Rodney Koeneke’s latest poetry collection, Etruria, is just out from Wave Books. He’s also the author of Musee Mechanique and Rouge State, as well as four chapbooks. He studied history at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, and currently teaches it in Portland, Ore.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? rob, it’s been so long since my first book—over 10 years—that I can’t quite remember. I suppose it was affirming, like it is for anyone. Then you go back to the silence to pull out more poems, and the book’s like a snapshot on your desktop of that vacation you took that one year.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Stung by a bee on the lip as a youth.
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 tried to answer this one for you rob, but it varies so much from poem to poem that I couldn’t make an accurate generalization.
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? My three books so far have been collections of poems, few longer than two pages. “The book” starts to happen at around 50 poems I can live with.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? Readings help find the 50 I can live with. Don’t all writers enjoy readings? They sure enjoy readers.
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? What is a poem? What can poetry do?
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 like thinking of Skelton at Diss, shaking fists at Wolsey. “Ware the Hawk.”
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? Essentially difficult?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? No one listens to poetry. Wait. That’s got a nice ring. rob, feel free to use that somewhere.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal? Prose is a snow machine; poetry’s snow.
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? A typical day begins with routine, which I try to keep poetry free from.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Other poets.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Other poets.
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? I went to Google for this one to meet David W. McFadden, and it tells me “his poetry critiques the commercialism and shallowness of modern society.”
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? O rob, that’s a dangerous question! You’ll get one of those panicky Academy Award-type speeches that keeps cramming in more and more names, but somehow omits mom and dad.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Question 17.
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? Plastics.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? Seems I’m made to do lots of something else, as opposed to writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Against the Day. Solaris?
20 - What are you currently working on? I just finished a chapbook for Oakland’s Hooke Press that Brent Cunningham’s editing. It’s called Seven for Boetticher and Other Poems and it’ll be out later this year. I’m also at work with the great Team Wave to help Etruria find its way in the world.