Thursday, June 04, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Carrie Olivia Adams

Carrie Olivia Adams is a book publicist for the University of Chicago Press and the poetry editor for the independent publisher Black Ocean and the journal Hunger Mountain. Her poems and films have appeared in such journals as The Laurel Review, Cranky, Coconut, Dear Camera Magazine, DIAGRAM, and Lilies and Cannonballs Review. She is the author of Intervening Absence (Ahsahta 2009) and the chapbook A Useless Window.

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

When Janet Holmes from Ahsahta called to tell me that my book had been accepted, I was sitting in my office at the University of Chicago Press. I remember my reaction as silent shock followed by effusive gratitude. And then I hung up on the phone and realized I had to go back to work. Here it is—this enormous, momentous event that I had been dreaming of since I was 17—but desite being filled with meaning for me, it didn’t really change the world. You keep your day job. You probably should still eat the lunch you packed that morning. You will still have to wait for the bus and ride in a sticky seat. Yet, what it did allow me was a huge sigh of relief. There were three years between when my book was accepted and when it was published, and during those three years I felt a wonderful sense of freedom. I could let go and move on. That was worth almost as much to me as knowing that some stranger had picked up my manuscript and wanted to publish it for no reason other than that she liked it.

In the three years that I was awaiting publication, my work moved from being cinematic in tone and approach to actually, literally cinematic. I began to experiment with shooting and editing my own videos to be companions to my poems. And the videos and the films grew up together. My next book, 41 Jane Does, will have an accompanying DVD when it’s published in 2013.

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

I wrote my first poem when I was 7; I found it awhile back. It was about the Tete-a-Tete Daffodils in my mother’s garden. Even then I think I was in love with sound, and I wrote the poem to be able to say Tete-a-Tete over and over again. I’m not a patient person, and I get hung-up on details. I don’t have the focus it takes for a novel. I’m fluttery. I write and walk and type a line or two and wash a dish or a stir a pot. Poetry is perfectly happy if I can’t sit still. I think in terms of the sentence, the equation. One word hooking onto another. I’m a bricklayer. A tightrope walker.

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 think of myself as an incredibly slow writer, and when I’ve finished something I have no idea how I got there—how I got to the end. I’m a daydreamer. I’m a procrastinator. And I spend a lot of time on public transportation just staring out the window watching the world go by. It’s hard to know how long a project gestates in some corner of my mind. I’ll take some notes here and there. And then when I’m ready to write it, I write in sprints. But then I spend a long time re-reading and revising. I don’t know how much different the drafts would seem to you from the final poem, but to me they’ve completely changed. A detail here. A tense there. And through the course of it, the poem has become a distant object, something that is no longer personal, which is a necessary step for me—allowing me to edit without sentimental attachment.

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 know lots of poets right now who seem able to work on multiple projects at once, multiple books even. It’s not so for me. In part it’s just the work-a-day structure of my work life. But I prefer to give myself over to one current obsession. I write sequences of poems and I tend to work one sequence at a time. But I think of books as architectural wholes. I’m just as interested in the structure of a book, as I am the structure of a sequence of poems, so I am always thinking about how each sequence informs the other.

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

Since I write most all of my poems aloud, conversationally with myself as I type them, it seems very natural to read them to an audience. That said, I still find it a bit disconcerting. Like when you go to an art fair and the artist is sitting right there in the tent or the booth watching you study their paintings. Or maybe you don’t pause and you skim quickly by them. I imagine the artist must feel somewhat as I do, watching the faces of the listeners in the audience as I read. Watching them hear my words is strange to me.

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 spent much of my undergraduate and graduate education interested in Theory with a capital T, taking courses in antifoundational rhetoric and debating the existence of the transcendental signified that all the words I link together in my poems are reduced to in order to establish meaning. The ideas are fascinating, but they could paralyze you, render you aphasic. As a result, I think my poems ask a lot of questions, rather than answer them. Perhaps I’m not that wise, but I’d rather just be curious.

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?

What I hope for my poems is that they find their way into the hands of a few strangers who might find in them a sympathy, a companionship. I’m very interested in the general sense of loneliness that defines the human condition; a sense of solitude that binds our experiences and thoughts inside ourselves. That aloneness is fundamental. And yet, that solipsism, that intimate myopia is at the root of the selfish, self-righteous actions of our human culture at large. As a writer, I hope for my poems to be telegrams for those who need them. I hate that poetry has a reputation for difficulty, for being something that you have to understand. I mean for mine to be a mood, an impression; you can intuit them.

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

I can answer this best in my experience as the poetry editor for Black Ocean, where Janaka Stucky and I spend serious time with each of the manuscripts we publish. I tend to focus on the details, the tiny elements of craft, and Janaka is wonderful with order and arrangement. We make a good team, and our authors often comment on the benefit the experience. It’s a different feeling than when you are workshopped or show it to a friend for comments. If we’re editing your work, you know that we already stand behind it and accept it on its own terms, and we’re just trying to make sure that nothing gets in the way of its full strength and expression. The editing may not be essential, but it’s certainly not harmful.

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

Oh dear, I think I avoid advice. My stubborn ears are deaf to it.

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?

I try and can’t keep a strict writing routine. I might just want to go out for a cocktail that night. I might be really engrossed in the Cubs game. But my life is very structured, for I usually work a regular work day at the Press, where I am a book publicist. And I love to cook dinner. So usually, I try to set aside the after dinner hours during the week for some writing-related activity—be it reading, composing, revising, or working on a film.

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

The dictionary. Emily Dickinson. The city street below the window. Cinema.

12 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab?

As a fireman’s daughter, this question scares me. After grabbing the fire extinguisher and trying my best, I’d run out with my melting laptop.

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?

I’m probably more influenced by weird math equations, astrophysical notions, the moody Chicago weather, and films (notably Bergman, Antonioni, and Marker) than I often am by other poems. I’m a collector of random facts. A true armchair dilettante.

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

I love the works that are the opposite of mine. I love to read the largest novels. Those that are totally impractical to haul on an airplane or on the subway, but I do it anyway. Gigantic contained worlds that you never ever want to end. Proust, Tolstoy, Musil . . . are essential to me.
12 or 20 questions archive, second series;

No comments: