OBJECTS OF DERISION

AN INTERVIEW WITH TODD DILLARD

 
 
NGQ:
If you were a character in a piece you were writing, how would you introduce yourself?
TODD DILLARD:
I am mostly what I’m not, so I would start by listing the things adjacent to my character-self and say I am not them. I’d then describe something I am doing, go back to how the things in close emotional and physical proximity connected to that activity aren’t me, and then list how I am a matrix of the motivations behind my activity and the things resulting from it. This feels very complicated, so to provide a quick example: I would describe how I am not the gardener tools or the patient regiment bulbs waiting on the lawn or the loquacious sunlight, but I am the need to plant, the half-empty watering can, my daughter chasing away rabbits.

 
NGQ:
What does your writing process look like? Do you have a set schedule you like to keep to, or do you write when you can between other demands on your life?
DILLARD:
In terms of schedule, I write on my 45-minute commute to and from work, during my lunch break, and before bed. This is about 2-3 hours a day of writing-focused time, during which I am mostly just on Twitter. (Kidding!) It’s true that I don’t write exclusively during my writing time—I believe not writing is a form of writing, just like those pauses during interval training are still part of training/running. Usually what I’m doing when I’m not writing is beta reading the things my poet friends send me, reading poetry, editing my own work, or just galumphing through the internet looking for something unexpected: serial tuba thefts, how dolphins get high from harassing puffer fish, examples of Viking graffiti, etc. I am fascinated by the detritus of the world. I should also say that many of my poems come from notes I write myself when I’m asleep or falling asleep. Recent examples include (paraphrasing): “Go through the Heraclitus door” and “A box turtle named Omen.” Sometimes it feels like I am collaborating with another me. He has the ideas, I do all the work.

 
NGQ:
What do you find yourself returning to time and time again? What tropes or imagery do you find turning up in your work consciously or unconsciously?
DILLARD:
Grief! I think it’s a form of love. Also memory—I think memory is a weak architecture, and part of being human is finding ways to prop it up. I like time and sequencing too, and also images of water. I also like infusing quotidian moments with the impossible—that’s what life is, right? We were all just lifeless matter once, and then something began to move. I also am fascinated with what some might call ugly things—bugs, decay, the thin membrane of fledgling skin—because I think it’s all beautiful, it’s all purposed and choreographed by something I can only occasionally glimpse.

 
NGQ:
What is your favourite line (or lines) of anything you’ve ever written? And why is this so important to you?
DILLARD:
A poem published in Crab Creek Review begins: “What is grief? Tiny bells” and I love that opening. Grief is not what we say it is and it’s not what it says it is, so what is it? Tiny bells. Of course. I also have a couple of uncertain and likely never-to-be-published poems that I am absolutely wild about housing some favorite lines: one that says: “A field with horses / but without horse shit / is horseshit,” and another set that I’ve since cut from a poem comparing love to a tongue-eating louse goes: “and who can help but in the face of love / love love.” These two latter examples are so audacious! Too audacious, and overwrought. I love them. But those poems are meant for me, not for the world. I think it’s important to like work you’ve written that continues to surprise you (“What is grief? Tiny bells”) but also to like the work that may not work, and to know why it doesn’t work, and to like it anyway.
 
NGQ:
What or who do you turn to when you’re in need of inspiration, in need of refilling your creative well?
DILLARD:
I was going to list some poets first, but I think that would be a disservice to my daughter and the world. I love my daughter’s discoveries (she’s three), and how every little thing is a precious thing to her. So much of poetry/living is about observation and yet too few people try to observe the way another would observe or to challenge the modes of their own observing. She is reteaching me the space around us. And the world too teaches me! Not long ago a woman sat next to me on the subway and peered into the book I was reading; at the end of the line, she apologized for “stealing my reading.” What an incredible phrase! And when I told her I’d tilted the book toward her so she could read more easily, she smiled and for a moment we both shared a brief, impossible happiness.
 
As for poets: I find myself returning to my teachers most often. Jericho Brown, Marie Howe, Tom Lux, and Claudia Rankine especially, and through them Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Ross Gay, Charles Simic, and Sabrina Orah Mark. Recently I’ve been obsessed with Jack Gilbert, Linda Gregg, Ruth Stone, Rita Dove, and Tomas Tranströmer as well.

 
NGQ:
And finally, can you tell me who & what you’re reading of late?
DILLARD:
I’m reading “The Great Fires” by Jack Gilbert very slowly. I was also reading Robert Hass’s “A Little Book on Form,” and I got about halfway through before I remembered he edited Tomas Tranströmer’s “Selected Works” and now I’m rereading that instead. I just finished Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition” and Ilya Kaminsky’s “Deaf Republic,” both perfect books underscoring how lucky we are to be alive among so many amazing poets now. I’m working through Rita Dove’s collected works and Mark Doty’s “Fire to Fire: New and Selected.” I’m also reading Linda Gregg’s “All of it Singing: New and Selected” and Donika Kelly’s “Bestiary.” (Given the answers to the previous question, you could rightly assume I am in need of inspiration lately!) I also just reread Terry Pratchett’s “The Color of Magic” and am reading Chuck Wendig’s “Mocking Bird” this week. (I love science fiction and fantasy—it’s a large part of who I am and how I write.) Up next I think I’m going to try reading some New Weird fiction; it’s a genre I only heard about last week, and I am very curious about it!

 
 
 
 

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