The Next Big Thing

Thanks to my colleague Douglas Ray for tagging me to do the following interview; Douglas co-curates the Indian Springs School Visiting Writers Series with me. I am answering the following questions for what I hope will be my second book; my first book, Organic Furniture Cellar, came out in 2006.

What is the title of your book?

It’s not a book yet, just a manuscript, so its title might be mnemotechnics, or it might not be. mnemotechnics was a finalist in the 2012 Nightboat Poetry Prize, but it has been entered elsewhere with the title island of iridescent tree.

Who is the publisher of your book?

Who would like to be?

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry… what we might call experimental, visual, and/or open field poetry. Ecopoetic lyric visual poetry.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

mnemotechnics explores the mental craft of assigning meaning to objects in order to retrieve memories.

What inspired you to write this book/where did the idea for the book come from?

The problems of how we read, recognize words, and retrieve meaning has been of interest to me for a long time, and was a theme of my first book, Organic Furniture Cellar.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

11 years, but I’m still working on it. mnemotechnics comprises two sections, one of which is an edited version of my chapbook bird-book (2001). When it was in print, bird-book sold a lot of copies and was taught in at least one MFA program. I wanted to “complete” bird-book and make it a book-length manuscript– I felt like I owed it to the chapbook– but I never knew how to extend it. Last year, I decided that instead of trying to get back to the place where I was when I wrote bird-book, I would write from my current perspective, which is less visually experimental and objective and more narrative, personal, diaristic. I have started using objects (in this case, birds) as prompts to revisit and write about personal memories, and the second half of mnemotechnics allowed me to practice that method. Thus the first part of the manuscript is “about birds” and the second half is “not about birds,” not really, but birds are a theme that link them together.

What are your influences for this book / what other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

Hoa Nguyen, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky, Joseph Massey, Paul Celan, Stephen Ratcliffe… American Objectivists, Canadian visual poets… I’m a writer of short, sometimes intensely personal poems with short lines that sprawl across the page.  I also like visual art: collage, huge bare installation works, pieces with organic repetition (Tara Donovan, Katie Sehr). I spend more time looking at art and book arts on Pinterest and Tumblr than I do reading poetry, and I think my poetry is influenced as much by the visual arts as by the literary.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Tippi Hedren?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

bird-book, the chapbook that spawned the manuscript, has been set to music and dance. I think it’s a cross-genre artist’s book of poetry: you can lose yourself in it, like listening to a long piece of instrumental music, and let your imagination find its own nesting places.


About Jessica Smith
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