I suppose that with the upcoming April challenges, I ought to get more used to posting more than once per week, aye? Lesley Wheeler has provided me with a fine opportunity and theme in that direction with this writing process blog tour, wherein each tagged poet answers some questions about their writing process, and then tags two more. (A shout-out and thank you to Lesley first, and some biographical notes culled from her page: she is a poet and English professor from New York > New Jersey > Virginia, her poems have appeared in a number of acclaimed journals from AGNI to Poetry to Slate, and she is a fellow Rutgers grad. I was thoroughly charmed by her book The Receptionist and Other Tales, released in 2012; you can read my review here.)
I really intended to get this done earlier in the day, but alas, work happens. On with the questions!
1. What am I working on?
Quite a bit, and nothing at all. As I mentioned in my last post, I am gearing up for two poem-a-day challenges in April, one Oulipo-inspired, for the Found Poetry Review, and one for a charitable Poem-a-Thon, the details of which I’ll share in another post. I’m drumming up submissions for CSHS Quarterly, the new journal run by myself and Tessa Racked (send us things!), and still running weekly prompts for those who need some lift to their Saturdays. I’m in a workshop that’s got a few weeks left to go, and starting up in another one on Thursday, because I’m a masochist like that. But I haven’t submitted anything anywhere in ages, and often I feel as though I haven’t been writing for myself at all lately; so as much as I enjoy this flurry of activity, after April I think I’ll need to put my foot down and take a retreat somewhere to just write. The nucleus of a manuscript is taking shape in my mind, so we’ll see how that goes; and I have a self-published chapbook project or two that might make an appearance in 2014.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Oh hell, I don’t know.
In workshop, I’m often referred to as a lyrical poet, which I don’t mind: language and I have a long-standing love affair, and I take my rhythmic/sonic cues from Kay Ryan and Dylan Thomas (or try to, when I’m paying attention). I believe in the power of deft language and holding to grammar, more or less; maybe I’m retrograde in that sense, given modern poetry’s flirtation with battering language to a pulp. I’d like to think that I strike a good balance between leading the reader along and leaving enough mystery for them to figure out, presented in a tone that is friendly and familiar. Thematically, I do write through the lens of “gay poet” sometimes, no matter the subject, and the work often balkanizes from that point: do I write gay ecstatic poetry? do I tackle the medical and social spectres of gay life? I’m not by any means a political or social commentary poet of any skill. I don’t try to be cryptic, but I’m not afraid to demand that people look up things they don’t understand.
(It’s the 21st century, y’all. The encyclopedia is at your fingertips.)
So maybe I differ not in something I do uniquely, but in the intersection of things I don’t do. It’s something I’m still figuring out — and trying not to edit respective of my audience — five years down the line. But I feel like I’ve made progress when people tell me they can recognize a poem of mine. Makes me warm and fuzzy inside.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I used to be a prose writer, but had too many balls in the air to keep up the attention span. I’ll get back to it someday, maybe, but poetry is enchanting in that I feel a sense of satisfaction (temporarily) when a poem is finished (temporarily), and I can get away with pleasing the ear more. In terms of theme, I suppose I bend the “write what you know” rule more than I should, when I find a theme I enjoy, but I only feel a compulsion to capture particular moments that capture me. I don’t write for therapy, or justice, or formal exercise so much anymore; I’ve gotten much better about writing when writing is deserved. Looking back on my life with intention has given me more appreciation for how deserving some of it has been (and how undeserving is the rest).
4. How does your writing process work?
Never underestimate panic. I’m well-known to be a writer/reviser of the last few hours before a workshop or deadline. :D
Usually I open up an email and just begin typing. I’m relentless with myself when drafting; every line is subject to change, and sometimes I’ll delete and re-write a whole piece (nearly identically) several times. I like to edit as I go because it makes me feel finished when I get to the end, and keeps me from looking back frequently over the coming days, fretting about line breaks. (That way I can edit with actually-fresh eyes weeks/months down the line.) I’m terrible at revision, and would almost always prefer to be writing something new, but getting better at it.
While writing, I typically enjoy being in a café; I find the hum comforting and the caffeine essential. Writing longhand in a park or something almost never works for me, since I’d be crossing out and erasing holes through the paper, but I do like to jot ideas when in inspiring places. I try to block off at least a couple of hours to the task; sometimes that’s much more than enough, sometimes not nearly, depending on what I’m wrestling with. Since workshopping regularly, most of my attention is paid to the function of sound in the poems, trimming out everything non-essential to the piece, and ensuring that I’m taking a fresh perspective on the topic.
I was trying to write every day for a while, and succeeded, more or less, for the first four years. The last year has taught me restraint, and the value of letting things ripen. Unfortunately, I’m usually too busy to harvest at any time except the last possible moment… working on that, too. I’m at my best in the late mornings/early afternoons.
And on we go! Next Tuesday, the blog fun will continue with two lovely ladies of the blogosphere…
Khara House is a poet, educator, and freelance writer/editor, among other things. She earned her BA in English from Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and her MA in English with a Creative Writing focus and Poetry thesis from Northern Arizona University in Arizona. During the two years of her graduate education, Khara served as a member of the staff of Thin Air Magazine, the graduate literary journal at NAU, first as a staff reader, and later as the Poetry Editor for the journal. Khara’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atomy, Bluestem, Bolts of Silk, Enhance, Four Ties Literary Review, and the Red River Review. When Khara isn’t busy writing, she can be found teaching, volunteering, reading various works of poetry, fiction, narrative nonfiction, and so forth, taking part in local poetry readings, or singing her heart and lungs out at a local karaoke night.
Donna Vorreyer‘s first collection A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications) was released in 2013, along with her fourth and fifth chapbooks from Redbird Chapbooks and dancing girl press. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming inLabletter, Rhino, Linebreak, Weave, Cider Press Review, and Redactions. A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, she serves as a poetry editor for Mixed Fruit Magazine and lives in the Chicago area where she works as a middle school teacher and always roots for the White Sox.
I’ve known them both for some time now (years?!), and they are inspiring/wonderful people. Check out their blogs, especially on the 18th, when they’ll be following up on the blog tour! (As long as they remember… ;)