Interview with Amy Gerstler

Los Angeles, CA on March 20, 2014 | Interviewer: Devin Becker

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Devin Becker: Let's start this going. This will just catch both of us better.
[00:00:00]
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Amy Gerstler: OK.
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DB: [to Gerstler's dogs] Hi, guys! Hi! Do you want to get interviewed, too?
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AG: I think they do.
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DB: What do you want to be asked about?
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AG: Digital bone recovery? Virtual meat?
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DB: Did you see all the, like, new fandangled pet things? They can have a plug-in thing where you can teleconference with your pet and give them a treat. It's called, like, iCPooch.
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AG: I know they have some things for people who are gone a lot where you can-like your baby, or with your dog-you can watch them.
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DB: Right. And this one, apparently, it's like you put it on the ground level and it has kind of like a dispenser.
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AG: Unbelievable!
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DB: And so you can, like, say, "Come here!" and it gives them a treat.
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AG: A robot gives them a treat!
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DB: It is something else, for sure. And there's like automatic fetch machines now and all sorts of stuff. I was kind of fascinated.
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AG: Wow!
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DB: OK, so, this will take an hour, an hour and a half. If you feel-if you need to get a drink of water, you know, or go to the bathroom, it's fine.
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AG: OK, same for you.
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DB: Yeah, and I have-It's kind of in three sections.
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AG: OK.
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DB: The first section is kind of a more quick, short-answer stuff about what you're doing now.
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AG: Oh, OK.
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DB: And it's based off the thing that-I don't know-have you met Collier Nogues, who was in my year? She didn't actually-she wasn't in the in the class with us.
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AG: No, I don't think so.
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DB: But she has a book from Four Way, and she's-
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AG: Nice.
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DB: Anyway, we did an article earlier that interviewed kind of emerging poets about how they did this. So, these questions are from that. And then we'll talk more about kind of the span of your career and how the processes have changed, or not changed, with the computer. But it's more-I mean, it's not-you don't need to-like if you feel like you need to talk about it, or if you don't, we'll just talk about how you work and how that goes. And then the third one will be kind of a series of questions more about, I guess, your feelings about the computer, and that will be it.
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AG: Alright!
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DB: Ok, so this is the section where we talk about how you're working, currently. So, if you wouldn't mind stating your name, your date of birth, and where we are right now?
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AG: OK. So, my name is Amy Gerstler. I was born on October 24th, 1956, and we're in the area of Los Angeles, California, USA that's called Echo Park, which is close to downtown, close to Dodger's Stadium.
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DB: OK. And also joining us is?
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AG: Also joining us as guest stars-taking all the glory, as is appropriate-is Ted, the dog, and Gus, the dog.
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DB: Yeah, OK. So, what genres do you work in?
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AG: I write poetry. I do different kinds of journalism, more in the past than currently, but still some. I used to do a fair amount of art journalism, like reviews and sometimes catalog pieces, and sometimes essays about visual art. And I did other kinds of general journalism.
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DB: OK, and what would you say your primary genre is?
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AG: And I've written some Non-fiction and a teeny bit of fiction. Sort of.
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DB: Alright, so all of them, essentially. Many.
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AG: And hybrid stuff, too.
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DB: Yeah, but your primary genre is-?
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AG: Poetry. And a little bit of non-fiction sometimes in journalism.
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DB: OK. What kinds of devices do you have, or own, have access to for your writing? What computer devices?
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AG: This laptop is my home computer. And then I have two sort of travel ones. One is a MacBook Air, which is like this but much lighter and thinner. And then one is an iPad mini, which I don't write on that much, but I write on a little, and it's like an iPad but it's a little smaller. It's like kind of purse size.
[00:03:51]
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DB: Yeah. So, you have then-you have three devices on which you kind of write between?
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AG: That's right.
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DB: How do you share the documents? Do you share documents between the three? Or do you just send them to yourself?
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AG: I like tech and I like computers, but I'm not as savvy as I should be. So, I send things to myself via email. That's usually the main way I do it. Sometimes I can plug them in to each other and have them share.
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DB: Yeah. And so they're all Macs?
[00:05:03]
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AG: Yes.
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DB: And this is your primary device, though, you would say?
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AG: Yes.
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DB: OK.
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AG: There's also one at work, but I just use that for work.
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DB: OK. You don't use that to actually write?
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AG: It's for work.
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DB: Yeah. In addition to your own devices, are you using physical-are you using handwriting, or notebooks, or anything?
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AG: Sure.
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DB: And so, how-what's sort of the ratio between the two?
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AG: Ratio?
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DB: I mean, how much are you working on kind of the physical formats, versus digital formats, I guess? And we'll get back to this, so, this isn't-we can talk about it later, too.
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AG: I think actual writing is almost all on computers now, but note-taking is probably 75% notebook and pen, and 25% take notes on the computer.
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DB: At what point would your notes kind of lead in-like, say, a physical note-lead in to a computer document? Do they usually lead to a poem like that, or is that a different-?
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AG: Yeah, I often-my sort of poetry practice involves weird, different kinds of research.
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DB: Yeah.
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AG: And so that's digital because a lot of the research I do now was online, and I often print things out, and then either highlight parts of them and use them or take notes out of books, or take notes off of websites on paper and then input it.
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DB: OK.
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AG: Does that answer the question?
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DB: Yeah, and some of these will be a little repetitive, and I hope that doesn't bother you, but it's just the way-
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AG: No, not at all! When you're trying to gather data-
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DB: Yeah. But we'll talk more about that.
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AG: Yeah, yeah. I get that.
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DB: OK, cool. In what format do you save your files?
[00:07:19]
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AG: Word .docx
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DB: OK. And as you're creating drafts of your-
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AG: Unless someone needs a .pdf, or unless someone has an old computer and has to have .doc
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DB: OK. And as you're working on individual pieces on your computer, do you save over what you've written, or do you save new drafts for each one? Or is it a combination?
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AG: It's a combination.
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DB: OK. What are your naming conventions for you files?
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AG: The names change, because I was so happy when I realized that you could change the names. Because I start out-and this is more true of poems than anything else-but sometimes I'll start out calling something, you know, "Ostrich Parade," or something, and then by the time I get to the fifth draft, there are no ostriches in it anymore, and I'm going to remember something else in order to be able to find it quickly. So, I will change the name.
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DB: So, the title is like a prompt for you own memory intentions?
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AG: See, the title is a prompt for find-ability. Quick find-ability.
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DB: OK. So it's not necessarily going to be the title. It's just maybe something that-
[00:08:46]
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AG: That's right. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. And sometimes later on, down the line when I actually finally do title the thing, I will change the name again.
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DB: Again?
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AG: Yeah.
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DB: OK. And as you're going through drafts, do you add numbers to the title?
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AG: I do if I'm saving drafts. And what determines whether I save drafts is if I want to trash old drafts because I know I don't want to go back to them, if I think I might want to go back to them for some reason.
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DB: Do you print out your writing to revise it?
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AG: Sometimes, yeah.
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DB: Sometimes.
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AG: I'll do like a bunch of drafts, just revising on the computer. And then at certain points, I'll print it out and mark it up by hand, and then input the changes.
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DB: Do you save any copies? Like, do you save those copies?
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AG: No.
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DB: No, they're just kind of means to the final product?
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AG: Yeah.
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DB: OK. Do you often back-up your work, your Word document files?
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AG: I have Carbonite.
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DB: OK, you do.
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AG: Yeah.
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DB: So, it's backed-up in the cloud, and it's just a folder on your computer?
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AG: I've gone through all different kinds of back-up things. I've had all different kinds of viruses and crashes and-you know.
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DB: Yeah. And so do you find this to be-
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AG: I got religious about backing up.
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DB: OK. So you've had experiences where you've lost-
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AG: I've had viruses, and I've had bad computer crashes.
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DB: OK. Anything where you lost significant work?
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AG: Not so much, but the virus stuff destroyed a computer and was expensive, and really time consuming. And really nerve wracking.
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DB: I know. Yeah.
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AG: So, it was like, "Ugh! Never again, if possible."
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DB: So, you have Carbonite, and they're all saved-do you connect that Carbonite folder to different devices, or you just have a folder on this device?
[00:10:53]
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AG: I just have it on this device, because this is the central one.
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DB: That's the central kind of location?
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AG: There's nothing on-when I do things on other devices, I make sure they come here, if I care about them.
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DB: Yeah, OK. When you say you're finished with the poem, is there a protocol for saving that in a certain place? Do you move it to a different place, or-?
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AG: It goes in to a different folder, and I usually print out a hard copy, and I have sort of one of these kind of notebooks that I put it in to.
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DB: Yeah. I have seen several-I think Bob Wrigley has that same one. OK. So, you do keep print copies of your final drafts. Are they organized? Are they leading to the next manuscript, essentially?
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AG: Yeah, that's why, because that's the form that it's going to be in and delivered in if I'm lucky enough to get something published.
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DB: OK.
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AG: Right now, it's not-I'm not digital books, so I also want to be able to look at it in the form that it's going to exist in, and play with it.
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DB: Once they're in that folder, do you still end up going back and revising, or-?
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AG: Sure.
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DB: OK. And are those usually smaller-I mean, do you ever go back and do large revisions in there, or do you usually kind of like moving lines or changing words, or-?
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AG: It depends. I would say moderate revisions and also if you consider getting, you know, tossing poems off the team a "revision," then yeah. Yeah, I do a lot of that.
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DB: Yeah. Do you have any sort of standard ways that you-once everything is done and finished-do you have like a standard archiving process, like where you have like a folder you never touch, or a place you keep all of those from before?
[00:12:40]
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AG: Well, yeah, I have those from before, but also, if I'm lucky enough to publish a book, then there's a file here. That's what I send to the publisher.
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DB: And you keep that with all your others, in that Carbonite folder with everything else?
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AG: Well, Carbonite just backs-up everything, right?
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DB: Right, right. Yeah.
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AG: And then also allegedly, eventually, there's an actual book. So then it exists in at least three forms.
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DB: OK. And do you consider-which one do you consider the kind of final product? Would it be the book, or-?
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AG: Yeah, that's what I'm working towards. You know, the book with the cover and-at this point, you know, who knows what the future will bring.
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DB: Yeah, I know. Have you ever received or sort out information about methods for working with your digital files or digital archiving?
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AG: No. I mean, you know, I've talked to friends about what the best back-up systems are, and I've talked to people in the computer store about this because of aforementioned bad experiences. I wanted to have like five different systems and really be safe.
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DB: OK, great. OK, well, that's the sort of "where are you now digitally" part. Just making sure everything is going. And, it is. That's great. [To the dogs] Sorry, I made you get up. You need to get up?
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AG: Well he just needs to know what's going on. Don't you, Ted?
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DB: Yeah.
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AG: You do.
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DB: He's such a cool dog.
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AG: He is a great guy.
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DB: Alright, so, this is more sort of, broadly-speaking. I have two to start, and then I'll explain a few things, and then we'll go forward. So, how long have you been writing professionally? And I know that's a wishy-washy term, but-
[00:14:46]
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AG: No. I mean, I'm fifty-seven and I've been writing-you know, I started publishing, you know, small poems in school magazines, you know, back when I was in college, when I was, you know, 18, 19, 20. So if you start it there, then that amount of years. If you start it when I had, you know, my first chapbook, then it would have been like after I finished college.
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DB: OK. Well-and this is kind of, I mean, leading up to the next question, which is kind of a broad question-but could you describe kind of the arc of your career? Like, you know, where it started, when you started to write the poems that you consider your poems, and then kind of how it moves through time up to now?
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AG: Well, I published a small chapbook maybe a year or two after I finished college when I was 21. So-
[00:16:03]
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DB: And where were you at college?
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AG: I went to Pitzer College, which is one of the Claremont colleges there in California.
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DB: And then-and you can talk about like who you studied with or anything like that-but you went from publishing a chapbook and then-? And then your first book was like 1981, or-?
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AG: I had that. I was lucky enough to have this guy Dennis Cooper, who was kind of my mentor and friend. He had this wonderful press called Little Ceasar Press, and he did this small chapbook of mine. And then David Trinidad-who's this terrific poet who teaches at Columbia College in Chicago but used to live here for a long time-had a small press called Sherwood Press, and he did another chapbook of mine. And then after that, actually someone who wasn't my friend, who was actually almost a stranger, published an actual non-chapbook. Which is, you know, a book with a thin spine, but an actual spine, rather than staples or stitching.
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DB: OK. And what book was that?
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AG: That book was called Early Heaven
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DB: OK.
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AG: So, that was the first one that was a little bigger. And then I went on to publish around thirteen books-some of them chapbooks, some of them actual single volumes of poetry. And then some little odd projects like collaborative book with artists, or collaborative book with a fiction writer.
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DB: OK. And during this time, were you teaching? Were you working at other-I mean, I guess, how were you supporting your writing?
[00:18:19]
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AG: Well, I was going to be a Speech Pathologist and/or work with autistic kids. I was a child psychology major in college. I was always interested in poetry and loved it, and got to take a couple of classes at Pitzer from this amazing poet-who's not as well-known as he should be and isn't alive anymore-named Burt Myers. But I was kind of on the path to work with kids who had speech problems. But when I graduated from college, I wanted to have some time to work on my poetry because I've just been in school wall-to-wall, like many of us, straight from high school to college. So, I took some time off and I moved to L.A. I was accepted to a speech pathology program at Boston University, but I wanted to meet other writers and I wanted to try to make my writing better. And I started taking odd jobs. I worked for different doctors in the front office and in the back office-washing off instruments, answering phones. And I worked helping take care of a schizophrenic woman. I worked all kinds of funny, odd jobs. And that wanting to improve my writing, and read more, and write more, and learn more about poetry, and come in to contact with other writers kind of turned into my life. So, I'm still trying to make my poetry better and learn more and read more. And somewhere along the way, I got some jobs at a non-profit literary arts center that's called Beyond Baroque, which still exists in Venice. I worked there and in a bunch of different capacities, and at the library-a little tiny library, non-official library. Since you're one of those exalted breeds, a librarian. And I helped with the reading series and events and publicity, and did different jobs there. And then because my friend Dennis Cooper helped me get a little job writing art reviews for this magazine Art Forum, suddenly I was very lucky, and I was writing these monthly art reviews for Art Forum, which didn't pay very much, but it made people think that I was an art critic. So I couldn't get any teaching jobs teaching writing initially, but I did get hired as a kind of art critic. So, I started teaching in art school. And then as I published more and wrote more, and did more different kinds of journalism, I was able to get teaching jobs teaching writing. So, I worked at a bunch of different colleges, and I had a job at a little residency program-a wonderful program-, the writing seminars at Bennington College. So I'd go to Vermont twice a year, and I taught at USC and CalTech, and at my alma mater. I taught at the University of Utah, CalArts. A bunch of different places.
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DB: Great. And now, now you're at University of California- Irvine.
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AG: Well, I've had this job just for a year, and I was super lucky. I can't believe it-to get that job.
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DB: Great. OK. So, that kind of gives us a framework to work in. And then I've sort of divided the sections in to kind of three-like we're talking about the process, and like, the first part, or sort of like the three-part process, the first part being kind of like compositional pre-writing, generative process, the second being revision-sort-of process, and the third, being organizational or archival, the part where you're kind of finishing, putting things in book form, etcetera. And we can talk about it in different ways, but if it works with your style, we'll just-
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AG: Yeah, yeah.
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DB: OK.
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AG: I don't have a rubric I need to impose on this.
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DB: Good, good. I made one up.
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AG: Yeah, well, that structure is a good thing.
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DB: OK. And so, what I'm going to ask is sort of like how you work in those structures at the beginning of your career, and maybe how those have changed. So, when you first started writing your sort of more professional work, what were your kind of compositional, pre-writing, note-taking, generative practices at that point?
[00:22:47]
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AG: Well, this now gets to era and what generation I am, because I'm 57, so when I started writing it was typewriters, you know? I took a type a typewriter to college and it moved from-you know, I took typing in high school-and it went kind of quickly during my little time capsule of when I was sort of coming up. From portable typewriters and little cute cases that were sort of like a big lunch box with a little handle, to increasingly kind of complicated electric typewriters. With all their weird accouterments like carbon paper and white out, or weird-they started making typewriters that actually had a correcting tape in them. It was like white and you would type over the letter that you wanted to correct with this white, chalky strip that was in there as part of the typewriter. Before you had to like shove a weird little piece. So, all these kind of very low-tech-viewed in hindsight-ways of dealing with making texts, correcting texts, revising texts, and also copying text. And then to the first sort of big-I remember when, you know, I first got a computer. It was sort of like, you know, I was ZZ Top. I had a tall music system here-it was this big, bulky thing, and there were things that went under the desk. And the printer had like-the print was really ugly looking. Dot-?
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DB: Dot matrix.
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AG: Dot matrix. And it had these weird strips with holes that you tore. Then to, you know, this sleek, little improved several generations of smaller, better computers and printers.
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DB: Yeah, and so, I guess, when you were still working with typewriters and the early computers, how were you creating, let's say, the poems? I mean like were you starting in a notebook and then moving, typing them out? Were you handwriting them and moving to typewriter, or did you start-?
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AG: When I started writing poems when I was a kid-before I had access to a typewriter or learned to type-it was, you know, spiral-bound, lined notebooks. And then it kind of moved to typing things, which you'd think would have made me revise a lot, and I did revise, but I love computers. Every time you wanted to change a period, or move texts around, you had to retype everything. And you were sometimes dealing with these crappy kinds of paper like that onion skin-it was erasable, but it was so like thin and fragile and weird-looking, and tactilely bizarre, and kind of see-through-y. And made the poems seem like they were really not substantial. Smeared easily.
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DB: So like when you had an idea for a poem, you would go directly to your typewriter and start typing, usually?
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AG: I think I would write in notebooks and then at a certain point transfer what I had to the typewriter. Because the typewriter was something-it isn't actually easy to revise on a manual typewriter. I mean, you have to roll the thing out and mark it up. There really isn't an efficient way of marking things out, or inserting a list of possible words you might want to use instead of the word choice that you had. So, I think I would work on it up to a certain point and typing it was sort of like, "Oh, this is kind of an official draft. I really want to-"
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DB: OK. So once you hit that point, and then you were starting to take shape to the real thing.
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AG: Because typing something now-putting something on the computer makes it ultimately flexible, but it was sort of the opposite with the manual typewriter. It wasn't set in stone, but it was sort of typing it up-
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DB: And you're saying, too, that once it was that you got to the typewriter stage, it didn't encourage that much revision because-?
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AG: I did and I have old things that are, you know, typed scripts with lots of markings on them-blah, blah, blah-but it's just that revision on a computer is kind of a one-step process, in the sense that it stays within that medium. But in order to revise on a typewriter, you had to roll it out. You had to get a pen, you had to get white out, maybe you had to get an eraser. And then you had to put the changes on a new, clean-
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DB: So, you would try to make-I mean, once it got to where you were doing that, it was pretty far along.
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AG: Typing something up would be like a milestone every so often when you've been through a few drafts-to see it typed up, and to mark that up.
[00:29:31]
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DB: When did you start to work on computers? And those early computers-did they did they feel like a drastic change?
[00:29:38]
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AG: Oh, having this big machine, figuring out how to use it, and figuring out what it all meant, figuring out what a "word processor" was? You know, and it would have problems, and getting some dim concept of what an operating system was-DOS?-all these different things. And it really divided the sheep from the goats, because there were writers I knew who had the kinds of minds, or still do, that really worked well with computer interface, if that's even the right vocabulary. They just took to it. And there were other people who were always-it was always mysterious to them. It always felt foreign and robotic and bizarre, and they preferred other things, or were just always awkward with it, or always needed a lot of help. Who needed an intermediary helping them with their computer.
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DB: And some still have that-
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AG: No, I mean, computers are a particular thing, and if you have the kind of mind that works well with them, you can just zoom and you can device-up. And kids now, younger people now-who are born in to various stages of, "Well, it's the most natural thing in the world"-you know, you get your first iPhone when you're 4 months old. It's, you know, a language that they learn. It's a native language for them. But for some of us older people, it was... You were lucky if you were the kind of writer who... And I know people who... The wonderful poetry teacher that I had at Pitzer, Mike Harris, said that he liked the computer, and the typewriter. The feel, the pace, the sound of the keys. It's almost like a musical instrument for some writers. They kind of play it, and-
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DB: But for you, that was never-
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AG: What I like is I can take a chunk of text and move it up here and it doesn't take me 40 minutes to retype the whole damn thing. And if I don't like it, I can try it down here. And if I want to print out a copy of something as a prose poem, and a copy of it with some line breaks, and look at them next to each other, I can do that in a flash. All that? I couldn't be happier. Because then I'm spending my time reading and writing and revising, and not spending my time [makes typing sound]. "Oh! Now I have to do the whole thing all over again!"
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DB: Yeah, so, I guess then, when they did come along you were in that spectrum of people who took to it fairly easily?
[00:33:00]
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AG: I can't say that I'm techno-great, but I like computers.
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DB: You didn't employ-I guess, employ's the word-employ an intermediary between you and your computer?
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AG: I have friends who are tech-wizzes who I definitely-when I'm like, "How come all my email is now being spit back in to my box that I already downloaded, and I have 695 pieces of email?" You know, when I'm like, "Help!" I do that all the time. Or, "How do you make Word, you know, not turn everything purple, or-?" But I'm probably in the middle, I think of the spectrum. I wish I was one of those people who just understands everything at all levels, and could set up a website, and knows about programming, and can fix my own computer, and speak the lingo. But-I'm attracted to that and I'm interested in it. I'd like to be more conversant, but I can't say that I'm great. But I'm not the super scared, like, "I hate this thing. I have four manual things in the closet because that's what I really prefer."
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DB: OK. I guess, can you pinpoint a timeframe when you started with computers? I mean, do you know where you were?
[00:34:25]
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AG: Well, I remember when I was in college, a guy who I'm still friends with-this wonderful guy named Bryan Tucker who's a visual artist and also a very good art writer-he was one of those people who was like, the computer thing, it was like made in the shade for him. When we were in college, there was a computer there, but it took up a whole room, and he would like go in there and make things, and print things out. But there was a while between when I graduated from college in the 70s and when computers were sort of starting to make their way in to writers' lives, like in to their homes. So, I started probably-it would probably be the very beginning of the 80s, maybe, would be my best guess.
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DB: Yeah. And I guess, how long did it take you to realize that you had these sort of capabilities that you'd maybe been wanting that you didn't even know, like the ability to move things around? I mean, was that initial, or did that take a couple of generations to where it felt really easy to do all that sort of thing?
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AG: Well, some things-there were certain perks that manifested pretty immediately, like just having a copy of the thing and being able to print it out.
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DB: Yeah, that was pretty amazing.
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AG: Right away, that was like, "This is way better."
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DB: OK.
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AG: And being able to correct things and move them and change them.
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DB: And that was immediate, like that was-?
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AG: I mean, those are things that rudimentary computers-if memory serves-were able to do.
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DB: Yeah, copy and paste being the-
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AG: Yeah, you didn't have to like, you know, be the best friend of the Xerox machines always anymore. Right away, that's a life improvement.
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DB: OK. And what were you using the Xerox machine for?
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AG: If you wanted to send work out-I mean, this is pre-email, right? I mean, this is-You're making me feel such a dinosaur, antique! But that was inevitable.
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DB: No, no!
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AG: You know, so, if you wanted to apply for a grant, if you wanted to show somebody a copy of something, if you needed to send somebody a copy of something, if you wanted to send out a manuscript, if you wanted to send work to a magazine, all of that involved either carbon paper-yuck-or Xeroxing, right?
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DB: OK, so that was kind of an early, organizational sort of work, there. So, you have this sort of beginning stage, you know, where the computer is this kind of revelation. Are there kind of stages between then and now that you could delineate, or is it just sort of a gradual-?
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AG: I mean, there are so many wonders as far as I'm concerned, and if I was more tech savvy than I am, I would be conversant with even more wonders. And it's just not for writing, although that may be your topic of interest in data collection here for teaching, too.
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DB: Right.
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AG: It's unbelievably helpful. [Telephone ringing.] I mean, it's just changed teaching completely, with PowerPoint, email as a way of distributing class materials or communicating with students, and blah, blah, blah. And in terms of writing, every time there would be-the smallness of this, the portability of this, its different capabilities, visual stuff, being able to put visuals, being able to have access to all these typefaces. I mean, it just looks better and better. Now, it's wireless. I don't have to plug everything in to... I mean, to me, the blessings and the bounty are just-for me, I'm not sensing that there's a loss. It's like there might be a downside in terms of polluting the world with what these things are made out of-that they're not recyclable, things like that. And that is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T. But in terms of making it easier to store, send, revise, read, research, communicate-you know, what's not to like, in my view?
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DB: And your poems have such a large, imaginative scope. And I'm wondering, was there a time like when you were first using computers, you know, not so much the internet-how were you generating all those ideas and material at that point?
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AG: Dude, libraries!
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DB: Libraries, alright!
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AG: Libraries, libraries, libraries, and you know, old used book stores, weird old books that I would look at, or magazines. Stuff like that.
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DB: And as the internet became more sort of part of one's daily life, did that change?
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AG: Yes, I still use libraries, and I still haunt the remaining dusty, old, funky, used bookstores. But even with libraries now, if I'm looking for something specific, I can look online. It just saves time. You know, I don't have to trudge around to all the local libraries looking to see if they have any books on Marie Curie, or if they have a particular title by so-and-so. I can see if it's in the library. I can find out what the library hours are. I can talk to a librarian if I need to.
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DB: How do you go from, you know, browsing serendipitously to like having a draft of a poem? What's the process there?
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AG: Well, I get ideas for poems, and sometimes they're phrases or sort of topics, or weird feelings, or vocabularies, or I want to write a poem based on the initial sort of generative impulses-"Oh, this has to do with hurricanes and my mother-in-law." You know what I mean? Or something like that. And I love research. Research is, to me, such a rich, poetic, amazing exploration, and is full of the unexpected. Like-this is another thing that relates to sort of digital stuff, at least in my mind-one of the only things I miss about pre-digital is card catalogs, because, thumbing through a card catalog, I would be taken on many more weird tributaries than I get doing a computer search in a library on whatever. You know, I'd be looking up the history of ferns or something, and I'd come across the history of shock treatment, and I'd be like, "Oh, that's way more interesting than ferns. What do we got here?" And then go find that book or something. So, that I kind of regret, the way computer indexes are set up. It's actually a little harder to find things, I think, on topic. But anyway-I'm talking about going off on tangents and research, and I just went off on a tangent.
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DB: No, that's fine. I guess one question I have is, you know, I mean, research for a poem seems like it would be different from research for, like, a journalism piece.
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AG: It is. It's imaginative research, in a way. And I think the research is done differently and also has different objectives, so you kind of pursue it differently, and you sort of glean different things from it. In researching, like for journalism, you're usually looking for facts and sources, and different kinds of information, and where different kinds of information are, or what the scope of an issue is or the subject is. In poems, it's sometimes really vocabulary, like a certain diction, or bits of color in a kind of structure. And sometimes it's facts that are going to get bent or distorted, or rubbed up against another set of facts, or data, or vocabularies, or made-up stuff. If that makes sense.
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DB: No, it does. It makes a lot of sense. And so, I guess, in comparison, then, would you say that, like for your research-your journalism research-do the computers really sort of aid that? Because it has some more specificity, I guess. But you're saying you miss the sort of broader research.
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AG: For poetic and literary kind of research, I definitely miss the kind of strolling through the card catalog and all the different little blooming subjects that you would come across. Although, occasionally, in doing any kind of research-even a very sort of scholarly or fact-based project-you would come across something useful but that wasn't something you were looking for specifically, something that you didn't know was going to be there. Whereas that would be serendipitous in a kind of journalistic- or factual-type research, and it would be totally the point in more poetic or literary research may be.
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DB: That's interesting to think about.
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AG: Although they both partake, I think, of each other. Like sometimes, in doing sort of "poetic" research, if you're really just like, "Yeah, but I need to know five things that bears actually eat for this poem so I can pick one that sounds good," you can find that.
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DB: Yeah. So, the sort of final question about this sort of early, generative stage-is there any way that you're working now that is new, that is not different than the way you worked in the past? All this sort of ease of printing and revising, or just sort of generating-the internet, and everything kind of being with you at all times-has that changed your ways of making poems, or-?
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AG: Absolutely! It absolutely has. I mean, I go to the library less because there's so many things I can access online, and I can print them out at home, or parts of them. I can, depending on what their security and parameters are like, I can sometimes lift a phrase I want to use out of a website and put it right in to the poem, which is very convenient. And then tinker with it, or whatever. Yeah, there's so many things. I can grab images. I can look at images. If I'm like, "Ah, I wanted to describe a crow's foot, but what does a crow's foot look like?" I can look at an image of a-yeah. And then if I do that, if I'm Googling that or looking at that, it'll also come up like, "Oh, yeah. Crow's foot also means, you know, the lines around your eyes," and then it'll show me images of that. I mean, that'll send me somewhere in the poem.
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DB: So, there's a type of serendipity in that, I guess, a little bit, too.
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AG: Sure.
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DB: Yeah, sort of pun.
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AG: But, I mean, in poems, as you well know. The pun is often a welcome fellow. At least in my world.
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DB: Yeah, absolutely. I guess I'm sort of interested, personally, in that middle period, like the period, let's say, before Google. Let's say like late 90s. I mean, like, do you remember like what the computer use was like then? I mean, do you feel like it was like a limited kind of expression of itself for you, or you were still using the library and primarily using it more as a composition tool?
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AG: It felt kind of a transitional time-like, using both, getting comfortable with email. Because also, doing journalism, that was a big thing-like turning things in that way.
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DB: Yeah, so that must have changed. Yeah, that's got to be a big change.
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AG: Big, big difference.
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DB: Yeah.
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AG: And doing edits that way.
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DB: Oh, yeah, like going back and forth so you didn't have to-much quicker
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AG: Yeah, like almost the whole time that I worked at Art Forum, it was like-well, at the beginning-it was like over the phone, you know, "Blah, blah, blah." And then it would be like somebody would mark something up and send it to you over email, and then you'd go argue with them over the phone. But you wouldn't be sitting there over the phone going, "OK, in paragraph 3, about the middle, this sentence, this word"-you know what I mean? Again-making things much more efficient, speeding things up. And also, it was a lot about-for me, but I don't think I was alone in this-a lot about learning curve. Figuring out how to use the computer, and what you could do with it graphically, also, with poems. Because suddenly, you know, on a typewriter and on the early computers, you couldn't play with typeface, you couldn't play with type size. People who wanted to make concrete poetry or poetry that uses, you know-they really worked hard. You know, all those guys back in the day they worked hard to get that written and then made sure that it went in to print as the artistic, graphic, on-the-page creation that they wanted to make.
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DB: I know. They would've loved the internet. They would've loved having these capabilities so much.
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AG: I'd like to think of those guys like Apollinaire. They'd be like, "Oh, why wasn't I born!"
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DB: I know. I think Marjorie Perloff said something about that, I think. Like why were you-you know? I think everybody was there, and I mean, it hasn't come back. I feel like that ability hasn't, in some ways-I mean, this is side-talk, but. It hasn't expressed itself in ways that-I mean, there's definitely "viz-po" and a lot of interesting stuff, but it hasn't gone to where-there's no movements, or anything, I think, that I can find.
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AG: I mean, there's some sort of graphically-there's all that, you know, word-cloud, you know, Wordle, where you can input things. And then there's also people who are, a lot, using different internet or research functions as kind of theme, or structure, or kind of concept. Like kind of conceptual poetry.
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DB: Like Flarf.
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AG: Yes, and all its sort of grandchildren.
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DB: Yeah, right. Absolutely. I know, and those are definitely fascinating. You mentioned the typeface and using that. I mean, did that influence your work?
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AG: Well, a little, because I liked to do, you know, what sometimes gets called, you know, "multi-vocal" stuff. And I have a weird fondness for italics. I always have. You can indicate different speakers, different voices, different-you know? I didn't used to be able to use italics, make things bold, make things bigger. You know, make different columns.
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DB: Yeah, absolutely.
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AG: Suddenly you have-
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DB: Magical powers.
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AG: Yes, exactly!
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DB: Did you ever have those sort of inclinations when you were working with typewriters or in the early days of computers? Were you like kind of, "Oh, I'd really like this to look like that"?
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AG: A little bit, yeah. Mostly because I wanted to use italics. I mean, I'm not one of those people who are like, "Yes, I want it all over the page. I like it, you know, coming down like rain. I want to look like an explosion of letters here." I'm not super in to that, but there were small things I wanted to do. And now, you know, not only can you do them, but you can try ten different typefaces or sizes, or you can make it a color.
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DB: Right. What part of the process, for you-I mean, what sort of, in the progression, what sort of using the different types of typefaces, or playing around happens? Does it happen more in the early stages, or like are you-maybe in a later revision stage-are you like, "Maybe if I move this here..."-?
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AG: Mostly later, because need for that-the poem's alleged need for that-kind of evolves as the poem evolves. I don't often start by saying, "Well, this is going to be about someone who has Alzheimer's. So there's her voice, and here's the voice of the doctor, and then here's the voice of the daughters." It's like, "So, I'm going to need at least three different typefaces," or "going to need to spatially differentiated," or blah, blah, blah. But that might evolve as I'm writing the poem.
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DB: Right. So now we move on to, kind of specifically, revision. When you were first starting to write, what were your sort of typical revision practices, just like nitty-gritty? Like how did it work? It sounds like you moved from notebook, usually, to a typewritten thing, made some changes, and then every sort of stage was another typed out piece?
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AG: Kind of. And I actually-this is making me remember things-I did a lot of cutting with scissors and taping together with scotch tape. I did more and more and more of that. So, you can't believe how happy I was. And, you know, you'd lose pieces, or the wind would blow them, or the dog would eat them. You know what I mean? And then if you tried to Xerox something like that, they would have these big, gross lines, and it would just look like, "Yay! We're in kindergarten!"
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DB: The original cut and paste, really.
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AG: Cut-and-paste is called that for a reason! So, I just couldn't have been happier-and I'm pretty clumsy anyway, I'm not a good visual artist that way-to not have to spend the time, to not have to look for the scissors, to not be screwing around with tape and glue, and to be able to flip it back if it didn't look good that way and try it another way, make three versions and look. I'm into it, deeply.
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DB: So then, in terms of your revision, the sort of the cut and paste, the copy and paste, the rearranging, has always been, though, pretty fundamental to your practice.
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AG: Once I started to realize that-as the late, great David Foster Wallace said, and as many other people have said-that writing is revision, all the way through. Yeah-for me it is. Things change a lot. I often, you know, first start working on something-not that I ever know what I'm doing, but it's really groping and trying things, and additive. And then you get to parts of revision that are more subtractive. And then you kind of go back and forth, and then you get to a certain point where you go, "Oh, now it actually seems like it's turning in to something, so what are the new sort of requirements one needs for this new path that it's taking?"
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DB: So, would you say, between those sort of those types of revision-you would say, additive, subtractive and maybe substitutive-do you have a primary-
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AG: And research, definitely-pulling things, other elements, once it starts to take shape. You know, like, "Oh, this isn't about autopsies. It's about, you know, my feet. My feet, dead or alive." Suddenly then, it's like, "Oh, OK." Then I'm suddenly looking at podiatrist magazines.
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DB: OK. Is there a primary mode you go to? Or it seems like you use-it seems like it's all over the place.
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AG: All over the place.
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DB: OK.
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AG: My problem in life.
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DB: And then, I guess, when did this kind of writing-this revision realization-start to really influence your own practice? Was it from the beginning, or did it sort of hit at some point?
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AG: When I was, you know, a kid and when I was in junior high and high school, I was, you know, laboring under the misapprehension-which is a common one-that, you know, "Oh, I wrote something. How sacred. How lovely. How wonderful." You know, "Ah! You mustn't touch it! It's just kind of like a shrine." But this is not the case, at least not with me. So, once I got in to college, I realized, "Oh, you know, you work on this stuff and you think about it, and maybe you show it to people who you think are smart or interested in the topic, and they might have a suggestion. Or you work on it and then you read some more and you see oh, look at what that person did. This could solve my problem here." And that it's just layers and layers and layers and layers-getting to what the thing might be and then trying to work on the thing and make it into something that could work. That it's all just-writing is revision, because you're constantly making decisions. You know, sort of like perception is revision, and filtering, and choices, and-
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DB: That's a good analogy. I like that.
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AG: It's a mess, and you're nuts, and you can't attend to everything. And also, as you get older, I think you realize that every poem doesn't have to contain every single thought, feeling, and reaction you've ever had in your life. That, actually, you can get to the universal through the specific. Maybe. If you're lucky.
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DB: Do you-I mean, like, so when you go to a piece to revise it, do you have any intentions in mind?
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AG: Sure. Sometimes some of them survive the process, and sometimes some of them are, you know, things that end up leading to other things, but end up getting discarded. And sometimes some of them are red herrings, and the thing doesn't end up going anywhere. So, it either goes in the trash, or one line for me gets cannibalized out and goes to something else, and the rest of it goes in the trash.
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DB: In terms of kind of what drives your revisions, is it like sound, or structure, or meaning, or is it sort of like a combination?
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AG: Hopefully. I hope and pray that it's all of those things. Some people have a good head. You talked to Michael Ryan. He has such a good head for all those things. For the kind of emotional content for form, for sound and music and beat. All of that. I'm not so wonderful. Sometimes a period of revision will be like, "This is just about trying to dig out the idea," and then after it feels like some of that maybe coming out, then sometimes I will have to be like, "OK-you really have to be hearing this now and work on the sound because-"
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DB: So, it kind of goes instead-it's sort of like compartmentalized, sometimes?
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AG: Yeah. And then, hopefully, once it really gets going, you're able to kind of see, smell, hear, feel, taste what's going on. Or sometimes it'll be like, you work on something for quite a while, and you'll be like, "You know, it might help shape this for it to be in quatrains." Or, "Is this really a prose poem?"
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DB: Yeah. That's always an interesting question.
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AG: Right. Or, "Since this is about a couple who hates each other, how about couplets?"
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DB: Did you learn how to improvise, or did someone else teach you?
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AG: Dennis Cooper taught me a lot, and being in some workshops. I mean, that's one of the things that workshops supposed to teach you. I mean, one of the things workshops usually teaches you is how to survive workshops, and how to be in them. But I think things that have taught me about revision are showing work to other people, being in workshops, reading, reading literature, and also sometimes reading craft stuff. And going to lectures, talking to people. And I feel like I learn a lot from teaching. That's one of the real, unbelievable benefits of teaching. I learn a lot from reading students work. I learn a lot from being in workshop with them, seeing how they do it-just being a part of it. Seeing what they're reading. Incredibly helpful. And then I've had a few, you know-Dennis Cooper was an unbelievable mentor. And some other teachers I've had were, you know-when you have a writing teacher usually that, when you get down to it, they can help you learn about your strengths. They can help you work on your process and maybe be less scared. And maybe they can help you figure out how to navigate the literary world and what kinds of writers and stuff you might like-open up stuff like that for you. But I think what maybe they most help you with, often, is revision. Like, Dennis Cooper was such a great mentor to me that I can still sometimes hear him in my head.
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DB: Do you? I mean, like, what do you hear?
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AG: You know, "Why are you using this word? That's not tight enough." Just things that he would say. One time he said to me-and lots of people have said this other ways, I'm sure-but he was like, "You have to cultivate your obsessions." And I was always a little ashamed of my obsessions. But he was the opposite. His obsessions were like, "Art is our religion!" And he wasn't, like, preaching. He just kind of calmly, quietly said it was what he thought. But these were new ideas to me, and rocked my world in a big way. I was like, "Oh, I'm obsessed with drowning. I could like-instead of thinking that I should just go to the doctor-I can actually read things about it, and write things about it, and pursue it." Or, "I'm obsessed with, like, ancient Egyptian tombs," or something. You know what I mean?
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DB: Yeah. No, it's kind of a freedom, right?
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AG: Freedom and-I hate this word, but-a permission. Like, "No, that's what artists do."
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DB: Right. Well, you don't know until-
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AG: Well, no. Well, some people seem to know it instinctually. Some people really do. And there are other, more timid ones of us that need somebody to kind of light a fire under them. And he kind of did that, and a few other people did that for me.
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DB: Throughout your writing, have other people played roles? Like, I mean, he seems to have played a role in teaching you how to revise. Have other people played kind of more specific roles in the revision process for you?
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AG: Well, I mean, I didn't study writing, unfortunately. You know, I was a Psych major- undergrad. And then when I was much older, I went in to a low-residency writing program in non-fiction. And all the teachers I had there were really great at, you know, taking your copy and going over it, and showing you, "Ah, this is-you're avoiding something here," or, you know, "This is-." Because it wasn't always just like "out, out, out, out." It would be like, "I want to know more about this," or, "I'm so curious about this," or, you know, under currents-things that haven't been mined out of it yet. Or that because it's you-and you're kind of, you know, deep sea fishing in your unconscious-subconscious in a way-that you might need another person to either say, "This is excessive," or, "This isn't the most interesting thing," or "You think this is about, you know, Abraham Lincoln, but it's really about you wanting to have a baby. So, get real to yourself!" You know what I mean?
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DB: Yeah.
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AG: And sometimes people are wrong, but sometimes you're like, "Oh, god. That. Uh-oh, you're right."
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DB: Yeah. And do you have those relationships now with your poetry, or-?
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AG: I try to do it for myself, and there are people I show things to now and again. But, you know-and I don't want to sound like Grandma Moses or anything, but-I think, for me, it seems like it gets a little harder when you get older, because everyone is so busy. And, you know, I can't ask my students to look at my work, because it's supposed to be going the other way around. Although I'd like to, but-I mean, a lot of them, or most of them, are really kind of smart and brilliant and, you know. It would be great, but that is not fair.
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DB: That could maybe be something different in workshop, though.
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AG: Yeah, "It's all about me today!" You know. So, I have a few people I try not to tap very often, and much later in the process. And I try really hard to do it myself, and to come back to things multiple times from multiple angles. Because, you know, when you're younger, you have a lot more friends, and you're all young, and you have a little bit more time, and maybe people aren't locked in to jobs or families, and you're all artists and writers together coming up. And then there's some winnowing. At least this has been my experience-probably other people have a different experience-but some people stop doing it and do something else. Which is cool. Some people get very busy, or you lose touch with them. And then a lot of people have jobs and lives that-you know, they're already reading their students work, and trying to make a living, and trying to keep their life together, and do their own work. So, you know, you're like, "Hey, here's sixty pages of my poem on top of your busy, multi-tasking life. Have fun!"
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DB: Enjoy!
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AG: And try to get back to me within the next two days!
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DB: Right, right.
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AG: It's harder.
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DB: Right, right. No, that's definitely one of the things. And then, I guess, in terms of when you do get to the part of the process where you're putting together a book-well, this is kind of the third stage, I guess. I mean, how do you go about-I mean, I guess, there's the revision process there, too-putting the collections together? What are your sort of drives, intentions, and has that changed over the course of your career, too?
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AG: Well, it's different with different books.
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DB: OK.
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AG: Because they're different animals, right?
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DB: Right, yeah.
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AG: More or less. For me, if it's a book of poems, some books of poems are sort of like a scrapbook, or a portfolio, or something, and some of them are more thematic, or the book itself has some kind of looser type-in my case, it's usually loose-structure, or trajectory. And even the ones that are kind of a sampler, I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out, "What's the first poem? What's the last poem? What's the movement? How do they work together? How do some of the last lines of ones feed in to the title or the first line of the next one? What looks good next?" In a way, it's sort of like, though it's not exactly like, interior decoration-you want it to flow, have ups and downs. With me, it's like, "What's the mixture of dark and funny ones?" I mean, you do mini version of that when you're reading, even. And then sometimes it's like, "Oh, this is going to be in sections," and, "Are these sections going to be numbered?" It's basically manuscript construction, right? And if you're dealing with-I mean, I've been really lucky in being able to pick a verse because, you know, it's a funny thing with poems. It's like hardly anybody publishes poems anymore, and if you're lucky enough to get a book of poems published, usually they're not treating it like it's, you know the next big best-seller. They don't have a big investment in it. So, the fact that it's much less a big deal to them has its pros and its cons, but one of the pros is, usually, they're not going to impose a cover on me, because it's not like, "Well, this is going to be a blockbuster, and therefore, we need to have this kind of cover." So, I get to pick covers by artists that I like usually. So, thinking about that, and how the title-the overall title of the book-where that's going to come from.
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DB: Yeah. Getting back to kind of the computer thing-how did you learn, like without the computer, and then did it change once you got-?
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AG: Well, this is where I need to be more... This is one of many places where I would love to be more tech savvy, because I keep asking friends of mine who are graphic artists, like, "Isn't there a program, or piece of software, where you can layout a book? Like, in a grid?" Because I end up spreading the book out like on the floor, and then putting it together, paging through it, you know? Because, like with what we're talking about at the beginning, I want to be looking at it in a way that's analogous to the final product. But it would be very convenient if I could look at something that showed where each page was and what are the double-page spreads were etcetera. And I haven't found something that works like that, so I'm sitting here getting dog hair all over the pages, and either putting it on the floor or trying to do it on a long table. Things like that.
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DB: And is that how you've been doing it for the whole time? So, this has made it easier to move things around and stuff within the document, but in terms of constructing the document, you're still on the floor?
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AG: In the dark ages with, you know, lint and dog hair and crumbs. But I'm sure at this point there are multiple programs-there must be-that if I knew how to use them, I could pull the thing together and look at it on a grid, or two grids-something like that. Or scan things in.
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DB: You would think Word could just do that. I'm sure it's not that difficult, but they don't do a whole lot.
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AG: Yeah. I've not found something that's easy to use, and cheap and available to me that I know of where I can just do that.
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DB: Right. I think, yeah-I think most people use InDesign, but that's a $200, $300 program, and it takes learning. It's a learning curve.
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AG: Yeah, and I'm always like, "Oh, I could be writing instead of reading this piece of software that I'm only going to use once every three years, when I'm like about to have a book come out. But I should still do it.
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DB: I don't know. I mean, it seems to work for you. So, I guess in the process of making this, how do you track the pieces? Do you just keep them in this-you print them out and you put them in these sort of folders? Is that how it's been consistently done?
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AG: I do that, and I have a folder of things that I'm currently working on, and I keep sort of looking at that and seeing if I'm reaching critical mass. And then there's ones that are sort of sink to the bottom that I know I'm not going to use unless I get some revelation and I can really clean them up, or if there are others that are contenders.
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DB: OK. So, when you're all done with this, like, you're done with the manuscript and stuff, what are your sort of archival-the physical and digital-practices there? I mean, do you put that in a certain box, and put that somewhere?
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AG: Well, I make the folder that is the book that I'm going to submit, to see if I can get it published. And in order to have arrived at that, I've printed things out and done my gungy little no-tech, on-the-floor, dogs-walking-over-it, leaves-falling-on-it kind of procedure that I was shame-facedly describing to you moments ago. And so, I end up with a paper copy in a file, at least one. And also at that point, I'm usually trying to bribe a couple of friends in to reading it before I send it off. So, I'm either emailing them, or handing them a copy. I've got a copy. There's a copy of the computer, there's a copy in whatever virtual world my back-up system backs it up into, and eventually there's a copy that's submitted to the publisher.
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DB: And then so, say like a few years on, do you still have like those archival copies somewhere on your computer of those manuscripts?
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AG: You know, I mean, now I will because the way I used to back-up was just on an external-
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DB: External hard drive?
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AG: Yeah, just plugged-in. But I have problems with those, and also that if the house burned down, that would burn down, too. But now, with things being backed in to clouds or other people's systems or stuff like that, it's just going to exist there. But when I have a book come out, I just think, "OK, that's it-the book came out."
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DB: The book is the thing.
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AG: The book is the thing. And then in the floating galaxy of Carbonite, there's also a copy of it, and that's sort of enough.
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DB: Right. So I mean, do you have like a different feeling, say about like the printed out manuscript that you worked on, and like the document file on the thing? I mean, does this one feel more dear to you?
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AG: I'm not precious about that sort of stuff. People yell at me every once in a while, like, "What? You don't keep your draft?" or, "You don't keep copies?" or, "You don't-?" And I'm like, "My office is this big. I get rid of things so that I have, you know-two writers live in this house, and books are coming in like every moment. It's just a constant battle with the rising swell of, you know, paper avalanches. So, no, I don't keep a lot of the stuff like that, because I'd have room for-
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DB: New stuff?
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AG: Yeah.
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DB: Yeah. OK. So, I have some sort of some general questions about computers, and I'd like to talk a little bit about correspondence and teaching, and that's it. And these maybe a little repetitive, but I think we can get at them really quickly. So, do you think then that with the kind of advent of personal computing, did it affect greatly your writing practices, or your writing style?
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AG: Writing practices, for sure. And I think productivity.
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DB: And productivity? OK. In terms of style though, do you think that there were definite changes?
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AG: Well, it certainly aided and abetted my tendencies towards research, and it quickened and made more efficient, and broadened the range of my research reach, if that makes sense.
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DB: Yeah. No, it does. Are there any sort of styles, techniques, or formats that you think you lost from moving to the computers?
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AG: Not for me, man. I just gained time, because you just had to retype everything.
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DB: I think we've covered a lot of these. I mean, one of the questions is-does the internet play a role in practices?
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AG: Yeah.
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DB: I'm pretty sure it does. Do you ever disconnect when you're working? Is it ever too much of a distraction for you?
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AG: You know, that's not-the thing I do is I just close email.
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DB: Oh, OK. So, email is the kind of-?
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AG: You know, the way this computer-you know, the way things are set up, it's like, if you're doing any task on the computer, whether it's for school, or if you're working on a poem, or if you're doing research, or whatever, you know, the email thing is like-I always have the sound turned-off. My tech friend makes fun of me, but I'm very weird, and I don't like the noises the computer makes. I find them distracting. But even if you turn off the sound, there's a little box that comes up that not only tells you that you have email, but is like, you know, "The medical quadrant at the University of California-Irvine wants to know if you want to participate in the study of people who have bad skin diseases." You know, this is like flashing in the corner of the thing every-not like I'm so popular or anything, half of it's spam. But still, that is interruptive and distracting, and so, I just turn email off. But I know, for me, I like to do research-and even my use of a dictionary, or use of a thesaurus, or use of a synonym dictionary-all those things are on the internet. So I don't have to, like, go in another room, then run and come back. I can just work with the internet on and the email off.
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DB: Right. OK, I'm just going to-usually, this is what happens when you cover most of the things. I just want to catch a few more things. Well, we sort of talked about this really briefly, but are you able to find the files that you're looking for on your computer, like if you're thinking about something?
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AG: Usually. Not only because of the naming and the capacity to easily update or change names as much as you want, but also sometimes I can't find a file, but I remember I used the word "artichoke" in that poem. So, you can search for that. Like I'll think, "Oh, OK. Well, god damn it, I can't remember what I named the thing!" I changed the name five times, but then I'll think, "Well, I used the word 'toothache' in there, so, I can search for that."
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DB: So, you're trying to look for "toothache"-like, before those capabilities were available like in the 90s, etcetera, were you more specific about your titling? I mean, were there other things that you did then that-?
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AG: It still, occasionally, takes me a while to find some things. But mostly, between those two things, I can. And before-I have more stuff on my computer now, I think. Back when it was just titling and I couldn't search for a specific terms or names, there were less things on my computer.
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DB: It was mostly for writing, yeah. How do you kind of feel about the security and fixity of your files? Do you worry about them, or do you feel pretty confident in your situation? You've said you had some issues before, so I'm assuming that's really kind of influenced your practice.
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AG: Well, if you mean security of the computer in general, I think everyone is pretty freaked out about that. I don't get scared about people stealing my little poems. Because I don't think anyone cares. But in terms of invading my bank account or my personal information or my passwords, or other computer things-you know, contemporary life is a nightmare of losing privacy and being surveilled. The computer is a major source of that. So, I'm just as scared as anyone else.
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DB: Yeah. I guess, I'm sort of thinking more mundanely about if you are just worried that your documents will all sort of-you know, Carbonite drops and we lose them. I mean, like, is that something, or do you feel pretty secure at this point? And were there different stages in the writing that you were like much more careful about them than you are now?
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AG: Now that you've said, "Oh, Carbonite drops," maybe I'll get another one, too.
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DB: No, no-I mean, they're got several different servers.
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AG: I mean-I think between my printing stuff out, my computer, my multiple devices, and Carbonite-
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DB: No, you're really well set up! As a digital archivist, I can tell you that.
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AG: OK, happy to hear. I'm probably more or less OK, and if I'm not OK-
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DB: No one's OK.
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AG: Yeah-the meteor comes and we're a firing inferno of a planet. Well-nothing I can do about it.
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DB: Yeah. But you came to this practice because of-
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AG: Bad experiences.
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DB: Bad experiences.
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AG: Both my own and hearing about other people's.
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DB: Yeah. So, I guess, in terms of sort of corresponding with other writers about your writing, did you do a lot of that by like typewriting in paper in the beginning? And then how does that sort of changed over the course? Utterly different?
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AG: I mean, I had a postal scale. You know, everything was like weighing stuff, going to the post office, and stamps, and, you know, printing. You know, which was fine, but now, I mean-email is a dream. The only thing that bugs me about-well, there're two things. One is security, and the other is that it's not as reliable. You know, I always think that the next technology is flawless, you know? It's god, it's perfect. But yesterday-it turns out that my server seems to have a problem with Gmail, and will not send. You know, 2/3 of people I know or do business with have Gmail, and so now, "Oh, 10% of things I send to Gmail are not getting there? How fantastic! That's really great!"
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DB: Oh, yeah. I know.
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AG: So, what's that? But, no, email's, I think, great for writers, for correspondence, for sending people-I mean, going back and forth with revisions. All that.
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DB: And do you feel like there's a difference in feel between the ways of communicating, I mean, sort of regular mail versus email?
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AG: Well, these are all mediums, right? I mean, yeah, they're mediums, or technologies, or both, and they have their own characteristics. It's not the same as a genre, but no, they require different things of us as producers and consumers, and they have different effects. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would argue with that. So yeah, email has many of the same characteristics but is different from a written letter. And a letter written on a manual typewriter is different from, you know, Charles Dickens dipping his pen, if that's indeed what he did. You know.
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DB: I'm sure he did. Yeah. So, are there ways in which you save certain digital correspondence?
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AG: Oh, yeah. Some emails I print out, and many I save by leaving them on the computer. And again, since the gods of Carbonites are supposedly looking out for me, it's saved there, too.
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DB: But you do do specific things to save specific correspondence sometimes?
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AG: Yes.
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DB: And the with the physical correspondence-do you save specific things there, too?
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AG: Sure. Once-not bragging-but once, I got a little letter from John Ashbury, a tiny one about something, and bet your bottom dollar I saved that.
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DB: Yeah.
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AG: Or, once I wrote a review of a biography of Frank O'Hara, and his brother like wrote me something, you know, a little card thing. I totally save things like that. Because they're meaningful, not because I think I'm going to sell them on EBay or something.
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DB: Right, no, absolutely. So, as computers came in to your work life and into your teaching, did this-I mean, I know that changed dramatically. What do you feel are like the differences between, you know, having the sort of immediate access that we have now versus where you were, before, corresponding more with mailboxes than in person?
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AG: For teaching?
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DB: For teaching, yeah.
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AG: Gosh, I'm not-I mean, I want to take classes and be able to take better advantage of this, but I mean, I have taken to bringing an iPad to class. Because, like we were looking at a-I think it was a Frank O'Hara poem-and it brought up Betty Grable. None of the undergraduates in class, understandably, who Betty Grable was. So, I was able to go dit-dit-dit: here's Betty Grable. You know? Pin-up girl. Here's who she was and here's some biographical information. Or we can look up a word, because there are not books in the classroom. In the old days, I used to sometimes bring a dictionary to class. And I was like, "I can't carry all this stuff!"
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DB: So, it's always been important to you, though, to give kind of outside-context in your teaching?
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AG: I'm teaching writing, and books, and literature, and English. We need to be able to look stuff up. I mean, you know, that's kind of a given. So, the fact that we can have a dictionary, or people can be arguing about whether, you know, negative capability was something that Keats thought of, or Britney Spears. I can now look it up and say, "Hey."
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DB: So, is this the first year you brought the iPad in to the class?
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AG: No, I started doing that a few years ago. Or somebody's written a poem based on a painting and-
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DB: Yeah, you can look up the painting.
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AG: Things like this are really good. And if I was more tech savvy, when I'm lucky enough to be booked in a smart classroom, I could actually project that stuff or material. I want to get to that point where I can do PowerPoint things, or I can project the poem. You know what I mean? Different things like that.
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DB: Absolutely, yeah.
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AG: So, every aspect of teaching the kinds of things that I teach, you know?
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DB: And I guess, you know, this entrance of-
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AG: You know, workshop-You know? Everyone sends their poem-
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DB: Yeah, by email. I think when I was there, we still had to go drop it in the mailbox.
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AG: Right.
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DB: Has the entrance of this into the classroom had an effect on your own writing at all?
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AG: Entrance of something in the classroom-?
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DB: You know, I mean, like all of a sudden you have a device small enough that you can bring in and use in a very powerful way whereas before, it would have been, you know, huffing in that. Like has that affected you, I mean, in your relationships with your students and then your writing? Sort of a bad question, but-
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AG: Well, you know, you want the classroom to be a vivid, lively, energetic, productive place. And when I was a little kid, there was a lot of stuff in the classroom. And now, there isn't. The classroom is sort of like a white cube, in a way. So actually, digital stuff, to me, substitutes for, or contains, the idea of having a lot of books, or a lot of pictures, a lot of reference things. In the classroom again, which is really actually important to make something. It's not exactly hands-on in the way that a Chemistry class would be, if you're working with beakers and petri dishes and stuff like that, but it helps connect the things that you're talking about in classroom to the concrete via the digital, I think. And make it real, and make it vivid, and make it connected, and for you to be able to follow ideas and reach out to the connected ideas and see where things are coming from.
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DB: And then, I guess in line with that then, do you feel like the students you have now have a different, maybe cultural technical understanding than they used to?
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AG: Completely. No, completely. Every generation of them does, and then I do-I mean, I try to fake it and act like I'm all... I bring my iPad to class, even partly, to be like, "OK-I'm a bunch older than you, but don't write me off. I'm actually-." Yeah, exactly. So, "Don't kick me out of the world quite yet."
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DB: Yeah, yeah. Is there anything-I mean, I guess the students you're teaching at this time, in this year, are probably more connected than any students ever, right? But are you seeing like a difference in their proclivities, or anything like that?
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AG: No, I mean, this is-they have grown up, you know, completely differently. I mean, when I talk to other teachers, you know-this is "duh," everyone knows this-but one of the only downsides is everybody has a computer or a device. I'm very lucky with where I get to teach and what I get to teach. I'm not usually having this problem, but a lot people are having this problem. You know, people are there shopping for shoes, or looking at watches, or talking to their friends, or looking at porn. You know what I mean? And they're like, "Hey, I'm taking notes." And I'm like, "No, you're not! You're not. You're buying electronic cigarettes while we're supposed to be talking about something else." So, there's that thing about computers in the classroom.
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DB: So, I mean, like finally-and thank you for your patience in answering all of these-
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AG: Oh, sure.
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DB: And this is kind of the last sort of-do you have like any sort of broad thoughts about how, you know, the advent of personal computer has affected writing in this period of time-in the period of time that is your kind of writing career?
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AG: Well, I kind of think everything with this whole conversation is that-and sadly, I'm not a good synthesizer or summer-upper-but my overwhelming reaction is gratitude. I'm super grateful that it makes it so much quicker, easier, more efficient to research, to connect to libraries, to connect to students and other writers, to correspond-to exchange texts-to get hold of texts. You know, Project Gutenberg, blah, blah, blah, blah, libraries online. Everything. And I'm so incredibly grateful that it makes it easier to keep track of and store documents and images, and exchange them, and to work on things. I do not miss screwing around with white out, having a Selectric typewriter that I can't even lift, having to cut, physically, with scissors and Elmer's glue to try to move text around in a poem or a piece of journalism. Don't miss it. Wouldn't want to have to go back there unless it was to save the Earth from being so polluted that we can't live on it anymore. So, I'm grateful. And I find these things exciting. I don't keep up as much as I should mostly because of time, but I feel incredibly fortunate to live now because of that.
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DB: Well, thank you very much. Alright, that is it.