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Various Locations Across the United States on Various times | Interviewer: Devin Becker

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beasley1
Devin Becker: All right. I've basically got a few little sections to this. The first section is kind of like where you are at now with more digital work and the sort of technical processes that you use. The second session will kind of go through your compositional practices and how they've changed over the course of your career. So, the first one is almost like short answer, which I'm sure we'll go through it fairly quickly. If you would, for the camera, please state your name, your date of birth and the location where we are right now?
[00:00:00]
beasley2
Bruce Beasley: Bruce Beasley. Date of birth January 20, 1958, and we are in my writing cottage in my studio in the back of my house in Bellingham, Washington.
beasley3
DB: What genres do you work in?
beasley4
BB: Poetry only.
beasley5
DB: What kinds of devices do you own or have access to for writing?
beasley6
BB: Devices?
beasley7
DB: Yeah.
beasley8
BB: You mean like computers?
beasley9
DB: Sure.
beasley10
BB: I have a laptop, a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer, and that's mainly it.
beasley11
DB: Is that it? Do you work on a tablet or a phone or anything like that?
beasley12
BB: No.
beasley13
DB: Or pretty primarily on that device?
beasley14
BB: That and my office computer, which is a desktop.
beasley15
DB: The operating system on which you work, is that a Windows?
beasley16
BB: Windows 7—or that's Windows 8, now.
beasley17
DB: Do you work on that office computer very often or is that—?
beasley18
BB: I do. In the summer, like now, I work almost exclusively here on that computer. When I'm at work, when I'm teaching, I am often working a couple of hours a day during the day, and I work mostly on the office computer when I'm doing that. So, I'm always sending files back and forth.
beasley19
DB: How do you do that? Do you email them to yourself?
beasley20
BB: I have Carbonite on this computer.
beasley21
DB: Okay.
beasley22
BB: So, you can call up these files there easily, but not vice versa. Things that I put in my office computer, I have to email to myself if I want to work on them here.
beasley23
DB: Okay, so you don't have the folder on your office computer, you just have the kind of shared folder here?
beasley24
BB: Yeah.
beasley25
DB: Do you use computers exclusively or do you also work —physically?
beasley26
BB: I use computers mostly. What I do a lot is—I've brought some examples of this, if you want to see them—I write a lot when I'm walking. I take long walks and scribble in a notebook like this one. Just usually individual lines—let's see if I can find some examples. And then often I will transcribe them onto note cards. Just—this says: "Your omissive offspring deviled what you've got in there," which is lines that I was working toward a poem called "Offspring Insprung," which is a response to a sculptor named Bruce Beasley—he has the same name as me.
beasley27
We've been doing this kind of collaboration. I have been writing sort of my self-portrait through the lens of his sculptures. So he sent me a sculpture called "Offspring," which is in the house if you want to see it—one of his sculptures. And I wrote a poem called "Offspring Insprung" responding to his sculpture. So when I was writing that, I was taking long walks and just scribbling down random lines.
[00:3:50]
beasley28
I can write individual lines by hand. When it comes to a whole poem, I do it almost exclusively on the computer. This one says, "Even the evenings are odd, even the odds are even/ offspring, autumnal, equinox, off quilter," which are not lines I ended up using but often, when I'm doing this kind of walking, I'll end up with a stack this big of note cards, and then when I'm at the computer, I shift them around and type them up, and rearrange them and shuffle them and move them into different places.
beasley29
DB: So, you'll have them, like, kind of spread out in a grid on your desk essentially?
beasley30
BB: Yes.
beasley31
DB: And then move them around. How does that help you—are you sort of picturing them on a page, then?
beasley32
DB: Or are you still kind of picturing them in the air? How is that?
[00:05:00]
beasley33
BB: In the air—very much in the air. And I'll do a thing where I'll start by dealing out a card, so like I'll just randomly deal a card—"coverts of the cube"—and start writing from that on the computer. I'm a big fan of craps and gambling, and I like to think of words as, like, "rolls of the dice," in a way. So often when I'm beginning a poem, I'll start with the straight lines and images, or phrases, quotations—like this—and then when I'm sitting down with a computer, I'll deal them out with something like—"You're in geometry."
beasley34
My teenage son was in geometry, taking geometry, but I was thinking about Bruce Beasley the sculptor, and how geometrical his abstract sculptures are. So, I write like, "You're in geometry," which is also not something I ended up using—though I kind of like it now. So yeah, I do a lot of handwriting work like that, especially when I'm walking.
beasley35
DB: Okay. And where do you walk?
beasley36
BB: The bay is about half a mile from here, Bellingham Bay. The beach is about one mile exactly. There is a beach called Little Squalicum Beach. I usually walk from here down to there and sit on the rocks by the water, by the beach.
beasley37
DB: Will you write while you are walking?
beasley38
BB: Yeah. I carry either note cards or a notebook with me and scribble things down as I'm walking.
beasley39
DB: Do you have specific notebooks that you use? I mean, that seems like a very unique notebook.
beasley40
BB: It's got a Byzantine cross on it. It's kind of appropriate for me.
beasley41
DB: Yeah! No, it's great. Do you have many of those?
beasley42
BB: I do. And I'll write—often when I'm writing, I'll just write tittles off and I'll start with just tittles. So, just yesterday, I wrote "False Negatives," "Team Lullaby with Abraham and Dedalus," "Isaac and Icarus," "Be All and End All," "Study for Happiness." Often I'll start with a title like that and start mulling it—and scribbling down lines for it in a journal like this one, and then when I get enough lines, either put them on note cards or just sit down with a computer and a notebook and start transcribing and moving around things that I've written in the notebook.
beasley43
I can't remember the last time, and I may never have done it—written an entire poem by hand without a typewriter or a computer. I just don't work that way.
[00:7:52]
beasley44
DB: Yeah, but you do write by hand a lot of the pieces of the poem.
beasley45
BB: I generate—yeah, I generate fragments of the poem, but the act of consolidating and moving them, and making a poem out of them—for me it's always been done on a computer, or a typewriter before that.
beasley46
DB: So, what do you do to kind of save—like when you are finished with the project or finished with these cards, do you save them somewhere?
beasley47
BB: Yeah. I was trying to find the rest of these. I have them, but I can't put my finger on them—but they're somewhere.
beasley48
DB: Somewhere like in a box or in a file, cabinet?
beasley49
BB: Yeah.
beasley50
DB: And how many notebooks do you have at this point?
beasley51
BB: I have a lot. I have a box of them this big, in no particular order. The other thing I do—you might be interested in—is once a year I print out all the notes, all the computer writing I've done. I keep them in a bound journal that is by year. So this one, for example, is 1999—and you'll see that a lot of times, when I work on the computer, I'll write a kind of journal, just sort of what's going on and what I'm thinking about, and working with stray pieces of poems that I've written down by hand.
beasley52
And then—I don't know, somehow it's important to me to have it all printed out. Because when I'm writing and in between poems, I'll often skim through the printouts of previous years, looking for pieces of poems I've started but never finished, or just stray lines that didn't go anywhere but now they do.
[00:9:25]
beasley53
DB: So does this serve almost like—so would you search for things on your computer, too? Or you would rather come search your own archive, your own index?
beasley54
BB: I don't like reading on the computer, I never have.
beasley55
DB: Okay.
beasley56
BB: I like to write on a computer but not read on it. And what this also does is it gives me all the drafts of every poem I have ever written.
[00:10:00]
beasley57
DB: And you do this once a year? You print out everything once a year?
beasley58
BB: Yes.
beasley59
DB: Are there dates on the poems themselves?
beasley60
BB: Yeah.
beasley61
DB: So you date—and do you put a time? Or do you just—?
beasley62
BB: I do. Like this one says, "December 10, 1999, Dickinson's birthday and Don is a friend of mine, come to think of it, Friday morning 9:15," and then I'll start talking about what's going on and then start working on lines from a poem, thinking about etymologies—Latin penetralis, inner. penetrari—"to penetrate"—from which comes penetralia. "Penetrate is to enter or force the way into, to grasp the inner meaning of"—you know, that sort of associative thinking. But I do it in writing on the computer, often, and when I'm not doing that I'm walking and doing it in my mind and jotting down notes in a notebook.
beasley63
DB: Do you have like a schedule to which you try to keep, or is this just kind of a continual work?
beasley64
BB: Continual. When I'm—in the summer, or on sabbatical (because I was on sabbatical most of year before last), then I'll write every day, all day, as much as I can. I mean, I'm here at my desk, right there or right here, or walking. Often I'll walk for two hours and come back and write for two hours, or something like that.
beasley65
DB: So, mostly it's here.
beasley66
BB: I'm a really obsessive writer, so when I'm writing I do it kind of nonstop. But I go long periods where I don't write—that's my kind of schedule.
beasley67
DB: And usually those correspond to your teaching?
[00:12:08]
beasley68
BB: Yeah.
beasley69
DB: And you teach—is Western on a quarter system?
beasley70
BB: Mm-hmm.
beasley71
DB: So, you teach from September to mid June every year?
beasley72
BB: Late September to early June, yeah.
beasley73
DB: Alright. So let me kind of backup for a second. We've talked some about your practices now; I'd like to kind of think about different eras in your own career, and your writing practices then, too—and we can kind of relate them a little bit, hopefully. But before that, could you say how long you have been writing? This isn't scare quotes, but—professionally?
beasley74
BB: My first book was published in 1988, so '98, 2008—twenty-five, twenty-six years.
beasley75
DB: Could you give kind of a—describe, kind of give a broad arc of your career, just to kind of ground the interview a little?
beasley76
BB: In terms of what I have written and published?
beasley77
DB: Yeah. Where you've been, what the projects have been, etc.
beasley78
BB: Okay. So, I grew up in Macon, Georgia. I started writing poems when I was about twelve, and—really awful, awful poems when I was twelve. But I kept writing all through high school, and went Oberlin College where I took a lot of creative writing classes, majored in English. Then I went to Columbia University MFA program after that, immediately after that. I graduated from there in '82 and I did a series of editorial jobs during the first half of the '80s, writing for alumni magazines and things like that, and other magazines. I worked for a magazine called Good Life, which was a magazine designed to be marketed to the richest people in the country, things like that—1% top, 1% maybe—and ironically it went bankrupt shortly after I started working there.
beasley79
And then in '86, Wesleyan University Press accepted my first book, Spirituals, and that gave me the kind of jolt I needed, I think, because I just felt this increasingly grotesque disjunction between what I was doing for a living and what I cared about. So I went back and got a PhD at the University of Virginia in American Literature. I did a dissertation in Emily Dickinson, and then while I was in the PhD program I wrote most of my second book, The Creation, which won the Ohio State University Prize and was published in '94.
beasley80
DB: Who chose that? Was that Charles Wright? Or was that the next one was Charles Wright?
beasley81
BB: No, that was—I think David Citino who was the judge of that. And I came here to Western in '92, moved out to Bellingham in the fall of '92. In '96, Charles Wright picked my third book, Summer Mystagogia for the Colorado Prize, and then Wesleyan published Signs and Abominations in 2000. Five years later, Lord Brain—a book about cosmology and the mind and the brain and looking at metaphysics through the physicality of the brain and the structures of the cosmos—won the University of Georgia Press competition, was published by them. And then The Corpse Flower, my New And Selected Poems, was published by the University of Washington Press in 2007, I guess. The most recent was Theophobia, which BOA published in 2012.
[00:15:00]
beasley82
DB: And from 1992 to now, you've been professor at Western Washington, teaching?
[00:16:16]
beasley83
BB: Yeah.
beasley84
DB: So, I have this kind of broken apart into, like: "composition," "writing," "prewriting," "generatives," "structure," "revising/revision," and then "organizational/archival"—which is more like putting books together, etc.—and I'd like to talk about it in different stages. So if those don't work for your writing process, let me know. We can talk about it differently. But we probably won't even—we'll probably just talk.
beasley85
So when you first—like, right out of college up until your first book—what was your writing process like then? How were you writing then?
beasley86
BB: I was working on, as I said, a series of editorial jobs, and I did a lot of writing at work, which was nice because I had jobs working for PR offices at colleges and universities, but they were jobs where there was a huge amount of spare time where there was really nothing to do. I wasn't expected to do anything; there was nothing to be done.
beasley87
You know that old ad—the Maytag Repair ad? There was an old, famous ad campaign for Maytag washing machines, and the joke of it was that the washing machine never broke down; so they had Maytag Repairs, and the Maytag Repairs people were just really bored, they had nothing to do. So, I had a sign on my desk that said Maytag Repairs. But I had a lot of spare time, so I would write a lot at work on my typewriter—this was before computers. So, I wrote a lot of my first book in those jobs.
beasley88
DB: So, we can talk about the pre-writing, generative—were you taking notes like you do now? How did you get to the poems, I guess, at that point?
beasley89
BB: I was typing.
beasley90
DB: You were just typing?
beasley91
BB: Yeah, typing. I probably had one of these notebooks here, if you want to look at it. Here is one, and I was printing it out—oh, this was a little bit later, this is '92—but it was printed out on these long rolls of printer paper, you know? Those old-style printer rolls?
beasley92
DB: With like serrated edges? Yeah.
beasley93
BB: Yeah. So just doing essentially what I do now—large chunks of prose that would lead to ideas and sort of mull through ideas—but I was typing it on a Selectric typewriter.
beasley94
DB: Okay. And then printing it out that way. So when you started, you were writing on a typewriter and had a similar mode of kind of generative—did you do walks or anything like that in the early—?
beasley95
BB: No, I had to be at my desk, so I couldn't.
beasley96
DB: You had to be at your desk. Would you write lines and then rearrange them at that point? Or were you kind of composing more closely full poems?
beasley97
BB: Exactly the same way I do it now.
[00:19:23]
beasley98
DB: Okay. This could change.
beasley99
BB: Doesn't change at all, no. I'd write stray lines and then start pulling them together and rearranging. The difference was, it was much more cumbersome to retype it all than it is now—but essentially the same process.
beasley100
DB: As you progressed in your career, when did you move to a computer?
beasley101
BB: I think my first computer was probably—did I have a computer in graduate school? I think probably at the end of—no, because I wrote my dissertation on a typewriter. No, I didn't,
beasley102
BB: I had a computer when I was writing my dissertation in Virginia in the early '90s.
[00:20:00]
beasley103
DB: Early '90s?
beasley104
BB: 1990-1991.
beasley105
DB: When you were getting your PhD what was your writing style like? Were you writing at home mostly?
beasley106
BB: Yeah. And I was writing—I was doing long walks then, too.
beasley107
DB: Okay. Through Charlottesville somewhere? And then was that when you started writing down on the note cards?
beasley108
BB: No. That's a pretty recent thing.
beasley109
DB: That's a more recent thing?
beasley110
BB: Yeah.
beasley111
DB: So that sort of early—that sort of note taking, walking, was established pretty early. Did anything change, like as you moved to Bellingham? Or was the process fairly similar for prewriting, etc.?
beasley112
BB: It's been pretty constant.
beasley113
DB: Pretty constant?
beasley114
BB: Yeah.
beasley115
DB: Has it changed by location at all? I guess one big event probably in your writing life is this thing [the small, separate space in which the interview is taking place]. What was it like? When this came into your life—when was this built, this cottage?
beasley116
BB: I think about seven years ago.
beasley117
DB: Did your writing practice change very much for it, or was it just made much more useful?
beasley118
BB: It's easier. This is my flipper. This thing is crucial to my writing. This is the window crank for an old-fashioned window that I had growing up in Macon, Georgia. As a child I started a process of flipping this thing, or doing like this. I call it my "flipper." It's crucial to my writing and I have had it ever since I was a little kid, but as a kid I would throw it when I was thinking—and even as a teenager, I would write mostly by flipping this thing.
beasley119
There is something about the action, repetitive action of throwing and catching, that's always been really important to generating ideas. It's similar to the kind of rhythm I have when I'm walking, I think—that kind of rhythmic catch and release. So often when I'm writing, all through my life, I have kept this thing with me and I flip it while I'm thinking. Often, I can't think unless I'm doing that. It's a kind of kinetic thing, I think, and when I'm walking, often I have a stick, a stick that I'm flipping or throwing around, too.
beasley120
DB: Something with the hands almost always, too?
beasley121
BB: Yeah. So, I lost this thing for a couple of years. Somehow it got lost, and it drove me crazy. Then I found it I was like, "My flipper! It's back!"
beasley122
DB: That's funny. Within the writing process, do you have certain times when you pick it up? Are you more likely to use it when you are generating work or when you are revising, or does it—?
[00:22:49]
beasley123
BB: Every—all times.
beasley124
DB: All times?
beasley125
BB: Especially when I'm revising. When I'm revising, I say the poems aloud over and over, always—and often when I'm walking. I can always tell a poem is almost finished because I've come to the point where I've memorized it without trying to—just from saying it aloud so many times. Often when I'm walking, I get to a point where I've got to draft in my mind and mumbling it to myself aloud, while I'm walking, to hear the rhythm of it and the sound of it and the words of it.
beasley126
When I'm revising or when I'm generating new ideas, I often use this thing. I remember my roommate in college told me, when Suzanne and I were first dating, I would leave her house and come back to my own room in the house where I was renting a room, and I would lie in bed and flip this thing, and he came in and said, "You know, you tell Suzanne you're writing, but really you're just flipping your flipper." I said, "But flipping my flipper's how I write! That's what I'm doing, I'm writing!"
beasley127
DB: That's fascinating. I guess I'm sort of trying to get—so you will use your flipper in somewhat pensive moments when you are kind of considering what you've written or what you are about to write, but also maybe—I mean, do you do it at your desk ever?
beasley128
BB: It's kind of hard to do it in a desk, so maybe when I'm sitting or lying down in bed. So, in here, I'll pull the Murphy bed down, sometimes I might look out the skylight, do this and think, and jot down lines.
beasley129
DB: Yeah. So you were saying earlier, like once you have these lines jotted down, you have the notebooks kind of composed and you also have big chunks of prose in the computer that you've written, too—
beasley130
DB: —so, how does this jumble become a poem, exactly? Where do you get to the point where you start to rehearse it in your head and start to revise it?
[00:25:00]
beasley131
BB: Oh, okay. So, the prose that I write is—I'll find something more recent—is designed to get me, it's just sort of a thinking aloud, and I encourage my students to try this, too. It works really well, for me anyway. So I'll start with just a kind of diary—not like a diary, but just sort of "this is what's happening right now," and then go from that to general ideas and images, fragments. Sometimes I'll make list of words that will take up a page or two. Sometimes I'll—this is my unabridged dictionary that I use—
beasley132
DB: That you roll the dice—
[00:25:20]
beasley133
BB: Obsessively. Yeah. Sometimes I'll roll dice to pick a page in the dictionary and open to that page, and just read that page until something in the words or the etymologies or the definitions trigger something.
beasley134
DB: What's the edition? What dictionary is that?
beasley135
BB: This is Webster's Unabridged New Universal. So I'll turn to a particular page—"clean lead," "clean sweep," "clean shaven," and "cleanser," "clean room," "cleaning woman,"" clean energy," "clean cut," "clean bill of health"—I'll read around it until something starts triggering something that's going on emotionally or intellectually right at that moment in my life.
beasley136
Thinking about cleanliness and I might just start typing and thinking about associating with cleanness and dirt and pollution, and what it means for something to be "clean cut." So, I'll start writing some lines, and then often what I will do is—once I've got some lines or some ideas going, I'll go for a walk, and I will just fill up a whole page with words that sound good with the word "clean."
beasley137
DB: Okay. How do you determine what sounds good with the word "clean"?
[00:27:11]
beasley138
BB: Just associatively. "Clean machine," for example, sounds good to me. I would write on a note card or notebook "clean machine," even though that doesn't mean anything to me. What's a "clean machine'? And walking, I'll start thinking about a "clean machine," just as an example.
beasley139
So, yes: how do you get from that prose to lines? I'll just read you an example:
beasley140
Reading Celan: ‘it is time it were time'—which is a line, one of my favorite lines of Celan—"Amen to that. I want to write a ‘Damaged Self-Portrait'"—that's a poem that ended up being in Signs and Abominations—the principle of being to write about myself is I am now through suggested images rather than through narrative or logical progression."
beasley141
So oftentimes I'll start with that kind of abstract, "this is what I want to do, how I'm going to do it," series of images for myself, for selfhood in general; disconnected images. And then I'll start writing lines:
beasley142
Rent twin—and there, it's just that "rent" and "twin" sound good together—"Rent twin, gash in the oak trunk, mud sucked on boots/ What comes back comes halve, to crucifix, the awkward joining together of two broken sticks"—just sort of free-associating images and lines and ideas and words that draw each other—for me. And after awhile I will take some of those lines and start walking and thinking about it: what's "mud sucked on boots?" What am I talking about? I'll start building on that.
beasley143
DB: How do you determine what comes first, what comes later? I guess—how do you build the progression of the poem?
beasley144
BB: At first I don't worry about that at all. I just let lines accumulate, images accumulate, phrases—until I have a whole series of pages of drafts. Then I'll start worrying about it. I try not to make myself—I know poets who write from the first line on: begin with the first line and then write the second one. Linda Bierds once told me she writes that way, which astonished me because it's so utterly unlike anything I do. But I really try, especially when I write long poems—which a lot of my poems are—not to impose any order on it
[00:29:25]
beasley145
BB: until I've got pages and pages of lines. Then I'll print them out. I think I can find an example of—okay; so here I have, like, just pages of lines separated by just asterisks or marks with no attempt at coherence. And at that point, I'll start moving them around: what if I start here? What if I put this here? Sometimes I'll have them all written down on note cards and rearrange the note cards, because I'll have one section, then I'll go through the note cards and say, "what would be interesting after this?" and I'll move that card to the second position and then type it all up together in that order and read it aloud until it starts to sound right.
beasley146
DB: When you type it up on a computer like that, what do you—I guess I'm wondering where this all resides on your computer. Do you have a folder for notes and lines, and then a folder for, like, poems that are starting to come to fruition?
[00:30:00]
beasley147
BB: Would you like to see an example?
beasley148
DB: Sure.
beasley149
BB: What I do typically is, within that file where I have all the ruminations and free associations and that kind of stuff—
beasley150
DB: What do you call that file?
beasley151
BB: You see—well, I'll show you. Sometimes I'll just call it by the name of the month to make it easier, like "June 2014." But often, I'll give it a title less thematic instead. Like I might call—the thing I was just working on, I might call it "Damaged Self," something like that. I like doing that, except that it's hard then to go back and figure out when that was written. So, I've started just calling them just, "June 2014." So when I got back to print them all out then I—
beasley152
DB: You know what order to put in there—
beasley153
BB: I know where, what's what, and I started organizing them by year on my computer. So under "My Documents," I have a file called "Poems." Within it I'll have—I don't know if you can see this—"2011," "2012," "2013," drafts of my book manuscript, All Soul Parts Returned, various other things. Within "2013," I have "Early summer 2013," "Ecclesiastes," "January 2013," "Late Summer 2013," things like that.
beasley154
DB: Those are the files—those are the folders that will hold the individual poem?
beasley155
BB: Yeah. So then I have drafts of a poem I was working on called "Speech for a Speed Date." This is a poem I wrote partly by taking the first poem I ever wrote when I was 12 years old and running it through Google Translate, through just about every language that they offer, until it came back completely deformed and defaced—and still, it was a really corny poem called "Light A Single Candle." It became speech—kind of a surrealistic speech for a speed date: "Do you enjoy the hiss of candle wax and cigarette ash? Do your hobbies include a love of what cannot die?" Some of which came out of those translations.
[00:32:58]
beasley156
Then I'll have this kind of list of what's going on, and drafts of a poem called "Reading Jesus Again With a New Prescription." You'll see I have a whole bunch of lines that I'm working on, and what I often do is just copy those, and write some prose about them—sort of identifying what I like about it and what's bugging me about it, what I don't like about it—and then paste it back again, move things around. Often, I'll put bold face when this is a revision process, when I get to a place that I don't like or feels clunky, I'll bold face it so that I can come back to it and just say, "What am I going to do to fix that?" Then the next draft I'll cut it or change it or—here's a whole section, it's all in bold face. I think I ended up cutting it. This is a fairly long poem so there are a lot of drafts of it. Then I'll copy it over and over until I get it the way I want it.
beasley157
DB: So, all drafts are in one file?
[00:33:55]
beasley158
BB: Yeah.
beasley159
DB: And you just keep copying and replacing and bolding parts that you have problems with?
beasley160
BB: Yeah.
beasley161
DB: And then as it gets towards the end of the file, it's getting towards its final form.
beasley162
BB: So, like here I'll have the draft of that "Speech for Speed Date," and then I'll say: "The cling of cigarette ash to candle wax feels a little bland, intensify it"—I'll sort of give myself instructions like that. "Tallow" might be a better word than "candle wax." "Do you enjoy the cling of cigarette ash to tallow?" and various versions of it. You'll see I've got, like: draft, draft, draft—probably ten or more drafts of it in here.
[00:35:00]
beasley163
DB: So, I'm interested in the Google Translate stuff. Have you done that before, or it's just the first time?
beasley164
BB: This is the first time I did that. Well, no, actually I did that partly with one of the poems in Theophobia. It's a poem about the Gospels and a meditation on the gospels. I'm forgetting the title of it right now. I've got it right here somewhere. Yes, a poem called "The Kingdom of God is Not Ushered In With Pump and Exclamations."
beasley165
What I did with that is I took some of the passages of the Gospels and ran it through Google Translate to see what would happen to it. So they would be partly recognizable from the Gospels, but partly different and estranged. I didn't use exactly the phrasings that came out of Google Translate, but allowed it to shake up the familiar, biblical, canonical sayings in such a way that it became stranger, and gave me ideas for rephrasing things.
beasley166
DB: Before that have you ever done any similar practices?
beasley167
BB: Not that I can think of.
beasley168
DB: Have there been any other computer kind of enhanced ways of composing poems?
beasley169
BB: Not computer enhanced. A lot of aleatory practices, like the dice I mentioned in sense—in The Corpse Flower called "The Craps Hymnal," where I rolled dice everyday for a period of several months and went to a page in the dictionary, and worked that way.
beasley170
DB: In The Corpse Flower they have the dice as the—so how did you do that? Did you work with the publisher to do that—to have the dice appear above the title?
[00:37:09]
beasley171
BB: I had it in my manuscript.
beasley172
DB: You did have it in the original?
beasley173
BB: Somebody who read the manuscript said, "No publisher is ever going to do this. They are not going to reproduce dice on every—" I said, "Yes, they are. They have to. It's part of the poem." University of Washington Press, they were great about it, they agreed to do that.
beasley174
DB: Good. And you also—is it in that poem, or it's another poem where you have like bolded but shadowed—?
beasley175
BB: In "The Rotbox."
beasley176
DB: Yeah. Where did that come from, I guess?
beasley177
BB: That came from a good friend of mine who is a geologist, and he collects animal bones as part of his research. He's very interested in the physiology of animal skeletons but he had on his property up in the country, this thing he called the rotbox where he would take animal carcasses and allow them to rot over winter, and then have a day in the fall where he would harvest, he called "harvesting a rotbox."
[00:38:15]
beasley178
I went with him, and it actually happened to be the day that the war in Afghanistan started. So, I spent the whole morning helping him harvest this rotbox, which is a matter of taking these skeletons out of this big decomposing pit, and cleaning them with bleach and other stuff. It was, I don't remember—cow skulls, I don't know. I'm not sure what it was. So, I spent the whole morning with him doing that and then, as I was driving home, I was just still stinking of decomposition—
beasley179
DB: Did you volunteer for this job?
[00:38:49]
beasley180
BB: He called me up and said, "I'm harvesting the rotbox, you want to come?" I went, "Yeah. Hell yeah." So, our friendship began really because we hardly knew each other at that time. But all the way home from the county, I was listening to the radio and the bombing had started—"Shock and Awe" had started in Afghanistan. I was thinking about things that did decompose, and words and phrases that decompose into other words and phrases.
beasley181
DB: How were you able to do that on your computer? Were you sort of experimenting with the fonts, and—?
beasley182
BB: Yeah. I think what I did is used a larger outline font.
beasley183
DB: Okay.
beasley184
BB: So that the letters would look hollowed out.
[00:40:00]
beasley185
DB: Before the computer, did you ever have inclinations to use, sort of, fonts like that? Or do any sort of things—?
beasley186
BB: No, I didn't. I'm very interested in some of the visual poets, poets like Ronald Johnson. His early work which is all typewriter-based, but he does some amazing things with the shape of the words and the appearance of the words using the typewriter.
beasley187
DB: A lot of your poems, especially Signs and Abominations, where you use a lot of punctuation to kind of indicate either definitions coming or stuff like that—some of that is rote, but some of it, it seems, that you made up yourself. Is that—how did that come about, I guess is the question?
beasley188
BB: I'm using a lot of punctuation in this new manuscript. Let me show you. Punctuation is a kind of separation of sections, but also is a kind of an element of meaning in the poem. So, this poem has a single asterisk for the first section, two for the second, three for the third, and so on. Others have crosses, dividing sections—which mean to suggest that Christian cross, of course, but also the sign of addition, each section being an addition to the previous one.
beasley189
Let's see what else. One of my readers for this manuscript said they found it distracting, another said they found it exciting. I'm hoping for the exciting. Here I have a kind of version of—this is the one the Bruce Beasley poems. It's kind of a version of the "does not equal" sign, because I'm writing about this geometrical shape, I'm working with the geometrical shapes of punctuation and typography. And that, I suppose—well, you can do that on a typewriter. That's an imported symbol from my computer, a mediated text; so in that way I think...here I'm talking about the Korean letter, which has no sound. You have to put it—I'm learning Korean with my son, who is Korean—it's a letter you have to put in front of a vowel sound, because vowels can't come first in a word in Korean. So, if you begin with a vowel like an "A," you have to put this null of a consonant in front of it. But it also resembles an egg, or a zero. So, I'm working visually with the sound of that. There is a consonant shaped like an egg balanced on its end that stands for nothing, makes no sound, and I'm connecting that to certain hollow geometrical structures and Bruce Beasley sculptures. Does that answer your question?
beasley190
DB: Yeah, yeah.
beasley191
BB: This is a poem that's based on Empedocles, the ancient philosopher who believed that in primordial times, there were body parts scattered all over the world, disconnected—hearts and lungs and livers—and that they gradually morphed together and created monstrous, grotesque amalgamation of body parts, until eventually they came to a point where the body parts worked together and formed human beings and animals. So, here I have stray syllables scattered all over the page. That, coming together and trying to form words—like "formal," "chasmal," "malform," "fictile," "fickle," "cavern," "us," "Venus," "knee," "halo"—stray syllables sort of groping together to form words, and by the end of the poem, it goes on—you are left with shape, the omega, and this is also meant to indicate the womb—so a lot of visual shape. By the time the poem gets to the end, this makes perfect sense. The words—the syllables have come together into words, and the words have come together into sentences, and the sentences are coherent units of meaning.
[00:43:25]
beasley192
DB: Do you write out the sentences in a more like prose style to make sure that they are working like that? How do you get from the notes, the line notes or the notes in your computer to something that's shaped, I guess is a newer thing?
beasley193
BB: You'd be terrified with the drafts of that poem, because I have several hundred syllables and in the drafts—the rule of the poem is that once a syllable is introduced, it has to be repeated elsewhere in the poem. It has to keep repeating and recombining with other syllables. So I have pages and pages of syllables in alphabetical order and when they repeat, I would scratch some out. So I have "ac" and it formed "accident" and then it would come back as "accumulate." But any syllable that was introduced that didn't echo somewhere else in the poem, I would have to keep revising until it came back. So, in the beginning it was just a list of syllables—not even words, just syllables.
beasley194
DB: I guess I'm interested, then—like, your early work is less disjunctively broken. So, when did that come in, and why did that come in?
[00:45:00]
beasley195
BB: It started in late '90s, I guess. Signs and Abominations was a big break, I think, in poetics for me. I became much more interested in fragmentation and disruption, and imitating disruptive states of mind and disruptive states of knowledge with disruptions in the poems themselves. Whereas before that, I had been very interested in a kind of well-made poem that was coherent and imagistic and lyrical. I got bored with that mode and wanted to allow the poems to become stranger and more broken, and more intuitive and less logical, less linear.
[00:45:45]
beasley196
DB: And it seems like you've kind of gone—you went down that path, and now you've gone down that path further into, oddly, a more kind of ordered shape—a visual shape—but, so how does sound work in that sense, then? You say when you are revising you are reading them out loud—how do you read aloud a poem shaped like an omega?
beasley197
BB: I have a very particular way of reading it where I try to space out the sounds of the letters that are on either side of the omega, so that that central absence is there, and it's formed by sounds rather than a visual shape on the page.
beasley198
DB: I guess I'm thinking to some of your Cage references right away when you say that. Is he a figure that came in later to kind of push forward some of those poetics as well or—?
beasley199
BB: Yeah, Cage did. A lot of his ideas were important, especially when I was doing the aleatory sequence with the dice and things like that. Reading Paul Celan was hugely important. I think I first read Celan in the '90s and he's become a giant, really important figure for me, and largely that his work speaks to me so intensely without me knowing what it's saying on any rational level.
beasley200
DB: Does that mean you are reading it in the German?
[00:47:42]
beasley201
BB: No, but even in translation—it's magnificent to me, but I would be very hard put to say what it means.
beasley202
DB: I'm sorry, I misunderstood.
beasley203
BB: Yeah. A version I have been reading that—"Streak in the eyes so that a sign be preserved to drag through darkness, restored to life by sand or ice"—that is magnificently suggestive to me, but I would not be able to paraphrase it. I have been working toward a kind of poetics that's much less paraphraseable.
beasley204
DB: In the notes and what not, do you think you could trace like a—a poetics, like the progression of your poetics? Like in these notes and in these prose things that you write while you are writing the poems?
beasley205
BB: Yes.
beasley206
DB: So, you start to kind of reason with yourself or something like that?
beasley207
BB: I talk to myself, yeah, which is a way of thinking, but it's a different way of thinking than at least I normally think. You don't talk to yourself—at least I don't talk to myself most of the time when I'm thinking. But when I'm writing these sort of meditations on the computer, I'm literally talking to myself. I'm saying, "I want to do this. Why do I want to do this?" I'm asking myself questions.
beasley208
DB: So, you are sort of interrogating your own practice while you are practicing?
beasley209
BB: Yeah, exactly.
beasley210
DB: And you've been doing that the whole time, pretty much?
beasley211
BB: Yeah.
[00:49:49]
beasley212
DB: Were you taught—were you taught this? I guess it's an interesting practice and I'm wondering where it comes from.
beasley213
BB: Was I taught it? No. I remember doing it in college a lot. I thought of it then as automatic writing.
beasley214
DB: Yeah.
[00:50:00]
beasley215
BB: And I guess I was introduced to the idea of automatic writing where you just write whatever comes in your mind as a generative practice. For me, automatic writing sort of became a "talking my through" a poem, or into a poem, and it's a practice I have kept. I don't think of it as automatic writing anymore. I think of it as just writing—just the way I write.
beasley216
DB: One question that I kind of have from a little earlier is when you are doing this writing in prose and then you have the collections of notebooks that were written on the typewriter—so they weren't saved in files like they are now?
beasley217
BB: That's right.
beasley218
DB: So, you couldn't go back at the end of the year and print them out. So, how would you print those out?
beasley219
BB: Daily.
beasley220
DB: Daily?
beasley221
BB: Yeah.
beasley222
DB: Okay. And you collect them daily, too? So, you've been using—
beasley223
BB: No, it's literary typing. So, on a typewriter I'll just save the pages and bind them into a notebook.
beasley224
DB: Would you do the same thing—kind of a ritualistic, year-end thing—where you gather them all together, or were they just are coming together?
beasley225
BB: I would just keep them in a box, I think, until the end of the year, and then bind them up into a notebook.
beasley226
DB: Yeah. Is this something you do like every New Year's Day?
beasley227
BB: No. Not in any particular time.
beasley228
DB: Just at the end of the year sometime you like go, "I should—?"
beasley229
BB: Usually around the beginning of summer, because I'm sort of looking back on what I've written the year before and have time to focus on things like that.
beasley230
DB: So, like now would be a time?
beasley231
BB: Now—I'll probably do the last six months of the last year sometime soon this summer.
beasley232
DB: Okay. So, we've talked a lot about the kind of composition. We've talked some about the revision. Has the revision changed much over your career? When you introduced this more disjunctive line break, essentially, and got more fragmentary, did the revising process change?
beasley233
BB: It did in that it used to be much more into clarity, clarity would be a big thing I would revise toward, in terms of driving out of the poem anything that didn't obviously belong to it thematically or imagistically. That's no longer really a concern because there are all kinds of things happening in my poems now that don't obviously belong together. So, it's much more intuitive than that, I guess. But I have a general sense of what I want a poem to be doing—what is in it, what isn't in it, and why—but clarity is not the thing that determines that anymore.
[00:52:00]
beasley234
DB: Right. Would you say that you—are you driven by a certain—are they driven by sound, by meaning? What's the driving force of the revision, and has that changed? You've kind of said this—you were moving more towards clarity—but now, is there a sense that the sound is more prominent now, or that you—?
beasley235
BB: The sound is definitely more prominent now, but also I'm paying much more attention to the shape of words on the page, the visual appearance of the words, and to the—let me show you an example from this.
beasley236
DB: To be clear, you do work in Microsoft Word predominantly?
beasley237
BB: Yes. Okay, so this is a poem that was published in The Gettysburg Review that's in the manuscript, and it's a poem about jellyfish, moon jellies in particular. It's called "Such and Such and Such and Such," where I play with the expression "such and such," but also the Buddhist concept of "suchness," which is a term that means "emptiness" in Buddhism, but it also means particularity, radical particularity. The "suchness" of a thing is its particularity, but it's also the awareness that it's empty. That it has no ultimate reality, and that it's changeable.
beasley238
So I started this poem out eventually by moving the lines around. I can't stop watching the YouTube of these moon jellies, yanking their translucence inside out, over and over, and getting nowhere. So this is a poem that is in four sections because I'm playing with quaternity—"fourness." I have many drafts here, and part of the revision process was condensation—I felt it's too long—so there I wrote, there, "It's not bad,
beasley239
BB: condense a bit down to thirty-two lines rather than forty." So typing it up is part of whatever else you are doing—
beasley240
DB: Making a note as to what that revision did in the revision?
[00:55:00]
beasley241
BB: Yeah.
beasley242
DB: Is that something you do?
beasley243
BB: Always. Then I went through each section, cutting things out, adding things—"some of the lineation feels clunky, I need to read through and adjust, pretty happy with that now"—so, that kind of thing. Revising more for condensation and surprise, I guess—disruption and surprise rather than clarity and consistency.
beasley244
DB: But still—you said you were working with the four-parts theme.
[00:55:19]
beasley245
BB: Yeah.
beasley246
DB: So, you do impose a certain order on it as well, right? That seems something you do quite a bit.
beasley247
BB: Yeah.
beasley248
DB: In terms of different things you do, and then also quotations, etc.
beasley249
So: we've gone through revision, we've gone through composition a little bit—well, not a little bit, a lot bit. How do these become a book, then, I guess, is the question there?
beasley250
BB: I've been working on exactly that. This book is called All Soul Parts Returned. I'm still pointing to the title here—I have All Soul Parts. It started—the concept of the book started with a friend who gave me a pamphlet. I was going through some difficult time emotionally about something, I don't remember what it was—but he had somebody hand him a pamphlet that a New Age shaman gave him, and it was a pamphlet that said, "Come to this workshop for $375. You can consult with a shaman who will travel into non-ordinary reality and find your missing soul parts and bring them back to you." It said that the cause of all emotional turmoil, upset, unhappiness was that parts of your soul had broken off and gone away, and they had to be returned and they could only be returned by a professional. The professional travels into a mystical state and finds your soul parts, and the pamphlet had this statement on it: "All soul parts returned for a fee." I found that hilarious.
beasley251
I said, "That's the problem, my soul parts are gone." But as I started thinking about this poems in conjunction with each other, I realized it made a really, I think, rich metaphor for loss, for grief, for emotional pain, and that it pulled together a lot of the things I was dealing with in this manuscript. Also tonally, this manuscript is much lighter in tone, a lot more humor in it than in my other books.
beasley252
So the revision process has been one of moving things around and structuring poems in relation to each other. So, I've got three big parts of it. One part is a long poem called "The Mass of the Ordinary," which is a kind of contemporary mass with all the traditional sections of the Catholic mass—the kyrie, the gloria, and agnus dei, and all these parts of the mass—I really have that as one big chunk. It's about ten poems, fairly long poems. I had that all together in the beginning. Then I have a long series called "Praise Song for Schopenhauer," about philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. It's kind of an argument with Schopenhauer's pessimism.
[00:57:38]
beasley253
And like the mass, it's pulling toward orthodoxy and traditional Catholic faith. I'm a converted Catholic, and the Schopenhauer poems that are pulling towards pessimism and nihilism and philosophical despair. Originally, I had started with the mass and ended with the Schopenhauer poem; that wasn't working, because it ended with the book being very despairing in a way I didn't want it to be. So the way I'm doing now is I have broken the mass poems and the Schopenhauer poems up, and they are interspersed all the way through the manuscript as a kind of two tugging, contrasting motifs that are arguing with each other all the way through.
beasley254
DB: So does the composition of a book like this feel a lot like the composition
beasley255
DB: of an individual poem? I mean, is it fractal-like, in that sense?
beasley256
BB: It does, exactly like that.
[01:00:00]
beasley257
DB: Has that been the case in your entire career?
beasley258
BB: Yeah. It feels exactly like a large poem, in that now the individual poems are the stanzas—do to the book what the stanzas do to a poem—which means you can move them around and the poem changes meaning drastically according to where you start and where you end.
beasley259
DB: Do you change the poems, too, once they are in this order? So you're still working on the poems and you're working on the book at the same time?
beasley260
BB: I revise my poems to help them illustrate the structure of the book. I have a poem that I wrote—when I was on sabbatical, I wrote a poem—I had to write a report to the provost where you tell them what you did on your sabbatical. And I got the idea that I would write that as a poem. So the poem is called "Report To The Provost On The Progress Of My Leave."
beasley261
So I decided at one point that this is a poem about losing your soul parts and losing parts of yourself. So I thought what if—and I was talking to a friend of mine, and I said, "Wait, what if I put the leave poem first, because then it begins with the leaving?" And the first line of that, when I revised it, I realized I could move this to the beginning of the poem and thus the beginning of the book was "I've gone missing, the way someone else might go drinking or caroling."
beasley262
So now the book is called All Soul Parts Returned, and it starts with losing myself, losing control of myself—emotionally, psychologically, spiritually—it starts with sort of losing connection with yourself, and then ends now with coming back of the self. So the way I've got an ending now—and this is still in process, but I think it's going to go this way—it's ending now with a section that says, "I'm here with most of my soul parts. None of us just wishing we were here." So it goes from losing soul parts to regaining them, because I wanted the title All Soul Parts Returned to be ironic, but also to be what happens in the process of the book—so the book being the act of personal shamanism that brings back the missing parts of yourself and reintegrates the self.
beasley263
DB: So you become the professional, in some way.
beasley264
BB: Yeah, on returning my own soul parts!
beasley265
DB: Yeah, that's it.
[01:02:39]
beasley266
BB: But I've showed the manuscript to several friends and other poets, and I haven't felt like the overall metaphor I'm working toward is coming through clearly enough. And I think it is partly because this idea of soul part retrieval is so alien to people who aren't in that subculture. So what I'm planning to do now, and I'm planning to start on it next week, even, is a brief lyrical introduction that describes what "soul retrieval" is, and describes, the shamanist's belief—that every time you endure any kind of trauma, a part of your soul leaves you and that your soul diminished because you've lost parts of your soul that are no longer accessible, and if they can be restored, then you'll be restored the wholeness.
beasley267
But one of the epigraphs I have here—this is an epigraph—it's from a New Age website and it's a "Frequently Asked Questions." One of the questions is, "My soul parts don't like me," and this is from somebody who got their soul parts back, but now find that their soul parts are unhappy to be there. The answer is, "Of course they don't like you, but it's good that you know how they feel. First you betrayed them by sending them away, then you forgot them and left them there. Now that they are back, they discover that you are boring."
beasley268
DB: That's good.
beasley269
BB: What I'm trying to get at there is that even if you can get your soul parts back, they may not be happy to be there, because the soul is not a unit but a series of bickering parts.
beasley270
DB: Yeah. I think it's in Theophobia where you mentioned—was there a website of "Seldomly Asked Questions"?
beasley271
BB: I did write that out, yeah.
[01:04:24]
beasley272
DB: Okay, I thought that was the funniest thing I'd heard in quite a while. I was like—because I'm building a website now for the library, and that would be really good—I've got an FAQ, but what about "Seldomly Asked Questions"—that would be a really funny page. So you seem to use the internet as content and as fodder for poems—starting, obviously, sometime around the early 2000's. Where does the internet lie in kind of your practice? I mean, I've seen printouts in here,
beasley273
DB: and I see—you definitely used a lot etymology and stuff. Do you go to the internet for that?
beasley274
BB: I do. I go to the Oxford English OED Online frequently, and I have poems in here that came out of OED definitions that are on the internet. There's a poem, I have in here. It was in The Kenyon Review called "Mean, Mean It," and it came out of—I was teaching a class on "Dreams and Poetry" and we were trying to define what dreams mean and what poems mean. I got the idea in class, "Let's pull up the OED online," and looked at what the word "mean" means. I did that—so I had it up on screen in the classroom, and one of the definitions of "mean" was an archaic definition that it used to mean "to lament or to mourn." So we were talking about even the word "mean" has multiple meanings that it didn't mean to mean, and how dreams are multiple and poems are multiple—but the word "mean," it could be words—even words are so multiple that you can't delimit their flux.
[01::05:00]
beasley275
So I kept thinking about that and I was writing a poem called "Mean, Mean It," which is about the idea that meaning has lamentation or mourning lumped into it, because meaning can't be controlled. It can't be packaged, it can't be narrowed down. There is something wonderful about that, but there is something mournful about it, too.
beasley276
DB: Before the internet became something that you were able to use more easily, what would you turn to to kind of do this sort of work? I mean, were you doing this sort of work? Where you—?
[01:06:16]
beasley277
BB: I was, much more in the library than I am now.
beasley278
DB: Okay. The internet meant leaving the library in some ways?
beasley279
BB: Yeah. I still spend a lot of time in libraries, but yeah. It allows me to do things right here that I used to have to go to a library for.
beasley280
DB: How much does research inform the poems? Obviously a huge amount and how does that work in relationship?
beasley281
BB: I'm usually researching while I'm writing those paragraphs of sort of thinking and then stray lines. I'm often wondering things like—one of my poems I have in this manuscript has the line, "I keep wondering if mass and massacre have some common root." Then I'll go to the internet and search "mass" and "massacre" and copy from the OED—the definitions and the etymologies—and paste them into the document I'm working on, that kind of thing.
beasley282
Or I'll start thinking about soul retrieval, and I'll go to a whole bunch of soul retrieval websites and see what kind of promises they're making. I find it hilarious that a lot of them don't even do it in person. You send them $350 through PayPal and they claim that they—from their own home in Virginia, or whatever it is—a journey into non-ordinary reality and retrieve your soul parts. And one of the questions is, "Don't you need to be with me in order to bring back my soul parts?" "Oh no! Your soul parts can be brought back to you spiritually;" and, "Is there a difference between soul retrievals that you do in person and ones that you do from a distance?" "Oh no. There is no difference at all." People are actually paying people hundreds of dollars to claim their—return their soul parts, but they have never even met them.
beasley283
At least if you do it in person, they blow it—they will supposedly blow it into your mouth. They get the soul parts and they kinda blow the soul parts into your lungs.
beasley284
DB: Did you, as research, get your soul parts returned to you? I guess is my—?
beasley285
BB: I thought about it, but no I haven't. I don't want to spend that much money.
beasley286
DB: Maybe you can get a grant?
beasley287
BB: There is somebody who lives here and teaches at Western who is an academic expert on soul retrieval.
beasley288
DB: Really?
beasley289
BB: Right now I'm thinking of going to talk to her, but I'm not sure if I could keep a straight face doing it, because she takes it very serious.
beasley290
DB: She doesn't offer the internet virtual soul retrieval?
beasley291
BB: She doesn't do them herself, I don't think. She does train people on how to do it.
beasley292
DB: Oh wow.
beasley293
So, I guess one thing you've mentioned in passing a couple of times are other people in the relationship to your process. Where do other people fit in? I know your wife is a poet and a writer, and you have—I'm sure—many poet friends. Are they part of the revision process, or are they more like kind of general book-level process? Where do they come in? Are you corresponding with them?
beasley294
BB: We read all of each other's work. We tend to read each other's work when we reach the point we call, "exhausting our resources," which means that you've revised enough that there is nothing in the draft that makes you—that you know you could improve. You've reached the point where you've done everything you can to it, and it's time to get somebody else's feedback. Suzanne will read my work, and she's a really great reader, and give me really honest feedback on what's working well and what needs work. And then I have, I don't know, four or five friends that I tend to share my work with. Usually after Suzanne has read it and I've revised it further, I'll send to them.
beasley295
With the book manuscript, too—this is a stack of different versions of it that three different friends have read, and that Suzanne has read. One of the things I'm doing this week is going through the manuscript with all three or four versions—with marginal comments from three different friends and from Suzanne—and I'm going to compare page by page and see where there are commonalities that they all agreed that something needs more work, where there are contradictions, and think through the contradictions.
[01:10:00]
beasley296
DB: Are these people that you work with, are they all poets themselves mostly or—?
[01:11:08]
beasley297
BB: Yeah.
beasley298
DB: Are they the same people who have been there the whole time, or has that changed throughout the course—?
beasley299
BB: Mostly. Some of them—two or three of them are people I went to graduate school with at Virginia. We had a writing group where we all met once a week while we were at grad school, and we've sort of continued over the years through the internet. One is a new friend, a poet I met who has just read my manuscript for me and I read his manuscript for him and it's been great—but this is new. I have never shared work with him before.
beasley300
DB: The ways that you've corresponded, I guess, earlier were by mail. Are you still mostly doing—I mean, those were physical objects—that you mostly send the manuscript to them or email the manuscript and then they send you back—?
beasley301
BB: Email the manuscript and they send me back—
beasley302
DB: —notes and all that? You can have that through for that. That's nice.
beasley303
BB: Yeah.
beasley304
DB: I think that's going to be—
beasley305
BB: I have over here in my file cabinet a file called "Poems: Feedback from Readers," where I keep all the physical copies of all the poems that have come back from the people I've shown them to, which I use a lot in revising.
beasley306
DB: I think we are pretty close. I would like to ask, kind of, the blunt question of this research, which is—I don't know, I mean, it's always all over the place—but: do you think anything fundamentally changed when you started to use computers more for your writing, or do you think those practices that you had before are just somehow metaphorically the same in a different kind of context?
beasley307
BB: I would say it has influenced the content of my poems more than the composition process. It has influenced the context. Computers and internet have influenced the content of my poems a lot, doing a lot with websites, with that kind of radical interconnectivity of associative thinking that the internet suggests. I think that the dawn of the internet probably has changed the way I compose my poetics in certain way, and that it has given permission for more associative, mimetic thinking process that I associate with internet links.
[01:12:42]
beasley308
I have a poem called "Hyperlinks" in Signs and Abominations that is a poem about thinking the way the internet thinks, in a way—in that everything reminds you of something else, it takes you to another place, so each line of the poem leaps from one idea to another that's only tangentially related to it. There are certain obsessive themes in that poem having to do with the birth of my son and adoption, and purification and rituals of sort of preparing for fatherhood—but they are oblique and they're associative.
beasley309
And that, I think, was one of the first poems where I consciously wrote a poem whose thinking was related to the way I think the internet thinks—if we can call the internet a "thinker."
beasley310
In some ways it is, you know what I mean?
beasley311
DB: Yeah.
beasley312
BB: But it hasn't really changed my composition process a whole lot, because I was doing on typewriters what I'm now doing on computers. It's made it easier to cut and paste, and to move things around.
beasley313
BB: But I often do that on notecards and writing anyway, rather than on the computer—because there is something about writing out the sections of a poem on a card and then moving them around that I find more satisfying even than doing it on the computer. I'm using—especially in my newest poems—a lot of material that's based on the physicality of icons and things that are possible from a computer.
beasley314
Let me show you some other example. Here's some more shapes that I am using in that poem: there is an X and a Y and then an omega. I'm using here reproductions of the Bruce Beasley's sculptures, which of course, would be possible without the internet, but I'm doing more visual collisions between text and image that is suggested by the internet.
[01:15:00]
beasley315
DB: Yeah. Well, that's it.
beasley316
BB: Okay.
beasley317
DB: Thank you very much.
beasley318
BB: Thank you.
beasley319
DB: That was great.
beasley320
[01:16:30]
armantrout1
[NOTE: The first four minutes of this interview were not captured on video and as such won't be linked out here. They are available on the audio recording however, which can be accessed here: http://ctrl-shift.org/ohms-viewer/viewer.php?cachefile=armantrout.xml
armantrout2
Devin Becker: And there we go with that. This could be a good set up.
[0:00]
armantrout3
Good.
armantrout4
So, three parts to the interview. First part will be kind of how you're working now, with the computer and back and forth—kind of a brief short-answer questions. This comes out of a survey a colleague of mine and I did with a lot of kind of emerging poets about three years ago. It was like an online survey just to see how people are saving and organizing their work.
armantrout5
So that will be kind of a couple of pages, but fairly quick.
armantrout6
And then we'll talk kind of more overarchingly about your professional career and about how the processes for you have changed, have not changed with. Some idea, you know, with some sort of focus on how the computer impacted that.
armantrout7
Then, we'll talk a little bit about the computer in general, and a little bit about correspondence and teaching, and ask a few plunk questions at the end just to see what you think about computers—which is such a large question—but it gets somewhat repetitive at times. So, if you think you've answered already, say, "Skip it," or you know, "Let's go."
armantrout8
Rae Armantrout: About how long will it take?
[01:09]
armantrout9
DB: It'll take about an hour and fifteen minutes.
armantrout10
RA: OK.
armantrout11
DB: And if, you know, need a break at any time, no problem.
armantrout12
RA: OK.
armantrout13
DB: So, yeah.
armantrout14
So, can we begin?
armantrout15
RA: Sure.
armantrout16
DB: If you wouldn't mind stating your name, your date of birth, and the location we're at right now.
armantrout17
RA: OK. Ray Armantrout (1:29), April 13th, 1947, and we are at my home in Norman Heights, San Diego.
armantrout18
DB: Alright. So, I'm going to first ask about how you compose currently. So what genres do you work in?
armantrout19
RA: Mostly poetry.
[01:43]
armantrout20
DB: Mostly poetry.
armantrout21
RA: Once in a while I write an essay, but mostly poetry.
armantrout22
DB: OK. And what kind of devices—what kind of computer devices—do you own or have access to for your writing?
armantrout23
RA: Well, really just two. I have an iPad and I have a Dell computer upstairs.
armantrout24
RA: Oh, and I have one at work, too. Also a Dell.
armantrout25
DB: Do you use the one at work very often for actually writing?
armantrout26
RA: Actually, no. So...
armantrout27
DB: No, OK.
armantrout28
So, the operating systems are—you've got a Mac, and you have a PC?
armantrout29
RA: Uh-hmm.
armantrout30
DB: And do you work on one of these devices primarily?
armantrout31
RA: Well, actually, I probably work primarily in this old school device called "notebook" where I, you know, fill pages with illegible text, and then once I start to think that my text is coming together, very often I'll do a version of it—just type it into the iPad. And I can show you. I'll send it to myself. Sometimes, I'll send it to my friend, Ron Silliman (2:54). And you know, I mean, I like to know how he'll respond to it—but it's also kind of a lazy way of saving a record of it.
armantrout32
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout33
RA: Because I send it to myself, too.
armantrout34
And then once I've done that a bit, and I have several versions, I'll go upstairs and start working on the computer.
armantrout35
DB: Oh, OK.
[3:13]
armantrout36
So, you've answered my next question—you're working between notebooks and digital devices—?
armantrout37
RA: Uh-hmm.
armantrout38
DB: —and is there ever a point where you print out the poem?
armantrout39
RA: Oh, yeah.
armantrout40
DB: OK. Will that be at a point, like, after you've reached your upstairs computer?
armantrout41
RA: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout42
DB: OK.
armantrout43
RA: I mean, I've got—well, I don't know how many versions I've got that I could show—I don't know. Are you interested in seeing printout versions, versions on here of anything I've been working on recently? Because we could do that.
armantrout44
Let's see.
armantrout45
These...these might not be versions, but I could find versions. How do you want to do that?
[3:53]
armantrout46
DB: Well, I think right now we can just talk about it and then at the end, I've got a camera, too. I can just take some pictures of that, and have it kind of as photographs—
armantrout47
RA: Sure.
armantrout48
DB: —which I think that's probably the best way.
armantrout49
So and then, how do you save your pre-writing, your notes there?
armantrout50
RA: I have a bunch of these filling up my shelves. Right now, I have way too many. A couple of times, I've sold or donated my papers to archives including Stanford and also at UC-San Diego. And when I do, I also include these.
armantrout51
DB: You include those?
armantrout52
RA: Hmm
armantrout53
DB: OK. How many? Do you have any idea how many you've probably gone through?
armantrout54
RA: Hundreds.
armantrout55
DB: Hundreds?
armantrout56
RA: Maybe thousands.
armantrout57
DB: OK. Do you always go for the same kind of size?
armantrout58
RA: Yeah, pretty much.
armantrout59
DB: Pretty much?
armantrout60
RA: I'd like it to be able to fit in my purse because I take it with me, and sometimes I write at a café, or, you know, someplace out in the world. So, I want to be able to stick it in my purse—
armantrout61
DB: Right.
armantrout62
RA: —-riding the airplane, or whatever.
armantrout63
So, it's nice if it's about this size, and it's nice if it's flexible.
[5:00]
armantrout64
DB: OK.
armantrout65
RA: And it's nice if it's not expensive.
armantrout66
DB: Yeah, yeah because you have to buy so many of them.
armantrout67
So, in terms of your digital files, what format do you usually work in?
armantrout68
RA: .docx.
armantrout69
DB: OK, .docx.
armantrout70
As you're working in those formats, do you save drafts of the individual documents, or do you save over those drafts?
armantrout71
RA: I mostly save over, which is not a good idea. But sometimes I have printed out drafts, and I save drafts. I probably do not save all of them, which is not great, but I save a number of them and then eventually, I'll probably give them to the library.
armantrout72
DB: OK. And then you're emailing them back?
armantrout73
RA: Yeah.
armantrout74
DB: So, that's sort of a draft as well?
armantrout75
RA: Yeah.
armantrout76
DB: And what are your naming conventions for your files?
armantrout77
RA: I just name it—I mean—whatever the title of the poem.
armantrout78
DB: Whatever the title is?
armantrout79
RA: Yeah.
armantrout80
DB: And then if it's a draft?
armantrout81
RA: I number them. Sometimes, I'll have, you know, "such-and-such a title one," "such-and-such a title two,"... But when it gets too confusing, sometimes I'll just erase the old ones. So, I'm not a very good curator of my own history that way.
armantrout82
DB: Yeah? And you do save some paper copies of those drafts?
armantrout83
RA: Yeah.
armantrout84
DB: OK.
armantrout85
Do you back up your digital files any way?
armantrout86
RA: Not as much as I should. I mean, I do have a back up on a zip drive, but I haven't backed-up for several months. So, I'm careless.
armantrout87
DB: And then when you're sending these emails back and forth, is it like a Gmail or some sort of something like that?
armantrout88
RA: Yeah.
armantrout89
DB: So, you could go back and find them that way in some way?
armantrout90
RA: Yeah, yes.
armantrout91
DB: So, you're not using Dropbox or any other Cloud-based—?
armantrout92
RA: No. I have Dropbox, but I am not using it for this. I'm using it for a class that I've been teaching with someone.
armantrout93
DB: OK.
armantrout94
RA: But, I could use it that way. I mean, it's something to think about.
armantrout95
DB: Yeah.
armantrout96
As a digital archivist, I might have some suggestions. Do you ever have files saved in more than one location?
armantrout97
RA: No. Well, the zip drive and the computer hard drive.
armantrout98
DB: Yeah.
armantrout99
RA: That would be it.
armantrout100
DB: OK.
armantrout101
RA: And paper. That would be it.
armantrout102
DB: And then when you're finished with a piece, how do you—is there anything special that you do for that file?
armantrout103
RA: No, I pretty much know which is the finest—the final version. And if I start to get confused, like I say, I just erase the others, which is probably a bad idea, but—
armantrout104
DB: And then what about the final version—like the books and the journals—do you save those?
armantrout105
RA: Well, what happens—this is what I do:
armantrout106
RA: I'm going to take these out because these new papers are not very significant. Those are copies that I took with me to give a reading somewhere. So that's why they're loose.
armantrout107
RA: But this is the manuscript that I'm working on now. These are really old-fashioned. These are called thesis binders. This one is all beaten up. But you can't really even buy them. You used to be able to buy them in stationary stores.
armantrout108
DB: Yeah.
armantrout109
RA: Lyn Hejinian (8:26) in Berkeley knows. I guess she has a whole bunch of them. I don't think even she can get them anymore, but she doesn't use them anymore and she has a big stack, and so, she sends them to me.
armantrout110
DB: Oh, that's nice.
armantrout111
RA: So, this is really old school. But the way I use it is, it helps me order—not only keep the poems for the manuscript, but I order the manuscript this way. I mean, I kind of decide what reads well by trying the poems out in different places—
armantrout112
RA: —within this manuscript so that I don't do that thing you hear about writers doing about spreading the pages all over the floor, or all over the walls, or something.
armantrout113
DB: Yeah
armantrout114
RA: Because I've already been deciding as I went along by where I place them in this thesis binder.
armantrout115
DB: OK. And so, will you be working on many poems at the same time?
[9:09]
armantrout116
RA: No, not usually.
armantrout117
DB: OK.
armantrout118
RA: Almost never. I'm kind of, you know, obsessive when I start something. I just work on it until I finish it. I mean, once in a while I give up on something for a while and set it aside, and go on to something else, and then go back to it. But I'm not actively working on two things at a time.
armantrout119
DB: OK. And so, just to be clear then, if you finish a piece, you would then go to your—you would print it out and then take it to this thesis binder, put it in a place where you think it may fit—
armantrout120
RA: Yes
armantrout121
DB: —with the rest that are working, and then once you have what you would—how do you know when you have a collection, then?
armantrout122
RA: Well, it used to be that I had a collection when I had enough poems for a book, but it seems as
armantrout123
RA: if I'm writing more now. So, I get to make some more choices—I get to cut things—cut a manuscript down, save some things for later. So, I get to make some decisions about how the poems work with each other and it's kind of intuitive
[10:00]
armantrout124
DB: OK. Have you ever received or sought out information about methods for digitally archiving your work?
armantrout125
RA: No.
armantrout126
DB: No? OK. Those are the short answer. And I think we did cover kind of the "nuts-and-bolts" of your current practice, so that's good. So, in this section, we're going to kind of talk about sort of three areas of your writing talk about the different stages
armantrout127
RA: Sure.
armantrout128
DB: So, how long have you been writing professionally, is the question?
armantrout129
RA: Well you know—for poets, that's a hard question.
armantrout130
DB: Yeah. How long have you been—
armantrout131
RA: Taking it seriously?
armantrout132
DB: Yeah, maybe that's the better way of putting it.
armantrout133
RA: Since I was a senior in college, really.
armantrout134
DB: OK.
armantrout135
RA: I think I had my first poem published in a national magazine shortly after I graduated from college, and then I just continued to publish in magazines. I had my first book was published when I was thirty, and I've been publishing books ever since. And I suppose that now you could say, or—hmm, when would it—? If by a professional, you mean somebody who actually makes money and has a reputation, I guess I've been in that category maybe for twenty-five years, or something.
armantrout136
DB: OK, I think I should change the question.
armantrout137
RA: For poets.
armantrout138
DB: Yeah. Would you please describe, kind of, the arc of your career? Like where you started? I would say—
[12:34]
armantrout139
(Phone rings)
armantrout140
DB: Wait for a second. If you need to answer that, it's fine.
armantrout141
RA: Yeah, let me hear who it is.
armantrout142
DB: Sure.
armantrout143
RA: Probably I don't need to answer, but if it's someone I really want to talk to—
armantrout144
Bad timing.
armantrout145
DB: It's OK.
armantrout146
RA: It ought to pick up after this, or maybe they'll give up. Of course I didn't answer. It's probably a sales call anyway.
armantrout147
DB: Yeah.
armantrout148
RA: OK, what were you saying?
armantrout149
DB: OK. So, if you wouldn't mind describing the arc of your career from when you started sort of seriously writing until now, just sort of a general overview. So, you know, just to start the interview.
armantrout150
RA: Alright.
armantrout151
I was interested in poetry since childhood. My mother read poetry to me. I wrote when I was a little kid, then I kind of stopped for a while. And then I started again in college and I was reading the poet Denise Levertov (13:37).
[13:24]
armantrout152
Oh, and I—I grew up here in San Diego, actually, and then I went to San Diego State for two years, and I was reading the poet Denise Levertov. And then I transferred to Berkeley, and she was teaching there. So, I took a class with her, and through that experience, I met my friend Ron Silliman (13:56), who's a poet—the one I send poems to, who's still a friend of mine. And then I came back here, and then I moved to San Francisco to go to grad school and he was living there. And through him and also through the grad program, I met other poets. And there was—you know, San Francisco is a good literary town. So, there was quite a community of poets in San Francisco, and I eventually was friends with poets who became—came to be known as the "Language Poets" (scare quotes), the West Coast Language poets anyway, which would include Barret Watten, and Bob Perelman, and Lyn Hejinian, and Kit Robinson, and Ron Silliman and Carla Harryman (14:41), among others.
armantrout153
And I went to a lot of readings series and participated in small press publications, and had a very active literary life—like I said, publishing magazines and journals—and
armantrout154
my first publisher was someone that we knew there. It was called the Figures Press and his name was Jeff Young. And so, that book came out in an edition of a very small press—an edition of five hundred copies, which—I gave a lot of them away to my friends and such.
[15:00]
armantrout155
And then at the end of the seventies (this was in the seventies) At the end of the seventies, I got pregnant and it just didn't seem like we were going to be able to keep living in San Francisco and raise a kid because, kind of like now—I guess it's more extreme now—but there was gentrification and yuppification going on then. And suddenly the rents were getting out of reach for us (especially if we had a kid, because you can't be so hand-to-mouth with a kid). And then my mother lived here and was willing to babysit and also Chuck got an offer of a job here that would have benefits and health insurance and all. So, we ended up back here. I was not very happy to come back here because then (and this is going to get to a topic that you like), then that was really isolating. Because that was before email, right?
[15:25]
armantrout156
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout157
RA: That was even before I had a computer. So, it just felt like, you know, kind of falling off a cliff. I mean, there were some poets here and I got to know them gradually—Jerome Rothenberg, and David Anton (16:22), and Michael Davidson—but not that many people of my generation really.
armantrout158
So, I had lengthy correspondences actually on paper with the people back in San Francisco—not all of them but some of them. I can't believe it now, how much time we spent writing long letters out by hand, or typing them on typewriters.
armantrout159
DB: Yeah.
armantrout160
RA: It seems surreal now that everything goes so fast. I mean, who would do that? But we did. And so, some of those letters are in archives now.
armantrout161
And meanwhile, I kept sending work out to journals. Lyn Hejinian (17:03) in the Bay Area had a small press and she published my second book which was a chap book called The Invention of Hunger.
[17:03]
armantrout162
DB: And what press is that?
armantrout163
RA: It was Tuumba, T-U-U-M-B-A. Kind of, you know, a letterpress. And then, my third book—which was my second full-length book–-was published by Burning Deck in Providence.
armantrout164
DB: Yeah.
armantrout165
RA: So, that was my first kind of, you know, outside my immediate coterie publication.
armantrout166
DB: Yeah
armantrout167
RA: Still a small press, but—
armantrout168
—and then I started publishing with the Los Angeles publisher Sun and Moon, who also published people like Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein (17:50). You know, it was a very active press then. It changed—he changed it to Green Integer, and I do have a book out on Green Integer, too—but the focus became, for him, became more re-publishing classics that had, you know, gone off copyright.
armantrout169
So, about that time, fortuitously, I got picked up by Wesleyan. At that time I was already fairly well known, at least, in the kind of small press world. I'd been in some anthologies. But I think that being published by Wesleyan and having a selected come out with them in 2001 really kind of gave my career, so to speak, a boost, and things have just picked up since then including my pace of writing. So that, since 2001—
armantrout170
—well, in 2001, I published two books. I published one with Green Integer called the Pretext, and then the selected with Wesleyan, which was called Veil. And then in 2004, I had Up to Speed. In 2007, I had Next Life. In 2009, I had Burst. In 2011, I had Money Shot. And then in 2013, I had Just Sayings.
armantrout171
So, yeah.
armantrout172
DB: Yeah.
armantrout173
RA: A spurt.
armantrout174
DB: Yeah, that's great.
armantrout175
And then during that time, were you supporting yourself by teaching, mostly?
armantrout176
RA: Yeah. When we first came down here, Chuck was one of the managers of the bookstore at San Diego State, and I got, about a year after we got here, I got a part-time teaching job at UC San Diego. At first, it was kind of on and off, and then after that, it was regular but adjunct.
armantrout177
I did that for many years. It wasn't until the early 2000s that I got a, you know, "real" tenured job at UCSD.
armantrout178
DB: OK. So, I guess, we want to kind of move in to talking about the different "spots" of processes for you and how it changed over the course of your career. So, in terms of like when you first started writing seriously and were kind of doing the pre-writing, the generative work for these poems, how did that look? What was the process for that?
[20:00]
armantrout179
RA: Well, I think, I always used a notebook. You know, I couldn't tell you exactly what the notebooks looked like way back then, but I always wrote by hand. I think I wrote by hand then—I'm sure I did longer, took me longer to write a poem, and it also stayed in the hand-written phase longer because back then, when you left the hand-written phase, you had to go to a typewriter. You're too young to know about typewriters, but they were enormously irritating because if you made any mistakes, you had to either start over or put whiteout on it, or you know, etcetera. And then, you would make a copy. I mean, you would print it out and if you wanted another copy, you'd have to type it again. I mean, right?
[20:14]
armantrout180
DB: Yeah.
armantrout181
RA: So, I mean, there's a limit to that.
armantrout182
So, you would kind of just do without when you thought you had pretty much finished version. You might be wrong, but you know...
armantrout183
DB: Yeah.
armantrout184
RA: Still.
armantrout185
DB: When you were working in the notebook, was it usually in a certain spot? Or could that be wherever you were? Was it just—
armantrout186
RA: Well, it would—I did it a lot at home, but sometimes outside.
armantrout187
DB: Outside. And was it something where you—had a line or an idea that then you would write down?
armantrout188
RA: Yeah, I mean, I often start that way—then, and still, you know. I can—just something that I hear or see, sort of peaks my interest. It could be something I read, and I'll write down a passage, or I'll write down something I overhear someone say, or even on television, I could hear something that I write down.
armantrout189
And I kind of collect those things like a magpie until something starts to take off.
armantrout190
DB: OK. And in the beginning part of your career, then, how—at what point would you go to the typewriter? Like when would you kind of feel like, "OK, this really needs to be typed?"
armantrout191
RA: Well, I guess, when I thought it was good enough to keep and good enough to maybe send a copy to someone to see what they thought, either an editor or a friend. So, that's pretty far along.
armantrout192
DB: Yeah.
armantrout193
So, would you—were you doing revisions within the notebook as well?
armantrout194
RA: Uh-hmm.
armantrout195
DB: And what type of revisions did it sort of start as? I mean, was it—would you just be crossing out and rewriting? Or would you—?
armantrout196
RA: I don't know if I would cross out. I think I would just, you know, go to another page and rewrite.
armantrout197
DB: OK. So, when did the computer start to enter in to this process?
armantrout198
RA: Let's see. When did I first get a computer?
armantrout199
The first thing I got was one of those IBM Selectrics that was sort of computerized, where you could make—you could save, and make a number of copies. But shortly after I got that, I was able to get my first computer. So, that became sort of redundant instantly.
armantrout200
I'm trying to think what year it was. I mean, it was probably only...when did...you tell me. When did desktops with word processing become available? It wasn't a Word. It was like Word Perfect, or Word—
armantrout201
DB: Word computers.
armantrout202
RA: Yeah.
armantrout203
DB: So, like mid-80's sort of?
armantrout204
RA: Yeah, maybe—
armantrout205
DB: —later than that?
armantrout206
RA: —later, maybe. Yeah. I think I got that Selectric in the mid-80's, maybe, you know—I probably got the computer by the late-80's, and I don't think I got internet until—there wasn't internet that you could get until the early 90's, probably.
armantrout207
DB: Yeah
[23:34]
armantrout208
RA: It's incredible now, to think!
armantrout209
DB: Yeah.
armantrout210
How did—so, how did that first computer come about? I mean, did you know a friend who had a computer and then go after that, or how'd you—?
armantrout211
RA: Yeah. I think, again, Ron Silliman (23:56) who worked in the computer industry—he worked as a marketer in the computer industry—he had one. I mean, he didn't live near me at that point, but we were in touch and he had one before I did.
armantrout212
But I guess, you know, really, I mean everyone was getting it at about the same time.
armantrout213
DB: Uh-hmm. So, you got a computer
armantrout214
RA: I don't remember. I mean, I guess it was gradual. I still, like I say, work in notebooks but I am sure that I started going from the notebook to the computer sooner than I would have on a typewriter, I am sure. But I don't have a clear memory of it.
armantrout215
What I do have a clear memory of is how the internet changed things. Because then you could send someone something and say, "What do you think? I don't know about this last line, what do you think?"
armantrout216
I mean, you could have that kind of conversation.
armantrout217
DB: Yeah.
armantrout218
RA: And if you do that in a letter—which I did, but by the time you got the letter back you'd already made up your mind—
[25:00]
armantrout219
DB: Right, right. So, in the early part when you were sending these by letters, you did that only a little bit and it didn't—how did you establish—?
armantrout220
RA: I think I did. I mean, I would type something up and send it, usually to a couple of people—two or three people—and I would get responses back. But it certainly—I mean, now we're so used to kind of this instant dialogue, instant gratification. Sometimes I think that that's, you know, maybe that's why I'm writing faster now. Really, it is the stimulation of that.
armantrout221
Because I'm still not—I guess, I'm insecure enough that I'm not comfortable in saying something is finished until somebody has said that they at least think it's interesting. I mean, it doesn't always have to be Ron. Sometimes I send it to somebody else, but I have to have, like, somebody's approval—not a 100% approval but, like, somebody has to think, "Oh, this is OK"—before I'll put it in a book. So that's sort of an integral part of the process. So obviously, if you could do that and get an answer in a day or two, well, you know.
armantrout222
DB: Yeah.
armantrout223
RA: Right.
armantrout224
DB: Right.
armantrout225
RA: So then I decide, at that point, whether I still need to revise.
armantrout226
DB: So, in the—like when the internet first starts coming and you start working, and kind of sending these things back and forth—was it just Ron Silliman (26:31) who was your kind of partner?
armantrout227
RA: No.
armantrout228
DB: Few more?
armantrout229
RA: I use to send them to more people. Lyn Hejinian, at first, and Bob Perelman, at first, and Lydia Davis, the fiction writer—she's a friend of mine. And later, Fanny Howe, too.
armantrout230
Now, I mostly just send them to Ron, and once in a while, to Lydia. Very rarely to Lyn Hejinian, but still once in a while, like maybe twice a year.
armantrout231
So, kind of that number of people has sort of shrunk.
armantrout232
DB: So you're looking for some sort of affirmation?
[27:05]
armantrout233
RA: Yeah
armantrout234
DB: Interesting, yeah. Do they give like specific line feedback? Or do they usually just give sort of—
armantrout235
RA: Ron does.
armantrout236
DB: OK.
armantrout237
RA: I mean, it all—I could show you. This, I guess, is the kind of—my screen is dirty—kind of thing you might want to see.
armantrout238
So, let me go to my "Mail," and I'll go to my—
armantrout239
DB: Sure.
armantrout240
RA: —"Sent Mail," and you can see some of these.
armantrout241
Oh, this actually has to do with the internet.
armantrout242
I sent Ron a poem that mentions messages I was getting—it's actually in a poem from mileage.com—that I thought were funny. Well, so, Ron writes back. He said, "Not sure you need the Q and A at the end"—I had a sort of "interviewing myself" bit at the end—"Not sure you need the Q and A at the end, but other than the problems with the url"—he thought that since I was saying Mileage.com, which he says is a phishing site —he thought that, if that was ever published in an online journal, and somebody hit on it, clicked it, that I could be in trouble for that, which I don't know if that's true. He says, "You know that mileage.com is a phishing site. It sends malware to your PC if you follow through." And then I, at some point, wrote back. I said, "I don't do that."
armantrout243
RA: So, you know, that's just some of the kinds of—so there I am, there I am sending something to him and having a correspondence with him.
armantrout244
Let's see.
armantrout245
Here I am sending something to myself, just to kind of preserve it. Same poem but it has a different title with that point—there is mileage.com lit up.
armantrout246
DB: Oh, yeah!
armantrout247
RA: Yeah, because it lights up if you—it doesn't on my computer, but it does if you do it on the iPad.
armantrout248
DB: It does it in Apple.
armantrout249
RA: Yeah.
armantrout250
DB: Right! So, did you write that on your iPad?
armantrout251
RA: Well, like always, I started here and I moved it to the iPad, and then I moved it to the computer—-but I was sending—I think I start writing—usually, I write in the morning, sitting over there. And I don't want to be running up and down the stairs, so then after I'll just go, "You know, this looks good enough to kind of type." So, I'll type it here. And if I don't yet feel like sharing it with someone, I'll just send it to myself because that's a way of saving it.
armantrout252
DB: And that's when you could move it to your—
armantrout253
RA: Yeah
armantrout254
DB: —other computer?
armantrout255
RA: Uh-hmm.
armantrout256
DB: And so when did you start using the iPad?
armantrout257
RA: Gee, again, I got an iPhone maybe three years ago, and I got the iPad maybe two years ago. I don't know. Time's a blur.
[30:00]
armantrout258
DB: Okay. So—
armantrout259
RA: It's an old one, though.
armantrout260
DB: So it's been a couple years, two or three years. Did you ever work on the iPhone, too?
armantrout261
RA: No, too tiny.
armantrout262
DB: Too small of a typing format.
armantrout263
So then, back to the revision correspondence. Do you think that—why do you think that Ron Silliman (30:29) has kind of been the constant of all that?
armantrout264
RA: Well, because he's very confident about what he says, first of all, and he's also very specific. He doesn't always say why he thinks what he thinks, which drives me crazy, but he gives me something to bounce off.
[30:33]
armantrout265
DB: Yeah, and is he very prompt in responding?
armantrout266
RA: Often. Not always. Sometimes it's right away, sometimes it's not for days, depends on how busy he is.
armantrout267
DB: Yeah, and does he reciprocate? Does he send you things over?
armantrout268
RA: He never has. He doesn't like to do that. Other people have.
armantrout269
So, you know, that's fine with me, but—he writes really, really long, kind of book-length things, and he doesn't revise much. He doesn't revise like I do. He just has a different kind of practice, and he seems to be very invested in his own certainty about things more than I am. But some other people will send me things. Lydia Davis sends me things and Fanny Howe (31:25) once in awhile sends me things.
armantrout270
DB: And how did you kind of develop your revision process, from the beginning, I guess?
armantrout271
RA: Well, I guess, I was just always looking for the best word, for instance, and it didn't always come to me right away. But also I will just get parts of things and I know that they're not finished, you know, and then I just try to see what can connect and I'll go one way, one direction and try to connect, you know, B to A. And then B doesn't quite connect to A, so then I'll go on to C and see if that connects to A.
armantrout272
DB: And has that been pretty constant throughout?
armantrout273
RA: Yeah.
armantrout274
DB: OK.
armantrout275
Have there been any big changes in the way you've approached kind of pushing the poem to its finished state throughout the time?
armantrout276
RA: Well, I bet there have, but you know, I was as much of a stranger to my twenty-four year-old self as you are, almost.
armantrout277
DB: Well, you did mention, though, that with the internet and with email becoming more—giving more easily available correspondence—you did start to speed up in the work. And do you think that's the only reason, or do you think it also has something to do with maybe moving onto more of a national scene?
armantrout278
RA: It could be that. It could be knowing that I have a supporting publisher. It could be just practice, you know, just that I have a better idea of what works now, you know—what works for me.
armantrout279
DB: Yeah.
[33:00]
armantrout280
And I know you don't—I think in one of your other interviews you said you don't really have, like, any intentions in revising your work, but are there primary things for different pieces that you're driven by? Like, are some driven more by sound, some driven more by meaning, some driven more by connecting the parts to the whole or disconnecting the parts to the whole?
armantrout281
RA: All of those things equally, you know. I mean, I am very interested in sound, and sounds—certain sounds can really bother me, or I could get stuck on one certain sound. So yeah, meaning is important to me, too. In terms of connecting parts because, as you know, if you've looked at my work, it often—
armantrout282
DB: —in sections?
armantrout283
RA: —in sections.
armantrout284
DB: Yeah, absolutely.
armantrout285
RA: And so, the sections might be written on different days; often are. And they often come from different sources or different inspirations, and—so then, the question is how they link in. And you kind of—at least if you're me, I shouldn't say "you", but "I"—want there to be some kind of possible perceptible connection, but I also want it to be surprising. I want it to kind of go somewhere that you didn't expect it to go, or that I didn't expect it to go. So, sometimes the first thing I come up with is too obvious and sometimes what I come up with is too random. It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
armantrout286
DB: Has that sort of looking for that surprising turn, or idea, been a constant throughout? I mean, has that been something that's been driving you since you started writing?
armantrout287
RA: I've probably become more conscious of it, but I think so, yeah.
armantrout288
DB: And how do—so, could you talk a little bit about how, as you say, a lot of your poems are in sections and how those sections kind of come to be a whole? I mean, could there be several different days, and then in between those different sections become different poems?
armantrout289
RA: Sometimes that happens, yeah. I mean—
[35:00]
armantrout290
DB: Is it just a—do you just start to see connections? Does it—?
armantrout291
RA: Yeah, and sometimes I have an idea of what I want vaguely, but I don't know exactly where I'm going to get it or what the specifics are. But I—sometimes I have just a gut feeling about the direction that I want to go, and other times I don't, and then I just have to be surprised and just know that I want something and should keep my eyes open for it.
armantrout292
DB: And do you—I mean, there's a certain point where you say within the emails that you get some sort of affirmation. But then personally, when do you feel like a sense of, "Oh! That's surprising!" Is there like an "Aha!" moment?
armantrout293
RA: Yeah, sure.
armantrout294
Yeah, you have to please yourself first.
armantrout295
DB: Yeah.
armantrout296
RA: And I think one reason that I tend to send poems out is that I will be dissatisfied and fool with things forever unless somebody goes, "Hey, that's good."
armantrout297
DB: Yeah.
armantrout298
RA: I mean, I'll go, "Maybe it's not good. Maybe I should do something else." So, you know, I think that's why I need somebody to give me a kind of endpoint and say, "Cut it out now."
armantrout299
DB: Yeah.
armantrout300
RA: I mean, sometimes I know, but sometimes I can be insecure and just fiddle.
armantrout301
DB: Right. And then I guess is there any way—do you, once the poem kind of reaches the thesis binder stage, is there any time that you start to see the ways those are working and go back and revise there? Or once it's there it's usually kind of off limits?
armantrout302
RA: Well, I wouldn't say it's off limits, but I don't usually revise them, but I have. I mean it has happened that I've suddenly seen how something could be better and, you know, gone away from it, gone back to it and went, "Oh that could be better."
armantrout303
But I would say that's, you know, maybe one time in twenty.
armantrout304
DB: So they're more rare.
armantrout305
RA: Yeah.
[36:58]
armantrout306
DB: And when did you start using the thesis binders?
armantrout307
RA: Long time ago—maybe twenty, twenty-five years ago. They used to be easy to find, but now, like I said, they're antique—old school.
armantrout308
DB: Yeah, and before, when you were first putting your first collections together, how did that work? How was that looking?
armantrout309
RA: I might have had one even then. Because everyone used to. This is what used to happen. People—everyone used to bring these to a reading and just read from them. I don't even do that anymore because they're too heavy to carry. I just print them out. But that's what people used to do, so, everyone had one.
armantrout310
DB: OK.
armantrout311
So we've talked about how the other people—
armantrout312
Is there any other role that other people play in the process of your revisions? Are there any other people that are important to those, to the kind of finding the finish pieces?
armantrout313
RA: Well, I think not really except sometimes my editor gives me a little bit of guidance—not about individual poems but about the order of poems within the manuscript. I usually think I know, but sometimes she has a different idea that she runs by me and we consider that.
armantrout314
DB: OK.
armantrout315
And then, sort of moving on to the organizational— what I call organizational/archival—and we've kind of covered some of this, but when you were first—so in the early days before the computers, when you kind of hit that, what would you say a final piece is? You'd send it out, would you also keep a printed page?
armantrout316
RA: Oh, sure.
armantrout317
DB: OK.
armantrout318
And that would be in—
armantrout319
RA: In thesis binders.
armantrout320
DB: —and how would you communicate with your publisher with those?
armantrout321
RA: I suppose we had to communicate by snail mail, how else was there?
armantrout322
DB: Right, and so you would collect those all—would you make a copy of it before you send it off?
[38:38]
armantrout323
RA: Oh, yeah. I probably Xeroxed it. I mean, there were Xerox machines.
armantrout324
DB: Yeah, OK.
armantrout325
And once things were published, and things, did you start to kind of keep an archive—and archive of your work at that point? I mean, did you have boxes with your papers in it even at the beginning, or did that start to come more gradually?
armantrout326
RA: That came more gradually. I mean, I wish that I had kept my letters right from the beginning, because I had letters from George Oppen (39:10) and I had letter from Robert Creeley (39:12). It really took me awhile to realize that this was going to be worth anything.
armantrout327
DB: Yeah.
armantrout328
RA: It took seeing some of my friend—the way some of my friends took it seriously, like Lyn Hejinian (39:27), and organized things, and treated it as if it was all worthwhile.
armantrout329
DB: Yeah.
armantrout330
RA: But I didn't, you know, I didn't come from an intellectual family or background, and so it wasn't natural really for me, and I had to learn it.
armantrout331
DB: I'm interested in that, and like how did—so, the lessons were just from watching them do that, or were they from the conversations? I mean, did you just sort of notice that Lyn Hejinian (40:00) sort of had, like, kept things better?
[40:00]
armantrout332
RA: Well, I think at some point she sold her papers and I went, "Oh, people sell their papers and they get money." And also I would notice that she wrote letters as if she was writing for an archive. I mean, she would kind of give you the back story that you already knew, and I'm going, "What? Who is she talking to?" The archive!
armantrout333
DB: I never thought of that as being one of the correspondents, but that's a good point.
armantrout334
Yeah, and so, I guess—
armantrout335
RA: I still don't do that. But I think email has pretty much ended that for most people. Now, people just shoot off emails and so I don't know what's happening to archives.
armantrout336
DB: Yeah, I know, right? I mean, is there any way you try to save your emails? Are there any that you—?
armantrout337
RA: I have saved emails, and even printed them out and given them to libraries, but I just—I think Ron saves everything. So, everything I send to him gets saved. That's how I look at it. He's my archivist.
armantrout338
I mean, I only—you know, there's only so much space in my house.
armantrout339
DB: Oh, yeah.
armantrout340
RA: I know you can save things on your hard drive and give your hard drive to a library, but God knows what's on my hard drive. So, so far I've just—what I do now is, if there's anything that seems especially interesting or valuable, I'll print it out and keep it.
armantrout341
DB: And did you—like when you first started writing the emails back and forth, and kind of like general correspondence, what was the sort of tenor of those? Did it still feel more like a letter? I mean, did you notice a gradual change?
armantrout342
RA: Yeah. I mean, sure, letters were letters and—I should go look up my old letters. I could go to an archive and look at them.
armantrout343
Yeah, I think you would talk about various things—how your life was going and then you would say, "And by the way I wrote this" include it—but you would be catching up. Sure, now we catch up all the time, you know.
armantrout344
DB: Right, so, kind of constantly. Are you on any social media things?
armantrout345
RA: I'm on Facebook.
armantrout346
DB: You do Facebook.
armantrout347
RA: And I'm also on Twitter, but I don't tweet much.
armantrout348
DB: Just follow whatever's going on?
armantrout349
RA: A few things, yeah.
armantrout350
DB: A little bit?
armantrout351
RA: Yeah, but sure, I'm on Facebook and that's how I get some of my news.
armantrout352
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout353
Do you remember your first email? Or any of that sort of thing? Sort of nostalgic, but—?
armantrout354
RA: I don't remember my first email. I remember that Ron said that I had "ramped up quickly." That was flattering, so I remember it.
armantrout355
DB: Were you first given an email because of your work—because of UCSD? Was that your first?
[42:31]
armantrout356
RA: No, I got it on my own and when my son was still living here, and he helped me set everything up. I mean, you know, he was probably fourteen or something. So that's why I have a really stupid—I mean, my university address—I guess you wrote me at my university address? Or did you write me—?
armantrout357
DB: Yeah, I think both. You gave me the other one because you were traveling.
armantrout358
RA: Which is really stupid because it's "RAEA100900." I shouldn't say that anything my son said was stupid, but he was only about fourteen and I guess he thought that was—I feel like I'm James Bond or something with that email address, but whatever.
armantrout359
DB: Let me see here—
armantrout360
So, I mean, it seems to me like, in sort of talking about the progression, that the main difference—the main change—has really just been the kind of speed with which email allows you to kind of get to a point where you think things are solid enough for a collection.
armantrout361
RA: Yeah
armantrout362
DB: Is there anything else you can think of that really changed as technology changed, or do you feel like for the most part—not that the type writer and computer are the same—but that the relationship between the notebook and those sort of typing procedures were similar?
armantrout363
RA: Well, I was never a great typist, so I was always making mistakes. So, it was always frustrating. Of course sometimes I hate my computer, too. I mean, it's not a question of the typing issue, but just—you know, we all hate our computers.
armantrout364
DB: Yeah.
armantrout365
RA: They're slow. Whatever. Sometimes I'm yelling at my computer, "What did you just do?" You know, it'll lose a document and I'll go, "What? I did what? It's gone!" You know?
armantrout366
DB: Yeah.
armantrout367
RA: So, I have kind of an adversarial relationship with it, but I use it all the time.
armantrout368
DB: And if you lost something, then you would go back—what would be your first move?
armantrout369
RA: Well, supposedly you can hit—I think it's CTRL-X—and get it back, but that doesn't work very well for me.
armantrout370
DB: Would you go back to an email? I mean like if you—?
armantrout371
RA: Well, if I sent an email, sure.
armantrout372
DB: What does the revision, if it's just you on your upstairs computer, what does that revision look like? I mean, are you moving things around a lot or are you—is it more just sort of reading and then deleting and inserting new words?
armantrout373
RA: Yeah, that would be it.
armantrout374
DB: Mostly. Do you read them out loud to yourself?
armantrout375
RA: Yeah, always.
[45:00]
armantrout376
DB: OK.
armantrout377
When do you start doing that?
armantrout378
RA: In the notebook.
armantrout379
DB: In the notebook. And so—well, can you talk a little bit more about how that works? I mean, is it something that as you're writing the first line, you're reading out loud, or is it like you finish something?
armantrout380
RA: I probably—well, in between—not the first line, but I'd probably have to have a few lines before I thought it was worth reading them out loud.
armantrout381
Let's see...
armantrout382
I should get to something bad that changed a lot, but then that would be embarrassing.
armantrout383
DB: We're only being recorded by like four devices, so—
armantrout384
RA: Yeah, right.
armantrout385
I don't know what to do here because the things that I start out writing change so much.
armantrout386
Let's see.
armantrout387
I can get to a poem that's finished, and I can read a little bit from my journal that were the beginning of it, I guess.
[46:00]
armantrout388
DB: OK, yeah, that'd be great.
armantrout389
RA: OK, although the beginning is going to be very bad—
armantrout390
DB: Give the rest of us hope!
armantrout391
RA: —you can stand that. OK.
armantrout392
So, this is in two parts, and I think this part is working on—first of all, it's very hard to read my hand writing, even for me to read it when I'm looking back at something I wrote a while ago now.
armantrout393
That's bad.
armantrout394
OK, there is—is it okay if I read the poem, or is that a waste of time?
armantrout395
DB: No! Absolutely.
armantrout396
RA: OK, so, this is called "Particular:"
armantrout397
Rough, squat, bent, crabbed, cranky. A cranky person who is over enthusiastic about a particular topic. To be particular is to be choosy. A particle is a body whose extent and internal structure, if any, are irrelevant. You there, let's dispense with these properties of matter such anachronistic clothes as ghosts wear. Let's be mirrors, facing mirrors. Fall in love.
armantrout398
OK, so, here's some build up to that, which really doesn't sound like a poem at all. OK, this is embarrassing but:
armantrout399
To love, you show yourself willing to erase yourself. Make yourself blank together for a few moments—see, this is just prose—"in order to reflect the other." That ended up being, "Let's be mirrors facing mirrors. Fall in love."
armantrout400
Two cloudless skies, no earth between. The young do it best, now everyone has lost the trick of it. For love, they emptied—
armantrout401
—and then I guess I'm rewriting:
armantrout402
For love, they emptied themselves. Mirrors reflecting mirrors.
armantrout403
So, that gets a bit of that.
armantrout404
The young, two cloudless skies, nothing between. Not like us, condensed into these peculiar shapes. For love they emptied themselves—
armantrout405
—and this is starting over again:
armantrout406
—"until they're mirrors reflecting mirrors. The young unlike us, who have assumed these peculiar shapes, they forget everything until they're mirrors reflecting mirrors, the young open channels"—
armantrout407
—I took that out eventually
armantrout408
—"through which charges flow, not us. They forget everything until they're mirrors reflecting mirrors, they fall in love. The trick young can do, unlike us with our definite opinions and habits, these properties and mass change, spin"—
armantrout409
—so that gets to where I was talking about a particle is a body. So that's like subatomic, right?
armantrout410
—"its extended internal structure, if any are irrelevant, let's dispense with these properties of matter."
armantrout411
So anyway, here I'm starting to get in to that. "These properties and mass charge spin are like the clothes that ghosts wear." Well, that gets in to here, except there's no simile. It just goes:
armantrout412
Let's dispense with these properties of matter. Such anachronistic clothes as ghosts wear. Let's be mirrors facing mirrors.
armantrout413
You can see how some of that worked into that.
[49:28]
armantrout414
DB: Yeah, absolutely! And then—so, it kind of moves, not quite chronologically, but sequentially, and it's not even a winnowing; it's an addition and subtraction, and addition—
armantrout415
RA: Now this is stuff not even Ron Silliman sees because I wouldn't send anything that inchoate to anyone.
armantrout416
DB: OK.
armantrout417
RA: So, now, you're seeing something, you're hearing something, that nobody has—
armantrout418
DB: Yeah. No, it's fascinating. And then so, at a certain point when you move to that, does that sort of stop in the journal, in the notebook?
armantrout419
RA: Yeah.
[50:00]
armantrout420
DB: I mean, in the next poem?
armantrout421
RA: Once I move to this, then I seldom go back to the notebook.
armantrout422
DB: OK. But then the next page, then, would be the next poem that you work on, essentially?
armantrout423
RA: Yeah, unless I decide that, say, the last part of this is bad and then I might start over in the notebook.
armantrout424
DB: And so the type of revision, then, that happens on the iPad—? I mean, it's not as easy to kind of move things around there. What usually occurs?
armantrout425
RA: Fortunately for me my poems don't have a lot of words and they have short lines, so I just back things out and start over. I just do that.
armantrout426
DB: OK.
armantrout427
Is there any sort of formatting that you use, either here or on your PC, that you kind of developed? Like do you have a certain font that you use or anything like that, or is that not really a concern of yours?
armantrout428
RA: That's not really a concern.
armantrout429
DB: OK.
armantrout430
RA: I mean, I wouldn't want to hate a font but I'm okay with the standard font.
armantrout431
DB: Yeah. And then I guess I'm wondering, then, before there were—before you had the iPad—you would just take the notebook up to your computer and write it down there?
armantrout432
RA: Yeah.
armantrout433
DB: That would be the thing?
armantrout434
RA: Sure, of course.
armantrout435
DB: So, it's almost like an ease of place, almost.
armantrout436
RA: Yeah.
armantrout437
DB: More than anything else.
armantrout438
RA: Absolutely, because I'm just comfortable in this room and I would just stay there with my coffee playing around here for quite a while. So, I think that's just, you know, habit.
[51:24]
armantrout439
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout440
Do you use the—when you're connected up there, is the internet always connected as well? Are you always connected to the internet?
armantrout441
RA: Yeah.
armantrout442
DB: Are you doing any, are you using it for research purposes or reference purposes when you're up there?
armantrout443
RA: Yeah, I mean in terms of my teaching—
armantrout444
DB: OK.
armantrout445
RA: —because I'm preparing to teach this class I've never taught before, and I'm going to be teaching it with a guy, with a physicist, where it's called Poetry for Physicists—
armantrout446
DB: That's great!
armantrout447
RA: —and he's been getting a lot press lately. I don't know if you've seen it. Bryan Keating (52:01), he was involved with the discovery at the South Pole?
armantrout448
DB: Yeah, yeah, absolutely!
armantrout449
RA: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout450
DB: Oh, wow!
armantrout451
RA: And he's interested in poetry!
armantrout452
So anyway, I'm doing research for that, and I was just—I'm using some ancient poets like Lucretius, who wrote about science, you know. I mean, he wrote—the ancient Greeks like Lucretius knew about—or, not knew but hypothesized the existence of atoms and the void. So, I was just doing some research about him on the computer and then printing them out.
armantrout453
Yeah, so, sure.
armantrout454
DB: Yeah, I know. When I was reading your work and read about those kinds of things—discovery or confirmation of the Inflation Theory, I was like, "I would really like to see a poem by Rae Armantrout about this."
armantrout455
RA: Well, turns out he's my bud!
armantrout456
DB: Yeah, that's awesome! Yeah, that's a good—and how long have you been in conversation with him?
armantrout457
RA: I dedicated a poem to him in this book. So, I've been in conversation with him for, I don't know, maybe three years? So the poem called "Accounts" is based on a conversation that we had.
armantrout458
DB: And what are his books?
armantrout459
RA: Here it is. See? "For Bryan Keating." (53:18)
armantrout460
DB: Oh, cool! OK.
armantrout461
RA: I don't think scientists—I mean, he's an astrophysicist. They don't write books.
armantrout462
DB: You mentioned somebody that—there was some, like, more popular science writer that you were reading—?
armantrout463
RA: You know I read Brian Greene, different Brian—
armantrout464
DB: Yeah, I was getting confused because of the Brian's.
armantrout465
And how long has that been a sort of subject of fascination for you?
armantrout466
RA: I think—the first time I did anything with particle physics was really when it first became popularized, like when The Tao of Physics came out in the 80's. And at first I thought it was just kind of absurd, all the particles, and I thought it was just like, "How many angels can stamd on the head of a pin?" or whatever. But I was still reading it and sort of interested in it, and then I guess starting with my book Up To Speed in 2004, I've taken a more sustained interest in it.
armantrout467
DB: What's this class going to look like overall? Do you have like a shape to it?
armantrout468
RA: Yeah. I mean, I've never team-taught before, but some days I'll be talking—I've chosen poems that either have something to do with cosmology or physics in some way, or that have to do with objectivity and subjectivity and theories of mind. Or then, in a different way, going off of kind of Chaos Theory where complexity can be—can grow from the iteration of simple rules. I'm using some poets like,
armantrout469
well, like Ron Silliman, and like Jackson Macklow (55:01), and like Christian Bök, that (Indiscernible, 55:05) poet who use constraints, or rules, to generate poems and have math in their poems, you know, not as a subject but as a generative principle.
[55:00]
armantrout470
DB: Right.
armantrout471
RA: So I'm doing some of that.
armantrout472
And Brian is, you know, he likes poetry but he's not exactly up to the avant-garde, shall we say? He likes sonnets and such, so we have a bit of that.
armantrout473
DB: OK, and will it be a class in which you ask the students to write, or is it more—?
armantrout474
RA: It's not really a writing class.
armantrout475
DB: —survey?
armantrout476
RA: I mean, they're going to write one poem and they're going to write a couple of essays and there's going to be a couple of tests, and it's mostly a reading and discussion course.
armantrout477
DB: OK, and its next fall?
armantrout478
RA: No, it's in the spring. It starts in a week.
armantrout479
DB: Oh, right!
armantrout480
RA: It starts next Tuesday.
armantrout481
DB: You guys are quarters.
armantrout482
RA: Yeah.
armantrout483
DB: OK.
armantrout484
So, let me see here.
armantrout485
We're fairly well along, almost done actually.
armantrout486
Are there any other—I mean, these are kind of—I don't know how far you want to get in to this, but in terms of teaching, when did that sort of email and computer start to kind of take over that? I mean, sort of like the 2000's, early 2000's?
armantrout487
RA: Email? I think that was in the 90's, wasn't it?
armantrout488
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout489
And has that—do you feel like that's changed how you approach students and how you approach your classes?
armantrout490
RA: Well, yeah. Now your students can always find you. It certainly made it easier to write a syllabus having a computer—
armantrout491
DB: Yeah
armantrout492
RA: —and, you know, you can constantly email your students and remind them of what they're supposed to be doing. I think its just made things easier for everyone.
armantrout493
DB: Do you see any sort of differences in understanding of your students now as to your students like, say, fifteen or twenty years ago?
armantrout494
RA: Well, I think that, you know, certainly students do gradually change. I think that when you teach young people, you kind of, sort of stay in that world. You hear their expressions—I'm not saying I'm a digital native by a long shot—but you know, you sort of hear the way they talk and you get a bit of their mind set, and you know, you know their lingo. In a way that, I think, when I retire, I might miss that.
armantrout495
DB: Yeah, yeah.
armantrout496
RA: But still, if something goes wrong with my computer I have to get my son to help me.
armantrout497
DB: So, that's actually—I've found that this has been kind of a theme. Do you have somebody who comes in and helps you if you have any computer problems?
armantrout498
RA: Yeah, he lives in Seattle, but he's walked me through things on the phone.
armantrout499
DB: OK.
armantrout500
And has he set up—did he set up your computer when you first got it and stuff like that?
armantrout501
RA: Yeah.
armantrout502
DB: OK.
armantrout503
RA: And he was 14. He's built a computer, even.
armantrout504
DB: Oh, is he working—if he's in Seattle, is he working in the computer industry?
armantrout505
RA: No, he's a scientist but he's not in the computer industry. He's a biologist.
armantrout506
DB: Oh, OK.
armantrout507
So, I'm fairly well through. We've covered pretty much what I liked to cover. I do have my blunt questions at the end. So, is there any sort of overarching thing that you think has changed with the advent of computers in terms of writing? I mean, do you see a sort of maybe change in tone, a change in tenor, a change in ideas that have been—?
armantrout508
RA: Well, yeah. I mean, the fact that I've just recently wrote a poem that references Mileage.com—
armantrout509
DB: Right.
armantrout510
RA: —and if I could bring up that section of it for you, anyway, because it's certainly something that would not have been written had there not been computers. It goes: "Protect your identities says mileage.com, three times today as if it knew something. I may want to fly cheap, cruise in luxury, buy a walk-in tub, and burial insurance."
armantrout511
Yeah, they try to sell you things.
armantrout512
So yeah, I mean, I think that that gets into the content of the work, and then there are groups of poets who work in that realm kind of specifically and almost exclusively—like the Flarf poets, for instance, just do what they call "Google mining."
armantrout513
DB: Yeah, and what's—what do you—
armantrout514
RA: And also of course, there are digital poets. There's digital poetry where people write poems especially for the computer, where the—I don't know, the words fall off the screen at different rates, and such.
armantrout515
DB: Yeah, do you do—if you were willing to be reading poems for whatever reason, do you find that you're reading them a lot more on your screen than you used to?
armantrout516
RA: I don't like to read on the screen. I mean, I do read things on the screen, but if I'm judging a contest or something, which I sometimes do, I ask for hard copies. Or if I get them on the screen, I print them because I just don't like to read on the screen. I mean, I don't want to sit up there on a hard chair. I don't want to look at that light—
[1:00:00]
armantrout517
DB: Right.
armantrout518
RA: You know?
armantrout519
DB: No, I think that's pretty typical.
armantrout520
OK, I think that's good, Rae.
armantrout521
Thank you very much.
armantrout522
RA: Alright, this was painless.
armantrout523
DB: Yeah! Alright.
armantrout524
Just at an hour.
armantrout525
RA: Good.
armantrout526
DB: Good.
vanwinckel1
Devin Becker: OK, So, if you would please state for the camera your name, your date of birth, and where we are?
[0:00]
vanwinckel2
Nance Van Winckel: OK, I'm Nance van Winckel and I was born October 24th, 1951. We are in Liberty Lake, Washington.
vanwinckel3
DB: OK, and you've been living here for?
vanwinckel4
NVW: I've been in this area since 1990.
vanwinckel5
DB: OK
vanwinckel6
NVW: But my husband and I just moved out here to this little condo in '07
vanwinckel7
DB: OK, and by the way, it's a beautiful, beautiful view of the lake.
vanwinckel8
DB: OK, so here's the sort of digital and physical sort of question, but… So, what genres do you work in as a writer?
vanwinckel9
NVW: Poetry, primarily, but also I write short stories.
vanwinckel10
DB: What kinds of devices do you own or have access to for writing?
vanwinckel11
NVW: Well, for writing… Electronic devices, you mean?
vanwinckel12
DB: Yeah, yeah, that's what I mean.
vanwinckel13
NVW: Yeah, I work on 3 different computers. This big iMac here that I use and then I have a laptop Mac, and then I also have an iPad.
vanwinckel14
DB: OK, and you write on the iPad?
vanwinckel15
NVW: I have a keyboard extension for it.
vanwinckel16
DB: And what program do you use to write in? Do you just write in like notes or…?
vanwinckel17
NVW: I use Pages on the app
vanwinckel18
DB: Oh, you use Pages.
vanwinckel19
NVW: I email it to myself, and then I move it in to Word.
vanwinckel20
DB: OK-
vanwinckel21
NVW: I use that one when I'm on the road.
vanwinckel22
DB: When you're on the road, it's just the iPad…?
vanwinckel23
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel24
DB: And you're on the road quite a bit?
vanwinckel25
NVW: When I go to Vermont-
vanwinckel26
DB: OK, when you go to Vermont-
vanwinckel27
NVW: --when I'm doing any kind of traveling
vanwinckel28
DB: You don't travel with the laptop. You just travel with the iPad?
vanwinckel29
NVW: Yeah, I don't really take the laptop with me. I have an older laptop and it's pretty heavy.
vanwinckel30
DB: Yeah, they seriously are.
vanwinckel31
DB: OK, So you have 3 devices. And you are a Mac user?
vanwinckel32
NVW: Yeah, I'm clueless with PC-clueless.
vanwinckel33
DB: Would you call one of these devices you primary device?
vanwinckel34
NVW: This one
vanwinckel35
DB: That iMac?
vanwinckel36
NVW: Uh-hmm
vanwinckel37
DB: OK, and then so, how do you… (You sort of said this but) How do you manage your files between your devices? You email them to yourself?
vanwinckel38
NVW: Yes. With the iPad I email files to myself (Do I do it any other way?). With the laptop, I have put things on a memory stick and moved things back and forth that way. When I have to give a presentation in Vermont and I have been doing a lot of powerpoint things lately with art, text and art. I bring a memory stick and use that to set up at the college. They have all good Macs and a good tech person who will help me get set up.
vanwinckel39
DB: So for your work, now, do you work exclusively on computers, or do you kind of go between the physical and digital environments at all?
vanwinckel40
NVW: I work in longhand, on yellow legal tablets, or just whatever. I have different notebooks that I have. That's what all these notebooks are here; these are my various writing projects in process. They each get their own little notebook.
vanwinckel41
NVW: I worked longhand for… Gosh, I don't know-at least 3 or 4 more drafts, at least. Sometimes more like 10 or 12. It just depends. Some things give me more groove than others before I will type something.
vanwinckel42
DB: And we're going to come back to that.
vanwinckel43
NVW: OK
vanwinckel44
DB: What's the transition from the notebook into the digital? Do you type it out yourself?
vanwinckel45
NVW: Yeah.
vanwinckel46
DB: OK, and is that a moment of revision for you usually, or is it--?
vanwinckel47
NVW: Yeah, yeah
vanwinckel48
DB: OK, and …
vanwinckel49
NVW: And then once I get it in to a document, I'll probably revise it again a number of times.
vanwinckel50
DB: OK
vanwinckel51
NVW: I'm doing different revision operations (Maybe we're going to go with this?)
vanwinckel52
DB: We're definitely going to talk about revision more in depth. Yeah, that sort of like locating the practice now and then we'll see where we're at with that. So, these are the questions that, professionally, I'm interested in.
vanwinckel53
DB: So, how do you then save these notebooks in your pre-writing and all that? I mean, is there a… Do you just keep them in a box somewhere, or…?
vanwinckel54
NVW: This is 'they.'
vanwinckel55
DB: This is it, OK. But like your older ones, like ones with finished projects?
vanwinckel56
NVW: They're all down there on a shelf.
vanwinckel57
DB: They're all down there on a shelf?
vanwinckel58
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel59
DB: OK, and then for your extra digital files, how do you save those? Do you save them just as Word docs?
vanwinckel60
NVW: Yeah, I save them as Word docs and then when I'm done with them and the books are published, then I just put them on a back-up disk and take them off my hard drive here.
vanwinckel61
DB: OK, do you print out your writing to revise it?
vanwinckel62
NVW: Often when it gets to the computer stage, not so much.
vanwinckel63
DB: OK
vanwinckel64
NVW: I'm just working on the screen for quite a while.
vanwinckel65
DB: And then a sort of last section on this is: how do you back up your work and (as you say) when you're finished with something, you put it on an external hard drive. Is that your digital archival back-up?
vanwinckel66
NVW: Right
vanwinckel67
DB: OK, and you don't use any Cloud-based systems like Dropbox or Google Drive, or anything like that?
vanwinckel68
NVW: Yeah, I do use Dropbox but… Not really so much for backup, but to send things to people.
vanwinckel69
DB: To send things and share things, and...
vanwinckel70
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel71
DB: OK, are files saved in more than one location then?
vanwinckel72
NVW: Well, I do have a back-up drive and-
vanwinckel73
DB: So, on the hard drive on the computer and then in the back-up drive as well?
vanwinckel74
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel75
DB: Do you keep print copies of your final drafts, or…?
vanwinckel76
NVW: Oh, yeah
vanwinckel77
DB: OK, so that you have a paper archive as well?
vanwinckel78
NVW: Yes
vanwinckel79
DB: What do you do? How do you keep that? Just in the boxes like the notebooks kind of, or…?
vanwinckel80
NVW: Yeah, they're usually with the notebooks. I just, once I print them out, I do some final kind of tinkering usually with the galleys. I'll keep a copy of the galleys when they book's actually coming out, and that gets filed with the notebooks then-when I'm done with it.
vanwinckel81
DB: OK, and this is kind of just a quick question from me, personally, and librarians but… Have you ever received or sort out information about methods for digital archiving activities, like best practices?
vanwinckel82
NVW: No
vanwinckel83
DB: No, OK. And would you be interested in information about that?
vanwinckel84
NVW: You know, maybe. I was thinking about that the other day. A couple of… I was thinking about making a book of selected stories from my 4 books of stories--
vanwinckel85
DB: Oh, yeah
vanwinckel86
NVW: --And realizing that my first 2 books of stories, I don't know if I can access the computer files of them anymore. They're like on floppy disks, or zip-disk, or something.
vanwinckel87
DB: Oh, yeah. A zip-disk
vanwinckel88
NVW: I don't know if I could. You know? Does that mean I'm going to have to retype those suckers, or what?
vanwinckel89
DB: There's usually a way to get them
vanwinckel90
NVW: Yeah, if I could even find them.
vanwinckel91
DB: Yeah, yeah. So, there's always that question
vanwinckel92
NVW: There's that, yes. You know, when we moved out here… Yeah, so that would be a major task-to locate and … So, I could probably use some help with that
vanwinckel93
DB: OK, yeah, and that's definitely something typical of that period, especially the 90s with all the different word processing softwares and all the different ways of saving them sort of put people Yeah, what do you do?)'
vanwinckel94
DB: So, that was a sort of quick beginning
[00:08:45]
vanwinckel95
NVW: OK
vanwinckel96
DB: (I'm just going to check this to make sure… It looks like…)
vanwinckel97
DB: How long have you been writing in a more professional capacity, in a way that was sort of feeding you or giving you some sort of assistance…? When do think that you started writing as a vocation? Or as something that led to something that would be your vocation, which is probably teaching?
vanwinckel98
NVW: I guess since graduate school. I went to graduate school and I thought I would just do that for a year that was my plan. I would go to graduate school in creative writing for a year and then I would go to medical school. I had been a pre-med major all through college but when I got to graduate school I was totally happy doing my writing thing and I never looked back. So I started my so-called practice there where I worked every day on my writing. That was 1975.
vanwinckel99
DB: And where was that?
vanwinckel100
NVW: I went to the University of Denver.
vanwinckel101
DB: And was that a one year program?
vanwinckel102
NVW: No I actually stayed the regular two years.
vanwinckel103
DB: So you stayed 2 years and got your mfa. My next question is how would you describe the arc of your career? Where went from there and then elaborate?
vanwinckel104
NVW: From there, I taught. I got my first teaching job at Marymount College of Kansas, now defunct. So I taught there for three years and then I got a job at Lake Forest College, which is just north of Chicago, and I taught there for 11 years, and then I came out here in 1990, and I've been here ever since.
vanwinckel105
DB: And you retired from ..
vanwinckel106
NVW: I retired from Eastern (Washington) in '07, but I'm continuing to teach at Vermont College.
vanwinckel107
DB: So now we're going to get to the specific writing practices generally, and I have it delimited into three stages: a drafting/prewriting/notebook stage, and then an organizational stage, and then an archival/storage stage. And I'd like to go through and ask you about your practices by stage, and talk about those stage by stage.
[00:11:12]
vanwinckel108
NVW: That makes sense.
vanwinckel109
DB: I'd like to start by talking about the ways you draft and create your work initially. So what is your typical compositional practice? And what I'm interested in here is, when you first started writing how were you generating and composing your writing at that point?
vanwinckel110
NVW: So yeah, early on - one of the things that's different now- is that early on I would probably just work on "a" poem, so I would write. I would have a page in my notebook, and there were lines, and I would move things around on the page, and then I would have another page in the notebook with a different poem. But over the years I've started working on maybe two or three poems almost kind of simultaneously, on the same page, which feels kind of nutty, but what I was experiencing that led me this way was that a lot of times things would be coming to me - images, lines --- that didn't seem to belong to the poem I thought I was working on. So I realize it might be helpful to not confine myself. So that's why that was one of the main transitions. I think that happened maybe half-way along. In the late-eighties or so I started experimenting with that and I liked it. I liked having just a page with a poem one margin, and another going down another margin, and one going across the bottom. Something like that.
vanwinckel111
DB: On one notebook page?
vanwinckel112
NVW: Yeah, on one page. And then a lot of times what would happen is - I didn't like one or two or all three of them, and eventually one of those poems would kind of gel and get its own page.
vanwinckel113
DB: It's own page in the notebook?
vanwinckel114
NVW: Yeah.
vanwinckel115
DB: Could you put that at a certain book, or was that just sort of gradual?
vanwinckel116
NVW: I think where I really started experimenting with that was a book called Beside Ourselves.
vanwinckel117
DB: That was 2003 or something
vanwinckel118
NVW: Yeah, that was really also the first book that was more a deliberate series.
vanwinckel119
DB: Yeah, I think I kind of figure out where that happened, and see that.
vanwinckel120
NVW: And then I liked that. I like working in series so much when I was writing that book that I also just decided I wanted to keep moving in that direction. I liked those series poems. And they maybe leant themselves more to that practice with several poems happening at the same time in early draft stages.
vanwinckel121
DB: How is that different than your fiction writing?
[00:15:10]
vanwinckel122
NVW: I don't really see a lot of similarities between writing stories and writing poems in terms of the drafting process … well, in terms of anything. Stories are really different. One of the first things I learned about writing stories in the drafting process is "oh! it kind of helps to know a few things about what happens in this story" unlike a poem where you're just kind of launching into the unknown. It seemed helpful to have a few scenes in mind. What some of the lines of tension, story lines, almost, not an outline, but I would often write down four or five sentences that would later become scenes.
vanwinckel123
DB: And that would happen in the notebook?
vanwinckel124
NVW: Yeah. Or just a scrap of paper in the car when I'm driving.
vanwinckel125
DB: And then did you grab those scraps of paper and put them in a notebook. Did you accumulate that detritus of composition …
vanwinckel126
NVW: Once I write the scene I throw out the piece of paper.
vanwinckel127
DB: So it's gone. That's gone.
vanwinckel128
NVW: But then my process in making stories would be - I try to write a scene a day or so in the initial drafting phase and then I just try to stay with that scene. Blow out the edges. Often it's like three times as long as it's going to actually be in the final story. Usually compressing, compressing, compressing, but initially I kind of move around, see what's happening in the periphery, sort of stay in one scene at a time and I don't worry about the order. I'm not writing the first scene first. I often start with the middle scene. I kind of know I'm writing the middle scene. I move around the chronology of the story because I have these lists. And often when I'm working on one scene I think of another scene and then I'll just write it on another sheet of paper, again, a sentence that'll prompt me so I don't forget. The process is very different [from writing poems]. When a story is happening, when I'm getting an early draft. It comes really fast. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Because it takes all my time. I've been known to cancel classes - I'll say I'm sorry I can't come in today.
vanwinckel129
DB: That's dedication.
vanwinckel130
NVW: Because I feel like I'm going to lose it.
vanwinckel131
DB: So when you said it's happening it feels like it's come to you, and it's not inspiration, it's accumulation?
vanwinckel132
NVW: So much is going on. I go out and I take a walk every afternoon in this park. It's actually part of my writing process. I take a walk in the afternoon, and it's like 'shut up' I'm just trying to take a walk!' People are talking in my head. It feels like this overpowering thing when I'm working on a story. It just comes over me and wakes me up in the morning. People wake me up in the morning. They are chattering away. It's very unnerving. I often push back at a story until I am really sure that I have quite a few of the building blocks in place. Because otherwise it just seems like a struggle and a fight. And it's going to occupy - it takes me like 10 ten-hour days in a row for a story.
vanwinckel133
DB: And this is all hand-written too?
vanwinckel134
NVW: Yes.
vanwinckel135
DB: Does your hand cramp up?
vanwinckel136
NVW: No.
vanwinckel137
DB: I guess your thinking and then you're writing down and then you're thinking.
vanwinckel138
NVW: Yeah. I don't know about the hand but the brain ..
vanwinckel139
NVW: And then, it's so much… Because I don't… I don't know how other writers do this but because I'm not writing the scenes in order, I'm kind of deliberately writing them out of order. I write the scene I see most clearly in my mind first and I'm not worrying about where it's going to go. Then I just put the whole thing away for a long time-that initial mess of a draft-and worry later about kind of arranging the scenes. I'm often moving things around not based on when they happened but what's more interesting to come next.
vanwinckel140
DB: OK, and so when did… Were you studying fiction as well as poetry in your graduate school? When did you start to write these stories?
vanwinckel141
NVW: I did take up a fiction writing class in grad school. I was in the poetry group but we had to take a fiction class, and I was terrible. I was terrible at it because I didn't have any sense of what made a story. But when I started teaching, especially when I moved to Lake Forest College, they thought, "well any poet can teach fiction writing. It's debatable if we can get a fiction writer who can teach poetry." So, they hired thinking that I could figure it out.
vanwinckel142
NVW: So, I think I just accidentally taught myself to write fiction by trying to help my students make their stories better and trying to diagnose: 'What does this story need?'
vanwinckel143
NVW: I remember so many days walking to my fiction writing class and trying to think about what I was going to say to this writer about her story-how to address its troubles-and I realized that I was internalizing all of this. And then the first time I got a sabbatical, I remember I was driving into Chicago for a little adventure for the day (and I was so happy I had this sabbatical I was going to work on poems, of course) and I got this idea for a story. I remember I was just writing on my car seat while I'm driving-just this little note to myself about what the story-kind of just a synopsis, like one sentence of what it would be. By the time I got in to Chicago, I had 5 story synopses written on this piece of paper, and then I just came home. That's what I did for my whole sabbatical-I wrote a bunch of stories and that was the 1st book of stories. Limited Lifetime Warranty, it was called.
vanwinckel144
DB: Yeah, and what year was that?
vanwinckel145
NVW: I think that was like 1983 or so.
vanwinckel146
DB: OK, and so you've been… Stories kind of happened to you. And they've been similar the whole time that you've been writing?
vanwinckel147
NVW: Uh-hmm'
vanwinckel148
DB: Have poems, in similar ways, come upon you? Or is it a different process than that?
[00:23:00]
vanwinckel149
NVW: Poems are more like a daily practice for me. I like poems. They don't… For me, they're more about sound and imagery, voice. Who's talking in my poems-They're often some part of me that I didn't really know it was there. You know, some aspect of personality that I'm kind of exploring who uses a language a different way maybe than my ordinary daily life self.
vanwinckel150
NVW: So, I like that kind of quick pop of a poem.
vanwinckel151
DB: Do you start mostly with a line or an image, or does it change?
vanwinckel152
NVW: I like a line with an image in it.
vanwinckel153
DB: OK
vanwinckel154
NVW: I like… One time I was writing an article about Charles Wright's poetry (I really like Charles Wright), and I said something in there in the review about: "the hand of the image in the glove of sound." I took that out of the review because I thought that sounded a little precious or something, but for me I like that kind of thought… They're sort of indivisible.
vanwinckel155
NVW: They come together.
vanwinckel156
NVW: But I remember talking to Charles one time and I asked him a lot of the same questions you're asking me about composition because I was taking him to the airport after our reading and I'm plugging him for everything he can tell me about how he works. He says, 'Well, you know, after I do 3 or 4 drafts then I'll turn it over to my ear.'
vanwinckel157
NVW: I liked that.
vanwinckel158
NVW: He said, 'I drive around town and do errands-go in the store, stuff like that and I memorize the poem I'm working on and then I just start moving the words and the lines around, and then I start moving the lines and the stanzas around. Just kind of trying to figure out. I'm listening to the sonic values.
vanwinckel159
NVW: I liked that. I'm doing that.
vanwinckel160
DB: So, I guess that's a good space to move on to revision. I mean, so when you're revising a poem, are you revising mostly by sound, or the sonic values, or are there different stages?
[00:25:40]
vanwinckel161
NVW: Well, you know, every poem just presents different troubles to me. I guess these are some of the questions I have to ask myself (but this is just for me. I don't know that these would be other people's problems by any means but). I'm asking myself, 'Who the heck is talking at this part? Who is this person?' Because sometimes I just- And I mean that in a physical, literal way. I have to see a figure almost. You know, maybe it's me, but it's me when I'm 12, or it's me with big, red hair.
vanwinckel162
NVW: So, I'm asking: Who is this person? Where is she, or he-sometimes I think I'm in a kind of gender shift. I like that because I was a real tomboy as a little kid. I think I kind of squashed that little tomboy down and he likes to come back and say things once in a while. He's a little bit of a sassy, snotty kid. And I like him!
vanwinckel163
NVW: So, who is she; where are we in the poem? I need to get located in time and space. And what the heck is going on? What dramatically is happening in the poem? A lot of times I'll have a fix on one or the other of these questions and am really feeling unclear about the others.
vanwinckel164
NVW: So, I kind of know questions to ask myself, and that's what I do in the really early stages of drafting a poem and trying to figure out the answers to some of those.
vanwinckel165
DB: And how do these questions translate into the basic physical manifestation of your writing? Are you still in your notebooks working with this?
vanwinckel166
NVW: Yes, still in notebooks
vanwinckel167
DB: And are you writing these questions in the pages, or…?
vanwinckel168
NVW: No, no I'm just… What I'm doing is I'm just giving my imagination a chore, a task. I'm staring in to space and trying to see: where is the set; where is this unfolding? Trying to give myself-
vanwinckel169
DB: I'm interested in this material, and I'm realizing-
vanwinckel170
NVW: That's right, you're a poet, too.
vanwinckel171
DB: But I mean it's also like, [writing] happens so much up here [in the head]. It doesn't happen on the page-it doesn't happen. It happens a lot, a lot just going to the store and thinking about things, listening to your own sounds, which is another hard thing to document, or to sort of record.
vanwinckel172
NVW: Yeah, and see, none of this takes place with fiction. With fiction, you sort of have that. You got all that as you walk in to the first scene.
vanwinckel173
DB: Right, well then, what is your mode when you're revising a story? Like how do you work through the drafts of a story?
[00:28:50]
vanwinckel174
NVW: Well, with a story I'm really I really think a lot more: why does this happen? or why did this happen? (in the past tense). I ask myself a lot of questions about motivation, with characters, on what their relationships are like; how did they get to this moment. I'm often trying to think about some details or back story.
vanwinckel175
NVW: Again, all these things--it's really helped to have heard myself ask my students these questions for the last 30 years because they're kind of in there.
vanwinckel176
DB: I bet.
vanwinckel177
NVW: Yeah, the questions to ask yourself- But I think what I'm mainly doing once I have addressed some of these questions, mainly have to do with interiority, and psychology of people. In revision, I'm just trying to get the story to move along. I'm really paying most attention to the pace, and I think in that regard, now poetry and fiction maybe have a little more similarities when you get to that stage of revision where you're really starting to tighten.
vanwinckel178
NVW: (Are we there now? Is that what we're talking about?)
vanwinckel179
DB: (Yeah, absolutely)
vanwinckel180
DB: (OK)
vanwinckel181
NVW: So then with a poem, I slash mercilessly. I'm a slasher, and I move things around, but often when I'm moving around, I've got too many lines on the landscape, on a row here. I've got 10 lines about the freaking place where we are, that's boring. But sometimes I won't cut them-I'll just take 4 of them and put them in a different place. I don't worry too much about like how to get back there because that's easy to do later.
[00:30:30]
vanwinckel182
NVW: Same in fiction, I'm really thinking about pacing. I'm thinking about- The opening of the story, I'll just start with a scene that we're going to catch back up to in the middle because it's got some interesting dialogue or something interesting that's going on with the characters. I'm going to start there and then circle back, and then catch back up to it midway through the story, 'Oh, here's where that scene comes.'
vanwinckel183
NVW: That's typical for me to move around like that. So, I'm just going, 'OK, we've got to see the dialogue. Now, we're going to have: how did these all start. Now, we're going to have a scene where we've got some dream or some thinking. Now we're going to go back to dialogue.' I'm just kind of having some syncopation of pacing things.
vanwinckel184
DB: And that kind of happens throughout your books, too, right? Not only within the story but within a collection of stories- there's sort of that same repetition of images, repetition of scenes. Or not repetitions, but kind of allusions to the same place and time and space.
vanwinckel185
DB: So .. When you're revising the entire book, or when you're putting together the book itself, is that also happening?
vanwinckel186
NVW: Yes.
vanwinckel187
DB: OK, so have these modes of revision that sort of focus on pacing, the moving around and changes, have these changed over the course of your career? When you were first starting out writing, did you have to come to this kind of way of revising, or was it there from the beginning?
vanwinckel188
NVW: No, it's been a slow, gradual process.
vanwinckel189
DB: OK, and then in the beginning … Were you doing it more by the book, so to speak …?
vanwinckel190
NVW: Oh, gosh. I don't know how I was doing anything at the beginning. You know, my first book of poems, I had help. I've never had an editor again like I had with my very first book.
vanwinckel191
NVW: Larry Lieberman at the University of Illinois Press. He weeded out some of the weaker poems but also helped me to shape up some new things I was working on, and put them in. Helped me with the arrangement and, you know, I've never had help like that again. But that was very instructive to me. He would write me these interesting little letters where he would explain why he thought this ought to go here, this go there, and this stanza needed to be gone, this was stupid …
vanwinckel192
NVW: It was just so helpful to have somebody be such a close reader with me. I've never had that again, ever.
vanwinckel193
DB: So, do people play a role in your revision process now, or is it pretty much just you?
[00:33:56]
vanwinckel194
NVW: Well, my husband reads everything and he's a really, really tough critic-really, really tough.
vanwinckel195
DB: That's good to have.
vanwinckel196
NVW: It's very good, but… he's a smart reader and he also kind of know what I'm capable of, and if I don't measure up, he'll tell me.
vanwinckel197
DB: Yeah, so you don't… you're not corresponding with other writers with poems, or…?
vanwinckel198
NVW: I have a couple of fiction writer friends that I have shared work with. A novel… I had a 2-book contract with the book of stories before this one, and they wanted the second thing to be a novel-the publisher who I told you they decided they were going to go quit fiction
vanwinckel199
DB: Right, right
vanwinckel200
NVW: --fiction. They wanted the 2nd book to be a novel. So, I tried three times to write a novel, and I got 200 pages in three times. I showed a couple of those books to friends who are fiction writers and they confirmed for me what I thought was true. The way I phrase I phrase it to myself is: they didn't have a big enough engine.
vanwinckel201
NVW: I like short stories-
vanwinckel202
DB: I know. I'm not-
vanwinckel203
NVW: I like the go-cart.
vanwinckel204
DB: I like short stories, too. I was struck though in Quake … I was reading that and I thought… I mean, it read to me and felt to me a lot like the way that Jennifer Egan's Visit by the Goon Squad worked, in that separate stories were all kind of investigating certain kinds of dilemmas and interesting kinds of metaphorical or metaphysical ideas.
vanwinckel205
NVW: Well, thank you. I like that Goon Squad book, too.
vanwinckel206
DB: Yeah, well, I mean, what if she'd called this a novel… I mean, I was just wondering. It's not…
vanwinckel207
DB: Anyway, there's just… It's just very arbitrary, but it seems like you composed them very much kind of separately but they are related, right? I mean, they're linked stories.
vanwinckel208
NVW: Yeah, they've all been linked.
vanwinckel209
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel210
NVW: I really love all the different possibilities of ways to link stories, but in terms of the engine, I like a little small engine that I feel like I can fix what's wrong-with the little, small engine.
vanwinckel211
DB: Yeah, I get that.
vanwinckel212
NVW: And I don't know if I could… The novel thing, it's kind of overwhelming for me to think about how much you have to sustain; how much it needs to drive the big novel.
vanwinckel213
DB: Right
vanwinckel214
NVW: I love novels. I love reading them, but I'm intimidated by the arc, how huge it needs to be, and how much (maybe) you need to know before you sit down.
vanwinckel215
DB: Right, there's a certain research part of it.
vanwinckel216
DB: Does your writing entail any sort of research, historical or otherwise…?
vanwinckel217
NVW: Yeah, Quake was a good example. I loved doing all that research on the gypsy culture and the country-I just loved that, and that just really fed my stories when I was working on it. And this new book that has a dinosaur dig in it, that was really fun. My husband and I went on a dig in Montana. That's part of the research for that. It was fun.
vanwinckel218
DB: Did they just have that like dinosaur versus dinosaur discovery, or something, this summer? Did you see this?
vanwinckel219
NVW: Eh-hmm
vanwinckel220
DB: Like this private digger found these perfectly reserved fossils of like a tyrannosaurus rex or like stegosaurus like right next to each other, they must've died like mid-fight. And they sold… Like instead of giving it to the Smithsonian, they sold it at auction for some ridiculous price.
vanwinckel221
NVW: Really?
vanwinckel222
DB: There was some sort of debate about that.
vanwinckel223
NVW: Just like a couple of femurs or something, or a couple of… Or the whole--?
vanwinckel224
DB: The whole
vanwinckel225
NVW: --the whole features? Wow!
vanwinckel226
DB: I mean, it was just like an insane find in the Montana's bone district.
vanwinckel227
NVW: Well, what I understood was… This isn't pertaining to your thing but what I heard was that all those glacial floods (what happened) and they basically washed all these bones over. So, there'd be like this giant bone bed of 20 different species just because they've been washed by the flood like that at the same place.
vanwinckel228
DB: You probably know more of that. I just thought that was sort of exciting. '
vanwinckel229
...
[00:38:43]
vanwinckel230
DB: I guess a couple more questions about revisions. One of the like… I've been reading this book called The Work of Revision which is really an interesting book kind of tracing the history of revision from the Romantic up to the Modernist Period, and then kind of like how textual criticism works with it. She was… Her name… Hannah Sullivan wrote it, and she was sort of delineating kind of three modes of revision. One being a creative or additive, like Joyce adding all this stuff to Ulysses, and then this sort of excisive or subtractive way that you seem to do, and then there's that sort of substitution. And I'm wondering is there a primary mode between those three that you used for your revision or is it a combination?
vanwinckel231
NVW: I would say I really kind of start with the accretion first, and then go in to the subtraction. And then probably this substitution is like a tinkering I do at the very end.
vanwinckel232
DB: OK, and physically, where do these processes happen? I mean, when you're taking something away, does that happen in the notebook, or does that happen on the computer, or does it happen in both spaces?
vanwinckel233
NVW: Usually, I've excised much of what I'm going to take out before I type it up.
vanwinckel234
DB: OK
vanwinckel235
NVW: So, I probably-as I said, I probably do 2 or 3 handwritten drafts and I'll actually rip the notebook page out. I have notebooks and notebooks where I have a big X through the page so that I do not get confused that I'm actually done with this version, and now if I look hard enough in the notebook, there is a later version of these poems. But I throw the old, ripped up pages in the back of the notebook, and there's a newer version somewhere in there. But the older ones are fatter and often… I'm also experimenting with line break, then too, with the shaping issues…
vanwinckel236
DB: So, just to confirm, you're doing that in the notebook?
vanwinckel237
NVW: In the notebook still.
vanwinckel238
DB: OK
vanwinckel239
NVW: And then I feel like when I move it to the computer, I'm sort of getting to a place where I want to look at it… There's something that… I'm sure you're going to hear this with lots of writers my age-that there's something about when you type it up that starts to make it look permanent, especially for me in terms of the shape of the poem, the line lengths especially in a poem. I'm less inclined to fiddle with line lengths once I've got it on the computer. I do that. For some reason it still feels easier for me to do it on the page because like I just stick my slashes in there.
vanwinckel240
DB: OK, so once they're actually broken in to lines on the computer, then it seems… You don't feel like you have that freedom to do--?
vanwinckel241
NVW: Well, I do. I do.
vanwinckel242
DB: Right
vanwinckel243
NVW: I do experiment or something. I'll go, 'Oh, this is 15 lines. That's so close to a sonnet. Why don't I help it along?' You know?
vanwinckel244
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel245
NVW: So, then-
vanwinckel246
DB: You feel like there should be another term for a 15-line poem.
vanwinckel247
NVW: Yes'
vanwinckel248
DB: OK, so and then at that point, are the poems ordered into the way you'd like them in the book?
[00:42:25]
vanwinckel249
NVW: Oh, no. Never
vanwinckel250
DB: OK, so how's that… What's that process like?
vanwinckel251
NVW: That's just another process of just printing out all the poems and just living with them. That takes, I don't know maybe a year, two, maybe even longer sometimes of experimenting with sections, you know, the arrangement. I'm working right now on a book of prose poems-just really struggling with what's it even going to be in this book, sorting-
vanwinckel252
DB: So, there's a number… So, once you get to the computer, are you putting like all the poems from one notebook in one word file say, or you're putting them in individually?
vanwinckel253
NVW: No, I don't put… Each poem is its own file until I really start to make the book as a book.
vanwinckel254
DB: So, just technically, then you call that file whatever the title of the poem is?
vanwinckel255
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel256
DB: And then save it in a folder with…?
vanwinckel257
NVW: My folder is called "Poems."
vanwinckel258
DB: No, that's fine
vanwinckel259
NVW: I know, and there are some subfolders in there like-
vanwinckel260
DB: OK, for a book would you make a subfolder then, or…?
vanwinckel261
NVW: Oh, then each book gets its own file then.
vanwinckel262
DB: OK
vanwinckel263
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel264
DB: OK, but… So the poems are kind of in one big folder, and then as they accumulate in to a book then they'll be one file.
vanwinckel265
NVW: Exactly, and when they get published then I put them in another file called "Published Poems."
vanwinckel266
DB: OK
vanwinckel267
NVW: So, I don't get confused in sending stuff out still.
vanwinckel268
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel269
NVW: And then there's some old… You know, I've files called "Poem '08" that are just like…I'm probably not going to do anything with them now, but they're still sitting there.
vanwinckel270
DB: They're still in there, somewhere.
vanwinckel271
DB: OK, and is that the same-Does that same sort of transfer happen with fiction, too?
vanwinckel272
NVW: Yeah, I mean I've got a file in there just called "Stories In Process." I don't know if they're going to be a book.
vanwinckel273
DB: You're sort of figuring them out.
vanwinckel274
NVW: Yeah'
vanwinckel275
DB: So, we'll get back to the computer stuff a little bit more. Let me just sort of talk a little bit-move from revision and talk a little bit more about kind of organizational (and we're already kind of taking about it-these things all sort of mesh in but…).
[00:45:05]
vanwinckel276
DB: So, I mean… OK, with the computer then, you know, you move from your notebook and then you type it up. That sort of moment of revision for you, too?
vanwinckel277
NVW: Uh-hmm
vanwinckel278
DB: And then you have several other different moments of revision when it's on the computer, but some of those happen on paper because you print them out?
vanwinckel279
NVW: Right
vanwinckel280
DB: And then that arrangement happens physically usually first?
vanwinckel281
NVW: I'll look at it on… I'll come back to it over a period of a couple of weeks on the computer then (once it's on the computer file) and look at it, probably tinker with it a little bit more before, and then I'll start sending it out probably.
vanwinckel282
DB: OK
vanwinckel283
NVW: So, fairly soon after I type it up-maybe a month, 2 months. There comes a point where I feel like I'm making it worse. My tinkering's starting to make it worse. That's the only thing that stops me.
vanwinckel284
NVW: And then I start sending it out, and if the-
vanwinckel285
DB: Are we talking about the entire book right now, or are we--?
vanwinckel286
NVW: No, just individual poems
vanwinckel287
DB: Just the individual… OK, yeah
vanwinckel288
NVW: --and if it comes back rejected, often I'll tinker with it a little bit more and send it back out again in a week.
vanwinckel289
DB: OK, so you use the sort of publication and submission process as a sort of revision prompt?
vanwinckel290
NVW: I do, I do.
vanwinckel291
DB: OK, that's interesting.
vanwinckel292
DB: And then, so they come together in one file as your book thing and then you send that out to publishers. Is that a similar sort of thing- if it's rejected then you revise again, or is it once it's in that file, once you've got it there, you just sort of want to give it a space?
vanwinckel293
NVW: I'll probably revise it a little bit more if it comes back rejected, but usually once it gets in book form, it seems sort of subtle to me and often (this may also be the case)… the reason for that being that I've probably moved on to another book and all.
vanwinckel294
DB: OK, another notebook that will then become a book, or…?
vanwinckel295
NVW: Yeah, yeah… No, an actual-I'm actually compiling another book at that point when I start sending one out.
vanwinckel296
DB: So, how many books do you usually have going, or how many projects at one time do you usually have going?
vanwinckel297
NVW: Well, I almost always have a book of poems in process that I'm working on like I said right now I'm working on trying to shape up this book of prose poems, and then I almost always have a book of fiction that's sort of in process-right now, I'm working on a e-book novel, novella thing. And then I'm doing the Photoems now. So…
vanwinckel298
NVW: In terms of like publishing individual pieces now, I'm really doing those a lot. '
vanwinckel299
DB: OK, and then so, in terms of just saving and archiving your work (we talked a little bit about this), you keep your notebooks basically in boxes on the shelves, and then your files are in a folder and they stay in the same folder, and then you put them to an external drive at some point.
[00:48:37]
vanwinckel300
DB: Is there any other archival or back-up procedures that you go through for your work, or is that pretty much it?
vanwinckel301
NVW: I guess that's pretty much it. I mean, my publishers I think have copies, you know. They have pdfs of everything.
vanwinckel302
DB: Right, right
vanwinckel303
NVW: So…
vanwinckel304
DB: You rely on them?
vanwinckel305
NVW: I rely on them-that those are not going to go away.
vanwinckel306
DB: Sure
vanwinckel307
NVW: I don't think they will, will they? They won't go away, will they?
vanwinckel308
DB: Yeah, that's…
vanwinckel309
NVW: Because that's what they send me to proof now.
vanwinckel310
DB: PDFs?
vanwinckel311
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel312
DB: OK, and they used to send you galleys or printed copies?
vanwinckel313
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel314
DB: OK, do you do much revision at that stage, or is that much more type of--?
vanwinckel315
NVW: No, they don't want you to.
vanwinckel316
DB: OK, so then I guess one question more and then I want to talk about kind of computers specifically but… Do you see kind of in this talking that is there… Was there sort of … Can you kind of delineate stages of your own writing over the course of your, you know, the years you've been writing sort of professionally? Do you see distinct stages, or do you think it's just been kind of a gradual…?
[00:49:50]
vanwinckel317
NVW: You mean that's where things have just changed dramatically?
vanwinckel318
DB: Or like, you know, it could've changed like a couple of years, but I mean, would you say there are stages, or would you see it kind of similar? And if there were anything that kind of prompted some of these changes, what were those (I guess is what I'm kind of going with this)?
vanwinckel319
NVW: Well, I think it's mostly been gradual. I've grown more comfortable doing some revision work on the computer and especially with the fiction, and maybe because fiction still feels like a newer form to me. One shift that has felt a little bit more dramatic with composing is that I have found myself, when I'm working on short stories, actually doing some new composing work right here while I'm sitting. Like I'll be working on a story thinking… I'm typing in from my notebook…
vanwinckel320
NVW: Actually I remember working on this one story and I had written something-a note to myself in my notebook that said, 'Flush out her dream right here,' and I had forgotten to do that. So, I remember sitting here doing it while I was typing in the story in to my Word file, and I though what I wrote was OK. It sort of freed me up then to do that more frequently-to let myself do some of the initial composing although I still kind of like have a little cue what it's going to be. Like there's a little whole that I forgot to do, and I have a note to myself in the notebook to do that.
vanwinckel321
DB: Good, and does that… I guess, how… What's the difference in feel between, I guess-dare I describe it as-2-handed writing versus 1-handed writing?
[00:52:07]
vanwinckel322
NVW: Yeah, one of the things I like about doing it on the computer is that I can close my eyes which is really odd but I like it. So, it seems to lend itself to… not to dialogue or action, but to real kind of interior moments where I'm in a character's mind and I want to replicate her thinking process. Like I said, the first time I ever tried it was where I kind of tried to render a dream that the character had had. So, I closed my eyes (and of course, we can type with our eyes closed but I can't write with my eyes closed).
vanwinckel323
DB: OK, it'll be really illegible.
vanwinckel324
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel325
DB: Huh, that's fascinating.
vanwinckel326
DB: OK, so then in terms of computers, generally, when did they enter in to your writing process?
[00:53:10]
vanwinckel327
NVW: Well, I remember when I moved to Lake Forest College… (I knew you were going to ask me this. I was trying to think about this the other day) We got these… I wish I could remember… KayPros
vanwinckel328
DB: KayPros? OK?
vanwinckel329
NVW: Have you heard of those?
vanwinckel330
DB: No
vanwinckel331
NVW: Oh my God. They were these huge, gray boxes. They were given to us - this must have been 1980-right around there, 1980 - At Lake Forest College, all the faculty got these KayPro computer things, and really all they did was word processing but I liked them. I remember a lot of the faculty were complaining but I like them because I was moving from this electric typewriter, or something, and this machine was so much easier to do corrections and everything. So, I took to the computer right away. I really liked it.
vanwinckel332
DB: In 1980?
vanwinckel333
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel334
DB: Wow, OK, that's very early I think.
vanwinckel335
NVW: Well, I can remember the exact year.
vanwinckel336
DB: But somewhere… I mean, you started teaching in Lake Forest in?
vanwinckel337
NVW: In '79
vanwinckel338
DB: So, it's….
vanwinckel339
NVW: It was right around there-when we first moved there.
vanwinckel340
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel341
NVW: And that's all they did. They didn't do… There was no internet, or…
vanwinckel342
DB: Right, right, right.
vanwinckel343
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel344
DB: So, you were just word processing and… Did this… Well, the advent of this computer and then maybe like the kind of more… the prevalence of computers kind of like change your writing practices pretty drastically eventually, or…?
vanwinckel345
NVW: Well, you know, the academic world- I don't know if I hadn't been in the Academy, if I would have the same relationship with technology as I do because everywhere I went to teach, I was presented with a new computer when I walked in the door. And it's nice because, you know, Apple made its money by habituating, habitualizing people (What's the word I'm trying to say?)-
vanwinckel346
DB: No, I think…
vanwinckel347
NVW: --to their technology. That's how they became so great, you know-get all these freshmen hooked on Apples when they're in college because they're in the labs and then the next thing you know, you've got generations out there…
vanwinckel348
DB: Right
vanwinckel349
NVW: So, anyway, I'm a total Mac person. I love them. They seem really intuitive to me to use them-but I've grown up with them. I mean-
vanwinckel350
DB: So then… I guess, what about the software that you use? Did you start with the sort of basic word processing, then did you move to an Apple word processing software, or was it like Word Perfect or…? Do you remember? I mean… I can't even name them.
vanwinckel351
NVW: Oh, gosh. I'm not going to be able to remember all the different program names, but… Yeah…
vanwinckel352
DB: And now are you using Microsoft Word?
vanwinckel353
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel354
DB: OK, but you're also using Pages?
vanwinckel355
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel356
DB: So, you're moving between software. Has that been a newer thing since the iPad, or…?
vanwinckel357
NVW: Yeah, I may get a new iPad pretty soon, and I don't know if I want to buy another Microsoft Word.
vanwinckel358
DB: Yeah, Pages seems to…
vanwinckel359
NVW: And it's fine.
vanwinckel360
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel361
NVW: It moves in to Word just fine.
vanwinckel362
DB: Right
vanwinckel363
NVW: But I learned Photoshop when I was the magazine editor. I edited Willow Springs for about 6 years, and so that was in 1990. I took over the editorship of that magazine when I came out to Eastern. They were doing the magazine with… Oh, my gosh. There was no computer technology. The woman who had done it before me was like-she was into the light board thing, which I had learned in college, in journalism class. You know, with the sticky, peel-y things?
vanwinckel364
NVW: Do you actually know this stuff?
vanwinckel365
DB: I think I saw this in high school in my journalism class. So, yeah.
vanwinckel366
NVW: And I could not believe they had no computer program or anything. So, a guy in the journalism department gave me a copy page maker to put on the computer, and I instantly fell in love with it. I just, 'Oh, I love this."
vanwinckel367
NVW: I love doing the art for the magazine. I did the covers. You know, I mean I found the art and made the covers myself because there was nobody else to do it.
vanwinckel368
DB: Right
vanwinckel369
NVW: And so, I learned PageMaker at the very beginning when it was just out, and as you probably know, that became Photoshop.
vanwinckel370
DB: Right
vanwinckel371
NVW: So, I just kind of stayed with it all these years, and now-
vanwinckel372
DB: So, essentially, you've been using Photoshop for 20 years. Wow, that's awesome.
vanwinckel373
NVW: I buy every other Photoshop. That's been my MO. I don't try to keep up with every single new one. So, I'm on 5 now, but I will probably get 7 when it comes out.'
vanwinckel374
DB: I'm a little worried that they're not going to do that anymore. They seem to be moving to that like subscription basis.
vanwinckel375
NVW: Really?
vanwinckel376
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel377
NVW: How do you mean?
vanwinckel378
DB: You know, we buy it a lot for the digital computers, and I'm starting to hear that they're… You know, they're offering it now so you can basically pay monthly fee and get Photoshop, or get InDesign, or get the Design Suite.
vanwinckel379
DB: So, I'm not sure how often-if they're going to be selling those like Student/Teacher kind of like Editions anymore.
vanwinckel380
NVW: Oh
vanwinckel381
DB: Or if they're going to be charging a subscription fee which in my mind is going to be way more expensive especially because we have so many copies. It might be cheaper, overall, for an individual but…
vanwinckel382
NVW: Interesting
vanwinckel383
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel384
DB: So, I'm not sure. I'm not actually positive about that but I sort of have heard on the wind that that might become around.
vanwinckel385
NVW: Wow, that would be…
vanwinckel386
DB: I don't know-
vanwinckel387
NVW: Hey, it's a tax write-off. So…
vanwinckel388
DB: Yeah, there you go.
vanwinckel389
...
[00:59:43]
vanwinckel390
DB: So, you were pretty familiar with computers from pretty much most of your professional career, As they became more prevalent at large, does that affect… I mean, I guess, it affected probably your correspondence with your editors and what-not with things like that.
vanwinckel391
NVW: Exactly
vanwinckel392
DB: Did that affect anything in the way that you write? Did it start to feel different, you writing feel different?
vanwinckel393
NVW: It felt more constant, I guess. Like my students at Vermont College, they want to send me their work everything online now. I feel like I cannot get away from sitting here, you know, 10 hours, 12 hours a day.
vanwinckel394
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel395
NVW: That part, I don't like as much. I like reading, you know, in a comfy chair and I feel like we're moving away from that now, that that's becoming less. You know, and I'm writing e-books myself now, so I'm a culprit, too.
vanwinckel396
DB: Right, right
vanwinckel397
NVW: But I can read my iPad in a comfy chair.
vanwinckel398
DB: Yes, yes, you can.
vanwinckel399
NVW: I still like reading in bed but once I discovered that I can read my iPad in bed, I was happy. '
vanwinckel400
DB: I'm sort of interested to- I guess in sort of typographical, or graphical things. And I mean, you are familiar with PageMaker. Did any of that like ability of the computer adjust or…? I mean like I think in Quake with those breaks that were kind of like little lines-like little jagged lines (I don't know where those came from)-if that was a computer thing, or…? Do you know what I'm talking about?
[01:01:16]
vanwinckel401
NVW: The section breaks?
vanwinckel402
DB: Like the breaks within the stories, that would be like… Yeah, like section breaks that had kind of…?
vanwinckel403
NVW: I think that might have been the designer, the book designer.
vanwinckel404
DB: Oh, that was the book designer.
vanwinckel405
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel406
DB: OK, but did any of that influence your writing? I mean, did you start to… I mean, you obviously work with fonts and design aspects and layout. Did that influence anything with your poems? I mean, I know they also… You know, a lot of them have… At least the earlier ones some of them would move kind of tab by tab, and then I mean there's other different sort of strategies in the earlier poems, too. But they're… I don't know. I guess…
vanwinckel407
NVW: I'm trying to think about what you're asking me because I'm just not remembering if there's any particular way that that changed in my writing itself.
vanwinckel408
DB: Yeah, I mean I don't think it was a… I don't know if I can say that it was, but I guess
vanwinckel409
DB: When you're writing in your notebook (Maybe that's the way to get)-when you're writing in your notebook, are you writing with some sort of indentation, Or other things like that? Are you pretty much writing down the left margin? Does that sort of layout thing transfer in to the computer, or…?
vanwinckel410
NVW: Right, right. You know, what little experimenting I've done along those lines with poems, I've done on the computer screen. '
vanwinckel411
...
[01:03:00]
vanwinckel412
NVW: I mean, that's I think my… I know we're going to talk about this later. What I'm doing now, I'm doing this altered book pages.
vanwinckel413
DB: Right
vanwinckel414
NVW: I don't know if I showed any of those because those are locked files. But I'm doing these altered book pages, and that's where all of everything I know about Photoshop And my poetry is finally coming together in to something that feels more, I don't know, my own.
vanwinckel415
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel416
NVW: Different
vanwinckel417
DB: Yeah, so… And we can talk about that. I mean, what… So, it that different from the Photoems?
vanwinckel418
NVW: Yes
vanwinckel419
DB: And it's… What sort of formatting do you use …?
vanwinckel420
NVW: I'll show you
vanwinckel421
DB: Yeah, I'd love to see
vanwinckel422
NVW: So, I put these online. I've been… This is mainly what I've been publishing lately. I've found this old encyclopedia up here from the '30s and I've been scanning the pages-especially pages that have a lot of graphic material in them. (Let me just show…)
vanwinckel423
NVW: I put them on this website but in a locked gallery because this is how I share them in with editors. So, let's see. I'll try to find the encyclopedia once I… Let's look at this right here.
vanwinckel424
DB: So, ZenFolio. Is it like a web service kind of?
vanwinckel425
NVW: Yeah, this is really for a photographer's website but I just like it because it has really clean look, and their slideshow mode is really nice.
vanwinckel426
DB: Yes
vanwinckel427
NVW: So, this is the book I'm doing with my husband right now, and these are his illustrations.
vanwinckel428
NVW: (So, I can actually put this in a slideshow. You can see the…)
vanwinckel429
NVW: So, this is my fiction project that I'm-
vanwinckel430
DB: This is the novella?
vanwinckel431
NVW: This is, yeah. This, I will only… I haven't shared this with any editors yet because I'm only just putting this online. (That's a section divider page)
vanwinckel432
DB: (I can see that now)
vanwinckel433
NVW: This is called Pull for Stop, and then the story goes like this. So, these are Rick's pieces and then I have this little story that goes with these characters in the book here. Each page, I think of it as a little like flash fiction. So, I kind of think of them as linked flash fictions.
vanwinckel434
DB: And they're relating in some way to the image?
vanwinckel435
NVW: Oh, yeah
vanwinckel436
DB: OK
vanwinckel437
NVW: So, that's that book. And I was telling you about the encyclopedia, and that's Book of No Ledge.
vanwinckel438
DB: OK
vanwinckel439
NVW: So, this is how I send them out now to editors. I'll probably send like 2 or 3 of these pieces in, you know, the online submission or whatever. And then I send them a link to this.
vanwinckel440
DB: To the whole…?
vanwinckel441
NVW: To this gallery, and the password that they need to access it because it's a locked gallery. That way I can kind of track on how many people are looking (editors are looking) at my stuff at the same time. And then when somebody takes a piece, I put these little asterisks. (This is my screwed-up thing) So, they kind of realize all those are out of commission then.
vanwinckel442
DB: Sure
vanwinckel443
NVW: So, that's what… So, now I'm kind of actually putting a poem. (I hate all the sales stuff in here, but) Then I'm kind of replacing the text that was here in the encyclopedia with a poem.
vanwinckel444
DB: And so, you'll do that in Photoshop. Like you'll erase the text and you'll… Are you trying to match the font in some way it looks like? Or…?
vanwinckel445
NVW: Yeah, yeah, I am.
vanwinckel446
DB: And those are kind of images from the text originally?
vanwinckel447
NVW: Yes, actually they're from like 3 different pages in the text, and then I colorize them, too.
vanwinckel448
DB: Those are cool. That's like a really neat project.
vanwinckel449
NVW: It's really been fun. I like doing that. You can see I've kind of done a little bit of erasure stuff right here-
vanwinckel450
DB: Yeah, yeah
vanwinckel451
NVW: And then this part is my poem over here. So, I like…
vanwinckel452
NVW: (I should put these in slideshow so they'll come out larger, see them better)
vanwinckel453
NVW: But I kind of like having a mix of what was the encyclopedia language with Nance talk, kind of. I like going back and forth, so that's… This has been where I've really started to use the technology much more than I was before. So, I have all these little… This is the straight encyclopedia-Nance stuff, and I hope they kind of talk back and forth to each other-the language.
vanwinckel454
DB: Yeah, I know. I see what you're saying.
vanwinckel455
NVW: My language here and their language
vanwinckel456
DB: Well, it sort of like-it contextualizes it and sort of de-contextualizes it. Yeah…
vanwinckel457
NVW: Yeah, this is my little conversation with Proust. I've been reading Proust this year. Me and Proust are on a time-out right now.
vanwinckel458
NVW: Anyway, so that's what they look like. I like the pages from the encyclopedia that have all this graphic material so I can kind of take what was , you know… What do I have? I put all these kind of romance words around. In this one: timber wolf love nips, must axle me
vanwinckel459
NVW: But a person would have to sort of go in there and look a little bit. That's the thing.
vanwinckel460
DB: Yeah, I mean it's like you need it. It pays to pay attention, right?
vanwinckel461
NVW: So, that's where things have sort of evolved, computer-wise, for me. '
vanwinckel462
DB: And how's that… I mean, what's the… Does it feel different, or does it seem like it's the same creative process for you? I mean, it's visual and textual, so, there's that. But in terms of using the computer to make, is that a change?
[01:09:50]
vanwinckel463
NVW: Well, so the way I've been, I have some really interesting, different ways that I've been doing these that has never been even remotely like working on the poems or the stories. So, I'll print out first the original scans in black and white, and that's what I carry around in my little notebook. I'm still fixated to the notebook there.
vanwinckel464
DB: Right
vanwinckel465
NVW: So, I'm carrying those around in the notebook, and then I just actually start scribbling on the pages-scribbling stuff out. One of the things that I'm kind of doing with this book project-with the encyclopedia-is: this is my version of a collected poems of Nance Van Winckel.
vanwinckel466
NVW: So, I'm kind of mining some of my early poems because I-
vanwinckel467
DB: OH, that's really fascinating.
vanwinckel468
NVW: --The idea of doing a collected or selected, or something, is kind of boring to me actually. But this made it more interesting to do because I'll just pull out, 'Oh, I always like this stanza.' So…
vanwinckel469
DB: Yeah, yeah
vanwinckel470
NVW: I like this stanza." and then I just "Forget the rest of that poem," you know.
vanwinckel471
DB: Right
vanwinckel472
NVW: But these 5 lines I like. So, I'll sprinkle them in there and it's been fun to kind of find the visual material that I think they fit with.
vanwinckel473
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel474
NVW: So, anyway-
vanwinckel475
DB: And with the, you know, wealth of human knowledge form 1930 and the wealth of poems-
vanwinckel476
NVW: Exactly
vanwinckel477
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel478
NVW: And, you know, I feel like I'm kind of talking… I had… I sense one of the things that's going on in this project is that I'm talking back to history in a way and saying, 'No, that's not right,' and I like that. I like that versus-
vanwinckel479
DB: And I guess in some way the software allows you more purchase on making those deletions and adjustments-
vanwinckel480
NVW: Exactly
vanwinckel481
DB: --than it would have in like just crossing out, or a light board for instance.
vanwinckel482
NVW: Yeah, and the erasure thing that a lot of people are doing, that seems like… You know, I'm good friends with Mary Ruefle-doing that amazing erasure stuff. So I feel like "unless I could one-up Mary Ruefle …" I'm not doing that. I'm not going there.
vanwinckel483
DB: I know
vanwinckel484
NVW: There are people who are doing that so much better.
vanwinckel485
DB: Yeah, I've always been a fan of that Radi Os, the Paradise Lost deletion by Ronald Johnson which I didn't like… And I like… Who did one? Like Jonathan Safran Foer did it, and I was like, 'Oh, no.'
vanwinckel486
NVW: He did it?
vanwinckel487
DB: Yeah, he did some…
vanwinckel488
NVW: Really?
vanwinckel489
DB: I don't know. He bugs me anyway.
vanwinckel490
NVW: Yeah, a lot… Maybe too many people jumped on the erasure band wagon
vanwinckel491
DB: It's fun, but I mean, it's hard really to do it. I mean, in the way that Mary Ruefle does it. It's really, really hard. I mean like… Yeah
vanwinckel492
NVW: Here's what Mary Ruefle says, 'The way I do it is, I look at the page and then pretty soon, if I just stare at it for a while, a few words float up.'
vanwinckel493
NVW: Good, OK
vanwinckel494
DB: That's hilarious
vanwinckel495
DB: It's good to be-to have that happen would be fantastic.
vanwinckel496
NVW: It really would--a few words float up
vanwinckel497
DB: (Let me think here)
vanwinckel498
DB: I feel like we've answered a lot of these questions in the course of it. Yeah…
vanwinckel499
DB: Oh, can you find your files? Like if you're looking for a certain poem on your computer, do you have difficulty locating them, or is your organization is such that you pretty much know where things are?
[01:13:50]
vanwinckel500
NVW: I have lost things, yeah. Almost every week, I have little battle because I can't remember what I called something, or…
vanwinckel501
DB: Yeah, do you worry at all about the security or sort of fixity of these digital files?
vanwinckel502
NVW: No
vanwinckel503
DB: No. That's good
vanwinckel504
NVW: You mean somebody else accessing them, or something? That kind of security?
vanwinckel505
DB: Or, I mean the kind of fidelity of them, I guess. I mean, you do say that you have floppy disks and old WordPerfect that you can't access. Is that a concern to you, or you just think that would kind of take care of itself?
vanwinckel506
NVW: It's not a concern to me-maybe it should be.
vanwinckel507
DB: No, I actually don't think you should be, but… And I'm the one who should know that. So…
vanwinckel508
NVW: OK, good
vanwinckel509
DB: But I mean, there's definitely things that we can do. But I mean, it's one of those things that I think…
vanwinckel510
DB: Well, I guess the other question is, have the changes in computers… I mean like, you know, probably in the late '90s, early '90s, computers crashed much more often and you were more likely to lose work. Did that influence the way that you work on computers, or was that…? Or have you pretty much kept the same strategies?
vanwinckel511
NVW: I have pretty much kept the same strategies. You know, I've never had a really bad thing happen where I've lost a harddrive or anything like that.
vanwinckel512
DB: You're so lucky
vanwinckel513
NVW: I know, I know. And it's because of all the Macs.
vanwinckel514
DB: That's hilarious. They got you-they got you there.
vanwinckel515
NVW: They do. I just love all their products. I do. '
vanwinckel516
DB: So, a few questions about correspondence and teaching (although I think we've covered some of that), and then we'll talk about Photoons. Then that would be it.
[01:15:46]
vanwinckel517
DB: So, have you ever corresponded very much in like physical letters? Is that ever been a portion…? Or are they… I mean, related to your writing. I don't need to know like personal correspondence (not so much), but I mean like writing-wise, career-wise, is that ever a concern?
vanwinckel518
NVW: Oh, physical letters, I've… Well, like I was telling you with that first book of poems, I've kept all the letters that he wrote to me about revision. I don't know, they just… They're very dear to me that somebody took that kind of time with me.
vanwinckel519
NVW: And then I have a good friend who's a poet. I think I mentioned her to you.
vanwinckel520
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel521
NVW: Jennifer Boyden. And she really loves the physical letters, and I've kept all her letters that she's written me over the years.
vanwinckel522
DB: Great.
vanwinckel523
NVW: Because they're just so beautiful
vanwinckel524
DB: Awesome
vanwinckel525
NVW: And it just always seems like just the idea that somebody is writing this JUST to me, you know, this three page letter with her thoughts and ruminations about things and they're just so beautifully written; that she would take the time to do that, you know, it seems like a treasure thing because it's a passing, but do I do it … ?
vanwinckel526
DB: Do you have any similar feelings for any emails? Do you have emails that you would feel dear about?
vanwinckel527
NVW: I do keep some emails I have, you know, files with emails that I keep from certain people.
vanwinckel528
DB: And then, a sort of corollary to that, do you feel like a, and this is an odd question, but do you have any sort of feelings towards your digital files about like your poems? Are they dear to you maybe in the same way a notebook would be dear to you or…?
vanwinckel529
NVW: No, the notebook is dear-er
vanwinckel530
DB: OK, yeah.
vanwinckel531
NVW: I don't know why, that's weird.
vanwinckel532
DB: You touch it. A big part of it, I think. I mean, I don't know. It's one of those things. I don't know if that will change, like if someone never had like the physical in the future. If they'll have this special folder on their desktop… That just seems odd to me. '
vanwinckel533
NVW: You know, I try to be careful that I've always got a hard copy somewhere of the material that I'm working on. Like this book that I'm doing with my husband.
[01:18:15]
vanwinckel534
DB: OK, so that's some of the images I guess.
vanwinckel535
NVW: And there they all are.
vanwinckel536
DB: Oh wow, those are nicely printed.
vanwinckel537
NVW: To finish that thought about just being careful: Because if things go awry here, I really don't want to lose the work completely.
vanwinckel538
DB: Right
vanwinckel539
NVW: So I try to make sure that I have a hard copy. It might not always be the most recent copy--
vanwinckel540
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel541
NVW: --But there's a copy.
vanwinckel542
DB: Right
vanwinckel543
NVW: So, with this book, I did all of the arranging of it. I stuck them on that wall in the hallway.
vanwinckel544
DB: OK
vanwinckel545
NVW: All the pages were on that wall and I had little sticky things on the back and I was moving them around to make the sections of the book, but it was up there for like three months.
vanwinckel546
DB: Yeah, three months? So, would you come home and see them and make a few changes or would it be like a dedicated time you'd go to it?
vanwinckel547
NVW: Well, I was at that stage where the book where I had all these pages, but I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to arrange the chronology, again, of the story. So, I started experimenting with different orders of things, by trying the sections on the wall that way. Yeah, moving them around. So before, each page had its own file in there, and now, they have sections too. I think there are five sections in the book.
vanwinckel548
DB: OK, and those came from the wall?
vanwinckel549
NVW: Yes!
vanwinckel550
DB: OK
vanwinckel551
NVW: But I could not figure out a way to look at that many pages on the screen at one time. I mean actually see the print. So I felt like the technology wasn't allowing me to see the big picture the way I needed to.
vanwinckel552
DB: Need a big touch screen.
vanwinckel553
NVW: Yes!
vanwinckel554
DB: I'm sure they're coming, or I'm sure they're here, you just haven't seen them yet.
vanwinckel555
NVW: That's it exactly!
vanwinckel556
DB: You need a big wall that's a computer.
vanwinckel557
NVW: Yes! And if Mac makes it, I'm buying it.
vanwinckel558
DB: There you go.
vanwinckel559
NVW: It's going to be a million dollars.
vanwinckel560
DB: Yeah, that would definitely be expensive. '
vanwinckel561
DB: We did talk a little about your teaching and that you do correspond by email with your students mostly. Is that now?
[01:21:10]
vanwinckel562
NVW: If they insist on sending me their work as attachments and everything, I'll read it that way. I don't mind doing it with the poets, but with the fiction people, I would much, much rather they send me their work in the mail. And usually they're OK with it.
vanwinckel563
DB: So you can kind of take it and not have to be connected …
vanwinckel564
NVW: Exactly
vanwinckel565
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel566
NVW: I just do not like writing my comments with the blackboard program or any of those. The college has that available to us and I have done track changes in Word. I know how to use that OK. I just like to scribble in the margins.
vanwinckel567
DB: So in that aspect of your work and your life, you would just ultimately prefer physical correspondence in total?
vanwinckel568
NVW: Yeah'
vanwinckel569
DB: OK, yeah. I guess the other thing with like, writing and distraction, I guess, is like are you connected to the internet when you're writing? Do you ever have to like disconnect, turn off your Wi-Fi or something? Is that a problem or concern for you? Or do you use it, like are you looking things up while you're writing at all?
[01:22:20]
vanwinckel570
NVW: Oh well that's a good question. I don't like to be disconnected from the net anymore.
vanwinckel571
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel572
NVW: It's terrible. I like to check in with my peeps all the time now. And yeah, I use the dictionary on here all the time because it's just so much faster.
vanwinckel573
DB: Yeah, so it's a tool, and whatever writing space you're in, be it notebook or not, you're still using your computer as a tool to assist you.
vanwinckel574
NVW: Yeah, and I mean I've always got something going on that's like you know, right now, I'm talking to agents and if they email me, if I see an email come in while I'm actually working on something, I got to go see if that is from my agent.
vanwinckel575
DB: Right, right. And that distraction point of it is not a real concern for you? I mean, you are producing quite a bit.
vanwinckel576
NVW: It was more when I was younger, but I guess maybe I'm learning how to disconnect from it and go back to my work pretty fast then.
vanwinckel577
DB: Has there been something you've found to help… I mean like if you're distinguishing between your younger working and now…?
vanwinckel578
NVW: I guess maybe it's like a lot of younger people, I'm just more used to being attached to it. I'll be doing something on my iPad, communicating with somebody or talking on Facebook or whatever, while Rick and I are watching a movie at night. So there's much more multitasking.
vanwinckel579
DB: You've learned a sort of way of compartmentalizing it that seems pretty seamless--
vanwinckel580
NVW: Yeah
vanwinckel581
DB: And the last question about teaching: When you've had now, you're probably getting students who've grown up only with a computer, right?
vanwinckel582
NVW: Yes
vanwinckel583
DB: Has that changed your relationship to the way? Has that sort of changed your idea about what it does, its effects, anything like that?
vanwinckel584
NVW: Well, it's changed to the sense that when students talk to me about their own composing process, and of course they do everything on the computer, they don't ever, a lot of them, write anything at all in longhand.
vanwinckel585
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel586
NVW: I don't even know if they can. And so I'm OK with that. I feel like I sort of made my peace that people are perfectly able to write, to find a good composition process that works for them that doesn't have to do with paper and pens at all. So, I'm accepting of that. You know, I don't try to like, shove my process off or say to someone, "Have you ever thought you might like to write it on a piece of paper first?"
vanwinckel587
NVW: What, you know, why? that's - -I know, I know that I'm hanging onto something that's -
vanwinckel588
DB: If you would -
vanwinckel589
NVW: -the pen... The pen and paper to me, um, they have some, there's something else between the eye and the hand and the page.
vanwinckel590
NVW: And I still feel that when I'm working, especially on poems, that there's something happening between the eye and the fingers and the page. It's very tactile that I'm hanging on to that, which I like.
vanwinckel591
DB: And so you would say, I mean for those that are only composing on the computer and not ever going to handwriting, or never using handwriting at all, that's what they're missing, that sort of hand-eye coordination.
vanwinckel592
NVW: I don't know. I don't think they necessarily are missing it. I think they've probably learned or are learning to do a step in the composing process. You know, maybe that thing where you're writing with your eyes closed. I mean, that they grow up with that, and so they get the same whatever imaginative connection with the keyboard.
vanwinckel593
DB: Do you find that they're as open to revision as maybe an older student?
vanwinckel594
NVW: Well, they can be made to... They can... That's just part of the learning process.
vanwinckel595
DB: Right, so you don't think it's anything distinct to this generation?
vanwinckel596
NVW: No
vanwinckel597
DB: OK
vanwinckel598
NVW: I think they just have to... Many of them, some of them get it right away, that revising can actually make a work better.
vanwinckel599
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel600
NVW: I've been working with this woman right now who came in saying that she doesn't like to revise because she likes to sit down and write everything out really fast in one big draft.
vanwinckel601
DB: Right
vanwinckel602
NVW: And her stuff is a mess! And so it's my personal mission with her to help her to come to believe that actually revising or working on some other manner, you know, like maybe having writing a scene at a time -
vanwinckel603
DB: Right
vanwinckel604
NVW: -would benefit the work. But she's very young and it's her first. She didn't even have an undergraduate degree in writing so, she's starting at square one.'
vanwinckel605
DB: OK, well, the last kind of group of questions I have are about the Photoems and, um, but I guess you have a number of different... I was thinking of these as being your sort of primary computer assisted project, but you have several going at the same time, so you use, including the collected, uh, your novella, are there other projects as well? OK, and are they, um, are they supplanting your fiction and poetry writing or are they sort of just 'in addition to'?
[01:28:20]
vanwinckel606
NVW: I'm wrestling with this question myself.
vanwinckel607
DB: OK
vanwinckel608
NVW: I think the poetry right now, new poetry, is kind of going into the these altered book pages that I'm doing. I have four, four of those projects going on right now.
vanwinckel609
NVW: And, um, I am working on a book of regular poems (those prose poems).
vanwinckel610
NVW: But all the fiction I'm working on right now are all e-books now. I've just completed a novella, not this one, but a different one that's an e-book that's um in the form of a scrapbook form, photograph album.
vanwinckel611
NVW: And that's the one I'm trying to talk to agents about.
vanwinckel612
DB: OK, OK. And they're going to... And you have only, you don't expect any physical form at all, you just...
vanwinckel613
NVW: This is the question that we are trying to work through. I don't care about seeing it as a print book. Um, but apparently publishers don't want to take a book unless it can also have it as a print book, because they don't make any money on e-books -
vanwinckel614
DB: Yes
vanwinckel615
NVW: - so -
vanwinckel616
DB: You can blame Amazon, right?
vanwinckel617
NVW: Yeah, so an agent doesn't want to take me on as a client unless I am doing the print book. And the e-book is the sort of bonus.
vanwinckel618
NVW: So that's what we're kind of going around and around about and I then think, "Well, maybe I'll just go out there and do it on my own, or try to do it with an e-book publisher who is just doing that." So I'm just trying... I'm just … I am just... This is all new to me, new territory and I'm just trying to navigate it myself right now. I don't know what I'm doing.
vanwinckel619
DB: But in terms of like the process and the composition and everything, it still seems pretty much, you know, computer or non-computer, like it's still like the kind of - Well, I mean the computer's a big part of it, but still writing the notebook and pushing it in, or is it a lot of that still happening - Are the e-books happening on the computer?
vanwinckel620
NVW: No, I'm still writing the text part in the notebook.
vanwinckel621
DB: OK. Um, how does the sort of visual aspect relate back to your writing especially sort of maybe... I mean you use a lot of imagery in your poems and in your fiction, but now you are actually using images -
vanwinckel622
NVW: Yes!
vanwinckel623
DB: - so what's that feel like? I mean are you using them in the same ways you used imagery or is it a totally different...?
vanwinckel624
NVW: Well, I mean, you hit it right on t…he head That's it exactly, I mean everything I loved about poetry, you know, the image thing - now I'm making actual images. And, you know, I'm putting a little bit of text in there, and you know, now I'm starting to wrestle with well that's too much text.
vanwinckel625
NVW: You know, it's... Everything that's happening now has gotten to be less, less, and less text. I'm trying to find the right balance between the visual component on the piece and that sort of means minimal text, I think, so that they don't fight each other.
vanwinckel626
DB: I mean, so what is like... How do you find the right language for that? I mean that seems like a different, almost a different thing than writing poetry.
vanwinckel627
NVW: Yeah, yeah. I mean...
vanwinckel628
DB: It's like placing...
vanwinckel629
NVW: This is what, for me, when I turn 60 and I'm doing this work, it's made it exciting again, like when I was 20.
vanwinckel630
DB: Yeah
vanwinckel631
NVW: Because I am... Language has gotten, it's been refreshed by this new sort of interjection of the actual visual material in the same location with the text.
vanwinckel632
DB: Right
vanwinckel633
NVW: And it's made it like a brand new thing for me and I'm just, I don't know, I feel like I'm, "Oh good. Now I can get through to my 80s OK without being bored."
vanwinckel634
DB: Now, if you didn't... So kind of two part question, if you didn't have that facility with the computer that you have and that you developed from working with PageMaker and/or if you just had not worked with a computer, do you think you would've turned to visual art in a physical format?
vanwinckel635
NVW: No, it would've been too much to learn, I think. I mean, it still feels like a lot to learn. I mean, I take classes every week. I'm taking online classes. I mean, I still can't get how to do text on a path. What's wrong with me?! I can't make my paths good.
vanwinckel636
DB: Yeah, I am no Photoshop expert.
vanwinckel637
NVW: Yeah, well anyways I take these little online classes through Photoshop.
vanwinckel638
DB: Do you take any... I mean, your husband's an artist, do you take any sort of art instruction as well I mean -
vanwinckel639
NVW: Yes. Oh, yes. From him. Yeah, and I've been taking like regular college classes, too.
vanwinckel640
NVW: When I taught at Bucknell for a semester - when they asked me to come out there, I said, "Well, yes, I'll come. But, do you think it'll be alright if I sat in on an art class while I'm there? " I wanted to take some kind of photography class. But, they weren't offering anything so I took a film editing class instead. But, anyway I just, I felt like I just needed to be in that environment with visual artists where they're talking about composition - because that's, I was starting at the path, the beginning place - just composition and design.
vanwinckel641
NVW: And my husband comes in, I invite him to come home early a couple nights and month and I supply him with some wine. He sits here and I show him the pieces that I'm working on, some of these Photoems or whatever.
vanwinckel642
NVW: And I'll say, "Just, if you don't like a piece, just tell me and we'll move on."
vanwinckel643
NVW: So this is what he'll do, he'll go, "Next." But then, when he likes a piece he'll explain to me what he thinks is working and it's all about composition and design. And that's what I needed -
vanwinckel644
DB: And so that's a big part of your education, too.
vanwinckel645
NVW: That's what I needed to learn.
mcmichael1
Devin Becker: Yeah, so we'll go through these. Some of it is a little repetitive. It's looking to be a little bit more exhaustive than, I guess, organic. If you feel like we've covered anything in some of these, just say, "Let's go," it's fine.
0:00:00
mcmichael2
Let me know if you have any questions in the middle, or anything like that. It doesn't need to go straight through. We can take breaks, or whatever—that sort of thing.
mcmichael3
So, we've gotten kind of where we're at. I'm going to ask you kind of currently compose some of these on the computer, how you currently save, and how you kind of back it up and work with the files. Then, we'll move on to the process questions.
mcmichael4
First questions— and these are meant to be kind of short answer, basically—what genres do you work in as a writer?
mcmichael5
James McMichael: Only poetry
mcmichael6
DB: OK
mcmichael7
What kind of devices do you own or have access to for writing?
mcmichael8
JM: Just this machine
mcmichael9
DB: Just that computer, and what operating system do you use on it?
mcmichael10
JM: I don't know.
mcmichael11
DB: Is it a Windows computer?
mcmichael12
JM: I think so.
mcmichael13
DB: I'm pretty sure it is.
mcmichael14
JM: I know almost nothing about it
mcmichael15
DB: OK
mcmichael16
And you work on that device primarily, and that's where your files are stored as well?
mcmichael17
JM: My files are up here to the right. They're artist sketchbook, so they're unlined. And I take notes from the reading I do in those, and I also include (in green ink) my own responses to the things I'm reading, or things that occurred to me that might turn out to be germs for lines. So, I do that longhand.
mcmichael18
DB: Do they transfer—for those ideas, and those workings—on to the computer? And when they are, are they saved just on that computer?
mcmichael19
JM: In a selective way. Then, I'll go in to these notebooks and take stuff from them. And then in that form, develop some of what's there—add to it. So, that's part of the process, too.
mcmichael20
DB: Great!
mcmichael21
So, I guess just in terms of your computer files, do you have them like in a certain folder? Do you save them in certain kind of organizational fashion? Or are they just, once you transfer them in there, they're there and you don't worry about them?
mcmichael22
JM: They're there and I can find them alphabetically.
mcmichael23
DB: OK, OK
mcmichael24
So, are these files then primarily for your publishing sake, or...? I mean, do you...
mcmichael25
JM: Only for composition.
mcmichael26
DB: Only for composition?
mcmichael27
JM: Yeah, right
mcmichael28
DB: Do you print them out and revise them from the computer?
mcmichael29
JM: Sometimes.
mcmichael30
DB: Sometimes.
mcmichael31
What are your naming conventions for those files?
mcmichael32
JM: Usually the date.
mcmichael33
DB: The date.
mcmichael34
JM: Oh, I'm sorry—the date and the notebook. So, the notebooks are numbered. So, it'll be from Notebook 23, or something like that.
mcmichael35
DB: Oh, great!
mcmichael36
JM: So, that'll be that in addition to the date.
mcmichael37
DB: And if you went and revised one of the computer files, would you make a new file, or would you just like over what's already there?
mcmichael38
JM: I'd write over what's there, and then I would get probably a different number—you know, that document number.
mcmichael39
DB: Yeah, OK
mcmichael40
So, it'd be like my example here—"The Wasteland.1" and then "The Wasteland2". That kind of thing?
mcmichael41
JM: Yeah, that kind of thing.
mcmichael42
DB: OK
mcmichael43
Do you back-up those files, or do you just keep them on that computer? Do you put them on like a Dropbox, or anything like that? Or is it just on that computer?
mcmichael44
JM: On Wednesday, I'm told by our tech, that what's there gets backed up. So, Wednesday about 2:00AM, or something like that, and on Thursday at 2:00AM, some back-up takes place. So, that's all I know about it.
mcmichael45
DB: Like you don't have an external hard-drive, or some other box that you put them?
mcmichael46
JM: There's this blue thing down there—whatever that is.
mcmichael47
DB: Oh, yeah! That's it, that it.
mcmichael48
JM: That's it.
mcmichael49
DB: OK
mcmichael50
When you get to like a final draft, or something, is there another protocol for that sort of file, or...?
mcmichael51
JM: That file would have the title of the poem, and then the highest number of the draft of that poem would be the most current one—the one that's replaced the others.
(5:00)
mcmichael52
DB: OK, yeah, yeah
mcmichael53
And your tech--what's the relationship between you and your tech?
mcmichael54
JM: He's a genius. He's an expensive genius. His name is Steve Marinoff. We're entirely dependent on him—Susan and I for having these machines continue to work—and he's never failed us.
mcmichael55
DB: Good!
mcmichael56
And you guys like consult with him like when you get a new machine? Or... How does that relationship work?
mcmichael57
JM: If that happens or something goes wrong with one of these, but I'd say we see him maybe 3 or 4 times a year.
mcmichael58
DB: OK, and he just checks to make sure everything is working and backing up, and that sort of thing?
mcmichael59
JM: Right. We call him if we have a problem, and then we usually see him within a couple of days. He's wonderfully reliable.
mcmichael60
DB: How long has that relationship been going on?
mcmichael61
JM: I think like 8 year maybe, something like that. He had worked for another company, and now he's on his own.
mcmichael62
DB: Yeah, kind of his own consulting firm or something—great!
mcmichael63
DB: And did you seek him out, or did you know him? I mean...
mcmichael64
JM: Susan had him come out when he was working with the company that he worked for before he had his own business. Liked him a lot, and so...
mcmichael65
DB: Great, great!
mcmichael66
JM: His confidence inspiring. You know, we really count on—
mcmichael67
DB: That's the biggest thing!
mcmichael68
JM: We're very grateful for him
mcmichael69
DB: Yeah, yeah
mcmichael70
DB: OK, so that's the basic kind of just to get a sense of where you're at with your digital composition. Now we'll talk more about the process and the writing, and the notebooks, and the artist books, and stuff like that.
mcmichael71
DB: And then to start, I'd like to kind of know- how long would you say you've been writing professionally? I mean, in the sense that that writing has been what's kind of supported you in some way. I know the teaching, but I think that's kind of intertwined.
0:06:54
mcmichael72
JM: I published my first poem 53 years ago.
mcmichael73
DB: OK
mcmichael74
And could you give us kind of an overview of like the ark of your career—starting with maybe like your education, and then moving through?
mcmichael75
JM: I was an undergraduate at UC-Santa Barbara, and had some extraordinary teachers there. I learned how to read. Didn't learn how to write, but I learned how to read, I think, from them. Then I did my graduate work. Got a Ph.D. at Stanford immediately after I graduated from Santa Barbara.
mcmichael76
Was thru with the Ph.D. in 1965 at a time when white males got jobs in the Academy, so I took the job at Irvine and began teaching on the Fall of '65 there. Understood at that time that I had 6 years to complete a book that would get me tenure, and at that time, there weren't poets getting tenure by writing books of poems. So, it seemed as if what I needed to do was continue the critical, expository writing that I'd done as a Ph.D. student in English and American Literature. I wrote and published 4 essays out of my dissertation. They weren't exactly a book. I could've turned them in to a book but after about 2 years in the job, I started writing quite bad poems—and they continued to be bad poems until I'd completed a book of them. I submitted it for publication. It was accepted. It turned up in the mail. I sat down and read it, and it confirmed what I knew about it which was that it was a really bad book of poems.
mcmichael77
DB: And this is?
mcmichael78
JM: This was in 1971 that the book turned up—but it got me tenure!
mcmichael79
DB: This is the "Against the Falling Evil"?.
mcmichael80
JM: Against the Falling Evil
mcmichael81
DB: OK
mcmichael82
JM: Yeah
mcmichael83
DB: It had some good poems. It had the Vegetables
mcmichael84
JM: It had the Vegetables in it, and
mcmichael85
that was important to me in the sense that it gave me a standard that I wanted to live up to in anything else I kept after that. So then I had the great, good fortune of being able to have it take as long as it needed for me to write another book. I wrote the second book which I still like, and then I've gone off from there. With the kind of interruption in the writing of poetry, I finished 4 good things in the late '70s—it was published in 1980.
(10:00)
mcmichael86
And then I wrote a book on Ulysses. I needed to teach myself how to write a paragraph. I didn't know how to write a paragraph. I knew how to write a paragraph in graduate school prose, but not a paragraph. Those are different things, so that took quite a while. I didn't understand it—that's what I was doing at the time. I didn't understand that I didn't know what a paragraph was, but because I was meaning to be dealing with the content of what it was I was wanting to write about. It took about 4 years just to get that formal understanding in place about how to write a chapter of paragraphs.
mcmichael87
So, I worked on the Ulysses book uninterruptedly about 10 years, and then didn't go back to writing poems until it was finished. And so, I finished it about 1990, and then I'd been working on poems ever since then.
mcmichael88
DB: And since then, you've published 3 books?
mcmichael89
JM: I've published Each in a Place Apart, The World At-Large (which is New and Selected, and it's only about a tenth of that book is new), and then Capacity (which is published in 2006). And, I've just completed another book called If You Can Tell.
mcmichael90
DB: If You Can Tell. Do you know when that's coming up?
mcmichael91
JM: I'm guessing it'll be within the next 2 years
mcmichael92
DB: Great, great! That was good.
mcmichael93
DB: So, generally, I've kind of broken these questions in to 3 stages of the writing process - the compositional stage, the stage of revision, and the organizational/archival stage. That is my own kind of box for these things. If you think those do not fit your own personal writing style, we can kind of go through these in different ways. But if that sounds OK, then we can start. But, if anytime like, "Well, this doesn't make much sense," and you can go back and revise—because we talked about one thing in one section doesn't mean we can talk about that one thing.
0:12:50
mcmichael94
JM: I understand the 1st two of those—they seem perfectly clear, but what would the archival...?
mcmichael95
DB: I would say that would be once you've revised poems or critical writing (or probably books of poems) in to more of a final state, how do you deal with organizing your collection; how do you deal with the more minutiae of saving them and making sure they're together, and then sending them off—kind of more the business part of it.
mcmichael96
JM: I guess I asked because that's going on all the time in what I think of as the 1st two stages.
mcmichael97
DB: OK, so maybe we'll just address them in the 1st two stages, and it's not that...
mcmichael98
JM: Yeah
mcmichael99
DB: Maybe I have a couple of questions from that section but they won't be much.
mcmichael100
JM: I mean, this may just be parenthetical but, for me, since I tend to work in an extended (what can seem like) book length forms almost all the time, then any individual poem I'm working on has a necessary relationship to everything else I'm imagining. It's being with, and so that's part of what you're describing as archival—would have to be kind of in front of me all the time. So, that may be part of why it seems to me that it's—
mcmichael101
DB: No, that makes total sense to me.
mcmichael102
[That'll be
mcmichael103
(15:00) a good shot—just my neck]
[00:15:00]
mcmichael104
So, let's start with talking about kind of the compositional- the writing, the pre-writing, the generative parts. I know that reading has a quite a lot to do for you.
mcmichael105
JM: Yes
mcmichael106
DB: I'd like to start when you first started writing, and I guess part of this will be kind of tracking the changes in your process. So, like if there were certain ways you worked in the beginning, did those change, and then, did they change again?
mcmichael107
So, when you first started writing, would you kind of describe your typical compositional (pre-writing, drafting) practices? Yeah, when you first started writing... And when would this period be?
mcmichael108
JM: I guess the early 1960s, when I was still an undergraduate—I was writing. I mean, if the poems that I wrote before 1970 were bad, those poems were awful (they were worse), and there weren't many of them. Soon after I'd started writing poems, I was in a Ph.D. program. And even though I had a Stegner Fellowship for one of the years that I was there (which entailed taking writing workshops), the workshop wasn't anything like the workshops that you and I know in the sense that not much went on in them. There were maybe four people in the room—not much got said about them—and it was a very minor part of the four years that I spent getting a Ph.D. So, the bulk of that work was reading and writing essays, and having conversations with my wonderful peers that were there.
mcmichael109
So, I didn't have any reliable habits as a writer of poems—I don't think—until I was maybe two years in to the job at Irvine. So, I'd say 1967 or something like that.
mcmichael110
DB: Great!
mcmichael111
JM: And then, whatever it was I was doing wasn't working—and I think it wasn't working because what I was needing to do was convince myself that I knew how to write a poem. So, the substance of the work was completely inverted in terms of it being a working out of my need to prove something to myself that I couldn't prove. I couldn't prove it because what I was proving to myself was that I didn't know how to write a good poem. That went on for 3, 4 years, and I think there wasn't anything I could alter until I asked myself if there was something I needed to write about rather than just my own insecurities as someone who didn't know how to write a poem.
mcmichael112
DB: Then so, after you wrote that, or sort of started to ask yourself that question and you started to write the poems that you considered your good poems, in terms of the sort of minutiae of your writing process, did that mark a shift? Or was there always a sort of way that you approached the writing and that kind of gradually expanded? Or...
mcmichael113
JM: There had to have been a shift that since before writing the Vegetables (which is a poem about the impact on me of my mother's death when I was 11 years old). Prior to having that as matter to write about, I wouldn't have been able to identify a phrase that I came up with that was good enough (there's no other way to say it) to keep. I come up with phrases and I didn't have the acumen to be able to tell that this phrase was better, was
0:18:46
mcmichael114
(20:00) enough better than the accompanying phrases that it could supply me with an example of what I had to bring everything else up to. So, I was just putting stuff together, and there it was—it wasn't any good.
[00:20:00]
mcmichael115
After I wrote the Vegetables, I had a standard that I had to apply all the time. And once it was in place, then I had something to work with besides form (I had form, too, but I had form before when I was filling form with bad phrases). Then, I felt more equipped, to know what to keep and what not to keep.
mcmichael116
DB: So, how were you then able to generate those phrases? Like, how were you able to generate the phrase that then you could judge as being enough or not?
mcmichael117
JM: I guess by way (and this is where what I'd said earlier about working in extended forms)—the only way I knew how to generate it was to think really in book length terms. So, I'd have (in the case of my second book, The Lovers' Familiar I came up with something that's formal but also structural—The Canonical Hours. So, I thought... There were 8 of those - Midnight, 3:00AM, 6:00, all the way on to 9:00PM. If they would organize the book as a whole and have a medieval affect to them, faintly Catholic—if that was in place but it was not really a religious book, how might things go? There were going to be more than 8 poems in the book, but it turned out to be 15. What would come in where in relation to a 24-hour period? What might happen between noon and 3:00PM?
mcmichael118
So, I had that general scheme as something that could direct me toward, in one case, a portrait of an otter. You know, something along those lines. Then a lot of stuff in the course of working on the book (which I'm trying to remember how long—I think it took me 4 years to write it), a lot of stuff just fell away because it wasn't, again, good enough.
mcmichael119
DB: And in terms of simply... Were you drafting by hand, or...?
0:23:15
mcmichael120
JM: By hand—all of it by hand
mcmichael121
DB: All of it by hand
mcmichael122
JM: And then I would... The process through all of the books until this most recent one was all long-hand and then typewriter. I loved typing successive drafts because typing is so much easier than composing, so, it was a break. It was just, "Oh, boy! I get to..."
mcmichael123
So, I never minded typing, and I suspected that I would miss it on this machine. I didn't miss it. It turned out, since I'm typing all the time--I'm composing from the beginning and I'm redoing everything—I liked this. I can't imagine how it was possible to write a book of prose (to write the Ulysses book) long-hand with a typewriter. I mean, I just can't. It would have been so much easier if I'd had some facility with the computer to write that.
mcmichael124
DB: Yeah, yeah
mcmichael125
So, essentially though, all of your books except this last one have followed the similar process of—
mcmichael126
JM: Yes
mcmichael127
DB: Could you kind of detail that in kind of like step-by-step process?
0:24:45
mcmichael128
JM: Yeah
mcmichael129
On a good day ... I mean I have to work every day usually in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:00. I didn't mean to get up at that time but I was awake at that time—I was wide awake at that time and I'd go to work right away. I'd go back over what I'd had up to that point in a poem and I'd find stuff that had to be revised. So, I'd do revision.
[00:25:00]
mcmichael130
Sometimes that would be all I would do on a given day, and then something that I hadn't yet gotten to would suggest itself, and I'd have a phrase or a sentence. That's what I mean when I use the word compose—Something I hadn't had yet, there's at least a possibility that I might have and it would sound maybe something like this, maybe one more of the words would actually survive. So then I'd nudge it along a little more and on a good day, if I had a line and a half, or two lines, that would be a pretty good day. And that could take 4 hours.
mcmichael131
DB: And in doing that, in kind of getting to that point, is that all done on loose notebook paper?
mcmichael132
JM: On long-hand.
mcmichael133
DB: Long-hand.
mcmichael134
JM: What did I work...? I think I just worked by 8x11 sheets of paper. I remember at one point they were yellow—and then they were white!
mcmichael135
DB: It didn't matter.
mcmichael136
JM: It didn't matter.
mcmichael137
DB: Yeah
mcmichael138
So, what would one of those pieces of paper look like?
mcmichael139
JM: A lot of crossing out, rehearsing what I had already that needed to be there to remind me of what seemed as if it had made the cut with me as something that could be kept, and then something new would join it for a while but it wouldn't really be good enough. And then, it would have to be revised. Pretty soon, it would be better enough maybe to stay, and then when I'd get (I don't know what) 8 or 9 lines more, then I'd go to the typed copy of what I'd transcribed from long-hand on to typed copy and add what was new, make what changes I'd made in long-hand, and then just bring all of that along with me.
mcmichael140
When I was writing my third book, Four Good Things, that entailed thousands of lines in untitled sections. There's 16 sections of it of varying lengths, and I'd do it section by section. It was pretty much chronological, but some of the sections were 16, 17 pages long, so I'd go through the whole process for that particular section. You know, if I were typing up what I'd recently added 4 or 5 lines to, I'd probably type the whole thing again.
mcmichael141
DB: So, you were generating lines long-hand—working on those. And then as they got to the level where you though they could enter in to the poem, you would then retype the entire poem or section, and go from there?
mcmichael142
JM: Yes, yeah
mcmichael143
And never minded that activity—never minded it.
mcmichael144
DB: Did you find that in typing that, were you actively making changes at that time, or not so much?
mcmichael145
JM: Not so much.
mcmichael146
DB: OK
mcmichael147
And then once you had that object, would you go back and read it to yourself, or read it out loud?
mcmichael148
JM: Yes, yeah
mcmichael149
DB: And then you would start the revision process on that type-written document?
mcmichael150
JM: I'd wait 'til the next day. It would, more often than not, not look so good the next day.
mcmichael151
DB: Yes, yes
mcmichael152
So, would you save these sheets of paper on which you were long-hand composing?
mcmichael153
Not with any fondness. I mean, they were only (30:00) for my uses—it was not anything I wanted to preserve in anyway. I didn't care about anything other than finishing the poem and having it done. That was all that mattered to me.
[00:30:00]
mcmichael154
DB: OK
mcmichael155
JM: And I didn't often find myself in situations in which lines that I'd deleted I later missed and wished I had copies of them to see if I could... I mean, that happened a few times but it was so rare that I don't think it influenced my ways of going at the whole process. I didn't ever regret throwing stuff away.
mcmichael156
DB: Right
mcmichael157
I guess we can kind of maybe talk in about how... I mean, we're already talking about the revision process for these poems, and it seems like... I sort of asked the other writers like what is your sort of primary revision or textual changes, and it seems sort of subtractive. Like you would find something that you didn't like, and would you try to substitute something in for that?
0:30:50
mcmichael158
JM: If I could find it.
mcmichael159
DB: If you could find it.
mcmichael160
JM: And if I couldn't, then it probably needed to disappear.
mcmichael161
DB: Just that part, or...?
mcmichael162
JM: Just that part.
mcmichael163
DB: OK, but once you kind of had a structure of a general poem, though, it usually stayed?
mcmichael164
JM: By the time I got to the end of it, it did. I mean, I work on them almost only cumulatively so that I take them along line by line. I don't...I'm not able to write a draft of something. The only variation on that is that I'll sometimes get the ending--it'll present itself to me—I mean the phrases. And I'll have that as a kind of telos for where I'm headed—not all the time, but I'd say half the time that happens somewhat in advance of my getting even within the couple of pages of the ending itself. It'll occur to me, and it won't tell me what is missing. It won't do that. It'll be just something that I feel would provide the kind of closure that I think would work.
mcmichael165
DB: So, essentially, you are writing (I don't know if you can) chronologically or...?
mcmichael166
JM: It is chronologically.
mcmichael167
DB: OK, so, as you build it and build it and build it, the revision process and the composition process are all happening at the same time?
0:34:22
mcmichael168
JM: Yep, yep
mcmichael169
DB: And that's happening in concert with the other poems in the book, or are you usually focused on one until it's done and then you move on?
mcmichael170
JM: I'm focused on one, but I have a pretty good sense of where it might go, organizationally, in relation to the others except right at the beginning of the project. At that point, I'm not clear on what's missing. I'm working toward beginning to understand what the whole might contain, but I just have to wait until... I mean, if I think of the last two books - there are 6 poems in capacity and 8 poems here (8 poems in the most recent one), and in both cases that's a small enough number that I'm not sure where in the process of writing either of those books (whether it took me 3 or 4 poems) to have a sense of what else I needed, but it was somewhere in there. Kind of midway, then I'd be a little clearer.
mcmichael171
DB: Can you talk a little bit about what that point is in the beginning of the project? Like how that... Is there something starting to emerge in your thinking, in your reading, or...? Where does that come from?
mcmichael172
JM: Again, I have to learn what it's possible to learn about the first and the second poem that I write in any of the projects. If I think about this most recent book, I was commissioned by the New York Times to write a Thanksgiving poem. I mean, that was the first poem that I wrote for this most recent book, and I wrote it. I kept taking my notes on all of the things that I was reading, and was caught up in the reading and the note-taking and all of that. All of it was to the end of my getting started on my second poem and I had no ideas what that was for 2 years, and then that poem came out of Proverbs. Then I spent another year and a half before I had any lines at all on a third poem. I looked back over a 4-1/2 to 5 year period in which I had written two poems (neither of them particularly long—the longer of the two was 4 pages). That was all I had. I didn't have a page a year, essentially.
mcmichael173
And for the life of me, I don't understand why I didn't just accept that I was thru writing. I mean, that should have been enough, but that wasn't what I felt –I don't know why, but I didn't. Then, I guess, I'd taught myself enough about what I was trying to learn in the whole project that it got underway, and then there was a momentum to it that I don't really remember in any of the other books that I wrote. There was kind of a momentum in writing Four Good Things but it was a momentum that I would describe as documentary even though there was an autobiographical element to it. It was as if I could hear some kind of narrator in a documentary saying this thing, or that. And the form of the thing was usually more than a 10-syllable line in this monolithic block that looked kind of like prose but still had a jamb, and it was lines.
mcmichael174
So, that gave me kind of momentum but very different from what the lack of momentum that I had when I began this book—there just wasn't any. I don't know where it was going to come from.
mcmichael175
DB: I guess, in those... You said you were kind of teaching yourself to get to the point where you can get that momentum back and start writing more. What are those parts of your life look like in terms of your writing, your practice? I mean, are you still waking up and working?
mcmichael176
JM: Yeah
mcmichael177
DB: I mean, in your writing and in your reading, taking notes...
mcmichael178
JM: All the time.
mcmichael179
DB: Can you describe how that works, how that part of your practice works? And that's been pretty steady since the beginning, or since you start writing for the second book?
0:37:59
mcmichael180
JM: Yes, all the way back, and I think the reading and the note-taking part of it has gotten to be more dominant over the course of the time. These notebooks...[points to bookshelves full of notebooks] And there are probably about 10 others and the ones that fit in that shelf right there—that's about 4 years of worth. Prior to those, I was working with 5x8 cards, writing in long-hand. That just got too hard to keep track of (I had boxes of them and arranged alphabetically), but this is an improvement on that. It's more... It's something I could find and I'd index these so I could find my way around these books. In a way, the cards—they just got too many of them.
mcmichael181
DB: So, the cards, you had them in just like regular card... Would you flip through them like a card catalog kind of, or...?
mcmichael182
JM: Except I wouldn't flip through them, that's the thing. They didn't invite me back to them the way these [notebooks] do. I can take one of these down at random and be reminded pretty quickly of why it was that particular book that I was reading and why I was having the responses to it that I did.
mcmichael183
(40:00)
[00:40:00]
mcmichael184
DB: Do you mind grabbing one of those and just kind of showing how you would do that?
mcmichael185
JM: No
mcmichael186
DB: [Hopefully, we'll get it in the frame.]
mcmichael187
JM: Let's see if I can find some pages here where I've gone—
mcmichael188
DB: Or I can take pictures of these, if you don't mind.
mcmichael189
JM: Not at all.
mcmichael190
I work on... These are the notes that I would take for the book that I'm reading. The RED is the more important material. It's something that, if I'm going through it I can read and just pick out the highlighted parts, then GREEN are my own responses. So, I'm always working on the right hand page when I'm taking notes from books I'm reading, then when I'm going back over the material, I'll work on this page and there'll be other changes. Usually more GREEN will turn up.
mcmichael191
DB: OK
mcmichael192
And that's your response to it. OK, I got it. So, how do you index them?
mcmichael193
JM: Just by title and... Let's see. I've got some of those pages here.
mcmichael194
DB: OK
mcmichael195
And indexed by title of work that you're reading?
mcmichael196
JM: Now, where did they go? See, I should know where they are, Devin ... But I had the sheets.
mcmichael197
Ha, ha, ha, I can't find them now. They were usually in this red notebook. So, they're pages of an index that are arranged according to notebook numbers. They're here. Susan just rearranged them. They're somewhere in here, they're not lost.
mcmichael198
DB: OK, good
mcmichael199
JM: I hope so.
mcmichael200
So, then I just find my way to the notebook and it'll have the page numbers and everything. Oh, and then in the front of each notebook, I have the title and the page numbers.
mcmichael201
DB: Oh, OK. So you know you can go back and find the work you're thinking about for whatever you are doing.
mcmichael202
JM: Right
mcmichael203
DB: OK
mcmichael204
That's fascinating.
mcmichael205
OK, just to remind me then...
mcmichael206
JM: [You're very patient.]
mcmichael207
DB: [No, no. I like dogs. He's a good guy. I have a new appreciation for dogs, too. It's our first dog, so...]
mcmichael208
JM: [Would she be smelling Rufus on you?]
mcmichael209
DB: [I don't know. Maybe? Maybe on these jeans.]
mcmichael210
JM: [Yeah]
mcmichael211
DB: [I'm admitting my jeans are not super clean!]
mcmichael212
So, the index cards—were they cards that you were working—?
mcmichael213
JM: They were cards.
mcmichael214
DB: OK, and that's what...
mcmichael215
JM: Shall I... I think... I don't know if I have them. She may have moved those.
mcmichael216
She moved them somewhere. I don't know where they've gone.
mcmichael217
DB: Well, we can find them and take pictures later.
mcmichael218
JM: OK
mcmichael219
Michelle [Latiolais] wanted one. I gave her one. She framed it.
mcmichael220
DB: Oh, that's awesome!
mcmichael221
So, and all that note-taking... Say... I mean, is there like a hypothetical where you could say like, "I used my index to find something and that led to a line or..."? How would that... I guess, what is that process like?
mcmichael222
JM: That is the way it tends to work and yet I can't go back once I've got the line unless I'm quoting.
mcmichael223
DB: Right
mcmichael224
JM: I can't make a connection. There's just some kind of break—something gets suggested and I can never reconstruct it.
mcmichael225
DB: OK, wow!
mcmichael226
JM: Another way to say it is that I think the(45:00) reading...it feels like the reading does this to me. Like it just pulls me out towards stuff that other people, the writers of the books I'm taking notes on, are more connected to than I am but they do a good enough job of saying what their connections to it are that the things I'm reading become suggestive to me of things that I didn't know that they make available. And then that gives me a sense that there's less I've failed to address, and therefore maybe I've been brought to a position (with their help) of being able to find a phrase that lets me move from this point, in where I am with the poem I'm writing, further along.
[00:45:00]
mcmichael227
DB: How do you choose the books that you're reading?
mcmichael228
JM: The disciplines that I've gone back to more and more than any others are philosophy, theology, history, psychology, sociology, anthropology. And one or other of those will seem like it's more pertinent, depending on where I am, in the process
mcmichael229
So, I'm on Amazon a lot, truck stops in front of the house fairly frequently, and I'm helped enormously by the succession of books that turn up at the door that I have the time to indulge myself with.
mcmichael230
DB: Great!
mcmichael231
So, you mentioned Amazon. Are you using the recommendations that Amazon provides you, or are you finding a book from another book?
mcmichael232
JM: I'm usually finding a book from another book. They do send me the monthly things--"Here's my list," and I go through it but I'm usually ahead of them.
mcmichael233
DB: OK, that's good.
mcmichael234
Most people are not ahead of them ...
mcmichael235
JM: But they're not bad at it.
mcmichael236
DB: Oh, no. They've got pretty powerful algorithms.
mcmichael237
JM: It's their job.
mcmichael238
DB: Yes, it's what they do
mcmichael239
So, going back, you said... Then, so every book except this last book was composed in long-hand and on a typewriter.
mcmichael240
JM: Yes
mcmichael241
DB: What's the change then for this final—the last book here?
mcmichael242
JM: There was, as I said before, a surprise that I wasn't at all missing the typing—the typing stage probably because it was all typing. So, it was as if... That's what's happened with this machine—was the long-hand and the typing just coalesced and because the same activity. I don't feel that it made any of it any quicker. I mean, it probably did, but that wasn't the sense I had of it. It was less cumbersome because it's sitting here and I put it over here, and all that. But it seemed like it was very easy transition—I don't miss the typewriter, which I loved, you know? But I don't miss it—I think it's in my storage space about 2 miles away from here.
0:48:00
mcmichael243
So, it couldn't have been an easier shift from that technology to this one, I don't think.
mcmichael244
DB: Just to clarify for myself—are you still doing the long-hand composition, or is all of that work now happening on the computer?
mcmichael245
JM: It's all happening here [on the computer] except when I don't take the computer with me, say, to Idaho then I will (50:00) work in long-hand. So, I'll print out whatever it is of whatever I have working on and I take that printed copy with me. Then, I'll just work long-hand with it, leaving the computer here. Then, I'll be back in 3 weeks, or something like that, and then re-incorporate it into what I've got here in my files.
[00:50:00]
mcmichael246
DB: OK
0:50:13
mcmichael247
One thing, I guess, I might... So, in the composition stage, do you still do like strikethroughs in that?
mcmichael248
JM: Yeah. I work pretty much the way I've worked before.
mcmichael249
DB: You just transferred those processes on the computer?
mcmichael250
JM: Yes
mcmichael251
DB: Did it take some time to figure how to do that--?
mcmichael252
JM: No
mcmichael253
DB: --or was it fairly intuitive?
mcmichael254
JM: Yeah
mcmichael255
And I guess... I mean.... Then another aspect of it is letters that I write here. So, I'm doing whatever revision I do of the emails I send right here on this. In that way, this makes it a little more personal. I can't remember how it was like to write a letter to somebody. It wasn't one of these, and I understand that letters you post aren't any more invasive than something you send here [on the computer]. But I love how non-invasive this [the computer] is as a medium—not so much in terms of my being protected against being invaded by somebody else, but being able to say something (send somebody something here [on the computer]) and understand that they can open it when they want, and that it's not an imposition on them.
mcmichael256
DB: So explain that a little bit. The non-invasive part—do you feel like the letter was a more invasive...?
mcmichael257
JM: No, I think it'd probably wasn't but it took more trouble to write it, and post it, and 32 cents, or whatever it costs (whatever a letter cost to send before I started doing this). Then I have a friend who's a lifer. He doesn't have a computer, so, it's with Robby that I correspond by snail mail.
mcmichael258
DB: Yeah
mcmichael259
And do those feel different now? I mean, is it sort of a more difficult to get up, to write that letter?
mcmichael260
JM: Yes. Yes, it is. And I wind up writing it here and printing it out, and signing it, and putting it in the mail. Then his letters to me are all in long-hand.
mcmichael261
DB: I guess, in keeping with this latest work, when you went back to revise the poems, that was a fairly similar process, too?
mcmichael262
JM: I think it was exactly.
mcmichael263
DB: Exactly the same?
mcmichael264
JM: Yeah
mcmichael265
DB: OK
mcmichael266
DB: And then kind of a general question about your revision process, and this is one that I kind of... And this is a little bit repetitive. So, are the revisions driven by sound, by meaning, by theme, by structure? Are these all kind of intertwining?
0:52:45
mcmichael267
JM: I think they are.
mcmichael268
DB: OK
mcmichael269
JM: You know, it has to be—it just has to be. What can your ear bear here? And if it can bear it, is it saying what it has to be saying?
mcmichael270
DB: So, that's kind of step 1 and step 2 for your revisions?
mcmichael271
JM: Yeah, and they're probably inseparable.
mcmichael272
DB: Right, right
mcmichael273
Do other people play a process in your revisions or in your working?
mcmichael274
JM: Yes, they do.
mcmichael275
DB: OK, how so?
mcmichael276
JM: I'll send then drafts and get responses from them that are almost always helpful. And they're helpful in terms less of my being able to meet what they might have preferred to having what they've said to me help me prefer what happens once I make the revisions.
mcmichael277
DB: OK, and have those people stayed the same throughout your career, or they've changed somewhat?
mcmichael278
JM: They've... Yeah, there've been a couple who are new in the last 4 or 5 years on this most recent books—colleagues.
mcmichael279
DB: And how will that process work? Will you now email them a section whereas before you might send them a letter with the section, or...?
mcmichael280
JM: Yeah, it's easier. This makes it a lot easier to do and (55:00) then, of course, I get work from other people in this form, too, and I like that. I've liked it... I mean, I haven't taught now for a year and a half, but I've really liked the way the computer makes it possible to re-lineate poems that I've gotten from students—just to give them a sense of how I hear what they're doing with the lines. It's been a help. It's been a help to me. I haven't seen much evidence that it means anything at all to them.
[00:55:00]
mcmichael281
DB: No, I can tell you from experience. It's a lesson--it's a valuable lesson.
mcmichael282
JM: Oh, good
mcmichael283
DB: Definitely!
mcmichael284
JM: Well, you may be the only one.
mcmichael285
DB: Sometimes it's difficult in the lessons learned but definitely valuable.
mcmichael286
[OK, let me look at this for one second. Do you want to take a break by any chance?]
mcmichael287
JM: [I'm fine. Now you want to take a break!]
mcmichael288
DB: [She's tired of these questions]
mcmichael289
DB: So, how did you keep track of all these things? I mean, I guess, with the computer if fairly... You have one file with all of them in it?
0:56:19
mcmichael290
JM: Yes
mcmichael291
DB: And before that, did you just have them in a binder, or...?
mcmichael292
JM: Just loose pages probably.
mcmichael293
DB: Just loose pages.
mcmichael294
JM: With a clip probably.
mcmichael295
DB: OK, and with that... As you got the manuscript more towards where you wanted, that would just grow bigger and bigger?
mcmichael296
JM: Yeah
mcmichael297
DB: So, it's a fairly easy way to do that.
mcmichael298
JM: Yeah
mcmichael299
DB: So it wasn't like some of the other writers, like they have these special notebooks; they have kind of like a process where they move from notebook to this, to this? That wasn't...?
mcmichael300
JM: No
mcmichael301
DB: That part of the writing was never that...?
mcmichael302
JM: No
mcmichael303
DB: And those files and that sort of ephemera, it's never....It doesn't seem that it was that dear to you?
0:57:25
mcmichael304
JM: No
mcmichael305
DB: And it's still not?
mcmichael306
JM: No
mcmichael307
DB: OK
mcmichael308
Do you know... Have you ever thought why?
mcmichael309
JM: All I care about is the product--that's all I care about.
mcmichael310
DB: And when do you... What do you consider the product?
mcmichael311
JM: The poem that I can't make any better.
mcmichael312
DB: OK
mcmichael313
Do you... I guess, in the same way in the computer? How do you feel about computer files? Do you try to... Do you have much sort of sense of trying to maintain them and keep them, or are they just sort of means to getting it to that point?
mcmichael314
JM: They're the Work In Progress. At the most recent stage, if I'm going to get on an airplane I'll send what I've got on the book as a whole to a couple of people. They'll understand why I did it. So, that would be one of the later things that I would do before I got on the car to take us to the airport.
mcmichael315
DB: OK, yeah
mcmichael316
JM: It's egomaniacal, you know, in its way.
mcmichael317
DB: Yeah
mcmichael318
But, I mean, it's also your work.
mcmichael319
JM: It's my work.
mcmichael320
DB: Yeah
mcmichael321
So, the product (the poem)—where does it exist? Is it in the book? Is it in the printed out page? I mean, I know you're very strong proponent of the aural poem... I guess that's sort of a larger question, but where is it?
mcmichael322
JM: I guess it's in the book.
mcmichael323
DB: It's in the book?
mcmichael324
JM: Yeah
mcmichael325
DB: OK
mcmichael326
JM: And I would want form, which in my case is the line and the stanza, to instruct a reader of that book on how I hear the phrases and the sentences.
mcmichael327
DB: Right, right
mcmichael328
Do you ever record yourself doing this? Have you ever like recorded yourself reading a book, or has anybody ever asked you to do that?
mcmichael329
JM: I did read... Somebody recorded All of Capacity. Matt Nelson did it. Some years ago, I was asked to do some for one of those New York poetry societies, or... I can't remember what the others are, but I did. I have recorded some things. I've liked doing it, but it's only been when somebody's asked me for a recording.
mcmichael330
(1:00:00)
[01:00:00]
mcmichael331
DB: I think that would be a valuable thing.
mcmichael332
[Let me just look through these. I think, we've gone... We've actually organically answered some of these questions I have, so that's nice.]
mcmichael333
DB: This is a little off, but has the internet changed the way that you do any of this process? Has the kind of availability of all these extra information allowed you to maybe find books, or find ideas and research online in a way that changed anything for your writing?
1:00:22
mcmichael334
JM: I'm so bad at this that Amazon has like been the only resource that I've been helped by. I'm sure there's lots else there, but it hasn't served me. I'll google some things but not much.
mcmichael335
DB: Not much
mcmichael336
Do you... I mean, why do you feel like you're bad at it, I guess, is a question. Is it something... But it's something that... I mean, is it something that you feel like kind of naturally, inherently, bad at, or...?
mcmichael337
JM: Yes, I feel naturally, inherently bad at it.
mcmichael338
DB: And at the times that you have sort of attempted to teach yourself, it's just not something that come naturally, and not something that you've needed?
mcmichael339
JM: I think, yeah. I think if I had needed it more I'd probably would've availed myself of it more and taught myself how to do it. I guess, yeah—I haven't felt the need of it.
mcmichael340
DB: Yeah, yeah
mcmichael341
Again, where do your files and folders kind of reside on your computer? Are they... Do you have like a folder for that book with all the drafts, or is it just one document?
mcmichael342
JM: Just one document.
mcmichael343
DB: Just one document.
mcmichael344
JM: Just the most recent.
mcmichael345
DB: OK, and that's how it works for almost everything?
mcmichael346
JM: Yes
mcmichael347
DB: OK
mcmichael348
JM: And I think that would be related to what you probably remember—if I'm seeing students revisions, I'm interested in the one that they feel is the strongest, and I'm not going to compare it to earlier things. I wouldn't want... I want them to be making that call, and that's what I want them to hear from me back about.
mcmichael349
DB: Right, right
mcmichael350
DB: How do you... I mean, you've sort of spoken about this in describing your earlier practices. How did you get that acumen in sort of being able to tell? I mean, it's just...
1:01:51
mcmichael351
JM: I don't know. Just listening to a lot of great, great music, I think. I mean, that would make more sense to me than anything else.
mcmichael352
DB: Hmm...
mcmichael353
OK, and what was the... Is there a progression of music that you listen to ever?
mcmichael354
JM: Yes, yes
mcmichael355
DB: Can you talk a little bit about that?
mcmichael356
JM: I think I was helped immeasurably by what I listened to when I was 12 and 13 just in a really bad way, and that was first jazz from the early '50s that got to be more and more exclusively black jazz, or black musicians. And that got me through high school, and then I had other things to do once I went to college. It kind of was suspended pretty much all the way through my undergraduate work, and my graduate work, then it came back once I had the job here.
mcmichael357
So, in the late '60s, it was the popular music—rock mostly—and The Stones and Hendrix were kind of at the top of that list. Then Hendrix was dead and The Stones weren't what they had been. At that point, I had a need for music that got to me, and there wasn't any more of it coming from jazz or rock, so then I started learning classical, learning the literature of
mcmichael358
(1:05:00) classical music, and it's had hold of me since November of 1973. You know, I feel that it's trained my ear to be what it is. I don't know how it's done that but it's been elemental to me.
[01:05:00]
mcmichael359
DB: Did you take any formal education?
mcmichael360
JM: No, no
mcmichael361
DB: Just listening?
mcmichael362
JM: I just listened.
mcmichael363
DB: And where would you find... How would you find new things? What was your progress there?
mcmichael364
JM: From composers and from artists both. So, going at it both ways
mcmichael365
DB: Yeah
mcmichael366
Have there been particular composers, or artists, at times that you listen to more? I mean like is there... Does it move forward, or...?
mcmichael367
JM: It's been Mahler and Beethoven at the top, and then Brahms and Bach. Loads of others but Mahler and Beethoven most of all.
mcmichael368
DB: I mean, you based one of your stanzaic forms on the... Who was it? Was it—
1:06:10
mcmichael369
JM: Well, Schoenberg, whom I'm not that crazy about but the 12-tone system suggested to me a stanzaic progression in which if I've got (as I had in the two most recent books) 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 line stanzas—the 12-tone system in which he would not come back to a note until he had used the other eleven [on the] scale suggested to me a form in which I would not interrupt the progression of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 until I'd exhausted all of those five. And then I would begin the next sequence with another number and try to have that second sequence be as varied from the first as I could be, and then continue that all the way through.
mcmichael370
That's not to say that I wouldn't wind up having a 3, 2, 1, 4, 5 sequence somewhere else in the poem, but I'd want it to be removed by several other sequences.
mcmichael371
DB: Right
mcmichael372
JM: So, variety is one of the models but that was the form.
mcmichael373
DB: And how did you... Did you pick that up by listening, or was that from a reading? I mean, are you reading about this as well, or...?
mcmichael374
JM: No. I mean, I just knew what the 12-tone system was and knew no more about it than that.
mcmichael375
DB: OK, but it—
mcmichael376
JM: It's just in one sentence thing. So that suggested itself to me. I began it with a poem I wrote about Greenland called "T"he World At Large." There, I was working with 1, 2, 3, and 4—I stopped at 4 there. And then the next time, I was in to Capacity. In that book, I added a 5-line stanza.
mcmichael377
DB: Capacious stanza.
mcmichael378
JM: It was more capacious.
mcmichael379
DB: Great!
mcmichael380
JM: I would say, too, that when I think back about moving from the late '60s when I was writing poems I didn't like, weren't very good, into the early '70s, I think there's a non-accidental relationship between the forms I was working with having been as short as a 3-minute take and a sonata form, or a scherzo trio form, or an adagio, or something like that that the lengths of it (the units I was working on ) got larger when I was listening to pieces of music that were 8-9 minutes to ½ an hour long.
1:08:35
mcmichael381
DB: Right, that makes a lot of sense.
mcmichael382
And you're listening to this classical piece. Was it a very active listening? I mean, is it usually like you're alone with the music? Is it a head-... Do you listen to it on
mcmichael383
(01:10:00) headphones?
[01:10:00]
mcmichael384
JM: Both
mcmichael385
DB: Both
mcmichael386
JM: A lot of it. You know, I spend a lot of time with it.
mcmichael387
DB: Yeah, and are you ever writing while that's on?
mcmichael388
JM: No
mcmichael389
DB: You give the attention to the music?
mcmichael390
JM: Yeah
mcmichael391
DB: OK, and that's still a part of your process now?
mcmichael392
JM: Yeah
mcmichael393
DB: That's fascinating!
mcmichael394
DB: OK, I have a little bit, a few more questions—a little bit on teaching—and then just kind of the blunt ending questions.
1:10:32
mcmichael395
You just speak about this with the computer kind of changing your relationship with your students. You can kind of rely in their poems to show them how you hear them. Is there any other ways that you've seen this computer sort of age adjusting, or affecting, your teaching and working with students?
mcmichael396
JM: I don't think so. It's made it all more efficient in terms of not having to go to the mailbox to get the copies, but to just come here and here's their poems. I like that. I think they like it, too.
mcmichael397
DB: Right, right
mcmichael398
Do you see, in your later students, that there's like an increased technological or cultural understanding that affected their work, or...?
mcmichael399
JM: No
mcmichael400
DB: [inaudible 01:11:26]
mcmichael401
That's fine with me.
mcmichael402
JM: I mean, except that I think there's a probably a proclivity for exotic words that they trust Google will help you with. I think that's happened.
mcmichael403
DB: Yeah, yeah
mcmichael404
JM: I don't... That's not necessarily a gain, but it's not terrible either.
mcmichael405
DB: Yeah, yeah. No, that's not bad.
mcmichael406
So, I guess, I just have like the kind of blunt questions. I mean, this sort of the frame of my thing (of my study) is - what changes happened with this rise of personal computer. I mean, for you, it seems like maybe not that many. Do you have any opinions on kind of how...? Is there a change in feel, change in structure, or...?
mcmichael407
JM: I like what's personal about this medium in that way that I've described already. I like the contact this machine gives me with people. I feel it's certainly more immediate. I think it's increased the contact that I have with people who are spread around the world. It's been more important to me since I don't go in to school and run in to people that I have conversations with. And I like the fact that it's this keyboard that connects me with them, and this keyboard that connects me with strangers who might read my poems. I like that about this—a lot. I like it a lot. I like it all the more now that when the phone rings, 90% of the time (even though I've asked not to be called by telemarketers) it's telemarketers.
mcmichael408
DB: Yeah, because most of your conversations that are important now are on the computer.
mcmichael409
JM: Yeah
mcmichael410
DB: And then, I guess, has that changed the poems? Has that--?
mcmichael411
JM: I don't think so.
mcmichael412
DB: No, OK
mcmichael413
JM: But I can't know that. I mean, it might well have.
mcmichael414
DB: I mean, it's interesting to me. I guess just thinking of the Ulysses class, and just like thinking about that connection with people with being so integral to thinking about that book and about what you were talking about. And I wanted—
mcmichael415
JM: My favorite class, ever.
mcmichael416
DB: That was a great class.
mcmichael417
JM: I mean, just by miles and miles.
mcmichael418
DB: Good, good. I'm glad I was in it.
mcmichael419
JM: I'm glad you were, too.
mcmichael420
DB: I think... I guess... But I mentioned... I mean, it is in a sense a very good democratic object—
mcmichael421
JM: It is.
mcmichael422
DB: --and I guess I can see your relationship to it in that way. And I guess, it would be left for others to comment how that may have broached this.
mcmichael423
OK, well thank you very much, Jim.
mcmichael424
JM: Oh, it's been so good.
mcmichael425
DB: That's great!
mcmichael426
JM: You're so good at this. You really are.
wrigley1
Devin Becker: Let's make this kind of official. Would you please state your name, your date of birth, and the location where we are for the camera?
wrigley2
Robert Wrigley: I am Robert Wrigley. I was born February 27, 1951. We are sitting in my little studio building, which is called "Stanza," one of the two Italian words—the lesser Italian word—for "room," on Moscow Mountain, not far...well, 6 miles north of Moscow, Idaho.
wrigley3
DB: And how long have you been writing in this spot?
wrigley4
RW: I built this building in 2002. So, 11 years in this space.
wrigley5
DB: So, here are the sort of quick and dirty questions. What genres do you work in?
wrigley6
RW: Poetry almost exclusively. Every now and then I'm sort forced to commit prose, like a craft lecture or something, and I've got a bunch of those that some day, people keep telling me, I should make a book out of. But mostly I'm just not interested. I'd rather write poems.
wrigley7
DB: What kind of devices do you own or have access to for your writing?
wrigley8
RW: Meaning electronic devices?
wrigley9
DB: Either or.
wrigley10
RW: Most fundamentally, of course, is the computer. I have one laptop. That's my private computer, which sometimes I compose on. Always I compose prose on the computer. I can't imagine being a prose writer and writing in long hand, but some people do. Beyond that, I have pencils and pens and note books.
wrigley11
DB: Okay. What's your operating system, what type of device do you use?
wrigley12
RW: I have a Mac. What is it, a Macbook Air? And I no longer have an external hard drive. Back when I had a PC I had an external hard drive where I backed up everything from the hard drive of the computer onto an external drive. Now, I put things into the cloud, the iCloud. I back stuff up on Mozy just to keep track. Theoretically, at least, I've never had to go retrieve anything. But, theoretically, it's "safe" out there.
wrigley13
DB: Yeah, that is definitely some of the questions. Do you work on a device at the university at all or is it just the one device? Do you ever move things from one device to the other?
wrigley14
RW: No. I try to keep what I write—the poems themselves—away from university machines, just because the university owns the machine and I really don't want anything that I own on that university machine.
wrigley15
DB: How do you save your pre-writing or your notes?
[00:02:53]
wrigley16
RW: I print off a lot of things. There's a pile of drafts back here that in fact need to be moved to a box, but I haven't brought the new box up from the house. Usually, a box will take two years to fill and then it goes into storage in the basement until somebody offers me enough money for it. And then they can have all the boxes.
wrigley17
DB: All the boxes. Do you save the drafts of your individual works as you go along or do you save it as one poem or do you put them all together or do you save over?
wrigley18
RW: I don't put them all together. It seems to me that it would probably be a good idea to do something like that, and if I were to do something like that, if someone comes along and wants my papers, they would be a lot happier if I had them organized in some way. But basically, the pile—which is not very evenly stacked—is pretty much the way they go into the box. So I will work on a poem, print off a draft, put a date on it and the number. I'm just pulling the one off the top—this is a little draft of a poem called "Goodbye to the River" which I have no memory of. But this draft was composed on the 15th of October 2013, and it's draft number two. So, I do have a sort of—
wrigley19
DB: So you do have a system.
wrigley20
RW: I do have a system. And I suppose if someone were really interested and would go through the boxes, which ultimately have a year on them—or a period of years on them if it takes me awhile to fill one—someone could go through and actually find the poems under certain title and put them in order, in the order in which they came into being. Although sometimes I change tittles, so I don't know what that does to the—
wrigley21
DB: The poor future researcher that has to—
wrigley22
RW: Well, it will keep said researcher, should he or she ever exist, busy.
wrigley23
DB: Yes.
wrigley24
RW: Well through tenure.
wrigley25
DB: Yeah. So you were just saying you back up your work by using a Mozy folder, which backs up your work to the server and all your poems are in one location. How do you save a work that's been published? Do you put it in a different place?
[00:05:00]
wrigley26
RW: I do. I have this which is sort of the in-process folder—a little "thesis binder," they're called at Harvard. In the back go all the poems that have been published with the name of the magazine on it and in front are the ones that are still in progress.
wrigley27
DB: This is sort of a general question. Have you ever received or sought out information about methods for kind of "best practices" for digital archiving?
wrigley28
RW: I never have, and probably I should. I talked to Daniel Orozco a lot who is so frightened of losing things that he backs everything up on a jump drive. I think maybe two; he uses Mozy, he uses one other backup service as well, prints things. He's anal all about it and I can't really blame him. He's a prose writer, though they lose... you lose a file there, you could lose hundreds of pages.
wrigley29
DB: Right. I think that was one of the interesting things we saw was that there were a lot of—not, maybe, to Orozco's extent, but—people who would do that. But then the issue becomes, for them, a lot of times, what's what and which version is which and the kind of mess of that. I mean, you think your files will be difficult, but his files will be...because there is not a date on them, there is no handwriting, there is no indication this is...it's going to be kind of like, "What?"
wrigley30
RW: You know how when you save something in, say, Microsoft Word? When you save it it gives you a date, but then you resave it, you modify it, you resave it and it's completely new dates, so the old date goes away. I found that I couldn't rely on that at all. I had to put a pencil date or a pen date on the corner of the draft just so I knew which was which and when was what. And I think that's important. I don't know that that's important. Whereas, in the notebook, it starts with a date and every page is dated, so I know exactly. I can go back into the notebooks, which I do with some regularity, just to sift-through and see if I missed anything. If there is some piece that I might resurrect and make use of, I know exactly when I first put it down.
wrigley31
DB: Ok. That was sort of the precursor, although basically the same questions are coming back, but this is going to be kind of more overarching on your practice over time. How long have you been writing professionally, in which I mean something that was sort of either your main focus or something that was supporting you financially?
[00:07:53]
wrigley32
RW: Really, I guess I would say since 1972, which is when I was in fact an undergraduate student. I got discharged from the army in 1971, got drafted, went back to college, and within a matter of a few months was waylaid by poetry. I didn't want to be a poet. I didn't really have a whole lot of use for poetry. I took the class on a kind of lark, thinking how hard can it be? It doesn't have go very far across the page, and from what I could tell, it doesn't have to rhyme anymore. You don't have to have any kind of regular meter. As far as I could tell, most people couldn't figure out what it meant anyway, so I can do that. I can get three credits that way. I walked into the class and I got absolutely waylaid, and that was 1972, which was 41 years ago.
wrigley33
DB: Where was that?
wrigley34
RW: Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
wrigley35
DB: Who was your first professor?
wrigley36
RW: My first poetry professor was a man by the name of Clyde Fixmer, who is still alive, pushing 80, was really kind of a failed poet. I'd never want him to hear me say that, of course, but he's published I think two or three books and they've all been self-published. He never really had the belly for the getting out into the—I don't know what else do you call it—the marketplace; the literary world. He couldn't bare rejection. And I figured out early on, and as far as I knew it for a long time, rejection was, like...that's what happened.
wrigley37
Although, the first poem I ever sent out got accepted. The first batch of poems I ever sent out, I got something accepted. I got, like, hooked on that part of it too. But publication, as you know, publication is not the same thing as writing. They may be almost entirely unrelated.
wrigley38
DB: Yes. That kind of gets us started. The next question is sort of, like, could you give a sort of general description of the arc of your career starting with this portion versus the next? Let me go push this one more time.
wrigley39
RW: Does it automatically take pictures? Or—
wrigley40
DB: No. This is recording. I'm going to do it twice. It just stops because it fills up really fast. It's a higher resolution thing, and then this one is definitely... So to get back to the sort of the general, the large arc of your career, and how that's kind of taken you through the scenes.
wrigley41
RW: I'm a product of the creative writing industry. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write novels. I wanted to write novels that sold a lot of copies, made me a lot of money. I wanted to live in the South of France. I'm serious about this, Devin—you have to believe me—as serious as a 21-year old could have been. I wanted drive in Aston Martin and live in the South of France and date super models; it seemed like a perfectly appropriate and maybe even attainable career goal. I was an idiot, I didn't know anything.
wrigley42
But then I got waylaid by poetry, and I think that I discovered or realized that whatever sort of disposition I have is suited to poetry and not so much to prose, and certainly not to fiction. I have, in fact, published a couple of short stories, years ago—25 years ago I think was the most recent one—but they never made me happy, not like writing a poem did. Anyway, I got way laid and got real keen on poetry and began haunting the library of my alma mater in the department of the skinny books.
wrigley43
I looked into graduate school and discovered there was this degree called Master of Fine Arts, in which there were 11 programs in the country that offered that degree in 1972, I think, and one in Canada, and applied to a number of programs, wound up going to Montana, fell in love with living in this part of the world and really have never stopped in terms of writing nor of living in this part of the world. So, I got kind of waylaid by geography and poetry simultaneously. The arc of my career aesthetically is a completely other kind of thing.
wrigley44
DB: This is more of just sort of like place, person, kind of general overview of where you were, what happened.
wrigley45
RW: When I went to Montana I got to study with Madeline DeFrees, John Hansen, and probably most famously, Richard Hugo. Dick Hugo and Madeline DeFrees, particularly, were just enormously important to me in terms of the craft of the poetry and I don't think my notion of the line is, for me, separable from what I learned from, say, Madeline DeFrees. Dick was a completely other kind of teacher, but a magnificent teacher. He could make you see what you were doing right and what you were doing wrong with a phrase. And that was a great thing.
wrigley46
DB: So you went from Montana and then where did you go next? It was LCSC? Or—
[00:14:25]
wrigley47
RW: I went back to my alma mater where I was an adjunct for a year and applied for jobs as close to Missoula, Montana as I could find. The first job that I got was down at LCSC in 1977. I was sabbatical replacement for a year, but they loved me and tried immediately make a tenure track position for me, which they offered me and I turned down, because I had an NEA and I didn't want a job. But I wound up working, teaching a couple of classes for that year and then I started tenure track on a job that was really kind of...that I held for 22 years, that was not a great job for a poet because the teaching load was 4-4 for a long time. And then, somehow, I convinced them that I should have a 3-3 load, and then, ultimately, Kim and I split the job and each taught 2-2. And that was fine. That was great. But then the position opened up here, and the only other place I was really interested or would have been interested in going would have been Montana. But I love Moscow and I love Idaho, and I have been there for a long time. So when this job came along, I snapped it up.
wrigley48
DB: In what year was that?
wrigley49
RW: 1999 was my first year at U of I.
wrigley50
DB: How long had the MFA program been here?
wrigley51
RW: I think it was three years old then. I think ‘96 was the first year they admitted students, maybe ‘97. I can't remember now. So it's still a pretty young program, really.
wrigley52
DB: You have been here for...?
wrigley53
RW: For most of it.
wrigley54
DB: Most of it, yeah. So, you've been here since then, basically in the same position, same job, and over this time you've written... Can you kind of talk about... You've written, like, seven books?
wrigley55
RW: Let's see—‘99, the year I was hired, I published Reign of Snakes. The year I was hired here, I published Reign of Snakes. So, since Reign of Snakes, although it was written while I was teaching at LC, I've published Reign of Snakes, Lives of the Animals, Earthly Meditations, Beautiful Country and now Anatomy of Melancholy. Five books since I've been at U of I.
wrigley56
DB: Okay. That's sort of the general overview, and then I'd like to kind of start about your writing process, generally. I've got it kind of broken into three portions; one being kind of the compositional spot, like pre-writing, notes, kind of the development of the work into its first draft. And then the next being sort of revisional, like "How do you revise?," etcetera. We'll talk, and that will be kind of the next thing. And then the third process being the organizational archival. If that doesn't make sense with your writing process, we can talk about it differently. That's just how I've them set up here.
[00:16:58]
wrigley57
RW: We'll see how it goes. It sounds fine to me.
wrigley58
DB: Okay. So when you first started writing, when you were first, maybe, in Montana, and in the first stages of your career, how did go about writing a poem? How did you get the idea? How did you pre-write? Did you draft, etcetera? That's sort of my first question.
wrigley59
RW: I've always—and I don't know where—I have piles of them... These little fellows, these Moleskine. However one pronounces that, I can never tell. I probably have 250 of these piled somewhere. I think they're in a box in the house, and they're just the places where, when I get an idea or an image occurs to me, or a phrase, or I see some phrase, I make a note. I make that first note, so that when I come out here or wherever I go, wherever it was I was happily doing the writing, anywhere along the way, which is sometimes at a kitchen table, you never knew... Back years ago, I didn't have a space to write it.
[00:18:00]
wrigley60
I had this, one of the most recent couple of these, to just consult, just to sort of trip on the switch. Sometimes though, you exhaust those things or nothing in the little notebook interests me, so I just come out, and that's why there is this pile of books here on the futon. They were all books I've pulled down—well, there's a little pile that I brought back from Italy. Not Italy; England. I'll just come out and I'll look at the shelves and pull a book off the shelves, almost at random. Sometimes I have no idea what book it is I'm reaching for, it's just something about the color that will appeal to me and I'll open it up, thumb through it, look for a poem or look for a word, a title, a phrase—anything that just turns on a switch that just gets me started. Mostly it has always seemed to me that the only way I can get started is to just start putting words on paper, so that's what when I turn to this notebook. It seems far less effective to me to sit down at the computer and try to begin composing when I don't have anything in particular on my mind. Whereas in the notebook itself, I can doodle. I can write a phrase. I can just sort of noodle around, you know, the way a musician would noodle around with a musical phrase, to see where it leads me. I've always believed that writing begets writing. The more I noodle around, something eventually is going to interest me. Something eventually is going to find a way to connect with the next thing, the next word, the next phrase, or a kind of move toward an idea. I hate using the word "idea," though, talking about poems, because people always ask things like—and they tend to be people who have never really written before, or who are at the beginning of trying to write—they'll say, "Where do you get your ideas for poems?" I always want to say, "What ideas? Where?" Because they tend not to come from ideas, they tend to come from words or phrases or images or something I've seen outside the window. That's why...who was it? Ed Hirsch came out here. I showed him my space. He sat at the desk and said, "I couldn't write here. All I'd do is look out the window." Well, it's true, I spend a lot of time looking out the window, but that's just my way of inviting what was outside into the poems. Those kinds of things are what occur to me as language. Somehow, the lens of the writing studio, the lens that is my eyes and imagination and language can convert what it is I see into some kind of a phrase that's useful and I can build with.
wrigley61
DB: Okay. You move from the Moleskine notebooks into this notebook. Could you describe what the notebook is?
wrigley62
RW: Yeah. What do they call these? This is the "Gemstone Collection" and this is mostly what I've been using for the last 20 years. I was teaching at the University of Oregon for a year and the graduate students bought me one of these, and I loved it so much that I've been buying these ever since. That's when I really start getting movement toward a poem to happen, and it used to be, as I said, whole poems would happen in those notebooks. Now, it can be a stanza, it can be 20, 30, or 50 lines, if it's a longer thing.
wrigley63
When I'll get impatient with the sort of the slowness of the process writing—I always write in pencil—I'll go to the computer. Or, I'll get stopped. I won't know where to go. I mean, you know what this is like. You're just, "What's the next thing that happens in this poem? I don't know." Somehow converting the hand written text to text on the computer screen—and it was with a typewriter, even before—can allow you to see things about its structure or about its movement that you might not have seen while you were in the midst of it. It's almost like the handwriting became something that swallowed me and I had to escape from the handwriting and put things down on the computer screen, let's say, in order to have some sense of what might come next.
wrigley64
DB: Before you were using the computer, you were using the typewriter in a similar manner?
[00:23:23]
wrigley65
RW: Yeah. I had an IBM Selectric. I guess even before that, I had some other kind of electric typewriter. I would type it up as far as I could go and then wait and see what would happen. Usually what that meant was that I'd take the poem out of the typewriter, as far as it went, and write it back down long hand in the note book but it would look different. It shaped it differently. Because looking at it on the screen gives it the appearance more of a kind of permanence, which is dangerous, I think. It would have been dangerous for me in the beginning, I think, to compose on a word processor or a typewriter because it might have given me this inclination toward a particular kind of structure that in fact would not have been as interesting or as evocative to me.
wrigley66
Now, I'm perfectly comfortable just looking at lines on the computer screen and saying, "Wait a minute, why are these lines the way they are?" And I am a compulsive syllable counter, even if, ultimately, in revisions, I wind up excising syllables or adding syllables. I like, composing say, a decasyllabic just to force me into manipulating syntax, to keep the right margin mattering, and somehow finding that way of moving the poem down the page.
wrigley67
DB: First question is when did you start using a computer to do these things? Secondly, was there anything that changed when you moved from typewriter to a computer? Was there a different feeling or a different sort of—? I mean you've said a little bit about this.
wrigley68
RW: Yeah. I think that in the beginning, and this probably would have been, let's see... I got my first computer in the Fall of 1995. This is the sort of computer that had a—which I still have; it still works—a Compaq, a little tiny "laptop," as we called them then, that had a minimal hard drive. I think I nearly filled it up. But I think I kind of used it, really, as just a sort of glorified typewriter with a little screen. It is black and white screen and there was nothing special as a piece of technology. I used it as a not so special piece of technology, kind of like a typewriter except that you can save it and go back to it, and find it just the way you left it and not have to type it completely in or not have to go from the typing sheet back to the notebook.
wrigley69
There is a kind of step that gets left out. That was the first time I started leaving out the step of writing by hand then going to the computer and then going back to the typewriter, then going back from type-written sheet to long hand. In a way I suppose the best thing I could have, the thing I thought was best about that part of the process, when the computer came along, was that it saved time. I could immediately just look at it on the screen, go back to longhand and then add what I had written in longhand onto whatever I had already saved on the computer.
wrigley70
But it kept me from writing everything back down and for a long time, I wondered about, "What I'm I missing there? What might I have not seen that I would have seen if I had been writing in longhand?" I used to say things like, "The reason I keep writing longhand or printing actually, I print the stuff, is that it allows me to feel the shapes of the letters themselves." It allows you to dispense words incrementally and syllables, not that the typewriter or the computer is any different except that it is. You sort of hear the syllables more when you are writing it out longhand and you certainly feel them more when you are writing longhand.
wrigley71
Eventually, I began to see that and I think Kim was part of what helped me see that. She just said, "That's just silly. Why would that really change anything?" You know, you're right. It doesn't change much of anything. I began to be a whole lot more comfortable then with just moving from—in sort of one fell swoop—from the handwritten text, to the text on the computer, which I would then print out and then do extensive revisions on. Arrows, things crossed out—that sort of thing. Whole sections crossed out.
wrigley72
DB: Okay. I guess we can kind of move into sort of talking about revision generally then. You are talking about how you do revision now in the computer and the differences between you moving back and forth more with the typewriter. I guess, what were your practices when you first started? How did you kind of learn how to revise?
[00:28:31]
wrigley73
RW: That's a really good question. I tell the students, the graduate students, because they hate to revise. I said, "You can't hate to revise, you have to love to revise because that's, like, most of the job." If you hate to revise, it's like hating writing, because that's what writing is. I like to tell them my own experience, which was that when in the beginning, as it were, I didn't realize it but I preferred to have written to writing. I really loved the finished product, or what I perceived as the finished product, which is to say, the "file" draft of the poem. That's the part I loved most.
wrigley74
Somewhere along the line, I began to prefer the process to the product because that's the place where all the excitement happens. That's the place where you surprise yourself. The process of revision is certainly made so much more fluid and swift with the computer than it ever could have been with writing longhand and then moving to the computer. It's so easy to drag and drop, to cut and paste with a computer that it is sort of staggering to try to remember what it was like getting together a book manuscript.
wrigley75
My first book manuscript that Penguin published, that was all typed on a typewriter without page numbers, which are then penciled in. I thought about winding it all in the typewriter, typing-in page numbers, but I thought, "This is insane, it'll drive me nuts." I had handwritten page numbers on it when I put together that book manuscript. And now of course it's just such a breeze that a computer will automatically do all that stuff for you. I don't think that it changes much about the way I compose, but there are some, I think... That is a big bug.
wrigley76
There are some great advantages about seeing it on the screen in the computer. There is a poem in Anatomy of Melancholy that is...let me find it. It's called "Earthquake Light." Let's see. It's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven...eight tercets. So, it's 24 lines. Originally, in the first draft of this poem, was the only draft of this poem that was in six quatrains. Not much was different about it. If you look at it, when it was divided into quatrains, more or less the same structure that it is now, the first quatrain ended with a period. That is to say the period at the end of what is now line one, stanza two. I looked at it on the page, on the computer screen for a long time before I realized that, "Wait a minute, I sort of liked the idea that the first quatrain ends with a period, which sort of establishes this undeniable hardness of the quatrain as a structural unit."
wrigley77
But then I thought to myself, "What happens if I break this into tercets because it the same number of lines. I can break it into a different number of tercets and still have the poem be comprised of the same number of lines." It changed everything about the poem, having that poem broken into tercets instead of quatrains. That was so easy to do and so easy to examine, to test, with a computer. Let me just backspace here, space here, return here—I just did that, looked at that: "Okay. Bingo!" That sort of thing I think is one of the great things that that part of the technology of the computer helps to facilitate. It allows you to see those possibilities. Shit, if I'd have had to completely retype the thing in tercets, would have I done it? Probably. I would have done it, but it would have been a much more arduous thing, and it might have not occurred to me simply because the little voice in my head would have said, "You don't want to type that again." That, I think, is one of the great things about the technology.
wrigley78
DB: I guess what sort of mode is your revision? There is a phrase in one of the books I'm reading: "What is your primary mode of textual change as an English woman?" She was sort of describing sort of T.S. Eliot versus Pound; T.S Eliot being the sort of subtractive and Pound being sort of creative and more and more... or there is also a sort of substitute sort of mode as well. Does one of those fit your mode or is it...?
[00:33:55]
wrigley79
RW: Oh, I'm subtractive. Absolutely. If she weren't so old and weren't taking care of my father 24/7, I would have my mother who always embroidered, embroider me a little sample that I can hang on the wall that says, "Cutting is virtue" because it is, and I think I may be part of the lineage of poets who sometimes can't shut up. I love Dryden, I love Pope but I can only take them for about 100, 200 lines of time and I got to go lie down because they just did not know when to be quiet. They did not know when to shut up and they needn't have to. Who I'm I to talk about them that way? Except for the fact that I look at—even in poems of Pope's—and think, "If this had been cut by about a third, it would just be a lot more friendly." It would just be a lot less boring quite honestly. It may not have been boring. It is not still boring to a lot of people, but I think it's one of the reasons that people like Pope probably aren't read—except by academics—as they once might have been, because there is just so much of it. Maybe being sort of in that lineage or of that sort that people tell me all the time, "You write long poems." No, I don't! The longest poem I've ever written has been like 400 lines—that's puny, but I've cut... The longest poem in Beautiful Country is 220 some odd lines, and it was 800 lines long in early draft. Most of those, I would print off a long draft and then just start cutting. And I cut 600 lines.
wrigley80
DB: Which poem is that?
wrigley81
RW: It's called "American Fear."
wrigley82
DB: Okay. When you are revising is there an intension behind the revision and along with that, are you revising towards... like is it driven by sound? Is it driven by theme? Is it driven by structure of the poem in general or by meaning?
wrigley83
RW: Certainly sound figures into it. Basically, I'll see or hear opportunities to let the poem go someplace else it might not have gone basically because I hear a particular sound that appeals to me or see the possibility of substituting a word in a subsequent line. It can pick up that sound. I call them "sound linkages." A lot of people do, I think Ellen Bryant Voigt was the first person I ever heard use that term. Sound is for me a compositional tool. I have something called the rule of the rhyme. When I make a sound that I particularly like or feel is evocative in a line, I want to make that sound again within the first three or four syllables of the subsequent line just to see where the poem goes, just to see where that sound takes me inside the poem. I forgot the original question, how the hell I got here.
wrigley84
DB: Is there an intention behind the revision or you just sort of follow?
wrigley85
RW: I think in sort of the most fundamental way I'm looking for clarity without clarity, but with a kind of evocative simplicity. I don't want poems to be boilable down to a kind of theme and I'm not interested in poems that can be said to be "about" something. Sure, they are about something, but what they are really about is something much more than that particular something. What I'm looking for is to get at that particular something, not so much the thing as the other thing. Tony Earley, the fiction, nonfiction writer talks about all great writing being about the thing and the other thing. It's the other thing that interests me a whole lot more than the thing. In the drafting process, I'm dealing with the thing. In the revision process, when I get seriously down to revision, I'm dealing with the other thing. How can I make what this poem is after? That "what" is frequently several different "whats". So, how can I make those things all work together?
wrigley86
DB: Has your relationship to that sort of idea changed over your course of writing or has it been somewhat constant in that? Like, once you heard him talk about it, you are like, "Oh right. That's what I've been doing."
wrigley87
RW: Hold on to say okay. Ask the question again?
wrigley88
DB: You are talking about the thing and the other thing. Is that something that once he said that to you, you sort of realized that's what you've been doing all along or is it something that you came to be practicing and before you were doing something else?
wrigley89
RW: I think it was something I've been doing all along without really having that sort of a simple way of explaining it or a simple way of seeing it. But I was always after that. I mean, I was interviewed by a young woman in Scotland who asked me if I could talk about what she said were my two or three dominant themes and I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't know what those are." And we wound up with the long edge talking about my discomfort with the idea of theme, because it's just the way it sort of circumscribing what the poem is after, drawing the line about what the possibilities of the poem might be, a line around that, and I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the poem being as big as it can possibly be, having as many possible readings, if you will, as it can have. Maybe as many possible readings as there are readers.
wrigley90
DB: What role do other people play in the process of your revision? Do they play a role?
[00:40:55]
wrigley91
RW: Not a whole lot. Kim is my principal reader and she knows me so well that she can tell when she needs to be supportive and can tell when she needs to be mean. Sometimes, you just need to have a kick in the pants. But she's also the one who says, "Okay, here's where you need to open it up, right here, right in this spot," and she's almost invariably correct. "Oh yeah, you're right. I need to develop that spot. I need to go somewhere else. I need to bring some other kind of image, some other kind of a reference." The poem, as Dick Hugo would say, is...you need to write off the subject in that spot, he would say. I always call it "Just bring in a Buick," which is my own figure for it but that's what I do. Just find something extraneous—seemingly extraneous—to bring into the poem so I can open it up here.
wrigley92
DB: Okay. So you don't, like, send your poems to other writers or have anything like that?
wrigley93
RW: I have a couple of friends that I will send poems to on occasion. Dorianne Laux has looked at poems for me, and Henry Carlile, who lives over in Portland, a wonder poet. On a couple of occasions, Phil Levine has looked at some things for me. But mostly no. I don't have that kind of network of other writers.
wrigley94
DB: And in these sort of unusual circumstances, what drives you to sort of send a poem outside?
wrigley95
RW: It will be a poem that, for some reason or another, I'm uncertain of. The example that occurs to me is that a long sequence of poems called "Earthly Meditations," which originally appeared as kind of little prefatory sections in each of the four parts, and then a fifth envoy, sort of the organizing poems in the book Reign of Snakes, which is a very sound driven, intensely meditative poem that I wrote. I was on a Guggenheim when I wrote that book and that was the last poem—that big poem that went into the book because something is missing. I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what it was. And right in the middle of the book was this other long sequence, called "Reign of Snakes."
wrigley96
I had this one poem which was actually the first part of "Earthly Meditations." I took it in to show it to Kim and she said, "Okay, the stanza here needs to go, but you might want to consider just writing more of this and see, because I don't feel it's done." So I wrote—it was 500 some odd lines long, this sequence—over the course of, like, two weeks. While I would do it, I would go out and I played Dylan Thomas on the CD player. I'd just listened to him say all this "gorgeous nonsense" as Auden called it. Or I'd read Plath, or I'd read The Book of Nightmares. Mostly, if there was a model for that poem, it was Roethke's "North American" sequence, a very much nature-driven sort of thing, and highly musical.
wrigley97
And then when I finished it, I knew what I wanted to do with it, and use it as sections throughout the book. Actually, that was Kim's idea too. I couldn't write without her. I didn't really trust the poem.
wrigley98
It was not like anything else I've ever written so I sent it to Dorianne, Henry, and Phil, and a couple of other people, just to find out, one of whom, Henry—who was a student of Roethke's—it was too close to Roethke for him. He didn't want me to do it. Everybody else said, "This is the best thing you've ever written. You just got to keep writing more like that." People keep telling me to go back and get that voice again and do more. I keep saying, "I've already done it. I don't want to do that anymore." But I do have those people. I hadn't used any of them. Henry, a couple of times, since, but that's about it. I have this writer in residence, who is extremely helpful.
wrigley99
DB: So you're talking a little bit about how this goes into a book and everything. I guess I'm wondering if you can sort of delineate a difference between how you revise an individual piece and how you revise a collection of works, and maybe talk a little bit about how that has changed over the course of your career?
[00:45:40]
wrigley100
RW: Yeah, you know, it's such an ongoing thing with individual pieces. A lot of times, I'll publish a poem in a magazine and I'll go back in and think, "I want to change this," and I'll change something. I'll fiddle with things a little bit. I don't think there is anything particularly holy about the fact that it appeared in print in one way—I can tinker with it. But then I find, when I start assembling a book—I mean, I still do this the old fashioned way; I don't think there's any other way—get all the poems I think might comprise the poem, and I lay them out on the floor. But then that act of laying them out on the floor and finding, say, "Okay, this batch of 10, 12 poems sort of goes together - You can see there's some connective tissue between them."
wrigley101
Then I've got to go back and start making—I have a system of little arrows and checks and numbers and so forth that show me opportunities to tie those poems together. If I write as in, say, Anatomy of Melancholy—a book that is into four sections—then I have to find a way to connect the sections together so that the assemblage of the sections is part of the assemblage of the whole, of course, but the assemblage of the whole and the sections they're in becomes, also, part of the revision of the individual poems as I find ways to stitch those things together into the larger fabric.
wrigley102
DB: Okay. That has been consistent throughout, you think?
wrigley103
RW: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Certainly from my second book. My first book—which Copper Canyon published in 1979—was my MFA thesis, basically, and when I find copies in bookstores, I buy them. I'm not embarrassed by it, but boy—it's really beginning work. I think in the Selected Poems, I used maybe three poems, and even then, I think I could have left them out and it wouldn't hurt anything, but my editor said, "No, no. You've got to have something." Beginning though with the second book, Moon in a Mason Jar, that's been absolutely the way I've operated. It's gotten complicated with two of the books. My third book, What My Father Believed, and Beautiful Country, are volumes not divided into sections so that in each of them, it seems more all of a piece, somehow, and those required a lot more movement. I don't know how I could have done it without the computer, moving poems in different locations throughout the text and finding ways to maintain a kind of a seamlessness, but not a kind of overwhelming sense of there being an arc, because really, it is a collection of poems. If there is an arc—boy, it's a very pale arc, at least in those two books of mine.
[00:48:00]
wrigley104
DB: You said something about a system of arrows and numbers. I was wondering if you could maybe go into the nitty-gritty of that?
wrigley105
RW: Well, it has to do with page numbers ,overall. I'll have the draft and I'll put page numbers on them. I'll just have an asterisk and 7, which will mean, "Look for the asterisk on page 7," or a check and 118—"Look at 118." And I'll have another check so there are a couple of spots in a couple of poems that correspond that can allow me to make a stitch here that connects those two things. So across two or 50 pages, there's a kind of communication that's going on through the whole of the manuscript.
[00:49:25]
wrigley106
DB: And you just combine them all into one Word document on your computer?
wrigley107
RW: Mm-hmm. And before then, when it had to be typed up, it was really hard. So I had to do a lot of penciling-of-things-in. Somewhere, in those many boxes in the closet, in the basement, are drafts, work sheets—whatever you want to call them—versions of all of the books since Moon in a Mason Jar that sort of show that process, how that came about.
[00:50:10]
wrigley108
DB: Now that you do use a computer, do you find yourself making any changes in the collection once it's into a bigger file?
wrigley109
RW: Absolutely.
wrigley110
DB: Okay.
wrigley111
RW: It never really stops. Well, with Anatomy of Melancholy, I thought I had it exactly the way I wanted it, but the first poem in the published book used to be the last poem in the published book, and the last poem in the published book used to be the first. And they were that way because there's a kind of chronology there, in a way—the last poem in the book happens before the first poem in the book, if you know what I mean. So, chronologically, it seemed better that what is now the last poem happened first.
wrigley112
But I got to working on it and realizing that a lot of it had to do with form, too. The last poem of the book is a sonnet as it stands now, which seemed like a great way into the book, but in fact, it seems to me like a much better way out of the book. So I still make those kinds of changes and I drag my poor copy editor crazy at Penguin because I'm always, "Okay I changed this. You're right. That comma is probably confusing." Or, "I don't have a comma there, but by the way, I've added two more lines," or "I've taken out a line in it." And where does this ever stop, I think.
wrigley113
DB: So we're sort of on to how you organize—you move in from revision. You're always revising, but then you're also sort of moving into organizing the collection. Then, I guess once you're at that point that you've got published collections, you've got published poems, how do you kind of keep track of all of this stuff? Do you do it on the computer? Before the computer, I'm sure it was a little different than it is now. Or maybe that hasn't changed at all?
[00:52:22]
wrigley114
RW: I don't think it has changed at all. I mean, there was a time when I would create a file on the computer that was nothing but poems that had been published in magazines, say. And then I just got away from that and sort of went old fashioned on myself and just started writing it down and keeping them in the file. I don't know why I did that. It just seems like it was a lot easier to get to the hard copy somehow and look at them and read them than it was to call up individual poems out of a whole other file. To that extent, I guess, I discovered that I prefer the old and seemingly laborious manual method with seriously analog notation and keeping track of things. I mean, there's no doubt that for me, it has got to be a combination of the two. Even still, I've got pencils all over the place because that's what I need to write in these things with.
[00:52:57]
wrigley115
DB: Your other folder there that you called a thesis folder?
wrigley116
RW: Mm-hmm.
wrigley117
DB: When did you start using those? How did that come about?
wrigley118
RW: That was in Montana. Madeline DeFrees gave all her students one of those, which is a very sweet thing. I loved it. Rodney Jones actually talks about these things. The Harvard calls them "thesis binders." You can buy them in the bookstore in Harvard, and you can buy them in the bookstore in Montana, but I've had to order these online. They're also called "spring binders."
wrigley119
At Montana when I was in graduate school, if you didn't have a spring binder to keep your poems in, you just weren't shit. I mean, it was just spring binder, man. "I don't have one." "Oh..." So I got sort of interested in that particular thing way back then, and I've got, well, in those boxes, hundreds of them, and I've got a couple of old ones here—that one, held together with duct tape. That's a big one. I think that's one Kim retired from a prose manuscript so that I could do the selected poems, because it was sort of a fatty in comparison.
wrigley120
DB: How does it work? Does it clip in individual pages?
wrigley121
RW: No, it's got metal in here. This is not new. You have to squeeze it, so it's just a piece of metal in the spine.
wrigley122
DB: Oh okay.
wrigley123
RW: Then it's got this little—
wrigley124
DB: And then it's just individual pieces of paper made into a book?
wrigley125
RW: Yeah. It's just a pile. There's no particular order in this. These are all prose poems in stanzas, which is not possible, but I did it. And then back in the back, there's about that maybe poems that have already been published, and there might be few more in journals. Yeah, that's my filing. That's either things that have been published and therefore might be serviceable in a collection somewhere down the road or poems that are still under construction, and then there is kind of an intermediary thing although they are all jumbled together. I don't know which is which. I have to keep... See, I don't do this on a computer—
wrigley126
DB: Yeah—
wrigley127
RW: This is my submission notebook, where I submitted things, and acceptances. I've been doing that for years. I started in 1995 and, most recently, I sent a batch—where did I send those—the Georgia Review and Smithsonian.
wrigley128
DB: Okay. So we are going to go back here. We've seen the thesis binder, and you have then, like, years of them over there, and those are years of notebooks and years of thesis binders? How are you sort of organizing them, are you just sort of sticking them in one place?
wrigley129
RW: They're not in any, well, they are in a kind of order. They go most recent to the oldest on the bottom of the pile, but they get shuffled because I go back and pull them out. It really is a kind of storage, kind of information retrieval system, which just happens to be handwritten and old fashioned, because I love going back. I can go 25 years and pull out a notebook and sometimes make discoveries, you know? "This was interesting. How come I didn't finish this one?" More often than not, I wasn't capable of finishing it. I'd gotten on to something I didn't quite have the knowhow or the resourcefulness to find a way out of. Now, either I do or I've convinced myself I do. So, I get it back out and go to work on it.
wrigley130
DB: So, then the difference between—there're boxes as well, right?
[00:58:50]
wrigley131
RW: By the time I put stuff in boxes, that's pretty well committed to book. I'm not much interested in pulling things out. But that's one of the reasons why I have this tray down here—this wooden tray where things go in, then I'll bring another one of those manuscript boxes out. It usually holds 10 reams of paper. Before these things—this pile of thing—goes in to that box, I go through it poem by poem, or draft by draft. I don't organize them but I look for something—"Oh yeah, I forgot about this." Because sometimes it will be—I know it's on the computer somewhere but I don't even remember it.
wrigley132
If I just go to Word and open, it's just chaos, it's just a whole lot of files. Some of them are not called that anymore but I can do a search. I can type a line and do a search and find it somewhere. But I would not even remember what it might have been called unless I find something in this batch before it goes in the box. I try not to lose anything but keeping track of it, it's hard. I write a lot.
wrigley133
DB: How do you name your files and your folders and how do you organize your stuff on the computer?
[01:00:09]
wrigley134
RW: Minimally.
wrigley135
DB: Minimally? First line?
wrigley136
RW: Usually just the title and sometimes I'll have—I've got, like, just a poem called "Ant," and I've got "Ant 1," "Ant 2," "Ant 3," because I'm not sure which of those drafts I prefer. I kind of like something about them all. It maybe that eventually I'll get to a final version of that poem called "Ant" and eliminate the others, or I'll print them off, put them in a box, and eliminate them from the hard drive—just get rid of them so they don't clutter up or get in the way. But I'm not all that resourceful with the computer. I think that a lot of people are much more resourceful with it as a tool. I don't tend to do a lot of organization. It's just where I store individual poems for the most part.
wrigley137
So there is a poem under a particular title and that's it. Or, there is a manuscript under a particular title. Although now—and this has got particularly strange, because so many magazines are accepting submissions online—you find you have to assemble another file consisting of three or four or five poems to send, which also gets complicated. You have this other whole set of files. So I have individual poems here—I have batches of poems that have been submitted over here and after awhile, I'll just dump those.
wrigley138
DB: Just get rid of them?
wrigley139
RW: Yeah. I still got the other, I still got the poems.
wrigley140
DB: So the poem itself is the kind of master file, so to speak?
wrigley141
RW: Yes.
wrigley142
DB: Okay. You don't ever have like "Ant 2" or "Ant Revised" or anything like that?
wrigley143
RW: No. When I lose track of—I mean, most of these are two or three drafts. That's number one, number three. Mostly these first drafts are still around here but you can get back in here and find like four, five, seven, eight.
wrigley144
Then you go back from here and there will be, you know, draft number 22. And eventually, once I decide that that's done and it goes into computer as a kind of final draft, that's just the final poem as it stands there and I'll eliminate anything else that existed along the way, just to keep the old hard drive from being cluttered up, and just to make it easier to find things when I need them.
wrigley145
DB: No, that's one of the bigger challenges, trying to figure out what was done and how you did it. It's kind of bringing us to the end of this section of questions and I have some sort of more pointed questions about computer use and correspondence. I guess overall, do you see any distinct stages in your writing process? Do you see, over the course of your career, do you see, like, distinct shifts or do you sort of see it as a gradual change, or not change, sort of staying the same at some point?
[01:03:06]
wrigley146
RW: I think there was one huge sort of shift and that was when I moved from—actually, when I changed publishers. My second two books came from the University of Illinois Press and I had this kind of story book thing that happened. I gave a reading at a writer's conference at which there were—the president of Viking was there and the director of publicity, who is now my editor, who is famous. He edited Eat, Pray, Love. He's T. C. Boyle's editor, Paul Slovak. He was there and I gave this reading and the president of Viking came up and said, "Do you have a book?" I said, "Well, I got a start on one. I'm working on one." He goes, "Send me what you got." I sent him six poems and a title of what I perceived the book—this book—and three weeks later, I had an offer and a contract in an envelope and a delivery date. I called and I got the delivery date extended to six months, and bingo I was on.
wrigley147
That's sort of been the way I've worked with Penguin ever since—when I know what the book is going to be, when I have this sort of abstract, but never the less certain sense, that this is what the book is going to be, this is how it's going to work, what's it going to revolve around. This is what the title is. I'll send the editor an email and say, "Well, this is the book. It's going to be called Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems. I'd like to deliver in spring of 2012." "Okay," he says, and then they send me a contract. It's a pretty good deal but it's sort of a big shift because from that point on, I've not had to worry about finding a publisher, and that's just a great luxury.
wrigley148
I cannot pay attention to so much of the sort of the professional part of it. Where I tell my students, "Your writing is your life. Your publishing is your career. You live your life, you manage your career." Sometimes those things get so tangled up and for some people, they get tangled up, I think, much to their detriment, both on the life side—maybe less so on the career side—but they get it all knotted together. Not that way. I've just been lucky enough that it hasn't worked that way for me.
wrigley149
DB: Right. What book was this?
wrigley150
RW: That was called In the Bank of Beautiful Sins. That was the first one I did with Penguin. I've done six books.
wrigley151
DB: I guess my one question with that is does it seem—I mean, I want to use the word "organic" here—was it more organic when you just kind of wrote until you had a book and then presented it? Or actually is it different now that you kind of know that you are guaranteed, basically, of publishing it?
wrigley152
RW: Yeah.
wrigley153
DB: It's sort of a dumb word for this, but it—
wrigley154
RW: No, I know what you mean. Although I think that there's something even more organic for me about having the vision of what the book is in advance even before I've written some of the poems that are going to comprise that book, because it completely changes my focus. Once I know. I mean, people ask me now, "Are you working on a book?" "No, I'm just writing poems." That's a very serious distinction for me, and I'm not in any hurry to know what the next book is. I just published one less than a year ago, right? So, April? So, it's like seven months old. It's going to be a year or two before I begin to have some sense, and even then, I might just say, "I really don't need to be any hurry." Although Random House is now Penguin Random House and nobody knows what that means.
wrigley155
Random House publishes Billy Collins and nobody else. Putnam publishes Linda Bierds and Cornelius Eady and nobody else. Penguin's got a huge list. Knopf's a got a huge list. There is one publisher need for poetry lists: what's going to happen? I have no control over that, so I'm just going to keep doing what I do, and if things change? Bummer. Either that or not, I don't know, it might be fine. But I do think that it really has been, and it was that first incidence of seeing, "I got this great opportunity. Penguin wants to publish a book of mine. I can make this move to a New York house and I don't have a book manuscript yet, but if I can promise to have this book manuscript called this in such and such date, I'll have it." And it works so well for me. My first three books were Penguin, and all won prizes, but have cooled off. That they still love me but, still, I need to win another prize, I guess. Doing the best I can.
wrigley156
DB: That's an interesting point. I mean, when you have these deadlines, is it in some ways just that much more generative? You can't really have a block.
[01:09:23]
wrigley157
RW: No. My colleague, Brandon Schrand, says, "There is no such thing as writer's block." If you call a plumber, he's not going to tell you "I got plumber's block. I can't help you." We ought to be able to be as professional about it as a plumber is. I mean, that's facetious, of course, but Bill Stafford always used to say, "If you can't write, lower your standards." That's actually tremendously good advice too, because you lower your standards and it can open up in so many different ways. You don't really lower your standards. You quit trying to second guess yourself. You quit sitting down trying to write a great poem because that's a recipe for disaster.
wrigley158
DB: Absolutely, yeah. This sort of last group of questions is more specifically about computers and some of it is going to be repetitive. So if you've answered most of it you don't need to do more, but just do me the favor of repeating yourself if you don't mind. I think we can answer some of these. You began using computers on a regular basis—?
[01:10:20]
wrigley159
RW: Mid 90s.
wrigley160
DB: Mid 90s. You started using them basically just for like as almost as a typewriter. How did that sort of change? Were there things that became part of your life that you did more with the computer?
wrigley161
RW: I really did not start actively composing and composing—sometimes the bulk of the poem. And occasionally—this has not happened too very often—the prose poems. I just pointed out that prose poem in stanzas had to be composed on the computer, the whole of it. By which I mean I set the margins and allowed the word processing to determine where the ends of the lines were, but that also required that I not sort of run the line on too far before I begin what I felt was another stanza. My students accuse me of hating prose poems. I don't hate prose poems I just don't see the point. Which is probably ignorant of me.
wrigley162
There are prose poems I love but again, I've never really been interested in writing one until I sort of gave myself this challenge. "What if I allowed the computer to determine where the lines end but still found a way to make its structure appear as though it was verse and not prose?" That's what I did.
wrigley163
I think however when I first started trying to compose or do the bulk of the composition on the computer was after I was in this little space, which probably would have been somewhere around late 2008, maybe, and I started out just on a kind of a lark. "What happens if I come up here and sit down and make a poem in lines on the word processor?" I think I was on sabbatical then, too, as I am now. That would have been 2007. I didn't have much luck. I didn't have much luck making actual poems until all of a sudden, I did. That's when I decided to sort of convert myself to part time writing long hand and part time writing on the computer, and I've been very comfortable with that ever since.
wrigley164
DB: So about 2007?
wrigley165
RW: About 2007, I think that's when I really got started on it.
wrigley166
DB: You are sort of talking about this but I guess, are there any sort of techniques or formats that you were able to—well, you already sort of said this but—I guess these are the more sort of pressing questions. Do you think your using the computer has given you advantages over previous styles of writing? Conversely, what sort of disadvantages do you see?
wrigley167
RW: I don't see any disadvantages really. I have sort of worries about what it might do but at this point I can't quite bring myself to go back, mainly because I'm having, it seems like I'm having good luck, and part of that may just be that I've got to that point in my life in my career as a writer where I know a lot of tricks. I know how to trick myself. I know how to get going. I know how to get out of a lot of tight spaces. I know how to surprise myself or how to do those things that might lead me to surprise myself. I can do that on the computer and I can do that, I can get somewhere faster or so it seems. It might be an illusion but I don't think that it is.
wrigley168
If there is a disadvantage, I don't have—let me grab one of these. I don't know when this was... 1996. You can see, I don't do—I mean, look how neat that is. There is not a lot of—then there's a little bit more crossing out and stuff. I don't know what this is. There is a big chunk cut and sometimes there is a little bit more and all those kinds of things, but I don't—the major revisions even here probably began when I started converting it to a type print document. But I miss this sometimes. I go back and look and think, "How cool is this? This is sort of an interesting thing to have."
wrigley169
I'm not producing this anymore. And I worry about that. No one knows. If you're writing in hopes that your poems will last, that makes you pretty normal, but there is no guarantee. Everybody hopes that they might write something that might last, but you just don't know. You just do the best you can. But if there is a point at which one's work draws the attention of some kind of a scholar or somebody who is willing to study what you've done, documents like that are going to be really, really interesting because it was put on the page by the hand of the poet rather than just ignited electronically.
wrigley170
DB: So, there is no thought being sort of expressed on the electronic document?
wrigley171
RW: No. Some of the margins—in my own marginalia, on my own poems, there is a big question mark, but then there's other times, there's like notes. "Tools, tools!" I just saw a couple of others—"Egad!" I'll just pick it up and I don't know what it says. I don't have my glasses on. But yeah, making notes to myself. Sometimes notes in frustration. You know, "This is idiotic." I don't know what this says, I don't have my glasses. "Jesus!" Oh yeah, "Jesus! Just saw a truck get hit by the train!"
wrigley172
DB: Oh wow. Wait, Jesus did?
[01:17:49]
wrigley173
RW: No. I did. Jesus as in "Jesus!"
wrigley174
DB: You got somebody in one of your books being Christ, right?
wrigley175
RW: Yeah. There is Lucifer Doula, when his brother, Jesus Christ was born then.
wrigley176
DB: That makes more sense. I guess this is sort of simple, maybe overly simple, but does the internet play a role in any of your writing practices? Is that connected to the internet?
[01:18:09]
wrigley177
RW: Yeah. When I built the thing in 2002 I put an Ethernet cable, buried an Ethernet cable out. I am wired out here but I try to not stay connected very often because it's such an easy distraction. On the other hand, Kim and I enjoyed Scotland so much, I've been trying to get her to apply to go to the Castle at Hawthorne. Rochelle has been there. But then it turns out you can't—they don't want you to go as a couple and there is no internet. And Kim said, "Forget it" because she's a prose writer and she said—oh, and the NSA must have a file five feet thick on her because she wrote a novel about... She's downloaded maps of all the oil fields and pipelines in the Middle East. I mean, of course they're watching her. But all that came through the internet. It's a useful thing and I still use it every now and then. If I do wind up submitting a poem... I just sent a poem—right before we left for UK—to Paul Muldoon. You know, the only way to submit to the New Yorker is electronically. They're not interested in paper anymore.
wrigley178
DB: Even all the mainstream contests now are almost exclusively—
wrigley179
RW: That's good somehow.
wrigley180
DB: It makes it a lot easier for everyone, I think.
wrigley181
RW: I think so. I don't worry about the book disappearing and going to eBooks much. And if it does, all these books of mine are going to be worth a fortune. That's the way I look at it.
wrigley182
DB: We sort of talked about this, but when do you consider a piece of writing finished? Have these machines changed your sort of option on that regard?
[01:20:20]
wrigley183
RW: I think that it's just the same as the type print. I don't consider anything complete until I print it off and then send it off into the world. But when I did the selected poems both here and in the UK, I made some changes. Not big changes, but I made some changes here and there in poems. So, I don't consider them sacred ever. But mostly, when I'm ready to put it in a book it's finished. I'm just not going to mess with it anymore.
wrigley184
I had this talk with Terrance Hayes, whom I've known for a long time, since—well, he was never a wee boy, he was nine foot tall, anyway—he didn't want to read poems out of books at Albra. And we were both in England with Dennis Nurkse and Kathy Pollard—they were really the four Americans there. I said, "Yeah, I know what you mean." But I said, "But I got this Brit book. I've got to read from the book because the publisher is here. He wants to move copies." And he goes, "Yeah, you're right." He doesn't have a British publisher, so they shipped Penguin books over there. He goes, "I want people to buy it, otherwise they're going to ship them all back." So, we had to read poems from the books, and as he said to me—and I understand this absolutely at readings—"I'm not really interested in reading those poems." It's like once that book is out there, run along. I'm interested in reading and sharing what I'm working on and sort of testing it in reading situations.
wrigley185
DB: How do you feel about the security and fixity of your files? You have the backup. Does that pretty much alleviate most of your worries and you don't—?
[01:22:14]
wrigley186
RW: Yeah, I did. On this book shelf here there is a little piece of wood that functions as a book-stop, and it didn't use to have that. I had a big marble book end which I was sitting right here, I had my feet on the desk as I was reading and I heard something slide. I just turned just to see this 12-lb marble book end just crush on the laptop. I managed to get the hard drive up and retrieve everything, the hard drive was fine. It didn't hurt it, it just killed the mechanism. I'm not too worried about it. And then I also print things off relentlessly. Every time I get through a draft, and which is why I fill up so many cartons of paper. North Texas, those people who buy so many piles of writer's papers—especially Western writers—pay by the pound. So, you feel me? You aren't going to pay me anything for my electronic files. No, I'm printing these off. The paper is heavy.
wrigley187
DB: That's funny. I guess you talked about having an external hard drive before. What was that process like and were you more concerned about crashes and what not in the earlier days of computers?
wrigley188
RW: I think I was. I'm less concerned with the Mac. Somehow it seems, you know, I never have any issues with it. Whereas PC sometimes seem to kind of odd or they would be afflicted by some bug. That worried me so I had this 3/4 TB hard drive that, every time I came out here, I just plugged it in and it was on automatic backup. It backed up all my photographs as well as music and mostly all my files. While it was plugged in, it would backup every hour. It would just backup all my Word files. I still got that, I have to plug it in but it won't work on the Mac. I have to plug it in to a PC somewhere. It's out here somewhere. Every now and then I think I need to go buy an external drive for the Mac too just so I can back things up that way but then I don't because I do have a lot of paper. I got stuff in the cloud and I got stuff in Mozy so I feel pretty sanguine about the possibilities of me being able to retrieve something.
wrigley189
Now if a forest fire rips through when I'm gone and burns up the computer and all my boxes of poems and everything, then its Mozy or the cloud and that's it. And every place in the woods in this part of Idaho burns. It's not if, it's when. It hasn't been here in a long time but could be next July, August, or September, or October. Which concerns me, yes. That does concern me and I'd especially like to move all those boxes out of the closet if I get the write offer.
wrigley190
DB: Cedar closet, too?
wrigley191
RW: I need a vault.
wrigley192
DB: I have just a few more questions. I want to talk a little bit about correspondence and then a little bit about teaching. Do you correspond much now with other writers? I guess we'll talk about teaching a little bit.
[01:25:50]
wrigley193
RW: I do, and I miss—let's see. That's a letter from Phil Levine. He wrote me because I wrote him. And I've got a file in there, probably 1.5-inch thick, of letters from Phil Levine. That's almost all letters. But I probably write 10 letters, 12 letters a year now. I've got a few people who are really willing correspondents and write back. They still like the idea of letters. And I do too—I love getting letters. It's not like getting an email. But most of the correspondence is via email anymore, and I try to print those off.
wrigley194
I've got two or three letters from Billy Collins. I've known Billy for a long time too, but our correspondence over the last decade has been entirely electronic. All these abbreviated little snippets, which are hilarious, because he's very funny, tremendously witty, and he's especially good in letters, too, as well as in poems. So we have a great deal of fun. But they're all these little short snippets, which I find myself compelled to come out and print off—the whole thread of the thing, one email at a time—to snatch a page that long. But I want to save those things. Something about saving them electronically doesn't seem like saving them on paper.
wrigley195
DB: When did email start to become the sort of primary mode of correspondence?
[01:27:35]
wrigley196
RW: Probably around the turn of the millennium, I think, for me. It was so exciting at first being able to communicate so quickly. But then you realize what's missing. I can go back and look at—I got letters from Gwendolyn Brooks, I've got letters from James Dickey, Richard Hugo. I've got this wonderful file of letters which, if a forest fire burns through, they're gone too, I'm thinking.
wrigley197
DB: Bring those in, we'll scan them for you.
wrigley198
RW: But I do. A lot of the communications. I've got a file on one of my two email addresses. I get a lot of writerly emails on the U of I account because that's the easiest one to find. I've got a Gmail account that I just kind of keep private. That's my business file, and my personal file, or my personal email. I save all those communications from other poets, other writers but I don't print all of them off. Some I do. Some seem important enough to print off, others don't.
wrigley199
DB: That's your kind of line? If it's something that you kind of hold dear, you print?
wrigley200
RW: Yeah. If I get a particularly great letter. I published a poem in the New Yorker—well, it's in that issue up there, the Obama issue with O over the Lincoln Memorial. I've never had a response to a poem like that. It's a poem called "It's a Beautiful Country." Shit—what is it called?—"Exxon." I got 140-some odd emails from a lot of people I know. A lot of poets I know of but don't really know. A lot of strangers—vets, amputees. All of them positive. And all of that stuff, you know, I print it off. I've got a whole file of just those kinds of things. Just to have that kind of response to a poem... You gotta save that in hard copy, I guess is what I'm saying. I couldn't just leave those sort of loose on the net.
[01:28:56]
wrigley201
DB: Because they are not—
wrigley202
RW: Right. They're probably no more permanent now, given that I live in place that's likely going to have a forest fire, but they seem that way to me now. And it's easy enough to look at them if I should want to, which I have not.
wrigley203
DB: Did you have letters come to you when you were younger that were not email? Did that happen?
wrigley204
RW: Oh yeah. I've always got a couple of files in there just called "Fan Mail," where you get letters from people you don't know. But also sometimes I think that's the difference between two files, is one is people I know who sent me terrific poems and such and such, or then poems from complete strangers. I got another pile called "Crank"—I've gotten like four or five anonymous letters from some person who hates me in Boise. I don't know what's up with that. But I'm really kind of delighted by them. You can always tell—there's no return address, it's from Boise. It's always like, "Oh, it's that asshole again! What have you got to say this time?"
wrigley205
DB: That's kind of exciting.
[01:31:12]
wrigley206
RW: I told Phil Levine about it and he said, "You know you're getting somewhere if people hate you."
wrigley207
DB: Yeah. Has your style of writing these correspondences—I mean, once email became part of it, did it change your letter writing, too, or has it—?
wrigley208
RW: Well I mean it made letter writing almost go away. And I wrote a lot of letters. Letters were kind of the way I warmed up when I would get into my writing space here. Or in Leonor, I had another shack very similar to this, and it was how I warmed up—I'd write a letter to somebody, sometimes to my mom, but most often it was just another poet, another poet friend. I'd write him a letter, talk to him about poems, and maybe send him a couple of poems. When email came along—there's something about putting a poem as an attachment to send to somebody that seems like more of a violation. If you put it folded in an envelope with a letter, it's a much friendlier, more intimate kind of gesture than email is.
wrigley209
DB: Yeah. I understand what you are saying, but also it's surprising because in some way that should make it much more easily available for you to write to your friends and send poems.
wrigley210
RW: And of course it does. The last few times I've sent poems off to other people—I think I sent something to David Baker a few years ago just to get some feedback, and I sent those email. Last time I sent poems to anybody else to look at who was not Kim, I think I sent them email. So it's very easy to do that, it's convenient, but it's not as intimate. Or it doesn't seem as intimate. And why is it less intimate?
wrigley211
DB: I didn't actually ask you one question. I was interested in your sort of routine. Like, do you come out here in the mornings? Is there like set times or is it whenever? Or what's your schedule like?
[01:33:07]
wrigley212
RW: It's mostly whenever I can. I have long days, I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays. When I took this job, that was my understanding—my teaching schedule will be Tuesday and Thursdays. I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm usually in by 9. I almost always have a night class, so I put in like 12-13 hours on campus Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday tends to be my campus day when I'm just doing regular office hours and hopefully, if I'm on a committee, I can get them to schedule meetings on Wednesday. If they don't want to do Wednesday I'll do Friday, but I'd rather have, theoretically, Monday and Friday. That's when I write. I get out here between 9 and 10—it varies. It depends on what else is going on through the year. If it's cold weather, I'll build the fire, get it warmed up, and maybe do a little email work to catch up, and then get started. And go in for lunch about noonish, 12:30. Between 12:30 and 1, I come back out and stay until about 5. That's pretty much been my routine really for a long time now, for 20 years. It's a pretty good way to work. It's a luxury to have time. It's an even greater luxury to be on sabbatical, or—as I envision it when I retire—permanent sabbatical. We'll see about that. We'll see how that works.
wrigley213
DB: So, I guess the last, sort of, questions. With teaching and the sort of advent of the computer coming into your teaching, how did that sort of change your day to day life? There is much more access to you, but there is also sort of more barriers. I don't know?
[01:34:59]
wrigley214
RW: On the negative side, yeah. You're available. You are sort of at the end of this electronic tether. You can't get away from students that way, but my students tend to be pretty aware of what I'm up to. But there are certain things they just got to know about, and sometimes, "Can we meet tomorrow? I know you're coming. I know you've got office hours. I don't know if you've got any time between 2 and 3. If I can stop by could we look at these two poems?" There is an attachment with a couple of poems.
wrigley215
That's the downside—that they don't have to call you, they don't have to make an appointment or come by. They can just ask you and there you are at home, and you respond, and I do. It's also great though, because they can do that and it's a whole lot more convenient. "Sure. I've got the poems now. I could read them tonight. I'll talk to you about them tomorrow, come in at 2:30." So it's both. Mostly I think it's positive. Mostly I think it's good. I'm on sabbatical, and Kim is not on sabbatical. She worked out being gone for 13 days while we went to the UK. When we were at Aldborough, all she did was correspondence with her students. She was doing it, like, while we were there for four days. She did nothing but. She never did get to see much of Aldborough because of that and everybody else at the festival thought my wife was a myth because she only came out once.
wrigley216
DB: Do you see like the sort of—I mean call them what you will, but—the more computer adept, those who have been raised, the "digital natives" or whatever, have they sort of changed your relationship to computers? Their sort of comfort and use of it, has that sort of done anything to your own teaching or your own sort of writing in that way?
[01:36:50]
wrigley217
RW: Teaching maybe in so far as... What I love, especially in graduate classes—especially in things like the techniques class, which I'm teaching in the spring in which we'll be talking about a different volume of contemporary poetry every week—we'll have a good 2.5-3-hour discussion about this book of poems. How the book works, how the individual poems work, how this particular poet does his or her work. It'll be great, it'll be invigorating and I'll come home and I'll immediately think of like 37 different things I should have said or ways to connect things that they said and sort of bind to our conversation together. And the email—I'll just do a class email and just, with bullets, say "Here's this and this and this." I can add two or three links—the things they need to consider.
wrigley218
That was one of the great things about the internet. I taught—I don't remember what the class was called. It was an American Lit class. English 570. Studies in American and English literature, I think it was. But anyway, 20th Century. And I taught Hart Crane. I taught "The Bridge" and they both despised Hart Crane because it's not easy and it's a failed epic, God bless him. But we had a wonderful discussion about what qualifies his failure and ambition and so forth, and I was able to send them the follow up email that tried to bind the class discussion together with all sorts of references and links to other things they could read about Crane. I mean, it's a great pedagogical tool that way.
wrigley219
DB: Right. I think I've exhausted it. Unless you have any other—? I think we've covered pretty much everything I want to cover and we have a good sense of your writing process. Is there anything that you—I mean you're writing letters in the earlier part of your career to get warmed up was sort of interesting to me. Do you do anything specifically to get warmed up now? Do you read?
[01:39:04]
wrigley220
RW: Actually I write sonnets.
wrigley221
DB: You write sonnets?
wrigley222
RW: Yeah. I probably have 100 sonnets. I think I've published 2 in books. But I love the form. The form is very friendly to me and they're mostly sort of hybridized. I like the Italian octave. I like ABBA, ABBA, and the kind of Shakespearian couplet at the end, or at least a kind of couplet and rhyme at the end. I'll sit down and I'll spend the first two hours just kind of messing around with a sonnet. I don't really need—it's like with a sonnet, I don't need an idea. I just start putting words on paper. It will have to do with the frost, it will have to do with the—I think it's gone. Anyway, I can see sort of the paper, but a bald-faced Hornet's nest about this big around up on the tree, and I think I've gotten three or four what I call "wind sprint sonnets" out of that thing. Just looking up and watching the hornets going about. Which, at some point this winter, I need to take the shotgun out and blast it out of the tree, out of the way, because next year it'll be this big. So, I don't want that.
wrigley223
DB: Where did you write those down on? In a notebook or are they—?
wrigley224
RW: Well no, I just sat down on a computer and started writing them down.
wrigley225
DB: Those are in the computer?
wrigley226
RW: Yeah. It loosens me up, get things going and sometimes I'll get halfway into it, I'll get 13 lines into one and then I'll feel a sort of desperation and I'll just finish it off somehow with a rhyme. It's not a successful poem. Like I said, I've only used—if I've got a 100, I've only used two. But it gets the wheels turning, and then I can turn here and I can start writing down lines. And it's often, not always, but something, some phrase or word out of that little sonnet—"wind sprint" as I called it—will be like, "Oh wait, there's a real poem in that phrase." So, I'll start from that. It's great. Great fun too. I do love sonnets. I should probably try to find them all. No, I won't. It's in the boxes, in the boxes, in the boxes.
wrigley227
DB: The future scholars will have many chores.
wrigley228
RW: Yeah, see if you can find them and see how many of them don't suck. I think there's two.
wrigley229
DB: There's two maybe. Thank you very much.
wrigley230
RW: It's my pleasure, Devin. It's great to get to meet you and—
wrigley231
DB: Yeah. I'm sorry I've been sort of reclusive I guess.
wrigley232
RW: No, it's okay. You've got, like, a job and stuff, too.
wrigley233
DB: Yeah, I do. A 9-5 and all that.
wrigley234
RW: Yeah.
wrigley235
DB: I think it'll be okay.
pinsky1
Robert Pinsky: You want me to play to the camera at all or do you want me to play for you?
[00:00:00]
pinsky2
Devin Becker: Me, it's fine. This isn't like going to go on PBS or anything. It's more archival and then I might make some clips if I ever get a website together, which hopefully will happen. You were saying that you use the word "compose" rather than "write" because you are using a sort of oral and voice-based mechanism, which is your body.
pinsky3
RP: For the rest of, it I do all of the above. I write longhand on paper, I compose on a computer, more process of revising. Like most people, I print out very frequently, scroll over the print out, stare at with the scrolling on the print out is, create another fair draft either in my mind or on the computer. I number my drafts DR1, sometimes DR0 if I know it's not going to last long. I've gone up to DR87. I think in some things I've gone up to DR104 in the file menu.
pinsky4
DB: You are using Microsoft Word when you're using these file names?
pinsky5
RP: I tend to use... I always get mixed up. I think they call it RealOffice for Mac and NeoOffice for Windows. Maybe it's the opposite.
pinsky6
DB: Oh okay, but it is—?
pinsky7
RP: It's basically a word processor like Word.
pinsky8
DB: Okay.
pinsky9
RP: There is also a neat one that I use for difficult things—I don't know why I don't use it on everything, I can't remember—called something called Nisus Writer. I could look at it.
pinsky10
DB: Yeah. I've heard of one called Scrivener.
pinsky11
RP: No, this is, I think, the state of the art. I think this is the one and—yes, Nisus Writer Pro. It's terrific at all kinds of elaborate formatting and indexes. Nisus Pro.
pinsky12
DB: Nisus Pro?
pinsky13
RP: Yeah.
pinsky14
DB: When did you start using that?
pinsky15
RP: A couple of years ago, but I'll juggle them. I'll go through phases for certain purposes, duplex printing on it, non-duplex printing printer. I know how to do it on Word, so I'll open up Word. So in a way, I use all of the above but I'm not loyal to any particular word processor.
pinsky16
DB: Software essentially?
pinsky17
RP: Yeah.
pinsky18
DB: I guess what drove the getting the Nisus? Did somebody tell you about it and you just thought—?
pinsky19
RP: I probably did some web research but there were things that I didn't like about the NeoOffice page numbering and headers and footers. It seemed clumsy to me and none of these programs are super expensive anymore, it used to be a big investment. The best one I have ever used was like Betamax versus VHS. It was excellent, but didn't have enough followers—Word Perfect. Word Perfect was terrific, it was perfect, and that doesn't always win the marketplace.
pinsky20
DB: Not it does not. Word Perfect was in the '90s, I think?
pinsky21
RP: I'm an early computer user, so I probably started using it in the mid-80s. I wrote a computer entertainment in the early '80s.
pinsky22
DB: I know, Mindwheel, correct?
pinsky23
RP: Mindwheel, yeah. I just read a new very informative article about Mindwheel. Although I'm kind of paper tiger in technical things, I don't really know a lot about computers. I've had to do with them and I've used them for a long time.
pinsky24
DB: Since the early 80s?
pinsky25
RP: I think it was 1980 when they asked me to start Mindwheel and you can tell how prehistoric, how early that was, by the brand of the computer that they gave me to write it on. They gave me a computer that was an Atari.
pinsky26
DB: Do you miss the Atari?
pinsky27
RP: No. I still remember that monochrome, yellow, black-on-yellow monitor that weighed more than anybody's big flat screen TV. It was immense. For a long time, anything I wrote to be read on the screen, I wrote on the computer and things I meant to be read off paper, I wrote on paper. The pen or with the nicest machine I have ever owned, an IBM Selectric.
pinsky28
DB: When did you own that?
pinsky29
RP: I had a Selectric in the '70s and the '80s. I often regret that I don't still own one.
pinsky30
RP: It was like a BMW. It was such an excellent machine—that golf ball click-click-click. And then they had that lift-off tape, so you could erase perfectly. Because the ink was so precise that they had a lift-off ribbon and you went to that and back spaced—it lifted the ink off the page. And it was a solid machine. It just did what it was supposed to do so well. There were obvious reasons why electronic, why the computer took over, but this IBM Selectric was a beautiful machine.
[00:05:00]
pinsky31
DB: It's good. I have not thought of it as a beautiful machine before, but I think that's good to know.
pinsky32
RP: Have you ever used one?
pinsky33
DB: I've never really used it, so I can't say.
pinsky34
RP: It's amazing.
pinsky35
DB: Yeah. Now I kind of want to go and find one. My typewriter experiences have not been very good.
pinsky36
RP: A crappy typewriter is not any fun.
pinsky37
DB: And any ones that I end up looking at or using are out of tune, essentially. So, you are a Windows user primarily but with—?
pinsky38
RP: No. I used to be a Windows user. I'm primarily an iOS Mac user now.
pinsky39
DB: You're primarily an iOS Mac user. That is, then, just a screen that's coming from the MacBook Pro?
pinsky40
RP: Yes it is. Maybe this is the kind of thing you are interested in—I used to go through the whole rigmarole of syncing between my desktop and my laptop. I went through various generations of the best way to do that and now I'm not quite at the totally-cloud web system, but I realized that with a nice external monitor, external keyboard, external mouse, I can use the MacBook Pro as what we used to call the ICU. Then when I'm tired of using that way, I just have to remember to eject the backup and then unplug all that stuff and then I could get on an airplane with it. I'm not syncing it with anything. It's itself.
pinsky41
DB: When you save your files, do you have like a Dropbox account or anything like that?
[00:07:20]
pinsky42
RP: I do have a Dropbox account.
pinsky43
DB: So, you do have some sort of backup in the cloud?
pinsky44
RP: I have a Dropbox account and I have a 2 TB amazingly small little white brick—
pinsky45
DB: External hard drive?
pinsky46
RP: —that backs up automatically.
pinsky47
DB: How long have you been doing the backup procedures?
pinsky48
RP: For years. And I'd like to vilify the company—it's a sort of a French name—with a backup fail.
pinsky49
DB: Ugh. Really?
pinsky50
RP: My computer broke and the... They're called...
pinsky51
DB: It's not LaCie, is it? No?
pinsky52
RP: It may have been LaCie. Anyway, that can happen too.
pinsky53
DB: What happened there?
pinsky54
RP: Most stories about, "Oh, I lost my book on Yeats," or "Oh, I lost all this"—it's about 79% bullshit. Most of us have given the manuscript to somebody or have earlier drafts somewhere else. It's never pure loss. Like most things in life, it's a matter of degree.
pinsky55
DB: Yes. That's true. So, what was the loss there?
pinsky56
RP: I can't remember.
pinsky57
DB: You can't remember. It wasn't—
pinsky58
RP: I lost a bunch of data. I didn't lose anything that I couldn't recreate or find a different version of somewhere else.
pinsky59
DB: You sort of went through, in your first answer, many of these questions right here. It seems like you've been fairly adept at using a computer for most of the time. Have you sought out any instruction or has it just been something you've taught yourself?
pinsky60
RP: It's mostly something I've taught myself. "Adept" is a relative term compared to all the other writers and poets I know. I guess I'm adept compared to any 15-year-old. I try hard. And, you know, that first encounter—I've always liked gadgets. I never was good in school but I always liked learning a certain kind of thing and I guess I'm the type that tends not to like to read the instructions. I would rather figure it out. If there are two great personality types in the world, I tend to be the type that says, "If I can't figure it out, I don't want to do it." I don't want to have to read the instructions.
pinsky61
I did hang out with programmers when I wrote Mindwheel. As my introduction to computer technology, I did hear a certain amount of jargon. And sometimes, when technology is from a primitive state, you learn more about them than when they are more perfected. At one time, to drive a car, you had to know something about cars. People in the days of the term "hi-fi" had to know something about the process of recorded music. And as they improved the car and they improve recorded music, there's less and less anybody needs to know.
pinsky62
DB: I'm reminded of a story about the early MSN messenger wars. Did you read this? Where the AOL and the MSN people were going back and forth, trying to kind of copy each other's thing. And then the people at AOL started programming in, like, the basic, basic, basic level—called, I think, "operative processing," or something—and it's, like, huge, huge amounts of ones and zeros, essentially.
pinsky63
RP: The thing before assembly language.
pinsky64
DB: Yeah, exactly. So, you are way up there. Can you talk a little bit more about how that came about, how the Mindwheel came about? Were you at like a location that the programmers were near, or did they contact you specifically?
pinsky65
RP: I was sitting in my office at the University of California, Berkeley. I was very glad to be at Berkeley after the—for me, kind of tedious—Wellesley College, where I taught. I found Wellesley wasn't like going to jail, but it was a little New England Women's college. So I was very happy to be at Berkeley and that euphoria lasted for weeks and then Berkeley also came to seem very much like—how can I put this—an English department. And the phone rang and it was somebody named Ihor Wolosenko—the first person and the last person I have known named Ihor—Ihor Wolosenko from Synapse Software. And he said, "I'm looking for a writer to work on a new kind of computer product. Are you familiar with Text Adventures?" I said, "No." He said, "Are you familiar with computers?" I said, "No." He said, "Have you ever heard of a game called Zork?" I said, "No." He said, "It's a text that appears on the screen and you can go North or South or East or West, and you can pick up objects. It's a form of narrative. We have a very superior program. We can become more sophisticated than that. We are interested in serious literal writers who might write text for a game like that. Might you be interested?" I said, "Yes."
[00:11:45]
pinsky66
It was the first yes I had in the conversation. Synapse was in El Cerrito, which is quite close to Berkeley. I went out there and it was not an English department. There were these weird guys with their shirts half tucked-in. I later learned they lived on Big Macs and Van Houten bars. They slept in the day time and worked at night. They didn't pay for their phone service—they had different ways they could pirate phone service and had little machines that made long distance tones. The words that were most forbidden, it seemed, to them were not racial epithets or sexual terms or scatological terms. The forbidden words were words like nerd. liked them and I wrote up several scenarios for Ihor.
pinsky67
Cable Guy: Television's upstairs?
pinsky68
RP: Yeah, it is. Maybe I should help you find it. There are a couple of rooms up there.
pinsky69
DB: So, we were talking about Mindwheel. You went over to meet the programmers and you liked them quite well.
[00:21:10]
pinsky70
RP: I wrote up three or four different plots and the most far out one, modeled in a vague way on Dante, the comedian, was you are on a mission to travel through these minds. Four minds. It turns out that minds leave permanent elaborate footprints and records of themselves in what we call the "ether." I can't remember what I call it in the game itself. I always called it a game, and they always called it an "electronic novel." At the beginning Dr. Virgil puts the electrodes in your head and then you travel through the minds of a kind of Shakespeare/Dante figure; a kind of political rock figure, vaguely John Lennon like; a woman who is kind of an Einstein. And then a great dictator, a kind of a Stalin/Hitler/Mussolini mind.
pinsky71
DB: You could chose your own adventure kind of thing?
pinsky72
RP: No. It's more "interactive," they called it. You needed to solve problems. Some of them involved poetry.
pinsky73
DB: Did you come up with the poetry problems?
pinsky74
RP: Yes, or I would adopt ones from 16th century poetry. There was one riddle—you have to free a winged woman from a cage, and the cage is the riddle. It comes from Sir Walter Raleigh's poem "On the Cards and Dice," and it says, "An herald strange, the like was never born, whose very beard is flesh and mouth is horn." You had to solve that riddle. And the Raleigh poem which is there, it's about the Cards and Dice, and it says, "The trump will be heard and dead bones will jump up, will be rattled and men will groan and four kings will be gathered and four queens." So, it sounds like a mystic prophesy, but it's the cards and dice. Then it says they do this until a "herald" calls—"an herald strange, the like was never born, whose very beard is flesh and mouth is horn." I can see your flunking this.
pinsky75
DB: I'm totally flunking this.
pinsky76
RP: They play all night.
pinsky77
DB: Oh!...I'm still flunking this.
pinsky78
RP: Something wakes them up in the morning.
pinsky79
DB: The rooster?
pinsky80
RP: Yeah. The rooster's beard is flesh, his mouth is horned. And the rooster's not born, it's hatched. And that was an insult when I was a kid: you weren't born, you were hatched.
pinsky81
DB: So, you incorporated a lot of things into that. I'm interested in kind of like how that physically happened, too? Did you write that out on your Selectrics and then send them the text?
pinsky82
RP: Selectric didn't appear in it. I wrote it on the Atari.
pinsky83
DB: You wrote it on the Atari? Okay.
pinsky84
RP: As I said, for a good period, I was one of the few people in the country who was writing everything I was writing to read off a screen on a computer, and everything I was writing to read on paper on paper. The Times asked me to review a book of prose by Philip Larkin. I was having a little trouble getting started with it and I had been writing this very fluid Bubble World of computer. I couldn't get started on the Larkin so I decided I'll experiment. I'll see if I can write the lead on the computer, on the monochrome, because it's so much less real than a pen or the typewriter.
[00:24:20]
pinsky85
I wound up writing a draft of the whole fucking review on the Atari. I can't print it out. They weren't Dot Matrix printers over there at Synapse but I liked visiting Synapse anyway. And I did have—you may never have even seen one of these—I did have the 5.25" floppies.
pinsky86
DB: Oh yeah.
pinsky87
RP: That's why they're called "floppies." Those things were floppy. They were flexible. I'm not sure if email was much used at the time. I didn't email to Synapse. I drove over to El Cerrito, to that office park where Synapse had its offices, right next to an old company named Pixel. I used my 5.25" floppy to print out my book review. And it dawned on me, "You're going to have to get a printer. In fact, you are going to have to get a better computer." So, within, I can't remember, probably a few weeks, I had a jerky, junkie Dot Matrix printer and what we used to call a PC clone—IBM clone—called a Corona. I think it was made in Italy, oddly enough. That was probably 1981, 1980, or something. It was quite early.
pinsky88
DB: You were already on your second computer by early ‘80s?
pinsky89
RP: The first one I owned and the second one I was using.
pinsky90
DB: Second one you were using. Just going back to the impetus for getting that first computer—was it from Synapse?
pinsky91
RP: They gave me the Atari.
pinsky92
DB: They gave you the Atari. Okay.
pinsky93
RP: Yeah.
pinsky94
DB: When you were writing for them, would you—?
pinsky95
RP: It's all electronic. The programmers would take their assembly language and the program they invented—William Mataga and later Cathryn Mataga. William invented this program called BTZ—Better Than Zork. I remember William was the sort of over-programmer, and the personal one—my partner—was Steve Hales. It says on the package of Mindwheel, "Mindwheel: Electronic Novel by Robert Pinsky, writer; William Mataga and Steve Hales, programmers."
[00:27:25]
pinsky96
The package is a hard cover book. The product is just a floppy. I remember my first conference with Steve. He said, "I want you to describe your world to me," and then we had these interesting philosophical discussions of rooms and space, and scenes and time. Did we think of the scene happening in a room? Or of the room happening in a scene? There were some interesting conversations. Dialogue tables and things like that.
pinsky97
DB: Can we move back a little bit? Before all this, like when you were in your early writing career—would you say it was right around the time when you went to Stanford? When you sort of started writing? I've read some of the interviews and some of the—
pinsky98
RP: Yeah. I thought of myself as a writer when I was at Rutgers as an undergraduate. I was a beatnik wannabe. I was writing. I was writing poems. I was editor of the undergraduate literary magazine.
pinsky99
DB: Oh cool.
pinsky100
RP: So, no. I had a writing life.
pinsky101
DB: Okay, when you were starting off, what were your practices like? Did you keep notebooks?
[00:29:45]
pinsky102
RP: I have never kept notes. I'm not a note maker. I would get an idea for a poem and I would write it. I remember for awhile I shared an apartment with Alan Cheuse, novelist. He does book reviews for NPR. Alan is a year ahead of me and Alan is a fiction writer. I could remember hearing his typewriter going tick, tick, tick. I was sitting there, maybe with a paper and pen thinking, trying out different phrases in my mind and sort of ending that tick, tick, tick.
pinsky103
DB: Has it been since that time and throughout that you've always kind of felt it as a sort of voiced-oral thing in your head before anything?
pinsky104
RP: I got more and more confident then. But yes. I felt that was my métier. What I could do that I felt not everybody could do had to do with the sounds of sentences like that thing we just watched on TV. The sounds of sentences—the way vowels and consonants work together, the way a short sentence relates to a long sentence.
pinsky105
DB: How did you come to figure out that you could do that better than other people?
pinsky106
RP: Probably in the course of college. But I remember that as a kid I would try to tap out the rhythm of sentences with my fingers. I thought about things like voiced and unvoiced consonants before I knew the word for them. I had been thinking about the difference between the ‘th' in "the" and the ‘th' in thin. "The"—you use your voice box. "Thin"—you don't. I wasn't sure...it seems like a bad habit in a way. But I thought about the sense of words. So, it's not a surprise to me that I was good at it when I discovered there was an art based on such things.
[00:31:12]
pinsky107
DB: I guess the question is then how you kind of developed? You had that sort of innate talent. What were the steps you took to develop that talent?
pinsky108
RP: Reading. I had great teachers. My freshman English teacher was Paul Fussell, and he asked us to read ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound. I read Yeats and Eliot and Ginsberg and Bishop. And I recognized the way the sounds of words were doing things in those writers. William Carlos Williams and William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson. I was less interested in the differences among them than the thing I saw going on in all of them. I was interested by that thing.
pinsky109
DB: Yes. That's such a better way to get into it. When you started to kind of compose the poems and they became more important to you personally but also important to your career and moving forward, what were the ways you were working on them? Were they always kind of appearing in your head? You'd write them down by hand and then type them up for other people? What was the process there?
pinsky110
RP: I've had these ideas floating around in my head for a long time. A certain sense of ideas, like "humble things have histories." "What were the first things you ever saw made out of plastic in your own life?" Cheap shit from Japan after the war—toys mostly. Plastic soldiers, metal soldiers, saw dust soldiers. During a war, you couldn't get them. So I would think about those substances.
pinsky111
Those ideas, that set of ideas about different materials. That's all just thoughts. At the same time, I'd be mixing up my own personal history. The time I left some sawdust soldiers—pressed-wood soldiers—out overnight and they swelled-up. And then a completely other set of ideas that might involve war and the fascination of war. I had an uncle who was in the "Battle of The Bulge." He was a radio man, and I remember being very tiny and being fascinated by his massive boots. He's wearing the boots and I'm on the rug, touching those big boots. And none of that's the poem. That's memories, thoughts, ideas. And then the poem is when you start putting some sounds together. Something unnatural about the way a sawdust soldier will swell in the rain, unlike the boots of my uncle.
pinsky112
It's not an existing poem by the way. I can give a little demo. The poem starts when you start thinking about the vowels and consonants. With "uncle"—you rearrange the consonants. "Unclean" and "calendar." "The calendar of childhood." Then the time between the day that you find out wooden soldiers get ruined and the day that your mother and grandmother both dreamed that Julian was in trouble, and negligent memories of unclean...blah, blah, blah. That's the material.
pinsky113
DB: Yes. That's the material. I guess the purpose of these interviews is kind of to think about how that material becomes the book in all its iterations, and how that has changed over the course of time as to how many computers you think you've owned, how many different writing devices. Stuff like that. If you compose it in your head, does that mean you have whole poems in your head before you write them down?
[00:38:13]
pinsky114
RP: Sometimes, but more often I'll get enough lines to want to make a draft. So I'll write them down and I'll look at those and recite to myself the different things I've written down, and then I'll decide to type it into a document that I can print out. And then I'll read that over and maybe get a new idea.
pinsky115
DB: What was that like in the early '70s/late '60s?
pinsky116
RP: Pre-computer?
pinsky117
DB: Yeah.
pinsky118
RP: Something came out of the typewriter that has a lot of ballpoint all over it. Now it comes out of a laser printer and it has felt pen in all over it.
pinsky119
DB: When you're actually doing the writing-down, you say you don't really usually use notebooks or anything. What is it you are writing on? Is it just bare paper?
pinsky120
RP: Yeah. My favorite kind of paper is very hard to get. I'm forced to use this because it's very hard to get this. I don't like the lines.
pinsky121
DB: Yeah, that's interesting.
pinsky122
RP: I get that somehow society doesn't take this very seriously anymore. You can get it white, I don't want it white.
pinsky123
DB: You want it yellow?
pinsky124
RP: I want it yellow.
pinsky125
DB: I think that is the best, color-wise—yellow and black, or some sort of yellow as the background is the best.
pinsky126
RP: Yes. Yellow and black is somehow a little more fluid than black and white. Black and white feels sort of legal, or reductive.
pinsky127
DB: Have you been working with blank yellow paper if you can, since—?
[00:38:18]
pinsky128
RP: Yes. We haven't talked much about prose. I can remember working on prose and going through lots and lots of different processes, technologically. White-out of course. But I can remember before the IBM liftoff, I can remember using—and they even made it double-space, or sort of single-space, I believe—correction tape. So, you could take a passage that you wanted to change and you glue the tape down and you might use a Xerox machine. You would do white out so the tape didn't leave a tell tale grey outline. I can remember kind of thick, palimpsest pages where I had done that on some piece of prose.
pinsky129
DB: And that would build-up and build-up until you got it to...where?
pinsky130
RP: I think with the early drafts of The Situation of Poetry, I was still at that stage of the tape and the white out, and I'm probably forgetting a couple of other things I did to save having to retype something. Now, I've met an editor who said she thinks prose declined—people started writing much more poorly—when the computer made it so easy to insert passages. That it led people—rather than concentrating on editing and cutting and sculpting their prose—to insert. That every sentence got a little bloated.
pinsky131
DB: In terms of that same process, how do you think that affected poetry, and maybe yours specifically?
[00:40:10]
pinsky132
RP: I think poetry took an unproductive turn when people fell in love with the technology of the typewriter. Charles Olsen wrote very solemnly that with the new poet, you can count the spaces. Proportional spacing came along within a decade or two and made nonsense of that. To me, the graphic thing—people talk about lining endings quite a lot. I always feel, "No, I don't write line endings, I write lines" and it's the whole line. I guess you could say I'm kind of an extremist and very resistant to the visual idea of the poem. Different technologies give people the illusion that poetry is a form of graphics, and I guess for them it is.
pinsky133
For me, the unique quality of poetry is that it is vocal. It's on a human scale. It comes out of one person's body one syllable at a time. There doesn't have to be anybody else around—I'm not talking about poetry readings or performances. I'm talking about things very similar to the Favorite Poem Project videos. So, with technology, the most important thing yet to be done—and it's amazing to me it hasn't been done yet...
pinsky134
I was at Chancellor at the Academy of American Poets and they brought to us, very proudly—first chancellors to see—somebody who had made a program where the words of a poem can scroll and jump around. You see words do that on TV ads every day! It's banal. Why don't they correct the fact that still, I think, FSG won't publish poems in an electronic e-book edition because, somehow, nobody has come up with a way to preserve the integrity of the lines. It seems to me you could get a team of programmers to do that in a couple of days.
pinsky135
DB: I am also baffled by it.
pinsky136
RP: Probably going to happen tomorrow. But at the moment it's in this ridiculous stage where it hasn't happened. On the other hand, Horace didn't have visual lines. They didn't make spaces between the words. They wanted to save parchment or wax or papyrus or stone. Whatever they were using. So, you could figure out where the lines were because the rhythms were so strong.
pinsky137
DB: And you have a very strong sense—you and, like, James McMichaels, sort of, too—have that strong sort of oral sense of poetry and are very dedicated to it. Did that come out of working with Winters? Or did that come out of kind of an innate sense of what you were doing from the beginning?
pinsky138
RP: I think there were some moment when I was reading "Howl" and "Sailing to Byzantium" and Dickinson, and I felt this reality in those things that was different from the reality of Alan's typewriter going staccato. It was different from the reality of reading Ulysses or Dubliners. That was a very powerful reality produced by those rectangular blocks of print and the pages. This was more physical in some way. More bodily, let's say.
pinsky139
So it maybe made me ripe for Winters, and he certainly amplified it by inviting me to learn something about George Gascoigne, Fulke Greville, and Philip Sidney, ?Brohly?. But I think it happened when I was in my late teens still, and, you know, Gingsberg was obsessed by blank verse by Elliot, and he'd give himself these exercises in it. So, it was—as is Williams, in a completely different way—it was free verse that was intensely oral. William calls all those poems "metric figure," and obviously metric figure is about their attempts to write intense rhythms that are not iambic or blank verse.
pinsky140
DB: Yeah, and that move away from that is such an interesting part of the century.
[00:45:45]
pinsky141
I guess the kind of overarching question that I'm wondering is—and as a digital librarian and someone who is working in the digital new, who can't really remember ever not writing on a computer—when the computer came in, when the Atari came in, and when the screens started appearing in front of you and the ease of those deletions and insertions and re-arrangements became possible, did that change the way you worked? Did that change what you produced?
pinsky142
RP: I don't think it changed what I produced, but I think that it was the beginning of a different kind of archival anxiety. There is the archival anxiety about paperwork being preserved, given some manuscript or somebody else's manuscript being destroyed. I'm of a generation where I save magazines that I have work in—that's the old anxiety. And the new anxiety is the mortality of digital information. I can remember the Library of Congress saying to me that the only way to preserve digital material is to reproduce it. Unlike papyrus, it's mortal. It turns to mush. And that's aside from the fact that the medium keeps changing. The Favorite Poem Project videos—today I talked about somebody who is going to take the original digital tapes and make them into a current high definition format rather than the flash format they're in.
pinsky143
DB: They're in flash?
pinsky144
RP: Yeah, on the website. But the website will be enhanced. You'll to be able to make them full screen. For seven years I was in NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. When Frank Sinatra died, I read passages from Virgil about the death of a singer. When the stock market was in trouble, I read Frost's "Provide, Provide." At the time, the places I recorded those would give me dumps on VHS tape. Where are they? Where is that material? There's a lot of it. I anxious this has gone into the ether. I was a Poetry Editor for Slate for many years. They eventually found poetry was not bringing enough "hits," enough money and ads and things, so they stopped doing it. To preserve it for awhile, there were years when I would do a poem out-of-copyright, a classic poem. I'd do, say, an early poem by Marianne Moore.
pinsky145
DB: It's how I was introduced to Fulke Greville.
pinsky146
RP: So I did those. I was shocked to learn that, unlike almost everything, like all kinds of pornography and ads and stuff, they're gone. They're irretrievable. Those discussions—and so many are with well known poets and critics taking part in them—they're gone. Vanished.
pinsky147
DB: What form? Were they written?
pinsky148
RP: They were in the fray, in the discussion part. I was responding to people.
pinsky149
DB: Oh, the comments actually below.
pinsky150
RP: So, something quite valuable that I put effort into vanished. Well, we all vanish, we all die. And most objects are described, and we don't know how long Shakespeare's reputation will last. You know, there's the large view, but there's also personal, temporal anxiety. One has mixed emotions when, you know—my papers are at Stanford. They bought up to a certain year of paper-papers, but a librarian at Stanford said to me, "I hope you're saving your email. I hope you're saving your electronic emails." There's a new anxiety there. What in there that I wouldn't want quoted will come out in a journal? So, there is the anxiety of what could be lost and the anxiety of what could be preserved that you don't want preserved. There is the anxiety of—the family level is only metaphor for the whole thing. I share some photographs with my great grandparents' generation and these are photographs of your grandparents' generation that you treasure. We all have a camera in our pocket. It shoots video. This little tiny sliver has access to almost all the information there is, and you can create more forthright information with almost no effort at all. Selfies, etcetera.
pinsky151
If you want your grand children to pay any attention to your family photos, you better edit them, because the future generation doesn't want to spend all day listening to grandpa say, "Hiya!" You better think about what time capsule you create. And as I say, that's only a metaphor for the larger question you're dealing with. In one of my poems, "The Forgetting"—
pinsky152
DB: Which book is that in?
pinsky153
RP: In Gulf Music, I say, Ezra Pound praised the emperor who appointed a committee of scholars to choose the advocate who has the 1,000 best Noh dramas and destroy the others for the good of the Noh. Ezra Pound approved of that, the fascist. So I was trying to express ambivalence about the winnowing process and the selecting process. The Library of Congress has to decide which sitcoms it will preserve, which commercials. Some of those commercials and sitcoms may be superior works of art to poetry by people who win the Pulitzer Prize. Who decides?
[00:51:35]
pinsky154
DB: Librarians.
pinsky155
RP: I guess you do.
pinsky156
DB: I'm right here, talk to me. What do you need? In terms of that winnowing process then, what do you think about your own—I'm sure you have uncollected works and stuff like that? How do you feel towards those now? And where do you store those? Are they in paper? In certain boxes? Are they in the papers at Stanford?
pinsky157
RP: The papers—every so often, I'll accumulate enough and shoot them off to Palo Alto. Electronically, I mean... As it happens, in the last few months, somebody—it happened twice, that a poem of mine that I didn't choose to put in the selected—somebody said to me, "This poem of yours means a lot to me." I remember the poem very well. It's a poem called "The Reasons." This person said, "It's a poem that, when I think about my ethnicity, the way you deal with ethnicity is very important to me." But I felt maybe I shouldn't put in the selected, and I didn't.
pinsky158
Then online, someone I have never met personally pointed to another poem because I'd published it in poetry magazine when I was in my 20s. It was on the Poetry magazine website, and she said how much she liked it. I looked it up and thought, "Pretty good." I'd never put it in any book. I had forgotten it entirely. So, I don't know how that's germane to your question, but it is germane, somehow.
pinsky159
DB: No, I think so.
pinsky160
RP: That there is no ultimate authority for that selection process, the author included.
pinsky161
DB: Ok. So you have these digital files that contain the poem and you've backed them up and you try to make sure they're okay. Do you feel some sort of "dearness" towards them? Or do you feel that they're sort of just a means to something else, somewhere else?
[00:54:28]
pinsky162
RP: A lot of it is mechanical. A lot of it is in reflecting. I have many, many folders. I'm sort of a quasi-organized person. So, under "Documents" in my hard drive—which is then backed up in my backup drive—under "Documents," there are many, many folders, letters from different years; prose. Probably thirty—I haven't counted them. There is one called "Drafts." In "Drafts," under sub-folders, for most poems there's that "DR1," "DR12," "DR14." I look at it and I sometimes feel the way I told you I feel about the family photographs. Nobody wants all this. Bishop has a poem about the umbrella that was so hard to make and the leather trousers, how they gave them to the local museum. How can anybody want such things? I'm sure she's thinking about drafts and memorabilia and so forth. It's just another anxiety. I can't say I think about it a lot, but I'm ambivalent when I think about all those megabytes of drafts. And two separate questions are: do I want anyone to look at them, and who could possibly want to look at them? But I don't destroy them and I do, somewhat mechanically, shoot the drafts into drafts. I guess part of the theory is I might want to look. And I suppose every once in many, many months, I do look.
pinsky163
DB: So you're saving each poem as a new draft? It's not, like, one poem with many drafts in it? It's just, with each poem, a new file, a new draft?
pinsky164
RP: A new folder. Each poem. Let's say the poem is called "The Mechanical Pencil." Then it'll have a name like "Mech Pencil," with an upper case M and P. So you'll have "Mech Pencil DR1.docx" or "Mech Pencil DR6.docx," "Mech Pencil 47"—and maybe not every single one is saved, but those are, and they're all going into that folder. In the main file, which is the next book—in whatever that folder is, you have the separate poems.
pinsky165
DB: When did you start using this sort of folder system?
pinsky166
RP: I can't remember when I started doing it.
pinsky167
DB: But it's been pretty consistent?
pinsky168
RP: Probably since I started using a computer.
pinsky169
DB: Do you feel like you kind of envision the poems in that way? When you are thinking about them later, does that ever pop into your mind?
pinsky170
RP: When I think about the poem I think about it in my book or as part of my poetry reading. Or, if I'm in a particularly grandiose and hopeful state, I picture somebody reading it the way that people in the Favorite Poem Project—you know, the way Seph Rodney reads Plath's "Nick and the Candlestick."
[00:58:22]
pinsky171
DB: Yeah. I was watching the South Boston—
pinsky172
RP: Oh, the kid.
pinsky173
DB: John—
pinsky174
RP: John Ulrich.
pinsky175
DB: Yeah, John Ulrich.
pinsky176
RP: He reads Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool."
pinsky177
DB: I was struck by how much I wanted to know how he's doing. I was interested in him. I mean the poem is great and everything, but it just made me, like—
pinsky178
RP: Last I heard he was doing okay.
pinsky179
DB: I hope so. Good. So, I guess I'm a little unclear as to what your revision process is like. I think I have a sense of how the compositions happen. But then when you have, say, most of the poem ready—like when you're moving from drafts 020 to 021—what are you doing in between there?
[00:59:00]
pinsky180
RP: Print-out. Write on the printout.
pinsky181
DB: Are you reading it out loud?
pinsky182
RP: See if you have the poem by memory. Turn the light off while going to sleep and try to recite the poem. If you come to a part you don't have memorized, maybe that's the part you need to work on. Not reliably, but sometimes.
pinsky183
DB: Do you have an intention in doing that? Is each poem different, or—?
pinsky184
RP: Yeah. My intention is to make it worth somebody getting by heart, or wanting to read to their friend, or wanting to recite to themselves on a hike or when they are driving—do whatever it is that poems do.
pinsky185
DB: What happens when a poem doesn't realize that? How do you know that a poem is not going to get there?
pinsky186
RP: In my case, you keep working. Very rarely, you abandon it—usually some part of it that's working gets incorporated into the next poem, or into some future poem.
pinsky187
DB: So, you kind of take parts and move them around?
pinsky188
RP: Yes. You use it the way Cubans do parts of sugar lace.
pinsky189
DB: Do other people kind of work into this process?
pinsky190
RP: Yeah, I have friends. Louise sees what I write. Alan sees what I write. And maybe Gail Mazur. Different times of my life there have been different friends—always somebody around. Jim Olson. Sometimes I email things to Jim.
pinsky191
DB: At what stage do these people usually come in?
pinsky192
RP: Fairly late.
pinsky193
DB: To kind of get a reaction or something like that? Was the translation work and using the computer and these sort of processes fundamentally different?
[01:01:10]
pinsky194
RP: It was rather similar. Felt pen. I would print-out whatever canto I was working on, so: two or three pieces of paper, maybe one piece of paper. I had everything I needed. And then it was the metrical game.
pinsky195
DB: You described that in one of the interviews I've read as sort of intensely pleasurable sort of work. What kept you drawing you back to it?
pinsky196
RP: It's why kids play video games. It's why guys play golf. It's a difficulty that you become addicted to. You become entranced by the difficulty. Like people who need to do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. It's that part of the mind that loves to solve difficulties—or, let's not say "solve"—engage a certain kind of difficulty. Because the video games offer infinite... You can't ever solve it. You can get better at it, making those consonantal rhyme tercets and pentameters. And always compressing—I use fewer words in that translation than any other translation, prose or verse. Never pad to get a rhyme. Compress to get a rhyme. That was the rule. And it became what a jigsaw puzzle is for somebody who loves jigsaw puzzles. What a video game is for somebody who loves video games. It became absorbing.
pinsky197
DB: How long did that project last?
pinsky198
RP: It was a year to get through the Inferno ones, and almost another year to revise.
pinsky199
DB: I read that you worked on a revision with Frank Bidart some, too?
pinsky200
RP: Yes. We put a lot of effort into that.
pinsky201
DB: So you have the individual poems that you work on, but then how do you get them into a book?
pinsky202
RP: There's a folder called "Book.pms" and it acquires a name, and the book acquires a title, but that's the next book of poems. In that folder right now, there's a file called—I think—"Book29." That is, it's the 29th draft when I bother to have a contents page, which Nisus Writer does very well. A contents page, page numbers, and the order that the poems are in. That order will change, but it's what I have with me if I go somewhere to give a poetry reading, and it's a file. It's a folder.
[01:03:40]
pinsky203
DB: How do you construct your orders?
pinsky204
RP: I guess it's different for each book. I'm not sure how to answer. It's intuitive.
pinsky205
DB: Does it have some sort of phrasing to it? I mean, is it musical in that sense?
pinsky206
RP: I hope ideas and feelings get introduced. I hope then they get developed and amplified and explained, and then I hope new elements come in, in the course of that process. At the same time, one recognizes that a good number of readers don't read the poems in order—some people like to start in the middle, some people start at the end. But for those who want to see something in the order, Gulf Music starts with a kind of peculiar title poem. It says, "This is not going to be easy. It's going to involve the newspaper, and it's not going to take certain conventional routes for political poetry."
[01:05:00]
pinsky207
DB: I found the ordering and construction of Gulf Music to be very unusual. I was just sort of thinking about it being just unlike most things that come out now.
pinsky208
RP: I thought about it a lot. I did want to make it something distinctive, and it starts with the most ghazal-like thing in the book.
pinsky209
DB: Yeah. Are you on draft 29 of the current book?
pinsky210
RP: Yes.
pinsky211
DB: Is that where you are at?
pinsky212
RP: Yes.
pinsky213
DB: This is just for me, but do you know when—?
pinsky214
RP: I'm on leave next year. I hope that before the year is over, I'll have the book.
pinsky215
DB: How has teaching influenced the way you write? Has it done much? Or has it sort of been the way that you support the time that you get to do the writing?
[01:06:40]
pinsky216
RP: It's not an easy question to answer. I'm proud—it's an honorable profession, and I think I've probably helped more people than I've hurt people. And my students seem to be getting something out of what I do as a teacher. I guess they help when I ask them to make anthologies. So, I guess among other things, they help me have a sense of what is currently esteemed. Change has a frightening morbidity—every two or three years the canon is very different.
pinsky217
DB: Has that rate increased in more recent years, now that the internet has kind of made things more available?
pinsky218
RP: I'm not sure. It could be, or it could be just that as I get older I'm more disturbed by it, or delighted by it, or something. But it certainly does suggest that the wheel of fashion spins along pretty well.
pinsky219
DB: I guess there are other questions about your correspondence, and I know you talked about the anxiety of saving emails and stuff like that. But before, were you a big physical letter writer?
pinsky220
RP: I used to write a lot of letters. They used to be a way I would warm up. But I remember when I was working on The Situation of Poetry, I would warm up with a routine where first I'd write a letter or two, maybe three, and that would somehow make me feel I was working. Then, to glide into working on a poem or in that prose project—it was somehow made easier. And, I used to get a lot of letters, and I used to send a lot of letters. I still do once in awhile, but electronic has taken over.
pinsky221
DB: Can you point to a time when that sort of wave overtook?
pinsky222
RP: I think in the late '80s or early '90s. People you think would never adapt to email adapted to email. It became more and more of a lingua franca. And it became the agora, it became where people met. And the generation that only did paper correspondence got old and died, to be blunt about it.
pinsky223
DB: Do you find that it is a different genre?
pinsky224
RP: Different conventions.
pinsky225
DB: Yeah.
pinsky226
RP: I must say that when I see letters I wrote long ago, I wince. I don't like it.
pinsky227
DB: Why not?
pinsky228
RP: It's either naiveté, or there is falseness, or there is clumsiness. To write a good letter, in a way, you have to not think about how you are sounding or looking. It should be ephemeral, it should be at the moment. But then to have it preserved for 20 years? It's a little disturbing.
pinsky229
DB: Do you think that there is more of an awareness of that with email?
pinsky230
RP: I think email is probably more unconscious. I was joking with you about my friend who says scandalous things in emails, and I repeatedly tell him, "Look out!" Things you read in the newspaper where in some business setting or political setting, people get nailed. The email trail. It may be generationally something is changing. I think people say things in email they wouldn't say "in writing" because they don't think of it as having as much permanence, and sometimes it surprises them.
pinsky231
DB: Yeah. My first job out of college as a paralegal, I just looked through email after email for "Hot Docs," as they were called.
pinsky232
RP: And hitting "delete"—
pinsky233
DB: It doesn't do it.
pinsky234
RP: No it doesn't. It doesn't shred it.
pinsky235
DB: So, kind of more overall, do you think the advent of the computer and the rise of the computer in your practice has changed things fundamentally? What if you were still working with your IBM Selectric?
pinsky236
RP: Publication is different. We've been talking about production, and production has changed somewhat for me. Probably not as much as many people. Probably because I've been doing it so long with a computer and because poetry for me is vocal. Publication is in a midst of some kind of tremendous transition. I don't think anybody knows where it's going, exactly. I recently spent a few days in New York. It's pleasing to see the people with a book in the subway, a magazine or a newspaper, but most people who are looking at something are looking at the screen. I'm surprised how many are looking at tablets. Lots are looking at phones—a certain number are playing games, a certain number are checking their email, a certain number are listening to music and looking at something that goes with the music. How many are reading? I don't know. But at the moment, if a magazine tells you they want to put something in their web page rather than print and you feel it as their second level of affection for this—that maybe shifting.
[01:11:45]
pinsky237
DB: Yeah. I wonder about that too. I feel like it's right on that cusp.
pinsky238
RP: I think it's all very fluent, and we don't know—and I don't think anybody really is quite sure—what's going to happen next. I guess one has to not think about it too much.
pinsky239
DB: Yeah. Unless you have to make those decisions, sure. Your point about the formatting and about them not figuring that out yet—
pinsky240
RP: That's going to happen soon.
pinsky241
DB: But I mean, even in HTML, even if you see your poems get put up there, there are so many easy problems that people just don't know how to fix, because there are so many different levels of expertise.
pinsky242
RP: It used to drive me crazy on Slate when an ad would disrupt a poem.
pinsky243
DB: Yeah. Like break the line in a weird way or something like that? Maybe a famous poem?
pinsky244
RP: Are we almost done?
pinsky245
DB: Yes.
pinsky246
RP: I'm getting a little worn out.
pinsky247
DB: I think we're done.
pinsky248
RP: Good.
pinsky249
DB: Okay. Thank you very much, Robert.
pinsky250
RP: It's great and it was fun. A smart thing to be going into.
pinsky251
DB: We'll see.
pinsky252
end of audio
[01:14:31]
strickland1
Devin Becker: Well, let's put that right there. And that one, it has like an auto level, so that should work and I can see it. So that's nice. Usually I get really nervous about thirty minutes in. Is it going? One time, one wasn't going, which really made me anxious. That's why I have two.
0:00:00
strickland2
Stephanie Strickland: So these are the questions?
strickland3
DB: Yeah, these are the questions and it's pretty open-ended. There are sort of a couple of parts to it. The first part is the very sort of meant to be quickly going through your current practices for your digital files. It's a survey that I've done online with a bunch of emerging writers, and that I'm asking all the participants in this as well, and then we'll talk kind of specifically about your writing processes for probably the majority. There are questions about computing and computers. Usually we cover those, but sometimes, I go through those a little bit too if we have gone through those things and I want to ask a few more. Does that sound okay? Do you have to go somewhere or anything? Everyone has been an hour and fifteen to an hour and forty-five, right in there. So if you would please state for the recording devices your name and our location.
strickland4
SS: It's Stephanie Strickland, New York City.
strickland5
DB: Okay. In this section, I ask what you write and what you use to write it. This is about how you compose currently. What genres do you write in?
strickland6
SS: I do books of poetry and I write critical essays, and I write—I make—usually collaboratively born digital works.
strickland7
DB: Okay. Would you say you have a primary genre?
strickland8
SS: Poetry.
strickland9
DB: What kind of devices do you own or have access to for your writing?
strickland10
SS: Pens, pencils. There's four computing devices in this one room. I keep an old XP machine going—with difficulty, these days. I liked Word 2003. I managed to get that and Word 2007 on that machine, and then I have a little small Acer, which is underneath there, which is actually probably the most advanced, but again, it's Word 2007 is on there that I write with, and it's for travel. And then since the last thing I made was an app for iPad, I was forced to buy an iPad—I had to show the thing on it! So that's over there, a mini.
strickland11
DB: A mini? That's what I have.
strickland12
SS: But I do not write on it.
strickland13
DB: You don't write on it, right?
strickland14
SS: No.
strickland15
DB: Okay. So, the operating systems you're using are mostly Windows?
strickland16
SS: XP and Windows 7.
strickland17
DB: Do you work on the different devices? And how do you work between—I guess, if you have all these devices, what is your style for going between them?
strickland18
SS: Well, if I'm generating new material, I will certainly do a certain amount of writing by hand. I capture, at various points, the material in a word processing program. The one I work with most intuitively is Word 2003. I'm annoyed at all the extra ridiculous functionality.
[00:03:09]
strickland19
DB: At least there is no clippie, right?
strickland20
SS: Yeah, I mean there's too much—it's not directed for what I want to do, and it doesn't handle other things—like Photoshop would—that it says that it will do.
strickland21
DB: Yeah.
strickland22
SS: But nonetheless, it's not supported anymore as with so much of the software that I once used. So I capture it at different points, certainly capturing it online is much better for sharing it and editing it to a degree, but it's not particularly good for through-line.
strickland23
DB: What do you mean by that?
strickland24
SS: Well, if you're writing something long with a complex argument, I think it's much easier to have it in front of you on paper and read it out, because it's very easy to go into a "collage-y" kind of style with stuff that's going to be published online. It's harder to get a really consecutive—long, consecutive argument made, I think, or a thought, and it's not fluid enough to do poetry. I mean, it restricts you way too much in terms of formatting compared to what you can do on a page by hand in terms of how you want to scratch things out or put something right in—
strickland25
SS: there's no arrow, insert, none of that. So it's neither—so there's a loss from both perspectives, but obviously from the point of organizing it and sharing it and necessarily sending it on for publishing these days and everything, it has to be done in—yeah. Long, long ago, I got used to doing that. It took me a long time to get there, though, because I started on a manual typewriter and then getting an IBM typewriter was a big thing, you know.
[00:05:00]
strickland26
DB: Yeah.
strickland27
SS: Just like I've used many, many writing technologies.
strickland28
DB: I mean that's really the impetus for this. I was just thinking about the thing I did earlier, then I started thinking about writers like yourself who have been writing over this course—this is a very interesting time for writing poetry.
strickland29
SS: Well, I need those little balls on the IBM Selectric. That was like this huge thing that you could erase with an erase thing, that you don't have to pull the page out and start all over again. On the other hand, there was a discipline about that. So each technology actually gave rise to a certain kind of poetry and a certain kind of mistake. These characteristic mistakes people make in email or characteristic word substitutions that you do that you never did on the page—
[00:05:52]
strickland30
—anyway, so I don't think that story has really been told because it shifts so rapidly, because you went from email to texting, to this to that, you know, and each one of those things has a different—and then Facebook sits up there and shifts its interface like monthly or whatever it does, you know, and that gives rise to a whole new thing. In the meantime, whatever a person might have wanted to do is kind of knocked out of their head because they are left wrestling with the interface.
strickland31
DB: Yeah that's a good point. So in terms of going between your paperwork and going to the digital, what are those—what steps are—
strickland32
SS: It's different. Every single project is completely different because I do a lot of—like, if I'm doing a conference presentation (there were a couple of conferences that we're going to do something with) I would tend to generate something and send it to my partner, what do they want to say about it, you know, and then we get together face to face and deal with that or whatever.
strickland33
Like the last really big new book I did, Dragon Logic, the way I wrote that was, for probably six months, every morning, I had some paper notebooks and things. I was looking through old notes and things. And I would sit and I would write, every morning, for maybe three or four hours and at the end of the morning, I would go and type it up—I mean input it.
strickland34
I did not look at it again. The next day, I would start completely fresh and I did that to the point that I had no idea how it had begun actually. And some—maybe six months later—I sort of came to the end of that, and then it was a matter of looking back and like—"what is it?"—you know? So then there was a long period of making a unity of some kind out of it. That shifted, that had made maybe two or three major shifts in understanding as I go through it, but I really liked it because it was very new to me to go back and look at—I mean, I really had no idea what it was.
[00:07:56]
strickland35
DB: You don't know, yeah.
strickland36
SS: It was a long period of writing and sometimes I've gone to writing colonies and written straight through for a long, long, long time, and not input it until I came back from there. But then there was a time when you would—I still had a car at that time, and I wasn't living in the city—and I put my IBM Selectric or whatever in, and would carry it out, or I would rent a computer to have at that place because I wanted the print out, and I still want the print out. It still looks different to me on paper than it does on the screen and you want to know both those aspects.
strickland37
SS: And then there came the time when no one did that anymore. You couldn't really rent a computer or rent—it was the same time you would go to make presentations wherever you went. The university had a computer there in a room with a stage and you needed a technician to come and fix up all the, whatever—and then they didn't anymore because everyone was expected to bring their laptop and to have one and travel with it. I had a lot of problems with my hands from when I first started doing digital work and I travel really, really light so that made me really angry that I had to—
[00:09:24]
strickland38
DB: To carry—
strickland39
SS: And I wouldn't. I would borrow somebody's or something like that. So there was like all these phases of what you had to do, the way to do it, and so it was different for every book.
strickland40
DB: When you're working—like, for Dragon Logic, when you were working on paper in the mornings, what were you working on? What were your materials? Was it just that notebook?
strickland41
SS: It was a bigger notebook than that, probably, a pen with wet ink—wettish ink, not like ballpoint—that has a flow to it, but again because of my hands, to have the least effort of writing. I like a big, like, engineering notebook with graph paper. Often, I had bigger ones like this. It was like a green graph on it. Yeah, I don't like just lined pages. This makes an overall page better, but still—
strickland42
DB: It has some sort of volume to it. That book has such interesting volume. So then how do you save that stuff? Do you just keep it and once you're finished with the notebook, do you store it somewhere or do you send it?
strickland43
SS: Put it in a box.
strickland44
DB: Put in a box over there? Most of your prewriting and your notes are all in notebooks like that?
strickland45
SS: You would hope! But no, they are not. There's a lot of loose paper, there's a lot of, well, it can be anything because it's whatever I happen to pull up at that exact moment. It can be stuff I wrote down at different times and happened to bring it together. And there were so many versions for a while, and then you sort of drown in versions and then you get tired of that. And then came the time when I decided I needed to use the back of everything, for ecological reasons. I really feel sorry for the people that do [study this later], because now there's a version of a thing and you look on the back and you have no idea when that thing on the back—I mean, if you think the front and the back were done at the same time, they never were.
strickland46
DB: No? Good, now we have that on record.
strickland47
SS: But you know, and they have no relation to each other, but I can just see somebody—because they're on the same paper, and they are saying that it will, and I'm like... And the other thing I do that's crazy is that I have some notebooks and then sometimes I go through the exact same notebook again and write into it so that it's actually a palimpsest of two different things that happen and there's no way that you would know—from the outside.
strickland48
DB: Why do you do that?
[00:13:07]
strickland49
SS: Because I want to—I go back and see, is there, does it still have the pull for me that it did, the things that I wrote down at that time, because there are things that tend to be continually magnetizing for me. I like to see—like I've never kept a diary in the sense of a personal diary or like a diary of what happened with my kids' behavior or whatever. I've never done that kind of a thing. I have like a horror of that like I have a horror of lined pages—but I have, there's just—sometimes, something just gets to me and I just need to write it down, so it's just these magnetizing things sort of, right? Maybe some image or something that had a—
strickland50
DB: That came back?
strickland51
SS: Yeah, there's like a—I remember seeing once an image of a Viking boat that I actually did go get to see in Norway, but this was just on the cover of a thing and it was the keel and the shape of the thing, and it was just in a kind of turquoise blue kind of thing and it was like, you know, it could have been a company's annual report or something—the cover—it had nothing to do with what was in there but there's this image. It's just like, "Ah" you know.
strickland52
DB: Striking.
strickland53
SS: In a zillion ways, that was important to me, which I don't necessarily know how, you know? So I have pictures pulled off like that. No, it's not organized.
strickland54
DB: Okay, good luck future researcher.
strickland55
SS: Yeah, good luck.
strickland56
DB: It sounds like you kind of write—in Dragon Logic, it isn't really individual works, it is a collection but it's also kind of, you know—and some of your other books as well—are not quite made of individual works, but then when you're working, when you move stuff over to the computer, do you—
strickland57
SS: Well, what do you mean not made individual? I mean, there are individual poems, but they are related. There's a whole meaning to the book.
strickland58
DB: Right, yeah and it just sounds like with your notebooks—I'm just interested in how you organize that once it moves on to a digital space?
strickland59
SS: I'm really good at that. I do that for lots of other people's books, too. I see unities, I see structures. I think I think in structures. I wanted to be an architect at one time.
strickland60
DB: That makes sense.
strickland61
SS: So, do you know the sort of math side of things and beautiful side of things of whatever you work on are not different for me exactly—
strickland62
DB: Right.
strickland63
SS: — so that the structure is often what I see. Do you know? It resonates, there's some kind of resonance here. So I see that and then it becomes what's the best way in, but that's for print because then in a digital work, there's not an "in" in the same way, right? In other words, there's an access often to all parts of it at once, you know in some kinds though I generally provide a default path through as well as a more open thing. So I think that's probably why that kind of work was so interesting to me, starting with True North, which has those five integrally [related] poems—the True North poems are sort of used to divide up the book—but really, they are supposed to be at the center of a moving pole, like the sun going around, so...how do you tell where True North is? You're answering that one question and then the rest of the things would be around in a sort of spherical space, which really should be an installation.
strickland64
DB: Yeah.
[00:17:02]
strickland65
SS: Or true three-dimensions, which of course you're not going to get, but anyway.
strickland66
DB: Someday there will be holographs.
strickland67
SS: Yeah, yeah, right.
strickland68
DB: Just in terms of the nitty gritty though, I mean like, when you have a file on the computer, what is it called? Is it called the title of the poem or do you have large files full of many things?
strickland69
SS: Well, at some point it's the name of the poem, or it's a name that references the name of the poem. For a long time, I will do revisions within that file with the date at the top of what—of which revision that is. Though, sometimes when I'm doing many, many revisions in one day, that gets a little lost. Then, at the point of a manuscript, there's a whole file that's an entire manuscript and those will have dates or something, you know, called "1, 2, 3," or something. They will be distinguished in some ways to which version they are of the whole manuscript.
strickland70
SS: I don't just put a whole lot of stuff together—I mean, that doesn't belong together—like in one file. I have kind of an elaborate folder system which, having worked in libraries, I'm pretty comfortable dealing with elaborate folders and so I know where I think—but increasingly, it's like, "Where did I put that?" because there are too many places to put certain things. Is it under the conference that I'm going to give? Is it under essays and talks? Is it under whatever—and the search capability within Windows is pathetic, so not better on Macs to my—though I'm not as well acquainted with them. That's a little annoying that I can't—and I mean, Google, I try to find—you know the book called The Burnt Book by Marc "hyphen" something [Marc-Alain Ouaknin]... . Anyway, I thought it was Kinin, I had O-U-A-K right. I had "Marc" right, I had "Burn" right, and I go on Amazon, go in "Books", say French, or Jewish, whatever—could not find it. Right? I mean, seriously! And then it didn't make what I thought was the obvious—do you know how it usually—"Did you mean?" It was terrible. Anyway, I finally got it in Bing after trying a zillion different things, but I mean like—
strickland71
SS: it should be better by now, that kind of thing should be way better by now. Any published book should be in Google books. Give me a break! Anyway, I'm not happy with "Search."
[00:20:00]
strickland72
DB: Okay. In general. And as a librarian, I think I can understand your problems with that. Just to be clear, when you are doing an individual poem and you put the date at the top, do you have like a version and then another version at another page with a new date, or something like that?
strickland73
SS: Yes, so that could be fifty pages long.
strickland74
DB: But it's one poem?
strickland75
SS: But it's one poem, or whatever. Increasingly you're farther away from the one, and then you could just—"I can't deal with this poem anymore." What's useful is often a version really near the beginning, and then you pick something from the middle, it's under the end of the file, and then you can find your way, kind of, because you forget what you, you know, whatever. Yeah. I do it like that, and then eventually it's what you either call "Final Version" or "the version sent to so and so" or, you know, like that, to try and have a clean copy folder as well as the working folder.
strickland76
DB: Okay, so you have the working draft and then you can push it into a different folder that's more finalized.
strickland77
SS: More like "to send out," or something like that.
strickland78
DB: Okay. During this time, are you printing out those to revise them as well?
strickland79
SS: Well, you print them out. You don't print out everything. At a certain point, you'll print it out.
strickland80
DB: Do you save any of the paper copies of those printouts?
strickland81
SS: Yeah, but it's not big—right? I was very happy when Duke was willing to take [inaudible 00:21:53] but that's not easy either because of this thing of going back to the notebooks and things and what you do and you don't want to send out. I did send off things like the galleys and things, the manuscripts and stuff like that. Some of the time, it just seems crazy if there's just too many versions, and those all from before were all printed on very fine paper for the back. So I just turn them over and use them for—
strickland82
DB : There you go. Oh man, that's going to be fun. How did you develop your sort of writing style, or that revision style, on the computer? Did you start out on the computer doing it like that? How has it grown into doing that?
strickland83
SS: I don't know. It was always like that. I mean, I was extremely aware with every shift in software, every shift in functionality. It just kind of hits me, what I've lost and what I've gained, if anything. So, I always needed to see it both ways. So, I think from the beginning I printed it out and then from the time I had trouble with my hands—which was in 1995, when I first started using Storyspace in a beta version that erased all your links every eleventh save...that was the flaw. I didn't know! It was the first time I used software. I thought I must be doing something wrong. So, it was just terrible. Anyway, I couldn't keep doing it. I couldn't keep working—so there was a whole period of becoming sort of a little more ergonomically aware of working with computers and they've changed so much, you know, as many different ways as possible, you shift off to use different—you know, your eyes get really tired of being on a computer or your hand or whatever.
[00:22:44]
strickland84
DB: Right. Currently how are you backing up your work?
strickland85
SS: Well, I try to make that the main thing. I back that up onto a flash drive and then I have this sync toy stuff that Microsoft makes for its computers. So I have that on there, and so I sync that onto there. That works okay.
strickland86
SS: Then I have a little wallet backup drive that I try to put from there onto that, but it doesn't work as well. It was working fine and now they just updated so I'm having trouble with that at the moment, but eventually that sort of works. So it's on there, and there, and there, and then the Acer
[00:24:35]
strickland87
SS: I just kind of put the files on that I—I made one big copy from there, but I don't really keep it updated and everything because it's just the files I really need to work with when I'm travelling.
[00:25:00]
strickland88
DB: Are there any sort of standard, I mean, are you like backing up like every five months or something? Is there sort of regularity to it or it's just sort of this—?
strickland89
SS: I note on my overall "To Do" document when I last did it. I do it at least every two weeks, but if I did a lot of work I would do it. I mean, you know, if there was a whole lot of stuff that I wrote or something, and if I'm doing that, it will kind of be on little flash drives between the computers as I move, I like to work on it here or whatever.
strickland90
DB: Do you ever email it to yourself, or anything like that? Maybe like a copy of the recent manuscript or anything?
strickland91
SS: No.
strickland92
DB: Okay.
strickland93
SS: It used to be a lot of other ways. Do you remember those Iomega things, those drives? Do you remember those things?
strickland94
DB: Like the zip drives?
strickland95
SS: Yeah. It used to be zip drive—there used to be a thousand ways.
strickland96
DB: On this trip, I went and visited the Beineke and met with their born-digital archivist. They have like a computer stack with all the different old things that slide in, they built it themselves. It was really kind of cool to see all that forensic material, to look at those things. What about your older media?
[00:26:16]
strickland97
SS: I mostly just got rid of it. It just annoyed me! It was just so much to come between you and your work. And then, when I first started working and collaborating with Marjorie Luesebrink, she was using ToolBook. I mean, people don't even know about ToolBook. Inevitably, each new version of the software would be worse. I mean, there was more functionality in the beginning, right? And then they would just knock it down. Those of us who used Director and Flash, we've been hit hard.
strickland98
DB: Yeah, Flash especially. But what's Director?
strickland99
SS: Director is shockwave files. Do you know shockwave files?
strickland100
DB: Oh, okay.
strickland101
SS: Director was beautiful, most of the e-literature pieces that I liked the best were made in Director.
strickland102
DB: So, is that sort of your ideal software environment for—?
strickland103
SS: Well, it was, I mean, it doesn't produce stuff for miniature mobile devices, right? But yes, the work that I thought was really beautiful was done in that. And then, Macromedia was fine. Adobe—when Adobe bought Macromedia, it didn't—between Adobe buying Macromedia and Steve Jobs not—I understand flash is, and memory hog and all that when we moved to— but between those two things, those were very creative things, you know, and they haven't been really replaced. The HTML 5 and JavaScript doesn't do it the same way. I mean, people are trying to do it, so the thing is, they'll make an app. So, yeah—that whole thing just annoys me, that it's under the control of so few software, I mean, so few computer or software companies, you know, what you can do or what's supposed to be done and the way things are supposed to look. It was such an open—so much to explore and so much did get explored and has disappeared because of the inability to access it.
strickland104
SS: We've lost like a generation of design intelligence is what you might even say. Because people were exploring that and there wasn't enough time for other people to see it or think about it or whatever before the thing had shifted and moved on. So that all made me very annoyed and it seemed to me that nobody cared about the exploratory side of it—which they should have! Google and Apple, they have enough money to care about the exploratory side of it, Microsoft too.
strickland105
DB: I think so.
strickland106
SS: Do you know what I mean? They should be running huge, like IBM did or like Bell Labs did, huge exploratory—right?
strickland107
DB: Yeah. I guess a question from that—what made you stick with it?
strickland108
SS: Well, it's just the architectural part—I mean, the possibilities are just so great with respect to time and performativity and— —reach, and it's an international art form, the last of which was maybe concrete poetry. You know? We need to communicate. The world's problems are global, whether climatologic or poverty or what have you, right? Water, whatever; resources, survival. So, you need to speak—you know, I can't speak to 500 people, you know what I mean?
strickland109
SS: I just think you should explore what you care about in a medium that does have a reach, and there are difficulties with that. This generator that Nick [Montfort] and I made, which was translated into Polish—I never learned more about English, or Polish, or computation than trying to translate it. You know?
[00:30:44]
strickland110
SS: It brings up aspects of your language you never think about, because you never think about how it's different than Polish, for instance. And then they're trying to read your thing, and they're trying to read, in this case, too, Melville and Dickinson, because the work Sea and Spar Between was based on that. They are trying to deal with that and if it's not a good translation of Dickinson in Polish and then what—how do you—you know? It's really intense. Not only is it international, but it's a very intense investigation and evaluation of your basic materials. What you are working with, too—so you get to know your own stuff better, and you get to know somebody else better. I think that's a minimum of what we are going to need?
strickland111
DB: Yeah. That's a really good point. So when did you do the translation into Polish?
strickland112
SS: Oh, we didn't do it—these two Polish people did it. It was done by last—last year, Paris in October, I guess? Early October, whatever; September, October. The ELO [Electronic Literature Organization] meeting was in Paris and it was presented there. They gave a paper on it and we gave a paper on it, which will come out in this French journal Formaroute in June, or whatever. And it had been—they started doing it pretty soon after it was published—I think they started working at it—[32:52]—and Nick had run into one of these guys, I think at a translation conference in Paris that [Inaudible 32:51] had run or whatever and so it would have been in the works, but it just was a long—that was a long email exchange. This is the question, and how would you answer it, and how would they answer it, and all that.
strickland113
DB: Did they keep the JavaScript specifically and then sort of substitute words within the eraser?
strickland114
SS: No. You have to modify the code as well as the—
strickland115
DB: The whole thing because of the syntax—
strickland116
SS: Yes, you have to modify the code as well as the—that was always so interesting, you know, because you think the code is international or something but it's not. It's very language specific, what you normally can do, and so it's interesting.
strickland117
DB: Yeah, that's fascinating. I'd like to talk kind of more on a grander—or, not grander, but a longer scale about your sort of career as a writer and if you could kind of describe that arc. Like when did you start kind of writing really seriously—poetry—and then what was the move like from your first books into writing into born-digital pieces and stuff like that? If you could just give a kind of broad outline of that?
strickland118
SS: My father was an engineer. He had absolutely no use for words. Words were used by con-men, lawyers and advertising men. That's it. Whereas the real world, right, was reliable and whatever, he could build anything or sail anything or fix anything or whatever. So, it was like that. Though, my grandmother was a great reader and so forth, so there was that kind of thing but in my education, I didn't have any. I mean, I read a lot of literature but there was no point in it that I had any creative writing, anything like that.
[00:33:55]
strickland119
SS: So, I got married when I was still in college and I had three kids in five years, and putting my husband through graduate school, all that kind of stuff—or helping to put him through graduate school.
strickland120
SS: So, I didn't really start to write until I was home with no money, taking care of three children, you know, kind of "I can't move." [My] resource is only the radio really, kind of. I started to write then, but I did not value it, really. Then, at one point I went home for Christmas and my brother had brought a friend—I remember I was sitting with this youngest child in my arms and this and that, talking late at night, only lights of the Christmas tree around—and it just all of a sudden became clear to me that this friend of his wrote poems and was not tearing them up. It was like, "Oh!"
strickland121
SS: By that time, my older children were in school in Yonkers, and Sarah Lawrence had these writing programs. So I started to take programs there and in exchange, to pay for them, I worked in the library there—which I didn't have any library training, either, but that's all right. And eventually they wanted me to get the library training, and I got the library training by offering Pratt students—Pratt had courses in Westchester and all around, right and Sarah Lawrence had this computer, and this was really early computer lab stuff—I would teach the computer classes to the Pratt people up there to pay for the Pratt classes. And I was asked to—well, they wanted to automate—the librarian wanted to automate the library. This was a tiny little library, but a beautiful one. So, no one knew what that was—I mean, they had OC-LC, right? They had that, right? But it was like: get a catalog, get a circulation system showing that sort of list they may have here—so I said, "Sure." Why not?
strickland122
DB: Yeah. That sounds fun.
[00:37:22]
strickland123
SS: Seriously! And it was like, you're reading this stuff like—
strickland124
DB: And this was like early ‘80s?
strickland125
SS: Yeah, really early ‘80s. It was like—this is like "The Washington Library Authority System," or "Hennepin Headings" or—you know? It was like, "What's the right way to go?" You would do FTP downloads of ERIC databases and stuff like that. There were some digitized stuff to know, but it was really not—you know—
strickland126
DB: Yeah, that was really early.
strickland127
SS: So anyway, that's how I sort of became aware of those kinds of issues. Oh, and in the meantime, I had gotten my MFA and all that at Sarah Lawrence—but I really didn't send out sub—I mean, I had the children I was raising and a full time job and stuff like that. So, I was writing and then I somehow became aware—probably through Poets & Writers, you know—of McDowell, and Yaddo and stuff like that, and so I sent stuff off to there, and that was like the first time that I really had time to write at length, to do that. That was like amazing for me. That was very valuable for me.
strickland128
SS: I think it must have been early '90s that the first book was published, I think? It might have been. And then, some of the next few won some prizes and things like that. I won a CAP—CAPS was like a New York State grant, the old name for New York State, I think—and I got this newsletter from them, and that's where I first found out about Society for Literature and Science, which is now Society for Literature, Science and the Arts. I thought, you know, that sounds like something I'd be interested in, that was Kate Hayles who had sort of founded that.
[00:38:55]
strickland129
SS: So, I went—I started to go to those conferences, those meetings. And it was there that there was this notice about the NEH seminars—which, if you are not an academic, you don't hear about these things. But I looked, and it turned out—so Kate offered her first one of these in 1995. And it was about electronic literature but it was like
[00:39:32]
strickland130
SS: Hypertext Fiction, or whatever, and I'm like, "What? Why?" Because that's all there was kind of, at the time, you know? I had gotten involved with founding the Hudson Valley Writers' Center—some friends, people that I knew up at [upstate]—which was a poetry thing. So anyway, I went and looked at the guidelines for this thing. It turns out that you could apply as an independent scholar for any one of these things—and I'm an employed person, right? My whole application was, "You can't seriously only be offering this to academics and fiction people. You really need someone from poetry and someone from the public arts side of things." So, that's how I got into that thing. That was international. We had two computers for—it was maybe 15 of us? We had one Mac and one Windows computer for everybody to do all their work on, so we were working around the clock. It was a wonderful course. We did MOOS. We did all kinds of stuff. No one really knows what those are anymore, but—
[00:40:00]
strickland131
DB: Wait, what? MOOS?
strickland132
SS: MOOS. Online—like, you build rooms and you enter it textually, it's all textual and that kind of thing and those kind of games. Everything was of course new. We went and saw wonderful digital art builders, a lot of wonderful art being made in Pasadena—the Art Center [College] of Design, that place? And we went to SIGGRAPH—SIGGRAPH was just mind blowing and all that stuff. There were a few things on CDs—Uncle Buddy's Funhouse and Judy Malloy, there was a few, and the Eastgate hyperfiction things. And he'd just done this beta StorySpace for Windows, which was made available to Kate.
strickland133
SS: And I'd done—my first thing, my project, was supposed to be some bibliography or something. I got that done in one second; then she said, "Why don't you—?" Oh, and I had just written True North as a print thing, as a paper thing, and I'd sent it—I don't know who sent it—somebody sent it to Mark Bernstein, who liked it. He himself likes science and everything, and so he was really into like, "Let's make a hypertext file out of it." So that's when I started working with the [Storyspace software]—which was just—because it had this error, and I kept reporting errors. I didn't know if there were errors or I didn't know how to use it, or what. Then it turned out to be this really terrible thing, which—you know—you get nervous and you save more often and it's an awful feeling—
[00:42:14]
strickland134
DB: Every 11th time, it just deleted the links?
strickland135
SS: Yeah, it just destroyed your links. Anyway, we finally got it done and I sent it in, and that was great. He is going to publish it. Then he told me he had to make a version for Mac, which would—and the affordances of the Mac were completely different, I mean completely different. There were like two completely different things. Fortunately, Deena Larsen—who had been working with him in Mac forever—she and I got together at Marjorie's house in California. She showed me some of the stuff that you needed to do with that...but that was just traumatic, really. It was a traumatic way to go.
[00:43:15]
strickland136
SS: But maybe Marjorie [Luesebrink] was not—Marjorie and I then did stuff together. One of the things—which doesn't work anymore, the only one of my things that really doesn't work anymore (unless you have Netscape or whatever, or something)—we made a version of a poem that was in True North, the last poem in True North. But from then on, I was just—that was it, and I wanted to do digital work, and so from the time I did V: Wave Son.nets/ Losing L'una on, a digital component was part of the vision of the whole thing. And slippingglimpse was just purely a digital thing, though it got included along with the—well, no, no, the very, very first piece I did was The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot.
strickland137
SS: That was right after True North, because we had the Cyber Mountain conference that Deena [Larsen] organized the next year, and I had that ready for that. I remembered bringing it to that.
[00:45:00]
strickland138
DB: In what form did you bring it?
strickland139
SS: It's in HTML, a web thing. So, everything else except for the app—the most recent app, which I don't know if you have, but there is—
strickland140
DB: I do.
strickland141
SS: —Vniverse.
strickland142
DB: Yeah. I have been looking at it this week, it's great.
strickland143
SS: —it's for the browser. Not the same on all browsers, but pretty playable.
strickland144
DB: The Ballad—didn't you win a contest with that one in print first?
strickland145
SS: No—oh, yes, I did! That was The Boston Review's—yes, I had written that.
strickland146
DB: Because I read they had that Heather McHugh thing—
strickland147
SS: Yeah, that's the thing. But when I wrote it, though I wrote it in print, it was written almost as a response to the whole experience of the NEH session, because it was like—it was just a whole response to this silicon world, carbon based world. Like how they were clashing with each other or how not, or their attraction to each other, or whatever. It was prompted by my reaction to what had happened at a computer. I wrote it in print. It's the length it is because whatever font size or whatever I had, it had to be ten pages for The Boston Review, so ten pages in some format. So, it was sent off for that. But then it was a natural thing to do it, because I wanted to have the images—because there were so many things—
strickland148
DB: What programming languages do you feel comfortable in?
strickland149
SS: I don't feel comfortable in any. I mean, I work with—I collaborate with other people and in a lot of different ways and I've been through a lot of different things with them. My role is always to want something that supposedly can't be done, and then—that's why I like to work face-to-face, and almost always have, with the person. Because you need to just fool around with it and these glitchy funny things happen, and it's great. If you have a good collaborator or a very simpatico collaborator, you are both sitting there agreeing that it's great, or whatever. And I actually love that process. I'm trying to think, in the cases of working with Marjorie and Cynthia, I was doing all of the linguistic stuff. We were doing interface design together—I mean, basically that was it: "how can we make this happen? This is the effect we want to have happen." Marjorie had—before Photoshop—and again, it was so easy. We used to have these applets from Italy, this designer in Italy. It was so easy to look at things and put things together. We had just a wonderful time. She had been in this NEH seminar as well.
strickland150
DB: With you as well?
strickland151
SS: Yeah.
strickland152
DB: Who are you speaking about?
strickland153
SS: M.D. Coverley is what she writes under. Her name is Marjorie Luesebrink. She was president of the ELO for a while until she gave that up—Community College in Irvine, and lives in Newport Beach. So, we used to go to SIGGRAPH together. We still go to all these conferences together. We're still very close friends. But we were discovering—anyway, her ToolBook thing was so great and she was so great visually. We just had different things to contribute to it, and different designs, and if you look at stuff she wrote, her own stuff, it is a much different—you would never confuse it—but it's like, we each had an influence, you know?
strickland154
SS: So, those were those things and then with Cynthia—with Cynthia it was great, because I went to IDP and Noah Wardrip-Fruin took me there, and I just said, "Were any of the students there interested in poetry, doing poetry?" and Cynthia was. She was very literate.
strickland155
SS: She had an engineering degree from Colombia—in the country Colombia—and she's moved on to completely other things, too, but we did these two, we did the Vniverse and the slippingglimpse. So there were two people that wanted to, and it was really clear, Cynthia was the person, we were going to do this. And we had a lot of fun with Vniverse, and slippingglimpse came because I went to a talk on—Catherine Bateson, and Paul Ryan was there showing some of those videos, not the ones we actually ended up using but some that are sort of similar, water videos—and he used the word "chreod," which I had never heard, and went up to ask him about it, and I bought his Video Mind, Earth Mind thing, and I read through the book and there was a diagram in it that's wrong—and it turns out that he and Cynthia were both teaching at The New School—and so I approached him, and I said, "We can fix this up for you. We can make a little program that that will make this right and we'd love to use some of your—" So, it was great. I came to his house and we looked at the all the colored ones, the ones that I've used (though, those are ten of about fifty or so). But a lot of things—like, I had to become a lawyer and draw up a kind of contract for us to use it and stuff like that? And at one point he said, "Yes, you could use them"—Cynthia needed them in a certain form and he wasn't really processing in this digital form, there was this one guy working for him who was, and all that—and this guy calls me up one night about 6 o'clock and says, "Which ones do you want?" On the phone, right? So, you know, you look at those water things—it's not "the one with the water," you can't say "the one that's green," you know—so, I've often said that was the most difficult linguistic job I ever had to do was to describe—without any notes, without any—just a visual memory, ten of these things from fifty that look really similar.
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DB: Yeah, that's funny.
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SS: But then he loved it, he really loved that work and they showed—he died just recently, and in his memorial things they showed those things. He was a great guy. We both had that ecological—and Cynthia has gone on to do a lot of work educating people around the—she's part of Occupy, and this education for the 99% kind of thing, including she takes groups of students to South America and so on. So she does intend to make—and she also has a career as a photographer—so, I mean, people go off in these different directions from these things. Then the thing with Nick is that he had a sabbatical, and he wanted to do a lot of collaborations and he came to me, and I had never done a generator—generator was so different from anything I had ever done and I wasn't really sure that was such a good idea. But he persuaded me, and so there was a lot of—he would travel here, I would travel there. That was the hardest.
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SS: Like with Cynthia, she's in New York, we could just sit down. Marjorie, I would go visit her and would just sit down and do it. Nick was a little harder to get together and do it, but we did it and then it was super—there's been a lot of interest in that, a lot of critical work about it, and people that wanted to translate it, and then we presented it—the Emily Dickinson Society wanted to do it, you know, we did it there—and we did this subsequent little generator called Duels-Duets, a collaboration. After that I worked with Ian, and then Ian is in New York too, so we've done a couple. We've done one about libraries, called House of Trust, which is going to be published in Volta in August.
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DB: That's up though, right?
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SS: You can go to House of Trust and see it, yeah. Have you seen it?
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DB: Yeah. I was looking at it this morning. It's got the library.
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SS: It's all about libraries!
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DB: So, in these processes—when you are collaborating—do you have the kind of traditional divisions between your labor? Are you, like, pre-writing, generating like you do in a notebook, and then you move to like a place where you're kind of composing and then revising and then finishing? Are there those stages or is it different?
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SS: Well, in some cases the poem pre-existed. So, we knew what we were working with.
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DB: So, you had the content.
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SS: We have that content, but that content is very small compared to how to design the interface.
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SS: So, I usually have a vision, just like with True North. It's a vision that's impossible, short of an installation—though, at one point when I was at Georgia Tech, the graduate student who was doing the Techno Poetry Festival with me—we really were going to do it. We looked into—you know, we wanted to have the stars like sensors that came down, and you would move among them and it releases the text, and it would be mirrored—and there would be water on the floor, or Mylar on the floor...I mean, we thought about it, right? So I would have a vision about it, but there would be—it's a learning process. Like with Nick. It's like, "I want this ocean. I want you to fall off the ocean." So, okay, we can make a torus out of it, or whatever. In other words, it's a negotiation to find out what you would do in the programming to have the effect of what you need to have.
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DB: Of what you are envisioning?
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SS: Yes, of what you are envisioning. And then, he's a poet himself, and we both liked and, by chance, had access to the Lexicon databases for both of those poets—this is a post-digital humanities project. We were looking through what words are interesting, what are not, and then just generating the template phrases, do you know? We would talk about this and what do we want to put back and what order do we want the words to be arranged—so alphabetic mostly, but fast fish loose fish, because we wanted them close together, or at the end, you know—? So it's this whole understanding of the way you are doing this, and then of course going on from that: the cut to fit the tool-spun course, which was like a meta piece. So, getting into all those questions was like a sort of a different thing. And then, I wanted—well, he did it on Python, Nick works in Python first to kind of sketch it, and then it was put into the—Nick is, you know, if you see his other generators, he's not into color, he's not into—right? I had to fight to get the blue.
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DB: That's a good win.
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SS: I kept throwing all these metaphor things on it. So, I did all that stuff about the number of fish in the sea, and all that. You kind of get the blue thing, but you learn so much from—you learn about each program, but as well—it's different sensibilities that you bring, you know? So, Nick and I couldn't have been more different, and at the same time we will always love exactly the same things. They are mathematical, they are poetic, they are structural. The same things will just—and we both agree that it is not trivial whether or not there is a hyphen between Moby and Dick.
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