Friday, May 03, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allie Duff

Allie Duff is a multidisciplinary artist from St. John’s, NL whose writing has been published in various Canadian literary magazines. Allie also performs stand-up comedy and was featured on 2023’s Just For Laughs album Stand-Up Atlantic: The Icicle Bicycle. Her first book of poetry — I Dreamed I Was an Afterthought — appeared May 1, 2024 with Guernica Editions.

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

Publishing a book was a goal that I had from a very young age. Now that I’ve accomplished that goal, I have no idea what to do next! The logical thing would be to publish another book, I suppose…

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

My friend told me a story about how, when they were a kid, their sisters would always read their diary. In an attempt to conceal secrets they started writing their diary entries in ‘code.’ Their theory was that this led to writing poetry. This rang true to me as well – I also wrote in a secret ‘code’ in my early diary entries.

Also my dad is a musician so I was always surrounded by lyrics and cadence.  

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’s so slow. I do a lot of research and take a lot of notes. I walk around the city a lot, probably talking to myself without realizing it. I also have countless unfinished projects, thanks to my ADHD.

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?

Usually it’s a mix of both. There are plenty of poems that come to me as single pieces and they don’t belong to a larger work. For projects with a particular theme, though, I’ll end up writing a bunch of poems that are part of a whole (and sometimes short pieces end up melding into long poems.)

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

I think public readings are great. There’s nothing quite like reading a poem aloud to figure out what is and isn’t working in the piece. Being on stage is also fun for me.

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?

Apparently my writing is very millennial, which I feel is unavoidable because that’s my generation. I’m always trying to fight the despair of living a dystopic late-capitalist life.

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 think right now writers play a role in keeping people’s empathy alive. We’re all so overwhelmed with info from social media – there’s so much content that it’s easy to burn out and tune out.

A poem that went viral on social media recently, called there’s laundry to do and a genocide to stop” by Vinay Krishnan, is evidence, I think, that poets are still influential. Maybe we’ve got to go viral to be heard, but poetry certainly isn’t dead, and it has some of the greatest ability to move people and spread awareness.

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

Before I sent my manuscript to publishers, I asked my editor friend David Pitt to look over the poems for me. It was incredibly helpful! Then with Guernica I got to work with their First Poet’s Series editor, Elana Wolff; I can’t thank her enough for her careful eye and general poetic wisdom.

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

Get used to rejection. I started sending poems to literary magazines right after high school, and I had no idea back then how many times (countless times, even) that I’d be rejected before I’d start getting accepted more regularly. I’m not a very prolific writer, so I only submit maybe 5 or 6 times a year. Essentially that means I might go a whole year without publishing anything. So yeah, don’t let rejection bother you.

This advice is also applicable to people over 30 on dating apps…

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to music to stand-up)? What do you see as the appeal?

The biggest difficulty is trying to dedicate enough time to each craft (there’s never enough time). I find it hard to set one discipline aside so that I can focus on the others. If I do, I end up feeling guilty. Music has fallen to the side lately, but stand-up comedy is thankfully more of a hobby so I perform whenever it feels like it’ll be fun.

And being multidisciplinary gives so much space for experimentation. Sometimes I sneak jokes from my comedy set into my poems (and vice versa). A lot of my songs started as poems.

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 routines! I’ve tried every possible technique to build some kind of habit around writing, but thanks to my ADHD nothing ever sticks. So I gave up on routine and decided to write whenever I feel like it. That might mean once a week, multiple times a day, or even as little as once a month. It’s sort of terrifying to accept that I’m unable to keep a level of productivity that is seen as acceptable – I’ve spent years dealing with deep anxiety that I’m not productive or disciplined enough (thanks, capitalism).

After getting my diagnosis I spent a lot of time researching how to be productive with ADHD, but then I realized that all of those methods were counterintuitive to my natural creative style. I could keep expending copious amounts of energy trying to be (neurotypically) productive and STILL not develop ‘healthy’ habits. Instead, I decided to surrender to the chaos and see what happens. 

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

Getting out into the world is the best inspiration for me. I close the laptop, close the books, and go to a music show, hang out with friends, or go for a walk. I have a poet friend who operates the same way and we have a theory that there are ‘reader’ poets and there are ‘experience’ poets. In other words there are people who gain more inspiration from sitting and researching and imagining, and there are those of us who have to go out and experience things and get inspired to copy down (or exaggerate) what we perceive. I’m sure most writers are a mix of the two types, but I tend to really need to get out of my own head regularly.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Cigarette smoke, lol. 

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?

Music influences my work quite a bit. Or, at least, listening to music can really help get the writing going. I tend to visualise scenes while listening to music. When I was a kid I always made up music videos to my favourite songs. That turned into imagining stories, poems, etc.

Science is also a pretty neat way to get inspired. One of the first songs I ever wrote was about the law of falling bodies.

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

Anne Carson is one of my favourites. I return to her work quite a bit.

Any and all writing is important to me, though. Sometimes I read a news article and end up writing a poem about it. Or I might obsess over a comic book as a way to chill out after too much intellectual work.

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

In writing? I wanna write a novel and a full-length screenplay.

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?

Recently I’ve been working on my career in the film industry. I think this is a common story for writers: we supplement our income through various other jobs. Vocationally, writing always calls me back, though. It’s also nice that music and comedy scratch my ‘writing itch’ when I’m not actively working on poetry. 

And I think the next occupation I’ll attempt will be something in the social work or psychology realm.

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

In school, people always told me I was good at writing, and teachers encouraged me. Ironically, people also loved to tell me not to pursue writing as a career since “you can’t make money doing that!” Even cab drivers, upon hearing that I was studying English in university, would say, “So you’re going to be an English teacher?” and when I would answer, “No, a writer,” they would laugh at me.

This friction between what I was good at and what I was ‘expected’ to do for money was frustrating but also made me very stubborn about accomplishing my writing goals.

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

I read No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz and it was kinda life-changing.

And I’ve watched a lot of great films recently so it’s hard to choose. I think Aftersun (dir. Charlotte Wells) is a masterpiece, though; I was messed up for a whole week after watching it.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m writing a manuscript of poems about childfree women. It’s sort of transforming into a book about nonconformity and cognitive dissonance. I’m letting the poems take me where they wanna go…

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

No comments: