Friday, January 27, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Julie Doxsee

Julie Doxsee is the Canadian-American author of five books of poetry: The Fastening (Black Ocean, 2022), What Replaces Us When We Go (Black Ocean, 2018), The Next Monsters (Black Ocean, 2013), Objects for a Fog Death (Black Ocean, 2010), and Undersleep (Octopus Books, 2008). She holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Denver (2007) and an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002). Upon repatriating to the states after nine years in Turkey, she moved to Pennsylvania in 2016, where she is now Associate Professor of English at Harrisburg University.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Funnily, I cracked open a copy of my first book, Undersleep, the other day for the first time in several years because I couldn’t remember much when I tried to recollect the signature poems therein. The return to the book was prompted by the memory of a significant event that recently arose via long-lost friend and it dawned on me that I may have included a poem about the event in Undersleep. My distance from the book object, as well as from that version of my poet self, meant I was reading a new book by a different poet (akin to the jolt of remembering a previous night’s dream while waiting at a red light or something). Back in 2006, publishing my first book changed my life; the Octopus Books crew, and then the Black Ocean crew, became my poet family. On an aesthetic level, my first collection was hewn from a secret recipe of University of Denver-inspired voices, friends, interests, books, styles, and editing advice. With each new book I publish, I have less and less exposure to these secret ingredients. The overall effect is The Fastening contains density that breathes with a grittier (more mature?) DNA, whereas the crafting of Undersleep left quite a lot of air and light on the pages. Also, I have lived and adulted 1000% since 2006.

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

I have only published poetry and poetry-leaning prose, but I started with multiple genres, as many institutional creative writers do. I discovered I was wired as a poet my senior year of college. I liked the freedom, the absence of rules, the legacy/movements, and the attention span involved in the act of writing poems. Also, like many of my poetry students today, I thought poetry was the best way to communicate the life of a confused, anxiety-ridden, identity-seeking, early-20s woman.
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?

Projects come on strong for me and manifest quickly after the initial spark. I start writing when preoccupation with the project nags to the point I can’t ignore it, then I write obsessively till I finish a first draft. Since I became a mother, this process is more difficult because I don’t have time to ride out the obsession. First drafts sit for a year or more in most cases, and the work of editing is where true enjoyment emerges for me; hence the first drafts tend to resemble distant cousins of the final manuscript. I think The Next Monsters is my only title that arose from copious journals and notes over a period of about 6 months.

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?

This is a great question because I have never thought about it. The answer is: since grad school I have never conceived a single poem without conceiving a book-length work. I guess that means my education instilled a project-minded approach to my poetic undertakings. 

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

In before-COVID times I would have answered “absolutely” that readings are a part of the creative process, but now (mostly for personal and family reasons) I find it very difficult to tour, plan, travel, and even to arrange online events. I have attended some smashingly well-done online events since the pandemic began, but after spending all day every day teaching on camera for the better part of a year and a half from 2020-2022, I was exhausted by the idea of getting camera-ready and zooming up for a 2-dimensional audience. And now, in the aftermath of the aftermath of ebbing/flowing emergencies, I hardly think about doing readings. I am hoping this will change in 2023.
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?

The current questions for me are always about human decency, vulnerability, puzzling masculinity, love, sex, and the dilemmas of personal and societal unwellness. As for the general poetry community, questions are infinite and dynamic, which contributes to the wealth of the genre. I have never tried to answer questions in my poetry, but I have played with questions (exposed them, posed them) using the strange fabrics of language and thought. The writing of The Fastening exposed a necessary pissed-off voice, too, that brought healing and resolve. 

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?

In my professional life, in addition to teaching poetry classes, I foster the learning of very precise intentional, connotational, denotational uses of language—as well as responsible research. It is not easy, especially in the last decade or so, to advise long research projects in the Googleverse. I am also super uncomfortable with rapid-thumb-jab communication (generally speaking) while at the same time realizing communication naturally evolves (also, I love a TikTok wormhole, so I hesitate to claim that a writer/creator identity has been mortally wounded by smartphone ubiquity and scroll fixation). I guess my answer is that writers have extreme levels of power in larger culture, especially with so many informational/artistic platforms, but without responsible media and carefully vetted curation, I worry about the survival of writing, writers, attention spans, art, poetry, and brain health. Also, I can’t envision what my sons’ writing lives will look like as they continue their educations over the next decade plus (???). It’s scary, frankly; thinking about the loss of complex written forms leads me to fantasize about a Mary Ruefle computer-free, 100% poetic lifestyle.  

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

No (not difficult) and yes (essential). Having a dedicated reader/editor is part of the publication process, and necessary to the eventual appearance of the physical book. After long periods of editing my drafts, I am no longer the best audience for my work—I am fully ready to hand it over. I am lucky, I guess, that my editing sessions have been minimally invasive. For some authors this is not the case.

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

*You can’t be an artist if you don’t take risks, you can’t take risks if you hate embarrassment* (paraphrase)

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

I read, read, read as much as possible. I also work on booking travel in the not-far future. Another recent undertaking is exploring markets around my home for much-needed cultural exposure. Within a few miles of my home there are Indian, Nepali, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Pan-Asian, and African markets, and international food stalls in the central market. These explorations are guaranteed to provide infinite eye and soul candy, interesting conversations with proprietors and customers, and also tasty non-American fare (hence dense fodder for the writer spirit).

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Turkey will always be the most sensory of my homes, and where I felt most alive. Imagine lemon cologne, sage, sea-salty air, and mangal (wood barbeque). 

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?

I don’t believe that books come from books; I believe reading is essential to the learning the music of poetic language, but life experience, including visual art, nature, science, travel, dreams, quirky encounters with humans and animals, and so on, are what make the poet a poet.

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

There are too many to list—so, so, so many. Need a book contract for this answer!

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

I have many nonfiction writing projects I would like to work on, but I will likely have no time until I retire from academia. In fantasy I have many careers (I know this goes beyond the doable to-do list, but I seriously think about these things): stuntwoman, fisherwoman, medical doctor, actor, fiber artist, field reporter, attorney, stage diva, filmmaker, comedy performer, to name a few.

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?

See above.

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

Need for flexibility/multi-faceted identity and no boss? Wiring? Becoming a writer was the easy choice when books vacuum-dragged me into this orbit years ago. I am wired as an artist and poet/linguist, so the choice was made for me. Theoretically, if I want to be someone else or choose a different identity, research and fictionalizing would allow me to live out some of the fantasy occupations referenced in #15.

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

Brian Evenson’s The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell. Every Evenson sentence kicks my soul hard. After reading The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell, I was shattered that I would never have the feeling of reading it for the first time again. I don’t recall ever feeling this way about a book.

I watch a lot of movies—sometimes as many as seven a week (couch + popcorn + twilight). Barbarian (2022) was the best of 2022 for me. The strange meandering plotline and creepy jump scares as well as the total eccentricity (without resorting to supernatural tackiness) was akin to encountering genius enjambment and then encountering it again and again. Barbarian upended the passive viewing that tends to occur with my voluminous intake. Like, there is no way I could fold laundry during my viewing of Barbarian let alone pause it for any reason.

19 - What are you currently working on?

A book about my son, who underwent an intense medical journey over the past few years.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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