Friday, March 06, 2015
12 or 20 (second series) questions with Michael Ruby
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, At an Intersection (Alef Books, 2002), was published when I was relatively old, in my 40s. Before that, I wrote many books’ worth of poetry, but I never thought about publishing a book. I didn't even start trying to publish a book until I was 38. I was happy with what I had written, but I didn’t feel that it had to be published. After my first book, I guess I became addicted to publishing and wanted to get my work out there (though most of that earlier poetry has never been published).
My recent books, American Songbook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013) and Close Your Eyes (Dusie, 2013), feel very much of a piece with what I've been doing since the early 1990s. Close Your Eyes is a sequel to Memories, Dreams and Inner Voices (Station Hill Press, 2012), which was written from 1991 to 2005. American Songbook, which was written from 1999 to 2013, uses the same compositional procedure as most poems in Window on the City (BlazeVOX [books], 2007), written from 1995 to 1997, and Compulsive Words (BlazeVOX, 2010), written from 1999 to 2007.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
When I started writing as a teenager, poems are what came out. I wanted to be a novelist, but poems are what came out.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
For many of my poems, I create careful sketches and then compose the poems using the sketches. I often spend far more time creating the sketch than composing the poem from the sketch. Sometimes, I compose totally different poems from the same sketch and choose the one I like most. The compositions usually are similar to the final poems, but shorter, because I cut anything I don’t like.
In general, I've always been in the habit of doing most of my new composition during the summer, preferably sitting outside at a park, or in farm country, or on a rocky coast. For the past 15 years, I've also been in the habit of writing many books at the same time. In the first decade of the millennium, for example, I would break up the summer into parts and devote, say, three weeks to American Songbook, three weeks to its offshoot, The Star-Spangled Banner, three weeks to Compulsive Words, two weeks to the unpublished From the Mouth of the Bay, and whenever I was worn out but had mental energy, I would dictate into a recorder poems for Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep or Close Your Eyes or the unpublished Visions.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem begins for me in an infinite number of places. As for books, I most often write a group of poems and then realize that they could become a book. That’s what happened with The Edge of the Underworld, Window on the City, Compulsive Words, The Star-Spangled Banner, American Songbook; the unpublished From the Mouth of the Bay and Trance Position; and the unfinished Sounds of Summer in the Country and Dreams of the 2000s. That’s one model. Another model is writing a book without realizing it. For years, I wrote down memories on worksheets at work and they became a book, Fleeting Memories. I wrote down dreams in the morning and they became a book, Dreams of the 1990s. With several other books, such as Inner Voices Heard Before Sleep and Close Your Eyes, I decided to write a book from the start, but about psychic phenomena that had interested me for a long time.
A Glimpse into our Alien World: Susan Lewis and This Visit
Astonishment. Astonishment and an extensive exploration of language through the masterful use of rhyme and alliteration makes Susan Lewis’ eighth poetry collection This Visit both a tremendously enjoyable and challenging book to read. When her speakers demand, “Admit you would play dead. / Permit me to seed red // lest we strut and preen / & prophecy . . .” (15), the audience pays attention, if only for the beautiful arrangement. But there is much more to this volume than music and word play. The poet’s 857 couplets provide the reader with tantalizing clues as how we interact with each other and the surrounding world.
The basic, in fact the only, unit of construction in This Visit is the couplet, appearing occasionally in variant forms. This fact raises significant questions for several reasons, not the least of which is what or whom do these constructs represent? Chromosomes? Noah’s menagerie? Lovers? Pilot/co-pilot? Mentor/protégé? Whatever the case, Lewis ensures the poems reflect two viewpoints: incisive, cogent, sometimes contradictory, and always worth hearing.