Monday, September 24, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lindsay Turner


Lindsay Turner is the author of Songs & Ballads (Prelude, 2018). Her translations from the French include Ryoko Sekiguchi's adagio ma non troppo (Les Figues, 2018), and Stéphane Bouquet's The Next Loves (Nightboat, forthcoming 2019). She lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where she teaches English and Creative Writing at Furman University starting in the fall of 2018.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Songs & Ballads felt really different from anything I’d written before. The biggest difference between older poems and the poems in Songs & Ballads is in form: around the summer of 2014 I started playing around with quatrains and off-rhymes and crazy repeating patterns I made up for some of the poems, and I couldn’t stop. (I thought this was over when I finished the book, but I don’t think it’s out of my system yet.) I don’t know if my first book has changed my life. I feel more certain of myself as a poet—even if I never write anything else starting tomorrow, I will have written a book, and that feels solid and good. Also I feel like the slate has been cleared, or the thicket of work I had to write before writing the book has been cleared, and I can start over for the next one.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I started writing poetry as a kid growing up in Tennessee before I knew that people actually wrote poetry, and before I read any poetry—so it’s hard for me to say how I ended up with poetry. I took a poetry workshop my first year in college, and everything absolutely clicked: I realized I wasn’t the only person who wanted to read and write in this bizarre way. I’ve thought about writing fiction or non-fiction, and even tried, but I find it hard to sustain longer projects (even longer poems)—and impossible to believe in plot.

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?

Sometimes a poem takes a while to build up and then comes out in a rush. Sometimes it just comes out in a rush. Sometimes it’s a struggle and a lot of tinkering and deleting and re-doing, although these are the poems I often end up throwing out. I’m always taking notes, but they don’t always make it into poems.

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?

This also varies for me. Sometimes a poem begins from a line or two, or sometimes an image. Sometimes—as with Songs & Ballads—it begins with a form or a shape. For Songs & Ballads, I saw the shapes of the poems as boxes to be filled in before I wrote some of them. As far as book structure: most of the time I half-close my eyes and cringe and try not to think about it until I’ve got about a book’s worth of material. I still don’t think I know how to write a whole book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

My work—especially the work in Songs & Ballads—is meant to be read out loud, and I love reading it. Plus I can never tell if a poem is finished until I read it out loud in front of someone who’s listening.

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 write with the theoretical concerns I live with: what in the world is happening right now? Has it always been happening? How do the things I do and see and feel every day, in a medium-sized upstate South Carolina town, have something to do with global inequality, massive expulsions of populations from the places they live, climate change and attendant catastrophe, police brutality, the violence of gender at different levels, structural racism? How and where to end that list? To echo you, what are the current questions, and how do you live and write while asking them? I don’t have many answers.

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 writer definitely has a role in larger culture—I mean, the writer is such a constitutive part of larger culture. But I don’t think writers are very good at saying what it is, much less what it should be. I guess, just: keep writing.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I haven’t done much work with outside editors for my poems. I have a few friends who are wonderful at giving suggestions. For prose and criticism, working with outside editors has been amazing: I think good, thoughtful, thorough editing can be a remarkable act of intellectual generosity.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

My first poetry teacher insisted that a poem be rooted in the real, concrete world. When things are going terribly wrong in a poem, I go back to that.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translating is relatively new for me: I was always intrigued by the idea of doing it, but I never thought I could. When I first started translating, it was because I could hear certain texts in English as I read them in French. It turns out that I really love translating, especially poetry, because it sends me back to the part of writing that’s a fundamental, material engagement with words and sounds.  It reminds me that writing is a material process. It’s a little addictive, because at the end of the workday you’ve got a poem, and you feel like you wrote it! But you didn’t have to have any of the ideas behind it. Sometimes I worry that translating’s just a very productive form of procrastination. But that’s not fair, because I do think it’s crucial that the writers I’m working with are available in English, and I’m excited for an Anglophone audience to encounter them. Besides, I can’t write good poems as often as I’d like to, so translating probably saves me from churning out a bunch of really awful work.

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?

It’s terrible: I don’t have a writing routine or even a typical day. For about two weeks a year I can’t sleep and write from 3-5 in the morning. That’s great but can’t last. More normally, I have to get things like emails and errands done in the morning. I like to go for a walk or run or something in the middle of the day. Afternoons are my best writing time, at least for prose things and translation, and then evenings and nights are reading or poems. But this changes when I’m teaching or when I’m really into what I’m doing (or under pressure to finish). And when I start writing a poem I can usually work on it wherever, whenever. When I’m writing poems is the only time I ever lose track of time—like, the whole morning is gone and all I’ve done is fix a line.

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

All I know how to do is take the dog for a walk, and wait it out.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Cut grass and hot parking lot—summer in the American southeast.

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?

I used to think all you had to do to be a poet was read a lot of “great” books, but now I think that’s wrong. This is a relief, because looking at things that are not books and doing things that are not reading have secretly always been more generative for me than reading (although I read a lot, and like it).  It’s hard for me to write without lots to look at: I love the mountains where I grew up, which are the same mountains I live near now, and I’m grateful to live in a neighborhood with gorgeous old trees and some hawks and owls. I wrote a lot of Songs & Ballads living on the west coast of Ireland, and it’s the only time I’ve had the ocean there to write about. Movies help when my eyes get too bored. Poets like Alice Notley and Bernadette Mayer have been so important for me lately: they’re models of writing from the center of real, worried, messy life—not museum life or library life or constant pared-down heightened-beauty life.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?


16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I want to travel to all the places I haven’t been, perfectly curate a minimalist closet of clothes I totally love, and write the next book.

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?

Travel agent (budget travel for creative types). Translator of wine labels. Geographer. I liked waiting tables but I wasn’t very good at it.

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

I often think I should be doing something else. But I’m miserable when I’m not writing, and there’s probably nothing I could do that would fix that.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?


20 – What are you currently working on?

I like working on bunches of things at once, so that when something stalls I can pick up something else. Right now I’m finishing up two translation projects (Stéphane Bouquet’s Vie Commune, a wonderful multi-genre book [that needs a home], and a book of philosophy, Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s Postcolonial Bergson, out soon with Fordham UP) and digging into a third (Liliane Giraudon’s Love Is Colder Than the Lake, co-translating with Sarah Riggs). I’m picking at a book of prose poems, Essays on Waiting, which is basically finished. I’m reading for and thinking about an essay I want to write on Barbara Johnson’s essay “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion” and race and reproductive justice. I’m making up syllabi for the workshops I’m teaching in the fall. My partner, Walt Hunter, and I are writing a chapbook called Wasted Empty Space. I’m working on poems for a next poetry collection, which might or might not be called Accomplice.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

father update : home

for the weekend, to see how he can manage. The past couple of weeks he's been at the hospital in Alexandria for rehab, moved out of Ottawa's Heart Institute. This is the first he's been home since the first week of June [see my June update on him here], following his heart surgery and subsequent recovery. There are workers currently putting a ramp in place at the front door, as well as completely gutting the bathroom, installing one of those bathtubs you can walk/step into. He has a walker, and doesn't think he'll be returning to what he could do prior to the surgery, but everyone seems optimistic about his eventual return home.

We went down to the farm yesterday to visit for the afternoon (leaving the house some twenty minutes after our power returned, having been out for seventeen or so hours). The children ran through the house, and Christine even learned how to use the gator.

He's lost a good amount of weight, which is a positive, but it also means he's had to forego (at least for now) his belt for the sake of suspenders. And with his longer (for him) hair and such, I thought him the spitting image of Ralph Waite (1928-2014) as John Walton (right?). Well, until my sister gave him a haircut.

 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Spitzer


Mark Spitzer is the author of 30 books ranging from translations of French criminals and misanthropes to international investigations into “monster fish” to novels of comedy and violence. He has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows in defense of fugly fish and mutant amphibians and is currently a professor of creative writing somewhere in the American South. His most recent book is Inflammatosis (Six Gallery Press, Pittsburgh), but the one he cares the most about is Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). If his website ever goes back online, more information can be found at www.sptzr.net.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a translation of the poetry of French Surrealist Georges Bataille, and it changed my life by translating me into a legitimate authority on something both academic and anti-academic at the same time. I was a graduate student when it came out, so that book was big currency. It gave me a boost in landing a professor job, but more than that it led to other translations and the business know-how to get more books out and write what I want to write.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

Fiction found me in a basement in Colorado pounding out a story about a giant catfish which turned into a monkeywrenching novel based on the environmental philosophies of Edward Abbey. Poetry, on the other hand, found me in a basement in Seattle pounding out an epic poem in which the great visionary voice of Allen Ginsberg came to me just as Blake informed “Howl.” Meaning I was delusional—but hey, that’s where the real shit comes from. As for creative nonfiction, I found that genre sitting on a riverbank waiting for the Big One to bite.   

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?

It takes a nanosecond to start a project, and the rest comes in great blasts that consume me every morning of every day until the love is gone. Since the big concern is fish these days, a lot of research and travel and interviews are involved along with getting bit by bugs. The drafts take years and surgery by editors and failure and epiphany and it all evolves in direct proportion to what we have to lose.  

4 - Where does prose 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 go after a target fish, write a chapter on that fish, then combine those chapters into books. They usually work together chronologically. The novels also fall into place. I write a chapter every morning, think about the next chapter in the afternoon, and approach it all like an athlete who works out obsessively until it’s time to race. But instead of competing against anyone else, I revise instead.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Readings are fine, but I’m in it for the addictive daily work. When I’m in the Zone, I’m alive and I have purpose and I’m doing what I’m meant to do. Readings are the result of being in the bathysphere.

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 have no theory behind my practice, just the process which unfolds organically. The questions I’m working with are about how to preserve fish and how to preserve ourselves. The current question I’m working with is how to fight mis- and disinformation along with climate change and engineered ignorance so the whole fracking enchilada doesn’t go straight to hell. The polar ice caps are melting at an accelerating rate that works out to about 1% every year (right now), our oceans are on the edge of a pH of 7.8, and we’re 59 particles per million over a sustainable carbon dioxide level. I can’t think of anything more important than keeping this rotating ball of earth and water healthy and safe. Without that, we have no place to poison ourselves, rape our environment, and commit human rights abuses.  

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?

We are all random organisms squirming in a petri dish. We find our roles or create our roles and sometimes it’s bullshit and sometimes not, but there’s no plan or right direction, just what we do. Some mutations think writers have a responsibility to teach and lead, but at a cellular level, I don’t think writers have any more responsibility to live up to than anyone else. There is no moral directive, but good work is good for us.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

For the work I do writing environmental fish books, savvy editors are necessary. It’s a team effort getting one of these books right. The facts need to be checked, the arguments need to be as effective as possible, and the presentation needs to be professional or else it’s a waste of time and energy. Working with editors is the apotheosis of the workshop. I’m lucky to have that privilege, especially when those in the fishery biz find something useful to apply. And yes, it’s difficult. If it isn’t, you ain’t thinking hard enough.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Shut up and say something worth a shit.

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

I don’t get stalled anymore. I throw myself into it, find direction on the run, and compile like a maniac. But slowing down is also advisable, lest one goes off on a tangent. When that happens to me, I usually figure it out pretty quickly and get back on track. I’m constantly finding work by other writers to incorporate or seeing something in my life that makes sense to inject into my work. When your art becomes your life, you’re always thinking about how to plug the details in, both consciously and unconsciously. It’s both a bonus and a curse. Just ask my wife.

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?

My books come from experience. From getting out there and mucking after fish and imagining ways to connect the dots. And research. And discovery. And doing what I love. And fucking up.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a monster-fish book and a creative writing pedagogy book in production right now and my summer is full of deadlines and editors and edits that make my brain bleed, but I’m also trying to have some fun and paint the porch. The lawn needs mowing, etc. Most of all, though, I’m working on not giving into despair when subpar imaginations keep calling the shots. We gotta keep reminding ourselves that this is the way it’s always been.



Friday, September 21, 2018

rob mclennan + Christine McNair in London (UK), September 30, 2018

Christine and I will be reading in London on September 30, 2018 as part of the Queen Mob's Teahouse "teaparty" at the Primrose Hill Community Library (Camden Town), alongside Russell Bennetts and Anthony Etherin and possibly others!

You should totally come. It starts at 6:30.

Do you even remember the last time I read in London?




Thursday, September 20, 2018

MC Hyland, Neveragainland and The End: Part One



iceberg! iceberg!

dust suspended in projector-beam. blue
side of glacier. slipping. smash! bedsheet
shaken by hidden hands. sad-eyed polar
bear or sad-eyed actor. soliloquy. thus ends
sad bear, hungry, alone. actor eats fish with
feet. sails off stage left.
            (“[FOUR SHORT PLAYS]”)

Lately, I’ve been going through two different titles by Brooklyn poet, editor and publisher MC Hyland [see my recent review of a collaborative chapbook of hers here], her full-length Neveragainland (Lowbrow Press, 2010) and the chapbook The End: Part One (Magic Helicopter Press, 2017). Given these two titles have seven years between them, the counterpoint is curious (and in certain ways, any comparison can’t be helped). Neveragainland exists as a collection constructed from short lyric poems and prose poems set in three sections, with an opening poem: “Diegetic,” “I: The Parade of Brightly Colored Flags,” “II: Residential, As In” and “III: Ballet Mécanique.” Propelled by the lyric fragment, the poems here are lyrically dense, and incredibly precise, such as the extended lyric sequence “RESIDENTIAL, AS IN,” that includes:

if reticent, then provident
if repentant, then ascend

if exhaustion, then lightning
if therefore, then breathe

if hostage, then Texas
if pharmaceutical, then substitute

if human, then undering
if abject, then bells

The End: Part One is a curiosity for a couple of reasons, including the fact that it was produced as a softbound book, nearly fifty pages (fitting the UNESCO definition of “book” over, say, “chapbook”), but limited to an edition of one hundred copies. Her project, “The End,” exists as a sequence of prose poems each titled “The End,” something similar to works by Noah Eli Gordon, including his collection The Source (New York NY: Futurepoem Books, 2011) [see my review of such here] and more recent Is That the Sound of a Piano Coming from Several Houses Down? (New York NY: Solid Objects, 2018) [see my review of such here]. A striking difference, from Gordon’s work, for example, is how the sequence of Hyland’s prose-poems are broken up by the occasional “response,” each seemingly written by a small handful of other poets. “Finally, I should add that these poems often deal with conversation not only as a source of nourishment,” she writes at the back of the collection, “but also of (to borrow Sianne Ngai’s book title) ‘ugly feelings.’”

What did your vocabulary really do to you. Turn off your phone. Some things I think of as outside and inside that might be only ambient. Hissings and clanks. One light box to another. Summertime sadness in a crowded restaurant. The internet is down again. Is this a poem or a diagnosis. Lauren’s going to the party as a very sexy doctor. Drop everything and read Joe Brainard. The second old-fashioned made me puke on the tiles. I bought her the t-shirt. Looked at all the photographs. Is it always gray or do you only write when it’s gray. Infant-sized noise-cancelling headphones. Friendship unclarified by the conditions of city life. Walking by an unnamed river in France. Knowing in advance how the collaboration will sour. Difference between a poem and a conceptual art piece. No one wants another disposable tote bag. Another sink full of dishes waiting when you get home. I’m looking for when Wordsworth has friends. Some things get spatialized as a last ditch at understanding. You finally said you liked not living there. Great ambitions for future walks and work hours. Would you look at me that way if I went to your event.

If Neveragainland is propelled by the lyric fragment, The End: Part One weaves her epistolary prose poems with the lyric essay, attempting a call-and-response with her reading, her environment and her friends. Further in the notes at the end of the collection, Hyland writes: “While these poems started as an attempt to find a form through which to think about all the challenges of living in New York and starting a PhD after a long break from both the East Coast and this kind of reading-intensive academic setting, they ultimately ended up taking me in a different direction: an attempt to think about the role of feeling in forming and re-forming an aesthetic and political consciousness.” Compared to Neveragainland, the work in The End: Part One hasn’t the density of those shorter poems, displaying a curious looseness that is quite striking, and yet, doesn’t hold itself together nearly as well. The work here is more expansive, more mature and far more ambitious than Neveragainland—exploring the form of the book-length lyric in a way that genuinely requires a great deal of risk, but feels a bit at the beginning of the project (which is, I suppose, why it appears in a limited edition title as opposed to something with a larger and wider distribution). The irony of The End: Part One is that it does feel at the beginning, although at the beginning of something quite grand.

A larger version of The End is forthcoming with Sidebrow in 2019, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the project has progressed.