Julie Carr is the author of four books of poetry, most recently 100 Notes on Violence and Sarah-Of fragments and Lines. RAG is forthcoming from Omindawn. Surface Tension: Ruptural Time and the Poetics of Desire in Late Victorian Poetry is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive. She is the co-publisher of Counterpath Press, helps to run Counterpath bookstore/performance space/gallery in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
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 simply helped confirm for me that writing was a real path for me to follow. I pretty much already knew that, but it would be a lie to say that having a book didn’t make a difference. It did. The publication of any book helps free me to write the next one. It allows me to see what I’ve done, to evaluate it from something of a distance, and thus it provides the impetus to do something new, something else or more.
I think there’s a pretty consistent thread connecting all my books. I’m always interested in experimenting with form – line, sentence, page, with the idea of what makes a book. I’m also never straying very far from the daily, from the lived experience that actually informs my writing, even as I draw from all kinds of other sources: texts, films, information of all kinds – in creating books.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I read poetry when I was a child. Emily Dickinson, anthologies of “children’s verse,” the Bible, W.S. Merwin, Denise Levertov. These writers were in the house because my mother liked poetry, and so I read them when I was very young.
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’m always writing. I don’t think there are clear starting points for my projects. Rather, the project begins to assert itself out of the writing I am already doing. I write every day and I always revise as I work and then constantly after the thing begins to take shape. Sometimes a page might look very much the way it did when it first appeared on my screen, sometimes it looks nothing like it. It varies very much.
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 never think of writing “poems.” I write and I make pages or pieces or chunks of writing of various lengths. I call them poems because that’s what they most look like and because I love poets and want to be among them. But I don’t say to myself, I am writing a poem. I just write and things take whatever shape or form seems appropriate to the rhythm or music I am hearing. However, I do write books and I do think about the book pretty early on. At some point I’ll look at a bunch of writing and I’ll say, yes, this is a book. And I’ll give it a title and begin to write towards that book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love giving readings. It’s a huge part of what I do. It’s in some ways the main thing for me. The reading is where I learn the most about the work. I used to be a dancer, so reading is my way of actually embodying the work and letting the work have its way with me. I make the most amazing connections with people through giving readings. It’s a deeply intimate experience – when it goes well.
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?
Of course I have theoretical concerns! All writing has theoretical concerns. Some of my questions (though I don’t know that I’m trying to answer them as much as enliven them): what is a person? what is intimacy? what are our responsibilities toward one another? what is love? how and why do we hurt one another (collectively as well as personally)? what visions of utopia might we harbor and how might we activate them? what, in other words, is hope? what the fuck is wrong with the Republican party? what the fuck is wrong with America? how can writing engage all of the above and also ask questions about the spirit, also care about the soul?
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?
Writers, like all artists, are the culture.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love conversations with other writers. All my editors have also been writers and I respect them very much. I’ve never minded hearing other people’s ideas and I’ve often adopted them. It’s fun.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Turn tension into attention.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I guess it’s not “easy” – but no writing is easy. I write critical prose because I’m interested in poetry and in saying things about it. I’m interested in its histories and its ethical and formal engagements. I love the work of the people I write about and I want to understand why I love it. It’s a way to become friends with the work on a deeper level than otherwise possible. I have no mission – I’m not trying to convert others (except in that I want everyone to read poetry). But I want to engage and so I do.
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?
I wake up at 5 or 5:30. I make coffee and talk to my husband. I start writing by 6 at the latest, usually earlier. I get my daughters up at 7:30. After all the kids are at school I sit at my desk and work all morning. And then in the afternoon, I’m pretty much being a mother. That’s when I’m not teaching. When I’m teaching, just slide that into the schedule on teaching days.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I hate to say this, but my writing does not get stalled.
However, I get inspiration from reading other writers and from looking at art. Also from listening. And from being with my children. From caring about their lives. I also get inspiration from conversations with other writers – from paying attention to them.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The ocean (sob).
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?
The newspaper. Visual art of all kinds: video, photography, painting, installation. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past two or three years and wherever I am I try to go to the museums. I love going to museums alone. I write in museums. I take a lot of notes on the art I’m looking at. I also care a lot about dance, though I don’t get to see enough of it.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
In no particular order: Gerard Manley Hopkins. Emily Dickinson. Vallejo. Dante Rossetti. Lisa Robertson. Inger Christensen. Nate Mackey. Tomaz Salamun. Apollinaire. Claudia Rankine. C.D. Wright. Lyn Hejinian. And all the writers we have published or will soon publish including (but not limited to):
Laynie Browne, Andrew Zawacki, Andrew Joron, Brian Henry, giovanni singleton, Jackson MacLow, Rodrigo Toscano, Ronaldo Wilson, Jonathan Stalling, Mathew Cooperman, Christine Hume, Suzanne Doppelt, Rene Char, etc.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Spain. Climb a fourteener with my husband. Run a marathon with my daughter. Live by the ocean. Write a novel.
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 was already a dancer, which is the one I would pick. I wish I could have been a theoretical physicist.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
My mother told me I was a poet before I could write. I doubt there was a choice in it.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Lisa Robertson’s Nilling. Does Mad Men count? Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
20 - What are you currently working on?
It’s called Real Life and it will take me three years to complete.
Also, a new translation (with Jennifer Pap) of Apollinaire’s Alcools.
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