Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Katie Peterson: I like that you make a distinction between the “chipper” and a person who is “methodical,” as if “chipping” away were not some plodding tedium but the act of a crazed backyard laborer with power tools. So I guess I identify with the chipper.
Sincerely, my problem is always abundance, which, I think, is related to some delusion of “ability” I must get over to find the actual poem. I have a hunch you have to pare down the poem to something that must almost fail every time.
What was your first publication?
I published a poem in the Denver Quarterly and now, when I read it, I can’t remember if it was about a dream or something that really happened to me.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
James Wright, Two Citizens - this much-maligned (especially by its author) book of poetry has my heart
Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey – I taught them last semester and I’m trying to hold on to the feeling of living with them as long as possible
Kim Fu, For Today I am A Boy – My friend Garth Greenwell told me to read this book and now I can’t get it out of my head. It’s about a girl who’s born (physically) a boy. There’s a way the hero encounters gender that’s almost like imagining it without norms, or restrictions, like if the mind just got to figure itself out in the body without the baggage of social convention. The way the author sees this – and the horrors of how culture makes us behave towards each other anyway – is very beautiful, very moving.
Robert Creeley, Collected Prose – I read these essays and stories for the first time last June and now I keep returning to it, so full of everyday anxiety.
Fanny Howe, Second Childhood -- stunning
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
I cannot choose; it is a tie.
How about the moment in James Joyce’s “The Dead” when Gabriel and Gretta Conroy arrive at Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia’s for the Christmas party? But just that moment, not the rest.
Emily Dickinson’s poem “Wild Nights,” the line where she says, “Done with the compass – / done with the chart,” I like to imagine her throwing an actual compass into the sea. I like to imagine her throwing the nautical chart over the side of the docking boat. The entire poem is one of the most romantic in the language.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
I was the assistant to a wedding coordinator. Once I escorted a bride with impacted wisdom teeth down the aisle. Another, I watched a young ring bearer lose his lunch right on top of the pillow with the ring. Another time, the Best Man and Maid of Honor were fifteen minutes late to the wedding, but they looked rather happy, and she had grass stains all over her dress.
Narrative poems? Elegies? Odes? Which do you prefer to write?
Like a good Irish girl, I drink what’s put in front of me.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Try to get in enough trouble before you show your work to other people that you can’t get bailed out.
Your books have great titles. Were they your first choices?
Sort of. A friend thought of the first title, This One Tree, and for this I still thank him for saving me from naming it You Must Believe in Spring after the Bill Evans album and embarrassing myself forever, though I occasionally get contacted by arborists who thought when they bought it the book might actually be useful. The alternate title for Permission was Waiting in Line for the Icon, which I still kind of like.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I’m trying to write an essay about being Catholic but it keeps turning into random sentences about food and flowers.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
Which country musicians, and cowboy singers and songwriters belong in the canon of work that should be mandatory for American writers to study and how intensely and passionately should American writers study those luminous geniuses?