My friend and fellow poet Marilyn Irwin asked me to answer a few quick questions about my own writing, so I did. Find her entry here.
What am I working on?
I’m not really a project-oriented writer, which is to say nothing I can make sound very interesting. I’m writing daily poems this month, and I have a few potential collaborative projects somewhere between zygote and embryo. I like the idea of going on tour.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
More blood and fidgeting.
Why do I write what I do?
My poetry specifically: I have a lot of anxieties about the performance of masculinity; it’s a source of insecurity, and I think it’s entwined with my capacity for cruelty to myself and others, the harshness of my judgements. (I don’t mean that to be a condemnation of masculinity in general, mind you, just my own feelings on the subject.)
I’ve said a few times that my muse is shame, but that’s not quite right. It’s just that shame is one of the most intense feelings a person can experience. I am interested by how people feel, and why they are sometimes petty or cruel to one another. I seek to understand the worst parts of myself, and the best, because it’s the only means I have of projecting that seeking outside of myself, to the world at large. And I’m constantly surprised by what kindnesses I find through that seeking.
All that said, most of the pieces I’ve written since the new year have been tending away from those kind of emotional extremes. They’re not always gentle poems, but they’re also not constantly throwing haymakers either.
Poetry in general: My tendency is to intellectualize my experiences, and I think it’s something I developed as a defensive measure, or out of some unconscious vanity. I am constantly explaining things to people, not always because they lack knowledge but because it’s just how I became accustomed to communicating. Otherwise, I could never trust that I would be understood. I think poetry is antithetical to the explanatory mode of communication; it assumes an equality (or even a oneness) between speaker and audience. When I write a poem I am forced to believe my emotional reality is not so defective it can’t ring a sympathetic bell in another person.
How does my writing process work?
Like one of those great random sex positions you find yourself in while switching between the standard ones that neither you nor your partner has the balance or cardio to maintain for long, but feels great while it’s happening. Eventually you topple over, and then editing is the long slow work of love that brings you and your poem home. It doesn’t look as cool, but there’s a reason nobody really goes start to finish in the variant yawning position (do they?).
You’re supposed to get someone else to do this, like a chain letter I guess, but I think pretty much everyone I know who blogs has done one. Check out Justin Million’s characteristically ornery and interesting thoughts and use it as an excuse to visit Rachael Simpson’s thoughtful blog. Marilyn also asked JC Bouchard to do this. His response isn’t up as of press time, but go read his daily poetry month posts while you wait for it.
JM’s JaM: Sam Cooke – Chain Gang (live)