Buck Downs lives and works in Washington DC. His latest book is TACHYCARDIA: Poems 2010-12, out now from Edge.
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've had something like four or five first books, it seems like -- the first of many self-published chapbooks/books, the first livre d'artist hand set in real lead type, the first full-length book, the first full-length book where I did not have to chip in on the printer's bill.
I think they were each supposed to change my life, and they did so, mostly by letting me shelf the old work and focus on the next thing.
I always think of my work as a dynamically-evolving enterprise, fearlessly moving forward, but I suspect that it actually has not changed much in the last 20 years, other than a measurable reduction in the frequency of swear words.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Too lazy to be a novelist, too scared of people to be a playwright. And a genuine lack of curiosity about other people ruled out journalism.
So poetry slipped in more or less just when I needed it, and provided traction for a creative impulse that was spinning its wheels.
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?
Starting is not really an issue. I can start (in my head) ten writing projects a day. How long does it take to get one finished?
The work that I am finishing at any given time is based on notes that I took 2-3 years previously. I am always working, and failing, to resolve a backlog, to catch up.
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 pretty much always group my poems into fascicles and folders and books. Since the postcard is the central instance of my ongoing writing practice, individual poems are fairly short, i.e., postcard-sized. But they are each incremental additions to the dialectic of the codex.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
At the same time that I am or was the person I described in #2 above, I am also a ham and a pig for attention. So reading my poems is an activity that I still get excited to do.
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?
For example, how the poems look on the page is itself a statement about the nature of reality. I think anyone could hold a book of mine at arm's length, flip through the pages without reading, and understand the statement they see in the page design.
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?
So very cool to live in a polyvalent and democratic world, where there is no one role for anybody, but roles, stages, phases, too many for one life to hold.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I work as a freelance writer/editor, and I hear that I am helping out my clients. But my experience is that most poetry editors are too harried to give good feedback; yes and no are are about 9/13ths of all the editorial feedback I have gotten.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Print it out -- the trees will appreciate being included in your creative process. David Allen said that in a talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
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?
A pocket notebook is my daily companion. The workflow that metabolizes those notebooks is fairly labor-intensive, and much of it happens on subway trains/buses.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I cannot be bothered to worry about it. If the biggest problem you have today is you didn't write a poem, then things are going pretty good.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I have found to my comical if pretentious chagrin that the bathroom in my house smells like the one in my grandmother's old house in Ellisville, Miss., where she and my uncle W.A. lived some 60-70 years.
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?
Really just living a life, yall. As I try to explain to myself the conceptual framework of the work, phrases from the business of recorded song, e.g., "demo tape", typically come up.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The DCPoetry.com crew has been keeping me entertained and busy for 20 years now; by extension the DC Arts Center has been an ongoing source of support.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
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?
Is poetry my occupation here? I feel like that's a little sad. I've had several jobs of different kinds, but I think I'm a little old to say, for example "I always wanted to be a chemist".
I never wanted to have any kind of job or occupation at all. Maybe that's why poetry, after all.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I was fairly consistently encouraged by every kind of authority figure, parent, older person or peer to abandon poetry and/or writing throughout my school years. Probably defiance has been more of a motivating force than anything.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I am an annoying intellectual fake who delights in telling his peers that the cinema is the intellectual equivalent of paying a millionaire for the privilege of sucking his cock, no exceptions.
So yeah, no last great film for me, thanks.
Heather Fuller has a great new book out Dick Cheney's Heart, I can recommend that without reservation.
19 - What are you currently working on?
Promoting the latest book, Tachycardia; tinkering with the pages of a new book file called "open container"; and drafting some pages for a new book, "cashless transactions".
12 or 20 (second series) questions;