1. Along with your MFA, you earned a JD from the University of Chicago and went on to practice law. How do you think going to law school and working in law have informed your poetry?
I wrote my book, No Object, during law school, and even though it is not a book about the legal system, the actual poems are shot through with patches of what I was reading. For example, I spent a lot of time writing a seminar paper on the failed efforts of the federal administrative agency that was charged with converting the US to the metric system, and a fair amount of that research made it into the book, in its own refracted way. Even though the voice of No Object is a relatively interior one, I wanted the book to be outward-looking in its execution, to engage with texts and ideas and luminaries and adversaries from beyond the (undeniably urgent but also undeniably limited) world of literature. Law was (still is) an igniting force in my creative and analytical consciousness, so it seemed like a natural fit.
2. You love to follow scandalous, flash-in-the-pan, pop news stories. For instance, I remember you following the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend scandal. And, as a slightly more historical example in No Object, you reference John Hinckley Jr.’s obsession with Jodie Foster in “Invocation: The Third and Fourth Generation of Them That Hate Me.” What sensational news stories are you following right now and what is it you find interesting about stories like these?
Yeah, I was totally captivated by the Manti Te’o story. Part of it, I admit, was the confluence of three factors: the details of that story emerged in dribs and drabs; Manti Te’o wasn’t actually famous enough to have it be national news from the start; and it was so convoluted that someone just glancing at a headline would have no chance of understanding it. Basically, even more than I was interested in reading about it, I was interested in telling it to people who hadn’t heard it before or didn’t have a full grasp on the thing — I like a good campfire as much as the next cowboy does.
But it’s interesting that you tie this story to the Jodie Foster one, because the poem you mention also pairs the Jodie Foster reference with a small story about Mozart. And the thing these three people have in common — Mozart, Manti Te’o, Jodie Foster — was that they were all famous as adolescents. And that is definitely a preoccupation of mine, the glamorizing / sexualizing / demonizing / etc of adolescents, how the larger culture can make and break people who haven’t yet quite reached adulthood. And so, to that end, I did indeed follow the recent story of the USC cornerback who, following a suspicious injury, got tangled up in a false story about having rescued a drowning relative. I can’t quite remember how it was resolved, but my general recollection is that it was kind of unresolved, which always seems like the right ending to those stories.
3. For creatives, putting in the time to get the work done can be half the battle. How do you make sure that you “show up” for work everyday?
Time can be tight, to be sure. But I keep notebooks — each one for about six months, I would say — and I try to write something every day, even if it’s just a single quotation or phrase or observation. I’m looking at my notebook now, for an example, and I see that I recently wrote an entry that was, in its entirety, “title a poem NIGHTMARE IS PUTTING IT MILDLY.” So there you go.
4.Throughout No Object as well as in the poem “Thirty Going” you have references to Woody Allen. For instance, in the poem “Four Fights” you quote Manhattan: “Nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind–everything really valuable has to enter through a different opening” and needle the response of an audience captivated by conflicting male desire. In “Thirty Going” you complicate the figure of Allen as brilliant artist by asking your reader to “skip to the Soon-/Yi part.” What is it about Woody Allen that interests you? What are you exploring when you reference or write about him in your poems?
Yeah, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. Refer back here, maybe, to the earlier discussion here of famous adolescents … Woody Allen sort of emerged as synecdoche for some more generalized American uncertainty/unease about how to think of adolescents and family relationships, how to think about exploitation, how to think about sexual agency, etc. I should also say here that, in the time since I published those poems, a separate set of allegations against Woody Allen has become perhaps more prominently associated with him, and so I recognize that the Woody Allen references may ring differently in 2015 than at a different point in time.
5. Plot yourself on this graph: