is the author of Dreams I Never Told You & Letters I Never Sent (Gold Wake Press). His poems have appeared in Bateau, Jellyfish Magazine, Meridian, Figure 1, Sporklet, and other journals. He is a freelance designer living in Albany, NY. David can be found online at davidwojo.com and on Twitter @MrWojoRising.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It briefly changed my confidence. For a whole day I felt like I could write poetry. It did show me that there was some hope for my work, which meant a lot. It also allowed me to teach a workshop here and there. Now it kind of functions as a reminder to keep trying, keep writing. As far as it how it compares to my new work, I feel like there’s a tonal similarity because I am who I am. In my new manuscript, there are poems that directly echo and respond to poems from the first book. The composition is all different though. And these new poems feel like they’re trying to be more open—perhaps unsuccessfully, but, still, more open than the first book.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My high school was lucky enough to have a literary magazine elective thanks to a very dedicated English teacher, so my interest for poetry probably started there. Then in college I was lucky enough to meet people like Bruce Smith and Michael Burkard who just further kindled that interest in poetry. It came down to, I’d love to write a novel or a movie or a play, but there’s a freedom in poetry that I think makes it difficult for me to write in another genre. Though, I am trying.
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 actual writing of the poem is quick. Mostly because I use exercises I make up for myself so that I can get something out on the page. With my first book and early writing, first drafts definitely looked very similar to the final one. I used to be terrible and editing my work, mostly because I was worried I’d edit the heart of it but also because I felt being in a different head space editing it than when I was writing it was going to make editing impossible. I might change “the” to “a” and call it a day. Recently, the past year or two actually, I’m spending more time cutting lines and looking for some semblance of clarity. I’m really trying to figure out what a poem might be trying to say before I call it finished.
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 begins early in the morning at the computer soon after waking up. I don’t have a plan in mind when I start writing or when I finish. Usually I know when the poem is over, I put it away, and then when I have a good amount of poems, I begin looking at them with new eyes. Then, hopefully, they become a book. Though I have finished an erasure project that was definitely intended as a book and recently started a new one. So sometimes there’s the idea for a book at the start.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love them and hate them. I get excited that I was asked to read and it sounds like it’ll be a hoot so I’ll even promote it a lot, but then the whole day of the reading, the hours leading up to it, I’m a wreck. They are a lot of fun though, despite the terror. As far as being a part of the creative process…not so much. Unless someone gives me some feedback afterward I guess.
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?
The big question my poems are trying to answer are “Why am I this way?” which is, luckily, a question I think a lot of people struggle with. Writing poems has become a way for me to explore my own subconscious (since they come from a kind of automatic place) and maybe trigger memories I forgot existed. What I’m working on now very much feels like an exploration of self and what it means to be a person and be among people, what it means to exist in the world.
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?
That’s totally up to each writer. A lot of poets and writers seem to be able to respond directly to what’s currently happening in society. They have something specific to say and they go about saying it. They hope to change or bring awareness. I admire that. I wish I could do that. It feels more relevant than what I do since my work is so interior. Does a writer need to do that? Only if they want to. For me, a writer’s role should be to reanimate the world and its languages, to allow readers to find something in themselves that they didn’t know or forgot was there.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I loved working with my editor at Gold Wake on my first book. I always appreciate a new set of eyes that can help me understand what it is my poems are doing, to help me see things I didn’t realize were there. It wasn’t difficult at all, but I totally understand how it could become so.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I don’t want to misattribute this, but I’m pretty certain it was a professor at Syracuse who told me that in workshop, when you’re being told something you do isn’t working, that might be the thing that makes your work your work, so you should do it as much as you can until you develop it to a point where suddenly it works.
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 have a sporadic routine. I’ll write every morning for a month or three months, then I’ll stop for a year. It’s a terrible routine. It’s one reason I’ve been getting into erasures; so I can write more often without “writing.” For instance, the poems in the manuscript I’m working on were all written during the summer of 2018. Since then I’ve written very, very little outside of two erasure projects. When I am writing, typically I wake up around 6am, go to my computer, turn on some ambient music, and write for 15 minutes or so. I like writing before I’m fully awake. Before my brain has a chance to process all of my daily worries and insecurities. Then I put that poem away for at least a month before I read it again.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The poet Michael Burkard introduced me to ekphrastic writing way back in undergrad, and that’s something I still use and, in turn, introduce my own students to. If I’m desperate to write and nothing is coming, I’ll turn to various art blogs and collections to see if anything sparks a line or phrase or idea. Whenever I’m in a new city, I love to wander their art museum. I wish I lived closer to a great one. In a museum, you’re just fully immersed in creativity, so it’s hard to not walk out of one without at least a line or two for future use.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My immediate thought was sauerkraut. I’ve been overthinking this question. It doesn’t say “what is the only fragrance,” so I’m going to go with sauerkraut since it came into my head first. My dad made it once a year, for his work Christmas party, but it is such a distinct and awful aroma that would fill the entire house.
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?
As I said earlier, visual art is a big influence for me, but not the only one. People watching, hiking, space…a lot of things end up influencing my work whether I know it or not.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Finding Russell Edson’s The Rooster’s Wife in college really changed what I thought a poem could be, and I adore his work to this day. Mark Strand’s work was the first time I truly saw myself in poetry. Other favorites include James Tate, Vasko Popa, Chris Kennedy, Michael Burkard, Dara Wier, Mary Ruefle, Zach Schomburg, and many, many more. I’m not sure why I stuck to just poets, so here are a few fiction writers too: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shane Jones, Samanta Schweblin, and Lydia Davis.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I have a novella I want to write that’s a creation myth. I started it in 2012 but it got away from me and I’ve been meaning to return to it for years. I’d also love to write a comic and/or a children’s book. I’d like to see the Grand Canyon. And time travel. I’d LOVE to time travel.
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 graduated from college with a degree in advertising, so had I not become more interested in poetry, I’d probably still be writing copy for Applebee’s and MasterCard. That’s still technically writing though. Working in stop motion animation would be a dream. As would being a Master Builder over at LEGO.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
My dad took me to the library once or twice a week when I was a kid so I could check out stacks and stacks of books. That’s probably where it started. I always loved being creative, but I think I gradually lost confidence in my abilities as a visual artist, so I kind of fell into words and decided to make my home there. After that it’s just a series of having teachers that introduced me to interesting books and writers, gradually stoking that interest.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m only going to include a book and a film that were recently new to me (no second or third readings/watchings). Sarah Sloat’s Hotel Almighty blew me away this past year. I have a thing for very very short poems, and these erasures totally functioned on that level and were haunting and open to possibility and micro stories behind the page. Then there’s the erasure aspect and this book is a little master class in what an erasure can (should?) be. I was engrossed in how she put each of these together through collage and colored pencil and stitching. They are each a work of art. Movie-wise, it’s Palm Springs (available on Hulu!). I’ve loved Groundhog Day since I first saw it as a kid, so to see this movie which is at once similar but also wholly its own new thing was a joy. I’m a sucker for time travel or time travel adjacent movies.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I have a second manuscript of poems that I just got together and would like to start sending out. There’s also a manuscript of erasures of cowboy poetry that I need to tidy up. A few years ago I bought a novelization of Ang Lee’s Hulk at a library book sale and it recently became my new erasure project.