Katie L. Price is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Fence, the Journal of Medical Humanities, Canadian Literature, and Jacket2, where she serves as Interviews Editor.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I haven’t published my first book yet, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. For quite some time now I’ve been working on two related projects—BRCA and Sik. While I, at times, have viewed them as macro and micro versions of the same kind of poetic work, I’m currently trying to see if I can successfully combine the macro and micro elements into a single volume that combines the best of both. BRCA was always meant as a grand gesture, and Sik a minute surgical procedure. But the landscape of contemporary poetry has changed since I began work on BRCA, and now it feels more appropriate to produce a series of surgical procedures that, together, amount to a grand gesture.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to difficult and experimental literature. In high school and college, I realized that what I found most exciting and invigorating in literature was marketing itself as poetry. And I say “marketing” because I find the best poetry often looks nothing like Poetry. Yet, that term seems to give writers a license to be more bold and courageous in their writing practices.
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 only like to write when I have an idea. If I have an idea, I try it out. It happens rather quickly. If it works, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I move it to the scrap pile.
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?
A poem always begins with a punctum, to borrow a term from Roland Barthes. It starts from some small, piercing detail that seems to demand exploration. For me, writing has always been about a larger project; I’m less concerned with individual poems. I’m interested in language that makes interventions into specific discourses, and I this kind of work requires sustained engagement. Writing is always tied to inquiry, experiment, and discovery. I like to explore big questions from multiple angles, which is a project best suited to the book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
It’s always a delight to share my work with others. The process absolutely impacts my work, and readings give me the creative energy to continue writing. It prompts revisions, deletions, and expansions that enhance the work.
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?
Absolutely. I don’t try to give answers, so much as query topics along particular lines. My current work, for example, queries the relationship between language and the body. I’m particularly interested in how bodies are described in clinical settings, and how these descriptions impact clinical practices. In other words, I’m not just interested in how the clinic writes the body, but also how the body writes the clinic. In the clinic, language has very particular uses (to diagnose, to document, to protect against lawsuit, etc.). What happens when we put that language itself under the microscope?
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 writer’s only role is to produce writing that is fresh to its reader. A contemporary writer should intervene, disrupt, subvert, challenge, push, swerve, parody, and divert. A relevant writer should never insist, demand, reinforce, proselytize, or preach. I had a conversation with a good friend a few weeks ago in which we concluded that to be contemporaneous now is to recognize that insincerity is the only way to sincerity; humor is our only avenue to any kind of seriousness that might matter. I hope that readers can find insight—through surprise, humor, and the unexpected—in my writing.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The process of working with an outside editor is essential, rewarding, and pleasurable. Good editors bring out the best in your work, push you in new directions, and challenge you to exceed your own expectations. What writer wouldn’t want to cultivate such relationships?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Art is what you can get away with. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically. You don’t have a brother and he likes cheese.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Writing has never come easily to me. It’s something that I’m always glad I did, but is inevitably difficult to do.
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 write in the mornings, read in the afternoons, and write emails in the evenings. My days almost always end with television. As a friend of mine once claimed, “the only thing Katie likes more than weird poetry is twisted television.”
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read. I listen. I watch. I talk with friends. Nothing invigorates me as much as good writing, a gripping show, or a compelling conversation. More and more, I find myself gravitating toward writing that comes from disciplines outside of literature. What can literature teach other disciplines, and what can other disciplines teach literature? This, to me, is our most pressing current question.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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 obvious influence on my current projects is medicine and the medical field. I find inspiration in writing outside the purview of literature. I’m interested in how writing is used by other fields, disciplines, people, and places. What happens to writing when we strip it of its utility? What are the poetics of uselessness?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I feel lucky to have had extraordinary teachers that introduced me to great writing and difficult ideas: Charles Bernstein, Craig Dworkin, and Brian Kubarycz. Other writers that are important to my work include Beth Blum, Emily Dickinson, Sarah Dowling, Susan Howe, Rosalind Krauss, Mina Loy, Sianne Ngai, Vanessa Place, Lisa Robertson, Gertrude Stein, Michelle Taransky, Orchid Tierney.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish my first book.
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’m not sure I would consider myself to be “a writer.” I’m a reader, thinker, teacher, editor, organizer, and facilitator. I’m deeply committed to creative thought, the arts, and life-long intellectual exploration. Writing always comes from these other activities.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing always seemed accessible to me. There’s something democratic about writing. It’s something I can do over lunch, on the weekends, with a glass of wine, at a park, or—as was frequent in my youth—as a form of protest while sitting in the back row at church.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Sarah Dowling’s DOWN, which was just published with Coach House Press. It’s smart, sexy, engaging, and rewards close engagement—all the things you want in a good book of poetry. For the last five years or so, television has captivated my interest much more than film. I’m currently watching—and forcing all my friends to watch—Showtime’s The Affair.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Sik and BRCA, which are beginning to merge into one project. My current work uses medical records as its source text to query how medical professionals describe the body, sickness, and health. I’m also interested in the connection between textual error, genetic error, and clinical error. In the clinic, a typo can have very real consequences. Conversely, genetic code, itself prone to errors, is the language that dictates our bodies. The clinic becomes a kind of border zone between text and bodies, and this aspect of the clinic fascinates me. My work on these projects began at a very specific moment. I was reading through a huge stack of medical records when I came across the phrase “umor present.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition of the gravity of that phrase (indicating that a tumor was present), coupled with its sonic corollary “humor present.” I suppose I have a dark sense of humor, but this was the punctum that prompted me to begin the poetic work.
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