Caroline Knox's [photo credit: Juliana Knox] tenth book of poetry, Hear Trains, has just appeared from Wave Books in Seattle. Her previous books are The House Party (1984) and To Newfoundland (1989), both from Georgia, followed by Flemish, Nine Worthies, Quaker Guns, and He Paves the Road with Iron Bars (Winner of the Maurice English Award). She has received grants and awards from The Fund for Poetry, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Poetry magazine.
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, The House Party (Georgia 1984) changed my life permanently, because its reality in my hands made me know that writing books of poetry was my chief job.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
As the eldest of four children, I was read to a lot by relatives from two generations. They read, so I read. I'm sure end rhyme is entertaining to children! Reading time was a wonderful game. Sound was enchanting. The poetry book needed no plot (as did fiction).
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?
Of course, it got easier to put together poems that felt like a real book, belonging together, as time went on. I can't remember a time that I wasn't writing poems. And I never wanted to write fiction! Poetry was plenty of work. These days when I put together a book, I often take out a poem or two or three that seem weak. This could tighten the book up.
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'm always working on a book, as well as on the poem in front of me.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I've done public readings from the beginning -- for decades. In grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it was UNDERSTOOD that you shared your work; you got up in front of the class and read it, and there was discussion. Almost always constructive. We all got used to it. Most of us enjoyed it.
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 don't think I have theoretical concerns beyond making each new poem as strong as I can.
I try always to put into my new work elements that I haven't used before: surprising new words I've learned, unexpected elements like odd names for products, or new trends. Where did Steampunk come from, for instance?
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?
Well, all writers are different, I hope! And we should each try to sound like ourselves the best we can (unless we are intentionally writing in the voice of an animal or a bird). I think it's often hard for a poet to write a good poem with a strong political message, or a poem that points out cruelty and describes it. Often the message overpowers the poem.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I've always had an excellent and diligent editor, and I'm extremely grateful.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
From James Hazard, my thesis director: Put into your poems material that hasn't been there before.
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 never not writing, even at the supermarket. I make notes there.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't get stalled.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Late fall frost.
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?
Other people's conversation. New slang. What poem could it go into?
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Nothing. I would just like to keep writing in the mode or modes that I'm in.
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?
A professional alto singer in a chorus.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I couldn't stop, and i don't need to. I had a husband and three children. Whatever we all did, my poet life was easily practiced.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Not great, but VERY good: Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov. This is a study in obtuseness and laziness!
19 - What are you currently working on?
12 or 20 (second series) questions;