1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first full-length book came out at the very beginning of the pandemic, so I guess I wish it had changed my life more than it did. But that's not being generous enough -- having my first book out in the world has opened all sorts of doors for me, from readings to whole jobs. It's irritating, on a systemic level, that a printed collection is required to open such doors. But on a more personal level, it is exceedingly gratifying to see those years and years of work coalesce into an object that you can hold in your hands, that other people can hold in theirs and have on their shelves. Unlike individually published poems, a whole book has the time to make a series of arguments that are, to use the old cliché, greater than the sum of their parts. My first book taught me that, to a degree; my more recent work really takes it to ridiculous extremes. What I'm writing now feels both much more experimental (formally) and much more rhetorically coherent; if my first book seems like it's aiming for a kind of formal range or virtuosity, my new work is just like these huge weird blocky or spindly bits of texts that are all hammering home a big, almost academic-critical point.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
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'm in the fortunate position of having several ideas going right now; starting creative projects has always come relatively easily to me (starting scholarly ones, on the other hand, I find nearly impossible). I don't do a huge number of drafts of a given poem; I do, however, take a lot of notes. I tend to write a lot of single drafts of different poems and then discard whole drafts and start over; I tell my students that I'm a notorious "blank-page" reviser.
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'm definitely a "book" poet, though I suppose that always starts by being a bit of a "theme" poet, by which I mean I'll get stuck on a thing that I want to write about, and then write like ten poems about that thing, and sometimes that stops shortly thereafter (hence, for example, my chapbook BETWEEN) and sometimes it turns out to have legs. I wish, at times, that I could be one of those poets whose books are simply a series of only loosely connected poems. I'm not really sure if books like that exist anymore, so great is the impetus towards "project" books.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I adore doing readings. Adore it! If you are reading this, email me and ask me to read for your class/book club/friend group/rowing association! I'm not sure if I'd say they're a part of my "creative process," but I find them energizing and fun and an integral part of being a writer.
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?
For better or for worse, the writing I'm doing now is 100% theoretical concern. My current project grapples with the question of how our lives might be different if we allowed sadness and slowness to be a part of them; it takes an explicitly anti-capitalist (which is to say, anti-productivity, anti-speed, anti-consumable-happiness) stance. The real current question, though--not for me, but for everyone--is climate change. It's not something I'm currently writing about in a concerted way, though of course one cannot write about degrowth without also sort of writing about climate change. My next project is about steel manufacturing, though (see, I told you I'm a horrible "theme" poet) so it will be interesting to see how it comes up when I can finally get to that book.
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?
There are lots of different types of writers, and correspondingly different types of roles for them. For poets and scholars, though, there's a type of demonstrated non-instrumentality to our work that is I think (a) increasingly vanishing and/but (b) increasingly important to safeguard. Lots of people want to be artists because there's some idea of "freedom" in there. Is that ideological? Probably. But is there also some truth to the idea that it's hard to alienate the work of a poet or a painter. When you do, you get slogan-writing and graphic design, which are not the same things, though of course they can be very good careers. The role of the writer, then, is maybe just to demonstrate that we should abolish all careers. A strange thing about me is that I am very pro-professionalism and very anti-career. I do think they're separate.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I've not worked with that many outside editors, but my experiences have been good. My poetry editor, Mary Biddinger, is a marvel. She will provide exactly the amount of help you need on a given thing. Usually the process of publishing poetry is a pretty hands-off affair.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Learn to recognize the people around you whose actions are dictated by opportunism or other kinds of jobbery, and then proceed to avoid them to the fullest extent to which that is possible.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I cannot do scholarship when I am writing poetry and vice-versa. The two genres influence each other enormously -- I'm a scholar of experimental poetry -- but I can't do them both at the same time. I'm a one-hat kind of person. That said, when I am writing poetry, I am thinking about scholarship, and when I am doing scholarship, I am thinking about poetry projects. In that sense they're inseparable, but the work itself happens almost entirely separately.
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, like most people I suspect, am in constant search for the perfect routine. Right now, I'm finishing a scholarly project, and I write prose best in the afternoons. So mornings are devoted to walking and administrative procrastinating, and then I'll (hopefully) settle into writing after lunch. For poetry, it's the opposite -- I write it best in the mornings, so I'm going to have to change things up when I get back to it.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading in the general vicinity of what I might want to be writing about. Every time, no exceptions. Not just poetry, though that's a lot of it. The reason I have a current book project is because I found a PDF of Saturn and Melancholy on the internet and was so smitten with it I decided to write an entire book basically in response to it. That's it!
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I feel like my mom used to have a small bottle of White Diamonds lying around, and I'd bet almost anything that if I smelled that perfume again I'd be walloped right back to the suburbs of eastern PA. My other, adopted, home is central Maine, which smells unavoidably of pine.
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 those things influence my work, which sounds like a non-answer, but when your guiding philosophy is that poetry is just particularly intense noticing, it kind of doesn't matter what the focus of the noticing is. It can all become fodder.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The classic answer: too many to name! John Ashbery's work gave me my start, in a real sense, even though that "start" was at the very end of my MFA. W.G. Sebald keeps me going. Dionne Brand is constantly teaching me how to think. John Keene is not only one of the world's most remarkable writers, but also one of the world's most generous and thoughtful people. I go to Brigit Pegeen Kelly when I want to be astonished. And to Brian Lennon when I want to remember what's important. There's no end to this list, really.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
[Insert a bunch of deeply un-laudable personal ambitions here.]
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?
This was always kind of it for me, I think, though had my knees held up I probably could have been a ski instructor forever.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Being really shit at both team sports and acting?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just read Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers and it's just as devastating as everyone says it is. Last great film would definitely be Face/Off. I hadn't seen it until this past summer! It belongs in the Louvre.
20 - What are you currently working on?
See question 6, though I'm also trying desperately to finish up a scholarly book called The Academic Avant-Garde that should be out with Johns Hopkins University Press late next year. Catherine, if you're reading this: I'm working on it!