When Paper Darts was introduced to poet Anis Mojgani at the 2012 AWP Conference, we knew we were in the presence of greatness, just not in the position to worship appropriately. Here, for your reading (and our bragging) pleasure is our sacred offering of questions to this two time National Poetry Slam champion—and his godly gift of answers.
Paper Darts: How did you come to be involved with Write Bloody Publishing?
Anis Mojgani: I first met Derrick in 2006, when we did a feature together in Chicago. We had a number of mutual friends and I had heard of his work for a spell. We and some other poets started a tour in 2007, which came to be known as the Poetry Revival. Derrick had started Write Bloody a few years prior and was starting to expand its catalog. At that time I had a manuscript which was sort of in publishing limbo, and Derrick was interested in putting out a book of mine if I was game. I was, and so I put together a manuscript titled Over the Anvil We Stretch, submitted it to him, and they published it in 2008.
PD: You have this killer quote from Chuck Close on your blog:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself…Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” —Chuck Close
How do you relate to this?
AM: I love what Chuck Close has to say here! I completely agree with it and wholeheartedly relate to it. When I was younger I found more direct inspiration. Inspiration that would directly lead to a poem or painting, but even then most of the longevity of the work and the outcome of the product would come from being inspired by being present in the moment of creating.
My process for writing is primarily based on getting out of the house, sitting somewhere to write, and then seeing what comes out. Sometimes nothing does and I spend three, four hours at the coffee shop with a sentence and a lot of time wasted on Facebook and Wikipedia. But I feel that is often, unfortunately, part of the process—putting in the time, making myself available for the writing to come. Punching the clock, so to speak. When the work does come, it’s then a matter of being observant and open to what may excite me or what patterns may emerge and to then follow them and shape them into something that may become more solid.
I liken my creative process to running down a hill. The more I run, the more my speed is taken out of my control and controlled by gravity implementing itself on the force of my kinetic energy. The more I write, the more I can write. I am inspired by the act of writing and pushed by it itself to continue forward.
PD: What is your advice to young artists?
AM: Work, work, work—don’t be afraid to make things that are unsuccessful or “bad.” Observe everything around you and store up its inspirations, so you don’t have to wait for inspiration to arrive—it’s simply and hopefully always present. Learn from others. Learn by copying. Learn always by doing. Intro- duce yourself to your voice at the right
time. Be honest with yourself. For the times you can’t or don’t know how to do this, have someone or someones that can, and listen to them. You don’t have to let the audience dictate what you create, but you do need to have an audience who will receive what you create. This is good and a wealth of a classroom. Give. Follow your heart and that which will make it happy. Don’t be afraid—be fearless in risk-taking. Don’t be afraid to go the movies by yourself or eat in public alone. Ride your bicycle with a helmet. Don’t be a dick.
PD: We hear you’re working on a children’s book. Can you tell us more about this project?
AM: A few years back I realized the books that most shaped me and drew me into reading were picture books and books read when I was younger. I grew up in a children’s bookstore and the magic and sense of wonder I found then returns when I read books like
Maniac Magee and Stuart Little and Half Magic. When I turn through illustrations by Mr. Sendak or Arnold Lobel, there is an awakening.
I think children’s books allow us a different form of communication— “simpler” is not the word. More that it’s alanguagewe may not have in our days anymore, or in some cases may have never had, and I think children’s books allow us to reconnect with that language and the adventure, imagination, curiosity, and an abundance of other raw, base feelings that come with it. As adults, it’s more than simply a remembrance of childhood that we can gain from children’s books, because it’s not just a matter of looking at books read when younger. When looking at new artists, reading new stories, some door upstairs swings open, beckoning me to walk through, to explore and discover. There are a few ideas I’m trying to more fully shape, but the most concrete one deals with the bell ringer of a small town who becomes obsessed with finding a small silver bird he heard one night and then watched fly into the moon. I went to school for sequential art, using art to tell stories, and it’s been a spell since I’ve focused my energies on that, so it’s been a little slow going to get my sensibilities back in that arena.
PD: You’ve said that in your spare time you like to write and create art, try to better yourself, and be a good person. How do art and poetry create better people?
AM: I don’t necessarily think about that intersection in myself, like working on my art or being exposed to such-and-such art translates to being a better person. But I do think this happens, whether one is conscientious of the effects or whether the effects are subconscious in nature.
Art is a tool by which we as a people are able to translate the things inside us that do not speak in a direct language; illuminate the truths that are common amongst us, thus showing how we are more similar than different; and expand our capacity, whether in an intellectual or emotional manner, for better or worse.
Art and poetry realize us to ourselves and the world around us, and creating and discovering these things build us better, even if only in the broadest sense of expanding our horizons. But I do think the more one knows the better one can be, and art essentially gives us a greater knowledge of self while giving us a stronger sense of connection to one another. We are made the opposite of alone.
Art and poetry are ways in which we as people are able to connect, able to reveal, able to illuminate the things inside us that overlap and that cannot necessarily be shared through common everyday language. The creating and discovering of the arts are ways in which we can find more peace within ourselves and build bridges to that and to others.
PD: Do you fret over what is lost once spoken word sits still on a page?
AM: Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. The work I write, I simply write and don’t try to box it or shape it as spoken word or as a page poem. Some poems lend themselves to be delivered orally to an audience more easily than other poems, some become spoken simply because of my excitement to share them in that manner. But I don’t know if I’ve written a poem specifically for speaking in more than a decade. So I don’t think of what is lost with regards to “spoken word.”
However, and perhaps in this juncture in time it’s only semantics, I do think that attempts to remove poetry from oral tradition, or to dismiss spoken poems as something less than, then yes, there is something lost. There is a beauty and a history in it. It’s something I think poetry yearns to be; it is wonderful to feel the sounds and shapes of well-crafted words on one’s tongue and in one’s mouth. And it’s wonderful to feel those well-crafted words enter one’s heart and mind and imagination through one’s ears and eyes. To me it is a direct line to the most ancient of human arts, the telling and sharing of stories, the passing down of what humanity is to the next generation in order to preserve where we came from.
ANIS MOJGANI'S BULLSHIT-O-METER:
- Heavily performed work that feels like an act over a poem.
- An individual poet displaying a lack of range.
- Yelling senselessly.
- Rhythmic tropes.
- Journal entries.
- The word “Queen.”
- Bad rhyming.
- An unbalanced ratio of “I” to imagery.
- When personal tragedy feels like it’s being exploited rather than shared.
- Not respecting the intelligence of the audience enough to allow them to participate in what is going on right then and there.
All rights reserved to Paper Darts.