Here are my answers to the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR virus going around. Thanks to my friend, Beth Gilstrap, for asking me to do this. You can read what she wrote about her process and follow her work (which I recommend) here:
And please check out the bios and site addresses for the three maniacs I've asked to continue the BLOG TOUR next week: Katie Byrum, Bradley Harrison, and Emily Weinstein.
1) What are you working on?
I’m actually at sort of a weird writing crossroads at the moment. I just finished two manuscripts of poems, which have occupied my time for the last three and a half years. There’s still tweaking to do on both of them, but in June I sent them off to a couple of trusted editors, and it’ll be a little while before I hear back. It’s time to move on, but the question is: Move on to what?
I’m writing poems everyday, of course, and I’m grateful to be out of manuscript mode and back into thinking of each poem as its own untethered-to-a-larger-whole, individual event. At the same time, I’m also trying to teach myself how to write again—by which I mean I’m trying to find a poem that I haven’t written before, or at least one which pushes in new directions things I’ve done in the past. Even as I’m writing this, it all sounds very abstract, and it is. I’m searching for something, I don’t what. The poems come out of sitting down and saying weird shit, reading, listening to music, describing the things on my desk or that are in my yard, the sad sick world (ever-seemingly) at war…
This summer I’ve gone back to Robert Bly, W.S Merwin, and James Wright as a way of trying to (re)understand/(re)acquaint myself with what a poetic image is—the way words can create resonate, radiant pictures in one’s mind—a set of linguistic relationships that point to so much more than language—nouns in relation to each other in time and space—a live microphone in a block of concrete, starlight fixed on a drowning worm, orange juice werewolf, five red apples in a green mailbox, and the mailman smiling at a cloud when he takes them, imagining his life as a thief in his dreams—endless endless endless. But I’m not sure that any of those are actually images. I like not knowing. Sort of. But it’s been interesting thinking about the fact that so many of my poems have been so much on speed in the last ten years that I’m not sure they really contained a lot of imagery—flashes of things, juxtapositions, associations and disjunctions, but images? What is a blur an image of? Is an indistinct image nevertheless an image? What’s the difference between a blurry image an urgent dis-clarity that “depicts” nothing? This is some of what I’ve been thinking about while trying to focus my attention on a rectangle of tinfoil blowing across my yard, a shiny kinetic reflector.
I’ve also been reading tons of fiction: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, Jim Carroll’s The Petting Zoo, Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (which somehow I’d never read before), Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Richard Powers’ Orfeo, Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (the first two books—thrid one’s out in Sept. Can’t wait), and John Gardner’s Freddy’s Book.
Oh yeah, and Peter Gizzi’s In Defense of Nothing and Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians. Both dynamite.
Listening a lot to Sandinista by The Clash, Bob Mould’s new one, Beauty and Ruin, La Dispute’s Rooms of the House, and that new Xerxes track “Chestnut Street.”
Eventually it’ll all lead somewhere, or I’ll find myself in something else, or…
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Hopefully enough that it’s recognizable as mine and not so much that it isn’t recognizable as poetry.
Seriously though, I don’t think about this much. Scratch that. I don’t think about it ever. Poetry’s not a genre. It’s a way of paying attention in and to the world—a way of annotating, exploring, and otherwise exploding experience to make and remake the self and the world. Of course, everybody’s brain is different, so everyone’s attention is different. There are as many ways to make a poem as there are minds to make them. That’s overwhelming and marvelous. Maybe paradoxically, I spend a lot of time typing out other people’s poems as a way to get to my own. I find that I get to my best poems when I’m not thinking about “writing my poems” so I do what I can to stay distracted and open. This has nothing to do with genre, but look how far we’ve come.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Poetry is the way I make sense of the world, other people, and my own personal experience. It’s not in addition to my life; it’s an extension of my life, a written record—notes, footnotes, exegesis, splatter. It’s a way of figuring out what I think and how I think it—what’s what with regard to this particular existence. It’s not a way of explaining anything, nor of proving something definitively. On the contrary, it’s about making things more mysterious—to enliven and enlarge and unpack forever. “One always arrives at the universal via the personal” (Robert Motherwell). As I said in my answer to the second question, poetry (whatever else it may be) is a demonstration of a particular way of paying attention in/to the world. In my case, that happens to be pretty fragmented/obliterated most of the time, though increasingly I find myself making so much clear sense in my poems that it’s making me wonder if I’m even still writing poems… Certainly, the poems I’m writing now bear little resemblance to the ones I was writing twenty years ago, and I hope that’s true of the difference between the poems I’m writing now and the ones I’ll be writing twenty years in the future.
4) How does your writing process work?
My heart keeps beating, the blood keeps flowing. I take a lot of notes in my orange field notebook. I sit at the typewriter or the computer (I use both); I start typing. I describe what’s right in front of me, or something I dreamt, or I ask a question and answer it. Whose hippopotamus is that? Why is god’s fingernail green? Crust of bread? Squelch! I write down quotes from things that I’m reading. I wander off in the fog of words or try to sing a song to the deer in the yard. I go for a walk. Poetry is as much a part of my life as French toast or petting my dog or sitting with my daughter, watching her read a chilling book about Mt. Everest. It all ends up in the poems. Going running in the rain, drinking a Vicious IPA, “Serenading in the dark to no one…” (“Chestnut Street,” Xerxes). I should say, however, that it doesn’t always end up factually in the poems. Mostly, it ends up changed according to what the poem seems to want/to be. Put another way, I lie about everything to get beyond the facts to the Truth, to Beauty, to the Mess in all its glory. I steal from other sources to get to something authentic to find my own voice in somebody else’s mouth (which I think I stole from somewhere else). I wish to make the world a better/bigger place—what it could be, rather than what it is or might be.
The logistics of the process (which I’m sure is what this question’s really about) are various and change with the seasons, and won’t do anyone else any good, because everyone’s process is different. Sometimes I use the typewriter more, sometimes the computer, sometimes a pencil. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon or evening. The orange field notebook is a constant. You can get your own here, if you want: http://www.engineersupply.com/elan-economy-field-book-e64-8x4w.aspx. Writing everyday—at least a little—is also constant. I would rather write a bad poem than no poem at all. I would rather forge ahead, or even come apart at the seams, than wait or think or, worst of all, be careful. My process is not careful. I fail a lot. I write bad poems a lot. Sometimes I surprise myself. I come face to face with the things that are on my mind that I had no idea were on my mind. Then I do best to confront them. Then I do my best to resist them.
Next week on the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR, I’ve tapped three of my favorite people, who also happen to be brilliant writers: Katie Byrum, Bradley Smith, and Emily Weinstein. See their bios below, along with the site addresses where they’ll be posting their answers next week.
KATIE BYRUM is from Kentucky but lives in Brooklyn, where she co-curates the Tri-Lengua Reading Series and the witchy reading series COVEN. Her first collection of poems, Burn It Down, is forthcoming from Forklift Books. Find more at hellohumanblog.tumblr.com.
BRADLEY HARRISON is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers and a PhD student at the University of Missouri. His poems have appeared in New American Writing, Los Angeles Review, CutBank, Gulf Coast, Best New Poets 2012 and elsewhere. His chapbook, Diorama of a People, Burning is available from Ricochet Editions (2012). Find him at: http://bradleyharrisonpoet.tumblr.com.
EMILY WEINSTEIN writes the web site superlefty.com, where she has published over 300 essays, rants, screeds, and trip reports. Her work has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Eleven Eleven, the Huffington Post, Identity Theory, Killing the Buddha, McSweeney's, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, The Morning News, and Vol 1. Brooklyn. She is the author of the chapbooks Lake Celeste, or the Joy of Sex and If You Think You’re the Best, and the nonfiction editor of Forklift: Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking and Light Industrial Safety. She lives, writes, teaches, and climbs in northern California. Follow her on Twitter at @emilymweinstein