Tuesday, November 30, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Dani Putney

Dani Putney is a queer, non-binary, mixed-race Filipinx, & neurodivergent writer originally from Sacramento, California. Salamat sa Intersectionality (Okay Donkey Press, May 2021) is their debut full-length poetry collection. Their poems appear in outlets such as Empty Mirror, Ghost City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Juke Joint Magazine, & trampset, among others, while their personal essays can be found in journals such as Cold Mountain Review & Glassworks Magazine, among others. They received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mississippi University for Women & are presently an English PhD student at Oklahoma State University. While not always (physically) there, they permanently reside in the middle of the Nevada desert.

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’s difficult to think that my first book changed my life in any significant way. I know some folks expect something to feel different post-publication, but it’s pretty much the same for me: write, revise, submit, repeat. No glory. (But then again, I don’t think most writers do it for glory...) However, my most recent work, especially the poems I’ve written since my book was accepted for publication at Okay Donkey Press, is very different tonally than the pieces in my collection. Perhaps it’s a more “mature” voice, but in any case, I feel that the speaker (or speakers, rather) I write into my poems now view the world, and themselves, much differently than before.

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

I actually didn’t come to poetry first! Like many writers, I started writing fiction first, but it quickly became apparent to me that the genre was, well, too prosaic. Too many words, too much time wasted. I wanted narrative to be in my work, sure, but the narratives of fiction felt too constraining to me. Poetry was the next genre I toyed around with, but it stuck—it made the most sense to me. I also write creative nonfiction, but when I was first starting out as a writer about 8 years ago, I wasn’t too familiar with the genre. Now, whenever I have an idea that’s too long for a poem, I turn to CNF to meander a bit; I mean, the word “essay” does come from “assay,” to experiment.

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?

I suppose the best answer is “all of the above.” Sometimes I write poems very quickly, in less than an hour, but they usually take me several hours or a few days. Now, when I say “several hours or a few days,” I’m talking about the exact amount of time I spend writing a poem, not the in-between or break periods. With that in mind, it could easily take me, say, 10+ hours to crank out a “first” draft of a poem. But I suppose all the hours I spend on the front end ultimately mean I take less time on the back end, that is, during revision. Even after receiving lots of wonderful feedback on a poem from a workshop, for example, the revision period for that poem, at that particular point in time, might only be about 2 or 3 hours. I’m the type of person to meticulously craft something so that it appears pretty solid from the outset, but I still spend a good amount of time revising my work afterward. I’m just not, you know, somebody who can sit at a desk and sprawl; I’m always in the process of crafting my poetry.

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?

Poems almost always begin as small phrases I write down in the notes app of my phone (which I lovingly refer to as my “journal”). For example, I recently wrote a poem about balikbayan boxes, a piece that started as the word “balikbayan” in my journal. I wrote this word down right after I’d walked by an LBC. (To give some context, balikbayan boxes contain items sent from overseas Filipinos to their family and friends in the Philippines. LBC is a popular Philippine courier service with many branches in the US.) You can essentially apply this process to, say, 80 percent of my poetry. However, I sometimes work on longer, multi-poem projects, which, of course, require more advance planning. As for writing with a book in mind, I think I always do that! When writing my first collection, for instance, I always thought about which poems could appear in the book and how I could eventually order it. Lots of pieces didn’t make the cut, but I was always thinking about the final “product,” if you will.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love me a good reading! I’m such a natural performer that any attention I can get gives me energy and life. It helps that I’m an ENFJ (if you know your Myers–Briggs personality types), with the “E” meaning “extroverted,” so I thrive at public readings with other poets and writers. I also think that there are so many bad readers out there—really, even some of the greatest writers are terrible at publicly reading their work—so I always come to a reading with the mindset that (1) I don’t want to suck and (2) I want to give somebody an experience, something they couldn’t get on the page alone. I think the fact that I mainly write poetry helps, too, because it started many years ago as an oral art anyway.

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’d say theory is always at the back of my mind when I write poetry. Much of my first book, for example, dialogues with and reflects on ideas popularized by various philosophers and, more specifically, literary theorists. One of the poems in my collection ruminates on the mirror stage, a concept from Jacques Lacan. Another poem in my book is a direct address to Judith Butler’s earlier work regarding gender theory. Getting even more esoteric, I have a poem called “Jouissance” in the book that engages with Leo Bersani’s concept of the same name, as explored in his essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” I wouldn’t say I’m answering any particular questions so much as I’m extending these theorists’ lines of thought and, more than that, appropriating their ideas to reflect on my own sense of identity as a poet. Specifically, much of the theory-focused poems in my collection deal with facets of my intersectional identity: my queerness, non-binary gender, etc.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don’t think writers have a specific societal role. To me, writing is a very selfish thing—but not in a bad way! I’m so glad I have readers who enjoy my work, but at the end of the day, I write for me. Publishing my work is an afterthought, not the impetus for writing. However, if I had to think of one thing writers do well in terms of larger culture, I’d have to say that they provide representation in a way that helps to make the world a more empathetic place. Of course, it’s a more complex phenomenon than simply encouraging empathy, but if we didn’t have writers, you know, selfishly writing about their complicated identities or sharing their experiences, then people would be much more in the dark about others’ diverse perspectives, I think.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Definitely essential. The suggestions I received from the editorial team at Okay Donkey Press helped make my book an even better, well-rounded collection. We reordered some parts, added some poems, and took out a couple of pieces. I didn’t expect to receive such care for and attention to my poetry, but Genevieve and Matt at OKD gave me that and more. I understand the resistance to editors looking at one’s work, especially if one thinks the piece is “finished,” but trust me, they almost always have something helpful to add.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
This is tough because I tend to think about all the bad advice writers receive! But if I had to choose one thing, I’d say it was when I was reaffirmed that I didn’t have to write each day. I’ve never been somebody to write every day, so hearing another person say it was okay to do so when, well, I’d been told for a long time that “good” writers were putting in daily work was very uplifting for me.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Not that difficult, to be completely honest. I think poetry and CNF are incredibly alike; the latter simply appears in prose form. But even then, there’s so much experimentation allowed, and encouraged, in CNF that I feel at home when writing in the genre. I think poets and CNF writers are lucky in that regard. Of course, if a poet is writing really esoteric stuff that has no confessional or narrative elements at all, then I think it would be more difficult for that person to write CNF. However, that’s an edge case—most poets I know have at least tried to write a personal essay!

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?
Funny for you to ask this after I’ve already outed myself as somebody who doesn’t write every day! My answer, then, is that I don’t have a routine. Sure, I shouldn’t rely too much on moments of inspiration, but I do have some semblance of a structure in mind when I write. For instance, my bare-minimum goal every month is to write one full poem. Most of the time, I end up writing two, or even more, pieces in a month, so it ends up working out for me. Also, even if I’m not writing a poem, I still think and see like a poet every day, that is, I engage with the world, as well as with my interior self, in a deep, reflective way. This practice ensures that I always have ideas to write about and that my poems have fresh images.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe in writer’s block, so I don’t believe in, well, such stalls. I write when I want to, meaning that I don’t feel stalled or blocked when I’m composing. If I weren’t in the mood to write, I wouldn’t be writing anyway. Maybe this is a cavalier attitude, but I’m not the type of person to force something to happen. Of course, when I write in an academic or professional setting, I must compose at inconvenient times, so there might be some blocks there, but creatively speaking? Nope, I try to enjoy the ride.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I’d have to say petrichor, or the smell of rain on dry earth. I’ve called Nevada my home for many years now, which is the driest state in the US, so when it rains, it’s a memorable experience, replete with a memorable aroma. I’ve yet to find a candle that perfectly replicates this smell, so if you know of one, please let me know!

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?
Yes, all of the above! The landscapes of the American West, particularly across northern Nevada, are a work of art unto themselves and deeply inspire my poetry. In fact, my entire first book is set against the backdrop of the West, with deserts and mountains galore. I’ve also written poems directly inspired by ABBA and Orville Peck, as well as pieces that respond to scientific phenomena—like the formation of mountains via tectonic plate collisions or the Pauli exclusion principle in physics—or to visual art (I love me an ekphrastic poem!).

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Definitely Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, two women I have, literally speaking, tattooed on my thighs. (This was the inspiration for my poem “Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf Talk on My Thighs.”) I’m also inspired by Chen Chen, Ocean Vuong, C. T. Salazar (whom I proud to call my friend!), Janine Joseph (my PhD advisor), and many others.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d really love to visit Mexico. I’ve talked to my partner about this (in a casual way, of course), and he’s down to go as well. I’ve been reading lots of Silvia Moreno-Garcia books set in Mexico recently, and I feel an intimate connection to the country. Maybe it’s because I love the deserts of Nevada so much that, well, any other place that reminds me of home is appealing to me. (I also feel a strong connection to Australia’s Northern Territory for this exact reason.)

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?
Had I not pursued poetry, I’d probably be an art historian. I absolutely adore art, but more than that, I love learning about the sociohistorical context that surrounds a work of art, as well as the different artifacts the art dialogues with. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to study art history a bit anyway throughout my academic career, but yeah, if I didn’t love poetry so much, I’d put all of my eggs (or at least more of them) in the art history basket.

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

It was a boy! What a sappy story, right?! But seriously, I wrote my first “serious” poem at the age of 17 because I was in love with a boy. Ever since then, I haven’t looked back. In high school, that is, pre–being in love with said boy, I thought I was going to be a doctor or a scientist, and I took all the AP and honors science classes to prepare me for that career path. (I was good at them, too!) However, I’d always been good at writing, and I’d always liked to do it, so even if I hadn’t fallen in love with that one boy, I probably eventually would’ve switched over to writing—it just would’ve taken a few more years.

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

For the book, I’d have to say Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This novel knocked my socks off. It really turns the horror genre, specifically the haunted house subgenre, on its head. I was gripped by suspense the whole time I read it. I highly recommend this book to everybody—and yes, even to those who say they don’t like horror! As for the film, this is a bit tougher for me to say, but I’m going to go with Supernova. I’m a big Colin Firth fan, and while this movie features two straight men in a gay onscreen romance, I was captivated. Plus, I love that this particular film doesn’t center the couple’s queerness, that is, it’s about their struggles, and they happen to be queer.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m presently writing and ordering my second full-length poetry manuscript, tentatively titled Mix-Mix, a poetic exploration of my mixed-race heritage. It features a lot of reformulated archival text (like from my late father’s Asian Romance Guide to Marriage by Correspondence handbook), as well as reformulations of verbiage taken from my AncestryDNA Story. I also explore many topics related to my Filipinx ancestry that I haven’t written about before, so that’s exciting. I hope to have this collection finished in the next couple of years!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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