Saturday, October 21, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

Nathan Mader is from Saskatchewan and lives in Kyoto. His poems have been in The Fiddlehead, Plenitude, The Ex-Puritan, The Antigonish Review, PRISM, The New Quarterly, and The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 (Tightrope Books). The Endless Animal, his first full-length collection, is forthcoming in winter 2023 from Fine Period Press.    

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 of poems, The Endless Animal, will be out this winter and what might follow is a total mystery, but the process of getting this book ready for publication seems to have changed, whether positively or negatively, my relationship to composition. Choosing the right, single poem to represent a particular energy or angle on something—even if it means cutting a poem I like on its own—has made me more judicious. 

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

Encountering Macbeth in 10th grade English changed everything! I was never a great student or huge reader in high school, but I remember becoming obsessed by Shakespeare’s queer and queering language, becoming aware for the first time of the texture and music of particular words, the way the combination of sound and sense could be magnetized to articulate primal forces of existence in ways nothing else ever had—I was hooked, but it would be years before I dared to write anything approaching poetry of my own.

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?

Some rare poems come quite quickly and nearly fully-formed, others are built glacially slow one line  (often one word, sometimes one syllable) at a time before they feel “right.” Usually the first line comes from a voice, an image, a memory, a rhythm that arrives from somewhere charged with lyric potential, and the rest of the poem is called forth from there.

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?

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another.

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

Public readings can be a good reminder that poetry is both an act of communication and an incantation, and if an audience responds well to a poem, this can be taken as a good sign the poem is working. For me, poetry lives as much in the voice as on the page, and I often make recordings of poems as I revise them to this end.

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’ve always loved what Paul Muldoon says: “a poem is an answer to a question it itself has raised.” 

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?

Except in times of crisis, the larger culture seems to care very little for poets and poetry—but that’s okay. Opera and interpretative dance share the same fate. But for people like me who need poetry, who hunger for it, it’s everything. And I’d like to think if poets do have any kind of role, it is, as Dickinson says in her great poem, to “Dwell in possibility.” 

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

I loved working with my editor, the wonderful poet Ivanna Baranova (everyone should get / pre-order her new book from Metatron Press!). She was such an empathetic yet honest reader of my work and essential to the process of getting The Endless Animtal where it wanted to be. Ivanna was an “outside” editor in the truest sense because we’d never met before, and she shed new light on what many of the poems were up to. I’ve also been fortunate to have friends as first readers of my work who are likewise gifted.  

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

Can I just take this chance to say thank you thank you thank you to any poet who has ever been kind enough to look at one of my poems and / or offer advice? Also, someone once told me to turn the wheel into the skid when your car’s spinning out on an icy road—that’s saved my life more than once!

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?

A poem can find me anytime—great when I’m on the train, dangerous when barreling down a hill through traffic on my bicycle—and I try to always be receptive to it. But I do tend to revise in the mornings after I’ve had coffee and before I have to go to work. Though the strange hours of teaching English as a second language in here in Kyoto means working weekends and later into the evening to accommodate office workers, the good thing is that I have most weekday mornings free to work on things.

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

I often take not writing as a sign I need to be more in the world, to call myself back to myself. Meditation. Movies. Talking to friends. Talking to strangers. Talking to trees. Drawing something. Cycling somewhere. Sex. Silence. In other words, not thinking about writing at all and just being alive and present can help. But the biggest reenergizer for my poetry of all is reading a good poem by someone else! Often it only takes that single act of attention and reminding myself of the eros of language to feel the urge to put down on paper a poem I didn’t know I’d already been writing.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Diesel engine exhaust. Lavender.

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?

The short answer is that everything influences my art. The long answer is that I mostly grew up on movies, not books, and they continue to be a big part of my life. When I’m revising a poem I often “sense” it in terms of scenes, shots, and cuts. But I also tend to obsess over all kinds of paintings, photos, and museum artifacts I come into contact with. People and what drives them are endlessly fascinating, too. Does the nature of desire count as a form of nature? And I hope my work never turns its back on the animals, human or otherwise—I think a recent encounter I had with an octopus while snorkelling this summer might’ve just changed how I see the world forever.

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

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

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

If the answer to this question can be open to pure fantasy, I would love to try make a living off my poems and nothing else (laughter….uncontrollable sobbing…false stoic resolve).

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?

Sometimes I dream about what it would be like to be a Jungian psychoanalyst—to apply some of the gifts poetry has given me—a sense of the interior voice, the ability to think less-linearly and in terms of metaphor, symbol, and archetype, encountering subconscious forces while attempting to “integrate” them—and apply them to people seeking to explore and / or heal their psyches. Wasn’t this part of the poet’s job description in the ancient world?

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

The feeling I get when I’m working on a poem was and is better than the feeling I get when I work on anything else.

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

The last great book I read was Robyn Schiff’s fourth poetry collection, Information Desk (Penguin, 2023). It’s a long poem or shortish epic that stems from her time working at the titular desk in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the mid-nineties, where the artifacts, art, and everyday interactions she encountered there are recharged with new implications through the light of lyric memory. I’m also absolutely cuckoo for the pleasurable tension Schiff creates when the propulsive force of her signature long sentences meets the formal rigour of her syllabic line breaks.

When it comes to movies, these days it might be Tar that has opened the most doors in my mind: the relationship between power dynamics and the creative drive, the blurred line between art and artist, the entwining of jealousy and desire in both the artistic and romantic spheres…not to mention the ghosts. Cate Blanchet’s performance is so visceral and fascinating, and the director, Todd Field, conjures Tarkovsky vibes in the way the he gives silence and atmosphere equal breathing space, and I love that in any film. Barbarian is another somewhat recent favourite movie—too good to talk about.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Hopefully the next poem!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

No comments: