Monday, July 28, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geordie Miller

Geordie Miller is the author of Re:union, a collection of poetry published by Invisible's Snare imprint (2014). He is completing his PhD in English at Dalhousie University, and his critical and creative writing have appeared in Canadian Literature, The Dalhousie Review, The Coast, and The Rememberer (Invisible, 2010). He lives in Halifax and sometimes cameos as himself, an NFL fan who has the misfortune of supporting the Buffalo Bills, on the Eastlink television show Flag on the Play.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Well, I've done more interviews in the past month than in the previous 375 months of my life combined. So that's a change--getting opportunities to converse about poetics outside a classroom. My previous work emerged out of an academic environment (creative writing workshops and literary studies). At its worst, it was poems about Wordsworth and masturbation. The recent stuff certainly feels different, better. As in, it's not look-at-me clever, and is more mature.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I did do fiction first, technically. In Grade One I wrote a short story about a flying car and was selected to attend a Young Authors' Conference. I returned to poetry as a teenager and carried it forward into my 20s because I liked writing lyrics, but couldn't sing. Then it got to the point where poetry seemed like the best mode of registering that I don't know much about the world. Still is (because I still don't).

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?

The majority of the poems in my first collection were written in six months. Is that fast? Some poems arrived quickly, and if they didn't make me cringe when I returned to them, the task of reshaping was often minimal--paring down ideas or disciplining the unruly lines. But yes, there are Hilroys or digital records of random phrases/notes/concepts. For my new project, I'm drawing somewhat on my PhD research into how literature is (de)valued in free market terms.

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?
For the next one, I'm working on a "book" from the beginning. The first time around it was a number of short pieces selected for thematic or narrative coherence, not to mention overall quality.

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 central to my creative process. For years, I would agree to go public as a motivation for writing new poems (a deadline, a purpose). And I've done some stand-up and improvisational comedy, which further encourage me to treat the reading as a performance--banter, jokes, but absolutely no explaining the poem away. I enjoy reading them very much. That said, not all of my material is conducive to performance.

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 several theoretical concerns behind my writing, which can be broadly considered as political. How do we continue to do what we do while knowing what we know? In other words, how do we bear the knowledge that we've been transformed into market subjects eg/the notion of the artist as an entrepreneur? Such transformations are based on a fiction of agency that is systematically denied to a growing majority of the population. Does poetry not remain "barbaric" given the pervasive illusion of individual freedom (versus the reality of non-living wages, personal debt, and a dominant affect of precarity)? Why write when (to borrow a phrase of Frederic Jameson's that has recently resurfaced in critical theory circles) "it is easier to imagine end of world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism"? I can't answer these questions; I can only try to raise them, however indirectly.  

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?
There is a lot of anxiety attached to this question because since the arrival of mass culture (movies, television) in the 1950s and into our neoliberal moment (the Internet, social media), books have not been the dominant cultural form. I don't think that the role of the novelist or poet--to take two examples--is to compete with these other forms as entertainment, exactly. But maybe novelists, poets etc. can be models of aesthetic autonomy--to entertain, yes. But also to educate and/or improve readers (however unintentionally). To be irreducible to market metrics. Here might be the place to include the caveat that I won't complain if my book sells 10,000 copies.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
At first it was difficult in the sense of "oh, I don't want to pass over the wheel. And was I even driving a vehicle? Am I a fraud?" Collaborating with Jake Kennedy was ultimately essential for interpreting my own writing--for getting outside my head and seeing things closer to how a reader might. So, both. Jake didn't wrest control away, and he asked good questions while contributing his own aesthetic insights.

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

A writer friend relayed to me that Sue Goyette once described her first draft as an "S-draft" (where "s" is a swear word). That you need to get this draft out, aware of the inevitability of return and reevaluation. I like the term because it acknowledges that writing is hard, but it's also a process. Not a one-off. And if writers whom I admire (like Goyette) are willing to acknowledge this fact, then it moves us (even further) away from the Coleridge "Kubla Khan" fits of madness and inspiration "s" (which more often than not produces bad writing).

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Moving between genres is not like moving between apartments. You don't need to rent a van or haul a sectional up infinite flights of stairs. You just need to recognize that especially in this instance (poetry and critical prose) the two places are not so distinct (and the rent's roughly the same). I am critical and thinking aloud through poetry and I am striving to compel line-by-line in my critical prose. The style of critical theorists is rarely remarked upon, except in the negative. What I'm trying to say is that the appeal (for me) is that moving between these genres allows me to do both things better. I hope.

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?
It would be easy to invent one for the sake of answering this question and not feeling defensive. Like I probably should (have a routine). There's an ideal where I wake up in the morning and get down to writing for an hour or two. Then there's most days where I wake up with somewhere I have to be, and try to make time to write in the late afternoon or early evening. Or I don't make it at all.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The people around me (for lack of a better phrase)--talking with loved ones, going to shows (music, alternative comedy, visual art) in Halifax, discussing literature with my students, overhearing strangers having an odd conversation in a coffee shop.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I was just visiting my hometown (St.Catharines) and could have opened a window then typed something precise. Something more poetic than pollen. My mind must work backwards--home reminds me of certain fragrances.

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 previous question gave me pause, so it ain't nature. The love of my life designs clothes, so I'm fortunate to learn from her aesthetic principles and sensibilities. These aren't a secret or anything; they're just hard to articulate in this space (someone who would answer "science" to this question might say something about osmosis here). Music, yes. Stephen Malkmus will have to suffice as elaboration because otherwise I'll just start listing.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Here I will list (in no particular order and it's partial): Frank O'Hara, Inventory, Karl Marx, For the Union Dead, Wendy Brown, Bertolt Brecht, The Commons, David Foster Wallace, Wars of Position, and Autobiography of Red.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Teach Creative Writing, particularly at the secondary or post-secondary level.

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 think I would have been a professional comedian, whether sketch or stand-up or both. Not prop comedy (insert Carrot Top joke here) .

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I always received a lot of attention for my writing and encouragement to pursue it from a young age (perhaps as a product of my upper-middle class mileu; I've since learned that Young Authors' Conferences do not abound). And when I started reading in earnest I was very, I guess, envious of the writers whom I was reading. I wanted to be them one day, more than I ever wanted to be a lawyer or a not-professional basketball player (my other two options).

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Dani Couture's YAW and The Great Beauty.

20 - What are you currently working on?
My dissertation. And I'm applying for jobs and writing a lot of poems about labour and the labour market. I must not be very creative.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

1 comment:

Ryan Pratt said...

Nothing like checking out the new 12 or 20 questions feature and seeing a fellow native of Niagara. Congrats Geordie; I'll be looking into your collection!