Sunday, March 25, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with D.A. Powell

D.A. Powell's most recent collection is Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf, 2012). He lives in San Francisco.

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

I don’t know that I necessarily came to poetry first.  I came to it most recently, that’s why I’m still here.  When I’m done with it, I’ll move on to something else.

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?

Yes. It happens every way imaginable and ways you’d never expect.  I had little trust in the idea that Twitter might actually lead to things that became lines of poems, but it has and it does. There’s a discovery.

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 suppose like anyone I have a million ideas. And I throw them all away if I’m smart enough.  But every once in awhile you hear something, respond to something.  See an image that begins to accrete meaning. It’s like a bit of sand that’s gotten inside a mollusk’s shell and the mollusk gets irritated and starts working on that bit of sand and layering it with nacre.  And then it becomes a pearl and that’s essentially a poem.  Some of them vary greatly but that does not really matter.  They come from this act of attention. Like William Blake says, “To see the world in a grain of sand.” A poem is that kind of self-contained universe.  How to get there, your guess is as good as mine.

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?

There are really only two questions: What and why. Poetry’s never answered either one to the extent that people’s imaginations would be quelled by it. I don’t think the questions change: who we are in time and space changes, generations change, fashions change, but poetry’s really only after two things. I once thought the list also included who, but I came to realize that’s not important.

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 don’t know why we even refer to the writer as “the writer” as if there’s only one. As if writers are some rarified beings in our lives. They’re everybody. Some may do it more than others, some may do it to the extent that they exclude other kinds of functions as having any kind of primacy in their lives but I think we’re just like everybody else.  We sneak off and scribble notes that we expect people to read.  Others choose not to leave a trail. I respect that too.

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

It was my Comparative Religions teacher when I was in junior college. He said: Martin Luther says, ‘Have faith and sin bravely.’

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?

If I’m writing I’m usually writing late at night, between midnight and 3 am or 5 am. A typical day begins when somebody makes noise.

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 speech, words, and poems come from speech, words, and poems, but not necessarily in that order.  They’re not separate from each other or from life.  They’re just as much about vision and imagination as they are about living inside your nervous system, which is not an easy thing to do.

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

That would be too long a list.

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

Vote in the 2012 election.

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?

Something with numbers. Multiplication, perhaps.

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

Why would you not want to write? People write in a million ways. You don’t have to be a published author to be a writer.  Everybody’s a writer and something else. It’s part of your innate wiring. If we were spiders we’d spin webs. As humans, we spin language.  Some people just can’t stop spinning. I’m one of them.

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

The Great Gatsby.

The last great film I saw was the original Planet of the Apes just a few days ago.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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