Sophie Klahr is the author of the poetry collections Two Open Doors in a Field, Meet Me Here at Dawn, and the collaborative prose work There Is Only One Ghost in the World, written alongside Corey Zeller. Her writing may be found in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Poetry London, and elsewhere. She teaches poetry courses online, and lives in Los Angeles.
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?
My first chapbook _____ Versus Recovery was published in 2007 by from Pilot Books, a small press (now defunct, alas) that hand-sewed gorgeous limited editions. I was 23, and it was the first time I’d had work out in the world that addressed my experiences with addiction and (at the time, very new) recovery. Previous to that, I hadn’t published very much at all, and the warm reception the chapbook received was surprising; suddenly, the most difficult things in my life drew people towards me, not away.
My very recently published book There Is Only One Ghost in the World (Fiction Collective 2) is wildly different from my previous two books, in that not only is it a collaborative work but that it is all prose, where my other books have been entirely verse. I’ve been writing in prose mostly for a year or so – it’s been interesting to take a breath from line breaks. At the moment, I don’t miss them.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My childhood was thick with an appreciation of sound. When he was home, no matter where my father was in the house, one could nearly always hear him singing to himself. At simple everyday questions ( Q: Dad, where are my ballet shoes?) he would often answer with some sort of poetic line ( A: Whose woods these are, I think I know…), and at some point, I realized many of the verses he said to us (annoyingly, I thought back then) were inscribed in me—I came to know early what it meant to know something by heart. In this way, my becoming a poet became inevitable.
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?
What I end up revising the most heavily are my formal poems – some of my sonnets have taken 3 years to write. But there are exceptions – a sonnet of mine which went viral a few years ago took about two weeks of tinkering until it expressed that it was complete. I think it was Yeats who said (I may be paraphrasing?) “a poem comes right with a click like a closing box.” I just listen for that click.
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?
It seems to me that a poem comes either from a memory like a toothache or from a moment of music in passing. Formally, I do fall into patterns -- most of the verse I’ve written for the past 6 years turns towards the sonnet, and in my last book of verse poems, Two Open Doors in a Field, most of them were sonnets that had the framework of driving and listening to the radio. When something feels good, I tend to want more of it, and because of that, I’ll stay in a single vein of form and subject until some natural conclusion feels reached, or, i.e. I feel a type of satiation.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I prefer not to read my work in front of others; I think my body gets in the way of my words.
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 questions in the prose book I’m currently working surround the nature of honesty and center on an investigation of voice: what / who do we trust when we read? Where is the line between “fiction” and “nonfiction”? What does it mean to be an “unreliable” or “reliable” narrator? What stories are “worth” telling?
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?
All writers do really in some ways is point to a moment or thing or idea and say Look! I’d hope that we all point to things that feel important, but “important” is defined differently for everyone.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
These days, I tend to only ask for feedback from a friend or two when a piece feels too close to me, and the questions I put forth to them are usually broad. On a book level, I haven’t had much trouble, but that’s likely only because the publishers I’ve had have offered very few edits.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Dorothy Parker once said “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” I am not a person who ever gets bored, but it seems like a good piece of thought to pass along.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?
I don’t sit down to write having any expectation for the form that words will become. Maybe the words will call for verse, maybe it will want to be prose. I’d like to collaborate more with people who work in visual mediums – a filmmaker friend recently invited me to collaborate on some pitches for a documentary that won’t have anything to do with literature. I think it might end up being about Komodo dragons. Collaboration is energizing in part because it exercises the muscle of listening, and leans away from ego.
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?
I have no routine whatsoever really. Each day begins with my cat being hungry – his hunger is the most consistent thing in my life.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don’t relate to the idea of being stalled with writing, but I think I turn to physical activity when I get into psychic tangles of any kind. Walking or dancing or swimming always feels clarifying, whether I’m in a moment of writing or not.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Roasted chicken and dust.
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?
I think books come from questions. Of the suggestions above, I would say that nature influences my writing most deeply–I read more nonfiction about the natural world than any fiction or poetry. As far as visual art, I’ve held kept Edward Hopper’s work as a touchstone for decades years – his spaces and light and sense of pause. I come from a fairly musical & music-loving family, so references to songs actually do seem to often show up in my work naturally. About 10 years ago I lived sporadically with the musician Cass McCombs, and living in a space that was really saturated with his music meant that while writing, I was also often pausing to listen to the muffled sounds of what he was creating and playing, far off in some other part of the house, and I think some of that atmosphere was knit into what I was writing at the time—I actually drew the title of my first book Meet Me Here At Dawn from the name of one of his songs.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I am consistently return to Rilke’s Duino Elegies. They feel like a touchstone for spiritual inquiry.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to write a musical with someone! Musical theater is the most collaborative art form, and can be profoundly moving. I have been simmering around two specific ideas for musicals for many years – the key now is finding my own time that might align with a composer who has time. I’d love to work with my dear friend Daniel Heath, whose work you’re familiar with if you’ve ever heard the lush strings beneath some of Lana Del Rey’s most popular songs, but he’s endlessly busy, so if you are a composer reading this, write to me!
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 would have loved to be a paleontologist. It’s a bit late for that I think, but I’ve had a fascination with dinosaurs since I was little, and I’m fascinated by how our understanding of them continues to evolve. I recently read Steve Brusatte’s book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World – highly recommend.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’m not even sure I can answer the question! Writing has never seemed like much of a choice.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I will offer the two most recent collections of poetry I’ve read by peers: K. Iver’s Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco and Eugenia Leigh’s Bianca – both are brilliant and incisive.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a chapbook of poems about an angel (which is also about addiction and the penal system) and a book of prose tentatively titled that is in some ways a hall of mirrors to my collaborative book There Is Only One Ghost in the World, though this one is a solo venture. We’ll see what happens.