Friday, April 11, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Dara Wier
Dara Wier was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Recent books include REMNANTS OF HANNAH and REVERSE RAPTURE (awarded the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives Book Award). A Selected Poems is forthcoming from Wave Books. Her poems can be found in Pushcart, Best American Poetry, Norton, Soft Skull and various other anthologies, and in American Poetry Review, Conduit, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, slope, Turnrow, New American Review, Volt. A limited edition, (X IN FIX), is in RainTaxi’s Brainstorm series. The Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the American Poetry Review have supported her work. She's a member of the poetry faculty and director of the MFA program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-director of the Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts and Action. About REVERSE RAPTURE Stephen Rodefer writes "...a paratactic and sometime screened poetic narrative of thought, time, room, face, secrets, address, body, relations, religion, casual philosophy, the domestic, demons and the demotic, language and much else--in a steady unfolding of distanced but under your skin mind-forms." With Guy Pettit and Emily Pettit, she edits and publishes chapbooks and broadsides for Factory Hollow Press.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I was watching a deer lick a salt lick I'd put out by a creek I was living by then. The phone rang, someone said, we want to publish your book. I watched the deer look up to see if she was in any danger. She wasn't. Surprise, joy, fear. It took me out into the world in ways I hadn't anticipated. Most of which have been better, more curious, and tirelessly surprising than I could have imagined.

2 - How long have you lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Since 1985. At first landscape, weather, New England's ways, being new and strong frightened and energized me. So much to see, to consider. To be quiet about. I didn't know how to wear a coat, how to nod in silence. I wanted to live in New England, since I was a kid, watching boats from around the world come up the river past our house south of New Orleans. Why? Because the stories and poems said so. A dead horse might float by on the river. I couldn't tell anyone.

Gender, race, we're dealt. Any gender, any race, we live with what we get, well, with exceptions finely tuned.

I've been asked Who Are You, Where Do You Come From, we're all asked this. Trouble is when asked one can't help but hesitate to think that no matter what one says one will be somehow or other be reduced, pigeon-holed, sometimes stigmatized, other times credited with things which one needn't be credited.

Just look at the public discussions of the 08 US presidential primary. It goes so many ways.

When I knew nothing but south Louisiana, its country, rivers, prairies, swamps, shell roads, New Orleans, little towns, cemeteries, houses on stilts, everyday transport on water, no mountains, no hills, the levee was the main artery next to the river's fierce, sometimes providing, sometimes destructive, ever-present power--these I loved, and wanted to leave to know other places. When I lived in Virginia in the mountains, daily I was surprised that I couldn't see past them. I think I'm a geographical literalist.

3 - 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?

Sometimes a poem begins with a sensation, sometimes with a word, sometimes a combination of words, sometimes with a phrase, sometimes with a line, sometimes with a title, sometimes with a tone, sometimes with a sound, sometimes because I'm grieving or pissed or remote or estranged or one with the universe, sometimes because to write a poem is all I want to be doing. I've never started to write a book, never started a book until any book's been underway. Once I realize I'm in a book's midst, I try to forget that I am, fearful of self-consciousness spoiling things. I've always had faith in poetry's powers.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

There have been times when reading in public I've seen a line coming that I knowI wouldn't want to read out loud. I change it as I go and try like hell to seamlessly keep the poem together. I like public readings, for the most part, I'm grateful to any audience that gives poems a chance to register. My favorite public readings are for radio, the sense of intimacy it provides is fairly wonderful. I'm surprised at how casually readings are often treated, room not so hot, acoustics an after-thought, lighting unconsidered, spell broken immediately following with pretzels and beer. But, no, I wouldn't say readings are ever counter-productive. I guess they could be if one lapsed into a routine that's demeaning.

5 - 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?

If there are any theoretical concerns behind, or inside my writing, I try to keep these unknown, ignored, better left unsaid. But I read philosophy, aesthetics, history, science. I've been around for rounds of barrages of language associated with theories. If a theory has at its center something orginally forceful, I enjoy following its logic. I'd never consciously apply any of that logic to something I'm writing within a poem. But I'd be wrong to say what settles in one's mind can be completely ignored.

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

Not essential, but then I've rarely until recently had the advantage of an involved editor. Matthew Zapruder [see his 12 or 20 questions here], of Wave Books, has been involved in the final determinations of what's in and what's out of my last few books, and that's been helpful. We don't do much, hardly any, line-editing; we do culling and keeping. I would trust him to tell me if a poem could be saved or improved, I would trust him to say something like, you don't want to do that, do you?

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Do you mean putting a book together after its poems are written?

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Yesterday. It was a beauty, a quintessential pear, so fine that a friend who was visiting thought we shouldn't eat it.

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

Two things, Louis Pasteur's: Chance favors the prepared mind, and something someone said about how long it takes to make something, how little time it takes to destroy it.

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

I've always written in several genres, though always, by far, have written more poetry. I think a visual artist would have an idea about whether she's working on a sketch, a collage, an oil, a 3 dimensional piece, a film, you know, one has a sense of materials and with that a sense of formal use. I first wrote poetry, and wanted nothing more than to write poetry. Then I wrote journalism to try to figure out a way to make a living while writing poetry. I was never a journalist in any significant way. I wrote stories when the fiction writers around me were whining about how impossible it was to write stories, to see what that felt like. I stopped that after three stories. But I liked writing them. I've written some reviews, some essays, lots of prose that's been for poets I've worked with in seminars at various times, and some of this prose is some of my favorite prose, and I've written. And lately, to get rid of the obsessive work of REVERSE RAPTURE, regular prose stories.

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?

Over the years there have been several routines and non-routines. The best involve writing everyday, at least something, best of all, writing everyday to complete something on that day. When I wrote REVERSE RAPTURE I wrote 81 lines aday; I'd call that the best writing routine I've ever stumbled into. I think the most important routine might be one combining reading, writing, and living with loved ones, if one is so lucky.

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

I wish I could answer this question. What do I do, I get up and walk around. I go outside. I pick up a broom. If its really bad I go find a river. I walk around. I wish I could say there is a sure fire way to overcome being stalled. I lie down on the floor and kick my feet a little. I don't know.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

REMNANTS OF HANNAH, it feels short and sweet, after a couple of longer books, I wanted a shorter one, and that's what it is.

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?

Yes, all those things are important, they make life worth living.

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

We are lucky we have these others outside of ourselves. There are so many.

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

I don't know. A lot. Everything.

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?

A farmer.

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

I don't think I can honestly say, I don't think writing has been opposed toanything. I wrote from when I first learned to write, around the age of 4. I know that's preposterous, but it's true. So lucky for me I never had the anxiety of having to make any decisions about this. Doesn't mean I should have never questioned the occupation, vocation, I just didn't.

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

20 - What are you currently working on?

Finishing a collection of short stories, finishing putting together a selected poems, arranging and editing a prose book of essays. New poems, stories. A trip to Virginia and back up the east coast. A trip to Spain. Thoughts about what to plant now that the season's changing, good friends' and family's futures, what to do next, tomorrow, what's next.

Someone once said to me, "Stop thinking." That seemed pretty strange.

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