is a Beijing-based writer, artist, editor and curator. His first full-length, Maze Poems, is out from Arteidolia Press. He is author of the chapbooks Pete Hoffman Days (Pinball) and BeiHai (Nanjing Poetry). He edits the poetry zine SAGINAW. davidharrisonhorton.com
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life?
My first full-length, Maze Poems, just came out from Arteidolia Press in New York. I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes things — hopefully all for the better.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I had good English teachers in elementary and middle school at St. David’s in Detroit. Poetry was never presented as boring or something difficult, so it was fun and became something I would do (poorly) in my free time.
I started doing it more seriously in college. I studied 20th century French lit and they all seemed to be having so much serious fun with it.
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?
It really depends on the project. Maze Poems came fairly quickly after I decided that that was what I was going to use the sketchbook I bought for. After that, I worked on it regularly until I finished the notebook.
For another project, I came up with 75 titles and the form the poems would all take. After that, I wrote on average 5 poems week and finished the project fairly quickly in about two months, not including editing.
But I also have projects that I still like and want to continue on that have taken me years, sometimes decades, and they’re still nowhere near done.
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 usually have an idea of the finished project before I begin. The planning is often part of what’s interesting in it for me. Of course, the actual finished work might only be a second cousin to the original ideas, but that’s fine too.
I admire poets that write great individual, single poems that end up in collections that showcase their breadth of interests and voice. Edward Ragg comes to mind. It’s a different approach.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
In Beijing, there is the Spittoon Collective that hosts monthly poetry readings and bi-weekly poetry workshops (in English). This is great for community building and has been a great boon for me. I do enjoy doing readings, and I enjoy being able to play with what doing a reading means. For one reading, I showed up with a saucepan and a drum mallet. With Spittoon, we have done neo-benshi. They also do a poetry and music series. Last year, poet and playwright James Holt independently staged a full-length poetry drama. It’s a good supportive scene.
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?
With Maze Poems, I was looking at automatic writing and the line between subconscious and conscious thought and the literal, physical, visual shape of those thoughts. I was also very interested in how reader processing inputs meaning to a text.
With most projects, whether writing or art or music or whatever, I’m often looking to see what would happen if I monkeyed with this or that? If I torqued something here or loosened it there, would it be interesting? Why or why not?
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?
There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.
I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.
I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with Randee Silv from Arteidolia Press on Maze Poems was fantastic.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t make the thing you love your job; otherwise, you’ll begin to hate it.
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?
I do projects in spurts. I really admire poets like Stephen Ratcliffe who can do it on the daily. If I’m not writing or working on another project, I’m usually reading, making notes. I don’t usually differentiate between writing, music or art. One project usually gets 90% of my attention while I’m doing it.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading. Poetry, history, sci-fi, that book I should have read in college, a math text book. It doesn’t matter. It’s all interesting and gets the gears oiled up.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
I grew up in Detroit and now live in Beijing. However we figure “home” here, it’s not exactly a pleasant smell.
My mom’s kitchen smelled like chicken and dumplings.
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?
Mazes, to state the obvious.
I had the great fortune to live and make art with a great artist like Matthew Lusk. I had the great fortune to live and make music with Jorge Boehringer, who is simply an amazing musician (Core of the Coleman). Both of them expanded my artistic vocabulary and practices.
I don’t see poetry, or writing in general, as separate from the other forms of expression and experience. They all inform each other.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Abigail Weathers is the great poet who runs the community workshops I go to.
Over the years, there have been so many people who encouraged me and pushed me along: Matthew Lusk, Jorge Boehringer, Abigail Weathers, Stephanie Young, Jackson MacLow, Pauline Oliveros, Chris DeBarr at the Downstairs Cafe. So so many others I’m grateful to know.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Sell enough of Maze Poems so that Arteidiolia can fund their next project.
I already visited the world’s biggest teepee in Medicine Hat.
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?
I’ve done so many jobs: linguist, teacher/prof, librarian, editor, journalist, cook, dishwasher, chandler, prosthetic limb maker, paralegal, factory worker, golf caddy, docent, art hanger, mall retail, art model, secretary, day laborer, etc etc.
I’ve worked since I was 13 (legal in Michigan at least at the time, don’t know about now).
I would have stayed on as a chandler if it had come with health insurance.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I see it more of “in addition to” other activities, rather than “as opposed to.”
18A - What was the last great book you read?
I just reread Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. La Beaute humbles me.
18B - What was the last great film?
Spring in a Small Town. A Chinese B&W classic from 1948. I’m going through an old Chinese movie phase.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I recently listened to Orson Welles’ radio drama adaptation of Les Miserables (1937). I bought the book (I read other Hugo books in college) and want to go through it to see if anything jumps out as an interesting subject of attention, like a way to look at it or a specific part of it differently. Academically, I know it’s been done to death. But I suspect there might be artistic gold yet to be mined.