Category Archives: blog

The Next Big Thing

    *Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing*

CappadocciaDwelling

Thanks to Shara McCallum for inviting me to post about The Next Big Thing. Her blogpost may be found here.

What is your working title of your book?

    The Book of Lost Aphorisms

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I began writing aphorisms, initially in poetry, but increasingly tending to prose, beginning in July, 2007, after reading a little book called Zürau Aphorisms, translated by Michael Hofmann. In Kafka, there are aphorisms that, rather than delimiting something small, seem capable of offering a Weltanschauung, a world view, as in the justly famous aphorism that ends the collection:

It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.—Kafka

Here is an aphorism that verges on being a parable: a small story that teaches. It strikes me that this is a self-portrait of the artist as a receptacle versus creator of reality. It is no accident that I use Kafka’s aphorism as the epigraph to a book which seeks to rebut its point of view—or to provide a counterpoint to it:

You must leave home and walk and talk to everyone. Listen, impatiently. Wait, move, and be companionable. You will be offering yourself to the world to be redressed, you can’t avoid it: You will shimmy before the world in agony and bliss.

What genre does your book fall under?
Creative nonfiction. Travel. Memoir. Prose poem. Hybrid form.

The spirit of a place shapes my aphorisms, as well as my proclivity to write them in a sequence—where they build upon each other—as opposed to plucking isolated nuggets from life’s tree. This is an unusual way to write aphorisms but I am interested in expanding the notion of what an aphorism can be: from a pithy saying; to an image or personal thought; to an entire sequence of thoughts, images, and sayings that, like an origami creature leaps into being, unfolds in the reader’s mind.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
As these aphoristic sequences are relentlessly non-narrative, some times circular, digressive, quotational, obsessive, imagistic, I can’t imagine how or why a movie would be made of them. I’m more interested in writing the movie-of-the mind.

What is the one- or two-sentence synopsis of your book?
“The aphorist assumes that small truths can be packed into a sentence the way the olive packs its fruit around the pit.” The best synopsis for a book of aphorisms is to quote an aphorism about aphorisms.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither, but who can tell? I assume a small-press publisher might publish me, unless I get as famous as David Shields, whose new book is a close cousin to what I do.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s still in progress. I have over 100 pages that are fully written and revised.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
No one does exactly what I do because I am writing sequences of aphorisms, not discrete aphorisms. And each sequence is my intimate series of thoughts, images, meditations on self/place. Books that come to mind are by Yahia Lababidi’s Signposts to Elsewhere, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Bed of Procrustes, Kafka’s Zürau Aphorisms, any of Jabes’s many volumes of The Book of Questions; David Shields’s How Literature Saved My Life, James Richardson’s Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays. Also, as you may have noticed, I am the only woman on this list.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The piquancy of place. My son placing limits on my attention span. Kafka. Edmond Jabès. The paucity of women writing aphorisms. My evolving foray into prose.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? “Does one need to feel lost in order to write—or read—a lost aphorism? Or is there a recuperative quality to both experiences?”—from the title sequence, “The Book of Lost Aphorisms.” Thus far, my other chapters, providing a personal odyssey through place are: “Naxos Aphorisms,” “Istanbul Diary,” “Pessoa in Lisboa” (Portugal), “Andalusian Wind”, “Basque Baskings,” “French Flares,” and “New York Aphorisms.” There is a sequence that braids together “Aphorisms of the Heart” and “Mortal Aphorisms.” The book will be finished when I say it is—when I feel I have traveled to and written about enough places, enough internal states.

Look for posts next week by the following writers whose work I admire:
Susan Wheeler
Ann Fisher-Wirth
Daniel Nester
Jennifer Michael Hecht

Success Is All Smoke

Smoke is all there’s been in my life . . .
Success has got no taste or smell.
And when you get used to it,
it’s as if it didn’t exist.

            from Almodóvar’s All About My Mother

That’s what the successful older actor, Huma (fem. version of “smoke” in Spanish), says in the movie, which I recently re-watched. And I have to ponder it, here, in New York, which has got to be one of the most success-driven places on the planet. What counts as success for an artist? Getting to do the work you want to do and getting paid for it? Getting paid well for it? That might be an answer. Of course, we poets rarely get paid for anything. And yet we persist. Why do we do what we do? For glory? For the sheer joy of it? Someone, a new friend, recently asked me why I called such things as guilt, regret, indecision—all subjects of poems in my fourth book—vices. And I replied, It’s because they take me out of the moment—out of the present enjoyment of life. And that amounts to a certain kind of failure, I suppose. So perhaps I am at my most successful when I am most present: walking the dog in the morning and really breathing in the air, noting the season by the stage the trees are in, watching the sunlight filter through the branches. Or when I’m at my “desk,” which might be a subway car or a park bench or an actual desk—these days, the dining room table.

And yet I persist, as do so many others, in wishing for that other kind of success: the kind where people I don’t know know me. The kind where I get invited to give readings and talks for real money, knowing full well that to be a successful poet, in the deeper sense, may have little or nothing to do with such public strivings. As Christopher Hitchens wrote, paraphrasing Nadine Gordimer,  “A serious person should try to write posthumously.” And for that, it is not necessary that anyone know me/you now.Here’s a quote I used to have over my desk. It’s by another favorite artist of mine, Mark Twain, who said:

 “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.”
Yet I write this on the heels of a book party for Whirlwind, my fifth book (a number I find hard to fathom), and the publication of my new poems and Q&A featured in December’s Poetry. What is success? That I have persevered. That I keep challenging myself to write new kinds of poems. That I don’t care where the culture is moving. I still believe deeply in poems, in paintings, in music, in dance, in human connection. So as much as I toot my own kazoo like all the other New York—American—poets clamoring for some attention from a public that is mostly oblivious to poetry, I know that “All is vanity and a striving after wind.” But wind is all we’ve got. And some times, however briefly, it does have a piquant taste and even a sweet smell.