THANK YOU to William Allegrezza for inviting me to participate. The WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR requires participants to answer four questions (my answers below) and Bill’s answers are HERE.
William Allegrezza edits Moria Books and teaches at Indiana University Northwest. He has previously published many poetry books, including still walk, In the Weaver's Valley, Ladders in July, Fragile Replacements, Collective Instant, Aquinas and the Mississippi (with Garin Cycholl), Covering Over, and Densities, Apparitions; three anthologies, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, The Alteration of Silence: Recent Chilean Poetry, and La Alteración del Silencio: Poesía Norteamericana Reciente; seven chapbooks, including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense (Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems. He founded and curated series A, a reading series in Chicago, from 2006-2010. In addition, he occasionally posts his thoughts at P-Ramblings.
AND I RESPOND WITH:
What am I working on?
I’ve started with book designer Michelle Bautista the book design process of my next book, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems) which is coming out from Marsh Hawk Press this Fall 2014. I’m also promoting VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA, a fundraising anthology I edited to raise funds for the survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
I’m working on MY RUSSIAN NOVEL—that’s the working title which is intended only to refer to my life-long goal of writing a HUGE (long) novel. I talk more about the demands of its scale over HERE, including why I felt I had to write so much poetry before I could begin this novel that I’ve wanted to do for the last four decades.
SUN STIGMATA is my 25th (est.) poetry collections since I began poem-writing about 18 years ago. Which is to say, the Poetry Muses have been quite generous to me—and I’ve been blessed by having sufficient poetry publishers in seven countries to support me. But in finally deciding to work on the novel, I did wonder about the Poetry Muses’ reactions (the Muses are very real to me). At first, I was heartened as they seemed to be supportive as they gave me a poetry-related idea for developing the novel when I was just starting to write it.
But I should have known better than to expect an easy release from the Poetry Muses. Their idea that supposedly aided the novel ended up being a brilliant idea for a different work—the form may be prose poem, but it’s also an autobiography. Basically, the Muses I insisted that if I was going to move from the poem to the novel, I first had to write my own poet’s obituary. Given their historical generosity, I was inclined to abide by their demands. Initially, its working title was THE SECOND VIOLIN as a metaphor for how, in an orchestra, the second violin can expand (via harmony) on the first violin’s melody. Metaphorically, I was thinking that if the poem is the melody, the harmony can be the life that had harmonized with the poem to give it life.
I did drop THE SECOND VIOLIN as title (I might use it later for the novel) and, right now, this project is entitled MURDERING AND DYING: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
Even as I write MURDERING AND DYING, though, I am focused on the novel. I was heartened recently by poet and man of letters John Bloomberg-Rissman who reminded me that “Thomas Mann's major novels has a number of satellite texts orbiting it—not his metaphor but his way of recognizing the relations between certain of his works and others.” That makes sense to me as certain themes seem to lurk within my past writings, even as I always worked overtly to make each poetry book sufficiently different from each other so that each book could not serve as a foretelling of the next book project.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It pains me to see so much timidity in poetry. If there’s one genre that should be radically expansive, it should be poetry. My work isn’t timid, of which one manifestation is how my poetry-writing isn’t limited to inherited forms. It invents. I experiment, (not because of the baggage the poetry world has ascribed to the term but, in part) because I think poetry is not a single genre but inherently mixed-genre.
I once performed several poetry readings with dancer-collaborators—they did their movements to the “music” of the poems I read. It took at least five performances (I collaborated with more than one dancer) before I admitted to myself that the approach didn’t really work (the dancers moved beautifully but I never was able to harmonize the reading sounds to the imagery of dance). But, I tried. And what was at stake for the failure—did failure hurt anyone or anything? No—if anything, it was a source of lessons subsequently used in future endeavors. I wish people would dare more on behalf of the form.
As a reader/observer, it’s also fun and elucidating to watch others take a risk—whether or not it works. Risk-taking offers its own source of satisfaction and pleasure.
Why do I write what I do?
I had all sorts of answers as a younger poet. Nowadays, a more honest answer is probably “I write what I do because it pleases me”—but with the challenge as a poet to have a self that’s large enough to encompass enough concerns so that what pleased me to write becomes something that also interests others.
That’s why I feel I must do a lot of preparation for writing poems by living life in a certain way: open and attentive to what is real and external to me. The world is a big place, much bigger than my imagination. I feel I need to pay attention as such information and attitude can benefit poems by widening their expanse, thus, relevance to others (read: readers).
I said all that only to feel the fumbling of articulation. Let me just cite the marvelous poet/writer John Olson whose book, THE NOTHING THAT IS (Ravenna Press, 2010), I just finished. Towards the end of this somewhat autobiographical book, he notes, “Poetry is such a mystery. You really don’t know how or where good poems come from. There are mere words, the same words everyone uses every day, yet somehow, if they are arranged in some manner whose process eludes you, they produce magic. They conjure worlds. They light the mind. They transform ordinary sight into vision.”
This doesn’t negate the idea that poetry-writing is craft. But a well-crafted poem can still fail to “produce magic,” “light the mind,” “transform ordinary sight into vision,” or however else one might describe poetry’s gifts. Craft can be taught but I do feel poetry’s birthing is ineffable.
How does my writing process work?
For poems, Slant. And (hopefully) robustly. And, nowadays, reluctantly. My answers to this question has evolved over time. But starting in 2010 with THE THORN ROSARY, my first “Selected” poetry book (though it only selects from prose poems which is just one form in which I have written), I consciously raised the threshold—I flung it as high as I could!—for what must push me to write a new poem. I felt/feel that if I never wrote a new poem again, I still would have done enough to have respected poetry. So I wanted to be sure that each new poem I wrote had to be urgent enough to exist. Note that I didn’t say, good enough to exist since I’ve always thought the good vs. bad point-of-view to be such a small (timid!) standard for poetry, even as it’s curatorially convenient for those with careerist mindsets or constraints. Since 2010, I’ve tried NOT to write new poems, feeling that those that push themselves successfully out of my pen would have a strong (urgent) reason(s) for existing. I consider the poem’s energy relevant in ensuring it has a transformative effect.
I’ve wanted NOT to write new poems but, since THE THORN ROSARY, I’ve actually released five poetry books and one hybrid poetry-novel collection. I get exhausted thinking of what I would have done had I actually wanted to write new poems. But when I say I want the writing to occur by the work overcoming my reluctance to write more poems, I am also saying I want the work to overcome me—because the work, if it succeeds, is not (just) about me.
More specifically, there’s an initial impetus—a single word, a thought, someone else’s resonant writing, etc.—that moves me to put pen to paper. From there, my writing is very process-based, with each word or phrase being what pushes the writing forward to the next word. Thus, for the writing process I can rarely be specific about content as that may morph based on the energy flow of the writing process itself. Conscious intention is rarely relevant—but this only emphasizes the importance of living in a certain way: as open and educated as possible in order to harness as many possibilities as possible for the writing as it energetically proceeds forward to overcome my reluctance to begin and then unfold.
For the novel, on the other hand, my writing process is quite different: more conscious discipline and focus. I actually have an outline!
I’m delighted that this Writing Process Blog Tour will continue next week with John Bloomberg-Rissman! About himself:
John Bloomberg-Rissman has about a year and a half to go on In the House of the Hangman, the third section of his maybe life project called Zeitgeist Spam. The first two volumes have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making (Leafe Press, 2007), and Flux, Clot & Froth (Meritage Press 2010). In addition to his Zeitgeist Spam project, the main other thing on his plate right now is an anthology which he is editing with Jerome Rothenberg, titled Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Anthology of Outside & Subterranean Poetry, due out from Black Widow Press, Autumn 014. He's also learning to play the viola and he blogs at www.johnbr.com (Zeitgeist Spam).