Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What It Is I Think I'm Doing, Anyway



"Tell Me About Your Creative Process..."

 ~ Fellow Seattleite and writer Susan Rich just published her fourth (bravo!) book of poetry, Cloud Pharmacy. (See the gorgeous cover to the right.) She invited me to be part of this “creative process interview blog tour.”

She is also the co-editor of the wonderful anthology The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Writing Across Borders published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation (2013). You can download this book—which I recommend to all writers and travelers, poets or not—for free from the Poetry Foundation’s website. You can read about Susan’s current work and creative process on her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen. She is the co-founder of a number of literary ventures in the Pacific Northwest, including the retreat / workshop Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women (with poet Kelli Russell Agodon) and Poet At Your Table

 Here goes!

1.    What am I working on?   

Because I’m a procrastinator, I always have multiple projects underway. (So I can work on a second project while I’m faithfully procrastinating on what I really ought to be doing.) 

Saw palmetto ~ Everglades
WLC ~ January 2013
 Project #1: Made in America: Four Corners of Life
 I am working on a book-length series of essays (personal, lyric, collage, etc…) about our national parks—specifically, the strange braid of patriotism, imperialism, and environmentalism that characterizes the U.S. national park system. You can read an excerpt of one essay at Guernica and the full essay (“Tilled Paths Through Wilds of Thought”) in an anthology (edited by Erin Elizabeth Smith) just out from Sundress Publications: Not Somewhere Else but Here. You can also order a chapbook of “Tilled Paths” right here, at my blog. (See the column to the right.) This series of essays is based on artist residencies I completed in five national parks. You can read about my Everglades residency at this Knight Foundation blog post
Project #2: Grief's Hidden Gifts
I’m (very slowly) writing a series of short nonfiction pieces (ranging from memoir to essay to poem-like-object) about grief and loss. This work was informed by artist residencies I completed in 2010 at Harborview Medical Center and American Antiquarian Society. You can read the first essay in Yes! magazine and the most recent piece (to be published, not to be written), a single poem, in Tanya Chernov’s lovely new anthology Burden of Light: Poems of Illness and Loss.   

19th century funeral announcement
American Antiquarian Society
 2.    How does my work differ from others in its genre?   

I must admit this question confounds me—the only answer that comes to mind is one that I received in a very kind rejection letter a couple of weeks ago. It was the thirteenth literary journal to reject this particular essay, which I had submitted for a special issue on “breaking boundaries” in creative nonfiction. The editor said the essay was “not unconventional enough for the special issue and not conventional enough for the regular issue.”  

That sounds about right.

3.    Why do I write what I do? 

I write out of deep sense of urgency over the many losses we are experiencing on this planet: cultural, human, linguistic, ecological. I write nonfiction because it seems to be all that I’m wired to write.

4.    How does your writing process work?  

Not very well, usually. OK, I’ll try and put a lighter spin on it:

Nighttime goldenrod ~ Ragdale prairie
Lake Forest, Illinois ~ WLC ~ 2009
I am a night person, but I write best when I first get up, so I try very hard to avoid obligations before 1:00 pm. Of course, that’s often impossible. But I do try. For reasons I still don’t understand, I put up enormous amounts of mental resistance to writing, so I try to trick myself into doing it. I love timed freewriting exercises, elaborate writing prompts, and deadlines. I carry my journal everywhere, so that I can’t ever accuse anyone of wasting my time. My time is my own to waste.

Or not.

I’m passing the virtual pen on this “blog tour” my friends, poets and educators Natalia Treviño (in San Antonio) and Anastacia Tolbert (Seattle). Check back for links to their blog posts. Thanks for reading!