Tuesday, June 02, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anne Champion

Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013) and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017).  Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, The Pinch, Pank Magazine, The Comstock Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Redivider, Cider Press Review, New South, and elsewhere.  She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize, a recipient of the Barbara Deming Memorial grant, a Pushcart Prize nominee, a St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant nominee, and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop participant. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College.  She currently teaches writing and literature at Wheelock College in Boston, MA and is a staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine.

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?

My first book, Reluctant Mistress, didn’t significantly change my life.  The process of writing it taught me a lot, both about myself and about craft.  Publication was simply a goal completed that allowed me to move on and dedicate my energies to other projects.  The best part of publication was having readers who fully understood my work.  I’m so humbled and grateful for the warmth of the poetry community—that simply means everything.  It gives my life a sort of fulfillment that I never dreamed I’d have.

My new collection set for publication by Noctuary Press, The Dark Length Home, is a collaborative collection that I wrote with the incomparable Sarah Sweeney.  It was an experience I treasure.  I generally have a plan as I sit down to write a poem. I know what images I will focus on, I know what story I want to tell, and I have a general idea of how it will end.  With Sarah, we alternated line by line.  I had to let go of control, and it was exciting.  Poems would take turns I didn’t expect, and I had to adapt to tones and voices that were not my own.  I’m really proud of how we navigated the process, and I think it pushed me in new directions.

I’m working on other collections, and I always want to challenge myself in terms of topics that I obsess over and formal constraints.  I am trying to do something new with each one.  At some point in time, I started to feel like I was writing about the same thing repeatedly, and I needed to challenge myself.  I definitely think I’m doing that with my new work.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually came to fiction first.  I wrote stories from the time I was a child and I studied primarily fiction through college.  However, at some point in my college experience, poetry simply started to become the genre that spoke to me most forcefully, moved me most emotionally, and served me as a writer.  Once I started writing poetry, I stopped writing everything else.  I still read all genres of writing religiously, but poetry allows me to express what I want in a variety of creative ways.

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 initial draft work comes quickly to me. I’m usually struck by an image, a line, or a concept and it harasses me until I begin to interrogate it through writing it down.  I’ll shape it into a poem fairly fast.  However, the revision process is often long, tedious, and torturous.  I have a group of writers that I bring drafts to and rely on for revision advice.  I’ll often play with various forms and structures, going back and forth between new and old drafts.  Sometimes the revision comes within weeks, sometimes I keep tweaking a poem for years.  Some poems I finally abandon and throw away.  Regardless, the final draft rarely looks like the original.

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?

Within the last few years, I have focused on making a book from the beginning.  It seems that, in terms of both getting a manuscript published and in reader’s experience of the work, it’s best to have a cohesive collection.  My first two collections (one which is unpublished), did not really begin as a “book” per se, though I tried to structure them so that they look at specific themes.  In writing them, I was simply writing poems about all different things that inspired me.  Now, I generally start with a vision for a book, and focus my writing on exploring that vision.

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 necessary to the process, as they get your writing out in the world and allow you to expose it to new people. I enjoy performing in front of crowds, so I’ve always enjoyed readings. However, after my first book, I did so many readings that I had to take time off from it—I got very burned out, and I just wanted to hole myself away and focus on new 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?
I don’t have specific questions, but I do have obsessions that I’ve been exploring for years.  Some of my obsessions include female sexuality, feminism, sexual liberation, abuse, war, race, and oppression.  In terms of questions, I always think of my poems as interrogating a wound.

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 many cultures, poets are revered.  When I was doing activist work in Palestine, Palestinians would always tell me that I was a messenger for God, because “a poet speaks God’s pain.” I found this sentiment lovely (though it certainly put a lot of expectation on my work!) 

I think writers are important in that artists play a role in creating culture, reflecting cultural values, and capturing the sentiments of a historical moment.  No matter what you are writing, you are writing in the context of culture and history; thus, we have a very important responsibility to respect that and reflect deeply upon the issues of our time.  We need to be creatures of empathy and morality, though we may not be perfect ourselves—in our writing, we should be striving for the better world.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It’s essential for any writer to work with other people.  Many people think of it as such a solitary profession, but I really don’t think it should be.  Our work is not read in a vacuum, and it shouldn’t be written in one either.  We need an audience and we need feedback to perfect our craft.  I’ve never had a bad experience working with an editor.  In fact, I quite like my editors! 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I saw Michael Cunningham speak when I was in college.  Someone asked him what advice he could give to young writers. His answer was simple: “It’s going to take a really, really long time to see your work in print.  You are going to be rejected a lot.  You have to be really patient and really determined to keep trying and keep writing.”  It seems like common sense, but I really took it to heart.  I don’t let rejection bother me.  I just keep focusing on trying to make my writing better and make my projects become something I’m personally proud of.  Even if they never see the light of day, the process of writing is still very fulfilling to me, in and of itself.  I want my work to be read, but I don’t make publication a measure of my happiness as a writer.  When I have success, I consider it a bonus to something that I already love, something that is a major part of who I am. 

10 - 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 don’t really have one.  As a professor, I try to sneak in writing whenever I can.  I dedicate myself most to writing when I have time off.  I don’t think a writer needs to write every day to be a real writer; part of being a writer is experiencing life and processing the world mentally and emotionally.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I go to books of poetry that I know have powerfully moved me.  When I re-read books that changed me, I usually feel inspired immediately. Or I look for new books of writers who are exploring themes that I’m interested in.  Whenever I find a poem I wish I wrote, I get very excited about going back to writing and experimenting on the page.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I don’t think I’ve fully figured out what home means to me.  I feel at home in a lot of places.  I feel most at home when I’m traveling far from home. (Though I miss my cats!)

13 - 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 know a lot of writers that dabble in other arts or use other arts for their inspiration.  For me, personally, books really do come from books.  I love all forms of art and I try to expose myself to it as much as possible, but they rarely explicitly influence my work.  Whereas writers influence my work constantly.  I wouldn’t change or experiment if it were not for what I’d seen other writers do.  I get most inspired while reading. 

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There’s so many!! This is always the hardest question because I want to rattle off a long list. Sylvia Plath is really my backbone as a poet. If it were not for her, I would not be a poet.  She showed me how to write about rage, pain, and abuse with such musical grace, and I still think no one holds a candle to her metaphors.  Anais Nin influenced me in terms of sexual liberation and feminist themes.  I also love Louise Gluck, Tarfia Faizullah, Traci Brimhall, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Sandra Cisneros, and Junot Diaz.

In terms of my life outside of work, there are several poets who have been an incredible support system: Lisa Marie Basile, Mary Stone, and Kristina Marie Darling, to name a few. I also greatly admire their writing.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Work in a refugee camp in the Middle East.

16 - 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 be a full time activist and community organizer.  That’s hard to make a living doing, but I’m so inspired by revolutionaries that sacrificed everything for social change.  I was really inspired by young peace activists that I met in Palestine; they are doing such creative things!  I’d love to be fully immersed in that.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I write because I have to.  Words haunt me, and if I don’t get them out then I’ll lose my mind.  I write to know who I am and understand the world better. I write to increase my sense of empathy for others. I write because I simply have no choice.  It gives my life depth in ways that nothing else does.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. As an activist, I found his voice to be monumentally inspiring, full of wisdom, dogged patience, and compassion. 

I don’t see a lot of movies (I’m more of a TV gal), but I really loved Selma.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on revising a manuscript called Graveyard of Numbers which is the result of a Peace Delegation that I went to in Palestine.  The manuscript documents the many stories I was told by locals in documenting the horrors of war and military occupation.  It also ties in issues of race and oppression in American culture.

My next manuscript, which I’ve started the process of writing, will be Odes and Persona poems to famous historical women. So far I have poems to Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, Sylvia Plath, Harriot Jacobs, Anne Frank, and others.  I hope to have a broad range in terms of race and sexuality, including transgender women and men.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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