1 - How did your first book change your life?
One calls and calls and calls, & eventually ... somebody comes (or, somebodies come).
How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It’s the work of a different poet. death/rebirth: no idle metaphor.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry is my first love: breath, the heartbeat …
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 don’t know any more. Everything I’ve written in the past few years has taken me by surprise.
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?
There have been books that are projects, but The Affirmations was a miscellany — until it wasn’t.
Some of its poems — many of them, actually — began in music, in the desire to find new words for an old tune (the older words for which often become a point of departure — and sometimes a point of return — for the new ones).
Many, many of them (the poems) began in conversation — with a desire to say something that couldn’t be said in any other way.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love to read or speak poetry aloud, my own, or other people’s: any work I love, that is written for the ear. Increasingly I sing, too — see melody as another element of poetry, which one may prescribe or score in various ways, if one sees fit. (Though I am also deeply beguiled by the unstudied, incremental variations in pitch/rhythm/emphasis that inhere in the speaking voice, and that are also part of any reader’s/speaker’s interpretation, as they speak the words in a particular moment, with particular momentums, all reflecting/embodying the contingencies of a particular time and place, a particular audience ….)
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?
No theoretical concerns. The only real question I’m trying to answer, in any given moment, is, how is this poem supposed to sound? As for “the current questions”: yikes. I think there’s no one answer.
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 do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.
Beyond that ... writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Every editorial experience I’ve had has been vastly different. I can’t generalize.
I am an editor myself, and have great respect for what editors can do, the amount of time and care they can lavish on the personal expression of another: it’s really humbling.
But writers need to know how to stand their ground.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Resign yourself to the road; there’s no arriving. (That’s Steven Heighton, from a letter to me when I was about sixteen and he was an avuncular 32.)
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to libretto)? What do you see as the appeal?
Oh I love crossing boundaries! You know, with consent. It’s marvellous. Stepping across a threshold. Everything looks different on the other side. (And over here, in the libretto-world — there’s company!)
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?
Wake, shower, coffee, prayer, then I pack lunches for my kids (I am, at this point, a single parent), then I begin the loooooooong and sometimes painful process of getting my kids out of bed, then I make them breakfast, then I say ‘put on your shoes / do you have your backpack / where’s your water bottle’ about fifty times, then we walk to their school (the walk is great: we talk to one another), then I walk to work. (I teach English, at Saint Mary’s University.) On days when I am writing, I do none of this. I moon and june and sleep late and go for long long long walks to and by the ocean, and write letters and listen to fifteenth century Burgundian songs again and again and again and again, and look things up in dictionaries.... For the obvious financial and practical reasons, such days do not happen very often. But when they do, it’s bliss.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I wait it out. Accept the possibility I may never write again. Long experience has taught me it cannot be forced.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of a person I love. The smell of a highway in the rain.
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?
Oh yeah. All of the above.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
All of my friends and correspondents, with whom I’m perpetually in conversation, and including these days my close colleagues at Saint Mary’s (Alexander MacLeod, Raymond Sewell, Gugu Hlongwane …) — I’m so lucky to work with them.
And, then, the various stars in my literary constellation, to which I keep returning; by which I’ve set my bearings in the past .... I think of individual poems here more than poets, but a quick glance at the sky reveals George Herbert, Richard Outram, Peter Sanger, Steven Heighton, Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden, John Donne, William Shakespeare, also the anonymous psalmists ... These are my old familiars. But/and they are not more important to me than the oral traditions to which I’m heir, via the beauties of teaching and of conversation. These interpenetrate with the written traditions in ways to which I’m increasingly alive.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Take the ferry to Tancook Island.
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’d love to be a dancer. The word made flesh.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Bible. Ms Marvel (does a TV show count???).
20 - What are you currently working on?
A folk opera (with Benton Roark), an audio-visual album (with the art collective thirtyminutes), a queer cantata and other things with Daniel Cabena (we call our quixotic ensemble ANIMA), the opera Eurydice Fragments (with re:naissance opera) … &/plus always trying to be a better parent / child / friend / lover / colleague / teacher / citizen / community member ... & c. & c. & c.