Friday, June 17, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Greenspan

David Greenspan is the author of One Person Holds So Much Silence (Driftwood Press). He’s a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi and earned an MFA from UMass Amherst. His poems have appeared in places like Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Prelude, and others.

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?

I published two chapbooks with micro presses years ago, but those are long out of print. So, this feels like my first long-form publishing experience. It’s kind of amazing to think my thoughts, anxieties, and obsessions may find their way into random people’s hands. That feeling alone is enough to momentarily change my life. On a larger scale, One Person Holds So Much Silence was my MFA thesis and represents three years of reading, writing, and being in conversation with other writers and thinkers. In that sense, the book hasn’t so much changed my life as serve as a record of that life.

My more recent poems feel more associative. I’ve started to give up a bit on narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I love narrative. I love to read it and find it hard not to incorporate it in my writing. Giving up a narrative coherence, which is to say a literal and linear coherence, in favor of sound, image, emotion, and experience, though, is what I’ve been trying to do lately.

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

Through spoken word poetry, open mics, poetry slams. After a couple of years of trying, and failing, to be a good performer, which is to say using performance to deepen the written poem, I admitted I was much better suited to writing full stop. I haven’t looked back since.

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 a slow drafter who needs lots of time and revision to get a poem from “initial cool idea” to something public facing or publication-ready. That said, sometimes a poem will just come out fully formed, or very close. Those are the best poems and their memory keeps me writing when everything else about the process drags. I also tend to get hung up on line-by-line concerns. I’ll spend too much time trying to get one individual line to stand on its own, independent of the lines before and after it. That definitely slows down my drafting process.

On the subject of notes, copious or otherwise, I took a workshop with CA Conrad where we used ritual to write poems. We took notes during these rituals and the resulting poem (the third section of my book, “A Poem to Pass the Time”) was built from those notes. Since then, I’ve been asking myself at what point the notes become the poem. It’s kind of wild to consider and takes some of the pressure out of approaching the page.

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 almost always start with a line or image and build from there. My experience on larger projects – books, chapbooks, longer poems, or even suites of connected poems – is that they’re the same. I’ll start with a poem, add more poems, keep adding poems. After a period of time, I’ll see what I have and start cutting. The project takes shape from there. What poems connect? What poems are interesting but not right for this particular frame? What poems aren’t working at all? And so on.

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

They used to be, but no so much anymore. Part of this is my intense dislike of being the center of any sort of attention. Please do not perceive my corporeal form. This dislike was almost certainly born from my fumbling experience doing spoken word. Performance is an art and one I’m not very adept at! That said, readings are important. They’re a way to build community and sociality around the intensely private work of writing. I like attending them and getting to talk to poets and writers afterwards.

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 didn’t have any theoretical concerns until I started reading Sean Bonney. His poems are so direct, so powerful, and make such graceful use of thinkers like the Situationists, that I had to find out who they were. That led to reading more classical Marxist texts. I hope I’ve incorporated these concerns – political economy, cultural criticism, literary criticism, questions around gender and classification/hierarchy, ecological theory – into my poems in a way that mirrors Sean. That is to say I hope I’m not being didactic.

Along those lines, I don’t think I’m answering any questions in my poems. The question I’m left considering as a result of reading and writing, however, is what it means to be a human alive right now and all that entails – existing within an unfolding and expansive set of capitalist social relations, how to push against those in my life, how to be in conversation with other writers and thinkers attempting the same, how to slip past the commodity form, etc.

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 a writer’s role has to be to question, probe, explore. To find the fissures, contradictions, and worry them. I’m thinking about running my tongue along a tooth with a crack in it and how after I’ve found that crack I can’t stop returning to it. That’s what a writer should do.

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

The process of editing One Person Holds So Much Silence was really wonderful. Jerrod Schwarz, Driftwood’s Poetry Editor, had really deft edits which made particular poems that much stronger. That’s been about my entire experience working with an editor. I will say that I’ve been in workshop continuously for the past four years and getting that kind of deep, thoughtful feedback has been indispensable for my poems.

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

I’m really tempted to say the generic “be ruthless when you cut.” My poems have benefited so much from cutting individual lines, images, fragments that I might love but aren’t doing anything in service of the larger poem. The advice to read as much as you can, though, has been even more helpful. Reading is as important as anything else (workshop, literature seminars). I write my best poems, or what I consider my best, when I’m reading ceaselessly. Poetry, for sure, but fiction, academic texts, cultural criticism, whatever.

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?

Any routine I manage to put together changes semester to semester. My favorite is when I’m able to wake up and immediately start reading and writing. That’s not always the case, though, and definitely isn’t this semester. The steadiest routine I’ve been able to keep is to read right before I write. I usually have a few books I’m reading at any given time, alongside articles for class/teaching, and will read at least a couple of pages before getting started. This gestures back to my answer above, but reading to “recharge my creative battery” is critical. Plus, it broadens my subject matter. If left to my own devices, I’d write the same poem over and over. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it would probably get boring.  

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

If I have some sort of a routine going, then I’m usually able to fall back on that if I’m feeling stalled or stuck. I’m so used to doing X, Y, and Z and then writing that it just happens even if I don’t feel great about the words I get out. During times when I don’t have that momentum, I don’t have anything I do to get inspired. I’ll read, but sometimes the poems just won’t come. I’ve been writing long enough to know that this passes, but it’s still frightening and disorientating in the moment.  

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Coal tar. That sounds somewhat mysterious, but the boring truth is that my entire family uses t gel shampoo, which is made with coal tar.

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?

So many! Nature has had a huge affect on me as a writer and human being. I lived in Western Massachusetts for three years and spent a lot of time walking around the woods. That was an incredible creative practice. Music, too, though in more of a “background soundtrack” type of way. I like listening to podcasts and use them as another form of reading. So that might just be saying “books come from books” in a roundabout way.

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

Too many! In the back interview in One Person Holds So Much Silence, I listed a bunch of poets like Bhanu Kapil, Larry Levis, and John Murillo. To that list I’d add Bill Moran, Mathilda Cullen, Hoa Nguyen, Terrance Hayes, Sarah Rose Nordgren, Melissa Broder, Mary Ruefle, Danniel Schoonebeek, Lucie Brock-Broido, Juliana Spahr. Prose from Jenny Hval, Leopoldine Core, Lidia Yuknavitch, Brad Phillips, Denis Johnson, Max Porter. Theory/academic writing from Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, Tithi Bhattacharya, Susan Ferguson, Lauren Berlant, Mark Fisher. My grad school classmates and their work.

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

Skydive. That sounds like a dumb, thrown off answer, but I’m serious. I’m terrified of heights and the idea of jumping out of a plane is one of my worst nightmares. That said, I want to skydive so much. I don’t know if it’s the very human drive towards what most scares us, some personal compulsion/pathology I have yet to understand, or something else entirely, but I must jump out of a plane.

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?

That’s an interesting question in that writing isn’t my occupation. That is to say I don’t sell my labor in the form of writing in exchange for a wage. I’m a grad student and teach comp, so writing is central, but it’s second to being in the classroom (in person or virtual), talking to students, helping them see what their writing is doing and not doing, and so on. Still, writers so often end up teaching that it does feel like I’m being paid to write.

I’m not sure what I’d be doing if I didn’t write. I worked for years in content marketing and hated it. I’d come home with that part of my brain and spirit sapped. I worked for a while as a behavioral health tech, which is fancy word for orderly, in the addiction treatment industry. I liked that a lot and would gladly do it today. 

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

A mix of being a bookworm as a kid and being encouraged to write during formative times. Plus, it seems like lots of writers are just built for it. Enjoying solitude, tinkering endlessly with writing from poems to emails, reading things from multiple perspectives (be it a poem or, again, an email), and so on. All of these personality traits made it almost impossible for me not to write.

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

I’ve been making my way through Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy and loving them. Not only are they well written, but their ambition is breathtaking. The last great movie is harder! I don’t watch a ton of movies outside of the horror genre which doesn’t always have “great” movies. Lots of them are objectively bad, but give me so much pleasure from a visceral/nerves/almost stimming perspective. The last horror movie I watched and loved was YellowBrickRoad.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Just poems. I have somewhere between a chapbook and full length collection’s amount of poems and am slowly adding to that.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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