Saturday, November 22, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Endi Bogue Hartigan

Endi Bogue Hartigan is author of two books of poetry. Her second book, Pool [5 choruses], was selected by Cole Swensen for the 2012 Omnidawn Open Poetry Book Prize and published in April, 2014. Her first book One Sun Storm (Center for Literary Publishing, 2008) was selected by Martha Ronk for the Colorado Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She published the chapbook out of the flowering ribs in 2012 in collaboration with artist Linda Hutchins, which includes a long poem and drawings stemming from a joint process-based exhibit, silver and rust. She has new work forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and New American Writing. Her poems and selections have been published in Chicago Review, Verse, VOLT, Pleiades, Omniverse, the Feralist, Free Verse, The Oregonian, Tinfish, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, Insurance, LVNG, Quarterly West, New Orleans Review, Peep/​​Show: A Taxonomic Exercise in Textual and Visual Seriality, Yew, Northwest Review, Antioch Review, and other magazines as well as the anthologies including Jack London is Dead (Tinfish, 2012), and Salt (Nestucca Spit, 2005). In recent years, she has created collaborative work as a member of 13 Hats, an artist writer collective, and has been a member of the collective which organizes the Spare Room reading series. She co-founded and edited the poetry magazine Spectaculum, publishing long poems, series, and projects best presented at length. She is a graduate of Reed College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She has lived primarily on the west coast, and as a child, in Hawaii. She has worked for many years as a communications professional in a public policy environment for Oregon's university system. Her home is in Portland, Oregon with her husband, poet Patrick Playter Hartigan, and their son, Jackson.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
When I started writing the poems in One Sun Storm this was the first time I felt a body of work growing together instead of singular poems; the poems were echoing and crystallizing and breaking from each other. One Sun Storm’s landscape was largely at the interstice of the personal with natural and cultural perception, and I was working with lyrical/diaristic forms, but also branching out formally. I was wrestling with singularity, its burning point and dissolve, both in language and experience. This book led me into edges and complications of lyric, some of which were realized there, some which came after.

Pool [5 choruses] felt like a distinctly different space to write in for, though I think One Sun Storm made more multiplicities here possible. In Pool, I was much more oriented toward the public and political world, though continuing to experiment with a particularly porous, fluctuating lyric. A public sense pressed in on me in ways it had never before, during our post 9/11 years of war, economic troubles, etc. I felt that I was writing within the pressure of public “noise” of elections, war, etc. (important noise in many ways albeit a kind of rhetorical pressure), and thinking about what it is to write in a lyrical mode in this context. The chorus came to me as an entrance; engaging multiple voices and layers felt necessary to me in some way in this highly charged language landscape. It was an entirely new and in many ways troubling experimental space to work in and I had to listen to these poems carefully as I wrote them over time to navigate them forward.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I have never seriously tried to write fiction or creative non-fiction—I feel like poetry in itself is such a vast territory to explore and inexhaustible in many ways. I started writing in my undergrad years at Reed College and had long been interested in poetry though had only glimpsed it through the trees. I thought I would study physics, but ended up being far more taken by the humanities than by the science, and drawn to writing. I took some time off before finishing my degree there, moved to California for a while, and really began reading poetry voraciously at this time. Once I started reading poetry seriously it became part of my experience of living.

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?

Each of my books took 5-7 years.  I write many notes but what I sift out of them is pretty minimal, and these pieces   crystallize and are remolded into poems over time. Even if the first lines or notes come relatively fast, which varies, the notes stay with me on my desk for some time and transform, and I experiment formally as I do this, so there are so many stages of reading and writing and different finalities.  For a long time in this stage, I wouldn’t even consider it revising so much as listening the piece forward.  Once it gets to a certain point of realization as a poem, then I consider it revising.   I generally like to live with a poem for a while and keep reading it, and reacting to what I hear, before I know that it is there as a poem.

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?
With both of my two books I knew that I was working on book length manuscripts but they were relatively loose groupings, for a long time, with pieces coming in and out of them.  In general I see poems growing in something like constellations, occupying a common space and growing in conversation there. Once I see that forming, I can recognize the space I am writing from in a general way, and there are any numbers of particular streams I can step into and expand from, formal directions or subjects that keep the thread moving. I have three such “constellations” on my desk right now.  Poems often begin from lines that catch in free writing notes, images or sounds or formal methods that I decide to expand, and see where they turn. My sense of project has certainly changed as my life changes. For example, I started writing the poems in One Sun Storm shortly after the birth of our son, Jackson. I think that the intense presence needs of parenting forced me to find ways to dwell in my work even when I didn’t have time to be at my desk, and as a result I found myself carrying pieces with me and percolating over them for longer periods, which changed the work.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes, definitely; and though I’m a bit of an introvert, I get a lot from reading and enjoy it. I hear the poems differently when I read them to an audience and this hearing can be teaching at a certain point in the process. I also read them to myself at my desk, with this in mind. With Pool [5 choruses], I had the chance at one point in writing this to participate in a poly-vocal poetry festival organized by Spare Room in Portland, and it was particularly generative for me have friends join me in reading some drafts of the choral poems. Once a poem or book is finished, the reading becomes a way of entering the conversation of the book and finding out a bit about what touches whom, when, where.

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?
I don’t think about answering questions through poetry. I navigate questions, yes, but in the process if I am predisposed to answer something then the poem is lost to me.  One question is probably how to be present, or, what is presence, how does it move? Even from this I can fill in all kind of cascading phrases to presence, like presence in loss, presence in love’s compass, presence in the imagined cusps of possibility, presence in cultural noise or voice or silence, presence in electric sounds or kelp forests, presence in the continual undercurrent of war or the TV graphics of morning news,… you get the picture.  I am also interested in errors of presence, how we can position or over position ourselves, the way that reference or identity has both an imperative and a potential of separating.  I think poetry can give entry-ways and possible modes of being and moving through experience, or as Williams wrote of memory in The Descent, “new places/inhabited by hordes/heretofore unrealized…”

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?

In terms of what a writer’s role should be in our larger culture, maybe the only “should” is there should not be just one answer. I will say that there is a kind of uncharted hope in writing, to be an original experience, or to sing or speak or otherwise use language in a way it was previously unspoken or unsung. We have so much language and information around us now, but the uses of language often come in decided, pre-packaged, inherited phrases that float in the structures around us –(from useful “please pass the salt”   language, to the drum of advertisement slogans, to the stream of data analysis, TV news, spectacle reports, etc.). I think poetry can awaken language in unexpected ways, to pique our sensitivities to how we receive and articulate and move our spirits through this world, a world that holds simultaneously horrors and losses and purple tulips and infant eyes. I’m drawn to poetry’s potential role to navigate modes that cross multiple experiential planes at once— sensory, emotional, cerebral, political spiritual, more, many combinations of which feel uncharted to me. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. The editors of both of my books have been very insightful and professional, first Stephanie G’Schwind at the Center for Literary Publishing, and now Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan at Omnidawn.  I admire much work that these presses put into the world so came to both with great respect, but learned even more from the process and the care that I saw go into it. My books were selected through the Colorado Prize then the Omnidawn Open contest, and in both cases there was close collaboration with me in the production of these books, and I was grateful to be able to benefit from my editors’ knowledge. As one example, Rusty was particularly insightful when I faced some line decision challenges with Pool [5 choruses]—I write on a standard 8.5 x 11 page with widely varying line lengths, and this brought up hard decisions about what to do with long lines in the book size page. She had faced this issue with other writers and had wisdom to offer in terms of strategies. Her care in talking with me through those decisions was extremely helpful, and now when I pick the book up, I don’t second guess those line decisions at all.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I’ve learned from so many people, I couldn’t say what is the best. But here is one nugget of advice that stuck with me over the years—from Jorie Graham. I was finishing my MFA in Iowa and the self-conscious pressure of that environment sometimes felt stilting to me—I was struggling with the intentions I had for poems messing with the poems. I started going to sit in the dark quiet of the university natural history museum and staring at a taxidermied peacock, and writing about/from that image. I shared with her the draft of what I was writing, and I remember Jorie suggesting to me, “Don’t write the poem of the peacock. Write the peacock.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (your own poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?
In the last few years I have collaborated more than I ever have with visual artists and other writers, largely through my participation in a group called 13 Hats here in Portland, and also through conversations with the artist Linda Hutchins whom I initially met through that group. It has not been easy, but it has been engaging and generative for me to do so. 13 Hats was a group of visual artists and writers who worked together on collaborative projects and prompts over the course of two years, culminating in several exhibits and publications.  As part of working together, we had regular deadlines for submitting pieces such as at a monthly meeting during which we submitted creations to a “box” project. The biggest challenge for me was letting go of work that felt very much mid-process, letting it enter the collaborative space before it was finished and before I would have been ready, if I was left to my own devices. This challenge was fertile for me in the end—it allowed me to be playful in new ways, and I found that all kinds of cross-pollinations were occurring by the fact of this mid-process exchange.  

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 almost always have extended weekend time to write, thanks to my husband Patrick and son Jackson who support me in this. I usually write on Saturday mornings/early afternoons, and also earl weekday mornings before work as often as my body can handle it. I work a regular 8-5 work week, doing communications and policy work for the state higher education system, so that is the focus during my week days. Evenings are devoted to family and reading. The key thing for me is keeping the thread of my poetry projects in mind. Even if I just have a short writing time for a few days before work, part of my mind will keep percolating on it throughout the week. I bring a notebook with me everywhere and sometimes jot down ideas, lines, to take up later. I make most headway on my writing on the weekends though, when there is space.     

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing gets stalled it’s usually because I’m not giving it enough time, or not doing things that feed my imagination like reading and running and staring at an empty white page.  I think even the action of staring at an empty white paper is creative, and I don’t worry about inspiration so much as giving my mind space to work.  In terms of reading, when I am feeling stalled, my strategy is to get out of this century, or this country, or both. I sometimes go back to something very old, Sappho or Sophocles, sometimes Blake or Lorca or Dickinson. Sometimes I’ll look for something in translation from another tradition that I haven’t read before (one recent fortunate find here was Valerio Magrelli). 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
In Portland, the smell of rain or drying rain, many variations. As far as my childhood home in Hawaii, sawdust feels sentimental to me. My dad was a carpenter and there was pretty often sawdust somewhere. 

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 natural world is a source of necessary exchange with my imagination. I am not exactly an outdoors adventurer, but I run and walk frequently and I think through my writing during this time. I have certainly been influenced by visual artists in some recent work, but it varies widely by project. I had a very generative conversation/collaboration with artist Linda Hutchins, mentioned earlier, about simultaneity which led us to doing a joint art show together. She drew on the walls of a gallery using all ten fingers simultaneously by drawing with silver thimbles on her fingers, and I wrote and read in the space. This ultimately led to a long poem and collaborative chapbook we produced together, out of the flowering ribs, in which the gestural touch-points of her drawings influenced my thinking about language’s touch-point.  This is my most direct involvement with visual art lately. I am also drawn to the artist Betty Merken’s work, whose painting is on the cover of Pool [5 choruses], and am hoping to find an entrance to it engage it in writing.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many different writers have been critically important for me at different times, so I could probably write a very long chronicle, but I will name a few whose work for one reason or another turned me forward in some significant way. Inger Christensen is important to me lately. Reading Alphabet in particular opened up something for me that I have been chewing on for some time, in terms of engaging actualities through lyric variations. My husband Patrick Playter Hartigan’s poetry has been important to me for many years. Here are just some of the poets who have been important to my work at various times from recent to past: Anne Carson, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Taggart, Nathaniel Mackey, Leslie Scalapino, Wislawa Szymborska, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Jorie Graham, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, W.C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, Federico García Lorca, William Blake. This inevitably feels incomplete.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to think more about incantation. I’d like to simply experiment with new ways to write. In particular, I’d like to try experimentation with constraints to my process such as writing on particular days or in particular locations, marrying these constraints to the particular subject explored. For example a couple years ago I was writing poems on index cards on buses during my daily commute.  This seems to be an interesting challenge/opportunity as my days have become pretty complicated. I would like to let my life be a kind of weather to the poems and see what happens.   

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 would like to think I might have been a physicist after all, but I probably would have been a terrible physicist, and my interest in those edges of knowledge was probably largely an entranceway to poetry for me.  Ultimately I would want to focus more on helping people. I’d want to do work that improves the physical and economic conditions and quality of people’s lives, maybe as a doctor or teacher or social worker, so that I could look back on my professional life ultimately and see where my actions touched.  I work for the public higher education system right now, where my work supports initiatives for affordability and student success in the public colleges and universities. I am passionate about public education opportunity, so I see such touch-points there, and I feel fortunate to have this in addition to my poetry.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Reading… the openings and transformations it offered.  My friend Mary Szybist asked me many years ago why do I write, and I remember answering “I write because I can’t.” In some ways that’s still true. I don’t so much mean it disparagingly though there is definitely that; what I meant is that it is inexhaustible, it is a way of exploring and reaching and experimenting and questioning and offering modes of presence to others—there is always the next poem, always something invisible and unrealized and necessary.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I loved Gillian Conoley’s Peace— whose work has such enchanting expanse, perceptive specificity and sense of compassion, it kind of turns me inside out. As far as film, I recently watched again, after many years the Japanese film After Life, a 1998 film by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, and I think I will forever recommend this—great film. The movie takes place in the limbo between this world and the afterlife, which is a ramshackle schoolhouse. The premise is that in order to pass on to the afterlife, each individual has to choose a memory to take with them; there are interviewer/film producer (angels?) who interview each passing person and recreate their memories in a low-budget schoolhouse film to take forward. The movie chronicles each individual’s process of choosing a memory.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I have three “constellations” of work at my desk that I am working on.  One is a manuscript in progress, which I have been working on for several years and it has two different arcs of exploration in it: an exploration of the spectral tug between incantation and report, the draw to describe a world versus the desire to call a world into being; and an exploration of relational spaces i.e. between people, people and animals, people and spiritual states, etc.  A second project is a series on clocks and time and kind of intricate domestic mythologies which I am calling “cuckoo clock magic” – this is where I am working most these days. The third project is a series which uses both margins and explores a sense of asymmetry as a lens for seeing. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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