My Writing Process Blog Tour

Poet Michael Wells tagged me to answer some questions for the Writing Process Blog Tour, a linked meme of interview questions for writers to get a chance to reflect on their work.

"8 June 2009 / Buffalo," from The Daybooks, published in Newport Life, ed. Susana Gardner

“8 June 2009 / Buffalo,” from The Daybooks, published in Newport Life, ed. Susana Gardner (click to view)

QUESTION #1: What are you working on?

I have a job and a family, so I am working on keeping those things in order. In terms of poetry, I am working on a very long manuscript that addresses “micro aggressions” and the sexual politics of everyday life called The Daybooks (you can read excerpts at Bling that SingsBoston Poetry Magazine, Newport Life, The Rumpus, and Zigest). I’m also working on a chapbook-sized set of 30 poems with 30 words each (kind of like this series) about dreams of architecture called Dream House.  I started Dream House to flesh out a manuscript that’s kind of about bodies, families, organization, architecture, and fragmentation that I’m currently calling Shards & Parts (but that might change).

QUESTION #2: How does your voice differ with others of its genre?

I don’t know how much my voice differs from others in the genre. I write very un-dreamy poems, usually, by which I mean I write about everyday experience and memory, not about imaginary or made-up things– of course that’s a hard distinction to try to draw, but I admire a lot of poetry that is more “imaginative,” like Michelle Detorie’s After-Cave and CAConrad’s A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon. My style is different; my toolbox is different. I want to capture the moments of thinking that are pre-narrative, confused, lapsed, dirty, soft around the edges, vague.

“‘Thinking’ as the conceptual basis of literary production suggests the possibilities for leaps, jumps, fissures, repetition, bridges, schisms, colloquialisms, trains of associations, and memory; as a literary mode it would rely on concepts related to spontaneity, free association, and improvisation.”

– Charles Bernstein

Recently I have been interested in poems by Dorothea Lasky, Sandra Simonds, Gina MyersNatasha Tretheway, Sandra Beasley, and Hoa Nguyen, which is a little weird because their voices are so diverse. Each of them speaks to me in a different way, and I feel like I’m in a conversation with them where we are each bringing a piece of a massive puzzle that will never form a whole image.

”It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that every piece you put in fits, and then when you finish it, you see that it’s not the picture. That was the idea. The jigsaw puzzle, everything finishes, and it’s not the picture. Then you do another version, and it’s not the picture. Finally you realize that you are not going to get a picture.”

– Morton Feldman

QUESTION #3: Why do I write what I do?  

It changes depending on what I’m writing. When I wrote Organic Furniture Cellar (Bootstrap/Outside Voices 2006), I was in love and exploring new worlds for the first time– it records youthful exuberance. When I wrote Life-List (Chax Press 2015), I was dealing with grief and memory through an obsession with birdwatching. The Daybooks was born out of a desire to talk about what really happens to women in everyday life– not just love, or grief, or violence, or sex, but a more inclusive and textural “real life.” Dream House is a constraint-based exercise to keep myself writing when I’m not inspired to work on The Daybooks; I started working on it because of a brief conversation I had with artist Noah Saterstrom about the recurrence of specific houses in dreams.

Noah Saterstrom, "Not the House in my Dreams No. 1," 2014

Noah Saterstrom, “Not the House in my Dreams No. 1,” 2014

QUESTION #4 How does your writing process work? 

I’m a librarian. I like things to be organized. First I have a plan: I want to write about x. I make notes about what kind of information I want to cover. For Daybooks, I have a huge Excel spreadsheet where I plan out each poem. This allows me to write the content later– I sketch out what I want the content to be, and I can do the work of making the content when I feel inspired or find interesting source material to use.  This method became essential when I became a mother and never had time to write. When I did get a few minutes of free time, I didn’t have the wide brain-space to wait to get inspired. So I started keeping more notes to refer back to when I had time to write the poem. There is a lot of planning, but the actual poem-writing takes perhaps an hour. Then the poem morphs through small editorial changes over a series of months as I keep staring at the file when I write more poems.

Alixandra Bamford, "nautilus shell"

Alixandra Bamford, “nautilus shell”

When writing a particular poem, I have a vision– a phrase, a line, a group of shapes. Usually my poems begin with an image of one phrase or word and its particular placement on a page. Once the first mark is made, I fill in around it. If you imagine a page divided into quadrants, I often start in the middle of the upper right quadrant and work from there– usually up, counter-clockwide and around, like a nautilus.

NEXT: Follow K. Lorraine Graham’s and Michelle Detorie’s blogs to see their answers to these questions!

K. Lorraine Graham (and Lester)

K. Lorraine Graham and Lester

K. LORRAINE GRAHAM is the author of Terminal Humming from Edge Books, and a second collection forthcoming from Coconut Books in 2015 that will be called 1) Meta Horror 2) The Men Are Etcetera or 3) The Rest Is Censored. Occasionally, she gets excited about transnational theory, network analysis and the relationship between technology and affect. Her current writing projects are about debt, anxiety and operatic suffering. She has work forthcoming in Postmodern Culture and suddenly lives in DC. Wherever she lives, she lives with Lester Young, a pacific parrotlet, who is featured regularly on her Tumblr.

Michelle Detorie and Sarah

Michelle Detorie and Sarah

MICHELLE DETORIE lives in Santa Barbara, CA, where she edits Hex Presse and coordinates the Writing Center at Santa Barbara City College. She is the author of numerous chapbooks including Fur Birds (Insert Press), How Hate Got Hand (eohippus labs), and Bellum Letters (Dusie). She also makes visual poems, poetry objects, and time-based poetry. In 2007, Michelle was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship, and in 2010 she won a direct-to-artist grant from the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative for her public art project, The Poetry Booth. Her first full-length collection, After-Cave, is just out from Ahsahta Press. Her current project, The Sin in Wilderness, is a book-length erasure project about love, animals, and affective geography.


About Jessica Smith
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