetic writing operate in the world? In what ways can ‘poetry’ be read and constructed out of fragments of the mundane: street signs and voices overhead on the walk home? How is that material transcribed, visually or through sound? What are some of the techniques employed in making a poetic writing work? And what are some approaches to writing poetry in the 21st century? How can methods taken from the long history of versification, from contemporary writings by Paul Metcalf or Jackson MacLow, and from contemporary art practices by artists like Johanna Drucker and Jenny Holzer generate useful ways of interacting with language? Further, what do (and will) new poetic territories look like? I am interested in these questions and how potential answers make an impact on the ways that poetic writing may be composed and considered, and in how language offers a platform (a medium) through which to translate critical thought into a formalized structure of some sort (an essay, a novel, a story, a poem, or image, etc.).

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I suppose that different types of writers will (and should) have different roles in society (and I’m really referring to American society, or a particular slice of it). Perhaps contemporary poetry allows writers to connect with their own capacities to shape words and language to reflect, manifest, or project the semblance of a fractured/fragmented whole as an object-like thing or idea to be considered in ambiguity. Perhaps it is suited to investigations of all types of conflict—matters of the heart, religion, war, political instability — and can reference experiences ranging from the individual to the communal to the universal.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Probably both. I haven’t had much experience with this in the recent past, but I worked closely with an editor on a project a few years ago, and her comments gave me so much insight into my compositional choices (as well as into some of my shortcomings). I spent a great deal of time revising Apologies prior to submitting it to Burning Deck, and before it went to press, Rosmarie Waldrop and I discussed certain aspects of the numbering system, the deliberate gaps, and I was happy to preserve the original numbers, but also I found the feedback invaluable; it helped me better grasp and articulate my intentions.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
CD Wright once wrote this word at the bottom of a short series that I turned in for review: “Onward.”  Indeed. 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry via collage and soundscapes to photography)? What do you see as the appeal?
It has seemed more natural than difficult, and done sometimes out of convenience, to move between poetry, collage, photography and sound recordings. I think the collage work is a sort of hermeneutic strategy/processing of what I’m “reading” around me, and that the sound work that I’ve done has primarily connected back to, or been an expression of, written work that I’d done before, as if the text begged to be translated into a different medium. Photography is usually something I pick up when I need to see (things in the world) differently.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Typically, I get up between 7:30-8am, look over email, attend to administrative things—like obsessing over my calendar—related to my job, and then by 9:30 I am doing some form of class preparation or grading. I teach in the afternoons this term, so I go in to campus around lunchtime. If I am not teaching, I follow the same pattern, but go in earlier than lunch and have meetings or consult with students, and after a few hours I spend time off campus reading for the next class or working on curriculum or working on my own research/work. These days can be especially good for writing. I like to think and write in the afternoon or at night. My process has changed a bit over the years, as I’ve moved from manual typewriters to computer/laptop. I keep a document open over a period of time, and generally get three or four sessions of writing time in during the week. I’m a slow writer; sometimes I write two or three words (that I keep), sometimes a few lines or paragraphs, in a sitting. I sit in a chair and listen to music through headphones. I stare a lot. I sit in a rocking chair and wear my pants out at the calf. I attend to the advances of the dog until I get her settled under a blanket, and then I repel the advances of the cat until she settles on the back of the sofa, or, I fidget with things around me: papers, books, study debris.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Usually I turn to a different medium, like photography or collage.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The scent of coming rain.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I’ve always been curious about the way that music does or doesn’t influence my writing (process).
And I am inspired by visual art, from the Bauhaus masters (I wanted to be like Itten when I was in high school) to Barnett Newman, and from Jenny Holzer to Glenn Ligon, my work is deeply influenced by visual artists.

I started college as a music history major, and while I didn’t want to practice my instrument so much (I much preferred writing and writing and writing), I have always had a special relationship with music (Zukofsky’s “Lower limit speech/Upper limit music”). While I can’t remember everything I listened to in copious amounts while I wrote Apologies, I’m sure the list includes Radiohead, Tori Amos, Roxy Music, Neu, Shostakovich’s String Quartet’s, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie and Gnossiene, and William Byrd’s Masses.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Of the people I know currently, Sarah Jaffe, a musician (formerly of Erase Errata) and writer (first novel forthcoming from Tin House, 2015), and Kate Copeland, a conceptual artist working in printmaking, book arts, and alternative photographic processes.


16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
So much, especially light projections and multiple screen-based works.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
What’s it like to work in a think-tank? I wonder about that from time to time. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
compulsion. possibly hubris. later defeat. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje and Waiting for Godot. Film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A postcard series. And writings…more apologies, and something else still nebulous.