Welcome to the Writing Process Blog Tour!
I’d like to thank Tyler Mills for so graciously inviting me to participate.
Tyler Mills is the author of Tongue Lyre, winner of the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award (SIU Press 2013). A poet and essayist, her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, The Believer, POETRY, and the Boston Review, and her prose has appeared in the Robert Frost Review and the Writer’s Chronicle. Her poems have received awards from the Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Third Coast, and she has been the recipient of work-study scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center. A graduate of Bucknell and the University of Maryland (MFA, Poetry), she is Editor-in-Chief of The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought. She lives in Chicago, where she is currently working toward a PhD in creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and helps organize the Wit Rabbit reading series.
You can read Tyler’s wonderful responses here, and below are my responses:
1. What am I working on?
Project 1 (completed): I recently completed my chapbook Trace (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) and full-length collection Wolf Centos (Sarabande, 2014), both of which are books comprised of centos, a patchwork form that I find to be deeply under-utilized with great potential to engage the lyric-I in a new, and hopefully profound, manner. The recombinant nature of the cento allows for both homage to influences and predecessors while beginning the conversation anew. And just as each line “converses” with its adjacent line, each poem is in conversation with one another. Ultimately elegiac, these particular poems oscillate between transformation and stasis, wildness and domesticity, damage and healing. The “wolf” of these centos becomes a symbol of a threshold, a transformative space, as well as a mode of meditation, or as the wonderful late Larry Levis notes:
“Animals are objects of contemplation, but they are also, unlike us, without speech, without language, except in their own instinctual systems. When animals occur in poems, then, I believe they are often emblems for the muteness of the poet, for what he or she cannot express, for what is deepest and sometimes most antisocial in the poet’s nature.”
Project 2 (in progress): Because of my interest in found material, for my next project I turned to a series of multi-voiced sonnets written with San Francisco poet Dean Rader. We are currently collaborating on a book-length sonnet project in an effort to co-join the presumed chaos of collaboration with the formal constraints of the sonnet. We refer to these pieces as our “Frankenstein Sonnets” because we are cutting lines from other poet’s published sonnets and grafting our own sonnets onto the originating skein of flesh. This project merges many of my currents interests: ekphrastic poetry, elegiac poetry, horror films, collaborative writing, and the recycling and reconfiguring of pre-existing texts that I’ve been undergoing with Wolf Centos.
The sonnet project is an extension of my interest in how texts remain “living” after the authors are dead. In some ways all writing is dead language that is “resurrected” by a reader through the act of reading and rereading. I am interested in the metaphorical properties of Frankenstein’s monster and concepts regarding poetic cannibalization—what it means to consume other texts, to employ source material from other writers, and to suture multiple voices together to create new creatures: the monster mash. Additionally, I’m intrigued by how Frankensteinism, zombiism, and cannibalism all relate to the elegiac mode: how the dead continue to reside in our psyches; what it means to have lost someone while retaining them perpetually in your memory, resurrecting them daily; and, what it means to have the human desire to remain living after we are dead, through various acts of creation—children, books, buildings—in which we attempt to imbue objects and people with the residue of our selves, our souls. (A wonderful mini-series that navigates some of these same themes is the French show Les revenants. Check it out!)
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
We are in the era of “recycling,” in all of its meanings, so in this way my current work isn’t particularly different from some other contemporary poets; however, if my work differs it probably does so with its persistent belief in “the power of other people’s words to generate profound emotion” (Perloff, “Poetry on the Brink”). Additionally, though there are recent found material, cento-like, collections including Annie Dillard’s Mornings Like This, Daniel Tiffany’s Neptune Park, Noah Eli Gordon’s The Source, and David Shields’ Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, as well as a one-cento book, Peter Gizzi’s Ode: Salute to the New York School, I’m not aware of any contemporary full-length book of centos other than my own. If anyone knows of others, not including cento anthologies, please let me know.
(To read Daniel Tiffany’s insightful and rich linguistic interview about writing and sampling in his book Neptune Park, visit The Conversant)
3. Why do I write what I do?
What I love most about cento construction is that it helped me love poetry again. I fell out of love with poetry for a few years mainly from reading snarky reviews and blogs (If you want to love humanity, avoid reading comment boxes), and this project allowed me to return to poets whose very lives were often on the line. I employ many non-English writing poets because I’m drawn to the concept of using work in translation as I see the cento as another type of translation, so ultimately I’m translating the translated.
Collaborations also helped me find my way back to loving poetry, as they allow for new modalities of thinking about, and writing, poetry. I especially appreciate the unexpected twists and turns that occur in the collaborative process; and, because of these surprise detours, one must learn both flexibility and versatility, which ultimately translates to writing dexterity. Equally important to note is that collaborating, though incredibly challenging, is fun!
(For more elaboration on the act and art of collaboration, visit Traci Brimhall’s wonderful blog We Are Homer).
4. How does my writing process work?
Laboriously. . . I joke that I’m on the “five-year” plan, but that’s basically how much time it takes me to write each book.
For me the process of writing poetry is one in which I’m a tailor, or to use a more sinister analogy, a Jame Gumb, always stitching, suturing language fragments in my “workshop of dirty creation.” The very nature of the cento calls for this specific type of language-quilting; however, the composition of other poems of mine that don’t engage in this kind of exquisite sampling is not much different from cento-construction, in that I’m always pasting, cutting, rearranging, and continually reconfiguring what I began with.
Jackie K. White is an Associate Professor at Lewis University, and has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago where she specialized in Creative Writing (Poetry) with concentrations in Hemispheric-American Studies and Women’s Studies. A former editor of the literary journal RHINO for nine years, White also has published numerous poems and translations in such journals as ACM, Bayou, Fifth Wednesday, Spoon River Poetry Review, Third Coast, and online at seven bridges, shadowbox, and prosepoem. com. Her first chapbook, Bestiary Charming won the 2007 Anabiosis Award and her second chapbook, Petal-Tearing & Variations, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. A third chapbook of poems, Come Clearing, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2012. White is also the co-translator of Cesar Miguel Rondon’s History of Salsa and is currently working on a translation of Sherezada Vicioso’s Algo que decir: Essays on Feminist Caribbean Literature.
Jason Koo is the author of two collections of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem (C&R Press, 2014) and Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award for the best Asian American book of 2009. An assistant professor of English at Quinnipiac University, Koo is also the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets, a nonprofit organization celebrating and cultivating the poets, poetry and literary heritage of Brooklyn, where he lives.
Dean Rader’s debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize. His newest collection, Landscape Portrait Figure Form (Omnidawn) was named by the Barnes & Noble Review as one of the Best Books of Poetry of 2013. Recent poems appear or will appear in Best American Poetry 2012, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Ninth Letter, Colorado Review, and Zyzzyva, which featured of folio of his poems in their fall 2013 issue. He reviews and writes about poetry regularly for The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Rader recently edited an anthology entitled 99 Poems for the 99 Percent, forthcoming in 2014. He is chair of the English Department at the University of San Francisco. You can read Dean’s responses to the Writing Process Tour here.
Tarfia Faizullah is the author of Seam (SIU 2014), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems appear in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, and elsewhere. Honors include fellowships and scholarships from Kundiman, the Fulbright Foundation, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and Vermont Studio Center. She is the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program.