Q & A

A student of Sandra Simond’s asked me some questions. Here are some of the answers I sent her:

1.     What influenced you to write poetry?
As a child I learned to talk early and from three or four years old was a voracious reader. I don’t remember so much liking to run around; I liked to read. I read books totally absorbedly over and over and over I suppose there has always been as a result a lot of language in my head. I was the only child of a single mom and entertained myself a lot, writing stories and poems. Writing served (serves) as a refuge from boredom, chaos, and loneliness. At one point – I couldn’t have been very old – maybe 12? – I had a job in a little used bookstore. It may have been there that I picked up a hardback green copy of an anthology titled “Major Poets.” I read this book as I had the books of my earlier childhood, and certain poems really penetrated me:  John Dryden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” D.H. Lawrence’s “Bavarian Gentians,” Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill.” I liked Shakespeare, Shelley, Plath and cummings – maybe a fairly typical taste-constellation for a young literary aspirant of my generation? Then as now I was drawn to musicality in language, finding music the ultimate “transcendent” art and also interested in how language strains against its limits in poetry, and sometimes breaks through to something like music.
2.     How long have you been writing poetry?
I recall dictating my first poem to my mom when I was about seven.
3.     Are there any poets whom you are heavily influenced by?
I suppose the snowball of influence that encases me is at this point rather heavy, although I’m not sure that naming a few names is a useful exercise here. Because I so often inhabit others’ poems from the inside, and then set about transforming them, it may be more accurate to talk about my outfluences.  I have rewritten poems by many poets: traces of the originals streak the poems themselves.  I like to think of beings and also artworks as porous, leaking into each other in all sorts of ways. In Vile Lilt, for example, I rewrite poems/texts by Marianne Moore, Dana Ward, Havelock Ellis, William Blake, George Herbert, Brian Ang, John Keats, and The Internet. I also rearrange the dictionary a bit.
4.     What is your favorite poem from ‘Vile Lilt’ and why?
I think I like “Droop Loss Slave” and “Wildcats Can Be Revealed (Vile Lilt)” the best. In these poems the vocabulary is quite various and rich, as are the sources. Many of the words are woven in from online lists of obscure words for spammers hoping to evade detection. I use the words in service of cadence and emotion. At a remove from simple “expression,” they amplify the aesthetic power and complexity of the lines in the way that a wisteria vine climbing over the face of a building makes one more fervently desire to enter or inhabit it. Such baroquerie, to me, redounds upon the quality of the emotion as well, making of the poem a fearfully poignant code.
5.     Any advice on becoming a better writer?
Focus. Trust your impulses. Always have a pencil ready. Try different materials, styles, environments. Have writer friends. Steal and borrow, but always transform. Have a ball. Don’t worry about being “better.”
6.     What is your writing process like?
My process varies according to the piece. I collage a lot, weave things into and around each other. Sometimes I “just write.” I often add and substitute language to existing texts.  I am less likely to subtract (erase) things as this strikes me as the least interesting of procedures, at least according to my “wisteria” aesthetic. I also like to remind myself that nothing is “set in stone,” that I can always bend, twist, modulate, or modify things.  I find myself often gathering language “to use later,” and this is very useful.
7.     What are your goals for the future?
Mainly to write more poetry, as well as other sorts of things, but I am actually superstitious about public enunciations of goals.
8.     What inspired you to write your poem titled ‘poetry’? (which is my personal favorite from Vile Lilt)
You may have already guessed that the poem is a rewrite of Marianne Moore’s poem of the same title.  This was actually my contribution to a group “intervention” by the Flarfists. We all wrote poems to submit to Poetry magazine, and each poem had to include a line about a nuthatch perching in a urethra. We all submitted our poems under separate cover; not one was accepted by the magazine.

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