Elisa Gabbert [photo credit: Adalena Kavanagh] is the author of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems, The Self Unstable and The French Exit. Her poems and essays have appeared recently in Catapult, Diagram, Guernica, Harvard Review, Jubilat, Real Life, Threepenny Review, and The Smart Set. Her advice column for writers, “The Blunt Instrument,” appears on Electric Literature. Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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 poetry that feels close to philosophy, in that it uses language primarily to construct and engage with ideas and the act of thinking as opposed to, say, images or narrative. But I don’t think I’m trying to answer questions. The thinking is an end in itself.
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?
It depends on what kind of writer you are. The role of the critic is to demonstrate good thinking. But the poet? I don’t know that the poet has any particular role in culture. I think art exists to create meaning, but it could be any kind of meaning. It doesn’t have to be “relevant,” or even lasting.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find prose much easier to write than poetry. It feels almost self-generating. It’s expansive, digressive, whereas poetry requires distillation. I can only write poetry in a certain mood, a certain mindset. Sometimes I go years without writing it.
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?
I have no real writing routine. I write when I can and when I want to, which is not every day. Usually late afternoon, when I’m done with my day job, or on weekends.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don’t have a problem with gaps in my writing. Not writing is part of writing. If you’re writing all the time, how do you have anything to write about? In fact, knowing that I’m eventually going to write about something, thinking about it and taking notes, but delaying the actual writing, is a great pleasure for me and seems to make the writing better.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of rain in the desert. I grew up in El Paso and was so sad when I found that rain doesn’t smell that good anywhere else. It’s not just basic petrichor – I think it comes from the creosote.
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?
Definitely science, because it’s so idea-dense. Going to museums, too, but it’s almost more the act of museuming than the art per se. Also parks, concerts, bars, trains … anywhere you see lots of strangers. And I like specialized vocabulary, any subculture that has its own lexicon. Chess terms, sailing terms. I like to write down names of paintings.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Rather than name specific writers I’ll just say novels. I don’t write fiction but novels are my favorite thing to read. I’ve read hundreds of times more novels than books of poetry. I wrote a little about why I love them so much here.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to Greece. And Egypt. Also, space! I would love to go to space. I can do without skydiving though.
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?
I already do have another occupation, but if I wasn’t doing that either, I’d like to be a casting director.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m writing lots of essays and trying to figure out how to make them into a book.