Author of “Dogwood," "We Have to Talk," and "Slow Interior" from ISSUE 02, and his thoughts on literary echoes, blurring boundaries, and loosening the grip on things you no longer hold.
What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
On my nightstand currently resides The Book Of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, which is less of a “book” and more like "400 pages of miscellany and fragmented inner monologues stitched together by the thread of tedium." As Pessoa puts it, it’s the life story of a person who didn’t really live, a person whose atom-deep exhaustion at the idea of the idea of daily life led him to lead no life whatsoever. It was published in 1982 and I can’t imagine it has ever been more relevant than in the previous 2+ years.
Speaking of disassociation, Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine is not a recent read but one I often return to. She has seemed to tap into a sinister and immediate yet entirely detached form of satire that feels uniquely fluent with the moment—when everything feels like an ending, it’s hard to feel any of it at all.
Honorable Mentions: I Am Not Jackson Pollack, Tinkers, Maps to Anywhere
Dishonorable Mention: Twitter.
Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you?
I’ve found myself repeating
“Late at night like this
South Florida in the 90s
Was one of the few places
Where people could still disappear
And most everyone I encountered
Was on the cusp of doing so”
[Gordon, Noah Eli. "In Praise Of Negative Capability.” The Awl, https://www.theawl.com/2017/05/a-poem-by-noah-eli-gordon/. Accessed 18 May 2017.]
from Noah Eli Gordon’s “In Praise Of Negative Capability” no fewer than once per week since it was published in The Awl in 2017. Among many, many things more reputable and influential, Noah was my first poetry professor, my first advocate, and his recent passing was completely obliterating.
A close second is this short stanza from Ben Lerner’s The Lichtenberg Figures:
“When the dream of convenience begins to dream itself
The neighborhood’s last bamboos reel in their roots.
The children make love execution style
And hold each other like moments of silence.”
[Lerner, Ben. The Lichtenberg Figures. Copper Canyon Press, 2004.]
I’m not sure why I’m drawn to them, to be transparent. There’s a power to the imagery, a sense of line, the use of language, but I feel that their residence in my memory wasn’t an active choice, if that makes sense. They simply reverberate through my mind periodically, the gap between each remembering the gap of time it takes sound to bounce from one edge of a canyon to another. They come back to me like an echo, and I’m not quite sure who started it.
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
I wish I had a definite answer to this question—I’d probably be a much better writer if I did. In short, it varies. Images. Memories. Reading—that’s the main one. For me the act of reading and the act of writing feel nearly identical. They both seem to engage the same part of the inspiration engine for me, or at least wake it up. To put it another way: when I’m writing well, it feels like I’m reading.
Also: memes! Lol, duh lmao.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
What drew me to poetry originally was the ability to pack a saga’s worth of feeling into a single moment. A movie takes 90 minutes to make you cheer. A novel takes 300 pages to make you cry. A poem can do it in one line. As such, there are absolutely zero poetics to which I’m attached. I care only about that line, that image.
I’d guess that this is why it feels as if I’ve been writing the same poem over and over my entire life. I’m attempting to get closer to that singular moment each time.
What is the theme of this same poem you feel you have been writing over and over your entire life? Do you think it is possible to get to that singular moment with a body of writing or might it always remain elusive?
They all feel like the same empty room to me. And each act of writing feels like an attempt to fill it with something new. With what I don’t know, but hot damn do I sound like a real bummer writing that out just now.
To your second question, no I don’t think that’s possible. Or, at least I hope it isn’t. For me it is not arriving at that singular moment but the pursuit of it. Trying. Failing. Trying. Failing. With each failure suggesting or hinting at the possibility that a perfect version of that moment must exist and in doing so bringing a flicker of that moment to life, if only for a second.
This is a thought structure I’m in no way inventing but I do find it moving—how hearing awful music doesn’t just remind of us of beautiful music, but of the idea of beautiful music—that feels most honest to me.
Who/what are some of your writing obsessions, and why?
As my answer above perhaps hints at, I do not care about plot. I do not care about setting. I do not care about characters or motivation or arcs. The only thing I’m interested in in writing is voice and language. Because of that, I found David Shields’ Reality Hunger to be a remarkable aperture opener. As someone who has always dissolved genre, and not so much pushed boundaries as blurred them, Shields’ catalogue for me continues to rhyme with whatever post-post-post-post-post-post era we’re in now.
Related to this, there was a period where the novel felt like a completely dead form to me before I read Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station. Having now gone back through all of Lerner’s novels, chapbooks, collections, and collaborations, I continue to be inspired by the poetry (both literal and figurative) of his language and by his continual breaking and remaking of whatever form he’s working in.
(Disclaimer: I’m sure there were myriad other writers dazzlingly experimenting with the novel before and during the moments I encountered Shields and Lerner doing so. I am not a literary completist, I’m just a guy with a sleep disorder and a sweet tooth—so please take any omissions as ignorance, not malice.)
What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer?
I’ve often heard that parents of toddlers have so little time to eat that most of their meals consist of hurriedly inhaling their children’s leftovers over the sink before running to take them to school, head to work, etc. That’s how I now write, unfortunately. With a full-time job, I try to pick at the scraps of the day to find the time to do the thing.
I will say, however, to rehash part of an answer above—reading jumpstarts the process for me. Encountering language and ideas primes the idea pump, no matter what scraps you’re working with.
More inputs = more outputs.
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
I wish I could remember the originator of this strategy but I once heard that to overcome the terror of the blank page simply type nonsense. Aimlessly tap away at your keyboard for 30 seconds. 45 seconds. Two minutes. “Ahhrgjerhbhnishfehbrishhrshakfmnbow” and on and on. It seems silly, but I’ve been astonished at how effective it is. Shifting out of the mental process of thinking and into the mechanical process of typing kills the block near instantly. Ideas start appearing, words start flowing, and the act feels more achievable.
If you can’t get out of your head, get into your body.
Encore tip: don’t let your editor get in the way of your writer. I often find that I’m experiencing a block because my internal editor is dissecting and destroying every thought, sentence, or word in my head before I write it.
Try as hard as you can to delay that editor. Just get it down, then fix it up.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
My job entails my being told I’m completely wrong and that my idea is incredibly stupid 95% of the time, so the submission process feels like a warm rosewater bath in comparison.
A while ago I heard not to tie your self-worth to something that fluctuates—that also helps.
Speaking of your job, you work in marketing. How does being creative professionally differ from being creative with poetry? Do you draw on similar themes or ideas or are they completely separate (if so, how)?
In content they differ quite drastically, obviously—I’m now picturing myself pitching an incredibly dark script about familial loss to a company trying to sell pens—but one thing I have noticed, have been relieved to notice, is that the more I do of one the better I am at the other. That’s the similarity, I think. Simply put: being creative more helps you be more creative.
I suppose it may sound gross to some readers to suggest that the practice of commerce could assist the practice of art in this way, but having more outlets and interests and forms of expression only helps, for me at least.
But yeah I work in marketing and it’s gross.
Regarding your pieces in Issue 02, what do they mean for/to you?
Unlike a lot of my writing, my pieces in this issue are derived from singular, tangible moments—conceptualizing divorce as a child, navigating a first loss, the feeling of leaving somewhere you can never really leave. To me they are all ongoing conversations with present absences. Spaces made for things that aren’t really there.
It’s funny how hard it is to let go of something you no longer hold. These pieces are an exercise in loosening the grip.
What is something you would like to share with other writers out there?
Give yourself permission to be creative. Ask for help. No one knows what they’re doing.
Ian Hill is a writer living in Colorado.