Saturday, October 25, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristin P. Bradshaw

Kristin P. Bradshaw is a language-based writer and artist who works with poetry, collage, photography and soundscapes. Her current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, uses of language in art, and the tension between immediate and emergent encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing. Her poems have appeared in journals such as the New Orleans Review, New American Poetry, Chase Park, and No: a Journal of the Arts, and a letterpress chapbook and audio CD, “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation,” is forthcoming from Tiger Food Press/Percival House. She holds an MFA from Brown University, an MA in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and now teaches in the Liberal Arts department at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Burning Deck Press released her first book, Apologies, in October 2014.

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 took over fifteen years to get out into the world (as a book), and over that time, I lived in Providence, New Haven, New York City, and Portland, Oregon. After graduate school, I struggled to find decent work and to get much traction. I wrote a good bit, put together flimsy copies of inkjet printed chapbooks. Later I turned to recording sounds, then photography. I listened to a lot of music (or maybe a lot of the same music over and over again), which is something that hasn’t really changed in my daily life. Right now, some of my most recent work includes more “apologies.” And then apart from “poetry” in book form, I have a separate set of visually based works that meditate on the iterative process of seeing, writing, and thinking. It feels different in that I can work with smaller chunks of text, and therefore I don’t have to wait while my work accumulates into a full series. Technically, I also end up using different computer programs for design purposes, and different machinery (letterpress) in order to fully actualize the work (poem-image-print).

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My cousin is an avid reader, and he gave me a number of books when I was a pre-teen.  One was an anthology that covered poetry in English generally (so Dickinson, Shakespeare, Milton, but also Henry King and James Wright), and the other covered contemporary American poetry including a Denise Levertov poem that I adored. While I read novels, essays, plays and history texts throughout high school, I returned to these anthologies often.

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’m not sure it takes all that long to start a project, but it seems to take forever to finish. Of course, this is not the case for short individual lyric or aphoristic pieces, which come rather quickly and decisively, but for the pieces that make up a series the process seems rather protracted. I used to work more from notes (usually in a notebook and from scraps of paper, envelopes, etc.) and compose on a manual typewriter. Now I compose mostly on a computer.

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?
A poem can begin with a phrase or word, just a fragment of something, or it can begin with a full line. I usually work with the idea of a book or series in mind from the beginning. When I write occasional pieces, they are often short lyric-like poems or quasi-aphoristic text blocks. Sometimes they go on to live in another series, but some are candidates for being employed as part of a matrix for a printmaking or sound project. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m interested in exploring the idea of what a public “reading” can be, what it might look like other than a person reading into a microphone or from a lectern. I’ve always wanted have a reading of a short series entitled “The Difficult Nature of Contemplation” and place a laptop at the lectern (or better yet, in a chair, with a glass of water nearby, and a microphone) and play the accompanying sound project “the difficulty nature” instead of giving a live/spoken reading. Or, what would it be like to record a selection of texts/poems and play them in a loop while “the audience” milled around, sat in chairs, conversed, drank and ate, as if it were an art opening. Audience members could sit and listen to the loop, or chat, or allow any combination of these things to occur at once.

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 some ongoing curiosities. My current critical inquiries converge around fragmentation, artists’ uses of language, the tension between immediacy and emergence in encounters with texts (including artworks, performances) and experiences, and the ways that historical, rhythmic, spoken and visual aspects of the English language are deployed in contemporary poetic writing.  

For me, in poetic compositions, writers interact with language, sometimes in an attempt to make sense of the real, even if through the unreal or dreamlike, and in some cases to describe visual or aural connections to language, with or without the desire to express sense or meaning or to “pin” anything down. I understand poetry/poetics in multiple ways, as an open genre that accommodates lyric and narrative elements as much as it accommodates fragmentation, collage, systems, and chance. This openness also allows writers to engage the spirit of inquiry, and I think the questions are myriad. The critic Marjorie Perloff has suggested that the contemporary unit of poetry might be the page rather than the line. Following that thinking, I’m curious about where poetic expression might exist—on the page, in LED displays, in paintings, or in any number of screens and devices. This multi-planed understanding of poetry as visual, auditory, verbal and written allows me to incorporate both traditional approaches to writing and to explore the move from the line to the page, and from printed material to digital platforms.

Poetry is a medium through which practitioners of all levels may ask: what can a poem be? and how can a poem or act of poetic writing operate in the world? In what ways can ‘poetry’ be read and constructed out of fragments of the mundane: street signs and voices overhead on the walk home? How is that material transcribed, visually or through sound? What are some of the techniques employed in making a poetic writing work? And what are some approaches to writing poetry in the 21st century? How can methods taken from the long history of versification, from contemporary writings by Paul Metcalf or Jackson MacLow, and from contemporary art practices by artists like Johanna Drucker and Jenny Holzer generate useful ways of interacting with language? Further, what do (and will) new poetic territories look like? I am interested in these questions and how potential answers make an impact on the ways that poetic writing may be composed and considered, and in how language offers a platform (a medium) through which to translate critical thought into a formalized structure of some sort (an essay, a novel, a story, a poem, or image, etc.).

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?
I suppose that different types of writers will (and should) have different roles in society (and I’m really referring to American society, or a particular slice of it). Perhaps contemporary poetry allows writers to connect with their own capacities to shape words and language to reflect, manifest, or project the semblance of a fractured/fragmented whole as an object-like thing or idea to be considered in ambiguity. Perhaps it is suited to investigations of all types of conflict—matters of the heart, religion, war, political instability — and can reference experiences ranging from the individual to the communal to the universal.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Probably both. I haven’t had much experience with this in the recent past, but I worked closely with an editor on a project a few years ago, and her comments gave me so much insight into my compositional choices (as well as into some of my shortcomings). I spent a great deal of time revising Apologies prior to submitting it to Burning Deck, and before it went to press, Rosmarie Waldrop and I discussed certain aspects of the numbering system, the deliberate gaps, and I was happy to preserve the original numbers, but also I found the feedback invaluable; it helped me better grasp and articulate my intentions.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
CD Wright once wrote this word at the bottom of a short series that I turned in for review: “Onward.”  Indeed. 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry via collage and soundscapes to photography)? What do you see as the appeal?
It has seemed more natural than difficult, and done sometimes out of convenience, to move between poetry, collage, photography and sound recordings. I think the collage work is a sort of hermeneutic strategy/processing of what I’m “reading” around me, and that the sound work that I’ve done has primarily connected back to, or been an expression of, written work that I’d done before, as if the text begged to be translated into a different medium. Photography is usually something I pick up when I need to see (things in the world) differently.

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?
Typically, I get up between 7:30-8am, look over email, attend to administrative things—like obsessing over my calendar—related to my job, and then by 9:30 I am doing some form of class preparation or grading. I teach in the afternoons this term, so I go in to campus around lunchtime. If I am not teaching, I follow the same pattern, but go in earlier than lunch and have meetings or consult with students, and after a few hours I spend time off campus reading for the next class or working on curriculum or working on my own research/work. These days can be especially good for writing. I like to think and write in the afternoon or at night. My process has changed a bit over the years, as I’ve moved from manual typewriters to computer/laptop. I keep a document open over a period of time, and generally get three or four sessions of writing time in during the week. I’m a slow writer; sometimes I write two or three words (that I keep), sometimes a few lines or paragraphs, in a sitting. I sit in a chair and listen to music through headphones. I stare a lot. I sit in a rocking chair and wear my pants out at the calf. I attend to the advances of the dog until I get her settled under a blanket, and then I repel the advances of the cat until she settles on the back of the sofa, or, I fidget with things around me: papers, books, study debris.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Usually I turn to a different medium, like photography or collage.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The scent of coming rain.

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’ve always been curious about the way that music does or doesn’t influence my writing (process).
And I am inspired by visual art, from the Bauhaus masters (I wanted to be like Itten when I was in high school) to Barnett Newman, and from Jenny Holzer to Glenn Ligon, my work is deeply influenced by visual artists.

I started college as a music history major, and while I didn’t want to practice my instrument so much (I much preferred writing and writing and writing), I have always had a special relationship with music (Zukofsky’s “Lower limit speech/Upper limit music”). While I can’t remember everything I listened to in copious amounts while I wrote Apologies, I’m sure the list includes Radiohead, Tori Amos, Roxy Music, Neu, Shostakovich’s String Quartet’s, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie and Gnossiene, and William Byrd’s Masses.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Of the people I know currently, Sarah Jaffe, a musician (formerly of Erase Errata) and writer (first novel forthcoming from Tin House, 2015), and Kate Copeland, a conceptual artist working in printmaking, book arts, and alternative photographic processes.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
So much, especially light projections and multiple screen-based works.

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?
What’s it like to work in a think-tank? I wonder about that from time to time. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
compulsion. possibly hubris. later defeat. 

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje and Waiting for Godot. Film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A postcard series. And writings…more apologies, and something else still nebulous.

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