I overheard someone say to you after reading your first book, Hints and Allegations, “Wow, Amanda. You’re really angry.” Is that a fair assessment?

My first collection contains poems written mainly in my twenties, and I do think I was an angrier person then. Writing was my means of surviving some serious difficulties life presented me. I was probably angrier on paper than in my daily life, though.

 

How does your second collection, Oz at Night, differ from your first?

In general, I think it’s funnier and more philosophical. It’s still dark, but there are episodes readers are encouraged to laugh at or with. Some of the poems were written in response to reading philosophy, and I think it shows.

 

Why do you write poetry?

I know it’s a cliché, but I do feel I have little choice in the matter. From a very young age, I put pen to paper to get to know myself better, to negotiate the world better, to try to gain understanding about things I can’t make sense of about sentient existence. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know,” and that’s very true for me too. Until I start expressing what’s going on inside my head in an ordered way, I don’t really fully “get” what I know on a deep level. I don’t feel it fully. I think art gets at truth better than attempts to baldly state the truth can, and that’s one of my favorite things about writing. Metaphors, narratives – the trappings of writing tell the truth more effectively than just saying it outright. Tell all the truth, but tell it slant, as Emily Dickinson wrote. Of course, I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a well crafted poem, too, but most of the beauty of a poem for me inheres in its ability to make me feel and think something true.

 

How do you write poems? What does your process look like?

My process varies pretty widely, but a poem usually starts with what feels like a very small germ of an idea. Then as I write, I realize that I had more to say on the subject of the poem than I realized. My process – both of writing first drafts and revising – is very unconscious. Many poems seem to just fall out of me. Some poems go in a completely different direction than I think they will when I start them, though, and some poems I struggle with extensively. I tried to write one free verse poem for years and years about an experience I had at a creek in the woods in Texas, and the idea finally became two lines in the poem “Courage,” which appears in Oz at Night. I finally had to accept that the idea was not an entire poem but a few lines.

 

What is the most important element of a good poem?

In my opinion, it’s extremely important for a poem to be fresh. You need to say something the reader doesn’t expect you to say or say something in an unusual, original way. Hackneyed poetry is painful.

 

You’ve been teaching for over a decade now. Do you enjoy it?

I do enjoy it. Transferring knowledge and ability to the next generation is a big responsibility, and I take it seriously. There are so many ways that it’s good for me to stand in front of a captive audience and discuss literature and writing. For one, it breaks me out of my shell. For another, it lets me do something other than write with the world of ideas I live in. I also think it’s good to be in touch with what young people are dealing with these days. What are their struggles? What are their strengths and weaknesses? It’s interesting to me to try to understand the demands on them in this brave new world. Teaching keeps my mind lively. The classroom is a dynamic place.

 

Is poetry the only genre in which you feel you have to write?

I experience more internal pressure to write poetry than any other form of writing, but I do write autobiographical and scholarly prose as well. I’m working on a memoir and a collection of essays, and I have written several critical analyses of twentieth century female poets such as Mina Loy, the subject of my dissertation, and Sylvia Plath, Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m looking to publish more prose in upcoming years than I have so far, but I have no doubt that the need to write poetry will remain.

So what got you started writing?

Birth, nature and nurture or lack thereof.  Is there any other answer?

 

Yeah, that seems to be the default setting for many a writer.  What specifically about your childhood most influences your writing?

My relationship with my father.

 

What about him?

He was a shrink, then a neurologist.  A true narcissist in its most virulent form. 
  Unfortunately, I knew no better and worshipped him as a little boy.  By the time I had
 reached my early teens, I was running away from a home that should have been the 
American Dream, but was just a hell-hole in disguise.  I dropped out of high school
 and went to work.

 

What did you do for a release from that?

I stayed at friends’ houses as much as possible and abused whatever intoxicants I could
 wrap my mitts around.

 

You started writing in earnest later in life.  What was the genesis of the move to ink?

My father’s influence was strong inside me and I had no idea how much it was eating
 me alive and destroying my marriage.  Eventually, even though it takes two to tango, my wife decided she couldn’t take it anymore and we split.  It was devastating and served as the impetus to begin the journey to find self and maybe a bit of childhood wonder that I didn’t have when I should’ve.  I was going to explode.  In a way, I did.  I just did so on paper.

 

What else propels your word?

Ah, the usual.  Everything from angels to demons.  I’m often conflicted.  I’ve learned
 I need to let the good and bad fight it out to find equilibrium.  I don’t try and change how I’m feeling, especially for the purpose of satisfying, the “Don’t worry, be happy,”
 crowd.  They annoy me the most.  I feel how I feel until I no longer feel that way.  I
 boxed up my human emotions for too long, hiding them so only the hunter would be
 seen.  He collapsed in upon himself forcing acknowledgement of deep voids.

Frankly, I didn’t know how fucked up I actually was.  I had been working on Wall Street, with skin that took years to thicken as I always was an outcast with a big
 mouth that for a time wrote checks my ass couldn’t cash.  Eventually, I learned how
 to make good on my drafts.  I cash all checks nowadays, but the reason goes back to the home thing.  Bullied by a nasty old man, I would never again back down from confrontation unless it served a specific purpose.  I’d rather get my ass kicked.

I just at some point refused to allow fear of physical damage to stop me from doing what I had to after realizing emotional pain becomes a physical malady at the drop of a hat and no purely physical pain I’ve ever felt could compare to that which is born of a heart ripping apart at the seams.  I felt like that for much of the first 42 years of my 42-year life.
   So, pain of a poor childhood, a destroyed marriage, a dissonant mental dynamic and a
 mind that never quits solving equations which all add up to zero anyway, all contribute to that which I write.  Oh, all that and a seizure syndrome which drives me crazy and makes everything twice as hard as it should be.  The medical issues show up too.

The human condition, old buildings and history truly get me off as well.  Wherever I am, I find myself wandering the streets at night, sucking in the essence of life.  It’s something L.A. offers in such abundance and I do miss that.  At heart I’m city kid and clearly that factors in occasionally as a backdrop or subject of  my work.

 

Health topics aside, that sounds fairly normal for artistic types, but ‘artistic’ isn’t a word most people in your earlier life would use to describe you, is it?  What’s  the story?

It’s actually the root of much of the dissonance to which I refer above.  I was always into the punk scene, yet I was going to work in a suit.  I am not ashamed of the work
 I’ve done, despite the modern, monotheistic anti-capitalist sentiment that is pervasive in much of the underground segments of society.  I feel far more comfortable on the margins, I’ve discovered, but I’m slave to nobody else’s agenda.  I  thought that was what punk was all about in the first place; doing what you decide is right for you.  I didn’t realize that there was some sort of list of appropriate positions.  So fuck ‘em all.  I won’t be any scene’s hostage.  That said, I do feel some of that sell-out cliché in my own veins.  I’m being hard on myself, but that’s like saying I woke up this morning.

I just wish I never put that suit on in the first place.  I shut down the right side of my mind except for those spots my left side could hijack whatever creativity might be available to help with the its nefarious linear plans.  I realized when the world started collapsing around me, I had an angry creative side that finally declared war and started writing far more regularly.  I’m having fun with it.  Not really, but I need it.

 

On to the obligatory “Who are your major influences?” question.

That’s actually one I like to answer.  I love so many writers—Vonnegut, Orwell, Heinlein, Buk (yeah), Chandler, Ellroy, Rand, (no, I don’t drink her kool-aid), all the ‘Beats’, Leonard, Heller and Pirsig (just for Catch-22 and Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, respectively—don’t think anything else really caught me, but there’s a couple that can make up for lots of marginal product, no?).  I really enjoy Ferlinghetti lots.  D.A. Levy, Hunter and Burroughs of course.  I could go on forever
 on them.  Hemingway is another…P.J. O’Rourke and Clancy…there’s no end to what I enjoy reading, though unfortunately my work schedule and lingering neurological issues often make it quite difficult to sit and read for extended periods and what’s  likely far more important is what I haven’t read yet, but want to.  One day…

As far as other writers are concerned, there are just too many to list, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence of Iris Berry, whom I’ve known for years via
 a mutual friend.  Iris really put me on track with my writing and I wouldn’t be having this interview with me (ha) if not for her.  Besides, she’s a fucking stellar writer.  A. Razor has similarly been a huge influence on me and is becoming just a great friend.

While we have had somewhat more limited interaction, I’d have to say that Mark Hartenbach and Mike Taylor are also up there.  It’s not to say that there aren’t dozens  I’m missing (there are) whose word I read daily, it’s just that I know I’m leaving many out and I should just stop here and thank everybody who has shared theirs with me and add a special bit of gratitude for those out there (you know who you are, if we’ve had interaction) that have really done much to encourage and open their vaults of knowledge and understanding to me over the lest several years.

I am very grateful for the relationships that have grown since I began sharing with the 
larger community.  It’s a bit difficult sometimes as I live in my own head and tend to 
feel more alone in crowds than in a small room alone.  There’s no doubt, however, that I’ve
 grown through many of these relationships.

 

Well, there’s enough to choke a donkey in all that.  Is there anybody else you’d like to thank?  Any new projects?

Oh yes…I have to thank Dire McCain and Dave Mitchell of Paraphilia, Apryl Skies and Alicia Winski of Edgar Allan Poet and Yvonne de La Vega of The Examiner for  believing in me and publishing some of my word and Cricket Corleone for my inclusion in the forthcoming Into the Valley of Hinnom: A Dark Poetry Anthology,
 Volume 1, to be published by Heliocentric Press, which will include some of my work as well as that of ten other poets.  Finally, I have to thank Rafael and Melissa Alvarado, Iris and Razor (seems to be a recurring theme) for going out of their way to make an upcoming reading at Beyond Baroque on Dec. 3rd come to life. They really put a full court press on for this and I’m  eternally grateful.  With hope, a chapbook will be ready in time for the reading.  I know Raf is busting his ass to make that a reality.  Oh, and let’s not forget Rich Ferguson and his partners at The Nervous Breakdown for this opportunity.

 

Thanks for your time, Danny.  Good luck with your new projects.

You’re welcome Danny, and thank you for listening to me ramble.  Good luck with your health.