Ryan Murphy is the author of The Redcoats and Down with the Ship. He has received awards from Chelsea Magazine and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art as well as a grant from The Fund for Poetry. He is an associate director of Four Way Books and teaches at Pratt Institute.
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?
I thought that my first book would change my life, but I woke up the next morning to same person, sadly.
I hope the new book is better than my first, and that I am improving as a writer.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry first, I read plenty of fiction, but I don’t have the mindset to write like that.
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?
My writing comes very slowly. The generative process is the most difficult. I typically write a great deal down and when I feel as though I’ve reached a sort of critical mass, I try to put it together, which for me is the most fun. There are often many many drafts. I am certainly more of a grinder than someone with a great deal of fluency.
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 try not to think in terms of “books” I think I would find that overwhelming. I have enough faith in a kind of continuity of time that will bind the poems together, but again, it generally takes several years.
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 when they are over. I find them overwhelmingly nerve-wracking. I also tend to think of my work as being written almost exclusively for the page, which can make readings difficult.
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?
Not consciously at least. I think that I am trying more than anything to get then questions themselves to emerge (that primarily of the impulse even to be writing) more that answer them.
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 that it depends upon the writer and it depends upon the reader and what they are coming to literature for.
And I wouldn’t dare speculate on what role a writer should be. It’s just too individualistic.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. I can write some terrible shit and not know it.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I can’t remember, and almost certainly didn’t follow 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 keep to any sort of routine, and suffer terrible anxiety that whatever I have just written will be the last thing I ever write.
Most days are coffee cigarettes and off to work.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to a lot of poets, Ashbery I think is always great for loosening one’s grip, Berrigan, Oppen, Spicer, Armantrout. Visual artists, Baseball statistics, television.
12 - What do you really want?
I dare not jinx it with an answer.
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 think that other forms do influence my work, but I do generally think that my work as a writer is more or less generated by an over-enthusiasm for other books.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So so many. I would forget too many if I tried to list them, and just embarrass myself and feel bad later.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I don’t know.
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?
Well I went to trade school to be a boatbuilder, so that is probably what I would have remained.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Well, I was a visual arts student, though I couldn’t really draw unless I made a big enough mess and pushed things around a lot. And then obviously carpentry, which was sort of the same thing, making things fit in a certain way from raw material, and I think writing is the same way for me, fulfills those same impulses. And again, I just became an over-enthusiastic reader, which I think is what made me write.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was Kira Henehan’s novel Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles.
19 - What are you currently working on?
Absolutely nothing, terrifyingly enough.