Sunday, April 19, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Diana S. Adams

Diana Adams is an Edmonton, Alberta based writer with work published in a variety of journals including Fence, Boston Review, Drunken Boat, Fogged Clarity, Poets and Artists, The Laurel Review, Ekleksogaphia and many more. Her work has been included in several anthologies including the 2009 Rhysling Anthology. She was a finalist for both a Rhysling Award and The CBC Prize for Poetry. Her third book of poetry Hello Ice was published by BlazeVOX BooksCorrupt Press published her chapbook Catch. Larry Fagin published a Lights On The Way Out chapbook in 2014.  Lights On The Way Out the full manuscript was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. Diana is a two-time semi-finalist for the Tomaz Salamun Prize for Poetry. Best American Experimental Writing published three poems in 2016. 

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

--The first book did not change my life, of course. It did introduce me to a certain unease (I would talk to Reginald Shepherd about this), work that is so close and elemental, exposed ---out there. At First, there was a rush of affirmation and then a strange, nervous, mixed feeling that I’m now used to living with.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

--Poetry came to me, in grade 6, as a gift from elsewhere. A visiting poet came to the classroom, did some ‘exericises’ and chose three of us to work with for the rest of year. Not to get too heavy, my mother was dying at the time, I was fine, but full of currents I couldn’t understand or manage. Poetry (particularly Keats & Coleridge) was the world of art I could relate to, go in and get beyond things (if that makes any sense). Also, it was really helpful to feel ‘selected’ or ‘good’ at something for a change.

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?

--For poetry, I work poem by poem, without a project in mind. I usually have a few on the go, tinkering after a few days of letting it ‘marinate’ (Larry Fagin’s word). I write the beginning words, and first draft in pencil, then print it out and work on it many times more. No notes involved, just flights of words usually, and lots of doodles.

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 remember the Martin Amis Paris Review interview really resonated with me, it was when he said  ‘You follow your nose’. A poem begins that way for me, a fascination of words, a curiosity that itches, drives it. ( Martin Amis also has some funny things to say about poets driving)

Also, I’ve written two novels, a novella (To The River) and the same process applies—no detailed scheme, just an idea & an image, a blindfold and a dream with an attached marathon to get it working.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

--I started to get published right when I had three children at once ( 3 beautiful girls, 14 months apart), so the work (outside of the kids obviously) was all that mattered to me. I did some recordings here and there, but I have an awful reading voice, combined total fear of public speaking. But hey, I’d do it now probably, if necessary, it might be good for me. Poetry is alive on the page for me, readings are great—but secondary to the page.

7 – What do you see the current role of poetry being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the poet should be?

--I’m trying to come up with the right answer for this question, I’m clearly not an academic—but I’ll go a roundabout way and try not to sound like an idiot . ‘There is another world, and it is in this one’ Paul Eluard. A better one? Words used in everyday use are the dominant staple or landscape, the only view, with glimmers here and there, for a majority of people who proudly say  ‘I don’t get poetry.’ It’s depressing. If words are fundamental, shouldn’t everyone appreciate the dedicated and elevated use of them ?  I try to relate this to other arts: Do painters have to answer the same questions? Not really.  People readily accept that paintings are different than the paint you paint a house with. They hang them on the walls. No one asks ‘Why did you put yellow in the corner like that? Gee, I find that shade of blue really offensive to my ethnicity.’ It’s vastly different for poetry—words are on the hook at all times, probably because they have so much power or magic or difficulty.  I wish I had the right answer, or even a good one. Ask Dante Alighieri, or Hegel.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

--I have so, so, hugely benefitted from having worked with some great writers and poets, some who then became close friends. They helped hone my work (see the part about having three children at once), see it in perspecitve, I needed a sounding board of somekind to get my work in shape, to get it on track. A pat on the back here and there too, it really helps.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)

--Yeah, Larry Fagin (again). Stick to the art. That’s it. It’s the work that matters, be inquisitive, rested, work hard. Ignore the distractions of doubters and blatherers, don’t worry about readings (he once arranged the worlds shortest reading), writer politics, what’s new etc. Oh, and from Austin Clarke-- Austin once threw a book at my head (gently) ‘You have what it takes, and a serious, moral responsibility to sit down everyday to do it’. He was angry, grumpy maybe, but I’ll never forget it.

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 start work early early, just because I’m wired that way. I catch a few lines, expand, and then have to jump into reality, get kids off to school, etc. I usually exercise, work out my demons, walk, do chores and then get back till lunch, do ten billion other chores (see Laundy Theory) do some reading, fight napping, then pick it up again in the late afternoon. Writing is a way of life, I sneak it in at all times. Pushing as stroller around with a few poems in my pocket was how I could be a happy, flourishing, ungrumpy mummy.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
-I work on something else, usually experimental work, cut-ups, homophonic mistranslations, pied poems (Oulipo based)—it opens up worlds of surprise, juxtapositions. It generates the delisciously impossible. And, I just started painting, it is like visual back-up poems.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

--Home, hmmm well, I can’t think of a fragrance, outside of dust, onions. Coffee I guess?

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

--I feel at some point I need to take on a novel in verse, with experiment& vitality & obsession, the attempt to take on the beautiful impossible. It’s a dream, I guess. But Walcott did it, Anne Carson too (sorry there should be a list here, not a long one)

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?

--I’m in the camp that occupation (making money to live) can be separate and delightfully opposite to ‘being a writer’. I went into banking (don’t shoot me), after the guy moving into my dorm room, said ‘Go into banking, you get benefits, a good salary, and chance to talk to lots of people!’ I was on my own, a bit lost, needed an apartment etc. I started as a bank teller on Bay Street, just walked in and asked for a job,  but somehow moved up and ended up in Treasury as money market trader—I felt like an imposter there, I loved it. I wrote a lot then, in the morning, at night, even on the trading desk & tried to be normal otherwise (ha).

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Knaussagaard’s books, My Struggle, all of them. Also, Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp, by Jozef Czapski.  Last film ( I watch a lot of films, thanks to Netflix, and lack of social life), I recently rewatched Solaris, by Andrei Tarkovsky.

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