Amy Jo Trier-Walker is the winner of Permafrost‘s 2016 New Alchemy Award. Her piece, “Go Nowhereing,” is featured in this year’s online issue, 38.2. The editors asked her a few questions about writing and hybrid genres. Here are her answers.
Q: When did you first realize that genre boundaries are for chumps?
A: Ha! I don’t know if it was when the poems started saying, No, my soul doesn’t break for your lines, and so I started writing in rolling boxes, or if it was when I went after the poems that play instead of work. The playing began when I started to use processes as ways into poetic writing. If you’re following a process to write, the whole what am I saying here? / what is the point of this piece? falls away, making you more free to dictate something much more marvelous.
Q: Who is your favorite genre-bending author?
A: There are so, so many authors who bend in different ways! But C.D. Wright thrills me, especially Deepstep Come Shining, and Clarice Lispector, Cole Swensen, Hélène Cixous, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Kate Greenstreet are a few others. Either their poetry doesn’t “look” like poetry or their prose reads like poetry.
Q: Do you have any strange, secret writing rituals? If they’re secret, will you tell us anyway?
A: I write while I walk at night, not being able to see what I’m writing of course, which makes deciphering it afterwards sometimes more interesting than what I’ve actually written. These tend to be little snippets that start longer poems later on, and they tend to wander about the full landscape of the page compared to my other work.
Q: Are you working on any cool writing projects now?
A: I’m working on a collection of auditory erasures, where I take down as many words as I can from a recording of another poet’s work (I’m not a fast typist), and I create a poem from the garbled word bank I’m left with, in order, only adding little articles and prepositions and such. I love these so much because I never have a clue what they’re going to be “about,” and they give me the most vibrant language! I’ve noticed that throughout the thirty-some of these I’ve done, there are much more portmanteaus and objects turned active, which in turn creates this other universe (or reflects how ours actually is) where everything is connected and everything is vibrantly dynamic: trees are actively treeing, feathers are feathering, the ground is grounding. This is where poetry starts to invoke the world I want to exist in.
Q: In works of collage, it is common to use somewhat arbitrary numbers as a means of determining length. “These artificial patterns imposed upon more lyric material begin to form, if not a true skeleton, at least some cartilage,” Michael Martone says. Your work has 5 sections, did you decide how long this piece would be before you began? Or did you discover this in the process of creation?
A: No, I see these as five separate pieces, yet I have used this restraint you talk about, and it works. It’s amazing what happens when you force your brain in a new direction. If need be, and you practice it enough, it will create a new way out from what you’ve done before.
Q: What’s a piece of writing advice that you keep in the back of your mind as you write? And what’s a piece of advice that you’ve received that you rebel against, and purposefully don’t follow?
A: Poetry is an act of love. It is an attentiveness practice. It’s not about me or any other poet. It’s all about growing as a being, becoming more attuned to the threads of existence that connect us to every other part of ourselves and the world. And then to act on it.
As for the latter, at least try it, whatever they suggest. If you try something with a sense of play, you can’t help but learn something in the process.
Q: What poetic forms and visual art forms most inspire your craft?
A: Poets who combine text and visual art installations thrill me the most. I’ve seen words on doors (S.Marie Clay), words on bones (Sam Schaefer), and a slew of words on slowly melting mirrors, beetle-traveled bark, even icicles (Jody Gladding)! It seems there are additional levels of connection when the words leave the page.
Q: What role does deconstruction play in your writing process?
A: I suppose that a lot of the processes I use deconstruct words down to their energy, beyond their simple meanings as symbols. I think the more we practice this, the more vibrant we’ll be able to use them as symbols.
Q: What do you see for the future of genre as a constraint for creative writing? Do you see these boundaries becoming increasingly blurred in the upcoming century?
A: I think we’ll always have a use for the terms “poetry” and “prose,” but what constitutes each will continue to blur more and more, as well as venture further into other forms of art. And I can’t wait!
The 2017 Permafrost New Alchemy Contest is now open for a new round of submissions! Send us your rule-breaking, weird, and difficult-to-define work. Delve into the secret, back-corner Pandora’s Box in your hard drive and let loose. More details here.
Amy Jo Trier-Walker lives and works on a tree and herb farm in Indiana, and she is the author of Trembling Ourselves into Trees (Horse Less Press, 2015). Recent work can also be found in New American Writing, Caliban, Ghost Ocean, Tinderbox Poetry Review, and inter|rupture, among others, and she is the Poetry and Art Editor at Black Tongue Review.