http://www.sunnyoutside.com/releases/066/o.html) (sunnyoutside press) and Backhanded Compliments & Other Ways to Say I Love You (Works on Paper Press) He is the recipient of the 2010 James D. Phelan Award and also received an Individual Artists Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission. His poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Cream City Review, Harpur Palate, The Journal, kill author, The Minnesota Review, Parthenon West Review, word for/ word, Vinyl Poetry, and ZYZZYVA. He received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University and blogs for the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. He currently writes and teaches in San Francisco. He can be found online at www.anhvubuchanan.com.
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 changed my life dramatically. To have my dream of having a book in the world come to light gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment. For me, it was also validated so many things. It validated my decision to pursue a MFA in creative writing as well as the decision to pick up my whole life and move across the country to write poetry. It has also given me the opportunity to go across the country on a book tour and travel and connect with so many different amazing people across the country. I am truly blessed because of my first book.
My newest work is a bit different from my previous work. Lately, I’ve been focusing more on the idea of writing about and connecting to celebrity, bromance, and humor in poetry. This new collection is a lot more humorous in tone than my first book The Disordered which although has a few humorous poems in it is a bit more serious in both tone and subject matter.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I’ve always been drawn to sound and imagery in writing and for me poetry is my preferred outlet for both. Music has always been a huge part of my life as well. I’ve always seen a connection between song lyrics and poetry. I started to fall in love with words when I began to read song lyrics in CD booklets. I went from writing songs to writing poetry and it’s what I’ve been writing ever since.
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?
For me, the process to come up with a writing project is fairly quick. I have all these “projects” and books I have in mind that I want to write. The actually writing part takes a bit longer as I am a teacher and don’t have nearly enough time to write as I want. When I do write I’ll usually write a poem in one sitting and then let it be for a week or two and come back to it when I feel like I’ve given it enough time to exist in the world. Then the revision process starts.
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’m always working on a book from the very beginning. It is very difficult for me to just sit down and write a “poem” about anything. I have a book/project in mind before I start and then map it out before I start writing. Once I have a game plan set, it’s much easier for me to stay focused and start the poems.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are definitely part of my creative process. I think that reading is an art form in itself and I always try to be just as creative in my readings as I am in my writing. I think it’s really important as a reader to show a range of your work and ability. For me, I always try to read things that are serious, funny, as well as show my craft and ability as a poet. I love doing readings because I love being part of the writing community. In San Francisco, there is such an amazing community of writers supporting other writers. Readings are a place where we can all come together and show appreciation for each other’s words. It’s magical really.
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?
The question I am always trying to answer with my work is the question my mentor and former professor Truong Tran would always asks me. What’s at stake with your poetry? For me, before I start a project or book I always try to make sure I can answer that question.
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 the role of the writer is to document everything occurring in the world. Whether it is current events, politics, social justice, pop culture, life, or love. There is so much occurring in the world and it is the writers role to find the words to express and document it all.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find it essential. I also do not find it difficult it all because I am blessed to work with the most talented editor I’ve ever known in David McNamara of sunnyoutside press. He was absolutely amazing to work with and was able to really shape the book into the vision I had always wanted. I think it’s really important to have a different set of eyes and ideas to really interpret the work that sometimes you might just too close to. And that’s what happened in the shaping of The Disordered. David was able to help open up my eyes on so many different points and ideas that I would have never considered on my own.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
For me, it will always be the advice that the best way to improve as a writer is to read, read, and read some more. You can’t be a great writer if you aren’t reading all the time.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Not easy at all. I can only write poetry and sometimes emails and blog posts. I struggle tremendously with fiction. I stay as far away from it as I can.
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 actually write the best during mid afternoon compared to morning and night. There is something about those times of day that really distract me. Also, I can’t ever write at home. I have to leave and go somewhere. Whether it’s a coffee shop or the library or a park. I usually always write on a computer now instead of handwriting poems. Though, I will always take notes/write down lines/images in a notebook I carry with me all the time.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I will read usually poetry or short stories. If that doesn’t work I listen to music or look at visual art. Art is a huge inspiration for my writing and really helps me when my writing stalls. For my newest book that I am working on, which is a collection of Bromance poems, I have been watching a lot of films, particularly comedies to inspire me.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of trees and nature. The smell of a freshly cooked bowl of Vietnamese soup known as Pho. I grew up in Virginia but live in San Francisco now. So when I return home to the trees and a home cooked bowl of Pho I feel right at home. If I smell that anywhere else I am taken right back to Virginia.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, visual art is a huge influence on my work. If I didn’t pursue writing I definitely would have pursued photography. I love pictures and images and that’s what moves and inspires me. My first book The Disordered is very image driven. Lately, I’ve been really inspired by Architecture and looking for ways to find the connection between that and poetry. I’ve been reading the Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton and it’s been really incredibly inspiring.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The writers that have really influenced me and have made me into the poet I am today are definitely Bob Hicok, Charles Bukowski, e.e. cummings, Jack Kerouac, Anne Sexton, Truong Tran, Linh Dinh, Kanye West, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and most recently Gregory Sherl.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel to South America. Road Trip across America. Meet Kanye West.
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?
Photographer and Teacher.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing shaped me into the person I am today. Writing really helped me not only “find myself” but it gave me the self confidence to be successful in other parts of my life. I am nothing without writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
My Dead by Amy Lawless is by far the most impressive book I have read all year. I am obsessed with it. It should be required reading for anyone that reads poetry. For what it is (a hilarious bromance comedy )This is The End is a must watch. The last great film I watched last was definitely Noah Baumbach’s new film Frances Ha. I haven’t had the time yet but I really want to see Fruitvale Station and Before Midnight, which I have a feeling will both be phenomenal.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on two different projects. I am finishing up and in the editing stage of a chapbook of love poems due out in December with Works on Paper Press called “Backhanded Compliments & Other Ways to Say I Love You.” I am also working on my next book which is a collection of poems to my Bromantical heroes. Heroes such as Paul Rudd, Ryan Gosling, and Jeremy Lin to name a few. Like I mentioned earlier, I think poetry doesn’t always have to be so serious and I really want to explore this idea of Bromance, pop culture, celebrity, and humour in poetry.
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