Thursday, May 14, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lance Phillips

Lance Phillips has published four books of poetry (Mimer, Corpus Socius, Cur Aliquid Vidi, and These Indicium Tales) with Ahsahta Press, and a book of experimental autobiography (Imposture Notebook) with Blazevox Books. His poetry has appeared in New American Writing, Fence, Verse, TYPO, Colorado Review, and has been anthologized in Far from the Centers of Ambition: A Celebration of Black Mountain College and A Best of Fence, The First Nine Years, Volume I. His work has received an &Now award and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Huntersville, NC with his wife of 20 years and their two children, and works as a freelance writer for the health and wellness industry and will soon be teaching writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The publication of my first book made me feel lucky and connected, however tenuously, to a world I’d been away from for a long time but I don’t think it changed my life in any real way.

My recent work is a continuation of my previous work. The fact is the work is my life, by which I do not mean that it consumes my life but that it constitutes it. I feel lucky each time I publish a book.

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

I’m not sure that I did come to poetry first. When I started writing I was 19 or so and I wrote fiction and poems. I felt, and still feel, a huge urge to write fiction but the words keep getting in the way; which is where poetry comes in. I guess I liked that poetry is fast and densely made. It helped that I could write it on little cards and present them to my girlfriend, who, I’m happy to say, has been my wife for the last 20 years.

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?
My writing accumulates, on that I can count. From there I do sometimes set certain parameters for it, working on a piece of writing for 100 days or for a full year or writing 100 small poems in a month. Once I’ve finished the project I let it sit for 9 months to a year. Then I cut what doesn’t work. I maintain the original sequence of the writing and just remove the parts that get in the way, often these are my favorite parts. 

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction 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 tend to think of my writing as a continuous process. Given that I let accretion do its work. For me the construct “book” is rather arbitrary, usually it’s just a kind of shorthand for referring to a specific period of time.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I think public readings, usually, are an entirely different endeavor than writing. For me poetry will always happen on the page, hearing a poem read aloud is hearing a personality first and foremost.

I’ve been out of the habit of giving readings for a long time but have recently decided to try my hand at them again. We’ll see how that goes.

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 like to think of my writing as praxis in the Aristotelian sense, but I do think about the notions of time and memory a lot. What constitutes our notions of the body is pretty important to my writing, and the mythologies we construct around those notions.

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 writer is the same as it ever was to be honest.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I don’t find it difficult or essential. It has been helpful on occasion.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Something said to a teacher of mine, Jorie Graham, by a teacher of hers, Donald Justice, which she then conveyed to me in a conference when I was 22 or 23. “You must learn to give into the destructiveness of the poem.” I tend to frame it terms of trust though. The writing will always be smarter than you, if you doubt that then you’re a fool and should leave off completely, if you accepted it then you learn to trust that the poem is right, plain and simple. 

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’m up at 4:30 five days a week. I make coffee, pack my wife’s lunch and then sit at my desk, in the dark, and start typing.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
My writing has never stalled. I don’t really believe in inspiration; I believe in work.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The lilac securing the air outside my screen door at this very moment.

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?
Visual art has always had a large influence on my work. Also, whatever I’m interested in at the moment, whether that be a book on investment strategies or a history of the mirror (just now it’s a biography of Balthus), comes to bear on my writing in some way.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
R.D. Laing, John Dominic Crossan, Flannery O'Connor, Beckett, Susan Howe; too many others to list.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finish the memoir of my father I’ve been working on in fits and starts for the last 6 years or so.

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’ve always wanted to be a painter.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
For me writing has always been a way to get obsessive thoughts out of my head, a way to release them into the world, a way to exorcise them. 

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just re-read Bolano’s 2666, and am in the midst of Dogen’s Extensive Record and Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur all of which are pretty great. I don’t remember the last film I watched.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A project about mutually agreed upon falsehoods.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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