Gregory Crosby is the author of Walking Away from Explosions in Slow Motion and Said No One Ever, and the chapbooks Spooky Action at a Distance and The Book of Thirteen. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Court Green, Epiphany, Copper Nickel, Leveler, Sink Review, Ping Pong, and Hyperallergic. In 2002, as a poetry consultant to the City of Las Vegas, he was instrumental in the creation of the Lewis Avenue Poets Bridge, a public art project in downtown Las Vegas. His dedicatory poem for the project, “The Long Shot,” was subsequently reproduced in bronze and installed in the park, and was included in the 2008 anthology Literary Nevada: Writings from the Silver State (University of Nevada Press). He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and teaches creative writing in the College Now program at Lehman College, City University of New York.
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 mother died six weeks before my first book was published so… That’s a change that’s difficult to put into words. My most recent work would, I hope, compare favorably to my previous work, but that’s not for me to judge; it doesn’t feel particularly different in form so much as content, as the last four years have washed over everything I write and seeped into all the cracks.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I am a failed fiction writer. For a long time, I was a freelance writer and critic; the grind of reviewing and producing features left no stamina for sustained prose writing, but a poem could appear in my mind and tumble out onto the page and be very close to a final draft in an hour or two. After a time, there were many, many poems and very few short stories, so I succumbed to the inevitable.
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?
It depends upon the project, though I don’t really think in terms of projects (most things conceived as “projects” sit, forlorn and wistful, in neglected Word docs). Poems come quickly, and are usually very close to their final shape—I’m a “first draft” writer in general.
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?
A poem begins with a line. Or a title. And I’m always working on a “book,” somehow, whatever I’m writing.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy doing readings because I think of them less as readings and more as performances. I will say that doing a reading over Zoom is, like most things, death by a thousand pixels.
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 more interested in better (or at least more intriguing) questions than in answers.
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?
The role of the writer is 1) to write and 2) whatever that writer defines, for themselves, as their role should be. Although whenever I come across this question, I think of Hawthorne: “The ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash.” (I suppose two out of three’s not bad.)
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Depends upon the editor. (Having been an editor myself, I am cursed with Strong Opinions about my own work.)
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find it very easy; so easy that I tend these days to stick to poetry. I mostly gave up criticism when I realized that while I enjoyed thinking and writing about art, and rendering judgments about it, I no longer cared about winning arguments. I think a true critic cares deeply about winning arguments (or at the very least putting forth arguments that extend the discourse). When I write critical prose now it’s usually just to express my love (and mystification) about a work of art (usually a film).
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?
I keep no routine beyond constant reading and constant openness. I’ve found I accomplish more by simply setting loose goals (write about that this week) than following a strict structure (stop looking at Twitter, you haven’t done your hour today).
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I no longer get stalled; if something’s not ready, I stop writing and turn my attention to one of my many obscure obsessions, knowing that whatever I’m waiting for will eventually return (if only I’d known this in my twenties…). I do occasionally, in moments of despair, have to remind myself what an artist’s life is—for that, I usually dip into Werner Herzog’s Guide for the Perplexed.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The petrichor of the Mojave Desert.
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?
Language comes from books, but the work comes from everything, absolutely everything.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Too many to recount. But John Berryman’s Dream Songs “saved my life” once, and Anne Carson showed me I could do anything at all in poetry. Also important: Camus, Arendt, William James, James Baldwin, and Beckett, always Beckett.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a finished novel. I wrote a pulpish potboiler years ago and abandoned it four chapters before the end.
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 could have very easily been an actor, a director, a cartoonist, a librarian. What I really should have been is a conceptual artist; what I wish I could be, if I had any ability whatsoever, is a musician; what I might become, if I had an ounce of discipline, is a magician.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Fate? Sure, why not: fate.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
As of last Sunday, John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The last great film I saw in a theater (alas) was Portrait of a Lady on Fire; the film I watched during this past pandemic year that most stays with me is The Vast of Night.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Sadly, inevitably, a manuscript that, so far, is a combination of poetry and prose about the pandemic (I know, I know).