How did you become a writer?
My parents were expressive people, so I was too. Early on, I started to see expressiveness as a form of ordinary magic, the only one I was any good at, so naturally I pursued it. Seemed like the only way I was ever going to glamor anybody, and I really wanted to do that. Pitiful enough, but there it is.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
If I list a hundred poets and novelists, it will just be meaningless, a rigmarole of completely received bigshots. Instead, I’ll take the opportunity to name my mentor: Vivian Gornick, author of Fierce Attachments and The Odd Woman and the City. From her writing and her talk I’ve learned as much as from everything else put together. I’ve known her half my life.
When and where do you write?
Whenever, wherever; I’m not particular. I have no prejudices against computers or pencils-and-paper or any of that. Morning, noon, night, they’re all the same to me. I do prefer silence, I will say that.
What are you working on now?
The usual. Translations, poems. I want to do this Russian children’s poem into English. I may have just found an illustrator for it, literally day before yesterday. It’s a very nice piece, 121 lines. I’m memorizing it, in Russian, in preparation for translating.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
The thing that happens to me doesn’t deserve to be called writer’s block. It doesn’t hurt.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Joel Craig said to me, regarding delays in the production of his first book: “I don’t need it to be done fast; I need it to be done right.” That’s the kind of thing I always need to hear.
What’s your advice to new writers?
(This is just for baby poets; I don’t know anything about how to do fiction.) Poets, you have to vigorously separate what you Actually Like from everything you only sorta like. Study your pleasure closely. Because! all your poems and definitely all your books had better be the kind of thing you Actually Like. Otherwise, what the hell are we even doing here? Look, you will fail to impress all kinds of people it would have been nice to impress, no matter what you do. The only thing that protects you from the pain of that is the fact that you yourself actually like your own stuff. If you ignore this principle, if you write a book, say, that is formidable nine ways from Tuesday, piled high with sophistication and impressive this ’n’ that, but which you don’t actually like, then what ends up happening is you helplessly side with the people who don’t care about your work. Next stop is the bottle.
Bio: I was raised in Maryland, currently live in Texas, turn fifty this year. I am the author of two books of poems: I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (2012), and Try Never (2017). A book of children’s poems for adults is coming out later in 2018, titled There Was an Old Man with a Springbok.