Carrie Hunter received her MFA/MA in the Poetics program at New College of California, edits the chapbook press, ypolita press, is on the editorial board of Black Radish Books, and co-curates the Hearts Desire reading series. Her latest chapbooks were with Little Red Leaves Textile Editions and Dancing Girl Press. She has two full-length collections, both from Black Radish Books, The Incompossible, and Orphan Machines. She lives in San Francisco.
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 that I didn’t self-publish was a chapbook published by Mark Lamoureux’s Cy Gist Press, in 2007. Vorticells. I’m not sure if it changed my life, but it allowed entrance into publishing, which seemed impossible at the time.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I was always a reader, but never a writer, until a friend in high school introduced me to the idea of writing poetry, and I’ve never stopped.
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 easy. I have millions of ideas all the time. It is finishing that is hard. And editing. Every project is different. My first full-length book’s form did not change. It started out as prose poems and ended much the same. The current new book Orphan Machines, started out as a rebellion from that form, takes four different forms in all, with a desire for variety and multiplicity, and a Guattari-Deleuzian “flow.” The format changed from being 3 big sections to being 12 sections with multiple mini-sections. The title also varied from starting as Anti-Oedipus, to being Anti-Oedipus’s Daughter, to being the current title.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction 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 do enjoy just sitting with paper or computer open, and seeing what happens, what will the poem bring, but over all I just love the project. I have a list of project ideas that just keeps growing and growing. I will never get to them all.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings, but don’t consider them to be too much of my creative process. Although the performance aspect can help you see what works and doesn’t work, writing for the performance is always the danger, and I want the text to supersede the performance, so I try to ignore that impulse. Although I do like to have a side project going that is entirely for the performance, as well.
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?
Theory for me is an entrance into poetry. I’ve never really felt much use for it on its own, although theoretical concepts are good to think about for themselves. But really, I just use it for my own devices. I mean there are philosophers who read philosophy for philosophy, and there are poets who read philosophy for poetry. I think both are valid, but I am the latter. I also do love residing in difficulty. I may or may not understand it, but I like being in that space.
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 Black Lives Matter movement has really helped me see the sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious narcissism and privilege of white people writing poetry, and I’ve become more conscious of my own problems in addressing that. So how to turn away from that solipsism, and connected, the always romantic and pulling, hermitism. I think keeping oneself far away from problems up in your room writing does nothing, naturally, and probably harms by its lack of involvement. Thinking of “polite white supremacy” and all of its detriments. Of course, the Emily Dickinson mythology prevails and pulls, but I also think about the importance of acts of refusal, of refusing to engage in the dominant cultural milieus that include capitalism and white supremacy. I think often too of a refusal to publish as part of this, with a focus more on teaching and activism through that, but am not quite there. I am thinking more also as a curator and publisher, about how to maximize exposure to poets of color. (Send work!) email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think it can be very cool indeed when someone helps you see outside of your vision, new eyes so to speak. But I also, after having taken 15 poetry writing workshops in my life, feel a bit done with too many outside eyes. It’s not essential but can be interesting. The problem is seeing your own vision too clearly that you can’t see outside of yourself, which an editor can help with.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Take every opportunity offered. Even if it seems like it is not your thing, it can lead to other things and opportunities that may be. My abovementioned hermitism sometimes wants to retire and refuse, but that (I think) can often lead to stagnation.
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?
Every book seems to have its own routine. The Incompossible was written almost entirely on lunch breaks, and Orphan Machine was written largely on Sunday nights, to an ambient music radio program.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I’m actually there right now. I have tons of writing ideas, that’s not the problem. The problem is its not pulling me anymore. Advice?
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
Music, art, theory, other literature, and lately teaching ESL.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I used to say my strongest influences were, together, H.D. and Hejinian, in a sort of collage experimental lyricism, but my interests are moving more towards education than poetry these days. I’m thinking more along the lines of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Cornel West, and Fred Moten.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a book of non-fiction of some sort.
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?
Teaching. I love it.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Typical childhood dysfunctional family where I had no voice.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Just re-read H.D.’s Vale Ave, from New Directions, reissued as a chapbook. Also enjoying and working through Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons.
19 - What are you currently working on?
My last two chapbooks (Scienza Nuova, Little Red Leaves, and Vice/Versa, dancing girl press) were two parts of a trilogy riffing off of Finnegan’s Wake. Working on part 3. Also doing a Tumblr poem (also a trilogy) that collages poetry quotes, Dante, literary criticism on Dante, impressions from poetry readings, stuff from my journal, stuff from thinking about yoga and spirituality, stuff from prose readings, grad school, and now teaching. (http://perunaselvaoscura.tumblr.com/ and http://percorrermiglioracque.tumblr.com). (The first is loosely connected to The Inferno, and the second to The Purgatorio.) Also have been working on another collage project that combines a bunch of even different things and different projects.