Friday, April 24, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Emily Brandt

Emily Brandt is the author of Falsehoodas well as three poetry chapbooks: Sleeptalk Or Not At All, ManWorld and Behind Teeth. Her poems have appeared in many journals including LitHub, The Recluse, and Washington Square Review, and anthologies including Inheriting the War and Brooklyn Poets Anthology. She’s been in residence at Saltonstall Arts Colony and was a 2016 Emerging Poets Fellow at Poets House. She earned her BA in Psychology, English, and Women’s Studies from Boston University, her M.Ed from Pace University, and an MFA from New York University, where she facilitated the Veterans Writing Workshop. Emily is a co-founding editor of No, Dear, curator of the LINEAGE reading series at Wendy’s Subway, and an Instructional Coach at a NYC public school. She’s of Sicilian, Polish and Ukrainian descent.

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?

It just felt really good to publish that first chapbook, and it felt even better to publish the first book. It's nice to have a tangible manifestation of my creative labor, in my hands and released out into the hands of friends and strangers. I don't know that my life has changed much, but it does feel different, feels grounding.

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

If I go back to my earliest notebooks and journals, since age 6 or so, they are filled with poems. I don't think anyone was reading poems to me, so I don't even know where I got such an idea, but they always made sense to me - their juxtaposition of tight economy of language with total freedom of thought, image and association. I find constructing a plot to be very laborious and have deep admiration, but no envy, for fiction writers. And full disclosure, reading The Artist's Way in my 20s sealed the deal for me, and that's when I applied to poetry school. 

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?

Well, it depends. I have one very careful long-term writing "project" involving sonnets about airplanes that comes with copious note-taking, brainstorming, and revision upon revision. Some of those poems appear in the anthology Inheriting the War, edited by Laren McClung. I both love and hate working like that, and it's taking me forever. The poems in my first book, Falsehood, are not part of a project, but came as individual poems which I eventually grouped together and did a sort of holistic revision. I kept some of the poems in the collection very loose, very sprawling and close to the first draft. And others are super tight, formally. I like vacillating between constriction and expansion. 

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?

On a lucky day, a poem will begin with a word or line that just comes in. Most of the time, I begin in some sort of meditation, either silent or with music, and write from what comes up. As for the second question, both!

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

As a Leo, I like giving readings. I like to vibe how an audience reacts to a particular poem or moment. It helps clarify for me that elusive concept that what I write has a receiver, and though that's not the priority for me when creating, I do really like to think about how things will land on other ears and hearts. Reading publicly helps with that. 

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 think a lot about binaries and how people/I internalize and interrogate binary thinking. I think a lot about intergenerational trauma, its methods of replication, and how to unravel it. I think about anger and how to let it be a teacher rather than a master.

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?

I don't think there's one role for writers, but I do like that writers tell a multitude of truths, and that hopefully those truths challenge some people and comfort others. 

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

I love getting feedback, and have experienced both hands-on and hands-off editors. For me the ideal is an editor who will give you lots to think about, but not make any demands. 

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

Focus on your purpose over any product or goal. Like for me, poetry is a way to connect more deeply to myself and to other people. If I focus on authentic connection as the goal, I make better (defined broadly) poems and find them better (defined broadly) homes.

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 write down my dreams most mornings when I wake up. I write every day every June. Other than that, my writing is really sporadic, in bursts and fits. I do really well when I go someplace specifically to write, like a cafe or Wendy's Subway. When I stay home to write, I mostly just play with the dog.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Meditation. Music. Walks. Writing prompts from friends.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?


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?

Yes to all of the above. I like to look at old maps, odd photos, shapes of plants. I like to listen to music while I write, but only sometimes.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I feel really indebted to the writings of Muriel Rukeyser, and/but/also all of the living poets whose work I like to bathe in.

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

Spend a year abroad.

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?

Witch. By which (haha) I mean healer.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I am doing something else! Teacher, instructional coach, occasional essayist, editor, tarot reader, yogi, amateur herbalist and reluctant gardener, collagist, resentful taxpayer, dog-walker, macaroni eater blahdiblah.

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

19 - What are you currently working on?

A manuscript called COMPOSITION that weaves together Gertrude Stein, the history of Bushwick (Brooklyn), and the pieces I know of my maternal family's immigration history.

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