Sunday, July 12, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Beth Bachmann

Beth Bachmann’s first book, Temper, was selected by Lynn Emanuel as winner of the AWP Award Series 2008 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. Emanuel writes, “Temper's account of a murder encompasses the polarities of flesh and spirit, love and horror. The drama of this horrifying event, however, is not what is most compelling about Temper. What is most compelling is the way Beth Bachmann presides over the drama with a courage and restraint which manifest themselves as beauty.” Bachmann holds a graduate degree from Concordia University in Montreal and teaches at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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

Temper made me more self-aware. I’m starting to get my number: it’s a little disturbing.

The poems in Temper are short lyrics. The new work is getting longer, growing from eight to, say, fifteen lines, which, for me, is a bit traumatizing. I’m still writing about violence and power but the territory is bigger and the terms are changing.

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

The closest I’ve come to fiction is a prose poem I passed off as a short short in order to sneak into Richard Peabody’s wild anthology of Alice in Wonderland inspired stories, Alice Redux. I like white space. I don’t see myself attempting prose until I become more comfortable with the just-beyond-sonnet-size poem.
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?

Right now I’m writing in a giant 300 pg word doc where poems and notes come and go. I like white space but also fear it. I think I’m haunted by the Just Say No commercial where the kid’s on the verge of the empty pool.

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 like to go slow and amass a lot of material. The loyal bits will come back and bite me.

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

I live in quiet isolation in Tennessee. Readings feel like being let out of the cage. Sometimes it takes awhile to realize the door is open.

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?

Good question. I’m interested in lyric repetition and boundaries. In Temper I thought a lot about violence and realism and I wanted to see how far I could go, how far the reader would follow.

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?

Role-play’s a tricky one. It’s never one way.

Silence in poetry is important, but not too much.

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

I’ll take all the help I can get.

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

What do the girl/boyscouts say? Be prepared. Do your best.

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?

On good days, I can write all day and forget to eat. By writing all day, I mean hungrily following 4-8 lines.

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

Listening online to Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee and Carl Philips is a good thing to do repeatedly.

12 - What fairy tale character do you resonate with most?

Probably an animal, most likely a wolf, possibly a human animal hybrid, something wearing an inappropriate dress. It’s always inappropriate when animals wear dresses.

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?

Tennessee is so green nothing gives up life. No matter how hard you try to beat it back. For music: Kathleen Hanna, Poly Styrene, Shirley Temple. For scientists: my husband, the chemist and caver. For art: I’m currently obsessed with the artist whose work is featured on my book, Tim Yankosky.

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

Nick Flynn and Alex Lemon tell me things I want to know and help keep an eye on me.

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

I’ve never been to the ballet. I’d like to see Swan Lake.

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?

Most likely I’d be begging for my job back at Rodi’s Hot Wings.

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

I was studying photography but I couldn’t afford the paper. Sometimes I miss the winding noise.

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

I just finished Wilfred Owen’s war letters home to his own dearest mother. One begins STAND BACK FROM THE PAGE! AND DISINFECT YOURSELF. That’s pretty great. The other night I watched Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf - not my favorite Bergman but good thought as always on art, reality and the inner life. Plus Max von Sydow in heavy lipstick.

19 - What are you currently working on?

poems. (more) dark poems about power.

12 or 20 questions archive (second series);

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