Marie Buck is the author of the poetry collections Life & Style (Patrick Lovelace Editions, 2009) and Portrait of Doom (Krupskaya, 2015), and she teaches literature and writing in Brooklyn. Some of her recent poems appear in Poems By Sunday, a Perimeter, and Fanzine.
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, Life & Style, came out in 2009. I was super happy to have the work out in the world, and the fact that the book was out in the world also put me in touch with a lot of interesting poets in other places. So, one great thing was just being part of a larger aesthetic community.
Krupskaya put out my new book, Portrait of Doom, this past spring. The projects are pretty different. One key difference, I think, is that, while both projects are partially collaged, I’m not really interested in the Internet with this new one. With the first, I was interested in publicity and privacy, especially in relation to gender. I grabbed a lot of language from MySpace accounts; the Internet at that moment was a really good thing to use in thinking about the things I wanted to think about. Now, though, I feel pretty uninterested in the Internet and also like we’re in a very different cultural moment in the wake of Occupy and with the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, Greek resistance to austerity, the general uptick in resistance across the globe.
So I guess I want/expect my work to reflect this larger cultural shift. I’m really interested in political affect, the transmission of political affect, and moments of collective hope and disappointment. I’m drawing on broader range of sources that I collage from (in addition to writing from scratch).
That said, all of my work seems to wind up circling around a few things: power, the grotesque, quotidian expressions of power relations, political and personal angst as one and the same, bodies, over the top self-reflexivity on the part of the speaker.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Hmm. I wrote both poetry and fiction initially, and I found I liked writing poetry more most of the time. In high school, I read Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems over and over, despite mostly reading fiction at that point. Then in undergrad, I took classes with a really amazing professor, the poet Carol Ann Davis, who created a fantastic writing community at the College of Charleston. So I had a lot of room to write in different genres, explore, read friends’ work. I ended up mostly delving into poetry and then went on to the M.F.A. program in poetry at the University of Massachusetts. I do sometimes write fiction and creative essays, though.
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?
For the past couple of years, I’ve collected bits of language into my phone and into various draft files. The bits of language are things that I’ve overheard, things from conversations I’ve had, things from specific television shows or movies that I might watch because I'm interested in the register of language they use, things from specific documents that I might look up because I’m interested in something thematically. Then when I want to write, I start working from that language but end up writing a lot from scratch, too. I move things around, recontextualize, etc etc. and come up with something that is a poem eventually. Later I’ll go back and edit a few times. Giving a reading or submitting poems motivates me to do the editing part. (I seem to have to imagine a specific and immediate audience in order to do it.) I use Scrivener (which I find much better to work in than Word) to write and also to figure out how a manuscript is going to work.
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?
In between projects, I write short pieces. It takes me a while to figure out what it is I’m doing. But once I have something in mind to assemble, something that I’ve hit on that I want to keep working with, I’m writing the project by writing individual poems. And I incorporate repetitions, threads, etc.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Oh yeah, I love reading. Readings are fun. And helpful—I can’t totally know if a poem is working until I read it out loud, in front of people. Not so much because of feedback, but because I become a much better evaluator of my own work then.
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?
Ha! This is a very big question! I feel like I kind of hit some of this with question 1, actually. But, to be more specific: right now I am very interested in thinking about political hope and disappointment—how these affects work, how they might play into the formation of collectivities. Right now there is a lot of up and down, social movements springing up but only briefly, heavy repression, lack of organization. I’m interested in thinking about contemporary hope and disappointment through thinking about the 1970s and 1980s. I was born in 1982. Myself and anyone roughly my age grew up in the wake of the 60s—i.e., in this larger cultural mood of expectation for better things, and simultaneously, deep disappointment that the movements of the 60s didn’t bring about more substantive change. I’m intrigued by Star Trek, right now, for instance. Compare its vision of the future to contemporary visions of the future. I'm thinking of, say, Children of Men (which is a fantastic movie). We all picture dystopia now. Literally no one even imagines a world like in Star Trek, where humans have eliminated want. No one imagines things progressing. Pretty much everyone imagines things getting worse and worse. If I’m feeling really depressed about the state of the world, sometimes I’ll just watchStar Trek and remember that this made sense as a piece of cultural production just a couple of decades ago, and that cheers me up a bit. So—Star Trek isn’t in my poems in any direct way, but Star Trek and various other relics of the post-60s era are spurring me to hash out some questions in my work.
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?
Well, poetry communities are always kind of their own thing I guess. But in a less stupid world, everyone would have a lot more time to be creative, and a lot more people would be writers. There would be more arts funding. People would have access to thriving aesthetic communities everywhere.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Hmm—is “outside” here someone outside of whoever is publishing your work? I’ve been edited mostly by friends and by editors publishing my work, and I pretty much always find it extremely helpful. Krupskaya’s editors, Stephanie Young, Brandon Brown, Jocelyn Saidenberg, and Kevin Killian, were amazing to work with. For instance, Stephanie helped me tremendously with some issues with capitalization and other nitty gritty things that ran throughout the manuscript and were small, but pervasive and so really important for the work. I was so glad for the help.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Hmm. I'm really not sure; perhaps I have not received any good advice. Please advise me, readers!
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 have a regular poetry writing routine, though I do usually set deadlines and other goals for myself. A typical day involves dissertation writing and research, and sometimes teaching, and sometimes poetry.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books, TV. Going to readings. Seeing art. Consuming culture, basically.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I used to live in an apartment in Detroit that was too close to a garbage incinerator. I live in Brooklyn now, and NYC famously smells like hot garbage. So I’m gonna go with hot garbage.
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?
Oh yeah, totally. Certainly visual art, certainly film, certainly political theory. The most exciting thing I’ve seen recently is the exhibit America Is Hard to See at the new Whitney. It’s huge, and sort of all-encompassing and amazingly curated to let you really think through historical themes and moments. I was really into the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney last year, too.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Lately, David Wojnarowicz, specifically his collection of essays Close to the Knives. Emily Dickinson. James Baldwin.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Incorporate more narrative elements into my writing.
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?
Professional athlete with a dual appointment as a socializer of feral cats.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
As a teenager, I was really interested in making visual art too. But writing seems to come much more naturally to me. I have a lot more control over words; I can work them into what I want, or figure out the shape of something I want to make through the process. With visual art, I don’t really have the technical skill, among other problems, so I’m always kind of flailing around and can’t get things to actually work.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last book I read is Black Against Empire, a history of the Black Panther Party. It’s a really carefully researched, analytically sharp book. Fiction-wise: I recently read Jacqueline Susann’s The Valley of the Dolls, Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, and Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means in quick succession and they were amazing—I’m really interested in this midcentury female bildungsroman subgenre that I've only recently discovered. Also, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?, James Baldwin’s Another Country, and Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, which is this really great second wave feminist classic. Also, Henry Dumas’s collected short stories, Echo Tree, which I keep coming back to. Dumas was a Black Arts Movement writer who ought to be better known than he is—he wrote these amazing Black Arts magical realist stories. I moved to New York recently and so now I read fiction when I’m on the train. I’ve probably read more fiction in the last five months than in the previous five years—it’s great.
Poetry-wise: Alli Warren’s Here Come the Warm Jets, Steven Zultanski’s Bribery, Anna Vitale's chapbook Unknown Pleasures. Lots of other things too, but I'll stop there. Films: I recently saw Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin for the first time, and it’s probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I also saw Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous, which just came out and is excellent—about austerity and dystopia and set in a future that is basically now. TV-wise: I’ve been getting into Bob’s Burgers, which, is hilarious and also has this thing I really like where all the characters are sympathetic characters, and additionally they all get along with each other. It’s super sweet about people’s relationships to one another, basically, even though the humor of the show is pretty cynical. That sweetness reminds me of Freaks and Geeks, one of my other favorites. At some point maybe I’ll write something about the politics of this sweetness.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in the final stages of completing a Ph.D. right now, so I’m finishing a dissertation project about the cultural production of the Women’s Liberation and Black Power movements. The new poetry project I have going doesn’t have a title yet, but it seems to be a sort of sequel to Portrait of Doom—but starting from a place of political disappointment.
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