Kris Ohlson invited me to take part in this Blog Tour about Writing Process, everyone answering the same four questions. I’ve been in many writing groups with Kris (at least three) and I’ve always been astonished and pleased by her intense, vivid approaches to subject matter. Kris’s book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet (2014), presents a rethinking of agriculture, as she interviews and interacts with experts, the chapters like a series of core samples, rich and deep. Kris blogs about her writing here.
1) As for me, What am I working on? This is a tough question. It seems I am always working on numerous tasks that flit through my brain like energetic flotsam and jetsam. But if I sort, clarify, I can come up with three tasks that are occupying me. The first is thinking about a poem-a-day project I’m doing with some other poets in June. Because of it, I think I am actually putting off writing anything new this week because I don’t want to be spent (all the excuses one can come up with!). Second, and more long term, I am writing a series of poems based on lectures I attend, recording language and ideas and then departing completely from the subject matter. It is a great way to jump start a poem. I’m trying to decide if the titles, which note “At the Lecture of X and Y” (always two things) are important. Does the poem need them as balance or can-opener or instruction manual? Third, I am putting together a new book. I’ve just started this so the book doesn’t even have a name yet. I can’t refer to it shorthand as “Cake” or “Bird” yet.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? It is kind of dismaying that I don’t have a pat answer to this, but poetry is so various. I like eventual clarity. I am more interested in being earnest than hip/ironic. I am dark yet joyous with it.
3. Why do I write what I do? I write because I am good at it. I think poetry appeals to me because I have a metaphoric turn of mind. Also, I think in jumps and detours and digressions. Writing poetry helps me to understand things or at least be able to deal with them, run my hands over all their parts and ask questions. Sometimes I choose what I'm writing about, but sometimes not.
4. How does your writing process work? It can start with an image or a turn of phrase that somehow I know is important (recently “turnspit dogs” which I haven’t done anything with yet, but hope to). Then things gather around it. I write longhand or sometimes type into a google doc. I like to establish line length early (now that I’m back to lineated verse), and often use couplets, although I’m doing a little no-punctuation-tab-white-space stuff now and then, and that’s usually a block of lines. I write towards the unexpected, not knowing where I am going to end up. I better not end up anywhere dull or with someone else’s poem/words/conclusions/images wasting my time. Sound is always important whether I’m doing a big rant-y pour or a finicky image slot. If I had a regret (although not a part of the question), it would be that I can’t see further into the future of my work. What is it planning?
I've asked another Cleveland writer I know to continue the tour. Brad Ricca is a renaissance man amalgamating the comic book/graphic novel universe and the poetic. I got to know him hanging around the Popular Culture Working Group talking about Pet Sounds and Barbarella and Nancy Drew. His recent works are Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman (2013), a literary biography, and American Mastodon (2011), a book of poems that won the St. Lawrence Book Award. He blogs about his work here.