Monday, April 06, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amish Trivedi

Amish Trivedi's first book, Sound/Chest, is out from Coven Press, LLC, and his chapbook, The Destructions, is out from above/ground press. Recent poems have been in Open Letters Monthly, The Kenyon Review Online, Entropy and soon in The Laurel Review. His reviews have been in Sink and Pleiades. He is the managing editor of N/A ( and his website is at

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, first things first, the hair on my head started growing back! But seriously, I guess I don't know yet? I feel like one of the main things I have noticed (at least my ego urges me to say this) is that people seem to be more willing to ask things of me? Like to do things or whatever. It's pretty neat to be liked though I'm hoping people thought I was a swell guy before!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Hard to say. Music? I'm not sure really, but I know I spent my teens years writing really shitty poems. And then Johannes showed me that people were still alive writing poetry and that I could be one of them.

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?
Tricky question. I think sometimes it will start with a line or just something someone says. I think the current manuscript I'm working on started with Jessica Smith saying something about milk thistle and then 30 minutes reading random wikipedia articles that branched off milk thistle. You never quite know, I guess. For me, it's usually something simple. That said, now I've come to understand the value of sitting on something. I'm more or less done with the main writing on a new manuscript and while I've sent out poems (thanks for taking some yourself) I feel like I can't start organizing etc. for a little bit.

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 guess this goes with the last question a bit: a poem usually starts with some clever line (or clever to me, at least) and then goes from there. I think I said in our other interview something about thinking in manuscripts now but I kind of don't want to do that at the same time. It's a push pull but I guess I always move towards the next big thing, however well that's worked out at this point.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy doing readings but I see them almost as a platform for being funny and not necessarily for people to listen to me read poems. I always wanted to be a comedian but it's ok when a joke at a poetry reading fails. I also like going to readings. My friend Rob McLoone once said about conferences that it's like reading months worth of journals very quickly. I think readings are great that way.

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 can't come up with an answer here that doesn't make me sound like a college student in their first philosophy class so I think I'll just lean into it: I think my concern is being. Maybe I should type that with a capital "B!" I'm really interested in how we process things through language and I think for me, poetry is about processing everything going on around me. Digital brains turn processing into zeroes and ones and I think my analog brain turns them into poems. I think a current question is how we manage to go on living in a world with language as our artifice. It's used to lie to us but it's also how we display the truth. How do we understand both sides of our words and how do we use them? As someone who is really fucking good and fucking things up when I speak, I'm amazed by my own inability to master something that seems so simple and innate.

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?
Again, I'll lean into college philosophy: I think it's the goal of the writer to really reflect back on society. I really earnestly believe that, however much of a jerk that makes me sound like. I think writers do it but I think stand up comedian do an even better job of that at this point in time, partially because we all enjoy laughing and partially because we we can stomach things from people who are making us laugh. I am, however, ridiculously fascinated by the role of poetry in modern society. I think that's why I like Robert Archambeau so much and hope he doesn't mind that I am in the trailer of the truck he's driving on this front.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
With reviews, I find it easy, especially as that person, of late, is Dan Magers, with whom I get along really nicely. No one has really much asked me about changing poems around lately and I think we've gotten away from THAT writer/editor relationship. If things aren't working, they move down the submission list.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Johannes, any time I turned in good writing in his class, would always tell me to write a thousand more. I've totally stolen this and tell my students that as well. If something is working, then keep doing it until it's dead. I don't know if he even believes that anymore but that's what I still do. I keep trying to work on the things that are still working and try to side-step anything that isn't. Determining that, however, is still really difficult for me.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Well, I think in terms of review writing, I was doing that anyways. I mean, we all do, right? Maybe not all of us, but I guess for any writer worth their salt, they are constantly turning a critical eye to everything they read. The only hard part after that is articulating it in such a way that you make sense to people. I'm unsure if that's been the case with my prose things. Outside of that, I've always had a hard time with genres. Fiction and I seem to be miles apart. Playing music has always been critical for me but I've always had a hard time switching back and forth between song writing and poem writing.

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?
My gut response is to lie and say I have some routine but I really don't. I've tried, I really have, but mostly, I write when I want and I don't write when I don't want to. I don't stress not feeling the urge to write (other than when there's a review deadline or something like that). That said, when I am working on something and I am going, I'll blow off a lot of things I should be doing. I spend a lot of time in my office on campus since my wife and I have opposite teaching schedules. As a result, I have spent a lot of that time writing when I could be, you know, grading or something else.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
For me it's always movies. Bergman. Godard. The Big Lebowski. Sometimes just mindlessly binge-watching Netflix. Music has worked sometimes, but nothing I can think of specifically. I generally don't stress getting stalled. I think that writing shorter poems means I spend most of my time being stalled.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Ooooh- hard to say. I think probably the spices my Mom keeps in a drawer for my childhood home. Hard to say about my grown up life. My wife is home and we've bounced around enough that I'm not sure how that works for "smell." Her candles, her meals, her Cafe Du Monde.

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?
Well certainly movies. I think that if I could manage to work with other people creatively, I'd have stuck with filmmaking so movies continue to be my main thing. Nature is to be protected again (I just read a study that minorities don't do things outdoors...I am certainly with my fellow minorities there).

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Oh gosh- tricky to answer as ever. Ceravolo (who is very nature oriented, hilariously enough); Armantrout and most of the language folks. I guess I always love writers who use philosophy in their creative work, specifically Kundera and, of course, Camus.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Hard one- at 32 I feel like I've done so little. I want to see more of the world before I am unable to physically do it. Right now, I either have the time or (barely) the money but never both at the same time. I guess I'd like some kind of financial situation that occasionally affords me both together but that seems a long way off, sadly. But yes, seeing more of the world. Just wandering small towns in places. I keep a list of ghost towns I want to see in the Americas. Less stress there in terms of finances but I need the time to go do it, you know?

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 was really set on going to law school for a long time. I still think I'd make a great lawyer but, as my friend David pointed out, I'd probably be working to make the world a better place and STILL be broke. Go figure. Further, I think if I had kept my hair, I would have gone towards politics. That was my dream (and my Dad's dream for me) since I was a kid. Sometimes I still think I'd make a fine politician but of the Paul Wellstone variety. Outside of those boring options, I think, if I could really have done anything, it would be to write for TV. Either working on series of some kind or more happily writing for a late night show. That's one that keeps creeping up for me and I think if I ever get an "in" there, I'll give it a go. I never WRITE funny things, but I think in terms of humor at all times. I think that would work in a writing room of some kind. That said, seems like everyone wants to do that these days so I'm sure I'll never manage to make my way that direction. Besides, Tony Tost seems to have cornered the poet/tv writer thing.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don't know, honestly. I think I was, to an extent, a writer from the time I physically learned to write, so hard to say. Besides being a Biden-esque gaffe machine in most conversations, writing has that luxury of time. I like the ability to mull on something rather than having to just have an answer.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I've been getting so many poetry books in the mail of late. Michelle Detorie's After-Cave is under serious consideration for this answer. I'm about to teach Didion's Year of Magical Thinking so that has to be mentioned. A film that I must mention, despite initially being torn on it is Frank. I watched it once, thought it ok, but then I watched it again. And then a third time. And then I started talking about it and telling everyone to watch it and couldn't stop. I don't know what it is about that movie: it's infectious. And, of course, you should watch it. Twice at least. I may have to watch it again just writing this.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A few reviews plus the latest manuscript, called FuturePanic. Plus teaching, of course. Just trying to keep my head above water at the moment.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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