Wednesday, February 20, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Lisa Jarnot

Lisa Jarnot's fourth collection of poems, Night Scenes, will be available from Flood Editions this spring. She is the owner and operator of Catskill Organics Farm.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I wouldn't say that it changed my life. It more simply entered into the trajectory of the work that I do as a poet. I'm not really fond of the idea of publishing as a gauge of what one does as a writer— when I teach in MFA programs I have a lot of students who come to me with the burning question "Where should I send my manuscript?" I think the real question should be "What is my relation to my craft?"

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

I've lived in New York for 14 years and yes, New York is in the poems, but more importantly the influence of the New York School is in my poems. I came to New York to be close to two of my favorite writers, Bernadette Mayer and Allen Ginsberg. There are other writers of the Lower East Side who are masters as well: I think John Godfrey is one of the great American poets. People maybe don't know his work as much as they should/could. And David Henderson who started out as an editor of Umbra magazine and part of the Black Arts Movement. So I do feel very lucky to have spent time with some of these folks. As for race and gender, that feels like a question that needs to be answered by a critic rather than a poet. I think of poetry in Robert Creeley's terms, that it's an expression of the Human Condition plain and simple. When I hear words like race and gender I feel like I'm in a classroom.

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?

The poem usually begins with a musical phrase. I don't think in terms of books.

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

Part of. The articulation of the language is part of the creative work for me, though I don't think it has to be for everyone. (I think of Emily Dickinson who never gave a poetry reading. She didn't suffer for it.)

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?

My writing is simply what it is. The concerns are actual rather than theoretical-- I think of poetry as part of the process of living. Again, I'll leave the theoretical for the critics.

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

I've never worked with an outside editor.

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

Each book is different. I've never thought of them in terms of level of difficulty.

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

I write in whatever form the work takes naturally. Again, I wouldn't say it's a question of level of difficulty. Some things need to be expressed as essay, others as poems, others as letters to the editor, etc.

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 don't have a writing routine. Occasionally an opening line of a poem will come into my head and I'll write it down. If I'm lucky I have ten or twelve new poems a year. But most of my time is spent doing other things: reading, running, cooking, knitting, gardening. I start the day with coffee and a jog and I read the UK Guardian online. I'm always a poet, but I'm not always thinking about writing poems.

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

I don't try to force writing, so I don't seek inspiration. I simply write poems when they are present to be written. Other times I do other things. Those other things (see above) may create sparks of inspiration, and the breaks/stalls/blocks/gathering periods may be necessary. I think that looking for the poem is a bad way to go about it.

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

My work is all really part of a continuum. I think of writing as a process, so each book is part of a bigger constellation of what I do as a writer. Each book feeds off the last. Again, I'd be very happy to let other people hash out comparisons of my books.

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?

Everything. I don't think that books necessarily come from books— or rather that seems like a very limiting way to think about book-writing. I think the spoons and forks in the silverware drawer can be just as interesting as War and Peace.

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

Really everything I read is important to my work and to my life. I'm a horticulturalist, so there is a lot of green reading material in my life. Paleoanthropology, astronomy, biology, filmmaking, rock and roll, radical politics, liberal politics (the new york times), etc. It's all there.

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

Everything I haven't done yet. Really.

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 am now entering into work as a horticulturist and organic farmer. If I have time I'd also like to become a classics scholar, psychoanalyst, karate black belt, architect, doctor, and geologist.

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

I was good at it.

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

This is pretty impossible to answer. The greatest great book I've read (and re-read) is Finnegans Wake, but Ulysses is up there too.

20 - What are you currently working on?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You seem like you write good poetry. Your cat is cute too. Feel free to put some of your work on my website if you'd like. It would be an honor.