Writer Round-Up: A Collective Interview Wherein Writers We Like Discuss Topics Related to the Craft
42 Miles Press Authors : Allan Peterson, Carrie Oeding, Bill Rasmovicz, and Erica Bernheim
Interview by Cynthia Reeser
For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 7.1, March 2013
In this issue, the publisher spotlight is on 42 Miles Press. Some of their authors answer a handful of questions.
If you could say that there is something that is the driving force behind your writing, what would that thing or idea or concept be?
Allan Peterson: The process of thinking through words and images, the intersection and development of ideas and intuitive jumps, is compelling, revelatory, and imbued with an inherent conviction that it can lead to something very central and urgent. That’s what drives the writing. That’s the level of intensity I want to be repeatedly part of. Every time I write there is a sense that something important could occur, something revealing that can only happen by these means, something valuable in terms of personal awareness, something with surprising connections, a demonstration of a process by which the inside and outside can reveal each other.
It is, of course, not restricted to words. Poetry and visual art have been coequal pursuits for many years, Though writing is currently in the ascendant, the process is the same. I am fortunate in having two means of expression.
Erica Bernheim: I’m not sure, really! I used to joke that if I were better at crafts, I might not write poems, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. I love writing, and the things I write come out looking more like poems that anything else, when I’m lucky. I can usually see the poem on the page before I write it, so sometimes it’s just a question of filling in the words to match the pattern I want to form.
Bill Rasmovicz: If there is a driving force behind my writing at all, it’s certainly not a concept or idea. I think it’s more ornate than that—it’s an itch for clarity. Writing is the thing that happens when understanding is needed, when sense needs to be made of something, both internally and externally. It’s a way to make sense of the world as eating is a way to satisfy hunger. I think the “driving force” is probably mostly biologic. Don’t quote me on this though…
Carrie Oeding: Is a driving force why I want to write or why I want to write this poem? What drives the poems in my first book, Our List of Solutions, is investigating interpersonal tones and how we make meaning of ourselves in relation to others and vice versa. What drives my new poems is wanting to collage internally what object or art or biological process or gesture or collection holds my interest, makes me curious, makes me investigate, and create a poem that’s like this—not about the thing but of the thing. It’s kind of impossible, and I like that. Searching for new forms and approaches, sometimes very messily, drives me. I just finished Brenda Coultas’s A Handmade Museum and am wild for it. While a lot of us poets agree on our dislike of the idea of “project books,” a collection like this shows us how necessity, curiosity, and originality can create a world or site with a book.
What is it that you strive for in your writing?
AP: Coming from visual art and being self taught in poetry, I have little knowledge of poetry beyond a few Moderns, and even less of poetry’s formal aspects. Many writers have a sense of what they are about. They often speak about their writing as “projects” or a conscious setting out to solve or resolve some issue, formal or personal. Most write from a background of academic and workshop training. I have none of that. I want simply to experience what happens each time I put down a few words and see what thoughts accrue and where the associated ideas take the poem. I do think words can get closer than pictures in approaching that substrate that is below the level of direct conceptualization: the biological/electrochemical complexity that is ourselves. I do not write to influence the art form or convey social messages. I write for epiphanies, for those times when the process enlarges and transforms experience.
EB: I think it’s safe to say that I strive to make a connection between my poem, my speaker, and my perceived reader. My favorite type of connection lies in the observation, the idea that I’ve mentioned something that someone else didn’t think anyone else noticed, like a good comedian, perhaps, but sometimes not so funny. I also want my poems to tell stories, almost the way prose can, but without the constraints of plot and dialogue and all the other things that I was never able to do when I wrote fiction.
BR: If there is anything I strive for in my writing—not to be antithetical here—but it would be not to strive. I try to write as good a poem as I can, sure, which is a kind of striving I suppose, but in terms of the poem, I want it to get wherever it goes with a healthy amount of autonomy. I kind of let the line decide which lines come next. They need to ferment on one another. This way I end up with a product that even myself as the author can be informed by. You have to be able to drive down the highway in the wrong direction a lot, weaving and swerving, but also be able to save yourself from the seemingly inevitable oncoming collision. I strive for the patience to understand these processes better…
CO: Some of my poems essentially ask How shall I live? Some poems make fun of you and me. Some pull and tug between knowing and unknowing. Some of my poems want you to feel like you’ve walked into a gymnasium stuffed with balloons that are both suffocating and delighting you while you walk through. This is an installation by Martin Creed. I think most of my poems are working something out on the page, performing. Some challenge the ways we make meaning, a dog with a chew toy that keeps whipping it around, won’t let it go. Some poems are asking you to pull your head out of your ass.
It has been said that it is important for the writer to have a life beyond writing, something to inform and influence experience and possibly to provide a sounding board for the writing itself. What do you make of this and how do you feel it applies to you as a writer?
AP: My compelling interest since childhood has been an enduring curiosity about what used to be called Natural History. I was an early and avid reader and drawer. I had a large world map on my wall that I studied. I collected and raised butterflies and moths; I learned the life cycles of birds, fish, amphibians, and insects; I learned some taxonomy; I saved for a microscope. Those interests have only expanded. Our sensory systems, which we understand imperfectly, and from which consciousness developed, are our news of the world, inner and outer. Writing is just one way to develop those attentions. Creativity does not begin when sitting down to write or paint or compose, it is our inherent capability, but it becomes more focused at those times. Science and visual art are my informants.
EB: I know that my writing and my life sometimes feel inextricably linked, but I do agree that it’s important to have a life outside of that. I do other things, really, I do! Travel is important to me. I try to go somewhere new every year, just to be in a different space, one filled with unfamiliar people and where I may see new things (in museums, at people’s homes, in hotel lobbies, in airports, etc.) and get ideas about those things. My work in the classroom also informs my writing in ways which feel tremendously significant. My students often amaze me with their insights about texts (both prose and poetry), even texts I’ve read dozens of times, and this in turn reminds me that newness is always possible, that I will have more ideas one day, even when I feel that I may not.
BR: I think it is absolutely necessary to have a life beyond writing. Although I know words are powerful beyond my knowing, they must first be written/spoken. Language is biotic and it not only starts with what I think, but what I do as well. My professional background is in pharmacy. I also try to stay fairly physically/athletically engaged. For me, the life beyond writing is simply the reality which informs my writing. I find that a life beyond writing broadens the context in which the writing is rooted. I know there are some singularity/black hole kind of poets (Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, etc.), who would prove me very wrong on this notion, but I find it’s the only way I can be productive…
CO: Don’t force a life that’s not true to yourself, just to have something to write about. It won’t be very interesting writing, anyway. There are a lot of fantastic writers who had/have other jobs, causes, pasts, futures. Not everyone has the luxury of mental space or of decision. For me, I don’t know if there is a “beyond.” There’s just writing and reading and what comes to me when I’m Swiffering up the cat hair. If I’m growing peppers and tomatoes in the back it may be because I like being away from my laptop and language, but I also like peppers. If I started a community garden here in Huntington, WV, I wouldn’t want to write about it, but I wouldn’t see it as compartmentalized from my writing self. And who knows what will want to be let into the writing down the road. When I see an art installation I usually want to make something, or I’m incredibly jealous that someone made that, or I feel worked up and high on anxiety about how much I love the art and oh my I want to surprise myself in my work—What’s ahead, what’s ahead? I mean, what would Mary Ruefle say about “a life beyond writing”? I’d like to spoon her answer.
Allan Peterson’s fourth book, Fragile Acts, is the second title in the new McSweeney’s Poetry Series and a finalist for both the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award and the Oregon Book Award. His last book is As Much As from Salmon Press, 2011. Other books are All the Lavish in Common (2005 Juniper Prize), Anonymous Or (Defined Providence Prize 2001) and five chapbooks, notably Omnivore, winner of the 2009 Boom Prize from Bateau Press. His next book, Precarious, is forthcoming from 42 Miles Press in 2014. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and The State of Florida. Visit him online at www.allanpeterson.net.
Erica Bernheim was born in New Jersey and grew up in Ohio and Italy. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 2008, she has been an Assistant Professor of English at Florida Southern College, where she teaches creative writing and directs the Honors Program. She is the author of The Mimic Sea (42 Miles Press, 2012) and the chapbook, Between the Room and the City (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2006). Her poems have appeared most recently in The Laurel Review, Columbia Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Saw Palm.
Carrie Oeding’s book, Our List of Solutions, which won the Lester M. Wolfson Prize, was published in 2011 by 42 Miles Press. Her work has appeared in such places as Best New Poets, Colorado Review, Third Coast, DIAGRAM, PBS News Hour’s ArtBeat, and elsewhere. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Marshall University.
Bill Rasmovicz is the author of The World in Place of Itself (Alice James Books, 2007), Gross Ardor (forthcoming: 42 Miles Press, 2013), and Idiopaths (forthcoming: Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Nimrod, Mid-American Review, Third Coast, Gulf Coast, and other publications. A pharmacist, he has also served as a workshop co-leader and literary excursion leader throughout much of Europe. His current home is Brooklyn.