September 20, 2016
What are three things you want the reader to know about GHOST / LANDSCAPE?
KMD: In the poems, you’ll find a bank robbery, a lock on the door, and a freezer we keep forgetting we keep in the basement. One (and only one) of these things is real.
Now that you’ve entered the landscape, don’t follow the paths that seem most clearly marked. They’ll lead you further away from the guesthouse (and the truth about the ghost).
Lastly, and most importantly, the conference we keep referring to was really an elaborate cover-up. Even the panels were just for show.
JG: Things keep changing, you know? One moment the news is on, and it’s such very bad news from so many quarters (1). And then you’re shopping for new shoes (2). Both of these things are honest and true things about living in the world (3).
I was reading something the other day (you might’ve seen it; it was passed around facebook) arguing against the current conception of empathy, that it’s too easily swayed by individuals in crisis and not enough by long-term goals. And it reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Riker gets turned into a god, and loses his capacity for empathy. Like most things, it’s a negotiation.
What does collaboration make possible in your work?
JG: Someone else! I get tired of myself and my way of thinking, and it’s great to get out of that house, go visiting. It’s why we have dinner parties? Something like that. A new context allows for new thinking.
KMD: Absolutely! Collaboration invites a degree of spontaneity into my practice that is just about impossible when I’m writing alone. I tend to be a control freak, a compulsive planner. But when you’re writing a book with John, you really never know what he’s going to do. Which is a good thing. Well, most of the time.
How is GHOST / LANDSCAPE different from your solo projects? What stays the same whether you’re working on a collaboration or a single-author collection?
KMD: My single-author collections are mostly book-length poems or extended sequences. One of the great things about collaborating with John, though, was that it pushed me out of my comfort zone, and prompted me to work more on the level of the individual poem. But whether I’m working on a solo project or a collaboration, my writing always arises out of a desire for connection, community, and conversation.
JG: With things I write alone, I have to play all the instruments, you know? It’s like going from being a solo artist to being in a band. Once it became a procedure, how each of us took up certain positions in regards to the work, it allowed me to concentrate on, not just what came easily or naturally, but where I could perhaps step out a bit as well, knowing she’d be there working with me. It’s like in jazz, how the players take turns at the solo and putting down a foundation.
Would this collaboration have been less interesting if you had been writing with someone of the same aesthetic predisposition, age, gender, and lifestyle? How so?
JG: I don’t know about “less interesting” but certainly different, and I’d be glad to have both opportunities. I wonder how different we really are, though, Kristina and I. Certainly our poems end up looking different, and different tones, but there are a lot of places where I feel very comfortable with her work, where I feel there’s overlap. Maybe it’s just in her restless, investigative procedure. I like that a lot.
KMD: I totally agree that there are some parallels between my work and John’s. But I would say that our aesthetic preoccupations are often quite different, and if you ask me, that’s what makes the collaboration work. Looking back at Ghost / Landscape, I’m really pleased with the tension between the two voices that inhabit the manuscript, how they are each more compelling when placed in dialogue with one another.
You didn’t meet each other in person until the book was already published. In what ways does this sense of mystery manifest in the writing?
KMD: When we first starting writing the poems, I imagined John as the kind of guy who would rob a bank. And then when I met him in person, he was smart, funny, unpredictable, everything I could ask for in a collaborator. He just wasn’t the kind of guy who would rob a bank, that’s all.
JG: Mystery! I guess there was mystery, but to be honest with you, I didn’t think much about it until later, when people started asking me questions about Kristina, and I realized I had no idea anything about her other than her work. I enjoy a certain amount of distance from biographies, preferring, in most cases, just to know people by their art. I hate it when I follow someone’s work and then they turn out to be a difficult person, but then I met Kristina, and it was delightful.
From where would you say your poetry arises?
JG: My computer! And a constant sense of dread.
KMD: All of my poems are responses to something, whether it’s an experience or another work of art. That’s why I love collaboration so much. It places me in the midst of a conversation, without me having to eavesdrop.
What other art do you think your poetry is most like, or else, what other art do you think most informs your poetry?
KMD: I always think of poems in terms of architecture, so in that respect, my writing is most like a little baroque church. I say this because most of my poetry is heavily ornamented, whether it’s with ornate imagery or (arguably unnecessary) rhetorical flourishes.
JG: Nice. And I think of my poems in something more like the realm of bebop, mostly for its theme and improvisation aspects. I love going with half an idea, and then seeing what happens. Part of what I find fun in writing is to see how far I can extend away from the theme, however I define that, and then, hopefully, somehow bringing things back, or partway back.
Do you have a conception of audience for your poetry, or for poetry in general?
JG: Audience is fundamental to the poem after it’s written, but before it’s written, audience can be a real problem. If I think too much about audience before I’ve written something, I start having other thoughts, like purpose, and what the audience might want from a poem. These are great questions, but I’d rather think about them after the poem’s written than before. Otherwise, I get all itchy.
KMD: I totally agree! It’s very difficult to think about readerly expectations when one’s work is still in process. While some poets are so deliberate and intentional about this, I’m much more of an intuitive writer. For me, part of the fun of writing is looking at a finished poem, and seeing something you didn’t realize you had placed there. This element of surprise was part of what made the collaboration so enjoyable, too. When we were writing poems back and forth, John would pick up on a motif or an image that was buried within one of my poems, something that I didn’t even realize was there, and before long, I’d start to see my own contributions to the text in an entirely new way.
How does place and travel inform your writing? Do you find your poetry changing when you’re in different places?
KMD: Travel has been my attempt to change a writing practice that never really changes. My work stays the same wherever I go. I need someone else to push me out of my comfort zone, and that’s part of why I enjoy working on collaborative texts.
JG: Some people are able to talk quite well of places informing their work, saying interesting things about landscape and weather, but I’ve never been able to see that much in my own practice. I mean, I imagine if I were in, say Vancouver or something, I would say things about the streets there, so the names would change, but I can’t say if anything in my sensibility would change. I think probably not. I bring a lot of baggage when I travel.
How would you describe the way poetry uses language? Do you think poetry owes anything to other forms of discourse, political, informational, etc?
JG: Poetry, as language, has its feelers in all other uses of language. I firmly believe that. And poetry is part of social discourse. It DOES participate, but, like when thinking of audience in general, I don’t like to think about it much before the work. Maybe a little during, but not before. When thinking of politics or justice issues before writing, I think my strong opinions on those subjects would call for a certain approach to them that would close off a lot of linguistic avenues.
KMD: I agree completely! I’ve always been moved by Marianne Moore’s assertion that poetry is a conversation, not just with other literary texts, but with all cultural texts that one encounters. I don’t like to think about this while working on a poem either, but I believe that the influence of other discourses (whether scholarly, scientific, popular, or political) is always present, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
If a poet could win for sure at one sport, that sport is…?
KMD: Pinball! Because it doesn’t really require any upper body strength. I would say I confirm the stereotype of the scrawny nerd poet, for sure.
JG: Is there a sport where there’s a lot of staring blankly at a wall? I’ve only ever really seen cats and dogs do that, but poets, as humans go, I bet could really rack up the points. Maybe one of those competitions where you have to stay in an isolation booth or hold one hand on a car or something.
USPS, Fedex, or Pony Express?
JG: Oh, yeah, that reminds me. I’ve got to get back to work!
KMD: Fedex. I’d like my poetry rejections to be expedited, please!