OBJECTS OF DERISION
AN INTERVIEW WITH E. KRISTIN ANDERSON
NGQ: What do you consider your great influences? By this, I’m interested in what makes your writer brain tick? What gets the juices flowing when you’re stumped, when you need that extra burst of inspiration?
E. KRISTIN ANDERSON: This is so hard to answer because I feel like I could go on for days. I mean, there are so many obvious answers, like Louise Glück and Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. But also, you know, Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl. How could they NOT have influenced me as a writer. Or Joss Whedon and Chris Carter. Or novelists like Laurie Halse Anderson and Francesca Lia Block and Douglas Coupland and Nick Hornby. So I really just like reading and watching everything. And then I write things. I have a chapbook coming out that is entirely a response to my creative relationship with Prince’s music. I wish I could explain how that happened in 2014 and not 1986. Other than, you know, I was four in 1986.
NGQ: Why erasure & found poetry? How did you come across these in your writerly life? What set you on this path?
EKA: I think I saw a tweet at some point from Found Poetry Review (FPR) and ended up contacting Jenni B. Baker, their editor in chief, about guest posting on my blog. I then started writing some of my own erasures, and started submitting to FPR. Eventually I got involved in their Pulitzer Remix project and have now participated in several of their projects (Oulipost in 2014, PoMoSco this past April) and read for the journal. So it’s hard for me to believe that there’s a time in my career when I wasn’t writing found poetry. Now it’s something I am always thinking about.
NGQ: What’s your most favourite place to search for found poetry material? What about for erasure? Do they differ at all?
EKA: I try to find it everywhere. And FPR has had some cool challenges that have forced me to look in places I might not normally look (like street signs or menus). But my favorites are fashion and teen magazines, YA novels, and newspapers. I especially like working with the science and technology sections of the newspaper, because it’s so outside my wheelhouse. And there are lots of delicious words. Fashion magazines are extra fun because some of the articles ARE what you might expect – vapid how-tos on eyebrows and better butts – and some of them AREN’T. It’s been cool turning the vapidity on its head and using the lovely writing in other articles to create new narratives.
NGQ: Where would you suggest someone to start if they’re interested in dabbling with erasure or found poetry?
EKA: I always recommend checking out the prompts at Found Poetry Review. There are always cool ideas, and FPR also has a section on what found poetry is and how it works in terms of copyright. Once you have an idea of what you might try, just get some source material and get going. It’s really fun, and often turns out to also be productive!
NGQ: Have you ever found yourself in trouble for using a specific source for your poetry? I imagine that providing a reference for the material you used generally covers your arse but I imagine many who are unused to the found & erasure worlds but are perhaps considering stepping in might pause because of this kind of worry?
EKA: So far, no, I haven’t. I’ve had some authors/editors actually write me to tell me they liked my project/poem when I told them about it (or tweeted them). These folks include Jennifer Egan, James Klise, and Allure editor Chloe Metzger. I do know of folks who have been asked to take their work down (it was blog published, rather than in a magazine or book), but I’m not familiar with all of the details.
I think the two keys to making sure you don’t get in trouble are 1. making sure that your found poem is transformative (it has to be your own work, just created with the limited palette of your source text) and 2. giving proper credit, whether it’s in MLA format or simply listing the book title and page number.
There are always going to be folks who are uncomfortable with found poetry. But that’s true of a lot of forms of art. I think it’s about treating the creator of your source text(s) with respect, even if they might not be on board with what you’re doing.
NGQ: The act of riffing on others’ words, of the act of creation out of a kind of destruction is attractive and scary, but do you think it is less so than beginning with an entirely blank page? Is there something encouraging and comforting about having words already there to play with or do you find the act restrictive?
EKA: You know, this totally depends on where I’m at in terms of creativity and fluctuations in mood. A blank page can be so refreshing. But usually when I’m about to write onto a blank page I’ve already thought of a line and scurried to open my notebook and find a pen before I lose the idea. Found poetry to me is very much something I do in chunks. I sit down with my source material and decide I’m going to write x amount of poems or work for x amount of time with that source. It is more restrictive, but in some ways it’s more exciting because I have less of an idea as to where the poem will go, despite the restriction of using words that are already on the page. I just finished up a collection of what I’m calling broken pantoums (each has seventeen lines, instead of sixteen) written using Seventeen magazine (see what I did there?) and it was super interesting seeing how the lines I found in the magazine would work differently as I moved them around in the structure of the pantoum. How the story would change drastically. I think sometimes people forget that a poem has to also tell a story, and that is no different for found poetry. And finding the story is especially fun, even when it’s exhausting.
NGQ: How does the act of erasure make you feel?
EKA: That’s a super interesting question – one I’ve never actually been asked! I think it depends on the source text. Sometimes when I’m working with the really sparse text of, say, three pages of beauty product recommendations, it makes me feel powerful. Like, I’m a total genius for being able to make a poem out of this. Ha! Sometimes it makes me feel empowered, in a different way, if I’m erasing something sexist or otherwise angry-making and turning it into something positive. But ultimately, I think it makes me feel the same way writing and finishing anything – from one poem to a full novel – makes me feel: accomplished. I think writers need to feel that as often as possible. And sometimes it’s good to just pull out something to erase and make something, even if it only takes a few minutes for that first draft, so that you can have that feeling of accomplishment.
NGQ: In “Airborne, essential” these lines seem to have been meant to be together. In fact, it would be hard to tell it was an erasure poem if you hadn’t told me so.
“Bigger than ever,
ruins expanded, an emergency
growing a galaxy in late accomplishments.”
If you’re able, can you talk a little what these lines mean to you, and if the understanding of one of your own pieces of work changes over time? By this, I mean, does the source material inform the piece of work you’re developing? Does it set a mood for you or make you think of specific images or ideas that relate to the material you have in front of you?
EKA: This is a piece I wrote using an old issue of Nintendo Power. I think all found poetry has to be transformative, as I’ve mentioned. It has to transcend the source text (even if it’s responding to it, which isn’t the case here, but I thought I’d throw that out there) and say something new, say something that the narrator or the poet wants to say. In this piece – this series of pieces I’ve been working on, if I’m honest, and, hey, this is NGQ, I’m going to be honest, so there you have it, I’m working on a Nintendo thing – I was looking for ways to express feminism and female heroics through a traditionally male-dominated medium. There were a lot of specific games I was looking for. Metroid was one of them, because – SPOILER ALERT! – Samus is a chick. But I brainstormed with my grandmother (one of my closest allies, and someone I grew up playing Nintendo with, and someone who has every single issue of Nintendo Power in her cold cellar) and we couldn’t think of many female heroes other than Samus, or Zelda in some of the later Link/Zelda games. It was a very “your princess is in another castle” moment. So the more I wrote I just really tried to imagine the speaker as a woman exploring both heroics on a very surface level, but also in terms of how we explore personal relationships, culture’s obsession with youth, the glass ceiling…you name it. I don’t know, I don’t think a lot about what a poem means until after I’ve hit send. But I do often think, especially with erasure, about what I hope it might say. As I tell kids on school visits when I read my poems to them: you’ve heard the poem now, and it belongs to you.
NGQ: I’m sure that you’ve begun a piece in the past where, much like more “traditional” forms of writing poetry, you lose your way or the piece just doesn’t seem to work no matter what you do. When this happens while writing erasure or found poetry do you find you have to throw out the material or can you begin again?
EKA: I’ve begun again a few times. But the truth is, I’m more likely to just cut out the beginning, or slice it in half, or lop of the end. Sometimes I get hung up on wanting to include a specific phrase from the source, and it becomes a “kill your darlings” thing. Just like when you’re writing traditional poetry or a novel, when you really like a scene or a line, but it doesn’t really add to the piece as a whole. You have to decide not to include it and see where the piece takes you if you go along another path. Found poetry, I think, is especially about paths, whether you’re writing erasures or remixes or centos. And there are so many paths in each source text. Which is part of what I think adds to the legitimacy of it as an art form – ten poets will find ten different poems on the same page. And isn’t that beautiful?