Tuesday, September 11, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Joshua Marie Wilkinson

Joshua Marie Wilkinson was born on December 2, 1977 and raised on 128th Street in the north end of Seattle on Haller Lake. He was educated at Roosevelt High School, North Seattle Community College (AA), Western Washington University (BAE), University of Arizona (MFA), University College Dublin (MA), and University of Denver, where he recently earned his PhD after completing a dissertation directed by Eleni Sikelianos. His writing has appeared in more than eighty journals and anthologies, including Colorado Review, New American Writing, The Seattle Review, and Jubilat. Written as a corollary to the Rachel's album Music for Egon Schiele, his first book, Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms (Pinball, 05), takes its title from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee and revolves around the intersections between Egon Schiele, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Georg Trakl circa WWI. His second book, Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk, won the 2005 Iowa Poetry Prize and developed from an ekphrastic conversation with the paintings of Susan Rothenberg, among others. Figures for a Darkroom Voice (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 07) was co-written with Noah Eli Gordon in Denver (its title was lifted from an Eric Baus poem) and will be released next month with drawings and art work by Noah Saterstrom. Wilkinson's fourth collection, The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth, is due out in 2008 or 2009, and Octopus Books recently published The Book of Truants & Projectorlight. Two new chapbooks are forthcoming: The Book of Flashlights, Clover, & Milk (with artwork by Cecilia Johnson; Pilot Books, 07) and A Brief History of Gossip (Dos Press, 08). Since 2003, he has been making a tour documentary about the band Califone with Solan Jensen, and that film is set for release next year as well. For now, he edits/directs a poetry journal on dvd called Rabbit Light Movies in Chicago where he also teaches creative writing at Loyola University. New poems are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, Luna, and Sonora Review. He publishes under a pen-name after his paternal grandmother, Marie Wilkinson (1913-2000), who was also a poet and teacher from Saskatchewan and Montana.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Well, I spent about four years writing it. Actually, though he probably won't remember this, Mark Doty told me that he wrote one poem when he did his MFA years and years ago. This stuck with me, or clicked something on for me, and I decided I would do the same and try to work on this one project. I moved to Bratislava shortly after graduating from college (via Czech Republic, Spain, and two months in Ankara and a week up on the Turkish Black Sea). I wanted to be close to the places where Egon Schiele painted, lived, worked, served in WWI, and was--however briefly--imprisoned. In this way, writing became something quite different, in that I wasn't writing "poems" or discreet things that could safely be called poems at all. But I wrote a lot--a couple thousand pages (most of it terribly awful stuff, stuff I had to get through, apparently) and took lots of photos--and traveled pretty extensively by train around that region: in Austria, Slovakia, Czech, Northern Italy, and I ended up in Hungary three or four times.

Before I moved to Bratislava (which, if you don't know it, is about the dead center of Europe, the capital of Slovakia, and on the Danube, downriver from Vienna and upriver from Budapest), I had applied to MFA programs—not because I thought you had to have one to be a writer, but because I wanted time to write, some mentors, and time to teach. I ended up in Tucson at University of Arizona, and worked there with Jane Miller, mostly. She was a great teacher and she cut this "Schiele poem" down drastically--saying, basically, you have twelve good pages here (out of the 120 page manuscript I'd naively handed in) and she said: re-write it around these twelve pages. I was devastated, but she was absolutely right. And I wrote—after a maddening (but ultimately really positive) summer in my friend Solan's basement in Alaska trying to complete it. As with most writers, it was categorically rejected from dozens of presses; and then this little press called Pinball read it (I was in Dublin, Ireland by this time, in film school there), and they ended up publishing it. They are lovely people and did a really nice job with the book. So writing the book changed me considerably (I started it in 2000 and finished the final draft sometime in 2004; it was published in June of 2005). The book's appearance was a tremendous relief—and a bit confusing, mostly because not much in my daily life changed. Pinball is a small press, run by a couple, Laura and Austin, who do just about everything by hand, and like many other small presses, they have limited distribution, so....it was a relief to me, and a relief that we'd been able to get rights to a rarely-reproduced painting of Schiele's younger sister Gerti for the cover—from my favorite "period" of Schiele's: 1910. But nothing major happened at all. By the time it came out I was living in Denver working on my PhD and trying to cut the film I was making with Solan. And I had already finished drafts of my second book by the time Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms was out, so....I was ready to be "beyond" my first book, but didn't want to overlook its appearance in the world—a strange feeling, I guess, but it's always so exciting to focus on the newest stuff, and by that time my second manuscript of poems was a few years old....I was surprised, actually, that Suspension got some reviews, and two years on it's almost sold out its first printing.

2 - How long have you lived in Denver, and how does geography, if at all,impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Well, I lived in Denver for three years—the longest I've lived any place since I lived in Seattle, where I grew up. Denver was the most uninteresting place I've lived, but I got so much writing and film work done and taught so much (and earned my PhD) that I can hardly curse the place. Presently, I live in Chicago, but I just moved here. I think geography plays a huge part, but it's not one that I'm particularly aware of at any given moment. I think all the traveling I did (and continue to do in a more limited way) has an undeniable effect—it's tricky to say how exactly.
There are places I keep returning to in my work, certain landscapes that my writing seems to want to call up: parts of Dublin, near where I lived (Ranelagh, Rathmines); certain streets and corners in Tucson, Arizona; some of the towns in northern Turkey, especially Trabzon which I fell in love with immediately; Seattle must be in the work since I spent so much of my life there and continue to go back a few times a year; the Baltics and Poland where I traveled with Solan; British Columbia and the Yukon, which I drove through to get up to Juneau, Alaska from Arizona in order to finish Suspension...I think all these places sort of ghost in and out of the work in unknown ways, and certain places continue to figure, to be backdrops, to be imagined. There are so many places—

but sometimes it's just places I passed through: the train station in Warsaw was pretty haunting, for some reason; when Solan and I got to Latvia there was about two feet of snow on the ground, and this stays with me; being in Trabzon on census day was like being in a recently abandoned town; there are parts of Ankara that I know I'll never see again (the top of this weird little rubble hill above the city comes to mind)....all these places haunt the work, but never intentionally. I loved Lisbon and Stockholm and all the times I've been to Lincoln, Nebraska I have loved since two of my good friends live there; I stayed in Las Cruces, New Mexico one night with an old friend when I had to get out of Denver; I spend one weekend a year in Southern California with my family and always try to get out to Joshua Tree, which I've been to four or five times now; there is a little driftwood beach just south of Bellingham, Washington, where I went to college that I think of, a place where I took my friends when they'd visit; I spent a weekend in Budapest with a friend who I've since completely lost touch with; all these places, as far as I have any sense of it—and perhaps I am the worst person to tell you about what I've written—all of these places seem to gather and become a phantom landscape behind the poems. Montana where I went as a kid; weird parts of Nevada that Solan and I drove through more than ten years ago; this certain corner in Green Point, Brooklyn where I took an insanely long walk with my friend Mathias in the middle of the night...I could go on and on, actually....the first time I was in New Orleans by myself for about a week, wandering around, about nine years ago...For each one I think of, there are about 8 more and it seems to fan out exponentially....I used to drive these really long stretches in the States alone with Son House and John Coltrane records playing on repeat: Savannah to New Orleans; Albuquerque to Salt Lake City; my friends and I drove from Boise to Denver in a day last year after three readings....on and on....L.A. to Seattle in a day by myself....driving across Texas to Atlanta from Tucson with my friend Dave a couple years ago.... and Solan and I were in 35 cities in a period of three or four months with a band called Califone, making a tour documentary about them, and places like Napoli I will never be able to forget; that city is astonishing. Race and Gender? I have no idea. Both of these are integral, but how, exactly, I couldn't begin to articulate.

3 - 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?

A poem usually begins as prose writing, and I accumulate a lot of it, then I mine it for something that has a certain spark. I throw away heaps of what issues forth. But I type up what seems to pass some test and then I arrange it, sometimes into discreet poems, but usually into longer sections, passages, parts, or longer poems. I tend to gravitate towards the "book-length poem"—though I can't exactly say why. I wrote two of them, Suspension and my second book, Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk, sort of simultaneously, and they're quite different from one another, but I still love not having to be a "poem" poet—

though I forced myself to be, in my new book, just to break it up and not to keep writing the same book—though I don't think I'm really in danger of that. When I write, I'm generally working on a "project" of some kind, and I can't live without having a project; I go insane if I don't have one; I fidget or get into a kind of low-point which lifts instantly when I begin working again. So I try to sustain this by having a few different kinds of projects. I'm not an "everyday I write at 6am" writer. I write heavily when I need to; in the interim I have other projects like teaching (which I love nearly as much as writing), and reading, and interviewing other poets (I'm slowly interviewing Hoa Nguyen and Dottie Lasky now), and making short poem movies of my friends' and strangers' poems. I write an occasional review (I'm writing one of Jay Wright's new book that Flood Editions just released, it's so lovely, so strange), but I need to do more review writing, definitely.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I think they are part of it, oddly. I think I would've answered differently a year ago, but after doing five readings in the Midwest with Zach Schomburg and Mathias Svalina, I really loved the ones that went well—and they seemed to be generative in a way that I hadn't experienced before—and I tended to be really discouraged with my readings I thought were really poor. Reading in Mathias's basement in Lincoln, Nebraska was the single best reading I've been a part of. It was also one of the smallest audiences, but everything seemed to click, and it was fun, and Julie Doxsee read with us—maybe it was just because I was feeling sentimental and silly because it was the last of five readings on the road; but it went so well: the reading didn't feel outside the work, it felt a part of it in a way that a reading—even readings on that tour—didn't feel...So I think now—though I don't improvise at all—that readings feed into the creative process. And perhaps when you're off a bit—and there are those readings where you'd rather be in bed or someplace else or talking to the cashier at the bookstore or at home with tea, your dog, and the new Tiny Vipers record—and it does seem "counter" to your creative process.

5 - 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 tend to go in spells with this. But I'm never trying to work out conscious questions in my work; which is funny, partly because certain poems I've written tend to ask a lot of questions (Lug is full of them), and partly because I tend to read a lot of theory. Depending on how broadly this is meant, of course, (I mean: I like to know what poets are reading, so I'll mention a few favorites here if that's alright) I return often to Wittgenstein's notebooks and the Investigations; there was a certain time writing Suspension where I spent a lot of time with his Remarks on Colour and Ray Monk's amazing biography, one of my favorite books of all time; Benjamin's little essays on Baudelaire and Brecht and Proust; Žižek's film writing, his interviews, his writing on Lacan (so everything); Foucault's interviews, pieces of other later writings; Adorno's Minima Moralia is a favorite; all of Barthes from Writing Degree Zero to Barthes Par Barthes , my favorite of his books. I never fell in love with Spivak or Butler or Marx or even Deleuze and Guattari the way some of my friends have, variously; though I really liked Deleuze's book on Francis Bacon, and read it while I was living in Dublin and visiting Bacon's reconstructed studio there. I think that Badiou's Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art are some of the most devastating propositions about making art that I've encountered. And I love Marjorie Perloff's criticism. I think some of the pieces in Differentials are so wonderful and even a few sad and disarming pieces in there: I'm thinking of "Why I'm not a Poet" and the first essay; I've been reading William Corbett's prose which is wonderful....on and on....I tend to bounce around with so much stuff. Derrida, actually, has a couple of books I love: namely, The Post Card, his essay "On Forgiveness"; his writings about Celan are indispensable to me; and I love the early essays on Ponge; his eulogies which are so heartbreaking and beautiful; and his writings about poetry (the hedgehog!); and his last interview, which my friend Dave gave me as a gift recently—all these I love and will return to again and again. I don't write directly about this stuff—or address it directly in the work—but I imagine some, all, or at least a little of it comes in here and there.

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

I think there's some Phillip Levine essay or interview where he talks about how there's no more great poetry editors left. I wish there were more editors! I love it when poetry editors make suggestions. Noah Eli Gordon and I had a few collaborative poems out at that journal Forklift, Ohio and Matt Hart, the editor, wrote back with suggestions (he suggested that we remove one of the lines that I'd written that Noah had been wanting to take out—but for some stubborn reason, I had resisted) and Matt's suggestion was right: it improved the poem, really, and I caved in, gratefully. Noah, of course, had a good laugh. For my books, the editing has been relatively minimal. Though in the cases of Lug and Suspension, I got a few good suggestions and they caught really miniscule stuff that I wouldn't have. But I've never had a comprehensive overhaul by an outside reader; this is probably why Jane Miller was so huge an influence. She wouldn't let me get away with any padding or lesser writing. It all had to be as good as the best writing, so I ended up throwing out hundreds of pages of that manuscript—exactly what I needed to do: a good outside eye/ear with the confidence to say, "write better, I know you can." It's so rare anymore. Now I'm a scrupulous editor of myself, rarely show raw or half-finished work to anybody, and usually don't try to publish things as rashly as I used to.

7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It's hard, but I love it more and more! I keep wanting to make books, for some reason. I love it, and I never know what I'm doing. Usually I set up some troubling or fastidious constraint (like making a book that conforms exactly--

syllable for syllable, line for line, stanza for stanza, poem for poem, section for section--exactly to one of Paul Celan's books in the original German) and then trying to carry it out breaks down and at the moment it does, if there's any life left, usually it's supercharged—that is, whatever has made it through the gears of this cruel machine is even more alive precisely because of the constraint. That's my new book—what I hope will be my fifth book (it will have a one-word title, I promise) but these things tend to get all out of order, because who knows if anybody will publish it; and I really did that, and it really did break down, and I'm so happy with what emerged, even though it was an insane idea to follow Celan's German that closely, syllable for syllable, etc. It becomes obsessive to try to make some book—for me it's not poems, it is a small book, and I love the idea of writing a book that feels complete but that can be read in one or two sittings. A book you can read cover to cover in the bathtub, that's the ideal thing to me. Does it get harder? I don't think anything will be harder than trying to finish my first book, which several times I threw out the window, into the trash, onto a passing train car, into the jaws of a lost lion....I hope nothing's harder than that! I actually broke down during all that in Tucson; my friend can vouch for it. But then again I brooded about a new book this summer and finally had a breakthrough once I started teaching again—I tend to need a lot going on in order to get work done—otherwise I walk a lot and read and read. So it's still hard—I'm talking about a new monster poem that I'm writing now, what I hope will be my sixth book, and now all I want to do is work on it and go to class to see what my students are doing and thinking about and writing and come home and cook and walk my dog and then write and write and write until late, that's what I want to do now. So if it doesn't get any easier—and I don't necessarily think it does—it does seem more and more exciting, partly because you know you might have some small audience for it, and you know that you can't rely on what you've done before—you have to leave the other books behind you and do something new.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

No clue. But I really like the new Tiny Vipers record and I just started reading Selah Saterstrom's new novel, The Meat and Spirit Plan, and it's great so far.

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

My dad's a businessman, but we find some common ground with regard to work habits and we both love to talk about work. We both like having projects; we're both probably clueless without one, so it's perpetual. We were in this antique furniture store—three stories—in downtown Seattle, a few weeks ago (I had come home for his 65th birthday, to visit my family, and to do a couple of readings for this tribute to Theodore Roethke) and my dad and I were really just wandering around to talk—neither of us was really shopping for furniture. But my dad's really curious; he'll go into just about any old shop. And mostly we were just talking about stuff and walking around and looking as much at the old building (near South Lake Union, on Republican, I think) which had been an old car dealership maybe 60-80 years ago, and then it was the first indoor archery range in the city, which, I just love that). Then my dad started asking the guy behind the counter what the secret to staying in business is: and the guy said a few things, but at the end of it all, he said, "Go to work, just: go to work." And he said it really emphatically. Maybe because I was stuck with something that I was writing at the time that when he said it, it reminded me that you just have to go back to the page (I write by hand, with a pen) and work it out that way—that's it. There's no real solution from the outside, only from within the work. In this sense, the constraint is just an exterior ruse, just a point of departure, not a solution at all, just a diving board or a break in the forest through which to enter. But you're still in the woods all of a sudden. At any rate, it made some sense to me. Partly, also, I think, because it seemed to have to do with the degree of commitment to the work, the way he was saying it.

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

I sort of don't know and I still don't have a good answer for this. Though I make little films and have been making this Califone documentary with Solan—and I made two narrative films in film school—and though I write books, I'm still not sure how they feed off each other. But that's not the question. How easy has it been to move between them? Fairly seamless, I guess. I tend to be belligerently visual, and I tend to film stuff the same way I generate writing—just try to get it down (or into the camera) and then worry about shaping it into something later. When I need a break from a writing project (and I tend to take 2-3 month breaks from any book that I'm writing, so that when I come back I'm a different enough person/writer/reader/editor/thinker that I know exactly how to change or rearrange or edit or cut it down, etc.) then I switch to film, and go out and collect footage or work on a batch of little poem films for a few weeks for hours on end. When I first got to Chicago, I'd ride my bike around or ride the train around just collecting footage. There are these huge steel factories near my house on the Chicago river that they're closing down, apparently; so I filmed down there and on the buses. Especially when it's cloudy, I go and film, mostly because I just love being outside when it's overcast (I detest sunlight, direct sunlight, almost invariably, which is odd to most people), I'll gather up a bunch of shots and then maybe make them into some thing—have varying shots be the visual score to a poet reading from her/his work. I got all this blurry footage down in Hyde Park of these worked over, corroded, graffiti-ed, and blotted-out murals and it turned out to be wonderful with this killer poem by George Kalamaras. I took this train station footage of the Monroe Street Station on the Red Line in the loop, and for some reason that, paired with an old old light switch on campus at University of Chicago or in the Seminary Bookstore—I can't remember which—turned out to be perfect for this poem called "From Left, to Right" by Lily Brown.

What's the appeal? What's the appeal of poetry and film? or the appeal of moving between them? Probably because they are so drastically different and when I've had time off from shooting and editing (time on with the writing) then I come back, especially to the editing console up in my little office, totally renewed—and I can work quickly, intuitively, energetically on a bunch of things at once. Then, vice versa: I come back to the page marked from all the film/video stuff and write differently then. At least it feels different: a bit more distant and awkwardly new.

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. But when I'm in the midst of a new project I tend to rearrange my day to get my writing done. I've found that obstacles are particularly productive. I'm not a let's-sit-on-the-verandah-at-my-quaint-retreat writer, and I don't write much when I travel—just bits. Still, I've learned not to force myself to write everyday; I tend to write a lot very quickly when I'm clicking, so it's not something I necessarily need every day, or even every week. But there are times—right now—where all I want to do is get back to this new monster poem—

and unlike lots of other writers I know I'll deliberately put it off, the writing itself, then by the time I get to it (late at night, after coffee or black tea) I'm totally enthralled and focused and everything's quiet and my dog Bella's asleep and the phone's on silent. And I sleep late (when I can) and wake up and walk Bella and have coffee and get back to it right then or repeat that earlier step: stave it off all day, even several days until I'm sort of fanatical and want to work and work and work. It's a bizarre method, sort of like Žižek's writing (the author of what, two dozen+ books?)—he claims to hate writing, but convinces himself to "make notes" and then convinces himself just to "edit" and organize it into something, thereby surpassing any actual "writing." I relate to this thoroughly. Though, I don't necessarily hate writing. I like having material to work with, but you know you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, to resort to a cliché I quite like!

A typical day....It's often different, but I make coffee and take Bella out for a long or short walk depending on the heat (if it's more than 80 degrees already then a short one) since I don't like the heat and she's easily fatigued, which is sort of hilarious. (A couple blocks and she comes back and has breakfast and then runs around for a couple minutes and goes back to bed!) Then I head to school; prepare for class; teach (usually my favorite part of the day); then come home and eat or cook something; read a bit; go on a long walk with my dog; and either go out with my friends, or more frequently lately, stay in to read (Tolstoy now), or go for a late coffee around the corner to a cafe on Fullerton and Orchard, and get back to the writing until 1 or 2am.

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

I turn to some of my favorite books: Elizabeth Willis's Turneresque. I adore that book and have read it at least a dozen times. But it always seems new, unknown, totally (wonderfully) resistant to my reading. It seems, indefatigable—and I love it. Other books, too, of course. But I usually have to go to poetry (I have other favorite authors like Nabokov or Faulkner or Beckett) but usually I have to go back to my favorite books of poetry. Christopher Nealon's The Joyous Age is a new favorite of mine; that and John Yau's poems. What else? Lately O'Hara's letter poems, which are so hilarious and sad and lovely. All kinds of stuff; there are books all over the place, which has been a hassle every time I move—many will relate—but it's worth carting all those boxes again, and getting to re-unpack the library again. Sometimes I'll go back to something I haven't read since I was in college, like James Tate's second book, which I just re-read for the first time in maybe 10 years, and it's so good, so funny and odd and sad. Early Michael S. Harper poems. All kinds of stuff.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Well, I can't say with respect to the new monster poem that I'm writing. I usually don't show or can't say much about my "in progress" work. But the project that will make up my fifth book—which I'm not yet sending out—that book is the Celan-constraint book, and it's tight small little poems (about as much text on the page as an Elizabeth Robinson poem) and made up of five longish (15-25 page) poems; it's comprised of terse, awkward line-breaks, and heaps of images that sort of flow together. I love it more than anything I've written and for that reason I feel sure that nobody will publish it! That sounds coy, but I actually feel serious. Though nobody finds it amusing or sympathetic when writers with several books out complain about their publishing tribulations—except other poets with a few books out! But maybe it should be like that, I don't know. I talk with Noah about this every week—and we both have books on a few different presses, which is fun and confusing and maddening, and maybe just part of the whole thing for poetry right now, unless you're Ashbery or Anne Carson. My early work (I'm thinking of Suspension) is more narrative and is a record of this attempt to write a straight forward poem, but having that totally break down. One voice—that the reader is invited to associate with the author's voice—becomes subsumed by all these other voice—there are nine or eleven other voices that take over and compete for attention in the book. Though I didn't necessarily set out to do that. My newer Celan-constraint book seems drastically different—plus there are three full books between them: a book of fragments gathered up and collaged together (Lug); a collaboratively written book that's pretty insane, with Noah of course; and a book of prose poems and fragmented poems, that seems like it's all from some unified world—so my Celan book seems drastically different than my first book.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are thereany other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Yeah, this is huge. My first book came largely from five things: Egon Schiele's paintings; the landscapes of central Europe; Ludwig Wittgenstein's writings; Georg Trakl's poetry; and various other contemporary poets who were crucial to me at that time, like Susan Howe's early poems, Carolyn Forché's The Angel of History, and Cole Swensen's work, especially Noon and Such Rich Hour--which are still two of my favorite books. My second book is all fragments and draws on any number of visual artists: the way that Bacon painted Lucian Freud, and how Freud painted Bacon; Ron Mueck's sculptures; Eric Fischl's suburban paintings; and especially Susan Rothenberg's paintings from the 90s which are so stunning. The book started as just descriptive/ekphrastic poems done in conversation with a whole book of her paintings, one poem for each painting. That was the beginning of Lug. And there are parts where if you hold the text up to the painting, it's just a plain description—though I hope the fragments work on their own as well. Writing Figures for a Darkroom Voice with Noah was probably just me responding to Noah! His writing is often very dense, lots of complex sentences, lots of chandeliers and helicopters and stuff like that; I don't care for helicopters or chandeliers (I hate chandeliers! Why?! Who knows!). So that book is probably me just trying to navigate Noah's twisty lines and sentences which I didn't fully appreciate until we wrote together, sitting at a cafe working in a notebook, day after day after day for months (as an aside, I once advised Sasha Steensen's MFA workshop students at Colorado State to never write a book with Noah, because he'll make you finish it! I've never met anybody with half the dedication, passion, and full-on life for poetry he has—the haters can go back to America's Next Top Model or whatever)--but another secret is that I would have the dictionary open a lot of the time while Noah was writing his line (we traded) and I'd find good words (like quorum or butcher birds) to weave into my passages; plus we'd read David Shapiro and Elizabeth Willis's first two books, and Martha Ronk's In a Landscape of Having to Repeat, and all kinds of other stuff. My fourth book I wanted to be a response to other living poets, and not write it on big sheets of paper (which I did with my first two books) or write it with Noah (!!!) which I did after I wrote my third book, but that book still hasn't come out so they get re-numbered.... The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth (which'll hopefully be out in 08 or 09) was based on the structure of Karen Volkman's book Spar. That failed, as I mentioned earlier—a failure that happens with most constraints I think will be generative, but I wrote it on my kitchen table on my laptop, and it's a kind of response to Eric Baus' The To Sound, Spar, Christine Hume's Alaskaphrenia, Turneresque, and a few other books, mostly prose poems, though not all. Just books I fell in love with and spent a lot of time reading and teaching. It's also a response to all the Antonioni films I was watching, mostly La Notte, which is my favorite and I watched it about 22 times when I was writing that book. I don't know what the newest book is a response to. I feel like it's a response to Mathias Svalina's Above the Fold poems, and Frank Stanford's The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, but I had finished writing the book before I encountered either of those....so I don't know.

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

See #'s 1-14. And Dickinson and Ulysses and Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntley, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker. One of my all time favorite books.

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

I'd like to live in Poland; spend time in South America; go on trips in Antarctica and the Arctic with Solan (that's his job, going to Greenland to look for the narwhal and whatnot); there are heaps and heaps of places I'd like to get to and many (like Lithuania, Helsinki, Southeast Asia) that I'd like to get back to....I'd like to write all the books that I haven't yet written or even thought of, that sounds like fun. Doesn't Barthes have a list of all the books he wanted to write? I'd like to make a list like that and then write them all. I can't imagine anything better.

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 love being a filmmaker and a teacher and a poet all at once. I probably love teaching more than the other two, but I'm in a wretched state if I am deprived of writing poems for too long, oddly. But on a daily basis I like teaching better; it's the best job I can imagine, getting to talk about books, poems, writing, literature, big questions, and little questions with interested people for a better part of the day. I like Antonioni's response when he was asked, in a world without film, what would you have become? and he said, "A filmmaker." Much as I try to deprive myself of writing—these petty games of staving it off, or convincing myself I'm only "editing" or "making notes" like Žižek—it feels like a terrible necessity that I cannot do without for extended periods.

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

Everything else is exterior to it and inscribes itself into it.

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

I'm reading War and Peace right now; it's great. I loved the "Auto-bug-offery" they assembled as The Way It Wasn't from James Laughlin's notes. I couldn't put that book down. The letters between Bill Berkson and Bernadette Mayer (What's Your Idea of a Good Time?) are fantastic; a little chapbook of drawings by Brian Calvin and poems by Devin Johnston called Looking Out that I got from SPD is beautifully done by LVNG; and—just one more, though I can think of a bunch more—Lorine Niedecker's Paean to Place that Woodland Pattern and Light & Dust published from her handwriting is so lovely, I keep reading and re-reading it. I love handwriting so much. I think somebody should make a journal of handwriting, of poets' and their handwriting—or has this already happened?

20 - What are you currently working on?

A monster poem. It's going to be big; it's going to be very, very big, but I'm going to work on it for years. My old friend Tim from Seattle sent me a book on playwriting, so I think I'm going to write a play too, if I can do that at the same time as the monster poem. I also wrote some stories in grad school that I quickly put down; and I'd like to go back to them; and Julie Doxsee and I have been writing collaborative poems which are pretty wild…And Noah and I are working on a tour, ten days in the Midwest: Indiana, Ohio, Upstate New York, Michigan, Chicago, and three or four of those dates with Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Goransson, two of my favorite people. That's next month! And a bunch more readings in the spring with Noah, and hopefully the Califone film will be out next year. It's going to be called Made a Machine by Describing the Landscape. Then I'd like to go on tour with Neko Case or Cass McCombs or Rachel's or all of them together.

12 or 20 questions archive

1 comment:

Noah Eli Gordon said...

I don't think Josh's bio really tells us enough about himself. I mean,which room of the house did he grow up in? which playground did he frequent? what were his boyhood aspirations? when did he learn to ride a bicycle? what sorts of foodstuff fortified him through his youth?