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?
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.