Ben Purkert is the author of FOR THE LOVE OF ENDINGS (Four Way Books, 2018). His poems, essays, and book reviews appear in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Tin House Online, AGNI, and elsewhere. A former New York Times Fellow at NYU, he currently teaches at Rutgers. He's also the editor of Back Draft for Guernica.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
I think it changed the life of the poems more than it changed mine. Suddenly they had a place to live together!
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I read Anne Sexton in seventh grade and that did something for me.
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 tend to write first drafts very very quickly, then labor over them for months, sometimes years. Nobody gets off easy, I suppose.
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 tend to let the poems lead? Sometimes they naturally coalesce, sometimes not. I do know, however, that it's important that I not try to force anything. As soon as I have a vision for the project, I'm toast.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes! I love readings for a bunch of reasons, and one is that it helps me to revise. If I stumble over a line, or mumble it, usually it means I don't trust it. Alternatively, sometimes I can hear myself really projecting a line, almost crying it out, and that's one to keep.
6 - What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
They're the same questions we've always had to confront: How do we pull ourselves out of this mess? How do we imagine a world different from this one?
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 precise role... is to illuminate [the wilderness of oneself], blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place." - James Baldwin
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love it! An antidote to the loneliness inherent to attending to one's poems, not to mention the other obvious benefits.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Ben, stop revising the poem out of the poem." - Jorie Graham
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
I enjoy juggling lots of different writing projects at once. I think they inform one another, even if I can't exactly say how.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one?
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When I'm struggling to feel inspired, it usually means I'm not reading enough. It's like when the dashboard light starts blinking and you know you need more fuel.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I used to garden a lot with my dad. So anything having to do with the soil.
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?
Have you ever looked at Franklinite under UV light? There was a mine not far from where I grew up in New Jersey. I've never written about it, but I think Franklinite was kind of a big influence on me. Because how do you just go back to living your life, knowing that there's an outburst of color like that, just silently waiting for you, under your feet?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Too many to name, but here's a book I really love and want to share with others: Diving Makes the Water Deep by Zach Savich.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Ride a dolphin across an unpolluted ocean, thinking unpolluted thoughts.
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'd rather fail at writing poems than succeed at something else.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Imagination, or perhaps a lack of it.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
That word "great" has been ruined for me for a while. "Great" isn't great anymore. Maybe it never was.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm interviewing poets about how they revise! I'm learning a lot. It's my favorite thing.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;