A Summer Evening, Water's Leaves & Other Poems, Christopher Sunset and most recently The Rose of January, published by Wave Books in June 2013
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The publication of my first book did not change the circumstances of my life. It somewhat increased my circle of readers. It felt good to publish a book. Then the ambivalence set in. It’s strange to look back at that book, and feel the desperation of the young man that I was. I feel freer now when I write poems.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have always loved reading fiction, and when I read Tolstoy or Dickens, or Jane Bowles, or Chekhov, or Cervantes, or Sterne it makes me wish I could write fiction. I read and imitated Pope and Milton while in high school. Discovering Eliot around that time was life-changing. I did not understand what Eliot was doing, but I knew intuitively and powerfully that it was beautiful and important. Around this time I also discovered there were living poets, and that some living people actually called themselves poets. It was a great surprise.
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?
It comes quickly, and I edit little as, after many years of reading and practice, I do a good amount of the editing before I write lines down.
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 write individual poems with the aim of putting them together in a book--while trying always to be as unaware as possible how the poems relate to each other. I object to the idea of “projects”--I shouldn’t know what a poem is about, and if I go about writing with an awareness of how a poem fits into a project, or with an idea of what a poem is supposedly about, then why write poems at all? Freedom is my only project.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love reading my poems to people.
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 things that only poems can do, and others that are better done in an essay or a tract or a short story. We won’t know what the current questions are until later. Then we’ll see that we were all taking different approaches to the same questions all along.
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 our culture is what it has always been: to teach and to delight. The job of a poet is to write beautiful poems. Poetry is useless, but it is useless the way the soul is useless--it is unnecessary but we would not be what we are without it.
No one asks about the social role of the baseball player, or the cultivator of orchids or the movie star or the winemaker. I urge my fellow poets not to be intimidated into thinking they need to formulate rationale for what they do.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essentially fun--lucky for me Matthew Zapruder is my editor, an excellent fellow poet and friend. He has come to know my work over the years, and I trust his judgement and he trusts mine.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Be not afraid.” -Jesus Christ
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Writing sentences is a great pleasure.
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 like to loaf around a lot. I like to go down to the river and say hi to the Dominican guys who are drinking beer and fishing.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Jasmine, honeysuckle, eucalyptus.
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?
Old technical journals, miscellanies, various kinds of manuals, Symbolist paintings and the sort of paintings found in the rooms at the museum that are often empty, Bach, trees, birds, rivers, oceans, flowers, grass, weeds, boats, broken machinery, new buildings and broken down old buildings, clouds, garbage, etc.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Basho, Edmund Spenser, Emerson, Ben Jonson, Dorothy Wordsworth and her brother, St.-John Perse, Issa, Hannah Arendt, Heidegger, Holderlin, Mark Levine, David Friedman, Randall Potts, et. al.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Conquer the fear of death.
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?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Poetry is the only thing I’m good at or interested in being good at. I used to want to do lots of other things, and was good at a few of them. But then I realized poetry demands a lifetime.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently read Moby Dick. I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service for the sixth or seventh time with my children a week or so ago.
20 - What are you currently working on?
12 or 20 (second series) questions;