Saturday, March 28, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie Anderson is the author of three books of poetry, most recently the If You Love Error So Love Zero (Trembling Pillow Press), as well as several chapbooks. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Bone Bouquet, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Guernica, LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory,, Posit, the tiny, and elsewhere. She co-edits the micropress Projective Industries and currently lives in Singapore.

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 was In the Particular Particular, from DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, in 2006. It had the double effect of both validating my sense of writing as my "vocation" and making me interested in becoming a publisher myself. My most recent work is a collection of poems written through the lenses of pregnancy, postpartum, the news cycle, and living in China; it's similar to that early work in that it remains committed to form and linguistic playfulness. But it's written by a speaker who has a very different sense of what the "personal" is, and what lyric's audiences might be.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Length! I'm joking but also not. I used to write in other genres--I still write in other genres!--but when I would write fiction I would walk around in that world, and it was hard to do anything else. With poetry I felt (and still feel) more in a constrained time of making: like maybe I prep class, or feed the baby, or write some email, or work on building the poem, and it's one accomplishment of the day. Admittedly, the items on this list aren't equal--the time of poetry-writing is intense.

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?

The process really varies from project to project, depending on constraints, form, and so on. That said, for me lately, I think the biggest moment of suspension (the waiting for things to gel, or for my sight to clear, or whatever form of sensory attention and distillation you want to put here) comes when I've generated enough content to begin to shape it and am working toward seeing that shape. This moment feels slow, that's why I call it a suspension, but in terms of real time I'm not sure it's especially quick or slow.

I'm fumbling here. Partly because the circumstances of my life have become such that writing occurs in smaller increments, more frequently, grasped and darting and fought for dearly, so it's hard for me to answer this question. I used to sit down and not get up until I'd really drafted something, or get up only to pace around my apartment, alone. Now I write some silly shit at 1am in a WeChat memo to myself in the space just after a small human has gone back to sleep, I write material for something (not even a draft yet) in a journal in a 10 minute break, I go about doing writing in ways that are more improvisatory and I am not sure I can clearly state what that process looks like. It pleases me: at this moment, writing and reading are tethering me to myself. But they are always, always on the fly right now.

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?
It varies. If You Love Error certainly began as pieces/series, whereas some of my other books have been "book projects" immediately. I do like setting myself constraints (Lands of Yield is entirely in syllabics) and making things more difficult, and I also like shifting those constraints/difficulties as I write myself into a project, so that I'm always challenging myself. I don't always mean formal constraints; lately "I" find myself trying to admit things or use sentences in a way I haven't previously.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Oh fuck no. I mean, I love having done readings, and talking to people after readings. And I don't dislike a moment during, the one when I realize I will actually live. But before the reading, on the day of, I cry and question all of my life choices. This is not exaggeration.

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'm always having big feelings about time (where here feelings are theoretical concerns that haven't been robustly articulated yet?). My partner said something to me a few months ago: "I don't think people remember as much about their lives as you think they do." Writing is for me often the thing Socrates frets about in Phaedrus, a compensation machine for a bad memory. But re: questions: oof. My "creative" mode is not separable from my "scholarly" one but at the same time one of its pleasures is not having to put things in this frame. Who are we talking to? How can language let us imagine a world differently?

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?

Oh this one's a doozy. I mean, can it be to write? Is that glib? I think I'm being sort of serious -- the writer can have many different kinds of public roles, and can be imbued with various expectations/meanings in different cultural contexts -- that's all well and good. And it would be nice if writers were all good people, and some were ludic, and some were vatic, and some were solitary, and some were community-oriented, and some were empathic. But to me there's no obvious public role for the writer. Ideally, they aspire to produce texts that allow us to see the world differently, and to imagine other possibilities for the world.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven't done this much in my creative work, and would love to do more of it. In my scholarly work it has been essential; I have trouble seeing the middle register of an argument sometimes and identifying the stakes.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Leave something for tomorrow.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
It's... not all that easy. I like the idea of working on all the projects at once, pivoting back and forth, and am always working toward that model, but it's probably a mistake. But on the today when I'm typing this sentence, I've done a little bit on several things and I feel very satisfied. Part of the appeal of moving between genres is having to express ideas or things vaguely intuited in different ways.

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?
Hahaha. I have a routine when I can; when I can't, I just try to get time to write. Right now, I wake up and care for children and do Duolingo and care for children and the moment I can I read or write, and then I do those things all over again in other orders. I have sometimes written in the morning, which I love. I have sometimes written in the evening, which I love. I have, on a few occasions, written in the middle of the night.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
To memory. To sensory experience. To dreams. To the minutiae of the everyday.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Sulfur and woodsmoke. That's one version of home, anyway. I'm constantly re-configuring my understanding of "home."

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?
The moment when I realized that I could use some of the skills I'd acquired as a child musician in my writing was a really important one for me.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Bernadette MayerTheresa Hak Kyung Cha, Joe BrainardMarilynne Robinson, Susan Howe, Gwendolyn Brooks, Larry Eigner, Gertrude Stein, so many others, and my friends.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a novel, learn to better identify trees, go skydiving.

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?
Lately I think about having been a book designer, but I probably would have kept doing non-profit work of one sort or another. I mean, I'm a teacher now, but I could well have become a different teacher.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Some combination of temperament and misplaced ambition and overactive imagination and sensitivity.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Stefania Heim's Hour Book, Lupe Gómez's Camouflage (trans. Erín Moure). Erm, films have been... rare, lately.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Spies in the Audience, a collection of interviews with women involved in small-press publishing between the '50s and the '80s. Ash for Snow, a novel-in-verse. All this Thinking Grammar (tentative title), the complete correspondence of Bernadette Mayer and Clark Coolidge (co-edited with Kristen Tapson). The Magpie Letters, a manuscript of poems that's just about finished. Dating the Poem, a scholarly monograph. A picture book about Cassie the Cicada who wants to sing. The caretaking of very young children. Reading, breathing, doing free zumba classes in Singapore's HDB courtyards in the evenings.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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