Anna Gurton-Wachter is a writer, editor and archivist. Her
first full length book Utopia Pipe Dream Memory is out from Ugly Duckling Presse in 2019. Other recent work has
appeared in Social Text, Ginger Zine, Peach Magazine, Vestiges
and Deluge. She makes chapbooks with
DoubleCross Press and lives in Brooklyn, NY, a few blocks from the building in
which she was born. For more info @anna.as.metaphor & annagw.com
1 - How did your first book or chapbook
change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How
does it feel different?
chapbook, CYRUS published by Brenda
Iijima, changed my engagement in the poetry world from peripheral to poetry-is-my-life-what-else-is-there.
This was mostly through Brenda’s direct encouragement. My first full length
book, Utopia Pipe Dream Memory which is
just out from Ugly Duckling Presse, has already changed the way I think about
exchange, audience, communication, structure, freedom and community. The first
chapbook and the first book have some similarities, mostly in the way each
piece thinks about narrative and invocation.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as
opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
been drawn to experimentation and loosely defined borders. Those are found in
joyous abundance in poetry. The more a piece of art is left open to
interpretation, the more I feel I’ve been given permission to play with it in
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?
comes to me quickly and often doesn’t change much. The more I tinker the more I
tend to lose sight of the vision of it.
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?
will usually spiral outwards from an interest in a word, sentence, or theme and
then I’ll see how long that interest can hold. Often I’m trying to tie things
together rather than have stand alone pieces, because I like what time does
5 - Are public readings part of or
counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing
readings are helpful for me to get a sense of how I feel about a piece, how
done I think it is, just from evaluating the feeling of how it felt to read it
out loud. I tend to do a lot of readings and I get a lot from the experience of
sharing in other forms as well, with my friends over e-mail, in small writing
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?
At the heart
of a lot of my writing are my interests in intimacy, boundaries, feminisms,
study, attention, dialogue, animals, waste, learning and categories. Lately
I’ve been writing more directly about the unspeakable, what it is not to be
able to fully describe something, but I think traces of that are found in
earlier writing as well.
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?
For me the
role of the writer, as with any artist, is the role of giving an offering. That offering may be bound up with stress or
relief, but either way it is one of expansion, breaking open what one
previously thought possible.
8 - Do you find the process of working
with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
9 - What is the best piece of advice
you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be in the
10 - How easy has it been for you to
move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m not sure
I understand this question. I don’t view it as easy or difficult to move
between different genres, it is about the form matching the expression. It
doesn’t feel like a choice I can consciously make but one that the work makes
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 write a
lot on the train. Sometimes on my phone while I’m walking somewhere. Sometimes
I have a more formal writing group space or near my desk, but if I set out to
write I always start by reading for a bit first.
12 - When your writing gets stalled,
where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
working lately on a small chapbook of writing prompts that I’ve made. I hope to
be done with it soon so that people can enjoy it in conjunction with my book. I
very rarely get stalled or bored. More often my frustration is that I can’t
seem to get back into a very specific mode of writing that I had wanted to
return to. That’s why the advice to be in the present was so helpful to me.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
leave the country and return to Brooklyn there is a smell that doesn’t hit me
until I’m halfway back to my apartment. It doesn’t have a source that I can
identify. For me it is the smell of sidewalk and for a moment it is as though
Brooklyn hasn’t changed in centuries. Sometimes I wonder if I leave just so
that I can have that moment.
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?
Most of all
I would say I am influenced by filmmakers. I think I am secretly wanting to be
a filmmaker. My book, Utopia Pipe Dream Memory, is very much indebted to
thinking about the films of Peggy Ahwesh, Chantal Akerman, Hollis Frampton and
others. Music too. Oral Historians. Dancers. Conversation.
15 - What other writers or writings are
important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
16 - What would you like to do that you
haven't yet done?
Once I say
it, it will be even harder to do. I have to keep those desires to myself in
order to help them brew and then manifest.
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?
Well, I have
several jobs outside of being a writer. It might be fun to attempt relaxing and
chilling out more. I haven’t been doing too much of that lately.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to
doing something else?
friendship. These questions really seem like they want me to consider doing
something else with my time. I’ve had many wonderful mentors and teachers. No
doubt they are terribly responsible for my current state of being.
19 - What was the last great book you
read? What was the last great film?
finished Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection and am looking forward to
reading her other book Wayward Lives. Considering how much I think about the
unspeakable, I was blown away by how Hartman does a magnificent job of
articulating so much that is utterly incomprehensible while also acknowledging
this incomprehensibility. I recently
re-watched one of my all time favorite films, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. There are many things which remind me of this one time that I heard
the photographer Larry Sultan talk. I saw the movie Hustlers last night and it
reminded me of when Sultan described this moment of his life where he was
showing all of these photographs that he was taking of pole dancers in the
upside down position on the pole and how everyone’s response was about how
formally interesting they were and he how he was baffled that nobody wanted to
talk to him about the subject of these photographs and only wanted to place
them in formal relation. Isn’t it funny that people still think that is
possible? Anyway I felt excited about the movie Hustlers.
20 - What are you currently working on?
several projects in motion at once always, I’m fine tuning a second book
manuscript that I’ve been calling You Dog, working on that chapbook of writing
prompts, writing some poems to my friends like a poem I recently wrote for my
friend the poet Morgan Vo. Right now I was thinking about We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan a completely amazing book. In
one of the diary entries Sullivan refers to a part of town as “the freak
district” and I’ve been trying to write something that stems from those words.
Thinking about what it means to be a freak and what it means to be a district.
We’ll see if that goes anywhere.