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?
My first 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?
I’ve always 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 my mind.
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?
My writing 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?
A project 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 with repetition.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
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 groups, etc.
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)?
Beautiful & essential.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be in the present.
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 for me.
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?
I’ve been 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?
Whenever I 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?
Bernadette Mayer. Stephanie Young. Asiya Wadud. Matt Longabucco. Renee Gladman. Gertrude Stein. Gilbert Sorrentino. Juliana Spahr. Silvia Federici. Sam Delaney. Adjua Gargi Nzinga Greaves. MC Hyland. Bhanu Kapil. Alice Notley. Jennifer Firestone. Lucia Berlin. Carla Harryman. Ian Dreiblatt. There are more but that’s a start.
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?
Pleasure and 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?
I recently 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?
I have 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.