Tuesday, December 08, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kristina Moriconi

Kristina Moriconi is a poet, essayist, and visual artist whose work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Sonora Review, Brevity, Cobalt Review, Superstition Review as well as many others. Her work has also been selected as a finalist in terrain.org’s 2017 Nonfiction Contest, december’s 2018 & 2019 Curt Johnson Prose Award in Nonfiction, and awarded Honorable Mention in Juncture’s 2018 Memoir Contest. Moriconi’s work has been included in the anthology Flash Nonfiction Food, (Woodhall Press 2020) and her lyric narrative In the Cloakroom of Proper Musings was published by Atmosphere Press in August 2020.

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

I began working on this first book almost 28 years ago. I wasn’t “crafting” it at all. But, in handwritten journals, I was collecting snippets of my daily life. And I’m really glad I did because there are some things that I likely would’ve forgotten over all these years—especially the quote on page 67: “Prepositions are relationship words,” the oldest says. “They can never be alone.”

My recent work is a lot less conscious of rules or boundaries or genres. It feels freeing to write in a way that lets the work determine its form rather than the other way around.

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

I actually write (or have written) in all genres. And I am a visual artist as well. But I read more poetry than anything else. It is the lyrical sound of language that I’m drawn to, in every genre.

I can spend hours sometimes searching for a single word—because of the way it sounds. I read everything out loud as I’m writing so the musical quality of the language and the cadence are both super important to me. I guess that’s the poet in me.

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?

Most of my writing projects are works in progress for a long while. Big lumps of clay I keep adding to by collecting—or gathering, as I like to say—ideas and images and by doing extensive research. Only after I fill notebooks with crazy amounts of information so I even begin to carve away at that clay. Most of the sculpting happens as I transfer what I’ve written in my notebooks to the keyboard and screen.

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’ve started—I think maybe in the last year or two—to begin working from the idea or concept of a larger project. But I try to keep the concept fluid enough to shift direction as I go. Most times, when I’ve tried to pull together separately written pieces into something cohesive, I can’t seem to make those pieces coalesce.

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

In my mid-fifties, I have finally accepted and embraced the introvert in myself. SO, that said, readings are not something I necessarily enjoy. But I remember someone saying to me once, having shared my unease just before a reading, “How else is anyone going to hear what you have to say?”

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 am mostly interested in questions I have about the world—both my own place in it as well as the complex network of relationships surrounding me. And it is with those questions in mind that I search for ways to compose my answers—the goal always being to connect with others who might be asking themselves similar questions. I believe there are places where many of our stories link and overlap so I try to write in a way that makes room for the experiences and voices of others.

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 think the writer’s role in larger culture is one of bearing witness. Of giving language to what is observed and finding places to weave into those observations both personal reflection as well as outside voices found in research and inquiry.

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

I love editors and the process of revision. I welcome any chance to be able to see my work through the eyes of someone else, and I look at editorial feedback as an opportunity to improve.

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

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” This quote from Virginia Woolf was passed onto me by a writer friend. I copy this passage onto the first page of every one of my journals lately.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays to visual art)? What do you see as the appeal? / 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? / 12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I mentioned previously that I am a genre-shifter. Or perhaps genre-bender. But I didn’t used to be. For many years, I thought I needed to compartmentalize my work. And myself. That I had to be either a writer or a visual artist. And, if I chose writer, then I had to be either a poet or a prose writer.

It really wasn’t until I erased all of those labels or parameters that my work started to make sense to me, to grow and expand into what it wanted to be. It was freeing to exist outside of a box and to make things that mattered to me rather than things that were expected of me.

One of the ways I’ve broken the “rules” is to create poems and lines of prose by cutting up words from other texts or by erasing/blacking-out parts of other texts. This was actually how I discovered a way to assemble my book, In the Cloakroom of Proper Musings.

I’d found several terribly misogynistic books in my favorite used bookstore in New York City. Right away, I knew I wanted to get them off the shelves and turn them into something else.

I started with a book titled Beautiful Girlhood. I sliced apart the pages with an X-Acto knife. Sometimes I’d find one word alone or sometimes a short phrase. I cut out hundreds of them before I started rearranging. Juxtaposing. I found the word “cloakroom” and the phrase “proper musings” on separate pages but, by placing them beside one another, I had discovered the title of my book.

A cloakroom is what we called the closet in my first-grade Catholic school classroom. So, the school-related theme emerged with that single word. Then came the Google searches: What are the names of different kinds of schools? What are the components of a school building? What are its functions? Its associations and interconnections?

Since so much of both motherhood and childhood are processes of learning, this theme seemed perfect to me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I have moved around a lot in my life so far but I have always felt at home in a library wherever I am. So, I’d say it’s the smell of old books that offers me the most comfort.

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?

All of the above! Nature and visual art inspire me constantly. I’m definitely a visual person—always seeing patterns in things and being drawn to colors. I once saw a job posting for the person whose responsibility it is to name paint colors. Ever since then, I’ve challenged myself to do exactly that whenever I see a color that catches my eye.

Music inspires me in the way that it reminds me of specific moments in my life. On page 19 of my book, I mention the Rusted Root song, Send Me on My Way. So, on my website (www.kristinamoriconi.com), I created a Spotify playlist to go along with the book, many of those songs having taken me back to the experiences I write about.

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

Mary Oliver will always be a writer I turn to when I need to be reminded of what language can do and how close observation of the world around me can offer new perspectives.

I also enjoy reading the words of visual artists. One of my favorite books to open to any page is Van Gogh’s collection of letters to his brother Theo.

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

I want to take a road trip with my husband from coast to coast and back again, dipping our toes in both oceans. I also want to learn how to play the piano.

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?

I’d either be a documentary filmmaker or I’d like to make things—like furniture—out of reclaimed wood and other recycled materials.

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

Books. I read constantly as a child. My grandfather and I used to go to the library or the Book Swap together every week. When I first read the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.Frankweiler, I wanted to be Claudia, the girl who ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I also wanted to be E. L. Konigsburg, the writer who imagined this gripping story and gave it words. 

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

The last great book I read is the one I’m still reading (and I don’t want to end!): Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. And the last great film is one I’ve watched several times already: The Secret Life of Lance Letscher, a documentary about an Austin-based collage artist. His work and his work ethic inspires me so much!

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a series of collages that have a somewhat political/social justice theme. I’m combining words + images from volumes of old encyclopedias and old children’s primer books.

I’m also in the very early “gathering” stages of a new writing project. It is about disbelief. And waiting. And grief. Or at least that’s what I think it’s about.

12 or20 (second series) questions;

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