Yes, I follow you, too. You’re hilarious. I love Twitter, but it’s also part of my job. I gather stories constantly for a daily news aggregate centered on creative writing and the publishing world, so I’m always reading, and Twitter is an amazing resource. I’m paid to use Twitter, but I’ve given myself over to it—not sure I can stop. It’s the first thing I reach for in the morning. I smoked for twenty years—I recognize the impulse.
That sounds alarming, and, frankly, sad. I don’t get the attraction. Social media peaked for me in 2003 with Orkut.
Right, well, it’s likely rewiring our brains. I’ve no idea how it’ll all end up. But with Twitter, at least, there’s poetry in it, economy of language, rhythm, meaning. That’s why so many writers do well there—and there is lots on interplay between writers one might not always expect would be interested in each other—comedy writers, science journalists, novelists. That’s fun to witness, or eavesdrop. I encountered the comedy legend Garry Shandling and novelist Gary Shteyngart have a casual exchange with each other & my mouth just hung open, these worlds colliding. Also, what I like most is Twitter rewards generosity of spirit—either by design, or how it evolved. That particular quality— generosity of spirit—is something I’ve noticed many artists I admire possess. They may be an asshole sometimes, or reckless in other ways, but when it comes to their work, or making their art, and sharing what excites them with other people, they possess a curiosity, which fuels a vast generosity. I’m glad that generosity is rewarded, rather than callous cynicism.
Sounds to me you may be defending that you spend a lot of time on Twitter.
Although it’s interesting you sound so hopeful, because I’ve read some of your poems, and I wouldn’t call them hopeful. In fact, they seem rather bleak, and barren, and flat.
It’s true I believe Hopkins’s “terrible sonnets” are more interesting than his others. I like most all of his too few poems, but prefer “Carrion Comfort” to “God’s Grandeur.” Yet even in those despairing lines, just as you’re peering into oblivion, there’s a moment of grace. If by “flat” you’re referring to my language, yes, that’s an aesthetic choice, sometimes with the dials turned up or down to match the speaker. I strongly believe there’s poetry in common language—its rhythm, assonance, consonance, etc.—all in the language we speak.
Do you write other things besides tweets and poetry?
Can you be more specific?
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m incredibly excited about a nonfiction project I’m working on.
You’ve lived in NY over seventeen years, but I understand you’re from a small town in North Carolina. Was that a difficult transition?
It’s impossible for people who grow up within the orbit of large cities to fully understand how alien and incredible and impossible and overwhelming a place they appear to those far outside their sway. Where I grew up, at the time a dry county in the buckle of the Bible Belt, we’d drive 40 miles to the closest small city to buy alcohol, which had a 24-hr Krispy Kreme, and I’d marvel at its neon sign, conveyor belt—I felt unsophisticated even there. Although culture certainly wasn’t kept from us—I knew who Thomas Wolfe was by the time as I ten, but I didn’t see a work of modern art up close until I was twenty years old—it was Rauchenberg’s combine painting, “Bed,” and nearby was one of Jaspar John’s Flag paintings. I stood there frozen for the longest time—I couldn’t speak, tears in my eyes.
Your wife Joanna is a writer. What is that like, two writers married?
In the months before we got married a few older poets we knew said it was a terrible mistake. They weren’t melodramatic about it, but they just matter-of-factly stated it’s not the best idea. I think people advised Joanna to marry someone who made more money and could better support her writing, and I was told to find someone who’d not shatter my overlarge ego. But I wasn’t worried, I knew Joanna was brilliant, and was excited to see what she would do—I still marvel at her talent. We’ve each supported the other in every way. I can’t imagine being married to someone not interested in writing, but if I force myself to wonder what if we’d both married lawyers or something, I guess likely, working in isolation, we’d not have challenged ourselves as much, considered other genres and forms of writing, pushed ourselves.
What’s your greatest failure?
I interviewed Yellow Birds author Kevin Powers recently for the Poetry Foundation, and he told me after returning from combat in Iraq, he lost his fear of failure, which allowed him to write. I’ve failed at many things, and fear of failure usually was at play. Sorry to use a baseball metaphor, but I pitched a little league playoff championship game as a gangly twelve year old, and walked an insane amount of batters because I didn’t want anyone to hit the ball. It took me a long while to figure out you just relax and throw the damn ball over the plate and there are other people on the field to help.