Wednesday, February 16, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Jesse Glass;

Jesse Glass, sometimes known as Jess Glass and Jesse Glass, Jr.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
My very first book was a small red pamphlet titled Nigredo, after the “dead” beginning of the alchemical process. The poems were based on a series of visions I had c. 1970—1973. The second, enlarged edition of Nigredo included my drawings. My life changed considerably after the local newspapers ran a large feature on the book and on me. This was picked up by the Baltimore newspapers and I began to get telephone calls asking me how much I charged to give a reading? Reading? I didn’t know what a reading was. At that time I was working in a factory in Westminster, Maryland. I was offered scholarship money and a position teaching workshops at the old Western Maryland College, so I began to attend college there. I did indeed give readings around Baltimore and Washington—and one in particular at Juniata College in Pennsylvania. I remember camping out with a college girl on a rock overlooking a fog-filled valley and the train cutting through at about two in the morning. It was beautiful.

How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? 
My most recent work is more language and performance oriented. Words themselves matter more than whatever reality lies behind them. In the old days I was totally convinced that I was the voice of another world. Maybe Spicer’s “Martians”!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? 
Poetry came to me when I was a small child with a very capacious memory entertaining my doting grandmother by reciting all the standard nursery rhymes and more. I found that my ability with words was a definite plus in garnering attention and even love from my mother, who appeared not to notice me unless I did something that reflected well on her. It was much later at 15 or 16 that I began to read all the poetry that I could get my hands on and to write it—under the influence of my first and best teacher—William Blake.

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 me a long time to write a poem. I work on a draft, then forget about it, sometimes for years. Just the other day I finally found the right word for the right place in a poem that I had begun back in the early 1980’s. On the average it takes me about 5 years to write a poem and find a proper home for it. Publication also does not mean that I stop the process of revision. Sometimes I will use a magazine version as a “clean copy” for corrections.

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 never work on books. It’s all a matter of carrying a notebook in my pocket and a pen or two and collecting thoughts—sometimes in the form of lines, or fragments lifted from the newspaper or book I’m reading, sometimes in the form of prose sketches that I write or scraps of dreams. The notebooks themselves become something of a work of art: Xed out, torn, initialed, tattooed, sweated upon, bled upon, all the various things that may give the pages a lurking consciousness of their own.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? 
I enjoy reading my work. I’ve traveled to several continents to do it. I love meeting other poets and gabbing.

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 enjoy sifting through historical contexts and reconstructing identities in a semi-narrative. In that way, I attempt to make my own small movie of a process in process. Of course Olson, Pound, Guthrie, Crane and that old anthology published by Coach House, I think it was—The Long Poem Anthology—which included B.P. Nichol and others. I was also greatly influenced by Robert Kroetsch, who I had the pleasure of meeting way back when. Stone hammer was good, I thought.

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 role of the poet is to present language in an interesting manner and to push boundaries of form and content using whatever tools are available to him or her. The role of the novelist is to do what the poet does while presenting a fictive space in which certain human acts are simulated to the utter clarification (joyful or otherwise) of the human condition.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? 
It’s absolutely helpful. Workshops are helpful. Even Emily Dickinson sought the opinion of Susan Gilbert Dickinson.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? 
Do not give up. Continue to do what you do and you will earn the audience you deserve. Howard Nemerov told me that, and it’s true.

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?
When I worked in factories I gave myself at least 20 minutes a day to play with language. I kept a small pocket notebook and I wrote whenever I could in that. Even when my hands were beaten up pretty badly from the tire presses, my mother would help me by writing down what I needed to write.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? 
Reading—I read anything I can get my hands on. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be poetry or fiction or drama. Popular books on science get me going. Other times I turn to translation.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home? 
The smell of hay and sweet feed. The smell of horses and horse shit. I grew up on a horse farm.

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 enjoy contemplating insects and reptiles. Arthur Schoenberg, and Morton Feldman, and Mongolian music helps. Yes, since I create paintings, engravings and artist’s books (I’m working on one right now)—the visual arts.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have a million favorites, but seven abiding authors keep me alive: Lautreamont, Artaud, Rimbaud, Melville, Whitman, Stevens, Dickinson.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? 
Retire and live quietly.

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? 
I would have been a sculptor.
I still enjoy sculpting with words.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think it was knowing that I had a particular gift that I could use to attain an understanding of things that I ordinarily did not have, and pure hate for my father and his family and friends—my father was a man who despised books and writing and could barely read and write himself.

18 - What was the last great book you read? 

What was the last great film? 
The Third Man

19 - What are you currently working on? 
Two novels and a long poem based on the spiritual diaries of John Dee.

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