Tuesday Poem: B tries to tell me something and I am only half listening by Maria McMillan

Monday, 27th June, 2011

Maria McMillan

B tries to tell me something and I am only half listening


Well, it was just that I held him under.

I found him at the Sanctuary,

tripping about, clumsy, poisoned

most like. And I took him and

took him home and held him under

the water. Only I didn’t know he would struggle

and his little heart. I thought it was

the best thing for it, wrapped my hand

around his body and held him below

the surface of the water. I didn’t know

that under the pad of my thumb,

I would feel his heart drumming,

little heart, like fingers against glass.



Maria McMillan lives, works and writes in Wellington. She mostly writes poetry, press releases about things that make her grumpy, and overly verbose Facebook updates about the cuteness of her two small daughters. Her work will next appear in issue 3 of Enamel, due out in a month or two.

When I heard Maria read this poem at an open mic session I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had to see it in writing so I begged her for it. Maria really should be getting more attention, I hope we see a chapbook from her soon.

You can read more Tuesday Poems at the hub, including another by Maria.


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Thank you & a give-away

Saturday, 25th June, 2011

As a wee thank you to you all for your support I'm doing a give-away this week.

Leave a comment here or on my facebook page and you'll go in the draw to win this lovely Lotta Jansdotter journal and some cool Penguin pencils.

Open to NZ and international readers, 'cause I love you all :)

Entries close June 30th.

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Tuesday, 21st June, 2011

I have some excellent news. My book Graft, which I wrote during my MA year at IIML and spent last year editing, has been accepted for publication by VUP. It will be published some time in 2012. It's an unusual situation as I also work at VUP, it had the potential to be very awkward! To make things a little less tense my book was read by an external reader and I'm very happy they liked it.


Why did I call it Graft? To graft something is to cut in and fix two things together, like tree branches, to grow something new or heal (as with skin). The word graft originates from the Old Norse groftr, meaning to dig, and is also linked with the verb grave, an ancient Germanic one also meaning to dig. The poems in Graft attempt to bring things together – ideas, cultures and people, sometimes to heal. There are unlikely pairs: science and magical thinking, fact and fiction, myth and history. Sometimes there are more predictable pairings with less predictable outcomes - mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, parents and children. They dig away at things, trying to find a truth or an answer or a lost person. What we find is often not what we are looking for.


To be honest I've swung through a range of emotions since getting the news. Firstly fist pumping the air and yelling 'Yes!', then a quiet Zen calm, then an attack of the 'Oh no, everyone will find out I'm a fraud and can't really write!'. I guess I stepped out of my comfort zone. Right now I'm feeling more level-headed, the sense of limbo I've felt all year is lifting and I'm thinking about the next project.


So thank you all my lovely readers. Just by stopping by and reading what I have to say you lift me up and keep me going with my writing, even on those days when I'm not sure what I'm doing or why I'm doing it.


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Tuesday Poem: Nihon: What God Would Make This? by Johanna Aitchison

Monday, 20th June, 2011

Nihon: What God Would Make This?


The God of the Darker Jersey

sidles up to the expressway.

Present, too, the God of White

which is the new black.


Firemen slash orange suits through a delicate

filigree of ripped-out confetti:

This is the God of Unmarriage.


Meanwhile, the God of Simile makes a salaryman say to reporters:

“The skyscraper was flapping like a sheet in the wind.”



There is a God this day,

but it isn’t the God of Man With Brown Hands Unclasped,

spread on green trousers; & an upturned, empty

pot plant beside his work boot.


No God for the man who wears the Japan sun in his scarf.

No, that is the God of Photographers,

who paints in the red detail

to finish off

the photograph

as the man kneels beside his house

(and his mother is still inside).



Johanna lives in Palmerston North with her partner and son, Lennox. She has published two books, A long girl ago (VUP) (Shortlisted for the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Awards) and Oh My God I'm Flying (Pemmican Press). She teaches creative writing at Massey University and College Street Normal School. It's been a year since I last had Jo on the blog and it's great to have her back!

You can see more Tuesday Poems at the main hub.

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Guest post from Bill Nelson, a book review of Money Shot by Rae Armantrout

Wednesday, 15th June, 2011

Money Shot

Money Shot by Rae Armantrout (2011 Weslayan University Press)


When I emailed Rae Armantrout in 2009, desperate to get a copy of her ‘Early Poems’, a book of collected works that was supposed to have been published several months earlier, she seemed gloomy on the other end of the email. She told me the book was unlikely to ever be published. I later found out the publisher was having financial difficulties in what seemed like a depressing symptom of the economic crisis that had just hit. She said she had another collection about to come out through Weslayan University Press. That was ‘Versed’ which I bought and reviewed on my blog shortly after. Six months later it had won the Pulitzer Prize and Rae Armantrout was now a household name, well, in the household of poetry anyway.


Two years on, the book of ‘Early Poems’ still hasn’t arrived and presumably the publishing house has disappeared as so many other businesses around the world have. And since ‘Versed’ America has changed, its economic and moral power has begun to waiver, the dollar has plunged, the country is in heavy debt to China and the wars in the Middle East have become increasingly drawn out and pointless.


In this time Armantrout’s poems have become unsettled and raw, there is an immediacy and frankness that perhaps wasn’t there before. I know some people will be scoff at the word ‘frankness’ to describe Armantrout’s work, which is fair enough in many ways, but it is frankness of emotion I get from Armantrout and that is what lifts her work out of the vast lake of experimental American poetry, the poems’ ability to wear their hearts on their sleeves, yet still remain mysterious and elusive. I guess you could say, they have their sleeves on their hearts.


Her new collection, Money Shot, deals with America’s issues not so much head on like a simple argument for or against, but discreetly, around the back, unable to ‘say’ what they mean other than through the appropriation of language and the brief moments that make up people’s lives. These are poems of the times, but not necessarily about the times.


The lines and stanzas in Money Shot are curt and get to the meat early, as Armantrout is well known for. They mix the language of science, market forces and occasionally, pornography, but it is the human moments that interest the most, they are the cogs that make the parts move in these tiny poetry machines. Armantrout seems aware of this and how easily a poem about finance, science and performance sex can become cold and detached. This is something she seems intent on proving as if to show the economists (and perhaps the pornographers) of the world that people are the valuable ingredient they have overlooked.


The second section of the title poem deals with this expertly as well as her ongoing theme of the things unsaid:




I’m on a crowded ship

And I’ve been served the wrong breakfast.


This small mound

of soggy dough

is not what I ordered.


“Why don’t you say

What you mean?”


Why don’t I?


Often the poems are like tightly wound springs ready to explode. There is a conscious pressure and feeling of events closing in, a prompt for action, like in Prayers:




The pressure

in my back

rising to be recognized

as pain.


The blue triangles

on the rug



Coming up

a discussion

on the uses

of torture.


The fear

that all this

will end.


The fear

that it won’t.


And there is often a downward gaze, away from these larger issues, a focus on the menial patterns of life, of luxury. The ‘blue triangles’ on a rug and later in Exact, the command to:


quick, before you die,



the exact shade

of this hotel carpet.


In these patterns and the small overlooked details Armantrout seems to be asking questions, not so much of the world or the reader, but of her poems. She wants to understand and the poems are her fingerprint analyses, her DNA tests, the methods find the methods that got us here. And sometimes in the echo of a word or the half-fingerprint of a phrase she manages to say exactly what she means.


Bill Nelson is a poet and blogger. He grew up in South Auckland and now lives in Wellington. He won the Biggs Poetry Prize for best MA poetry portfolio at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2009. His writing has appeared in Hue & Cry, Sport, The Lumière Reader, Blackmail Press, 4th Floor and Swamp. He has also guest edited at Turbine and Blackmail Press. You can read his poem 'Giant Steps' on the Best New Zealand Poems 2010 website.

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Guest post from Melissa Wastney aka Tiny Happy

Tuesday, 14th June, 2011

I used to be a devourer of books. Novels, non-fiction, and poetry. There were some on the bookshelf, in my childhood home, but not many, and I remember longing for a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica like the ones that graced the bookshelves of my friends' houses. My mother loved to read novels though, and we'd visit the library weekly, returning with a heavy armful.

Since I had my first child 8 years ago, my reading has considerably waned. It's not so much that I haven't got the time (although that is partly true), but more that I don't have the attention span. The sight of me settled with reading material is enough to prompt all sorts of esoteric questions from the children of the house. By the time I switch on the bedside lamp and pick up my latest book, my eyes start to hurt and the words begin to blur on the page. I tend to read the same page over and over each night before falling asleep. It's a sad situation for a person whose childhood pleasures revolved around a fresh stack of books by the bed each week.

I've found another way to consume words, though, and that's through music. I work from home to the sound of National Radio in the background, but give myself two or three hours to listen to other music during the day. I'm only really interested in music with good lyrics, and these I consume with a passion previously reserved for novel reading. Last winter I discovered Joanna Newsom. Have you heard her three-disc album, Have One on Me? Each track is a miniature world. Press play and you'll find yourself in a gold-rush-era theatre watching Lola Montez performing her famous spider-dance. In another you might accompany Dick Turpin on his way to the gallows, after being charged with horse theft, sometime around 1730. Or perhaps you'd prefer to sink into the comfort that is your childhood home, like a spoon into honey.

While it seems criminal to omit mention of the rich melodies in these songs, to me, the imagery sparkles with clarity. 'My heart made the sound of snow falling on eaves.' (You and Me, Bess.) 'Like a bump on a bump on a log' (Good Intentions Paving Company). 'I swung through here like a brace of jackrabbits with their necks all broke.' (Jackrabbits). 'My heart becomes a drunken runt' (In California.)

It's all rather lush poetry, and is fine company these days.


Melissa writes a beautiful, thoughtful blog called Tiny Happy I urge you to have a read. She writes about her life and craft in a quiet, understated way.

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Tuesday Poem: Don't Lean Away by Emma Barnes

Monday, 13th June, 2011

Don’t Lean Away


You fill it up. And it fills up and.

you’ve filled it up. And there it is.

it takes two years for my hair to

grow twenty-four centimeters. I

cut it off and start that two years

over. Cut and grow. Cut and grow.

None of the hair I have now, knew

you when you still knew me. You

go away and come back a different

person. You go away and come back

to different people. My old woman

loses speech, then memory then she

is scared by your husband when he

comes into the room. The hair on

her arms she has meticulously re-

moved for years, moves like sea-

weed as we move around her cup-

board. Her minimum wage caregiver

soft and soft and soft. Water into a

bath. She laughs for your father. You

do not. I shave parts of my skull to

the scalp. To the floor. A centimeter

is three weeks. Maybe four. You hold

my neck and tell me not to lean away

from the clippers. Don’t lean away

from the clippers. Don’t lean away.



Emma Barnes is from Christchurch and currently lives and writes in Aro Valley, Wellington. She's putting together the third edition of her magazine Enamel and has just finished writing a book that will hopefully make it out into the light of day at some point in the future. She has had poetry published in JAAM, Landfall, Catalyst and Best New Zealand Poems: Passive Aggressive Letter to a John in 2008 and Milk For Money in 2010.

You can come along and see her read in Wellington at the Best New Zealand Poems reading for this year's Writers on Mondays series at Te Papa on the 18th of July at 12pm.

I love the way Emma doesn't lean away from things in her poetry, she leans into the hard stuff, the confusing stuff and trusts herself. I hope we see a collection of her work published soon.

You can read more Tuesday Poems on the Hub.


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Editing Again: a guest post by Tim Jones

Tuesday, 7th June, 2011


The intoxicating power! The crushing responsibility!


Sometimes I'm an editor. It's not a regular gig – and, given how time-consuming it is, I greatly admire those who can manage to edit magazine issues on a regular basis – but in my time I have edited a couple of small creative writing anthologies and Issue 26 of JAAM magazine, and co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand with Mark Pirie.


At the moment, I'm editing Issue 2 of Eye To The Telescope, an online journal of speculative poetry — that's a broad church covering poetry that falls within the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, surrealism (more or less), and a whole bunch of other things that aren't your standard strict realism. (Submissions close on 15 June, and this is a paying market. If you're interested, you can check out the submission guidelines.)


I like almost everything about editing: in fact, there are only two things I don't like. I like making up submission guidelines, which, me being me, end up as an attempt to cover off every possible contingency that might affect any writer even thinking of submitting to the market concerned.*


I like watching the submissions drop into the email account set up for collecting them, their numbers (in the inverse of the usual sales graph for books) increasing almost asymptotically as the deadline approaches.


I like the moment when I open up all those submissions, like so many birthday presents, and start to read them. I like getting poems from friends that I enjoy and want to include, and even more, I like seeing a poem from a poet I've never heard of and thinking "Wow!"


When the choices have been made, I love sending acceptances. As a writer, I know how happy it makes me to have work accepted for publication; being able to grant a similar happiness to other writers is, for me, probably the single best thing about the job.


Finally, I love the moment when the issue goes up, or out into the world, and it becomes the property of other people rather than me.


Yet, to quote Ursula Le Guin, "only in darkness the light". There are two things I don't like about editing. One is the amount of time it requires. If an editor is to do a good, thorough job, then they are going to have to put in a good whack of time. So, to all writers – and I am most certainly one – who start to fume and fret as the days go by and there's no response to your submission, please remember what a demanding and time-consuming job the editor has.


But the worst thing about being an editor is sending rejections. Rejections hurt the receiver; there's no way around that. What's worse, in every editing project I've done, I have had to reject material I liked very much because there weren't enough pages to include it, or enough money to pay for it.


Worse still is rejecting work by friends. I hate doing that, but if I include work by people because I really like them and/or their work in general, rather than because I really like the work they've submitted for this particular project, then I'm doing a disservice to other writers whose work will miss out. I hope I won't face this task with Eye To The Telescope 2, but given that a maximum of 20 poems will be included, I fear that I may.


And yet, despite those disadvantages, I love editing. If you get the chance to edit, I recommend doing it: you get to read some great work, and perhaps give someone their first step into publication. What's more, it can teach you a lot about your own writing.


*A futile effort; as Gödel has shown, no non-trivial system of axioms can be both self-consistent and complete.  

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Tuesday Poem: Summer by Tim Jones

Monday, 6th June, 2011

Tim Jones


we're always tired

and it's cold: the stars suck heat
from everything but the heater.

You sleep. I remain

connected. The world
coils about itself,
a can of worms,

coaxial cable.

I set the table
and depart. Half asleep
I think of you. It would be so easy …

but it's cold. You're asleep. The stars
have crystallised.

"When the weather gets warmer," you said —

veiled heat, indefinite
promise of summer.


Tim Jones writes novels, short stories and poetry. He was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. You can connect with Tim on Twitter.

'summer' was first published in Bravado 18, 2010. It will appear in Tim's forthcoming collection from Interactive Press, Men Briefly Explained.

This poem spoke to me with it's gentle, familiar description of a relationship (and the promise of Summer!).

Tim has a guest post here tomorrow about speculative poetry and editing, come back for a read.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the hub.

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Quick Ten with David Vann

Tuesday, 31st May, 2011

David Vann 

David Vann is the author of Legend of a Suicide, winner of France's Prix Médicis for best foreign book and a New Yorker Book Club pick; the bestselling memoir A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea; Last Day On Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter, Steve Kazmierczak, winner of the AWP Nonfiction Prize and most recently Caribou Island. A recipient of Wallace Stegner and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, with an MFA from Cornell, he's a professor now at the University of San Francisco and writes for magazines such as Esquire, Outside, Men's Journal, and the Sunday Times. David spends some of his time in New Zealand and has just finished teaching a class at the IIML.

David is interviewed by award winning author Pip Adam about being in between books, teaching in Wellington and what to tell critics who say your writing is too depressing.


PA: You’ve often talked about the ten years it took to get Legend of a Suicide published. What kept you writing during that time? What made you send it out for that last competition, the one it won?

DV: Yeah, I didn’t keep writing during that time, I was a big baby and didn’t write for five and half years after I finished it. It was like pouting sort of and I guess I felt like, if they didn’t want the book then I’d show the world and I wouldn’t write a thing for five and a half years – so the world suffered mightily during that time [LAUGHS].

The other reason though that I didn’t write for the five and a half years was that since I couldn’t get it published I couldn’t get a teaching job so I went to sea and became a captain. I thought that was going to free up a lot of time for writing, I’d just be running charters sometimes and be free at other times, turned out I was always fixing the boat or working on it. I got a little bush-wacked by the job so I didn’t write.

The third reason I didn’t write was, I’d written the first fifty pages of Caribou Island but just couldn’t see where to go with that. I couldn’t see how to write a novel, so it was twelve years until I worked on that again.

So the first part of the break was the twelve years I didn’t do anything for writing and then when I started writing I switched to non-fiction and wrote about all the sailing disasters I’d had and was trying to remember how to write and I wasn’t sure I would ever write fiction again, actually.

I finally sent Legend of a Suicide to the competition because I realised no agent was ever going to send it out. I’d had a series of three agents and the last one was Binky Urban, Amanda Urban, whose one of the top two agents in the English language and she wasn’t going to send it. She liked it, but she wanted to just send the non-fiction and I realised that if she wasn’t going to send it then no one was ever going to send it, so I just sent it to a competition and just got lucky. There’s a lot of luck in a writer’s life [LAUGHS].


PA: So you believed in it enough to send it to the competition?

DV: Yeah, I always believed in it. I always felt like it was my best work and in fact when I had my memoir published A Mile Down after it was published I tried to offer Legend of a Suicide to my editor, and I said, I promise this is my best work, Legend of a Suicide is the best book I’ll ever write and I know it’s a little weird for trying to sell but please, I’ll give it to you for free and I’ll pay $10 000 toward your printing and advertising and publicity tour, all that stuff, I’ll give you $10,000 and you can have it for free – and he wouldn’t even look at it, cause it was a story collection. So I got to learn how much people hate story collections, like I got to see it in lots of detail exactly how much they all really hate them. So that’s why I end up saying that sometimes in class cause I really experienced that, I love story collections and in fact they do really well and you can build a good literary career with story collections but there are a lot of agents and editors who think you can’t. They’ve like ignored the facts enough to where they think it’s not possible.


PA: Can you talk a little bit about the structure of Legend of Suicide? The idea that it’s a ‘legend’ in the way that Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women is a legend.

DV: I couldn’t figure out how to write this story about my dad, and worked on the material for ten years, because everyone in the family had a different version of who he was, what the suicide meant, and what had happened even. So the idea of a collection of pieces, stories that were linked but would contradict each other, would have a debate actually fit what was true of my own experience in my family that our stories didn’t line up, didn’t match up, there was a debate in content.

And because I was working over ten years there was also a debate in style. I was influenced by different writers during the ten years and I was learning different things about writing.

I knew about short pieces and a debate in style and content from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and that was a form I’d liked for a long time. I’d considered him my favourite author but then when I read his Legend of Good Women I could see this other structure. You can have this series of portraits as a way to structure a longer work that’s from the hagiographic tradition of writing about Saints lives. So the word ‘legend’ in Legend of a Suicide actually means a ‘legendary’ which is a literary form of a series of portraits. So the title means a series of portraits of a suicide. So, that seemed to fit in all ways, it seemed to fit the stylistic differences in the stories, it seemed to answer to the repetitive nature of having these stories continually talk about the same issue and also the problem of them not linking up like a novel would.

Basically what I’d written was an enormous mess and it had big problems but that structure excuses or fixes those problems and matches what my real experience was, so there’s a kind of truth to it but it was also, I guess, a kind of relief for me to see there was actually a structure that could match that.

And so, once I understood that, as I continued on with the other pieces I was looking at them more in terms of how they might fit into that structure. The last story for instance, The Higher Blue, I wrote right toward the end. I was aware that it was the same as the first story, Ichthyology – it had the same dramatic structure but was written as a fabulism, a completely different mode, so it wouldn’t necessary be recognisable as the same story but you might feel like it has the same dramatic arc of the father and his eventual fall. So yeah, that’s how it came about, it came about just from reading Chaucer and from my family experience and from what the writing experience was across the ten years.


PA: When I read Legend of a Suicide and Caribou Island I had that fantastic feeling where I would read something and it was like finding out something about myself that I already knew but hadn’t had words for. It seems amazing that when we write from intensely personal experience it can be understood and deeply felt by other people. You talk in a class about not ‘faking it’ do you think not ‘faking it’ has something to do with this?

DV: Yeah, I think that, what amazes me about fiction, what I’ve said about it before in interviews, I feel like fiction is real that, like I said in the Wall Street Journal review, you can’t fake it in fiction, that it’s actually doing something.

So, in the case of someone like me, who’s writing about family material, it takes those ugly stories from our real lives and it transforms those in some ways and it makes them become something else that is whole and has a life to it and is essentially redeemed versus the original story.

That’s the part I think can’t be an idea and can’t be planned and can’t be faked. There actually has to be a transformation that takes place. If it does take place then there is something genuinely human about that, that comes out of our unconscious and that our unconsciousness’s are not really that dis-similar. So, even if the storyline, the plot, the place, those thing are different than what our experience is there’s something recognisable about human suffering , sense of self, and basic relationships that’s identifiable and I do think, I’ve come to think, that fiction is best when it focuses on primary relationships like for instance: mother, son, or two sisters, or a marriage, you know those basic relationships and if it’s about something that’s essentially disturbing, the crossing of some taboo, something that activates the unconscious for all the feelings that we have about that and all of our fears about it.

If you’re hooked into any kind of story that involves those things: primary relationships and taboo, it’ll probably speak to just about anyone else because we’re all linked at that level. The part where you can’t fake it is that the unconscious has to actually shape that story into some kind of pattern and transform it and that’s the part you can’t plan or see coming and that a reader knows if that’s happened or not.


PA: I hear there was quite a lot of talk at your Auckland Writers and Readers Week panel about your writing practice that results in a first draft that doesn’t differ hugely from the final published work – can you talk a bit about that?

DV: I write two pages a day, work for a couple of hours, and it’s every day for about five and a half months to get a first draft and when I finish that first draft that’s pretty much the same as what gets published and that’s because each day I’ve read through twenty or thirty pages leading up to the point where I’m going to add the new two pages and every two weeks I read the whole thing.

So really I’ve been through it a bunch of times by the time I get to the end and it’s all supposed to feel cohesive, like it was written in one day.

The patterns that have developed unconsciously in the work are things that I can’t really tamper with. I can’t change the basic living structure of that and I also can’t re-enter the story – the fiction is an event it’s something that happens in the making of it and when it’s done, it’s done. It gets this hard shell on it where I can’t go back into it and I feel like it just is what it is that I could change it and make it something else but that’s not necessarily better it’s just something else, and what’s going to happen is if I go back in and break into it and try to revise more is I’m going to be breaking up the strength of ties and the unconscious cohesions within the text. So it might be more consciously cohesive in some ways but it’s going to break essential parts of it that are giving it life early on.

But I think the other part of writing like that is that sometimes you just throw away the whole book which I have done before, like the whole thing just doesn’t work, doesn’t come alive. Cause I’ve actually never had the experience of revising something a lot and having it work out – never, not even with a short story, I mean even with the small form, I’ve never revised a short story a whole bunch and have that be a good story, I’ve had to throw out the whole lot of them.


PA: You’re also a musician, how do you think you ended up with writing as your primary career rather than music?

DV: It might have been just because I could do the writing I wasn’t really good enough in music and it was partly an academic choice. I thought about going into ethnomusicology but ended up deciding to go into English and writing I’d wanted to do all my life, music wasn’t as clearly or as strongly a pull, and I wasn’t … partly I blame my mother, she had me learn trombone, and it may not be her fault at all, it could be that I chose the trombone – that’s probably what happened, it’s probably not my mother’s fault at all, along with most of the other stuff I want to blame on her, it’s probably not my mother’s fault – but why didn’t she say something? Fucking trombone, where’s that going to go later in life, you know? [LAUGHS] I spent eight years on trombone so I guess I should say I blame trombone, if I started with congas playing for funk bands you know, maybe, I would have done some more of that, cause that was really fun, but yeah, music was really fun and something that was wonderful and I wanted to do and I still like to do, but I haven't done much for a while, but writing was something I did all my life and was always, I think, clearly what I most wanted to do and I always would have just done it if it hadn’t been for money. I only did other things cause I needed money.

But yeah, a lot of writers that I know in the US either are painters or musicians like a lot of writers have a second thing which we’re rarely very good at but you know it’s more immediately satisfying. Music is far more immediately satisfying than writing in terms of any interaction with an audience but there is something about the writing, that when landscape shifts and becomes crazy and does stuff that is really satisfying on that day when it happens, like, it’s really a thrill and I miss it, I get grumpy if I’m not writing cause I don’t have that experience.


PA: I’ve been interested talking to you about where you are right now – waiting for re-writes on a finished novel and not yet started a new novel. What’s that like?

DV: That’s the most anxious time for me, I feel worthless, I feel like I’m never going to do anything again. I have no idea what the next thing’s going to be. I really doubt the last thing was any good. It’s just a time of doubt. I watch a lots of movies which is nice, I read, I have some free time which is very strange for me I don’t really know what to do with free time and I don’t feel engaged I feel like my life is on hold and I don’t really like it.

I mean I should like it, because sometimes the writing feels tough and I feel like I need a break and I’m kind of relieved to finish something especially to have the publisher say yes, and they’re going to publish it, like that’s wonderful. So in the last few weeks I had the publisher say yes, with a two book deal where they bought the novel I finished and they want the next one and that’s wonderful so I was elated I mean that was fantastic but I’m also a little bored and anxious and wonder if my writing’s just crap and if I’ll ever write anything again. So it’s bizarre, I think writers suck, like in some kind of basic human way we kind of like – I’ve missed the boat [LAUGHS]. You know. Why can’t I just relax and enjoy it, and take a break for six months – I could, I’m so far ahead I have a non-fiction book coming out in October and a novel that’ll come out a year from now, like, I could take a break for a while but I can’t do it. I don’t want to. I want to see if I can do it, see if I can write the next one.

PA: There’s no trick to starting the next one is there? Do you just sit down and start writing.


DV: Usually reading a whole bunch of stuff – like, envy is a good engine for a whole lot of authors. I think a lot of authors write out of envy and rage also, That fucker, that’s not as good as what I could do! [LAUGHS] Especially if they’ve gone to school and they’ve got friends who have their books published and do well there’s a lot of rage there. I went to grad school with someone who got a Pulitzer Prize, imagine the incentive that gave to the rest of us.


PA: Lucy Wilkins asked via Twitter: Will David Vann’s characters ever suffer in warmer weather?

The next novel that will come out a year from now called, Dirt takes place at the end of July early August in the central valley of California, right in the heat of summer in the very hottest time and it’s just – people are constantly being baked, it’s this hellish landscape so yeah, it’s a very hot novel.

In Dirt even the dirt has been turned white, it’s not even brown it’s so dry and hot it’s been turned white.


PA: Helen Heath asked me to ask you what you say when critics say Legend of a Suicide is too depressing?

[LAUGHS] Um, I pretty much, in the US I get pretty impatient with that question and I tell them to, Wake the fuck up. For 2500 years most of the literature in Western culture has been tragedy. Like I think it’s mostly the US where I get critics saying that, in other countries I don’t get it nearly as often and really I think it’s just unbelievable that people say that, it shows an utter lack of knowledge of any of our literary history. So it shows that someone’s had zero education is really what it shows, like you can’t knock a writer for a book being depressing I mean that’s ridiculous, you know.

And I think writers should all fight back on that one. Every time someone says that, we should all tell them to go to hell that they’re an idiot, because really we need to educate the public to the fact that that’s mostly what our literary tradition is and we should not have to apologise for it like I think writers should never have to apologise. We shouldn’t apologise for writing about our families, we shouldn’t apologise for writing tragedy, we shouldn’t apologise for having obsessions or writing about the same material a couple times. Like all those things, why apologise? It’s part of what writing actually does and is, writing transforms things and it redeems things and so those tend to be ugly things and that’s why we all write tragedy. So yeah, I guess I respond not very positively, with a bunch of impatience [LAUGHS].


PA: What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished reading Ross Raisin’s new novel Waterline which will be coming out in June or July and I think it’s great. I ended up writing a review of it for the Financial Times in the UK. He’s one of my favourite young writers in the UK. I thought Out Backward was a brilliant novel. I totally loved that and this one has a really impressive vision to it – someone working class from the Glasgow ship yards and how a life can fail, basically how the momentum can take over and how far you can sink and it’s great so I recommend it to everyone.


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