What Urge Will Save Us, was published in April 2017 by Spooky Girlfriend Press. She co-edits bedfellows – a biannual print & online magazine that catalogs discussion of sex, desire, & intimacy – with Jackee Sadicario. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Elderly, Cosmonauts Avenue, & elsewhere. You can find her on the internet at alinapleskova.com & @nahhhlina.
1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Okay so I know poems as a (/in a) physical object are no more or less real than poems in any other format, but the chapbook was validating in a way. Maybe because I've never had big ambitions for my poetry. Getting my shit together at least a little, & a small press I liked a lot want ing to publish a selection of my poems, & strangers out there picking them up & reading the m made me believe in my own work more. It made me want to do more & write more, too. I totally believe people when they say that they write for themselves first, but having readers beyond yr friends & people you know is a something-else feeling.
One thing that has shifted in my work now vs. before is how I used to write more explicitly , & I guess diaristically about sex & desire (or its lack). I was cataloging various experience s, letting them cascade, trying to write my way into a voice. And now the voice is a speaker who feels, to me anyway, more warm-blooded than before. I'm letting more of the world in. The poems are less insular than before.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My answer to this changes all the time (depending on planetary positions & my internal weather & interlocutor, hunger level, etc. in that moment), but it always has something to do w/ the following: early & immediate attractions to compression, musicality, wandering, Frank O'Hara.
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?
I write s - o -o-o slowly . I'm not big on rigor or routine, but also, the poems come when they come. Most of the time, I'm like a weird little animal scuttling around collecting bits & bobs of poem-stuff. I try to notice things, but I think things just make themselves known to me, again, in their own time.
Then I have to go back into my gmail drafts, gchat (it's google hangouts now, whatever, still gchat to me) transcript histories, phone notes, purse notebook, who knows where else, & compile it all, & connect the parts, & shape the actual poem(s). I weave other people's words (things my friends & partners & family members say, song lyrics, lines from other poems, etc.) into my poems all the time, but sometimes those things sit around for a while before I figure out where to put them.
My poems are pretty conversational, & they have a pretty apparent logic/flow, so maybe it doesn't seem like they take as much time to complete as they do, but maybe I could stand to be a little more disciplined & then it wouldn't be that way. Or I'm doing the self-abnegation thing here , which was on my list of shit to quit doing in 2018. But it's still early in the year- -
Anyway, occasionally, an entire poem arrives in my head almost fully-formed. It feels like being momentarily possessed, or like summoning an incantation from the back of yr skull. Those moments are awesome, but rare.
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?
Poems usually start w/ a line looping in my head, or something someone else says or does or writes. I don't know, it's all sort of mystical. Like, writing a poem requires me to see a certain way, but that sort of seeing is not my default mode.
Some days, I feel more tuned in than others. If poets are radios, as Jack Spicer claimed, then my antenna must be kinda busted. It isn't always picking up the poem frequencies, or they're coming in staticky.
I'm really not prolific enough to speak to the larger project questions, but I'm grateful for whatever I can get done. Sometimes it's a little less passive than that - sometimes I actively feel around for what else to add, how to expand a piece. I like what Eileen Myles wrote about the feeling of "going out to get a poem, like hunting."
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Philly & New York both have awesome literary communities, & I attend/host/perform at readings often. I hate the word 'networking', but readings do connect editors to writers (I coedit a mostly solicitation-based magazine, bedfellows, so I can't emphasize that enough) & writers to each other & to other readers, a & to hosts of other events, etc. etc.
As an attendee, readings (I mean, of course there are ones that don't do anything for me, but the ones that do) are generative & inspiring & so often expose me to great work I didn't know about before. As a reader, it helps w/ my drafting process . I get a sense of what works well , what doesn't. Sometimes a line sounds fine in my head, even when I read it out loud to myself, but that changes when it enters a room.
I've gotten used to getting up in front of a crowd, but I don't love it. I'm very shy by nature, but I believe in my work more than I used to & that helps. A poet friend who I respect & admire recently said that the way I read/perform my poems has changed for the better over the last few years. I'm still beaming over that.
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' d like to offer three (out of context, but effective) excerpts here.
Alice Notley (as quoted by Chris Kraus): "Because we rejected a certain kind of theoretical language, people just assumed that we were dumb."
Eve Sedgwick: " Obsessions are the most durable form of intellectual capital "
Chris Kraus: " Because emotion’s just so terrifying the world refuses to believe that it can be pursued as a discipline, as form. "
Meghan Daum (on Joni Mitchell): "... if there's anything I've learned from listening to her over the years, it's that if you don't write from a place of excruciating candor, you've written nothing. "
Those are my concerns, or maybe all that is something like an ethos. Most of my poems have something to do w/ the speaker (well, it's me) feeling their way around the world, & reporting bac k, or trying to make sense of things . I write about power dynamics & what I call 'fraught intimacies' often. T he question of how any of us figure out what we want from each other is the thing I return to over & over & over.
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?
Hope this doesn't come off glib or flippant, but I don't know if "the writer" should have a particular role. Every writer has different capacities, energies, resources, etc. It would be strange, possibly boring, maybe even dangerous if we all endeavored to occupy the same role in larger culture, which (again) means different things to different people anyway. Whose culture & which writer, I guess is what I mean.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
An editor who gets what yr trying to do & nudges further towards it is a total gift. I've worked w/ great ones in various contexts, but in terms of messing around w/ my poems before they end up anywhere, I've had the same editor for years. My friend Andrew Clark is so wonderful & has great instincts . He's invaluable & has , so far, let me get away w/ making use of his time & effort for free. (What a pal.)
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Frank O'Hara: "You just go on your nerve."
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to reviews)? What do you see as the appeal?
Everything I try to write eventually ends up as, or in, a poem. Even my TinyLetter.
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?
In part because I have an office job (at an academic publishing company) & have very regular hours, & in part because I'm an air sign, I don't want more routines in my life. It would be deeply upsetting for me to have something I love & enjoy linked to a routine, which is different from a ritual.
My daily rituals include lighting a stick of palo santo or sage or lavender or incense or cedar or mugwort & usually crying to "Silver Springs" & taking a scalding shower (sometimes the crying continues there.) This can take place in the morning or evening time.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Can I mention Alice Notley again? She never fails to remind me of what poetry can do, does to me, etc.
Relatedly, it helps to just put myself in the path of other people's brilliance-- whether it's through soliciting/reading work for bedfellows, or my new project, Sitting Room Series, a video reading series. Or going through the bookstore, or seeing what people are reading/sharing on my Twitter feed, etc. etc.
It also helps to get away from words entirely & listen to music, or look at visual art, or go for a long ass walk. Being a stoned flaneuse occasionally results in me spacing out & like, buying 4 different types of hummus at Aldi, but other times it leads to something, even if I'm not writing in that moment.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Childhood: boiled cabbage, must, cedar.
Now/my current apartment: palo santo, lavender, weed, garlic (I put it i n everything I cook.)
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?
Hell yes. Currently, these include: Louise Burgeois' art, tunneling very deep into a Joni Mitchell hole (especially Court and Spark ), the poet Gala Mukomolova's super sharp & lovely horoscopes at NYLON, the 34 trolley.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Alice Notley, Diane di Prima, Ariana Reines, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, Anne Boyer, Clarice Lispector, Roberto Bolaño, CAConrad, Hoa Nguyen. Each of them is a master class on like, a craft level, but that's not even what I mean. I'd follow their words anywhere.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Portugal, try ayahuasca, embarrass myself for love. It's possible all three could happen at the same time??
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 love the thought of, but wholly can't relate to, writing poetry as a full-time job. Is that a thing for people w/o inherited $$$?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Ballet & figure skating gave me tendinitis & fucked up my ankles, but poetry has proven less physically onerous.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Alli Warren's I Love It Though. I won't shut up about how good it is. The last great film I saw was Get Out.
I wanted to like Lady Bird more, but will refrain from getting started on that here.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Writing my way back into writing, which right now actually mostly means reading a bunch & working on other projects until I feel like writing again. I want to expand my chapbook, What Urge Will Save Us, into a full-length (& while I'm at it maybe come up w/ a title of my own instead of stealing from Jenny Holzer--)
12 or 20 (second series) questions;