Any poems memorized?

A few. Dickinson: My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun, etc. Blake: Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright, etc.

What the hammer? What the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain?

Exactly. Blake.

Blake—he came to Ginsberg in a vision. And then to Patti Smith. He came for you?

No, never—maybe I never believed enough, though his poems are alive, to me. Breathing, feeling things. Same with Dickinson. For I have but the power to kill, / Without—the power to die—

Dickinson never left her room.

Yet out her window soldiers came limping home, bandages around their heads. Dickinson was a war poet, who never left her room. I think she’s like many of us now, who only watch our wars on television, for a few moments, before turning the channel.


Exactly. Blake. Dickinson. E!

Your first memoir was about homelessness, and now you’ve written a book about state-sanctioned torture. Both books, formally, seem precariously held together, yet they are of a piece. Who is your architect?

Melville for the Another Bullshit Night in Suck City—the form is taken from Moby Dick. The Ticking is the Bomb was a DIY project, loosely based on the structure of a galaxy, held together by invisible tensions —I saw photograph of a galaxy in an old National Geographic. The third memoir will be either a triptych, or more like a jellyfish, which I also saw in a National Geographic.

Third memoir? A trilogy?

Trifecta. Hat trick. Holy trinity. Third rail. Third leg. Third wheel. It always comes in threes.

In an interview I read somewhere you said that if you feel good about what you’re writing it usually turns out to be worthless. Does this mean one should feel bad about their writing? If so, is there a way to achieve that golden bad feeling without actually feeling bad?

Drugs, but they can be wildly unpredictable. Or wildly predictable. That’s it: life is wildly unpredictable, drugs are always the same, it’s just we do unpredictable things when we use them. Or we do predictable cruel and dumb things when we do them.

You have been described in a review of The Ticking is the Bomb as having a grossly irresponsible lifestyle.

Ah yes, that review, which, yes, does hover in my consciousness, daily, unbidden.

So you are not denying the allegation? Or rather, the reading?

Well, any decent work of art is really a Rorshach test. Just like the poems you chose to memorize become a part of your body, and end up becoming you.

And what shoulder and what art, / Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? and what dread feet?

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NICK FLYNN's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (Norton, 2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir, and has been translated into ten languages. He is also the author of two books of poetry, Some Ether (Graywolf, 2000), which won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, and Blind Huber (Graywolf, 2002). He has been awarded fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, The Library of Congress, The Amy Lowell Trust, and The Fine Arts Work Center. Some of the venues his poems, essays and non-fiction have appeared in include The New Yorker, the Paris Review, National Public Radio’s This American Life, and The New York Times Book Review. He worked as a “field poet” and as an artistic collaborator on the documentary film Darwin’s Nightmare, which won an Academy Award for best feature documentary in 2006. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

His new memoir is called The Ticking is the Bomb.

6 responses to “Nick Flynn: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Greg says:

    Nick, awesome to see you on TNB.

    Interesting that use architects for your books (or maybe you don’t and you’re being silly), but as I started to work on my second book I found myself walking up and down my book shelf for weeks, pulling books off and flipping through just to look at their formats. I settled last night on Tom Robbins’ “Still Life With Woodpecker” structure and it seemed to click this morning. Am I cheating here by not trying to be original? Or should I look for more of an organic force?

  2. LOVED Another Bullshit Night. Some of the most incredible language I’ve read, period. Looking forward to The Ticking.

  3. Through the 1970s National Geographic was the most-subscribed magazine; now it’s People. Says so much about what we want to see, what we are willing to see – to acknowledge, to confront.

    I pilfer my leaning stacks of National Geographic for writing prompts frequently – reliably evocative/provocative images, even (especially?) for teaching poetry w/ kids.

    Thanks for another book of prose that refuses to look away. I appreciate your poet’s heart; that tradition, the legacy, that welcomes & honors bearing witness.

  4. […] read a few interviews of him now, and each is more interesting than the last.  He gave a self-inteview last year at the Nervous Breakdown, (where I recently did one as well [sort of]), and what he does […]

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