Glottal Stops and Going Full VIDA: An Interview with Amy Pickworth
How would you characterize your process? Are you the type of person who spends a lot of time perfecting as you go, or do you switch up what you're doing as you type?
I don't really have a process. I wish I had a process! It would be nice if I were someone with a process, someone with great discipline who never failed to work from 8 every morning until 10 every night.
Sometimes I wake up with an almost fully formed something rolling around in my head and I run to the computer to get it down. (That's a good day.) Sometimes I overhear a phrase or make an association between two things and scribble it down for later. In coat pockets or the bottom of my purse I often find Post-it notes or CVS receipts scribbled up with my worst handwriting. Sometimes I have no idea what they say, or no memory of writing them.
I'm not constantly cranking out work, and I feel like that's okay—that sometimes we value quantity too much.
Probably the most useful thing I do is keep a working document that I drop ideas and images and specific lines into. It's about 80 pages long right now. Most of the time I'm adding bits—an idea for a poem, a snippet from a Post-it note I actually can decipher, two lines of I don't know what—but from time to time I'll review the whole thing and see what might link up and start sewing those words together.
Once I write a draft, I keep it around for a while. Sometimes a few weeks, usually a few months, sometimes more. I'm not constantly cranking out work, and I feel like that's okay—that sometimes we value quantity too much. I like to put a draft aside and kind of forget about it, then come back to it and think about other forms or word choices when I can see it with fresh eyes.
Bigfoot for Women (which comes out this fall from Orange Monkey Publishing) started happening when I realized some poems I'd written worked well together. I then I started thinking about the arc of a book. I went to Staples and got a binder and pulled out the three-hole punch and started making outlines for new poems, which was something I'd never done before. Then I rented a little place in Provincetown in the middle of December and lived this very ascetic life for a week and made myself crank out all the drafts I needed. Once or twice I went to the public library there (which is very nice, and the librarians were very nice) and printed out the new work then took it back to the cottage I was renting and laid the pages out on the floor in rows. I spent hours staring at these rows of pages, picking one up, marking it up for an hour, moving it somewhere else, going to the computer and writing something new. I worked all day and didn't talk to anyone and when it got dark at 4:00 p.m. I made dinner and went to bed and read then got up early and did it again. It was very organized, hard work, but in addition to being super intense and soul-searchy it was maybe the most satisfying writing experience I've had.
I have a full-time job and a family and I find it hard to find time to write when I actually feel inspired, which is sometimes frustrating. Finding that time was much easier when I was freelancing for a living. So I'm thinking about sequestering myself again somewhere soon, but I want to get a better idea of what I want to do during that time first, so I can use it well.
What are your thoughts on how sound functions in the writing you're doing now? Do you pay attention to phonetics? Think about glottal stops? Or do you believe this is something that should come more naturally?
I don't think I've ever said, "I will think about glottal stops now," although that is a fun thing to say out loud, right? But I do read a piece aloud as I'm working on it, and hearing the words and sounds hang in the air helps me come to good edits that I might not have found otherwise. The different ways words rub against each other or sound believable or shift from this idea to the next is important to me.
What would you say your percentage of writing to revising is in a finished piece?
Sometimes it's 95 percent original writing to 5 percent revision, but more typically it's probably closer to 70 percent original writing versus 30 percent edits.
I don't think I've ever said, "I will think about glottal stops now."
I was a visual arts person as an undergrad, and I often think about drawing while I'm writing. It can be easy to be satisfied too soon, to think you're finished because you got something compelling on the page, to neglect pushing a piece quite far enough. It's also possible to take a piece that's energetic and wild and lovely and work it over until you've drained the life from it. You can lose a poem or a drawing if your hand is too heavy or you try to force the process. I try to work a poem until it clicks but not to the point that it's hobbled, if those mixed metaphors make sense together. It's a hard balance, that awareness, that sensitivity. Knowing when to keep going, knowing when to stop.
I might add that the Undo function is a brilliant thing. As is saving multiple drafts. In writing, unlike in drawing, you can actually go back.
If your writing were a meal, what kind of a meal would it be and why?
I'm so bad at questions like this. Uhhh, I really like surprises, but not the kind of surprises where someone says they're writing brunch then everyone shows up hungry with flowers in hand at what turns out to be a car wash. I don't even know what that means.
So. It's a meal, which means I write you at a plain square table and give you something to look at—maybe a stylized pattern of white dandelions on a gray 1950s tablecloth, or an old book about color theory—and then write you a cocktail. Something nice and bracing, with gin and lime, if you like that kind of thing. Then I would write a lot of little plates of food that I hope would surprise and delight you. One of those plates would have to be this, because it's the most delicious thing I've had in a while.
I have a full-time job and a family and I find it hard to find time to write when I actually feel inspired, which is sometimes frustrating. Finding that time was much easier when I was freelancing for a living.
Then we would suck the bones and pour another drink and talk about boys (or girls) we've loved and movies we've loved, and how beautiful Technicolor blues and reds were and Leni Riefenstahl and how it's really too bad she was a Nazi. Which would lead you to tell a story about Berlin and another one about a time you were camping and there were all these raccoons snuffling around in the dark outside the tent. And we'd go on to lament some of the ways that bodies fail us and flip through a box of old photos (it doesn't matter where they came from) and you would put on some music (you can write that part) while I write us a perfect little chocolate thing that would be our favorite ever and we would drink coffee out of these gorgeous impossibly thin porcelain cups I found at the thrift store for $3 and not even want to add sugar because the balance of sweet and hot and bitter was just right, and then I would tell you a horrific story about breastfeeding which I would immediately delete or pare way down and push up to the part about how bodies fail us, because I get to write and rewrite this. And so we'd end with the coffee and I'd write you without question sober enough to drive home and walk you out into the night, and in the car, almost home, you'd see a flash of ten or was it twelve glowing eyes from the side of the road and think about the sound of raccoons breathing on the other side of the tent, and then again tomorrow.
Are you able to write with other people, ever? Or are you one of those people who prefers to write alone?
I've had some good experiences in workshops, but the work always happens alone, right? Although that doesn't mean I don't like company.
Who are you reading now? Are you wading through the stack of books you got at AWP?
I bought some journals and a stack of books, and the books are scattered all around the house. Let's see. I got a lot of terrific stuff. S. Marie Clay's Strange Couple from the Land of Dot and Line, Denise Duhamel's Blowout, Tarfia Faizullah's Seam, Susannna Mishler's Termination Dust, Amanda Smeltz's Imperial Bender, Heidi Lynn Staples's Noise Event,Page Hill Starzinger's Vestigial. And I bought Natalie Diaz's When My Brother Was an Aztec after I got home, because I really enjoyed her reading.
I also brought home two books written by men, but I'm going to go all VIDA here and just talk about the books by women, although the other two are very good also.