When I walk down the street, when I abandon the relative comfort of my city apartment, when I step outside, not knowing where it is that I am going, and when I at last decide to head to the corner 7-Eleven, I see many others, and fiercely do I hate all those others whom I see. I turn away from their hopeful gazes, their kind and searching hellos. I refuse to return their curious greetings. Why should I greet them? Why should I offer them my hello? I do not know them, and do not think that they know me. They do not share my thoughts, my line of thinking. They occupy themselves with different thoughts than I do, feel different emotions. They do not see the world through my eyes, through what I know. Their teeth don’t ache the way that my teeth constantly ache. They do not know the weight, the discomfort of my belly on my belt, the pains in my fingers. They do not feel my fear due to lack of health insurance, or my annoyance at the presence of grease-stained dishes cluttering my sink. They do not know the sore spot on my thumb, or the tear in the seat of my favorite jeans, my addictions to nicotine and caffeine, my dearth of income. They do not suffer as I do each waking hour due to my sweaty crotch, and my sweaty ass. They don’t know the nervous tic that lives behind my left eye, departing it only to take up residency in my right; they don’t know my post-nasal drip, the tickle that haunts the back of my throat, my insomnia, my heartburn, my hair’s split ends, my generally damp and unpleasant odor. The smell of something secret and hidden. The taste like decay in the back of my throat, like rotting sausage, or day-old dog excrement, that flares up every five weeks, my allergic reaction to all brands of soy milk, and which can only be relieved by my abstaining for one week from drinking soy milk. They don’t know my desire to slip a sharpened pencil tip deep into my eyes, into both of my eyes, rooting around to evict their twitches. They don’t know my dumb want to step in front of a passing bus or subway train. They don’t suffer from my incessant need to yawn, the cramps in the sides and in the bottoms of my feet, in the soles of my feet, or the muscular stiffness in my pelvis that can’t be undone, that no stretch I attempt ever loosens. They don’t share in my lightheadedness, my dizziness brought on by not having eaten any breakfast, or not having eaten any lunch, or not having eaten any dinner, or between-meal snacks. They don’t know the freezing numbness in my hands and in my toes that comes after eating ice cream, or the giddiness that overtakes me at the thought of eating yet another pint of ice cream, of stepping outside and walking the seven blocks to the convenience store right now and purchasing yet another pint. They don’t know about my tendency to overfill the bathtub, to turn the water on and then turn to another task, forgetting to turn off the tap until water’s pooling in the hallway. They don’t know my lack of patience, my inability to wait for even three minutes, to allow the microwave to finish reheating my leftovers all the way through before I gobble them. They don’t see the grime that builds up underneath my thumbnails, infecting my hangnails, the spots that I’ve bitten down, lying in bed, unable to sleep, turned edgy by my anxiety and ennui. They do not know my restless leg disorder, my charley horses or my absentmindedness, my incessant feelings of inadequacy and shame, the fact that I can’t afford to take proper care of my cat, or to buy new shirts, or to keep a girlfriend. They do not know my constant guilt. They don’t know my confused thoughts, the mushy disarray of recognitions that I laughingly call my mind, my haphazard inventory of scattered recollections. And how could they know this? And how could they ever be made aware? They don’t know the corrections that I intend; they don’t share in my intent to improve my ways. They don’t share in my regrets, in my many excuses, in my fuzzed-out sense of sickening despair. They don’t hear my apologies, lame as they are, and muttered only to myself; they do not hear my “Oh my my’s,” my “please forgive me’s,” my “mea culpas.” My embarrassingly insincere and pathetically sorry sorries. I mutter them under my breath, to myself, alone, as I walk, as I trudge along the sidewalk, my head bowed, my mind clouded, my eyes turned resolutely elsewhere, my conclusion predetermined, predestined, incontestable. They do not hear me, and they do not see me, and they do not greet me, and they do not care. They do not know me.

A D Jameson
is a writer, video artist, teacher, and performer. His fiction has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, Fiction International, Brooklyn Rail, the Mississippi Review Online, elimae, Caketrain, PANK, and elsewhere; it is forthcoming in Fiction International, Mad Hatters’ Review, and Action, Yes, among other places. His novel Giant Slugs is forthcoming from Lawrence and Gibson later this year, and his prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy is forthcoming from Mutable Sound, also later this year. He contributes regularly to the group blog Big Other.

Curtis White: An Interview

conducted by Jeremy M. Davies and A D Jameson
as part of “Writing’s Dirty Secret”

WDS: Do you use specific materials when writing? And do you have any particular rituals?

CURTIS WHITE: For each work I have a different set of rituals and devices. In my mind at least. Mostly it has meant writing with a fountain pen on long yellow legal tablets. But once it meant writing on a small, portable, cheap typewriter and pretending I was playing the piano.

Which project was that?

My first story, “Mahler’s Last Symphony.”

Do you prefer a specific type of fountain pen?

I have a little harem of them. One is a stout, chrome Cross. It is tumescent in my hands. Two others are hand made by a local guy who harvests his own wood for the bodies. Lovely things. I love the skritch-skratchy feel of the fountain pen. Quite sensuous. And the way the ink flows. When it flows. When it isn’t driving you mad by emptying out in the middle of a sentence. I think my lengthy current project (see below) is just an excuse to write with a fountain pen.

How about computers? Do you use them?

I’m ashamed to say that my last book, The Barbaric Heart, was written entirely (almost) at my laptop. Much to my surprise, the prose was more fluid than usual.

My current work is being done in 10 case-bound, 8 ½ x 11 ruled notebooks. My plan is to fill all 10 (@2,000 pages) and then die. This will be the first time that I have included dying in the composition process.

Can you tell us anything about this new work? Is it fiction or nonfiction?

It’s everything done all at once. Kind of like trying to create the infinitely hot, dense dot that the universe banged out of.

The computer has been a big deal in one dramatic way: you don’t have to retype things if you make revisions. Endless revisions. The revising process is now infinitely richer because you can sit there and dream away, or find things and insert. Revision is now a joy comparable to the original act of creation. Okay, you got me to say something nice about computers. Happy?

Sure, although computers sometimes make revision too easy. Do you ever find that to be the case? Are the specific dangers?

No, I love sitting at the computer playing with the text. It has really freed me to get things exactly as I want them.

Is there a practical origin for your distaste for computers—that is, a way they’ve interfered with your work rather than aiding it?

Not really. It’s interfered with the publishing and promotion of my books, but that’s a familiar problem about the movement of book reviewing to blogging.

What other materials do you feel you need to have at hand in order to write? Do you prefer to have any favorite foods or drinks while writing?

Cappuccino. Mas café. And I sit in my 1880s Eastlake rocker with the pillows propping up my bulging cervical disc. My disc which was destroyed by spending too much time at the computer, craning forward, writing things like this. That feels better.

Each project seems to have its own set of fetishes. Some are constant (coffee), others change. I wrote The Middle Mind in a small arbor in my yard. That seemed to be the place for that book. Haven’t written there since.

Do you think these locations or sets of fetishes have any reflection in the finished book? Is that arbor anywhere in The Middle Mind? (Adam: I first read The Middle Mind while flying to Bangkok for the first time, and it’s now difficult for me to reread that book without thinking about that trip.)

Funny. I watched the first two season of The Wire sick in bed with the flu. Now I can’t think about let alone watch the series without feeling that I’m somehow sick. Your first question is too metaphysical for me. The fetishes are just part of the sensuality of writing.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule?

I’d like to write every day, but it seems as if I write intensively when I have an idea then I have longish breaks. Up to a year. When I am writing, it seems to flood easily and pleasurably. Like coming. I always write in the morning right after breakfast. First thing. Sometimes I revise in the afternoon or write in the evening if music has inspired me in some way. That is often work that I regret the next day. That’s why it’s good to have the “scratch out” option.

I’m only good for 1–2 hours. After that, I’m stupid. Might as well play tennis or ride my bike. I suppose I could write longer but it wouldn’t be as good and I wouldn’t take the strange erotic pleasure in it that I do. I’m all too Freudian. Sublimation of erotic energies from all those orgies I don’t have anymore. I say “anymore” because I know writers are supposed to be scoundrels and real swinging dicks. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

Have you found it necessary to adopt, or develop, a certain persona in order to work? You’ve elsewhere said words to the effect that everyone is playing out some movie role in their head, or a mix of roles—is that something you do when writing? Is there someone you’re trying to be, or not to be?

In the fiction the persona making is all in the characters. I was surprised to find late in my development as a fiction writer that I had a real talent for creating very particular voices for characters. In the non-fiction the only persona is Me. The voice of the brilliantly cranky rebel who makes revolution through critique and humor. I have to admit, that’s a persona that is very close to me. I “hold him dear.”

What kind of environment do you prefer to work in?

I used to listen to music but now it’s just distracting. I always read something first, usually philosophy or history or biography, because I find that reading suggests things to me. I can always find a way to integrate what I’m reading into what I’m writing. That often makes me seem academic and pretentious, but it’s really just me being playful. Also it makes it easier to steal from people that I know are smart. Like Freud. He was smart. I’m stealing a lot from him at the moment.

As for adverse circumstances, I can write while my parrots are screaming. Try that.

Can you name some of the previous writers who were important for your earlier works? And do you think that there’s been a particular progression?

Nabokov. Nabokov. And Nabokov. A little James and Wallace Stevens. After the first book, though, I pretty much declared myself an autonomous and self-governing state. I think about books always, but I keep them at all cool distance from the real work of creation.

Do you keep a diary or any other kind of record of your thoughts during the writing process?

I keep a reading journal. Occasionally if things aren’t going well I’ll look there to see what I can steal or do a riff on. I only keep notes on really piquant stuff from the Great Books. Stealing from Tacitus feels better (to me) than stealing from some wet rag writing for an MLA audience. The literary criticism and most of the philosophy of the last 30 years should be burned. The MLA should be dissolved. AWP should be subjected to some sort of gulag. No Hyperboreans there (that’s stealing from Nietzsche).

The only things that I take notes for tend to be things that I never end up writing. Little idea pages in my reading journal. Almost as if it was interesting to have that idea but not interesting to do anything with it.

What do you think has changed over the past thirty years that has resulted in your finding contemporary work so uninteresting? (For instance, is it due to changes like the commercialization of publishing, the rise of small presses, the institutionalization of writing, lack of funding, etc.?)

Mostly it’s just that I got old and experienced and stopped finding anything new to learn especially from new work. I can admire and even be astonished by work without really learning much from it. So I’ve gravitated to reading mostly philosophy and history and listening to lots of music. Just discovered Benjamin Britten. Learning lots there. Too bad I’m not a musician.

Do you see your own work as happening in stages?

Varies. With America’s Magic Mountain, I began with a draft of paragraph by paragraph paraphrases of Mann. When that was done (first 150 or so pages), I went back and rewrote the whole thing without looking at Mann. All longhand drafts on yellow legal tablets. When that was done, I did the same thing again. There are at least three complete longhand versions of that book. Then I entered it on the computer and revised it again. Rewrote the whole thing. Finally, I couldn’t remember what bits were from Mann or not. Now if I look at Mann I’m honestly surprised to see language there that I thought was mine.

Adam: I read America’s Magic Mountain side by side with The Magic Mountain; it seemed to me necessary, as I’d never read Mann’s novel—or anything by Mann—before.

Jeremy: When you talk about language having migrating from the original Mountain to yours, are you talking about a particular translation?

Yes, I use the old Knopf Lowe-Porter. There was a new translation a few years back, but I prefer reading old books that I find in used bookstores. Again, sensuality.

Could you talk a little about the motivation behind such a committed involvement with another writer’s language (even at the remove of translation)? Does the process you describe above bear any relationship to your other work? Are any other projects of yours based on particular works of literature?

Yes, actually, I based two books—Requiem and America’s Magic Mountain—on David Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Infinite Jest. It was so good for me to be here at ISU with David. I was finally in a place where I had someone around me to challenge me to do better work. They weren’t so much influences on my style as opportunities to conversation. As if I were saying, here’s how I’d do that. It was a truth that sadly I was never able to talk to Dave about.

How long does it take you to finish a project?

Usually about two years. I always want them to last the rest of my life because I don’t really want to write more books because then I seem to get trapped into publishing them and that is usually a very dismal experience. I won’t go into the bitter details.

I never want another project, but then I don’t like the emptiness of my mornings, the putzing around with the bird feeders, and I don’t like not having the sensual pleasure of scratching paper with a fountain pen, so it’s rarely long. I’m usually working on something before the last thing has appeared in print.

We wouldn’t mind hearing some of those bitter details. Has publishing gotten worse over the past thirty years, or has it always been unpleasant for you?

All the sad stories about editors and agents and reviewers and rejection are beside the point. Every writer has a small basket of letters from editors and stupid reviews. But I think there is a bottom line.

It is still possible to write in good faith. When I’m sitting in God’s lap, that’s as it should be. Writing in bad faith is thinking about anything other than the work itself, especially thinking about “is this publishable?” How can I write this so that I’ll get lots of 5 stars on Amazon? You might as well say “Think I’ll go make some ideology. Think I’ll do some propaganda work for the status quo.” Bad faith. Unhappily, 95% of writers don’t know this. They just want to have success or even fame so that they can fill the hole in them. I have written in bad faith. You see the opportunity and you run with it as far as you can. In my case, commercial and mass publishing finally said, “What are we doing with this guy? Let’s stop. He’s too weird.” Which was fine with me. I’d always known that; in fact, in many cases I said, looking around at all the religion titles in my editor’s office at Harper’s San Francisco, “I don’t fit here. Why do you want me?” He said, “We’re going to change and you’re going to help us.” Of course, once their owner, Rupert Murdoch and HarperCollins, found out they said, “No you’re not going to change, and no you’re not going to publish any more of this guy’s crazy talk.”

But even under the best circumstances, when one rises from God’s lap, and sets out to publish, it is something completely alien from the writing process, if what you plan to do is publish in established venues (commercial, academic, magazine). There the writer finds herself a stranger in a strange land. She is suddenly confronted by the “ideological apparatus” genotype “literature.” You ask agents/editors/publishers to like what you do and they reply, “But it’s not like what we do.” Never mind that what they do is grotesque, self-serving, and a literature for slaves. Wanting to publish so that you become part of the NY driven national culture is to submit yourself to culture cops, the enforcers of what-can-be-said. It’s different with small presses where you have an intimate relationship with the editor and you share a world view. The problem there is that too is managed by the cops: you are in a ghetto. You try to break out, you maybe sell a whole thousand copies (if they’re not just sitting lost in an Amazon warehouse somewhere) and you call that a success. Once again, you have freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t matter.

For me, writing is beatitude. Publishing is fighting. In the end, like it or not, as Ishmael Reed said, “writin’ is fightin’.”

How much outside involvement do you prefer to have? Do you seek out comments from others?

No, I want that others should not say a word. I don’t want to know what others think. I accept suggestions from editors, and those suggestions are usually right on because I have had great editors. Ron Sukenick, John O’Brien, Gideon Weil at HarperCollins, Roger Hodge at Harper’s. When they say that there is something wrong, I work on it. The end result is always better.

I don’t ever think about readers. They have their own problems. As for my own reading, it is the same thing as writing. No difference.

Adam: I’m somewhat surprised to hear you say this, given how at other times you’ve described the author’s task as being to “design a reading machine”—that is, to take care to build a text that will keep the reader moving through it, page after page. Can you talk about that? Has your thinking here changed?

That’s what I say to my students. The only reader I think about is myself. Like John Hawkes, I just want to write books that I’d like to read. The places where I’m doing something that I think will please a “reading public” are always places where I disappoint myself. Usually when it’s too late to do anything about it.

What do you find to be the discomforts of writing? Has your writing practice had any discernible physical effects on you?

The thing that I find uncomfortable is the pain in my cervical disc from years of bad posture. Otherwise, my writing process is a form of beatitude. I hardly exist without it. God talks to me there, in my Eastlake rocking chair. He loves me there. So I stay there to please him. Apparently, it’s a good deal for both of us. And when I’m done, he says, “Go on now and play. You’ve earned it. Tennis, cycling, whatever. See you tomorrow.” Now if only he could do something about publishing. Like a download directly into the brains of the .01 percent of the population capable of enjoying what he and I produce. But no that’s unrealistic! And probably crazy of me to think that God is helping me with my little intellectual/artistic adventures. Fine. Whatever.

Otherwise, it’s freed me to be a beast of a man.

I don’t know how many real writers there are left. Writers who understand these questions. Who see them as something more than an opportunity for posturing. (“Ooh, this is how I do it.”) Sometimes I think that the real writers are buried now. Like corpses, murder victims that have been stashed around the lot. No one cares that they’re missing, no one seems to want to dig them up. Here’s a fuck poem in the name of those who like to scratch with their fountain pens, sitting in God’s lap, making things with more dignity than this bitch of a world deserves.

Fuck content providers,
Fuck bloggers,
Fuck search engines,
Fuck Wiki,
Fuck the faceless Facebooks,
Fuck social networking,
Fuck editorial boards,
Fuck dipshit reviews like Kirkus,
Fuck marketing,
Fuck book promoters,
Fuck Kindle,
Fuck free downloads,
Unless they come from ghosts,
Fuck wholesalers and
Fuck retailers,
Fuck writing programs and
Fuck their Associations,
Fuck Po-Biz,
Fuck front of store displays,
Fuck those nasty chain stores,
And Fuck the brainless independents,
Fuck open mikes,
Fuck the ugly dull “slam”,
Fuck wanting to be a writer,
Fuck MFAs,
Fuck NEA,
Fuck NRA, and AMA while I’m at it,
But oh boy especially fuck moral poetry, and
Fuck the poetry of social awareness.
“Poetry is damned from one end to the other.
I’ll write what I like when I like
And it will be good if the authentic spirit of change is upon it.”
Something like that,
I’m too lazy to look it up.
(Anyway, its WC Williams, bless him.)

Curtis White is a novelist and social critic. His most recent books are Requiem (Dalkey Archive Press) and The Barbaric Heart (PoliPointPress).

Rosemarie Waldrop: An Interview

conducted by Jeremy M. Davies and A D Jameson
as part of “Writing’s Dirty Secret”

WDS: Do you write by hand, or do you use a typewriter or a computer?

ROSMARIE WALDROP: Used to write in longhand, but now compose directly on the computer

Do you have preferences as to certain materials?


Has your approach to writing changed as new technologies have become available?

The computer may have played a role in my turning from verse to prose poems, but this turn also followed my novel, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter. I suspect working on prose for the novel was much more of a factor.

Did you write that novel by hand or using a computer? And: If you used a computer, do you think that the computer helped enable this move to fiction/prose?

I must have begun it by hand or on my typewriter in the late 1970s, but at some point put it on the mainframe at Brown, in “Fress,” the language the Brown computer team had devised. I remember this because when The Hanky was finally to be published (1987), I took the saved reel back to the mainframe and got the message: “Fress is no longer supported. If you need help contact Reinhard Kuhn.” This was eerie: Reinhard Kuhn, head of the French Dpt., had died several years before!

What about your second novel, A Form/of Taking/It All, and other works where you utilize text from other sources? Do you transcribe directly onto the computer?


What other materials do you need to have at hand in order to write?

A table with books on it. A window.

Does the way you write remain the same, or do your methods change from project to project?

It isn’t method so much as pace that changes. Some projects come in an intense, continuous manner, others in painfully slow dribbles.

For how long do you prefer to write?

I need long stretches because I need an inordinate amount of staring out the window or engaging in irrelevant little activities before I can settle into working.

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule?

I always thought it would be a good idea to have a set schedule, but I’ve never managed.

Have you attempted it at times?


Do you write at different times of the day? If so, do you think that you write differently at different times? (Does it matter if the view outside the window is sunlit or moonlit?)

I certainly don’t think about any of this.

What kind of environment do you prefer to work in? Do you listen to music when you write?

I prefer having music, but once I really concentrate I don’t really hear it any more. I also work well with silence.

May we ask, what sort of music? A particular composer or player or genre?

Mostly classical, some jazz.

Can you work under adverse circumstances?


Do you record information on your own writing? For example, do you make notes, or keep a diary?


Do you begin by taking notes?


Do you work from an outline or other kind of plan?

Not usually.

How often do you revise?

There is constant revising, but I often start another poem before I have finished revising the first. This is especially so when I work on a sequence.

How do you revise?

You might as well ask, how do I write.

Well, in a sense, we are! Looking past revisions, how long does it take you to finish a project?


How do you know when you’re finished?

The energy has run out.

What do you do when you finish a project?

I set it aside to get distance on it.

How far aside? How long does distance take?

At least a month.

How long passes before you begin another project?

Depends. There are often translation projects that intervene. Or our small press needs all my attention for a while. If the interval between real writing projects gets too long I become very grumpy. Then I’m in “the Book of Torment,” as Edmond Jabès called it.

How many different projects do you work on at once?

I often start out with two projects, but after a while one always takes over and becomes the exclusive one.

What happens to the other one? Do you complete it, or is it more of a spur for the other?

I set it aside to go back to, later.

Do you discuss your work with others? Or is writing a more solitary process for you?

I have a wonderful in-house reader in Keith Waldrop, but I have learned not to show him the work until I think it is at least more or less finished. In the early days I tended to exhaust him by showing him too many drafts.

What do you find to be the discomforts of writing?

The anxiety—and sometimes despair.

If you could change any one thing about your writing process, what would it be?

Set a regular schedule.

How connected is the practice of reading to writing?

Totally. I cannot imagine writing without reading. I am always writing on a palimpsest of other texts, even when not quoting or stealing from them directly.

Your own texts, or others?

I took “reading” as referring to my own reading of other writers.

What about your own work?

I always read the poems out loud to myself while working. It is a way to catch problems, especially rhythmic ones. Reading out loud to an audience works even better.

When writing, do you think about reader’s physical experience with the work?

I do not think about the reader at all, except perhaps at the very end when I might consider if I need to clarify.

Has your writing practice had any discernible physical effects on you?

Not that I know of. The middle age spread would have happened even without sitting at my desk.

Rosmarie Waldrop’s Driven to Abstraction came out from New Directions at the end of 2010. Other recent books of poetry are Curves to the Apple, Blindsight (both New Directions), Splitting Images (Zasterle), and Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn). Her Collected Essays, Dissonance (if you are interested), was published by University of Alabama Press in 2005. Two novels, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All are available in one paperback (Northwestern UP, 2001). She has translated 14 volumes of Edmond Jabès’s work (her memoir, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, is out from Wesleyan UP) as well as books by Emmanuel Hocquard, Jacques Roubaud, and, from the German, Friederike Mayröcker, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, Ulf Stolterfoht. She lives in Providence, RI. where she co-edits Burning Deck books with Keith Waldrop.