Friday, December 18, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Lina ramona Vitkauskas

Lina ramona Vitkauskas is the recent winner of The Poetry Center of Chicago’s 15th Annual Juried Reading, judged by poet Brenda Hillman. She was also recently nominated by Another Chicago Magazine for an Illinois Arts Council Award (in the poetry and fiction categories). She has won an honorable mention in STORYmagazine’s Carson McCullers Award contest (1999) and placed as a semi-finalist for the Cleveland State University Open Poetry Series (2002). After obtaining an MA in Creative Writing from Wright State University, she authored three poetry books and chapbooks including: THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING(Ravenna Press, 2010), Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star (dancing girl press, 2006), and Shooting Dead Films with Poets (Fractal Edge Press, 2004).

Her work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies including: The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century (Cracked Slab Books, 2007), The Prague Literary Review, Van Gogh's Ear (Paris),The Chicago Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Aufgabe; Drunken Boat, White Fungus (New Zealand),MiPoesias, Paper Tiger (Australia), and the In Posse Review Multi-Ethnic Anthology edited by Ilya Kaminsky. Poet Denise Duhamel has noted that her poetry “employs humor and kitsch…the dazzling underside confronts intolerance and terrorism with a wise brilliance.” Her web site is

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?

My first chapbook was published in 2004 by Fractal Edge Press (Chicago) and is titled Shooting Dead Films with Poets. The next one was published by dancing girl press (Chicago) and was titled Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star. My first full-length book of poetry is coming out in 2010 on Ravenna Press (Spokane,WA) and it's called THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING. The publication of all of these works came at critical times in my life. The first came soon after I'd moved back to Chicago from Ohio, where I completed my MA in Creative Writing (in 2002).

I'd jumped into the blossoming poetry scene by making contacts in the community and doing a lot of readings. Wayne Allen Jones, a fellow poet, was starting a press and wanted my book to be one the first that he did. I was very happy, of course, and was able to say I'd published. In 2005, Kristy Bowen, publisher of dancing girl press in Chicago, approached me to publish another collection of astronomy-related poems; I was thrilled to be a part of her catalogue of all-female poets--all very be among the likes of Brandi Homan, Simone Muench, Daniela Olszewska, and Kristy Odelius was a great experience for me. The book coming out in 2010 is a great accomplishment of mine. I am extremely honored that Kathryn Rantala (of Ravenna) is publishing it. It is about 108 poems written between 2005 to 2008. The book feels different because it is lengthy and feels like a comprehensive representation of my work.

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

I began as a fiction writer, but I had always written poetry. I returned to poetry because I seemed to be able to feel more comfortable with it. It seemed more my niche.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing intitially 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?

My writing style begins when the muse visits. Months may pass and she doesn't stop by, then she comes and stays for months (always a wanted guest). I write in spurts and in a flash of inspiration try to capture it all before it slips away. I don't revise until much later, and even then, I am afraid to tamper too much with the initial products I produce. Nothing is ever truly finished, and poems become reincarnated as others at times.

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?

Sounds, words, language. I begin with juxtaposing words that sound as if they belong together. I let the poem take shape as I write. I never know what I am writing about until it is finished, though there are distinct themes of politics, gender roles, shades of humanity, magical realism, surreal terrains, conversations I hear, botany, astronomy, and Lithuanian and Spanish vocabulary and nuances.

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

I do readings and I do enjoy them. I like hearing audience response to my work. What other poets find in my work means a great deal to me. Often times, there are beautiful surprises in their responses.

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?

Russian sociolinguist Bakhtin wrote of heteroglossia, the idea of language hierarchy or conflict within the mind and how it influences language decisions. This meant quite a large deal to me having spoken Lithuanian primarily as a child, and then English, and then studying Spanish. Soon, there was a distinct "language straddling" going on within me and I became rather entertained by the notion of being able to switch between and/or amalgamate words, if necessary. I believe this theory plays a large role in my loose method of writing. It at least fuels the playfulness in my work. Montaigne wrote of the meaning of "to essay" and referred to the Latin translation "to test" or "to try". Early in my master's study, I was quite drawn to this notion and still view the process through this lens.

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?

The role of the poet in society is changing. I ask, have we arrived as authoritative voices on culture yet? It's becoming apparent with the explosion of citizen journalism and the immediacy of Twitter, etc. that writers have a challenge of maintaining credibility in the creative and non-fiction realms.

In Europe, poets are lauded, respected, and looked upon as great commentators of generations and time. The US has a great tradition, as of late, celebrating genre writers within the fiction realm and using commercial success and film adaptation as the benchmark. There is a distinct misconception among mainstream society about poets and poetry--often times people think of the Shakespeare they learned in high school or think of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath. There is such a rich world of contemporary poets, talented documenters of our time, that has yet to be discovered. I believe poets deserve more recognition, though I think within the world of poetry itself, there is much mutual recognition and respect.

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

It is essential to the process to shape a published work to fit its medium, but should not alter the intent.

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

Pound's "show don't tell". Robert Creeley said (I'm paraphrasing) "If you don't know what you're doing--trust it." Jodorowsky said, "You cease to exist when you say 'That's what I am.' "

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

I have only been able to slightly traverse between experimental short fiction and poetry. I prefer poetry.

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?

No routine for writing. For me, personally, routine it is detrimental and counterproductive.

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

I look to scientific texts, Wikipedia's random article, and foreign films.

13 - What did your favourite teacher teach you?

My drama director once told me that I am not as funny as I think I am.

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?

Definitely science (astronomy and botany) and film.

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

Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, Lorca, Mina Loy, Breton, Maykovsky, Akhmatova, many others, especially contemporary poets Heidi Lynn Staples, Catherine Wagner, Caroline Whitbeck, Simone Muench, Donna Stonecipher, Jen Karmin, Philip many to name and mention!

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

Film screenwriter, comedy writer, travel more.

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?

Screenwriter, comedian.

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

It was something that approached me.

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

I'm reading Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded currently. Synechdoche, NY was highly underrated and a great film.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A poetic series of ekphrastic books in response to select foreign films, a spoken word CD with a koto player.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

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