1. Where are you now?
I’m in my little house on the rural outskirts of Chapel Hill. It is an unusual house. It’s basically a studio, with a high ceiling and few interior walls and a ladder that leads up to a bright loft, which makes for half a second story. It’s wrapped in a raised deck and cocooned in tall, slim pines, though it smells all of cedar, and it has tiny birdhouse windows above big half-moon ones. It sits on short stilts, like a beach house marooned in the woods.
It was built, I’m told, in the 1970s, by a set designer from Wilmington who used it as a workshop while he lived in the house next to it. One day his 18-year-old daughter, whom he had never heard of before, knocked on his door, and he made the studio into a home for her. It’s beautiful in the summer but very cold in the winter. I have pictures of ice stalagmites in my sink. It doesn’t quite feel like a real house, more like a place you’d rent on vacation. It’s a good place to write. It’s really the only reason I’m still living in Chapel Hill instead of Durham, where I conduct most of my work and social life.
That, and the fear of moving my decrepit piano again.
2. What are you working on and what have you got coming out?
I recently took a full-time job as culture editor at a weekly paper after freelance writing for a long time—which I’m still doing as well!—so mostly I’ve been working frantically on work-work, devising a new life equilibrium. I’m still getting used to a full-time job, rather than a musical project or something, being my most central obsession. Otherwise, I’m mainly concentrating on finishing a book called Wolf Intervals. Finishing—I think.
My deal is, I spent a lot of my twenties making these poems called F7, where I did crazy things with MS Word’s spellchecker, among other process-y, Internet-y games. By my late twenties I had worked that out, along with my appetite for postmodern fiction, and that’s when I started Wolf Intervals, which was something different. It’s a space where I retreated to try and learn to write poetry, which I previously thought could be anything but had come to realize was something. It took its name from dissonant intervals that disrupt the Western scale, which seemed analogous to the irregular, therefore revelatory, moments of consciousness I seek for in the poems.
That probably sounds more deliberate and drastic than it actually was. There’s no renunciation. I’ve always liked strange music. It’s just that my focus sank below the surface of image and process, into the rhythm and tone of the line. I got absorbed by prosody. I stopped submitting very much, and read a lot of old poets with new ears. I kept writing modern-sounding things, but they got more personal and metrical. As my perspective evolved between my late 20s and now (I’m 34), the book slowly wrote over itself, and that became important to me for some reason—to let the manuscript be a place that grew with me, until it felt like a mature organism. And maybe, by extension, until I did.
There are a couple poems in it that were written seven years ago and quite a few that were written just recently. It has an arc but it might be too long to hold. I’ve only been reading the newest ones (and I should plug this reading I’m about to give at a cool place called The Carrack in Durham with kathryn l. pringle, Gina Myers et al.). That was a convoluted answer to a straightforward question. This poem in Coconut is the most recent one from the book currently out there. Otherwise, I’m waiting for the free time and the will to collate submissions instead of doing something fun.
3. Where do you write?
I write all day in my office and I write in my house at nights and on weekends. I write down lines of poetry in a small notebook and then I massage them around on a computer screen. I write on my smartphone’s memo pad and I write and rewrite bulleted lists on various scraps of paper. Sometimes it feels like all I do is write. I used to write in coffee shops but now find it too distracting. I could use some time to read soon.
4. What’s the last best thing you’ve read?
See above. I’m reading short things because reading a novel or long book is currently an outrageous fantasy. And my focus tends to narrow in on certain poems or passages anyway. Right now, revolving in my head, are the third part of James Merrill’s “Variations: The Air Is Sweetest That a Thistle Guards” and the stanza of Derek Walcott’s “Oceano Nox” that begins, “Black is the beauty of the brightest day…” That kind of compressed, dynamic, choreographic, darkly tinged lyricism is what I crave. I have always liked poems that divulge small talismans or charms you can carry around, inscribed inside you like a rhythm and a tune.
Other memorable recent reads include Tad Friend’s beautifully constructed and deeply moving article about father and son fishing boat captains in The New Yorker and the first volume of Matt Kindt’s mind-bending psychic espionage thriller comic, Mind MGMT. Steven Millhauser and Lydia Davis’ collected stories are still endless founts a few years later. Whenever I have time to read a whole book again, it will probably be Red Doc>, or one of the most recent novels by Jeanette Winterson or Nicholson Baker or Brian Evenson.
5. What journals, poets, presses, labels, music have you discovered lately?
In the last year I have greatly enjoyed poems by Oni Buchanan (“Has His Smell and Taste”), Joe Fletcher (“Antenna”), Bob Hicok (“Twins”) and many more—and I remain a big fan of Chris Tonelli’s So and So bookstore and reading series in Raleigh. But these aren’t so much new discoveries; my reading is temporally erratic. I’m a huge re-reader, which troubles me when so much still lays unread, but what can you do? I get on certain kicks, too busy still reckoning with old favorites to search for new ones all the time.
It’s easier to keep up with new music, which I do for work, and right now I would recommend new albums by Mas Ysa, Ben Frost, ODESZA, The Range, Tycho and Orcas. And go see Kronos Quartet play their current program, the one anchored by Philip Glass’ new-ish string quartet, if you can, because it’s amazing, and they might slip a song from a Warner Bros. cartoon in the encore.
6. Care to share any distractions / diversions?
When I’m not going to theaters or nightclubs, or writing poems or making journalism, I like video games and comics, and I like to make strange music—particularly music involving poetry, like this album-length collaboration with Tim Van Dyke, The Lion’s Face. I also like to lay around on the beach, and do things like roller-skating and playing Oasis covers on the guitar and going to the planetarium; these are all worthy diversions I don’t get enough of.
7. What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to things getting quiet.
Bonus Question. What do you find yourself hoping for when things get quiet?
That things will not change for a little while.