Interview with Brian Brodeur

BrianBrodeur_profile_picBrian Brodeur is the author of the poetry collections Natural Causes (Autumn House Press 2012) and Other Latitudes (University of Akron Press 2008), as well as the poetry chapbooks Local Fauna (Kent State University Press 2015) and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (WECS Press 2007). New poems, essays, and interviews appear in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry (online), The Hopkins Review, Measure, The Missouri Review, River Styx, Southwest Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle. Brian curates the blog “How a Poem Happens,” an online anthology of over 200 interviews with poets. Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Whitewater River Valley.


 

How did you get started writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

We’re beginning at the beginning! I’d always enjoyed making: building mud pies, writing songs, drawing caricatures, busking for beer money (I actually did this). But I didn’t get serious about writing until college when I took an introductory, multi-genre creative writing course that exposed me to the work of 20th century poets like Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Frederico Garcia Lorca. Before this, I didn’t know what was even possible in poetry: what poets could do with line, image, metaphor, tone, and form. Ever since, as Stevens characterizes the imaginative life, I’ve been trying to catch tigers in red weather.

How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal?

I got lucky. My first published poems appeared in 2003, the year I began submitting to journals in earnest. Well, that’s not exactly true. These were the first poems of mine published in journals and magazines with which I’d never had an affiliation. Before this, I’d placed a few pieces (fiction and poetry) in venues associated with my undergraduate and graduate institutions. But in 2003, while I was taking graduate courses at George Mason University, I began to think I might actually have a future in poetry. Thus ended any chance I’d ever had of becoming wealthy.

Do you have an agent? If so, how and when did you get one? Do you think agents are necessary?

Poets don’t typically have agents, unless they’re doing fifty readings a year. I am not in high demand.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Don’t worry about publishing. Read everything. Write your face off. By which I mean: Try to figure out who you are and who you can become through writing and reading. Don’t get too cozy with any one style, form, or even genre. Don’t limit yourself because of prevailing tastes, politics, theory, or philosophy. Literature transcends these things. Don’t write for the market. The market does not exist. Stay away from abstractions and clichés. Don’t follow anyone’s advice too closely. Don’t listen to me. Stop reading this.

Do you have any writing rituals? If you do, what is your process?

Get up early. Drink coffee. Sit down. Write.

Who or what influences your writing? Who are your literary heroes?

The list is long. Here are a few poets I’m always returning to: William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, E. A. Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hayden, Donald Justice, Derek Walcott, Hayden Carruth.

 How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

This is a difficult question. I’ve become harder on myself, I think, particularly with issues of form. I’ve always been attracted to the old measures of English-language poetry, especially iambic pentameter, as well as the sonnet. But I’ve grown impatient with the slackness of line I used to allow myself to get away with. I also like splicing genres, seeing how far I can push a narrative-lyric poem, for example, without the piece degenerating into prose fiction. But, as intimated above, I’ve always felt an allegiance to the lyrical impulse that often occasions a poem. Song and story. Something embedded in my marrow bones won’t allow me to dispense with either.

What is the question no one has ever asked you about your writing? What is your answer to that question?

This may sound rudimentary or flippant or silly, but I’m curious about why writers aren’t more enamored with what seems the miraculous fact of any piece of literature: How does the writer, using only the signs and symbols of language, inspire, terrify, disquiet, and incite the reader? In other words, how does the writer make her work live on the page? I’m sure writers wonder about this all the time, actually, but we’re probably too embarrassed to discuss it in any public venue. It seems so simple, obvious—even absurd. But I don’t have an answer to this question. Or I have too many answers. Which is probably the same thing.

I’ve read several of your poems, but Holy Ghost and After the Accident both stood out in particular. Going off of the foreshadowing present in Holy Ghost, what made you want to write about the light being broken against the knives in the drawer? Did you consider writing those particular lines in a different way?

I like that phrase, foreshadowing present, even if “present” can be misinterpreted “gift.” Can you imagine that scenario? “Happy Valentines, Dear—I’ve purchased you an expensive foreshadowing present! You’d better unwrap it quickly, it’s … foreshadowing!”

After the Accident also seems to possess the same foreshadowing in a scene sometime in the future. Did you intend to draw parallels between these two poems when you wrote them? Are they both describing similar scenes?

Funny you should mention that. Both “Holy Ghost” and “After the Accident” appear as two parts of a four-part sequence titled “Snapshots” in my first book, Other Latitudes (2008). This book is filled with menacing images like glinting knives, and characters that find themselves in hospital beds or worse. But I promise it’s not all grotesquery and gloom!


About the author of this post: Lauren Banas is a sophomore at North Central College and is currently studying English Writing. Stemmed from a life-long love of reading, she is a constant writer of fiction, specifically that of the fantastical variety. She loves experimenting with new literature though and hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

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