Thursday, September 24, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Graham Foust

Graham Foust's fourth book, A Mouth in California, will be published by Flood Editions in the fall of 2009. He lives in Oakland, California.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

a) I went from being someone who hadn’t published a book to someone who had—it was rather anticlimactic, though I wasn’t really bracing myself for any significant change. It may have contributed to my acquiring a job at a university.
b) My newer work is, for lack of a better word, thicker. I’m using longer lines and less white space.
c) It looks different, I think, but it feels about the same.

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

I began writing fiction in high school, and I was terrible at it. I had a teacher in college who was teacher enough to tell me the truth. She said I that wrote great sentences, though, and then she asked if I’d ever tried writing poems. I hadn’t, so I did.

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?

a) When I hear the word “project,” I reach for my pillow.
b) Both.
c) Copious notes.

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?

For the answer to the first question, see lines 5 and 6 of John Berryman’s Dream Song 29. I don’t know the answer to the second question. I guess I tend not to think of books when I’m writing poems—once I get a bunch of poems that seem to go together, I assemble them into a book-like stack, at which point I show it to some people in order that they may verify or dispute my sense that the poems fit together in some way.

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

It’s often helpful to say the poems in front of people and to hear their immediate reactions to them, so it’s part of the process in that sense. I tend to revise a lot when I read, and it’s usually an enjoyable experience for me.

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) I don’t think someone without theoretical concerns would bother to write poems.
b) None. I answer questions in prose.
c) Allen Grossman: “A poem begins and ends in silence. Why not call it nothing?”

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’m generally bored by writers who have “roles.” I think writers should let readers take care of that sort of thing.

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

In my case, it’s very easy and absolutely essential.

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

The best advice I’ve heard was to avoid a certain person who shall remain nameless. Unfortunately, the only reason I know that this was excellent advice is because I didn’t take it.

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 have a writing routine. A typical day usually begins with my son requesting that I “play bears” with him.

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

I just do whatever else there is to be done. I don’t find the stalking of inspiration very pleasurable. The ability (and/or the desire) to write poems disappears now and again. As yet, it’s never not returned.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Depends on the home. Stale beer and lilacs and manure remind me of Wisconsin. Stale beer and asphalt and red onions remind me of Buffalo. Pills and soap remind me of Iowa. Coffee and eucalyptus and Kettle Chips remind me of Oakland.

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?

I see what he means, of course, but I go outside every day and walk around without a book in my hands. And I look at paintings and listen to records and read science-related articles in general interest publications. I suspect I’d be foolish to say that these activities didn’t influence me. At the very least, they bored me enough to send me back to whatever book I was reading.

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

I return most often to the work of Wallace Stevens, Samuel Beckett, and Emily Dickinson.

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

Visit Argentina.

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?

a) Sushi chef
b) This question contains its own answer: Not writing.

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

I am a slightly less mediocre writer than I am a musician, painter, or athlete.

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

Deirdre McNamer’s Red Rover and Roberto Bolano’s 2666.

I haven’t seen a movie in three years and don’t remember what film I last saw. Now Amy is reminding me that I have in fact seen The Darjeeling Limited (which I hated) and Juno (which I thought was okay). I have been watching The Wire and I think it’s terrific.

19 - What are you currently working on?

The railroad—I was just marking some essays on BART.

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