I’ve been neglecting updates on this page during the past couple years. Taking doctoral exams and finishing a dissertation is tough – who knew!
I’m happy to say, though, that my second collection of poetry, Energy Corridor, is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2016.
Hi all! I got tagged in a self-interview chain and figured it was about time to post something other than my laptop being stolen post from last year. Thanks to Vanessa Stauffer, who tagged me, and whose interview you can read here!
1. What are you working on?
My dissertation. It is/will be/is supposed to be a collection of poems, but it’s so early on in the process it’s tough to really say how it’ll materialize into a book manuscript down the road, if it does (which I hope it will). Right now a lot of the poems are asking questions about what connectivity means, what responsibility we have to neighbors, strangers, family, etc., and I presume that will probably manifest as one of the major themes in the manuscript.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I like easy poems that tell narratives and have simple syntax and maybe have a joke or two in them. I have no interest in writing poems like that right now. I believe it is the one’s responsibility to engage with difficult work until one arrives at an understanding of it. My new poems eschew syntax, linearity, comedy and self in order to reassemble traditional subjects into new views. I’ve been told they’re “difficult” or “complicated,” but, like, read them a second or third time and I’m sure you’ll arrive at a perception of them.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I write poetry that asks questions of the way we behave as humans because I believe we are behaving destructively. Poetry has a duty to engage with injustices and faults, and although I know poetry amounts to only a small whisper against the boulder on the precipice, it is still some applied force against wrongs. If you are a poet who isn’t writing against what’s wrong with the world then what the hell are you into verse for? Money? I got some troubling news for you then, friend.
4. How does your writing process work?
I work myself up into an emotional frenzy and then try to get a first draft out in a few hours. Lately, (partly because of my doctoral program and not having a whole lot of time), I’ve been waiting a half a year to even look at the drafts I write. Then I’m more precise in the revision process, taking a few days to do a second draft, maybe even deciding the poem will never work. I generate a lot of first drafts and then try to cut out what’s bunk during revision.
OK! I tagged poet W. Todd Kaneko, author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies, (fall 2014 from Curbside Splendor Books) to to this interview. I’m six days late, but he might have his up as early as tomorrow or as late as never. Here’s his website. W. Todd Kaneko is from Seattle, Washington. His poetry, fiction and non-fiction can be seen in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Southeast Review, Lantern Review, NANO Fiction, The Collagist, Blackbird, The Huffington Post, Song of the Owashtanong: Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century, Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse Magazine and elsewhere. He took his MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and has received fellowships from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and Kundiman. He is an associate editor for DMQ Review. Currently, he teaches in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the writer Caitlin Horrocks.
We had our place burglarized, and while I’m pretty good at backing everything up, I did not back up my submissions record.
This is a preemptive apology to every journal if I accidentally submit multiple pieces or if I don’t withdraw a piece I submitted once it’s accepted somewhere – I’m really sorry!
(This is all written by the great poet Brian Russell, author of the forthcoming book The Year Of What Now, available from Graywolf in a few too-long months)
THE NEXT BIG THING
Many many thanks to the fantastic Kelly Forsythe for tagging me in “The Next Big Thing” thing. Head here to learn about Kelly’s book-to-be, Colorado Perennial. Thanks, too, to Glenn for letting me post these answers on his blog as I’m blogless.
What is the working title of the book?
The Year of What Now
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Wife: Naomi Watts or Julianne Moore
Husband: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Doctors: Viola Davis, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Angelica Houston
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
After a woman falls suddenly ill, doctors struggle to figure out what’s wrong with her and her husband confronts the unimaginable possibility of life without her.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Six months. At the beginning of 2011 I knew I wanted to write this book. While I didn’t have a lot of the details sorted out yet, the general arc and most of the major scenes and ideas were there, and I was incredibly impatient to get it finished. I wanted it to be ready to send out for the fall first book prize deadlines. I figured I needed to write 90 poems with the idea that about 55-60 of them would survive. Giving myself two months to edit and arrange the collection, that left me with six months to write it. I wrote the first poem on February 1st and the 90th on July 31st. Coincidentally, neither of them made the cut.
Where did you get the idea for the book / Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The book is based on a series of things that happened that forced me to spend much more time than I’d like in a hospital. I’ve always been both, if not equally, terrified and fascinated by hospitals. A place where every day wonderful and terrible things are happening simultaneously. A place where life-altering and mundane exist side by side. The events that led me to spend an extended period of time in the hospital became the starting point for the book, though it is by no means a memoir-in-verse. I look at the wife and husband in the book as homages to, as embodiments of, people I love who have endured more than they should have to.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
One poem begins with a joke I made up. One poem is about a parasite that gets into rats and erases their fear of cats. In one poem, you can learn a little bit about the evolution of gasoline use. The hospital as parallel universe. A little rhyme. Some dialogue. A good deal of misdirected anger. Hopelessness. Hope. Love.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Graywolf will publish my book in July. While we’re on the subject…it’s always interesting, when people who don’t read poetry find out you’re publishing a book of poetry, to field their follow-up questions, such as: so what you’re saying is the book is just, like, a ton of poems (well it depends how you define “a ton”)? Is it a children’s book (no)? Do you mean they’re, like, stories about poems (huh?)?
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
“These miniature worlds celebrate the strange and the ordinary, burger shacks and full moons and a woman who has a crisis of faith over Soul Train. Glenn Shaheen blends the laugh-out-loud funny with a wistful wisdom so cutting you might feel a little bad that you laughed. ‘What children we are of disappointment and luxury,’ a character tells us, and the reader nods: disappointment in ourselves or our lovers or Soul Train, maybe, but never a moment of disappointment in these stories.”
Hey all! Last week I did that self-interview thing, so here’s another in that chain of questions by one Andrew Brininstool. He doesn’t have a blog himself so I offered to let him use some of my 10 gigs of space that I for some reason pay for. Here it is!
What is your working title of your story?
“Big Eyes, Wide Smiles,” from a collection of stories.
Where did the idea come from for the story?
See: Question Eight.
What genre does your story fall under?
Mainstream Fiction Literary Fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Blimey. I’m not sure about this one. James Spader and The Latest Hot Commodity Actress. Clearly, I don’t watch enough films. Do we call them films anymore?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story?
A maxillofacial surgeon and a sadistic beauty queen run away together.
Where will your story be published?
The incomparable Third Coast, a literary journal out of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Months for the first draft. An entire summer, I believe. And another year of keeping at it.
What other stories would you compare this story to within your genre?
Let’s say “Me and Miss Mandible” meets “Rock Springs.”
Who or what inspired you to write this story?
There are a number of sources for this piece. One is Sam Smadi, an alleged teenage terrorist who planned to lay ruin Fountain Place, a skyscraper in downtown Dallas. “Big Eyes, Wide Smiles” isn’t about terrorism, but the details in the Smadi case were, to my mind, fascinating in a cultural funhouse sort of way.
Count the signifying red flags: A religious fanatic plans to blow up a large building while living in a small town named Italy, Texas, where he works at BBQ joint connected to a gas station and resides in a housing complex comprised of individual domes that, collectively, look like a caterpillar. (Here is a picture: http://c541658.r58.cf2.rackcdn.com/vault/img/2011/05/10/4dc92b8ac29e068473000ba9/medium_mediabruco.jpg)
You cannot make this kind of thing up, but maybe you can come close. I started throwing together dissonant images, notions. A beauty queen, a surgeon. A motel in Oklahoma. An English luxury sedan. I wanted to see what could be made out of signs that do not belong together. Or, as Charles Baxter puts it, “…the way structures of meaning, let loose from the objects they’re supposed to represent, are pasted onto something else…Words go wild.”
What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?