Interview Conducted by Deborah Hill
Can you describe your work ethic regarding your writing; for example, do you wait for inspiration and ideas, or sit and wait until the work happens?
You don’t have time to sit and wait—when you have time you have to write. Writing is work. If we could sit and wait for inspiration that would be nice, but that would be like someone refusing to plant a garden until the weather forecast for the upcoming year promises the ideal mixture of rain and sun. We don’t reject the garden, we just try as best as we can to adjust to the weather. There’s a certain diligence that is necessary. Write whenever you can, even if it sucks, even if you’re horribly uninspired, even (especially) if, at the moment, it’s the last thing you feel like you’re able to do.
How has your writing and your process evolved?
I used to wait a little more, I was much more accepting of being uninspired, to a certain extent. The more I work the more I’ve come to understand writing as a continuum. I feel like you have to get through the uninspired stuff to find the good writing—you can’t just wait for it. Sometimes (and in my experience, quite often) it’s the pathetically uninspired trash you force yourself to put on the page that serves as the foundation for the next inspirational leap. It’s not binary—either there or not there. The uninspired is part of finding the inspiration. An essential part.
How is the title Month of Big Hands connected to your work?
Part of it is aesthetic—abstractly aesthetic. It takes place in a contained period of time, and involves the passage and process of time, the connection between ritual and time—tries to highlight the cycles of existence (practical and mythical) that the monthly calendar is a structural extrapolation of. That’s the month piece. As far as the hands? We experience the world with our hands, like a child, grasping letting go and learning through physically engaging the things that surround us. That concept in conjunction with the time piece above seemed to click. And there’s also the answer of it just felt right. The book changed dramatically under that title—by which I mean that once I had the title it stayed. The book looked dramatically different in its original iteration, but while the content, format and (to a lesser extent) tone shifted dramatically, the title always maintained the perfect echo to my ear for the work it was naming.
When you finished high school, what field did you think you were going into? If not teaching/writing, then how did you come to be where you are?
I went to film school for a year but the most consistent message seemed to be “this is all important but you’re never going to make movies unless you move to California and work your way up through the Hollywood system.” I don’t like earthquakes so I enrolled elsewhere as an English major and was incredibly lucky to connect with a group of faculty who facilitated, among other things, a much more realistic understanding of what poetry really is and isn’t and, more importantly, what it could be. I was fascinated by that. That fascination took me to graduate school. Graduate school took me a lot of places—one of which is here at NEC.
What are you reading right now? What’s on your top shelf?
Right now I’m reading a lot of short stories, and I’ll read whatever poetry I come across. I find that I am most often inspired by reading things that aren’t about or like what I’m writing about/like. For instance, the last three non-poetry books I read were Arthur Schlesinger’s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and Walter Isacson’s Steve Jobs. They each were tremendously inspirational in terms of my own writing even though they’re about as far removed topically and stylistically from my own work as could be.
What writers inspire you?
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of my favorite books. Tom Robbins was an early influence. I also read The Lord of the Rings every summer when I was a kid. William Carlos Williams, Hilda Doolittle, John Ashbery, Anne Carson, Ursula LeGuinn, David Foster Wallace. Tomaz Salamun, Dara Wier. It’s hard to quantify. There’s always bits and pieces of things that inspire me in combination. I’m always reading fiction and poetry at the same time.
Is there any advice that you think is particularly pertinent to poets, as compared to other writers?
I don’t like giving advice. I don’t like shutting anything down.The only advice I can give is always write. Always read and write. Creative writing requires buy-in. Poetry is never going to be more than a hobby if you’re not struggling with it. And there’s nothing wrong with poetry being a hobby. It’s a pretty awesome hobby in my book, but if you’re not interested in actually working at it and working hard—that’s the line between any hobby and something we’re seriously dedicating ourselves to. When you’re in a mental place where picking up a pen or turning on the computer to write is the absolutely last thing you want to do or feel capable of doing and you make yourself do it anyway—that’s when you know you’re serious. Once you’re serious, find someone equally as serious that disagrees with you. The worst thing a writer can do is surround themselves solely with like-minded people.