Monday, November 18, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lindsay Lusby


Lindsay Lusby is the author of the poetry collection Catechesis: a postpastoral (The University of Utah Press, 2019), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, judged by Kimiko Hahn. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Blackbird Whitetail Redhand (Porkbelly Press, 2018) and Imago (dancing girl press, 2014), and the winner of the 2015 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Contest. Her poems have appeared most recently in The Cincinnati Review, Passages North, The Account, North Dakota Quarterly, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Her visual poems have appeared in Dream Pop Press and Duende. She is the Assistant Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, where she serves as assistant editor for the Literary House Press and managing editor for Cherry Tree.

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?

Having my first full-length poetry collection out in the world has been both completely fulfilling and frantic. The manuscript has existed in some form for about six years: four years of writing, one year of sending it out to publishers, another year from acceptance to final publication. It has moved from ideas and experimentation to beautiful complete object. Seeing and holding it for the first time as the full package: the beautiful front cover, the generous blurbs on the back cover, a foreword written by a poet I deeply admire who really understood what I wanted to do with this book, then the text and visual poems exactly as I had envisioned them arranged. This perfectly-packaged object is what feels so life-changing, and that it looks and feels so much like all of the other poetry collections that I have read and loved by others. This book has made me feel real in the world in a way that all the individual poems never did. Impostor syndrome can always weasel its way in, of course, but now I have all of these lovely words from poets I greatly admire and respect to remind that I am indeed a real poet.

 I’m still figuring out what I’m writing post-book. It feels a little lonely not to have a “project” that I’m writing yet. I’m a slow writer, so I’m just taking it one poem at a time. I’m still exploring some of the same ideas and then mixing some new ones in as well. But I feel like I really figured out the kind of writer I am with this first book, so I’m continuing along that same path but with new poems and continuing to give myself permission to experiment.

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

I started writing poems in third grade and fell in love with them then. I can’t say for sure what first drew me to poetry, but possibly it was the pattern-building and the sonic nature of poems. These days, the things I love about poems are brevity and concision, the associative collage of influences distilled into new ideas and images. I love poetry’s transformative powers—making beautiful things out of the strange and monstrous, and vice versa. 

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 like to think of my writing process as slow and deliberate. It involves lots of note-taking, reading, research, movie-watching, and time. I have a strange process of revising while I draft each poem, so I really write one line at a time with a lot of thinking in between. I consider the images and associations I want in the poem, the sounds of the words and rhythm of the line, and maintaining those things consistently through to the last word. By the time I have a first full draft, I have usually worked on the poem for several weeks, each line probably revised 2-3 times. I just can’t continue to writing the next line until I feel like I’ve figured out the line before.

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?

With my first book, I knew the poems I was writing were building toward a larger project. Each individual poem was an intentional piece and all the pieces together became a book that I hope adhered into one larger poem-like structure. I think each book will be different though. Right now, I have no idea what the next one will be, but I’m writing new poems one at a time. And once I have a good handful, I’ll spread them out in front of me and try to see if there’s the thread of a book taking shape somewhere within them.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Planning for and giving readings is still pretty new to me. There are definitely parts of giving readings that I absolutely love, especially if I’m reading alongside other fantastic writers that I can listen to and then talk to about our busy, unpredictable writing lives. I love meeting other writers and making those deeper, personal connections. It’s exciting to introduce new readers to my poetry, people who probably haven’t heard of me or read any of my work before. And it’s another kind of thrill to meet and talk to people who are followers of my work. But overall, I am very much the introvert. Giving a reading and engaging in intense socializing for a day or an evening absolutely drains me and makes me crave some writing time by myself. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the writing process, which, in its solitary nature, relaxes and recharges me. But I think both of these things are necessary for a fulfilling writing life for me. I like to be on my own, but I need to feel like part of the outside world, too. I need that connection.

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?

All of my poems are about some kind of transformation—but I can’t really say why. I think I’m still figuring that out, piece by piece, with each new poem. I do have a fascination with how women in particular are transformed by violence, via the saints & martyrs of the Catholic church (my upbringing), fairy tales (an obsession), horror movies and true crime shows (another obsession).

I think the current questions are slightly different for each writer—important variations on the question of our humanity and what it means.

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 job of the writer is to ask the uncomfortable questions and also to admit that we don’t immediately know the answers. The job of the writer is to remind us to stop and think, to draw connections between things, and to explore the multitude of meanings there. But above all of that, to find beauty and to share it with the rest of us.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It all depends. Most of the time, it is incredibly helpful to get out of your own head and find out how your poem reads to someone who isn’t you, who doesn’t already know all of the references and connections you’re trying to make. It’s hard to know for sure if your poem is successful unless you have an outside reader who can give you feedback that you trust. The ideal scenario is to have an editor who likes and understands your poetry and style, and what you’re attempting to do. It’s the closest you can get to a clone of yourself who can evaluate your poetry with an unbiased perspective and a fresh pair of eyes.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

The best piece of writing advice I’ve heard, that I don’t follow nearly as often as I should, is not to censor your first draft. You have to silence the critic in your head when you’re getting a first draft out because there’s a lot of bad writing floating at the top. But when you get the bad writing down, you can get to the good writing underneath, maybe even hit on a piece of something great.

10 - 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 don’t really keep much of a disciplined writing routine actually. I tend to do most of my writing in the evenings after work and on the weekends, but it definitely doesn’t happen every day. I write as often as I can manage, which is never as often as I would like.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I turn to books and movies! Often I’ll return to a favorite for a reread or rewatch. Other times I’ll make a dent in the stack of new poetry collections on my nightstand and hope something shakes loose in my writing brain. I’ve also more recently turned to playing with visual poetry and collage when I’m stuck on a textual poem to exercise some adjacent creative muscles. The other tried and true reset button is going for a good, long walk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

It’s a very distinct scent—damp soil, dead leaves, and moss are some the things that make the rich smell of the woods on the U.S. East Coast. I grew up in a heavily wooded neighborhood in rural Maryland, where my little brother and I would always play outside either in the woods across the street or the woods behind our house. Now, whether I’m hiking in Delaware or Pennsylvania, or even this summer down in North Carolina, the smell of the woods is exactly the same; and it immediately transports me home. It’s a deeply comforting smell.

13 - 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?

Absolutely! So much of my inspiration for poems comes from folk and fairy tales. But more recently, I’ve been writing poems in conversations some of my favorite horror movies—and it has been so much fun! In my new poetry collection, Catechesis: a postpastoral, there are two different sections of horror movie poems in which each poem borrows for its title a line of dialogue from the films. One is about Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs and the other is in conversation with Ridley Scott’s Alien. Since the movie-lines-as-titles come before the poem is drafted, they serve as the jumping-off point for the rest of the poem; and the poems themselves tend to go in some really interesting directions. I had so much fun with these poem series that I’ve also recently started drafting some new poems in this same style, using Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I think the texts that have been the most important for my work are folk and fairy tales—I try to infuse a little bit of them into every poem I write. The other writers who have been most formative for me as both a writer and a reader are Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Kate Bernheimer, Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges, Elizabeth Bishop, Shirley Jackson, Matthea Harvey, Madeleine L’Engle, and so many more.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to find some kind of work-life-art balance, but I think that’s definitely more of a long-term project.

16 - 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?

I really enjoy graphic design work and letterpress printing, both of which I’ve picked up through years of experience rather than formal education. I do some of this for my current job and also a little freelancing, but I’d love to do more.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I really can’t say. I just can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. It’s the only way I know to go through the world and find some semblance of wholeness.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

This past year, I’ve read Brute, by Emily Skaja and The Red Parts, by Maggie Nelson—both of which were phenomenal. This summer, I’ve been rewatching some classics that I love: Rosemary’s Baby and An American Werewolf in London.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Recently, I wrote my first lyric essay about my obsession with true crime shows. I’m hoping to write another essay soon. And, of course, I’m still writing poems—figuring out what the second book might be.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Notes and Dispatches: Essays by rob mclennan, reviewed by Julian Day

Hey! Winnipeg poet Julian Day was good enough to review my second collection of essays over at Empty Mirror! I don't even know if copies are even available anymore (although I always have a couple of copies for sale, of course). Might they be? Either way, thanks!

See the original review here.
Notes and Dispatches: Essays by rob mclennan / Insomniac Press / 2014 / 978-1554831265 / 318 pages
Notes and Dispatches: Essays by rob mclennanrob mclennan has operated above/ground press from his home base of Ottawa for more than twenty-seven years, publishing over a thousand items since the press’ inception in 1993. He is himself a prolific writer, with more than twenty books of stories, poems, and essays to his name. In Notes and Dispatches: Essays, a collection of his writings from 2010 to 2014, he displays remarkable breadth and depth. mclennan’s interest is not just in writers and writing, but also circumstance and surroundings, and he is as much interested in how these external factors affect writing as in the output itself.
Throughout the book, he moves between person and place, subject and geography. In the introduction, he writes that each of his essays begins first with curiosity, as he tries to learn, through their writing, some aspect of an author or subject that can’t be understood otherwise. By starting with this pearl of curiosity, and enlarging his understanding through writing, mclennan provides a series of snapshots, each one focused on a figure or aspect from Canadian or American literature.
The essays in this collection are as diverse as they are personal. The first piece, “Reading and Writing Glengarry County: writing the Long Sault hydroelectric project”, describes the St. Lawrence Seaway project of the 1950s, tracing its indelible mark on the landscape of the region, and how entire communities were created, destroyed, or relocated by the project’s ambition. Weaving in recollections of his father’s life with Don McKay’s out-of-print long poem “Long Sault” and other sources, mclennan describes how the project’s scope changed Glengarry County forever. At the other end of the collection, in the penultimate essay, mclennan delves into his family history, tracing the McLennans from Scotland to Glengarry County, through to northern Alberta, British Columbia, and California. “Genealogy,” he writes, “really is akin to archaeology” (299), closing the piece with a note about his grandparents’ first child, named only as “Baby girl McLennan” in the newspaper obituary. Those who would have known her name, he writes, passed away years before he started his own inquiries. Despite our desire for understanding, for a full knowledge and accounting of ourselves and our histories, mclennan shows there are limits to how far we can ultimately dig.
Between these essays, the writings turn between geographies and the writers that inhabit them, often in the same piece: Douglas Barbour, an Edmonton poet mclennan feels was never given his full due; the poets and poetry of Vancouver and the west coast, including Roy Kiyooka, Meredith Quartermain, and Sachiko Murakami; essays on Lisa Robertson, Sylvia Legris, the American poet Sarah Manguso, and others; and “A note on Miss Canada”, on a piece by mclennan himself, describing how the sequence of voices in that work was partially informed by his trips between Toronto and Ottawa, where the dead played out in missing person posters taped to, then removed from, diner walls along the way.
mclennan is generous with the work of others, but the strongest work in the collection is autobiographical. In “The green-wood essay: a little autobiographical dictionary”, mclennan uses eight short sections to connect his family history to discussions of the pastoral, notes on the changing urban/rural landscape, poets whose lives began in farm country, and whether it is possible to be pastoral in a deeply urban landscape. The work shifts between sentences and fragments, in and out of poetry, working in mclennan’s distinct poetic style:
Instead of recess, played my scales. Another lesson. A further removal from bonding with my peers, already quiet, shy. Out on the farm, with barely a neighbour my age. Thirteen years of lessons, told to practice instead of wasting, wandering time. I wasted time. I put my head down. Played. I suppose, then, this was discipline. Certain notions set aside. (75)
“green wood”, a journey through mclennan’s foundations, allows the reader a view into his core tenets and beliefs – and foundations, mclennan writes, “rarely change, no matter subsequent constructions” (77). mclennan’s foundation is Glengarry County, and the red brick house where his father still lives; it is the move so many of us have made within the last few generations, leaving farms and villages for towns and cities; it is how he “absorbed books, consumed them” (75) – and how he still does. That was his life, and that is his life.
“How do books begin?”, mclennan asks (209). In Notes and Dispatches: Essays, the beginning and the end are geography: physical and human, intertwined and inseparable. We can never remove ourselves from the physical world; we are a product of our childhoods and upbringings, and the lives we choose for ourselves. The personal is the physical. Each of us are necessarily a part of where we live, and as mclennan deftly demonstrates, where we live, where we’re from, form an inseparable part of ourselves as well. “We already live in the world,” mclennan writes. “Why pretend to be apart?” (78)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Small Press Market (part four,


[Gap Riot Press (my table faced the back of theirs)] 

See my first post on what I collected at the fair, here; and my second post here; and my third post here. Just how much did I even collect at this fair that you missed out on? There were so many things! And I am totally going to keep pushing these two other fairs: TODAY’S MEET THE PRESSES IN TORONTO and the 25th anniversary event for our own ottawa small press book fair nextweekend, on November 23rd (and pre-fair reading the night prior). I will see you at one of these events, at least, right? I mean: how can you resist such small press marvelousness?

Ottawa/Burlington ON: Part of what I’ve found intriguing about Ottawa poet nina jane drystek’s work over the past couple of years has been realizing the wide range of experimentation and formal/stylistic shifts she’s been exploring. I think it was Chris Johnson who had pointed it out to me, how one can’t necessarily get a handle on drystek’s ongoing work due to the wild, experimental shifts from prose to lyric to visual to sound: she refuses, it would appear, to hold to the same structures for too long, more interested in exploration than positioning. One of her latest publications is knewro suite (Simulacrum Press, 2019), a triptych of works for multiple voices: “wokern 3vs, kewro suite part one [ three voices ],” “krownervs, knewro suite part two [ two voices ]” and “3 noks werv, knewro suite part three [ three voices ].” From the first to the third piece, the three threads exist separately but concurrently, weave into each other, and then exist, again, side by side but with short breaks of breath and space.

drystek has been working with Ottawa poet jwcurry for a while now through the most recent incarnation of his ongoing Messagio Galore sound poetry ensemble [see my report on an earlier incarnation of such here], and curry is great for bringing people out of themselves, as well as encouraging participants to bring new, original works to the group for potential inclusion. One thing I know, also, is how curry has discussed the difficulty, as well as the openness, of attempting notation for sound works, given the lack (perhaps deliberately so, in some cases) of any kind of standardization in sound poetry notational symbols (I suspect even to attempt such a structure might be near-impossible, although not completely impossible). The lack of such a standardization means that different performers might perform even a singular piece entirely differently. I would be interested in hearing this work performed, not only once, but multiple times, and listening to hear both the differences, and the potential repetitions between performances.

Vancouver BC/Toronto ON: Vancouver writer, artist and editor (including for The Capilano Review) Matea Kulić’s second chapbook, following Frau. L (Perro Verlag Books by Artists, 2016), is PAPER WORK (Anstruther Press, 2019). PAPER WORK is an assemblage of short clever pieces that play with formality, paperwork and perspective, turning the daily grind of office labour into something that concurrently twists into the directly surreal and absurd, even if just by speaking plainly of what has long been taken for granted.

Weather [Drafts]

By the time you arrive back at the office your feet are soaked.
The sky—verging
opened up on top of you.
At your desk, the big left toe peeled off the right sock, the big right toe peeled off the left.
A man was washing himself in the window of a rundown shop—you recall now—
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes as you passed by & continued
            on the way
to your livelihood.

Kulić’s poems include a form letter for acknowledging, rejecting or accepting cultural works for production, responding to generic emails, an attempt to change marital status for GST payments, lunch breaks, forms, forms and more forms. These poems are absolutely delightful, and I want to see more of them.


Friday, November 15, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jill Magi


Jill Magi works in text, image, and textile and her books include Threads (Futurepoem), Torchwood (Shearsman), SLOT (Ugly Duckling Presse), Cadastral Map (Shearsman), LABOR (Nightboat), SIGN CLIMACTERIC (Hostile Books), a monograph on text-image entitled Pageviews/Innervisions (Rattapallax/Moving Furniture Press), and SPEECH (Nightboat). Recent work has appeared in Best American Experimental Writing 2018, Boston Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Pheobe, and Rivulet. In October of 2017 Jill blogged for the Poetry Foundation, and in the spring of 2015 Jill wrote weekly commentaries for Jacket2 on “a textile poetics.” Her essays have appeared in The Edinburgh University Press Critical Medical Humanities Reader, The Force of What’s Possible: Accessibility and the Avant-garde, The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind, and The Eco-Language Reader. Jill has been awarded residencies with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace program, the Brooklyn Textile Arts Center, and has had solo shows with Tashkeel in Dubai and the Project Space Gallery at New York University Abu Dhabi. For her community-based publishing work, Poets & Writers magazine named her as among the most inspiring writers in the world in 2010. Jill teaches in the literature/creative writing and visual arts programs at NYU Abu Dhabi where she joined the faculty in 2013.

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 solidified my commitment to poetry and non-commercial writing, and that meant that I started organizing my life around writing and teaching writing. I stepped away from an administrative job I didn’t enjoy after my first book came out. And I made a friend in the process of publishing my first book—Jen Hofer was on the Futurepoem editorial team that selected my first book and we became friends as a result of her working on the book with me. What a great bonus!

I still write around themes and do a lot of research for each project. My most recent work isn’t composed page by page and this is because I now have longer uninterrupted stretches of time to write and revise, so I can maintain a pace and flow from page to page.

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

One version of this story is that when I was a child I believed that reading the Psalms out loud had the power to change my mental and physical state. So I guess that was “coming to poetry” in a sense. But later, as an adult, it was in Laura Hinton’s “women and fiction” class at CCNY—and I was in fact studying and writing fiction at the time—that I was introduced to Leslie Scalapino and Gertrude Stein and Lyn Hejinian and I knew that this was the writing I wanted to learn from and be in dialogue with.

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?

An idea for a project germinates for a while because it usually parallels an obsession or problem or joy that I am living at the moment. Like SPEECH, my most recent book, is about trying to navigate living in a place where I will never be a citizen, among other themes. So research and living accompany the “problem” at hand. And to sort through what I’m living, I write what seems to be poetry. It’s fast at first, and then revision is slow for me. Sometimes my first drafts, if composed by sound, tend to look close to the final version. Notes are always happening, and some get lifted and placed right inside the work. But it’s hard to trace what comes from what, in the end. At a certain point in composition, the work is telling me what it is and what it needs and then that impacts the notes I take.

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?

I’m a project-based person and have a really hard time writing a “single” poem, so usually it’s a book from the beginning and often with visual work as addenda or accompaniment.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I can’t say I enjoy giving a reading—it’s an odd energy. I’m eager to do it, and honored to be invited to read, but then before it happens, I kind of dread it. While it’s happening, I’m OK with it. And then after it’s done, I’m glad I did it. Practicing for a reading—and I read and re-read my work a lot to prepare—is a good revision tool for me. So I like to read work that’s in-progress almost more than work that’s already in a book.

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 think a lot about pleasure—and how it pleases me to notice things, want to learn something, and use sound and lyric and language to make another kind of sense of what’s going on around me and inside of me and in relation to others. It’s engrossing, playful, pleasurable, and this is a theoretical underpinning. I will remind myself, often, “do what brings you pleasure.” Maybe it’s a praxis—so, theory and practice mixed. Even when things are complicated, difficult, and I don’t know the way forward with the writing, I find it extremely fulfilling to struggle in this way. I love how an idea or solution to a manuscript’s problems will come to me at random times. The whole process teaches me to have faith in waiting and to tune in to the joy of invention. In this way poetry teaches me about how to live, honestly. So maybe I use poetry and art—serious attention to its discourses, craft, histories, communities—to answer the question “how should I live?”

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 side with Toni Morrison on this. The writer is going to show us, through their writings, how to imagine new and different ways to be human. But the important thing is that a writer shouldn’t start out with this goal—that’s too hubristic. If you fall in love with the language arts, you’ll write, and you will know that it’s a vital activity. But you won’t do it in order to be told by anyone, “you are important to the larger culture.” I try to tell students something along these lines: “it is vital that you write, but no one cares if you quit.” I think it’s important to keep both of those realities in mind as we embark and quit, again and again, as writers.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

As I said in my first response, I got to work with Jen Hofer and Ammiel Alcalay on my first book. How lucky! I really value the way experienced and knowledgeable writers read my work so I truly enjoy listening to an editor who is also a writer with similar affinities or in the same kind of community. I think it’s really dangerous to hear from an editor who doesn’t edit or write work like the kind of work you write or want to write. I am also lucky to have worked with poet and publisher Stephen Motika at Nightboat on my last two books. Stephen pushed me, both times, to change the work. He wasn’t even very specific, and though at first his feedback was a little confusing and disorienting, it had to be this way. And it made the work better.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“Poets publish other poets” was said to a group of us by Anne Waldman. I think this was at Naropa at a summer writing program event or something like that. One year later, I started a small chapbook press based on this mandate, and I learned tons about writing, revising, community, and service as a result.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to visual art to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

I don’t know if I would call it “easeful”—just necessary, just pleasurable, and very much a part of who I am. Before I studied writing, I studied sculpture and painting, and my first major in college was graphic design. I love the shape of letters, thinking about placement on the page, and I’ve even done modern dance choreography—where I see the stage as a page space and dancers’ bodies are writing in that space. It’s all kind of maddeningly connected for me. And working on visual work helps me to trust the non-verbal and the importance of the work of the hand. When I’m weaving, painting, quilting, I think I am probably, somehow, working out problems in my writing, even as I’m not writing.

About critical prose—this comes from my love of philosophy and theory and sociology. I thought my first life path was to do the PhD in social theory. I started down that path at the New School for Social Research. So I need to read this kind of prose to see how it is that others are putting into language a record of lived experience. When I write critical work, I’m taking a step back from making art to think through the “why” of my and others’ aesthetic choices. It’s an element of the reflective part of the art cycle for me.

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?

During the school year when I’m working full time I’m really conscientious about making “to do” lists for the days when I don’t teach. I try to put my essay writing, research, and revision work on that list and accomplish most of everything I set out to do on a weekly basis. I’m really good at working! So I apply the same kind of almost administrative thinking to those kinds of tasks.

For a project of poetry or painting, I tend to need intersession times to do this work. Because it’s really a privilege to be able to work two and three days in a row—it gives me a chance to actually address problems as they come up. I also find that my reading attention is much keener during semester breaks. So I’ll often work all morning, have a late lunch, and then turn to reading. I’ll sit with one poet’s book all week, as if it’s teaching me something—like a private tutorial. And it’s at that point, somewhere in mid-afternoon, that I’ll make a new list of experiments to try for the next day. Also I love to lay down on my bed at that point! I don’t nap, but it feels really good to rest and just simmer in what I’ve been doing. Depending on how I feel, I’ll get up at that point and do a couple more hours of work before dinner. I never work after dinner. I feel brain dead then and really feel like I need a break!

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I go to writers I admire—Scalapino, Celan, Morrison, Povinelli, Moten. Or I tune in closely to friends and colleagues’ books: Jen Firestone, Deborah Meadows, Paolo Javier, Brenda Iijima, or I’ll tune in to interesting publishing ventures online—like Rivulet—or I’ll look on Jacket2 to see what’s going on. I walk the stacks of the library, in the visual art section, looking for any artist monograph I’m not familiar with and I’ll just sit and page through. Or I’ll return to my notebook and do some open-ended free-writing just to see what comes up. I time these writing sessions, so it doesn’t feel too taxing, and I know that just writing without any goal is simply good for my writing “muscle.” 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The wildcard number 13 question! Here’s one answer: a mix of Clorox bleach, rose hand lotion, and chocolate chip cookies. This combination takes me back to my beloved grandmother’s kitchen. Currently: anything with an oud or “woody” perfume smell takes me to the Emirates which I also call home and where many local people where fantastic perfumes. And the jetfuel and salty humidity smell lets me know I’ve landed at JFK: another home. Finally, the smell of pine takes me to Vermont where my sister lives and where it also feels like another home.

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 think that a book is a container—so I think almost architecturally about this question. The desire to contain something, to draw boundaries around an idea or bit of matter or sound, is where books come from. To create space in order to share the space. Maybe the body is the first book? I don’t think I really answered your question, but anyway . . .

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

In a guilty pleasure kind of way, I love anything that Jon Krakauer writes! When I want to be reminded that there are extreme personalities out there beyond those of us who choose, crazily, to be poets and artists, I read him because he writes about mountaineering and wilderness stuff and other seemingly inexplicable voluntary pursuits.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I would like to visit Japan. For an uninterrupted two week period I would like to set up a desk and sleep in a room that opens up onto a beach somewhere. I would like to make paintings that are taller than me and wider than my arm-span. I would like to have a solo show of my visual work in a gallery in a major US city or maybe in the Netherlands somewhere. I want to publish a book of my collected essays, including the writings on textiles. I’d like to host four of my best girlfriends for lunch—they are, all of them, from pretty different walks of life and I’d love to see what kind of conversation would transpire if we all hung out together. I would like to find a very restful home to chill out in with my husband, Jonny Farrow—we’ve lived in apartments all our lives, and that’s been fine, but I fantasize about spending hours sitting on a porch somewhere with him, looking at the trees and maybe a trickle of traffic going past.

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?

I would practice gestalt therapy. I might still do that! If academia doesn’t work out for me, I think about retraining in this and then hanging a shingle. I would like to help people construct new narratives about their lives and narratives that help them toward happiness or give them the tools to face problems. I think I could have learned sign language and been a sign language interpreter. I almost wanted to do that. If I could do school all over again, though, I would study anthropology, for sure. The anthropologists seem to know where it’s at in terms of living life fully with complexities and with others and while remaining power-aware.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Writing was cheaper and more portable than painting and sculpture and I didn’t have to have studio space!

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Last great book: Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. The way she brings a poet’s training and sensibility to what I think is our greatest American problem is remarkable. Last great movie: Manchester by the Sea. That film does not look away from grief and refuses the usual Hollywood treatment of loss. Kind of unbelievable that it’s an American film.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m embarking on research and a little bit of writing for a book project called Some Sports. I love sports, and I think there is something really strange about being an athlete—kind of as strange as being a poet. I’m also curating a textiles and “textility” show for the university gallery where I work. Finally, I’m working out the kinks in an exhibition I am trying to pitch to a gallery space—the work stems from and feeds my current book SPEECH and I’d like to bring that project to a culmination soon.

Many thanks for these questions!