June Gehringer is the author of I Don't Write About Race (Civil Coping Mechanisms 2018) and I Love You It Looks Like Rain (Be About It Press 2017). She tweets @june_gehringer.
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 gave me the confidence to keep going. it brought me a small but loving readership. it made my parents really proud of me, which is probably the most important thing. my parents and i live in very different worlds, and i think it can be hard for them to understand my life. my first book was, in many ways, a gift to them, one of the few things that's truly mine that i can share with them. my recent work is more confident than my earlier stuff, and maybe a bit subdued by comparison. the early stuff has a lot of insecure bravado masquerading as maturity. try as i might to escape my voice, my work still has the same concerns, the same neuroses, the same humor as it always has. it just manifests differently from time to time.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
i fell in love with poetry in college. my whole life i'd been a fiction reader, and i wanted to be a fiction writer. i still do, really. but i had good teachers who assigned good readings, and i fell in love with poetry. i liked the funny stuff, the surprising stuff. mary ruefle, frank o'hara. I think most of my life i had a lot of misconceptions about what poetry was. all i'd been exposed to were the romantics and the moderns. The most contemporary thing i'd read in school was Howl, probably. It is probably unsurprising that growing up, i had no love for poetry, as most americans had no love for poetry. the second i started reading contemporary anything, something clicked.
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 depends. sometimes collection emerge at the end of years of toil. sometimes they come together in days or weeks. it just depends. sometimes a poem only needs one draft. sometimes it needs dozens over the course of months.
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 begins with a line, usually, a phrase that comes into my head that surprises me or shakes me up. something that makes me notice words again. my first book was a collection in the truest sense - it included all the work i had written and was proud of at that point in my life. my second book was written as a book. most of my future books, i would imagine, will be written with the entire book in mind. i'm very interested in the book as a form, maybe more so than i am interested with the poem. i'd imagine at some point i'll release another true collection, but that'll probably be years and years down the line.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I used to do a lot of readings. I spent about two months on tour in 2017. I probably did a total of 50-60 readings that year. This year my total is probably around 10. I used to love reading, before I felt like i had "made it" or whatever. the attention felt good. now that i feel i've made it, reading makes me deeply uncomfortable. the attention makes me uncomfortable. i think getting sober has something to do with that anxiety, as well. i don't "enjoy" it exactly but i think it's probably important to feel that discomfort and try to understand it. i think it's also important for me to physically take up space in certain rooms. probably.
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?
this is too much for me to give away, i think. i will say that i take a decidedly anticolonial approach to most things, and that my recent work is concerned with the fiction of the self. or something. i try not to think of the current questions. i try not to think of how people might situate my work within the context of the current questions. i'm just writing what i want to write. the questions i am trying to answer are my own, and i'm just answering them with more questions anyway.
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 think the role of anybody alive in 2018, especially anybody with money and means and white skin in america, is basically the same fundamental role of people everywhere throughout history: be good. it's really that simple. we're here to take care of each other and the earth, and we are especially here to protect the marginalized and disenfranchised among us. i think that all art is political and that anybody pretending otherwise is kidding themselves. i think that the political moment we're in necessitates decisive action. i think most moments do. i think we have a responsibility to each other. writers can mobilize, articulate, console. we can defend, canonize, or condemn. i don't trust writers who are too silent about their politics. i don't think everyone has to proclaim their Very Radical Politics all the time, but silence is a statement in itself. i thinking picking up the pen is a responsibility. i try to treat it like one, at least. we either fight oppression in its many forms or are complicit in its machinations, i think.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
i can't imagine my first book happening without alexandra naughton at be about it press. i can't imagine my second book without everyone at CCM, michael, janice, chiwan. im too anxious a person to be able to do all this stuff alone anymore.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
my friend amelia who co-runs tenderness lit with me once told my drunk weepy ass that not every bad thing that happens in the world has to be my problem, and i try to remember that.
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?
questions about my routine make me anxious. i'm working from home now and so far i haven't really been able to impose a routine on my life. generally i wake up late, stay in bed for several hours, and the day begins eventually. in complete seriousness, i have no idea when i wrote my books.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
i try to turn outward, toward friends. i like to take breaks. i like listening to kendrick lamar and mitski. i like smoking cigarettes. if i get really desperate i return to the handful of poems i have written and liked, as a reminder that i can do it. i try to think of my friends and get emotional, amped, inspired, teary-eyed whatever. anything to get words out.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
my mom made a lot of popcorn on the stove and so that smell reminds me of home. not the movie theater butter popcorn smell, though. the smell of super-hot oil in a stainless pot and a few burnt kernels. made that way, popcorn barely has a smell.
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?
my books have come from the people in my life.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
the list is too long for me to write and im 100% sure i'd forget important folks so instead i'll just say that the current generation of LGBTQ Asian-American authors is... incredible to witness and be on the periphery of. thanks y'all.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
i would like to have enough money to pay rent for all my friends for a year, pay for all their medical expenses, and pay off everyone's student loans.
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?
if i hadn't been a writer i have no idea what i would have been, but i'd like to learn to draw. it seems comforting.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
i don't really know why i started writing, or why i kept writing. probably i kept writing because when i was in school people kept telling me i was good at it, and that felt good. now, i don't know what else to do, and also i think writing makes me feel better for several reasons, some simple and some complex, and all of them too saccharine to explain at length.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
i'm re-reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It's a new classic, i think, a perfect artifact of the moment it was written in. i don't watch many movies. i fell asleep watching Howl's Moving Castle a few weeks ago. I love that movie. i saw a production of Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play at the Wilma in Philly recently, and it really rocked my world.
19 - What are you currently working on?
lately i'm working on just getting through the days.
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