Joan Naviyuk Kane’s books and chapbooks of prose and poetry include The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, The Straits, Milk Black Carbon, A Few Lines in the Manifest, Sublingual (November 2018), and Another Bright Departure (March 2019). She is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. Kane was a Harvard National Scholar, and the recipient of a graduate Writing Fellowship from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Inupiaq with family from King Island and Mary’s Igloo, she raises her children as a single mother in Anchorage, Alaska.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Writing and revising The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife over the course of 8 years changed my life in that it compelled me to survive, to step away from the autobiographical narrative line by line, and to move with language into language from language back into the imagination. My most recent work doesn’t yet have the same prosodic and sonic compression, struggles to get out from under the influence of glampoet production and performativity, tangles with autobiographical narrative line by line. It feels different in that the spare reticence that others characterized my first book is now a forced reticence. I am rather terse and embattled now rather than controlled, gracelessly direct rather than gracefully evasive, sentimental rather than cognitively-driven, and a perpetuator of pattern rather than an observer of it.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I lacked a narrative gift, and was unable to get a grasp on underpinnings of good fiction like character motivation, deft exposition of complex emotions, and dialogue. Literary non-fiction takes so much time and such a negotiation of dimension, relevance, and sustaining a reader’s (and the writer’s) interest sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph page after page after page. I had and have no idea where the story was/is going, at times I wonder if there’s any story there at all or just chaos. Poems, on the other hand, I continue to teach and re-learn, might be image-driven, dwell in good old negative capability, move from mind to hand to page through language and language only. And that latterly triplet is a helluva lot more manageable when you’ve an infant and a toddler, then two toddlers, and lots of diapers and very little time, space, and sleep.
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 forever to sit down to write. But when I finally do, it slowly comes quickly – far more quickly than I can physically keep up with. First drafts often retain some kind of essential architecture, but I’m having difficulty these days finding my line, and my formerly-copious (if brief) notes have been reduced to whatever I can tap my watch and beg Siri to create a reminder for, things that appear on my iPhone is “I say ally in an image,” or “The forest makes its own dark.”
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?
The books are working on me from the very beginning. They stomp into my mind as images, as lines, as a word whose etymology demands me to interrogate it, and myself. These little flickers of consciousness accrue into the light in the sky behind/beyond virga. Then I write like hell before the weather passes overhead.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I have been treated for performance anxiety with beta blockers since my childhood (I am a violinist), and readings, though at turns loathed and grateful for (when they go well, when they pay well, when they result in those humans in the audience crying, when I read the work aloud as I meant to utter it in the first place), are certainly part of my creative process now. I hate the performance aspect of contemp lit culture, I hate not giving a fuck how it goes going in as long as I get it over with. But hate, too, is a kind of enjoying.
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 am still rereading my undergraduate Clairefontaine notebooks (even though, as my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex-husband’s current attorney jabs at me every week with another reminder that I should be preparing my home for sale and should box them up and put them away along with my dreams of a happy and productive midlife of focus on my work and my parenting) of lecture and seminar notes from every brilliant encounter with Barbara Johnson. I had a blissful moment last month when one of my favorite writers sat in my backyard and indulged me when I asked them to take my iPhone and read to me about de Man and pharmakon from my Kindle app. My concerns remain: translation, phenomenology, gender, ecology, personhood. The contested.
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?
To survive. To help others survive. Yes. To survive and to help something and someone survive this grim Anthropocene.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It would be lovely, and is essential, and I seem never ever to have the opportunity. I love working myself as an outside editor, and I’m good at it. It’s difficult. If something is facile, I’m probably nowhere near it.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Your poems don’t have to make sense to your readers. Your poems do not have to make sense to you. You must just make your poems.
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 no longer have one. A typical day begins with checking Twitter as soon as my watch and phone stir me into wakefulness. I seek urgency and follow the weather of the day. I bring myself out of bed to nurture my children when they’re in my custody. Then I make my way down the list of legal and medical and administrative tasks immediately before me. If I have a moment to write, to think, to be alone or in generative conversation with literature of any kind, I’m in my new routine.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Jean Valentine. My ancestors. The land. The impossibly possible.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Water in the air, or snow as it scours the sky on its way down to earth, or decaying highbush cranberries. Or best and truest: Labrador tea leaves.
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?
Nature. Music. Painterly composition. Ivory carving. Ceremonial masks carved from (drift)wood. Computer science, networks, nodes, rhizomes.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Sherman Alexie. Sherwin Bitsui. Abigail Chabitnoy. Santee Frazier. Terese Mailhot. Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen. Tommy Orange. Joseph Senungetuk. Jake Skeets. Monique Sanchez.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Bring my children to King Island, to the Faroe Islands, to Hokkaido. Finalize my divorce. Have my hysterectomy and recovery over with.
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?
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The crucible of circumstance: writing was and is a responsibility I cannot escape. There are so few people who are born poets and have the good fortune to find their way through the world as poets. It’s in the life and death force that drive my every intention.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
19 - What are you currently working on?
Getting page proofs of SUBLINGUAL back to the publisher. Getting the final manuscript of ANOTHER BRIGHT DEPARTURE to the publisher, 12 days behind schedule, now. Writing and revising and refusing to abandon DARK TRAFFIC. Compiling medical records, affidavit responses, and tax records from the past 11 years, and reading these things as I dare in order to figure out how and if I can write a full-length memoir.