Raptosh: "I wanted the book to be an ambassador for poetry’s role in relation to the larger social, cultural and political issues of our time. The role of the poet, in this age of rampant, well organized, and unabashed disinformation campaigns, is perhaps more important now than ever."Read More
This is an interview of Aryn Kyle by Candie Sanderson. Sanderson is a nonfiction writer in the MFA at the University of Montana, and a fiction editor for CutBank. She met Aryn Kyle on a New York balcony while trying to break into another writer's house. Aryn Kyle completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Montana, and is the author of the novel The God of Animals (Scribner, 2007), the short story collection Boys and Girls Like You and Me (Scribner, 2010), and Hinterland, her forthcoming novel from Riverhead. Kyle is the one who put the mad idea of pursuing an MFA into Sanderson's head. Since then, her work has appeared in Toad, Two Serious Ladies, and BlazeVOX. Candie Sanderson: You got published in The Atlantic Monthly and received a National Magazine Award only one year after graduating with your MFA. You then went on to write and publish a widely successful novel, The God of Animals, which became a national bestseller and got translated into many languages. You are the dream MFA success story. How did you make it happen?
Aryn Kyle: I feel like I need to start off by telling you that as I am writing the answers for this interview, I currently have $9.62 in my bank account (to be clear: the decimal point is not misplaced—nine dollars, sixty-two cents). I’m not offering this as evidence against my being “the dream MFA success story,” but as an attempt to give you a more holistic view of the reality.
The truth is that, in our field, “success” is a pretty nebulous thing. There’s no finish line. When I started the MFA program, there was a girl in the year ahead of mine who already had an agent. I was absolutely in awe of that: She had an agent! In New York! She had totally made it! (To be fair, she kind of had—she was a total badass.) But now I look back and roll my eyes at myself, at all those little markers that I thought were Major Signifiers: If I could just get a story published; If I could just get an agent; If I could just finish a novel, sell a novel, sell another one… It doesn’t end. You cross one finish line only to realize there’s another one just up ahead. Not that those little markers aren’t important—they are, and they’re worth celebrating when they happen. But they’re not nearly as important as your relationship with your own work.
The most valuable lesson I learned during the course of my MFA had nothing to do with the workshop or the classroom. I don’t know if this is still the way it works, but when I was in the program, there were five fiction students in my class who had TAs. The first year, we all taught Comp. But the second year, the top four writers in our class would get to teach Creative Writing. At the time, this felt like a Very Big Deal, like, being one of the Top Four Writers in the Class of 2003 would in some way determine if I was good enough to be a Real Writer.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this.
So, yeah, I was Number Five. And I was devastated. Truly. Heartbroken. I had wanted that validation so much. I had worked so hard. But here’s the thing: Those four people who got it instead of me? They’d wanted it too. They’d worked hard too. And after a few days wallowing in my apartment, I realized that sitting around begrudging the Top Four Writers in the Class of 2003—who, by the by, also happened to be my friends—was just making me feel shittier. The other thing I realized was that even though I hadn’t gotten this thing I’d so much wanted to get, my desire to write wasn’t any weaker than it had been before. In a way, it was stronger. I’d spent so much of that first year preoccupied with proving I was Good Enough, trying to guess what kinds of stories I ought to be writing to suitably impress the people in charge so that they would choose me, choose me, choose me! And once that was all off the table, I felt like I’d been set free. I didn’t have to try to impress anyone anymore. Now I could just write. The week that I found out I was not, in fact, one of the Top Four Writers was the week I wrote the first draft of the short story that would eventually become the first chapter of my first novel. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but when I look back, I really believe that week was the point when I became a writer.
I wish that I could offer you some kind of map, one with a nice, clear grid system that you could follow from Point A to Point B. Alas, no such map exists. In this field, everyone’s path is different, as is everyone’s timeline. No matter where you are in the journey, you can look one direction and see people who are well beyond you, and you can look the other direction and see people who are still trying to make it as far as you have. But I’ve found that looking around too much is a pretty good way to trip and fall on your face: it’s best to keep your eyes on your own footing. I’ve been really lucky to have the success that I’ve had. But I’ve also had my share of disappointments. I hate to break it to you, but if you commit to a life in the arts, you better gird your loins for disappointment; there’s a lot of it. You’ll apply for grants or fellowships or residencies, and most of the time, you won’t get them. You’ll submit your work to journals that by in large won’t accept it. You’ll publish a book and get emails from strangers telling you you’re a Talentless Piece of Shit (but they’ll be written by people who are mostly illiterate, which, let’s be honest, helps). The good news is that the work is its own reward, and if you take care of it, it will, in its own way, in its own time, take care of you. It will, most definitely, kick your ass and break you down, but it will also open you up. It will teach you to be curious and compassionate, and it will fill your life with surprise. And it’s been my experience that, so long as I keep my attention on the process rather than the product, everything else has a way of falling into place.
Boys and Girls Like You and Me was largely based on your MFA thesis. What did it take to turn that thesis into a publishable short story collection?
It took a giant mortgage on a house I’d bought but couldn’t afford (646 Longstaff—go by and take a look at it sometime; it’s lovely).
Seriously, I hadn’t really thought about selling a story collection. After my first novel came out, I went through a pretty long period of time when I didn’t write much. My attention was pulled in a lot of different directions, and I just didn’t have the emotional space or the mental discipline to create for myself the boundaries that I require to get my work done. But I had a heap of ever-mounting expenses, and at some point it became clear to me that it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t need to work; if I wanted to keep a roof over my head, I was going to have to sell another book. And since I already had two-thirds of a story collection, a story collection is what I sold.
I can’t quite remember what all was in my thesis, but I think that most of the stories found their way into the collection in one form or another. By the time I finished the new stories, the collection represented nearly a decade of writing—the oldest story I wrote when I was twenty-two, the newest when I was thirty-one. I remember thinking how odd it was to send that book out into the world as “new work,” when so much of it was anything but. I was actually a little self-conscious about it. Not that I thought the older stories were “bad”—they just didn’t exactly represent the writer I felt I currently was. It was sort of like posting your senior picture on a dating website: it might be a perfectly fine picture, but it’s not what you’d want strangers to base their opinion on when deciding whether or not they would sleep with you.
Now that the collection is out in the world, though, I’m actually quite glad to have all those stories from all those different times living together inside one book. It almost feels like a scrapbook. When I look back through the stories, I see the influence of the books I was reading and the music I was listening to (That’s the story I wrote when I was reading a ton of Lorrie Moore; that’s when I was obsessed with Rufus Wainwright; that’s when I was trying to get over my fear of writing about sex). More interestingly, though, I see how I continued to work through similar themes from different levels of experience (both personal and professional), and how certain characters evolved from other characters. It wasn’t until the book had been out awhile that I realized the oldest story and the newest story are, in many ways, the same story. I’m not sure anyone else would read the collection and pick up on it, but I can see it so clearly. And it comforts me to know that, as writers, we’re allowed to keep working through the material that’s important to us, that we don’t have to retire an idea or a question or an image just because we took one whack at it way back when. It makes me think of a documentary I saw a few years ago about Russian ballerinas: in the film, someone asks a famous ballerina if she doesn’t get bored with dancing the same few roles in the same few ballets season after season, and she says something along the lines of, “Every time I return to a role, I return as a different dancer, and so the ballet is never the same.”
Your novel takes place in the West. You grew up in Colorado. You did your MFA in Montana. Now you live in New York. How do you relate to the West? How does it influence your work? Do you miss it?
My feeling about the West is this: It will always be my home, but I doubt that I will ever live there again.
My work is hugely influenced by the West—my first novel was set there, as is the novel I’m writing now. And I love returning to the landscape by way of my fiction. It’s a part of who I am, and that won’t ever change.
I’ve never been a person who put down deep roots as far as geography goes. That experience people describe of coming to a place and knowing that it’s Home? I’ve never had that. Of the places I’ve lived, New York is by far the one that suits me best. Even so, I can’t be sure I’ll stay here forever. And I’m quite grateful that I wasn’t in New York when I was starting off as a writer. It’s very easy in New York to start buying into the illusion that personal connections are the key to professional success, that you have to be at all the right parties so that you can fling yourself in the path of all the right people. And, for young writers especially, I think that has the potential to be really dangerous—ten years ago, it would have been disastrous for me.
Before I moved to New York, I’d lived exclusively in small towns, and I always felt out of place in them, though I wouldn’t have been able to explain exactly why. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that in order to do my work, I need a great deal of privacy, and that was something I never felt like I had until I came to New York. In a small town, you can’t walk out your front door without seeing people you know. I’m an observer by nature—it’s how I process the world and what I draw upon most consistently in my work. But it’s very hard to be an observer when you constantly feel that you’re being observed.
I’m perfectly willing to admit that what I want and need from my environment might change as time goes on, but for now, New York offers me the best of both worlds: I have a wonderful community of friends and colleagues who are doing interesting things and making interesting art; but I also have the psychological space to really immerse myself in my work when my work so requires it. Which I think is why I’m able to keep writing about the West; I can see it so much more clearly from here.
Femme is one of my favorite pieces in the collection. You write:
"You have known us since childhood. We are Simone or Car, Rhonda or Nicole. We have cool voices and long eyelashes. We wear too much makeup or not enough. We are your classmate, your coworker, you next-door neighbor. We can tell that you are not like us and we find this attractive. We want to spend time with you. We want to be your friend.
… You don't have to feel guarded around us. You can tell us your secrets. Of course we will keep them. You can trust us. You want to trust us."
How chilling! Could you tell us more about how this piece came about? How did you work with the second person, this sense of intimacy with the reader?
“Femme” is one of those stories that came about kind of by accident. I wrote it as an assignment for a techniques class, though I cannot for the life of me remember what the assignment actually was—I think it might have had something to do with irony, in which case, the story was probably not terribly well received, considering that it’s not at all ironic. I do remember that, at the time I was writing it, I was super-annoyed with a girl in my class who I felt had been snuggling up to me and stroking me with false flattery in order to seduce me into telling her all my secrets, and I was super-annoyed with myself for so willingly handing them over. I also remember being disappointed that the girl who inspired the story didn’t come to class on the day it was discussed.
As far as second person goes, “Femme” is the only story I’ve ever written entirely in that point of view, though I’ve dipped in and out of it in other stories. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about point of view before I sit down to write—stories seem to come however they’re going to come. I’ve been in workshops where I’ve been told that No One Should Ever Write in First Person and I’ve heard authors say that writing in third person indicates an inability to fully access character. And I think it’s all a bunch of bunk. People who tell you that you can’t fully access characters through third person are basically telling you that they can’t, and people who tell you to avoid first person are high. The only warning regarding point of view that I think deserves any attention whatsoever is the one against second person, and that’s only because most workshop stories I’ve seen that are told in second person really would be more effective in first or third. Second person is fun—it’s quick and sharp and often pretty snarky—but it can make a story seem cleverer than it really is. And it’s the only point of view that I really interrogate myself about on the rare occasions that I find myself using it. In the case of “Femme”, I tried writing drafts in both first and third person and they just didn’t work. I’ve always thought of the story as something like a seduction, and for it to be successful, there really had to be someone on the other end of it—you. Or, more accurately, me.
What about the blog? Does that medium help to keep you writing, find a new voice?
I started the blog a few years ago at my publisher’s request. I was getting ready to head off on a joint book tour with my friend, David Goodwillie, and they wanted us to keep a travelogue. At first, I was a little hesitant about it. One of the things I envy about your generation of MFA-ers is that you’re coming of age as writers in the thick of the social media craze (to be clear, I also pity you for it). I’m not saying that I think social media is an essential tool for success or that it even matters all that much—in some ways, I actually think it can be a hindrance; at best, it’s distracting, and at worse it can be rather destructive. But it’s here, and you know it’s here, and you can start making choices right now about how you’re going to engage with it or when you’re going to engage with it or if you’re going to engage with it at all. When I first started publishing, there was no Facebook or Twitter; there were a handful of online journals, but they weren’t terribly well respected; I don’t think I’d even heard the word “blog.”
Overnight, it seemed, every writer was expected to have an Online Presence. For me, it was not a terribly natural medium. I’ve had a fairly big learning curve when it comes to social media. Recently, I looked through my entire Facebook history and I was mortified by some of the things I’d posted. Publishers put a lot of pressure on writers to tweet and post and pontificate online, and I get why. But the truth is that just because a person can write a novel or a poem or a play does not necessarily mean that she can be charming and likable (let alone interesting) on Twitter. And while I do my best to participate and play along, I can’t help worrying that while we think we’re Building the Brand, a lot of us are kind of making jackasses of ourselves.
That said, I started the blog, and I kept the travelogue, and it was fun. Since then, I’ve let the blog lapse for long periods of times. I toss something up there once in awhile, but in general, there’s not much going on. This is partly because I’m working on a novel right now, and when I’m working, I need a lot more privacy than I do when I’m not. In order for me to access that dark, weedy place the fiction comes from, I have to feel really safe and really protected—even in Real Life, my social circle shrinks down to a small handful of people. I feel very raw and very vulnerable, and I don’t like the idea that people are looking in the window, so to speak. And so, as far as social media goes, I pretty much drop out.
But starting the blog was good for me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. For one thing, it was my first-ever venture into non-fiction. I’d had some offers to write for magazines, and though I’d wanted to try essay writing for a long time, I was squeamish about the idea of my first attempt at the form appearing in print. I needed some time to play around with it, to see what felt right, to find my voice, so to speak. And the blog gave me a low-risk place to do that.
I heard you have a new novel in the making. Could you tell us a couple of words about it?
Well, it’s set in an MFA program. In a small western town. With a river running through it. And a stuffed grizzly bear in the airport.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘How does she come up with this stuff?’
I just have a really vivid imagination is all.
Fondest memory of your MFA in Missoula?
During my second year, George Saunders came for one of those week-long gigs—he led a workshop, gave a craft lecture, a reading, etc. Before he came, I didn’t know much about him. I think I’d maybe read one of his stories. But I feel like the week he was in Missoula was kind of transformative for me, though I don’t know that I realized it until years later. He is such a gentle and generous person. And so much of what he shared with us was focused on how to deal with fear, on giving yourself permission to tell the kind of stories you need to tell and be the kind of writer you really are—not the writer you think will make the most money or win the most awards or have the biggest fan club. Basically, he talked about authenticity and self-acceptance. And I was at a point in my life when everything he said was something that I desperately needed to hear.
There’s so much of what he said during that week that I still think about when I’m writing. Once in awhile I see him around, and I always want to run up to him and throw my arms around him and thank him for that week eleven years ago. But that would likely terrify him, so instead I just smile at him from a respectful distance.
I heard you once fell asleep on the old car seats at the Union. True story? Tell us more!
Oh, dear. There are a fair number of things that happened during my MFA experience which now cause me varying degrees of physical discomfort to think back upon. In my defense, I went through with kind of a wild class—most of our parties ended with someone puking on someone else’s heirloom quilt or someone passing out in a locked bathroom so that everyone else had to urinate in the yard or firemen evacuating half the neighborhood after someone broke a gas line by climbing up the side of the house to look in the bathroom window at the person passed out inside. Before I moved to Missoula, I’d lived a fairly repressed existence. I’d grown up a straight-A student in a small, conservative town, and the wackiest thing I’d ever done was join show choir. There was something about breaking through all those layers of fear and conformity to tap into the darker, more complicated part of myself where the writing came from that seemed to simultaneously unleash an insatiable desire for excess. In short, my Inner Writer was, for awhile, inextricable from my Inner Sloppy Drunk. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve better learned how to access my hedonistic impulses without necessarily indulging them, and I’m proud to say that I now make a regular practice of switching from wine to water before I fall down or throw up.
Which is all a long way of saying, I totally fell asleep on the old car seats at the Union.
A classic: Any advice to aspiring writers?
Advice always strikes me as sort of dangerous; I work very hard to refrain from giving it unless specifically asked, and I am extremely skeptical of those who go around freely offering it—no matter how well intended, there’s almost always agenda. But a few months ago, I went to this oracle in the middle of the New Hampshire woods (long story), and I asked the oracle my question—which had something to do with fear of rejection and fear of failure—and the oracle’s response was, “The answer is in the advice you have been giving.” And the oracle—which, to the naked eye looks a lot like a birdhouse hanging in an old outhouse—gave me a new take on both the giving and receiving of advice. With that in mind, I will offer you the advice I would give myself if I could get into a time machine and travel back ten years to the point when I was leaving Missoula with one piece of paper declaring that I was now a Master in the Fine Art of Fiction and another declaring that, upon the completion of my higher education, I was now obligated to pay back the Shit-Ton of Money I owed in student loans, and you may take or discard this advice as it pleases you:
- That mean little voice inside your head that sometimes whispers and sometimes screams that you are not smart enough or talented enough or innovative enough or lucky enough? It won’t ever go away. If you’re going to let it stop you, then save yourself some time and stop now. Otherwise, learn to recognize it for what it is—a mean little voice—and Write Anyway.
- There will be people in the Real World who are more than happy to embody that mean little voice in your head—you might even, for a time, seek them out. There will also be people who legitimately mean it when they say that they love you and respect your work, but will even so throw massive, embarrassing hissy fits when you want to write through the night rather than spoon in bed with them or be their plus-one to a gala at the Museum of Natural History. Repeat after me: Buh-bye.
- There will be events in the Real World that are more important than the ones you’re trying to transpose from your imagination onto your computer screen (note: these do not include spooning in bed or galas at the Museum of Natural History). Give yourself permission to walk away from the keyboard when they arise. Your work will wait for you; your life will not.
- If you can’t be happy for the success of others, you better learn how to fake it. And if you find that you sometimes get a little thrill from the failure of others, it’s worth every bit of energy you can possibly commit to fighting that feeling. That (understandably human) impulse to snicker at someone’s bad review or talk trash about someone who just got a Great Big Book Advance is akin to that mean little voice that tells you you’re not good enough. If you allow it to sharpen its teeth on other people, it will be all the more effective when it’s ripping into your jugular vein.
- Fear of failure and rejection is a Giant Waste of Time; failure and rejection are inevitable.
- The worry that you are maybe not a Real Writer is as much a Giant Waste of Time as the fear of failure and rejection. There are plenty of people—most people, actually—who do not go through life with the compulsion to make things up and write them down. The fact that you write, that you do so even when you don’t have an agent or a book deal or a due date, is all the validation you need. And it’s enough. It’s everything. The payoff is in the process. The work is the reward. Everything else is just frosting.
Victoria Chang is a poet and business consultant. She is the author of Circle (Southern Illinois University,2005), Silvania Molesta (University of Georgia Press, 2008), and, recently, The Boss (McSweeney’s, 2013).
Victoria Chang was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1970 and raised in the suburb of West Bloomfield. Her parents were immigrants from Taiwan. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Stanford Business School. She also has an MFA in poetry from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers where she held a Holden Scholarship.
She worked for Morgan Stanley in investment banking, Booz Allen & Hamilton in management consulting, and Guidant. She lives in Southern California and works in marketing and communications. Her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, Ploughshares, and The Nation.
Q: For anyone who hasn’t read your most recent book, The Boss, how would you describe the collection?
A: I would describe it as an investigation of hierarchy, power, and loss of power/control. I would describe it as an experiment with sound and an exercise in word play to propel the poems forward. I would describe it as an experiment in losing control while writing the poems.
Q: The Boss has been called “obsessive, brilliant, linguistically playful” — if you had to pick three buzz words to sum it up, what would they be?
A: Obsessive, urgent, obsessively urgent.
Q: Have you had any reviews that you felt were particularly rewarding? Or come across any reviewers or readers you felt read your work in ways you did not intend?
A: Truly, beggars can’t be choosers. I will take any review by anyone and find something redeeming about the review. I think all the reviews that I have read so far have been very intelligent and that’s something I’m consistently surprised about. As a writer with a new book out, waiting for people to pay attention to your work, any attention in the form of reviews is agonizing—akin to standing naked on the side of the road with a cardboard sign that says, “review me” and a small bowl for spare change. It’s a pathetic feeling and state of being and one that I despise about post-publication. I sound ungrateful, but it’s hard to wait for something around the corner and even harder to read what people have to say about your work. I’ve been lucky this round with really smart readers like Seth Abramson at the Huffington Post, in particular. McSweeney’s has brought attention to my work in ways that other publishers could not.
Q: The Boss has an extremely distinctive voice that takes on a breathless urgency, often verging on obsessive, that really drives the book. Did you seek out this voice once you had begun the book or did it begin with the voice? What influenced or inspired your poetic voice?
A: So much of this book was about letting go of the process of writing, the process of picking up a pencil, thinking about something, and putting it onto paper. So much of this process was about the pencil moving by itself and pulling my hand and the brain along with it. The urgency inspired the poems and the voice reflects that urgency. I am naturally a very organic person but grew up and work in a more controlled environment. This book was about letting my natural organic self re-emerge and find itself again.
Q: It’s really interesting how the structure you set up for your poems allow you to surprise the reader in interesting ways when you deviate, satisfying and struggling against the rigid rules that mirror the stifling power structures your poems depict. What appealed to you about the uniformity of the shapes and stanza lengths of your poems? What was fun or frustrating about working with this structure?
A: What’s interesting about the structure of the poems is that they began with no structure. They were written in an environment of extreme heat while I was sitting in a car waiting for my oldest daughter to finish a Chinese language class in sweltering Irvine in the summertime. I sat in a parking lot in front of this same tree every Saturday for months and wrote these long-lined things that weren’t poems. The composition notebook formed the poems in that I just wrote until I reached the end of the page and they were in couplets for easier reading for me. McSweeney’s editors suggested the structural change and the quatrains that are staggered to help the reader since I didn’t use any punctuation. I really wanted the poems to mirror the loss of control I was feeling in my life at the time—I had a terrible boss, my father had just suffered a stroke and lost his language, and I had young children under the age of 5. I wanted the lines to spiral out of control in the way I felt my life was spiraling out of control. Add to that all the natural and man-made disasters, I just felt the world was ending.
Q: One of my favorite lines in the book comes at the end of “The Boss is a No Fly Zone:” “the boss’s boss’s boss just wants a fine/ job closes his outer lobe unless his son coughs/ like a sea at night,” because of the tender sadness of it against the more detached current of accusatory statements in the stanzas before. Was exercising restraint in deviating from (or adhering to) the form of the poems difficult during the process of writing this book? Are you someone who writes a poem and cuts half of it or more often revises by adding?
A: This book was written in 2 months and that’s it. I revisited some of the poems later and edited them and also perhaps wrote 2-3 more poems after that, but for the most part, this manuscript didn’t take long to write or revise. The poems in my composition notebook pretty much mirror mostly the poems that are in the book. My McSweeney’s editors made the poems crisper and cleaner and were so great to work with. Prior to this book, I was a heavy editor of my work and in my last book, Salvinia Molesta, took a lot of parts of poems and spliced them altogether. I enjoyed writing The Boss because it felt so much easier than my earlier writing process. I don’t want to write another way again—this could explain why I haven’t written a word since writing these poems 2 years ago. My other books weren’t finished until someone took them—that’s excruciating. I also have other manuscripts I abandoned along the way before The Boss.
Q: What inspired you to take on Edward Hopper as a subject?
A: I’ve always been obsessed with those paintings and look at them once in a while and I had written ekphrasis poems in my first book, Circle, off of some of those paintings. I looked at them again and noticed there were a lot more Hopper paintings that took place in office settings than I had originally thought and so decided to use the paintings to riff off of things and to use the paintings as a new entry point to these poems.
Q: How would you say the experience of being first generation has inspired your work? What ideas and reactions drove you to write this book?
A: I think being Asian American probably inspires and influences everything about me in my life. Not to whine, but it’s so hard being first generation. My sister and I recently had a discussion about how we felt like we weren’t taught anything by my parents—how to manage stress, how to communicate, how to deal with difficult situations, etc. I think my parents taught us what they knew but what they knew didn’t fit into this culture. We learned a ton from them, but some of the things, many of the things we learned were for a different culture. It’s hard to admit that I’ve spent my whole life re-learning how to exist in this culture. It’s been a rough road but an interesting one!
Q: You call into your poems power in many forms--from natural (earthquake), to divine, to human (the boss). Why did the idea of a boss speak to you?
A: Working in business for so long and having gotten an MBA from Stanford has allowed me to see into the world many poets might not see. I have also had my fair share of bad bosses. The good ones were so good, but the bad ones were really damaging. It also goes back to perhaps not having the tools or skills to manage tough situations, to know when to push back, to know when not to push back, to know when to move on. This boss that inspired this book was so passive aggressive and I spent years feeling like I was treated like a child and I could never figure out why this person wanted to control me so badly or disliked me so much. It took me a while to realize it wasn’t about me, it was about her hate of losing control over people and situations and the fact that all bosses probably have similar issues. And then I began to realize in many ways, we are all lost and have no power in some aspects of our lives. It’s just a state of human existence. This was all happening when so many other things were happening in the external world and everything collided.
Q: How much did your personal experience influence your poems? Have you ever been The Boss?
A: I spend my entire day working in business, with business people, thinking about business. It’s very interesting to me but I recognize the crassness of it all sometimes. I have been The Boss and I’d like to hope I’ve been a good one. You’ll have to ask others to verify! I’m also a leader in a lot of other aspects of my life in terms of volunteer work I do and I really enjoy leadership positions. I think working in a professional environment is difficult. All the politics, communications, problem-solving. Business is essentially constant problem-solving so there’s conflict all the time. And sometimes the people aren’t that great, but that’s probably true in the poetry world and academia too.
Q: If you could collaborate with any writer on a book of poems, who would it be?
A: Shane McCrae. He would drive me batty, but I would love every minute of it. Louise Gluck too, I think we’d make an interesting pair of somberness.
Q: If you could choose your perfect reader--the person you’d most want to find your book on a shelf or get it as a gift--who would it be? Do you have a particular audience in mind when you’re writing?
A: I have two ideal readers—one is the practicing poet, that person who reads poetry to learn about writing poetry. The other is someone who never reads poetry—that’s what McSweeney’s is great for—they have so many readers of literature that haven’t read poetry that are reading my book—I love that. Being on NPR Marketplace was great in that way too—all these listeners who don’t read poetry were engaged about poetry, even for a little while—I love that.
Q: How do you balance writing and working?
A: I don’t. I don’t write anymore. I just read books and try to stay on top of what’s happening in the poetry world. I heard Louise Gluck writes like that. I think for better or worse, that’s the way I will write going forward if I ever write poems again. Not caring if I ever write a poem again is liberating, absolutely freeing. I love that feeling. For the first time in my life, I feel untortured.
Q: What were the most fun and most frustrating moments of writing The Boss?
A: It was all fun writing it because it came quickly. The frustrating part was the 6 months after it was “done” and when I started doing the editing. It was light editing, as I mentioned, but I still tortured myself again and again reading that manuscript and beating it to death. The most fun was knowing that I was doing something different (from my old self) and being unsure what it would be, but enjoying that process. The other fun part was finally giving it up to McSweeney’s and saying, “You go at it” and knowing they would.
The Next Big Thing Interview
Kristin Hatch’s chapbook, Through the Hour Glass is currently available from CutBank Books. She was tagged in the “The Next Big Thing” self-interview series. Her responses are below.
Q. What is your working title of your book?
A. Through the Hour Glass
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The title takes its name from, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the Days of Our Lives,” the opening of the daytime soap opera and Lewis Carroll. The poems in the chapbook are all titled for characters and plotlines that happened on the show while I was growing up in the 90s. The project tries to link the rabbit hole of being a kid with being brainwashed to believe you are a princess. Or special date nights with candlelit musical montages. And maybe something about lowbrow art (“lowbrow art” all proper or not) and poems and maybe wanting stuff a little more goofball, a little more joyful.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The shock of the new actor seems particularly prevalent in soaps. Suddenly it’s a Tuesday and there’s a new Lorenzo and you have to get used to new-Lorenzo’s new face, but you feel really betrayed until you’re like, “what am I doing holding this pig-baby, I have to go play croquet with the queen!” For some reason I found that scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to be extremely terrifying as a child. Looking back, I guess it’s kind of Mulholland Drive-y. Which I also found extremely terrifying. Point: give me Deidre Hall or give me death.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s a chapbook kind of about the soap opera, Days of Our Lives.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
CutBank Books published this chapbook. It turned out very beautiful and they are very nice. They should make everybody’s chapbooks.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first poems happened in grad school some years ago. I forgot about them. Then I found them again and binged on You Tube videos and Wikipedia entries. My stories! Soap opera Wikipedia pages are a labyrinthine and impressive, a marvel. Maybe six months-ish? It seemed real fast versus the full-length book. I guess because it was: months versus years. But it was nice to work on something small and focused while the rejection letters poured in for the full-length manuscript. But rejection letters no longer! My the meatgirl whatever won the National Poetry Series and will be coming out on Fence in the winter. Thank you, Universe (and K. Silem Mohammad)!
What other books would you compare this collection to within your genre?
All the great ones and none of the bad ones.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Backlighting, the devil, feminism, my friend Doug.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There is a guillotine scene. And the cover drawing by Amy Sollins (and laid out by Clint Garner) is really, really pretty. So even if you hate (or “eh”) the poems, you get to experience this extraordinary drawing.
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Kristin was tagged by Kiki Petrosino (http://www.sarabandebooks.org/?page_id=1581) author of the forthcoming Hymn for the Black Terrific. As per the rules, Kristin is tagging:
Mary Margaret Alvarado: http://www.dosmadres.com/shop/hey-folly-by-mary-margaret-alvarado/